Interview with Kristin Daniels, Founder and CEO of CatapultEd
Posted 3 months ago
This month we spoke to Kristin Daniels, Founder and CEO of CatapultEd. Kristin works with schools across America helping them create, maintain and scale innovation programs. Kristin shared how her company was inspired by the many barriers and roadblocks educators face when they try to introduce more innovation into their work. She also told us about the time she learned the importance of testing early and often before launching a new product, why breakfast is her favourite meal of the day, and how ruffling feathers is sometimes the only way to get things done.
Can you tell us a little about your current role, and what you do?
I am the Founder and CEO of CatapultEd. (Pronounced “Catapult-Ed”) CatapultEd provides professional services to schools, districts, and education organizations in the USA for creating, maintaining, and scaling their own innovation programs. Because we are a Brightidea partner, we also provide access to and support for the Brightidea innovation management platform. This partnership is critical, as CatapultEd is the only organization in the USA dedicated to bringing a structured, crowd based innovation process into the education space.
Besides supporting clients, my primary focus is to spread the word among innovative education leaders about this unique approach to problem-solving and tell stories of how it elevates student voice, or beautifully complements any strategic planning process.
“CatapultEd is the only organization in the USA dedicated to bringing a structured, crowd-based innovation process into the education space.”
What’s your professional background?
I am a licensed educator and have been working in education for over 20 years. I have always been someone who pushes up against the boundaries of what we are “supposed” to do in traditional education.
As a classroom teacher, I saw the potential of technology early on. I moved out of the classroom and into a technology integration role, supporting teachers and helping them understand how they could use technology to enhance their work. Around 2013, I began using the title, “Innovation Coach” as a way to minimize the focus on technology and eliminate the “shiny new toy” syndrome, where teachers always want the newest technology tool or application, regardless of its impact on student learning.
In all of this work, I learned that education is an extremely challenging field for innovation. There are thousands of barriers and the force that pulls educators back to the “status quo” is unbelievably strong.
So I bopped from job to job, usually ruffling feathers, until I became a Director of Innovation and was able to implement my own innovation program. I began working with a colleague who had modified a corporate innovation process to work in his own school district. He combined human-centered design with crowd-based ideation and lean startup methodologies. I was fascinated and have been working to build innovation programs based on this model ever since.
What time do you get up in the morning? Do you have a regular morning routine?
I wish I could say that I have an amazing morning routine but in reality, it is pretty simple. I wake up around the same time each day and brew a pot of coffee. I am a huge breakfast fan. My breakfast usually consists of eggs, meat, and either potatoes or a crispy English muffin doused with butter and jelly. This provides me with great energy to fuel my morning, which is the most productive part of my day.
What is your approach when a creative project gets stuck or delayed? How do you get back on track?
There is almost always an explanation for why a project stalls. When this happens, I usually take a step back and try to identify anything particularly obvious that might be preventing progress. If nothing is obvious to me, I will pick up the phone and call a thought partner to talk it through. Often just the tiniest shift in perspective can “un-stick” a project or task.
With our clients, so often in education, it’s a lack of sufficient time, resources, or leadership required to move something forward. This is something that the CatapultEd network is passionate about tackling. How can we create more time and space for innovation in education? How can we lean on our community partners to support this critical work? How can we ensure we have the resources to move ideas forward?
What program or software would you be lost without at work?
Google Workspace. I would be lost without access to online, collaborative applications like Google Docs and Google Sheets. Over the years, I have discovered the incredible power of Sheets and love creating solutions or efficiencies that involve lengthy formulas and pulling in data from multiple spreadsheets. Magic!
Also, Canva. As an entrepreneur who needs to wear many hats, having a tool for graphic design that is easy to use and versatile is a game-changer.
Tell us about a project you were involved in that ‘failed’. What did you learn?
I was leading a team tasked with creating a new professional development program for a specific group of educators who were notoriously under-utilized and rarely received professional development that was specific to their needs. The feedback we received on our original idea was extremely positive. It was obvious that we had identified an opportunity to address the needs of this specific user group.
As the design team met to build the various components of the program, the project continued to grow beyond points where we should have tested. We didn’t follow the ideas of Eric Reis in “Lean Startup” – we built too much before validating what we were doing. We ended up launching a poor-quality final product when we should have tested smaller components first. Once we rolled it out, it was hard to adjust and ultimately did not satisfy our target user group. The experience taught me the value of testing early, and often, to ensure concepts are valid before progressing.
What aspect of your work are you most proud of?
I am proud to be creating and iterating something new in education. Innovation in education today requires permission and a structured process. CatapultEd helps education leaders create this process, a process that is grounded in empathy, drives equity, and can become a sustainable innovation and strategic planning strategy. I am also proud that the work I do helps to elevate student voice. This is one of the fastest-growing types of initiatives that we launch for schools and districts, and the student feedback is so positive. They really appreciate the opportunity to share their ideas and shape their student experience.
What is your biggest challenge?
One of the biggest obstacles we face in education innovation is the reluctance of leaders to be vulnerable in the way that innovation requires. That is why we are incorporating a lot of Brené Brown’s work into our leadership series; so we can help education leaders identify the barriers they may face throughout the innovation process that can derail leadership and prevent them from leading courageously.
“One of the biggest obstacles we face in education innovation is the reluctance of leaders to be vulnerable in the way that innovation requires.”
How do you stay up to date on industry trends and news?
In the education world, I find that EdSurge is one of the best ways to stay informed on innovation in education. EdSurge provides a great balance between the real stories and research that drives change and the responding solution providers and entrepreneurs.
Not only am I a huge fan of their curated, spot-on content, their newsletters have a design and layout that delights my brain. Am I the only one?
What three things do you hope to accomplish over the next twelve months?
1. Grow – I would like to work with education leaders from around the world and inspire them to commit to creating a culture of innovation in their school or district. One of our growth models is to create regional cohorts, where collaborating network members would create opportunities for face-to-face sharing and support, as well as shared workshop opportunities and regional innovation summits.
2. Develop – I would like to work with Brightidea to develop an education-focused product. This product would be customized to meet the unique needs of education organizations and would accelerate the development of education innovation programs in schools and districts, ultimately creating a better experience for students and families everywhere.
3. Inspire – I would like to create a CatapultHub of education challenges that are open to the public. I would like to secure the support and sponsorship of collaborative education solution providers so that we can collectively support and grow a pipeline of top ideas that are truly disruptive to education.
“I would like to work with education leaders from around the world and inspire them to commit to creating a culture of innovation in their school or district.”