2015 Inspiration in Educational Innovation Award Recipients

I am delighted to announce Etale’s 2015 Inspiration in Educational Innovation Award recipients. They are recognized on Etale.org and also issued an accompanying digital badge thanks to the service provided by our friends at Credly.com. Amid many good and important innovations in education over the past year, this is an opportunity to recognize some truly inspirational ones. The 2015 recipients represent people and organizations that are not only accomplishing important work in the field of education, but they are also inspiring others, having a potential multiplying effect in future years.  Close to two-hundred potential candidates were considered for this award, reviewing them in light of the three criteria listed below. The recipients for this year each stood out as inspirations for those of us who aspire to blend the spirit of the entrepreneur with a noble and compelling vision for education.

The Inspiration in Educational Innovation (IEI) award is granted to a maximum of 7 people or organizations who / that demonstrated inspiration in educational innovation over the past year. They did this by aligning a compelling education vision with one or more innovative approaches or models to making that vision a reality. Their work is an inspiration to others who aspire to make a substantive and tangible impact in the field of education.

The criteria for the award are:

1. Involves an educational program, organization, product, book, viral idea, service or community with a clear and compelling vision that nurtures:

  • curiosity,
  • a love of learning,
  • agency / self-directed learning / empowering learners,
  • character (or non-cognitive skills),
  • a sense of hope, calling and purpose,
  • and/or expanding access and opportunity.

2. Challenged existing conventions in education, leveraging innovation to support one or more core conviction(s) and make the vision a reality. It is not just educational innovation. It is mission-driven educational innovation.

3. The organization inspires other people to pursue similar or related high-impact, mission-minded educational innovations. The work is multiplying through the direct efforts of the recipient or indirectly, inspiring independent and new efforts.

The 2015 recipients are:

Acton Academy

  • Criteria Highlights – curiosity, love of learning, human agency, character, and calling
  • Compelling Why -Laura Sandefer, co-founder of Acton Academy, explained the compelling why this way. “Jeff and I started Acton Academy with the most compelling “why” of all — our own children. They were curious and fun and resilient, and we wanted to let that grow naturally. So we built the community around agency, clear boundaries, and each young person’s individual hero’s journey. The joy of watching other parents, motivated by the same thing, launch their own learner-driven communities, has been icing on the cake.”As with other recipients for 2015, Acton Academy is not new, but it represents a compelling vision for and approach to K-12 education that continues to gain traction, with new academies starting throughout the United States and beyond. In a time when many schools are shaped by testing and ever-changing regulations, Acton Academy stands out as learner-centered community shaped by a compelling vision. In the words of Jeff Sandefer at the 2015 SXSWEdu, “What if? What if children are far more capable than we imagined? What if children could share learning with each other in a tightly bound community? What if they could find a deep, burning need in their hearts to meet a deep burning need in the world?”


  • Criteria Highlights – human agency, self-directed learning, access & opportunity
  • Compelling Why – Bodo Hoenen and a team of social innovators have a vision for autonomous learning around the world. Dev4X is about “Empowering all children, including the most underserved, to improve their lives and their future through learning.” This team wants to create a future where, “every child can learn anything they need, even if they don’t have access to formal schooling.” This calls for the design of hardware, a software platform, and access to learning resources (content) that lend themselves toward peer-to-peer learning, self-directed learning (or autonomous learning), and what Sugata Mitra coined as Self-organized Learning Environments. In the words of Hoenen, “There are more than 50 million children who don’t have access to education and more than 650 million who may have access but are not even getting a basic education. Without radically changing our approach UNESCO estimates we will only reach them by 2086. We can change that!”


  • Criteria Highlights – self-directed learning & agency, access & opportunity
  • Compelling Why – Degreed, founded by David Blake, “represents a vision to to find, track, and recognize ALL learning.” It serves as an important aspect of an even larger personal mission by Blake to, “help create an educational system that will drive the cost of learning to zero, promote universal access to education, create meaningful indicators of personal educational outcomes and success, help organize meaningful curricula and establish interoperable standards, restructure the physical learning environment, and enable a measured and meaningful system for lifelong learning.” Imagine a learning platform that extends across organizations, recognizes formal and informal learning, honors diverse learning pathways, and is more interested in expertise itself than unnecessarily prescribed steps taken to get there. In the words of their new tagline, “the future doesn’t care how you became an expert.”

Getting Smart

  • Criteria Highlights – They cover the full range of core concepts associated with this award.
  • Compelling Why – The Getting Smart blog is a go-to source for anyone interested in getting and staying informed about educational innovation and the possibilities for education in an increasingly connected world. As important, they create a community and important conversations around ideas and developments that matter in education. The team at Getting Smart provides a myriad of consulting and design services capable of amplifying the desired impact of individuals, education startups, professional organizations, and P-20 learning organizations. The team is an impressive blend of cutting edge thought-leadership and doers. In other words, they have the capacity to explore the ideas, but also to turn those ideas into educational results and high-impact experiences. As explained by Catherine Wedgwood at Getting Smart, “We are a mission driven organization centered on maintaining the same belief we had when we first launched: that excellence and equity in education are the most important issues for the American economy and society, and it’s our responsibility to make a positive impact. Through personal and professional experiences, our team is dedicated to improving the education landscape for future generations. Utilizing our blog and social media presence, we will continue working to share our own and other education leaders’ thoughts and ideas on innovations in learning and teaching.”

Most Likely to Succeed

  • Criteria Highlights – human agency, non-cognitive skills, curiosity & a love of learning, access & opportunity
  • Compelling Why – In 2015, Ted Dintersmith and Tony Wagner published Most Likely to Succeed, a compelling insight into what it looks like to prepare young people for “the innovation era.” With Dintersmith taking the lead, Most Likely to Succeed was also turned into a compelling educational documentary that is being screened around the United States, provoking incredible conversation and opening people’s eyes to the many promising possibilities for what school can look like in the 21st century, and how these new visions for schooling can prepare young people for the contemporary world. You can follow Dintersmith’s work in this area on his blog where he catalogs his fifty-state tour. The work around Most Likely to Succeed represents one of the most exciting and promising recent efforts to ignite a national conversation and widespread re-imagination of K-12 education.

Renton Prep Christian School

  • Criteria Highlights – curiosity, love of learning, human agency, character, calling
  • Compelling Why – Creativity, humility, interdependency, resolve, simplicity and transformation. These are the ideals that shape the vision for education at the newly started Renton Prep Christian School, a high school that grew out of an already compelling, distinct and successful elementary school. This is a school rich with project-based learning, blended learning, inquiry-based learning, and where learners work together to creative deep and engaging learning experiences. Recently declared a Microsoft Showcase School, Renton Prep is also at the forefront of imagining the possibilities of emerging educational technology and STEM education, including recent and emerging work around virtual reality.

Wayfinding Academy

  • Criteria Highlights – purpose & calling, human agency, access & opportunity
  • Compelling Why – “The Wayfinding Academy is forging a different kind of college. By stretching students with a curiosity- and community-driven education, we envision a world where each person lives life on purpose.” After a successful crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo, Michelle Jones and a founding team started their journey toward the launch of a new type of college that is focused upon helping people discover their passion and purpose. This is the youngest of innovations in the list of recipients, representing a compelling vision for a new college in Portland, Oregon, but also providing a vision and sense of the possibilities for new and similar higher education alternatives around the world. Along the way, Wayfinding Academy is also tackling the affordability issue in higher education.

Thank you to the leaders and contributors of these important and inspiring innovations in education!

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation; as well as Founder and CEO of Birdhouse Learning Labs. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.