Innovation is essential to a future-focused education

There are many jobs that exist today that didn’t exist when we were children, and the same will be true for our children; many of the jobs they might choose have yet to be invented.

At the institutional level, Gateway seeks to continually ask itself, “How can we improve our program to help prepare our students for their future?” This essential question leads to a continuous process of innovation for our educational program, such as our contemporary mix of project-based, interdisciplinary, and collaborative learning experiences.

Ideally, innovation is an iterative process that improves the world and adds value to human experience! We believe it helps us educate students to be curious learners, confident risk takers, and active doers.

Gateway’s innovation process

Gateway’s leadership in educational innovation is driven by a purposeful, structured annual process.  Faculty and staff meet on a regular schedule to work the process of developing, testing, perfecting, and implementing prioritized innovations.

Information Gathering:  Our faculty have a variety of sources for exploring potential innovations, including the latest books, articles, and journals by top education and neuroscience researchers; attending the Learning and the Brain Conference and other professional development; an annual in-service day with a leading education or neuroscience researcher (held with the visiting Speaker Series presenter); and dialogue with colleagues in the field.
Identification and Prioritization:  Our staff meet to review and prioritize potential innovation initiatives on an ongoing basis.
Selection and testing:  The top initiatives are selected and tested to ensure that the innovation is optimized for the appropriate grade levels.  Some innovations are targeted for certain ages, while others can be adjusted based on children’s development levels.
Evaluation and improvement:  At the conclusion of the test, faculty and staff review the results, decide whether to proceed, and what improvements or iterations need to be made.
Innovation Implementation:  Once an innovation is considered ready, it it implemented across all appropriate grades using materials and curriculum developed during the testing and improvement stages.
Tracking Results and Improvement:  Annual review and improvement of new innovations then moves into the regular annual curriculum review process.

A current case study of this process in action: furniture

The current Innovative Furniture Initiative is a great example of how the innovation process works at Gateway. Through spending from our operations budget, as well as the generous donations of families and corporations, and a matching grant from the Monterey Community Foundation, we have begun replacing and upgrading the classroom furniture throughout the school.

In 2015, the school identified the need to replace and upgrade aging classroom furniture. It took that opportunity to ask the questions, what’s the best current thinking about classroom furniture design, and how can we bring in new furniture that will better help us deliver our program and pursue our mission? This led a team of faculty and administration to reconsider the relationship between curriculum, instruction, and design of classrooms. As we sought to be student-centered, we recognized six elements to consider:

Flexible: Can be easily reset in many different configurations to support different types of teaching and learning.

Mobile: Easy for students to move and configure themselves, to support students taking an active role in creating their learning space for the task at hand.

Choice: Allow for students to have some freedom of choice in where and how they work, from individual to partner to small group to large group.

Health: Allow for movement and a variety of seating options that support movement and a variety of ergonomically correct options.

Movement: Allow for body fidgeting and movement, such as wobble stools or chairs that allow students’ bodies to function in a natural way and thus better focus on tasks at hand.

Aesthetics: Looks modern and attractive, in a pleasing color palette that emphasizes natural colors and textures.

In the summer of 2016, we remodeled three classrooms: two second grade classrooms and the middle school Spanish classroom, and launched a pilot program to study how innovative furniture design can influence what and how teachers teach, and what and how students learn. In the new classroom spaces, the room has no front and no back, and the teacher has no desk. Students can choose from a variety of seating options, including stools that activate their core muscles to help them focus, and chairs with cutaways on the back so that students can comfortably sit in chairs that are turned around. Some tables have whiteboard tops on which students can write, and then flip up to become display boards. And children are empowered to move the furniture as needed to create the best possible learning environment.

After conducting interviews with teachers and students and performing classroom observations during the 2016-17 school year, we expanded the initiative into third, fourth, and sixth grade classrooms in 2017-18, and still more classrooms in 2018-19, guiding teachers to think deeply about their dominant teaching practices AND their desired teaching practices — such as more PBL in the middle school — as they selected different types of furniture for different classrooms. Our goal is not a uniform set of furniture throughout the school, but rather one where the furniture intentionally supports the specific curriculum and instructional strategies in use in each classroom!

Our history of innovation

We are enormously proud of our history of innovation and educational thought leadership in Santa Cruz. We hope you enjoy reading these histories of some of Gateway’s most meaningful innovations from the last two decades.

  • Integrating neuroscience into the classroom
  • Building a maker space and fabrication lab
  • Teaching emotional intelligence via the RULER approach
  • Bringing a whole-child focus to education
  • Fostering environmental stewardship via Life Lab