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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

So What If Google’s ’20 Percent Time’ Is Dead? Let It Live on in Schools!

By Guest Blogger — August 23, 2013 2 min read
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Note: Jennifer Medbery, founder and CEO of Kickboard, is guest posting this week.

I’ve been loosely following the Internet chatter about the demise of Google’s popular and longstanding policy of allowing employees to devote 20% of their time to projects and interests outside the scope of their day job.

The argument goes something like this: distributed innovation produced some remarkable breakthroughs (Gmail, Adsense) in the company’s early years, but became more of a distraction later on, creating a litany of half-baked ideas that couldn’t be supported at scale. Hence the more recent decision to centralize innovation around an elite group of Googlers (and focus on a core set of ideas like Google Glass).

The question of “who gets the opportunity to innovate” has interesting implications when you think about the parallels in public education, and whether we value planting thousands of seeds or scaling a limited set of ideas “proven” to work.

When we define innovation as a way of thinking about continuous improvement (and not a way of simply buying what’s shiny and new), it would seem logical to me that the more innovators we have in classrooms, and the more time schools can carve out for collaboration around new ideas, the greater the number of good ideas taking root and spreading.

Before you go and think I’ve just jumped off the deep end by essentially asking principals to add a 25th hour to the day, let me highlight a few examples of where this vision is already reality:

- Center For Teaching Quality’s new book Teacherpreneurs profiles eight teachers who teach students for part of each day or week and champion new ideas and sound practices beyond their schools, districts, and states.

- The City Bridge New Schools Education Innovation Fellowship introduces teacher leaders to the latest education technology with the opportunity to pilot, based on the philosophy that teachers have tremendous--and often, untapped--potential to incubate new resources and strategies in their own classrooms.

- Educators have self-organized hundreds of Edcamps around the world to create organic, participant-driven professional development opportunities for themselves and colleagues.

Together, these examples might very well offer a blueprint to school teams looking to purposefully restructure parts of the school day, redefine traditional classroom roles, and forge new partnerships to enable teachers to more readily take on new responsibilities.

It’s easy to list all the reasons why this could never happen. What if instead, we listed all the ways it simply could?

--Jennifer Medbery

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