The Real Power of the Follett Challenge

The Follett Challenge was developed to empower innovation and reward ground-breaking educational programs. So what is the challenge in this national contest?

We often hear about innovative, grass-roots programs, which have been implemented and are highly successful. So the challenge does not come from a lack of scalable, innovative ideas.

Time and time again, we hear that the real challenge lies in how to share those innovative programs beyond the walls of the school. Educators just don’t have the time or the resources to share these highly successful programs with other schools, let alone the community that supports them.

And this is where the real power of the Follett Challenge lies.

The Follett Challenge was specifically designed to include a voting component as it encourages and allows participants to get on a soapbox and share their program with a larger audience: parents, community members, neighboring districts, and more.

It provides a conscious way to showcase the benefits of a program, so much that we’ve heard programs have been saved from the chopping block!

And it provides educators worldwide access to a database of successful programs.

While we wait for the judges to determine the grand prize winner of the Follett Challenge, we worked with each semifinalist to develop a case study. These case studies provide you examples of successful programs, how to implement them, and the benefits you can expect from doing so. It’s a wealth of knowledge that is now at your fingertips, allowing you to benefit from the work your fellow educators have already put forth – something all educators would like to provide each other.

So for your reading pleasure, we offer you case studies on the three semifinalists of the 2015 Follett Challenge.

High School Category Semifinalist: The Young Women’s Leadership School

Program: Intensives – Learning Without Walls

Overview: A two-week course during which school leaders “break down the walls of the traditional school structure, providing the time and space for teachers and students to become critical thinkers of the 21st century.”

Read the Case Study | Watch the Video


Middle School Category Semifinalist: O’Neill Middle School

Program: Conquest of the Realm

Overview: A competitive, voluntary game that increases critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills through interactions with others.

Read the Case Study | Watch the Video


Elementary School Category Semifinalist: Bluebonnet / Park Glen Elementary Schools

Program: Tech Ninjas

Overview: Help students build their technology skills and give them a place to create, explore and practice. In addition, participating students apply their technology skills throughout their days, helping classmates and teachers alike.

Read the Case Study | Watch the Video


You can visit the Follett Challenge News Hub for more case studies and to view all past video submissions. And don’t forget to tune in to on April 30, 2015 at 12:00 pm CDT to find out the winner of this year’s Follett Challenge!


Innovation is Alive and Well—The Proof is Evident in the Follett Challenge

The joy of discovery that emanates from watching and judging Follett Challenge entries is pretty unparalleled for anyone who cares about the state of American education. It’s truly inspiring to see how many schools and districts have dreamed up a unique program to get kids engaged and learning in new ways.

Watching any of the 113 videos submitted this year reminds you how innovation and dedication in helping kids develop 21st-century skills is alive and well in small rural schools, private schools, and big city districts, wealthy and struggling.

Watching the videos is a treat. You’re drawn in by the fresh faces and ebullience of youth, then you’re given the opportunity to experience what takes place inside these schools. As you watch, you quickly forget the teaching and learning of yesteryear, with desks in straight rows and bored children expected to remain quiet, sans for the occasional raised hand. Instead, you see interaction, collaboration, sharing, building, making—and the learning is often student led. This is an entirely different way to learn, and you see that each Follett Challenge entry is unique and exciting in its own way.

challenge pageTake, for instance, the three recently named semifinalists, each of whom earned $30,000 in products and services in the Follett Challenge. These three entries gave our panel of judges the joy of discovery by illustrating innovation and creativity and sharing what that means to learning. The three semifinalists each submitted a written entry and a video, and were the agreed-upon winners based 80% on their written entry and 20% on the number of public votes received. Two judging panels named these schools as the semifinalists:

Elementary School Category

Bluebonnet Elementary and Park Glen Elementary, Keller Independent School District, Fort Worth, TX

“Watch Out! Here Come Our Tech Ninjas!”

Middle School Category

O’Neill Middle School, Downers Grove School District #58, Downers Grove, IL

“Conquest of the Realm”

High School Category

The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, Astoria, NY

Intensives – Learning Without Walls”

These three winners are all very different yet each has been deservedly rewarded for their innovation. Take a look at the videos linked above—you’ll be drawn into the stories, and the joy of discovery will hit you soon after. These educators are going beyond the lesson plan and getting away from the straight rows of desks to help tomorrow’s leaders learn the skills they’ll need to succeed.

On April 30, our judges will name one overall grand-prize winner. That program will earn an additional $30,000 prize in Follett products.

Empowering Innovation — One Vote at a Time

Voting for the 2014 -2015 Follett Challenge is now open, and you can vote once per day for your favorite video until midnight on January 30th, 2015. See below for voting tips.
With all the entries submitted, the excitement around the Follett Challenge is kicking into high gear. Video voting is underway and it’s your opportunity to tell us which schools should be crowned this year’s Follett Challenge winners. We want to know what you—the People—think is innovative and worthy of reward. And because we know there is a lot of innovation out there, ten schools with the most votes will be named People’s Choice winners, and will each receive $8,000 in goods and services from Follett School Solutions. We recognize that innovation comes in many different forms and styles—and we’re encouraging you to tell us what you think is innovative through the People’s Choice awards.

These ten awards empower the teachers, families, and friends to cast a vote of belief and trust for the school they know and love. If you’ve seen firsthand how a special program has benefited a child close to you, we want to empower you to tell us with your vote. If you vote each day for the school you believe in and they end up being a People’s Choice winner, you can forever feel proud that your votes contributed to their victory.

