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Executive Report:
Program brings innovative teachers together

December 6, 2016 Jeff Johnson, ATA Executive Staff Officer—Professional Development

The Networked Innovation Communities (NIC) program is a collaborative initiative that seeks to boost the quality and equity of Alberta’s education system and increase our ability to create a learning ecosystem where all students can demonstrate their numeracy skills at a level that reflects their potential. More than 70 classroom teachers, together with their school leadership teams and a district lead teacher from each participating school district, have been engaged in a process that sees innovative networked teams come together in a design hub to create and contextualize targeted teaching practices to enhance K–9 numeracy outcomes for their students.

This August, the current NIC cohort met at Barnett House to learn together and identify potential focus areas for each individual teacher for the 2017/18 school year. They learned how to design and implement “improvement sprints” — a team-based method for improving student outcomes in their classrooms and schools. They also set goals for conducting an improvement sprint in their classrooms between August and November.

An improvement sprint involves each teacher defining a teaching or learning challenge, understanding what is causing that challenge, designing a solution for the challenge, and implementing the designed solution in a sprint over a time span of one to four weeks. The teacher then reviews the process. If the solution worked, it is scaled up within the school. If the proposed solution did not work, then the teacher goes through another quick sprint process in an attempt to solve the challenge.

A key to the success of this process is that it is the teacher in the classroom who is identifying the challenges he or she wishes to address. These challenges are not identified for the teacher through district or provincial standardized tests, for example, but are set by each teacher in a way that makes sense for the teacher’s classroom and school.

The NIC program is fully scaleable — it will grow because, as teachers and school leaders learn the techniques involved in driving positive change in their schools, they, in turn, can train the next cohort (or innovation hub) and pass on the “how to” of the process.

Currently, teachers in the cohort are scaling up their innovative solutions not just within their schools but also with colleagues from other schools in the cohort. Solutions will be shared provincewide as well.

On Wednesday, Nov. 23, participants met again to review the work they have been doing in improvement sprints since the beginning of the school year. They discussed implementation challenges and successful approaches in which they’ve been engaged. The participants discussed the impact of their work on student learning and also on their own classroom practices.

There is a great deal of interest throughout the province in the NIC program. One of the most positive elements of the program is that it represents teacher-driven change from the classroom level and incorporates classroom teachers, school leaders and district-level leaders working together collaboratively, by design. 

What are participants saying?

To learn about participant reactions to the NIC program, visit or contact Jeff Johnson at

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