Ben Owens worked as an engineer for 20 years before becoming a STEM teacher for 11 years at a wall-to-wall PBL school in rural Appalachia. He founded the non-profit, Open Way Learning, and now works to help schools create the cultural conditions for localized, learner-centered innovation. Ben is also the co-author of Open Up, Education!

Creating Innovation in Schools

by Ben Owens

Show Highlights

  • Ben explains why “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” 
  • How a tiny school in rural Appalachia became one of the most innovative schools on the planet 
  • Ben shows you how to leverage the talents and skills of your community
  • How to flip the script and harness innovation with “open way learning” 
  • Ben shares a perfect embodiment of living a shared vision from students in Cambodia
  • Learn how to teach true problem solving and critical thinking students will mimic for the rest of their lives
  • How to find that true North and be a difference maker

“Recognize that there are a lot of educators who have operated in the system.  They have seen stories like this and just realized that the mountain they perceive they would have to climb in order to create that type of culture is so huge. They’re often left with where do I even begin? And I think that’s a pragmatic reality. My response is begin somewhere. The saying, ‘the best time to plant a tree was, 20 years ago and the second best time is today’. So let’s start planting that tree today.”

Jennifer talks about the 4 foundational skills of how to make change.  


  1. Think before you speak
  2. How can we understand resistance – don’t mock the concern for change?
  3. Respond to resistance in a humane way
  4. How do you manage yourself — self care

Jump In and Swim

Jennifer thinks that understanding others is a practical way to start to make change. Consider if people will push back and say they need more knowledge when you roll things out for the first time. Ask yourself what is the purpose, who is going to help me, and are they credible, will I be trained, and how does this connect to the culture I signed up for. People may be more willing to jump into the deep end if these are answered.

“If the person who is trying to roll out this initiative can anticipate those and can have answer to those before they start the initiative it might assist in making it more palatable.” – Jennifer Abrams

Slowing Down In Leadership

Jennifer encourages everyone to take a half a day with those people that will be in the deep end with you and craft the message that you are all on the same boat it is well worth it. Get out of your office and take 3 hours and put energy into it so the message is consistent. Unifying is worth your time.

Full Transcript Available Here

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