Saturday, January 24, 2015

Empowering Innovation: Building Community and the Intriguing Follett Challenge

As with an community archives, our school's Special Collections represent who we are. The records of our past show our growth, embody our civic pride, and help lead us to a better future. These historical materials within a school setting serve another valuable purpose. They can be part of a strong program to "Empower Innovation," helping to weave together what may seem like disparate subjects to our young people. Furthermore, when we think of our archives as a part of a whole system of information -- learning, communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, facts, multiple perspectives, history, contemporary ideas -- we expand our purpose and can better explain the importance of our work as archivists, librarians, and cultural heritage professionals.

Introduction to the Follett Challenge

The school where I serve as "Information Specialist" is currently entered in the Follett Challenge. [I'll admit right up front that one reason I thought to write about "Empowering Innovation" this weekend is because Goffstown High is seeking support for its innovative library programming and I would like more votes to help us win the Challenge. BUT that is not my only angle here so please keep reading!]

"The Follett Challenge showcases and rewards educators who are aligning their curriculum and approach in order to teach the skills needed in the 21st century, and who are implementing a collaborative program with others in their school. In order to enter, applicants must demonstrate how the program is preparing students for the demands of the 21st century and complete the entire online application, which includes a 3-5 minute video about the program."

The idea of the Challenge was intriguing to me as an Information Specialist, educator, consultant, archivist and writer. How does one encapsulate so many great things that are happening in a program using a short paper and video? How do we reach our greater community to "advertise" our work? How do we engage young people? How do we ask for help from the people with whom we have collaborated? The Follett Challenge has allowed me to explore that and more with my community.

Community and Incubating Innovation

Goffstown, New Hampshire is a relatively small town of about 17,000 people. In 1960, during the final years in the life of the town's previous high school, the town had about 7,000 people. [Note that I found the information from the census record and not from the Wikipedia article that came up first! Teaching good research skills is a vital part of our work!] Our current high school building opened in 1965 and grew to over 11,000 people by 1970. Reflected in our school archives are the faces of the 369 students from all grades during our 1964-1965 academic year as well as our graduating senior class of 270 in 2014.

Goffstown population 1960 according to NH Census records

What you see above was the STEM learning of 1965. We still see kids at work in the chem lab today, but we also see what we have below -- informal learning that ties to things done in the classroom. Hands-on work has spread beyond the science and tech wings. The picture below shows a student with library resources from our makerspace. (Of course, I always try to ensure that the library documents the innovation that we are empowering.)

By offering a competition that encourages schools to focus on four areas: critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration, Follett has also given us an opportunity to empower our community. In preparing a ten page paper describing our work and in making a video, to explaining the contest to our students, we have shined a light on the critical work of libraries and what they can do for a whole community. It is a very intriguing concept and one in which I am proud to be a part.

The Role of Community Institutions

This competition offers a lesson for us all. Businesses of all types have the opportunity to support schools in their work by giving them a platform and encouraging them to use their voices to highlight our 21st century models for education. Large companies and local profitable businesses can help boost the communities where they are located by showing interest in the young people in the area. Furthermore, I would like to see more small cultural heritage institutions involved in promoting community innovation. In Goffstown, our public library is supporting us in our large challenge. Such institutions might also think about designing smaller local competitions for community innovators. Pulling behind innovation on a local level is a boon to our locality, but also to larger layers of communities and geographic regions. For example, if Goffstown wins the Follett Challenge, it will reflect well on New Hampshire in general.

Finally, a note to local librarians and archivists, whether or not you have a competition to use to describe your work, do put down your mission and goals on paper and then set out to do a long-range plan. Everyone should have a plan that describes where they have been to figure out where they are heading.

Please vote for Goffstown High School to help us reach our goals and shed light on what librarians and archivists can offer communities.

**This post does not represent the point of view of the Goffstown School District. These are my thoughts as an information professional. 

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