culture and facilitate the initial steps toward more
long-term or comprehensive initiatives identified
through formal strategic-planning processes or
statewide or districtwide objectives.
Although not everyone has the opportunity
to participate in School Retool, there are lessons
we learned from observing the program that can
help any school leader begin building a culture
of deeper learning and innovation. Here are three
small steps for you to consider.
1. To create a safe space for innovation and failing
forward, leaders must adopt and model the hack
mindset. It’s important to start with yourself when
adopting a hack mindset. Think about something
you’d like to see happen in your school. What’s the
smallest step you could take to make that happen?
Maybe you’d like to try a live poll to get a read on
the needs of your school community. Or maybe
you’d like to invite a student to a staff meeting
or to a teacher PLC meeting. Be open to learning
from the experience and failing forward. Once
you’ve experienced the power of the hack mindset
yourself, then you’ll be ready to spread it to others
in your school.
2. Innovation should solve a problem or capitalize
on an opportunity. Innovation shouldn’t be under-taken for its own sake. Your hacking should be
focused on a specific goal or aspiration for your
students, teachers, or the school community.
Encouraging creativity and play, supporting
teachers in learning from one another, providing
time and space for everyone in the school to
reflect, or giving students more choice and voice in
the curriculum are examples of viable goals.
3. Begin with empathy—for students and teachers.
We can develop our own goals and aspirations for
the school community, but if we don’t consider
what they mean to and for the members of that
community, it may lead to more harm than good.
If we begin with understanding the needs of our
students and teachers, we can better address
their aspirations for learning and growing. As
one School Retool participant noted, “New ideas
might be good stuff, but are they the right stuff for
students and teachers?”
Like the kindergartners in the marshmallow
tower challenge, if we start small, have a bias to
action, and fail forward, our innovation efforts will
be much more likely to succeed. Further, we’ve
found that this mindset creates a positive culture
among stakeholders. At the final workshop, a
participant named Amber shared,
I’m excited. The job of a principal is not as over-
whelming when you’re around others who are excited
and committed to a lot of the same things. I appre-
ciated greatly getting to talk with others, clarifying
ideas, and getting different perspectives.
There is significant power in being surrounded
by positive and inspired people in a setting that
encourages everyone to take risks in a safe space.
In an era in which educators and leaders are under
enormous stress and pressure, it’s crucial that they
are given opportunities to reconnect with the real
purpose of education: to inspire and empower
others to learn and grow. ;L
Note: All videos linked to in this article were
created by School Retool.
Maxwell, J. C. (2007). Failing forward: Turning mistakes
into stepping stones for success. Nashville, TN: Thomas
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. (2013). Deeper
Zeiser, K. L., Taylor, J., Rickles, J., Garet, M. S., &
Segeritz, M. (2014). Evidence of deeper learning
outcomes. Findings from the study of deeper learning
opportunities and outcomes: Report 3. American Institutes for Research.
Mark Hofer, a former social studies teacher, is
a professor in the Department of Curriculum and
Instruction at the College of William & Mary. With
Lindy L. Johnson, he co-directs the college’s Center
for Innovation in Learning Design. Lindy L. Johnson
is a former English teacher and an assistant professor
in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at
the College of William & Mary.
There is significant power
in being surrounded by positive,
like-minded people in a setting
that encourages them to take
risks in a safe space. “ “