Why Schools Must Prioritize Innovation


(Photo above: Students working on a robotics project | Photo courtesy of Cascade Academy)

I had the honor of attending Bend’s first, and certainly not the last, Innovation Day last month. I applaud both the organizers and participants for diving into so many timely and important topics and opening the dialogue among many diverse entities about how to embrace innovation as a core value for Central Oregon.

As an educator, I found the day particularly relevant given the rapid pace of educational innovation that is happening in our schools right now. On the one hand, we are armed with the latest brain research that informs how to best engage and inspire students.

On the other hand, we are preparing our students for careers that don’t yet exist, and we hear from employers that graduates lack the basic skills needed to thrive in the 21st century workforce such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Considering all of the above, an essential question exists, “How do schools need to innovate to better meet the needs of both our students and our rapidly changing world?”

Here in Central Oregon, we are fortunate to have many diverse educational choices, and many of us are committed to pursuing innovative educational approaches. Regardless of a school’s individual mission, it is imperative that our schools:

• Connect the learning in the classroom with authentic, real-world experiences outside of the classroom

• Emphasize project-based learning over simple content mastery

• Emphasize character development and habits of mind as much as academic success

• Prioritize individualization and differentiation

• Connect students with their passions
As an independent school, Cascades Academy has embraced innovation since its founding as part of its mission to “weave challenging academics with experiential learning to inspire socially responsible individuals ready for a diverse and changing world.”
One recent innovation is a new IDEA (Innovation, Design, Engineering and Art) Lab that engages students in the design thinking process inspired by the Stanford school. Design thinking is how the world’s most progressive companies, scientists, and innovators are building new ideas and solving complex problems and we want to evolve our educational model to map the ways the most innovative companies and individuals are working in the real world. It is the most practical, experiential education tool we can give our students.
In addition, we are now part of a growing number of leading independent high schools who have formed the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) – a group focused on radically changing how we assess and credit high school coursework in order that a student’s transcript can more completely represent a student’s skills, knowledge, and habits of mind. No longer will an entire year’s worth of effort be represented by a single letter grade.
Our current educational model, designed to meet the needs of an Industrial Age, served many students well for decades. Now, as we embark on the Innovation Age, educational innovation is also imperative and these exciting innovations will have a lasting and positive impact on our students and their futures.
Cascades Academy
10860 Tumalo Reservoir Rd., Bend


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