This summer, in conjunction with our friends from Greenwich Leadership Partners, we devised goals and strategies to help move us forward during year two of Innovation Lab. High on our list was implementation and revision of curricula; and the creation of a brand new twelfth grade program. As teachers though, this is our comfort zone. It is what we do and what we love. Some other items on our list–such as creating a marketing strategy that would highlight our true colors, and constructing a concise and effective school profile to send to counselors and colleges– had us more nervous. As our first class nears the college application process, we see more and more the importance of getting the word out about how we educate our students and about what makes our program unique.
In the early fall we collected some preliminary data from our students and parents. We discovered that the most useful and convincing strategy in getting our message across was unbelievably simple. Our community found candid and live conversations with Innovation Lab teachers to be the most significant source of reliable and persuasive information. What other strategies did they find useful? Communicating with our students.
Our work then focused on the best way to make ourselves available to current and prospective parents and students. One of my favorite venues for conversation is the nightly Innovation Lab information session. I hosted the last one this past Monday with Dana Schlosser, our Junior year STEM teacher. It was a frigid night. People in Greenwich were sick. There were so many other activities happening. Dana and I expected a small gathering of about ten or twelve. We started promptly at seven with about that many and about five minutes into the meeting, a Greenwich high school alumni respectfully interrupted our meeting to announce that about thirty people were waiting to be let into Innovation Lab from the high school’s glass corridor. As if on cue, people started to pour into our Design Studio classroom, filling the comfortable sitting room chairs, the office chairs by the tables, and all of the standing room in the back. As we continued to speak about InLab, our energy level now high after the coffee and the conversation, we noticed that people lingered in the hall craning their necks to get a view of the room and doing their best to hear from the outside. After answering a few questions about how we block our schedule and how we differentiate for different levels of students, Dana and I decided to move our party to the larger STEM room. As Dana started a video of our students at work, I scanned the room and noticed that we had close to sixty people there! It was quite a showing for a cold Monday night.
When the video played, I could see people finally began to understand our “school within a school.” Especially the prospective applicants in our crowd became more engaged, listening to our InLab students describe passionately our culture, our philosophy, and (of course) their projects. After the video ended the questions really started to roll. Parents asked about how InLab might affect college admission. Students worried about being alienated from the rest of the school. It was in our open dialogue that people’s concerns were voiced and a picture of our reality painted. I could feel the positive energy in the room, and felt comfortable sharing my passion for Innovation Lab. It was a good night.
For those students who were still on the fence I offered shadowing our students. Although conversation with teachers is good, nothing can beat watching our community in action. Our students are experts at sharing their school experience with the larger Greenwich community. They welcome and even nurture those who seek what we have to offer.
So, if you believe that you know a youth who might love to join Innovation Lab, urge them to connect with one of our students. All they need to do is email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will schedule a shadowing day so they can really get a feel for what it might be like to be a driver of their own learning.