Genius Hour for Teachers

While sitting in a district Math Task Force subcommittee meeting last winter, the junior high principals asked me what teachers needed most to fully implement the Common Core State Standards. My response was immediate and simple. Time!

Modeled after 20% time projects at 3M, Google, and FedEx.

I continued with specific descriptions. Not time before or after school...that conflicts with tutoring, conferences, meetings, and assigned duties. Not time away from the classroom...that hinders overall long-term progress with students. But time during the school day with no responsibility for anything other than a focus on researching, thinking, collaborating, and creating whatever necessary to build stronger students.

One principal was convinced she could make that happen if the math teachers would be willing to increase their class size from a maximum of 25 students to a maximum of 30 students. The teachers were willing and the principal worked her magic with the master schedule so that every math teacher has 5 classes, 2 preparation periods, and one math department period for Genius Hour. The design allows teachers 80 minutes per week to collaborate via a scheduled session with an additional 120 minutes per week to create their own supplemental path.

The Mission:
Every Fulbright math teacher has genius in them. It's true. And it takes time to discover, develop, and unleash that genius. Given the shift of instructional practices in the Common Core math classroom, FJHS math teachers have been gifted with time to investigate the genius that will build better math students.

The Process:
First, the teachers generate pedagogy-related questions based on student needs. Then the facilitator creates coordinating prompts to jumpstart a team session. And the team collaboration evolves from there. 
Considering my relocation to a state in which I'm not certified to teach, the principal asked if I would facilitate the scheduled Genius Hour sessions via Skype. It was a privilege to brainstorm this program into existence with her. We launched the first sessions in September 2013. And it has been an honor to work with her teachers; they are committed to excellence in all they do to serve students well.

For additional resources on Genius Hour ventures in education read The Best Resources for Applying "Fed Ex Days" to School blog post by Larry Ferlazzo, a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA. Follow @JoyKirr and #geniushour on Twitter. Read Joy's My Own Genius Hour blog to see this idea in action with her ELA Grade 7 classes. (The mission statement above is fashioned from her thoughtful posts.) Or view the Inside Look #3 video highlighting @KristiLevy and the Oshkosh Area School District in Wisconsin.

This post is written in loving memory of Kathy Murry.
The former principal and creative genius who established the home of the Timberwolves.
May her legacy howl forevermore.