#bmswired Innovation Day - what we did well and what we'll do differently next time!

Friday, February 28 was the first ever Innovation Day in Brenham ISD and it was held at the most adventurous (IMHO!) campus in the district ... Brenham Middle School!  We started talking about having an Innovation Day many months ago, but didn't really get the ball rolling until after Christmas.  About a month ago, we introduced the concept at a faculty meeting and the plan was set into action.  You can see my timeline of tasks here.  :)

We got a lot of our inspiration for Innovation Day from the fine ladies at Huntsville ISD, +Amy Mayer and +Jessica Powell.  They were kind enough to share all of their materials and give us some guidance along the way.  You can read more about their day here and see their video here.

So, here's how Innovation Day worked for us this year (and then I'll let you know what to do differently so you don't run into the same problems I did!).

  • 3 weeks before the day we had teachers introduce the idea of Innovation Day using a presentation I created.  They sent home the parent letters with the planning sheet on the back.
  • After 10 days, only about 60% of the students had returned their forms.  This was the first big problem I ran into.  I called in some back-up and we individually conferenced with over 250 students to get their forms completed.  Tough - this was really tough!
  • When I had collected most of the forms, I spent an entire day sorting over 700 forms into "like piles."  I looked at what materials they needed from the school and what they would be creating.  This was my second problem - this was really hard for one person to do.
  • I sat down with the Principal, Peggy Still, and we determined how many teachers we needed in each "interest group area" and then I passed the sorted forms over to Instructional Aide EXTRAORINAIRE, Wanda Kramer.  She spent hours putting all of the students into a Google Spreadsheet that we could share with teachers, complete with interest group and room assignments.
  • The third and probably largest problem I ran into was collecting materials.  Good.  Grief.  In our defense, we didn't want to tell any child no this first time.  So we didn't.  I scrounged and begged and shopped to get as many of the requested materials as I could.  For over 700 students.  My office looked like an arts and crafts clearinghouse. 

This was around the time that I started to freak out.  HOW on EARTH was I going to collect everything that I needed for these sweet babies?!  How was I going to make sure that every kid had a good experience ... and the teachers, too?!  How could I possibly get it all done in time?!  Peggy Still, BMS Principal and planning EXPERT, told me to take some OCD meds and stop worrying.  So I took deep breaths and reminded myself that no matter what happened, we did our best.  No one has ever done this in BISD before, so we can't mess it up!  Right?!  They don't even know what it's supposed to look like!

The day came and somehow we managed to pull together enough materials - MANY teachers were SO GENEROUS and I admit - I did make a last minute run to the Dollar Store and Wal-Mart the day before!  :)  We got the room assignments, interest group areas, and modified lunch schedules to the teachers the morning of Innovation Day (yep, we'll give them more notice next time!).  I also gave each teacher a folder with the following items:
  • "Day of" Checklist to check off and put on door when ready - this helped us when we were walking around to see when everyone was ready to move
  • On the back of the checklist was a "Help! I need..." list for teachers to let runners know what materials they were missing.
  • Journaling Mini-Book for kids to complete throughout the day
  • Set of "Task Cards" for the students who finish early
Once the students left their homeroom and headed to their interest group areas, I grabbed a walkie talkie and got moving.  We had some students who didn't know where to go, some materials that couldn't be found and some teachers who needed a little guidance.  I loved EVERY MINUTE of walking in and out of classrooms seeing students AND teachers having a blast!

It was a successful day and I think the vast majority of students and staff enjoyed it.  We had teachers who were connecting with students in a way they had NEVER connected before.  We had unlikely groups of students pairing up to help each other.  There were students painting, building, glueing, constructing, writing, drawing, filming, interviewing ... you name it, we had it!  We set up large tables in the hallways with materials for the kids to go "shop" for things they needed.  We even had one of our Instructional Technology Specialists, Troy Kuhn, pushing a cart around advertising supplies!  My other colleague, Ann DeBolt, took pictures all day and composed an awesome Animoto video to document the day.  We showed this to the students at the end of the day after they completed a Google form with their reflections from the experience.

Our feedback was very valuable and both students and staff members had excellent suggestions.  Our data showed the following:

BMS Students

BMS Staff

Overall, it was a positive experience for everyone.  But here are the things we will do differently next year to improve the day for both students and staff...

  • Instead of having classroom teachers introduce the idea of Innovation Day, I will personally meet with the students during their PE rotation for a sort of Innovation Day pep rally.  That way I can get the kids pumped up and give them all of the information directly.
  • We plan to have Writing teachers help students complete the planning forms IN CLASS after a good brainstorming/roundtable session.  The information will be submitted via Google Forms so the data is automatically populated into a spreadsheet.
  • We'll then use Autocrat to generate printable PDF planning forms from that data for the students to take home with the parent letter for a signature.  (Why didn't I think of that THIS YEAR?!)
  • Likely, instead of asking students wide open questions like "What do you need from the school?!" we will provide each room with a core set of materials (paint - WASHABLE ONLY!, tape, glue - ESPECIALLY HOT GLUE GUNS, scissors, cardboard, markers, crayons, foil, yarn, etc).  If students need additional materials for their project, they must bring them from home.
  • Also, the form will be modified to include a checkbox for interest group area.  We likely will not ask the students to indicate which subject their project aligns to, but instead choose from a set list of interest group options.  This will expedite the sorting process.
  • Along those lines, I will DEFINITELY utilize a committee next time for help with sorting the forms into interest groups!  This is more than a one-woman job!  :)
  • I also foresee that we will enlist the help of our PTO (again, why didn't I think of this?!) and give our teachers more ownership in helping collect materials.  If we begin this process a little earlier (like more that 3 days before!), this should not be a problem at all and I think the teachers want to be involved further.
  • We found that there was too much downtime after lunch and that was when students started to get crazy and restless.  I think our schedule will be modified a little to have less work time after lunch.
  • Finally, instead of having the interest groups rotate to see other interest group projects, we will dismiss students to take their projects back to their homeroom teacher after lunch.  Homeroom teachers told us they wanted to see what their kids did!  Then, the teams can rotate through each other's classrooms to see their fellow students' creations.
I realize this post has gotten VERY LENGTHY, but it's difficult to recap such an awesome experience in few words.  :)  I cannot possibly thank all of the people who helped me gather materials, conference with students, deliver paperwork, etc, but I have to thank Kim McCorkle, who was my planning partner in crime.  Without her enthusiasm and the scheduling vision of Peggy Still, we never would have pulled this off.

I would love to hear from you about your Innovation Day experience and would be happy to collaborate with you if you're in the planning stages.  As my good friends say, TOGETHER WE'RE BETTER!  :)


  1. WOW!!! YOU. ARE. AMAZING…..As is the principal, Peggy Still, and the staff at BMS!!!
    Well done!!!


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