New Innovator, Writer-in-Residences look forward to working with community

The Innovator in Residence for the 2020-21 school year has been announced, and a one-year Writer in Residence has been created. The Innovator in Residence will be guerrilla geographer Mr. Daniel Raven-Ellison, and the Writer in Residence will be author Mr. Kwame Alexander. Head of School Mrs. Robin Appleby announced this information to the ASL community in an email on March 30.

Mr. Raven-Ellison is a guerrilla geographer, which means that he challenges people to think about places in creative and new ways, which encourages people to make that place better. Some of his projects include starting a campaign to make London the world’s first National Park City, challenging leaders to think about making their city a National Park City by making their city greener and healthier, as well as making a film about land use in the UK. 

Daniel Raven-Ellison, ASL’s new Innovator in Residence, takes pictures of the nature in Slough in May 2019. As Innovator in Residence next year, he plans to explore issues with students and come up with innovative solutions. He is excited to help students in this innovation, as well as to learn from them (photo with permission from Instagram @danravenellison).

“Guerrilla geography is about doing radical and surprising things that challenge people to think about places in new ways,” Mr. Raven-Ellison said. “It’s also about doing things that change the way that people see the world and hopefully then encourage them to do better things as a result.”

He is additionally a National Geographic Explorer due to his projects, including his work walking across cities. According to their website, it is a title awarded by National Geographic to groundbreaking innovators who are “infinitely curious about our planet and passionate about helping make it better.” 

Mr. Raven-Ellison is excited to help ASL students come up with solutions to problems that they care about, such as ecological, environmental, and climate issues, as well as to learn from those students. He said, “I’m really excited to help people to think about problems we face, the way in which we can think about what the solutions may be, and then crucially how we then execute them and make change. I’m also excited to learn from the knowledge, experience, and opinions of young people throughout the school and how that can inform the work that I do in London and beyond as well.”

To Mr. Raven-Ellison, innovation is partially about problem-solving and finding a solution, but it is not innovation unless you actually put that solution into effect. He thinks that many lessons in school tend to be passive as they teach students about the issue, such as climate change, but fewer classes will go a step further and explain how we should solve the issue. Therefore, he plans to explore issues with the ASL community that they are really interested in and use innovation to find and enforce solutions.

“Innovation is partially about problem solving and working on a solution, but then it’s about actually doing things, which bring about that change on a sustained level. If you come up with an idea for a solution to a problem, but you don’t share that idea or you didn’t put the effort in to make that idea happen, then it’s not innovation. It’s just an idea,” Mr. Raven-Ellison said. “Something becomes innovation when, actually, it becomes something that people start doing every day, and it becomes normal for a school, person, business or country.”

To choose the Innovator in Residence, faculty were asked to nominate people who they thought would fit the role. A committee of people from the Academic Leadership team then made the final decision in early March based on the criteria for Innovator in Residence. 

The Innovator in Residence position is only for one year, but this year’s Innovator In Residence will be staying for longer, although he will take on a new role. Mr. Alexander was chosen for Writer in Residence to continue his work with the community from this year. 

In January, he and Mrs. Appleby had a discussion about the work Mr. Alexander had been doing in the first six months, and he wanted more time to continue the work he had begun. “I had just gotten started with teaching students how to publish books,” he said. “I really wanted to give more students in the school a chance to write and publish a book; I thought that would be one of the tasks that I would be involved in next year. I also felt like I was just getting started in sort of sharing my love of poetry with students, and I really wanted to spend more time with students K to 12.” 

Kwame Alexander, next year’s Writer in Residence, interacts with students at an all middle school assembly on September 12, 2019. He is the current Innovator in Residence at ASL, but he is remaining at ASL for another year to continue his work. However, next year his work will be more focused on writing, which will include working with students on their writing and bringing in different authors (photo by Sophia Mancuso).

By March, Mrs. Appleby had then created the Writer in Residence program, which allowed Mr. Alexander to remain at the school for another year. However, next year in his role as Writer in Residence, Alexander will lead more writing-based events. 

Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning Mrs. Jennifer Kirstein said, “As the Innovator in Residence, Kwame has really been focused on working on innovation across the school. That included many different opportunities for speakers working across different disciplines. Meanwhile, the Writer in Residence will be more focused on writing, so he’ll be bringing in authors and working with students on writing and publishing opportunities.”

Some of the events Mr. Alexander plans to lead include working with students on their writing and book projects, speaking at large assemblies, having open office hours to work with students and faculty, as well as bringing in different authors, including Nikki Giovanni and Jacqueline Woodson. 

As well as helping the community by leading these events, Mr. Alexander additionally wants to build on his relationships with the teachers and support their teaching. He said, “I definitely want to build on the relationships that I’ve made this year with teachers and students. I want to spend more time helping teachers incorporate poetry into the curriculum. I want to challenge teachers to teach difficult topics and subjects, and I want to be involved in helping them figure out how to do that. Generally, I just want to support teachers; I want to support the amazing teachers we have at ASL who do this every day.”

About Sophia Bassi ('24)

News Editor 2019-20

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