But that’s not all – the Semifinalists are competing for $30,000 in Follett products and services – and 20% of their score is based on the votes they receive. There is only one Grand Prize winner each year in the Follett Challenge, a dynamic school whose innovation shines and our judges feel its program stands above the rest. That’s a given, and even the Grand Prize winner needs your votes.

Lastly, we want to empower each school to get behind their entry and do everything possible to ensure a win. That means using the Follett Challenge promotions toolkit ( to get everyone in your school and community excited and dedicated to voting each day. It also means dreaming up new ways to encourage people to vote for your entry.

Good luck to each school with an entry! vote-now-540x361

To vote by email:
1. Select the video you want to vote for on the Follett Challenge website. Click “Vote with Email” button to the right of the video.
2. Enter your email address and click “Submit Your Vote!” button.
3. Check your email for the PIN. It doesn’t matter if you close the voting page.
4. Enter the PIN. You have 15 minutes and 3 attempts.
a. If you closed the voting page, you would follow steps 1 and 2 to see the PIN number field again. We won’t email you another PIN unless your current PIN has expired or you entered your PIN incorrectly 3 times.
b. Also, each time you come back to the voting page, your voting window is extended to 15 minutes from the current time.

We Are All Winners


Midnight tonight marks the close of submissions for another Follett Challenge. If you’ve submitted (or will in the next few hours) an entry, you’re probably as excited and filled with anticipation as we are.

Those schools submitting entries may be the ones who end up with generous prizes; however, each year at this time, the Follett Challenge team shares the same excitement and anticipation. We are winners when we get to read the stories, watch the videos, and learn what’s really happening in schools large and small all over the country.

With each entry, we’re reminded how forward thinking, passionate and dedicated today’s educators are in their pursuit of preparing students for life beyond the confines of school. We see small, rural schools using huge amounts of creativity and ingenuity to get students excited about learning. We learn of long-time librarians who have transformed their quiet buildings into bustling maker spaces that draw kids into learning before, during, and after school. And we see educators who imagine a richer society if each and every student participates in community service as a way of life.

Every entry tells a story that deserves to be shared, and reinforces what we already know—that educators are a uniquely dedicated breed, constantly striving to mold a better tomorrow for us all through the students they touch today.

Keep those entries coming—tonight, next year, or the following year, and keep innovating. We want to share your story, and we want to know how you accomplish what you set out to do. We’re all winners in the end.

Good luck to all entrants!

Why Not You?

by John Lodle, Belleville West High School

Every year, I encourage my twelfth grade students to apply for college scholarships. And every year, I have to work hard to convince them to apply for the scholarships requiring essays. I’m often met with looks of disbelief when I tell them it’s worth the time to apply; after all, someone wins these scholarships every year. Why not you?

Last fall, I found myself in my students’ shoes when the library director at our school suggested we enter the Follett Challenge. Really? Us? Our school was incredibly proud of its reading program, a campus-wide initiative that ignited passion for pleasure reading and improved student test scores. But was it special enough? Was it something that would be meaningful to other educators? Did it stand a chance against all the innovate programs created by schools around the country?

A year later, with our school celebrating the grand prize in the 2014 Follett Challenge, it’s easy to say entering the contest was worth it. But even before the prizes were announced, I was glad we entered the Follett Challenge.

Preparing the written entry and the video for the Challenge enabled our teachers, librarians, administrators, and students to reflect on our program. Often, the school day becomes so busy, teachers and librarians don’t have the chance to connect with each other, to assess the work they’re doing, to appreciate their impact on students and schools. This project helped us set aside time to discuss the success of our reading program and to plan for its future.

Students at Belleville West celebrate the school's grand-prize win in the Follett Challenge

Students at Belleville West celebrate the school’s grand-prize win in the Follett Challenge

Competing in the Follett Challenge also helped reinvigorate our staff and students. Sometimes, we all lose sight of the magic happening in our classrooms and our schools; the innovative programs we create become so much a fabric of our school communities we forget how exceptional they are. As students watched themselves in our Follett video, as parents and community members participated in online voting, as staff members compulsively refreshed their computer screens to check video vote totals (OK…maybe that was mostly me), the Follett Challenge generated new enthusiasm for our program.

The celebration at Belleville West, the Grand Prize winner for 2013-2014.

The celebration at Belleville West, the Grand Prize winner for 2013-2014.

One of the greatest benefits of the Challenge was the opportunity it provided to share our reading initiative with other schools. Knowing other educators were able to view our video online—and receiving calls and emails about our program from teachers and librarians around the country—provided us with priceless gratification and validation.

The day Follett revealed the semifinalist schools, we felt good about our chances to be one of the People’s Choice Winners. But to hear our school named as one of the four semifinalists was an unexpected thrill. A month later, when Follett announced the grand prize winner, students and teachers watched from their classrooms, cheering when our school appeared on the screen. Just as exciting was the assembly hosted by Follett for our students this fall. The enthusiasm of 2,000 students gathered in our gym to celebrate reading is a sight I will never forget.

Winning the Follett Challenge has allowed us to develop our Community of Readers program in ways we never envisioned. Our English teachers have expanded their classroom libraries and added new titles for literature circle assignments. Our library has doubled its number of eBooks, allowing students to continue their pleasure reading over breaks and during the summer. Our athletic department is working with the library and the English department to plan more “One Book, One Team” events for our football and basketball players. Our library is cultivating its young adult and non-fiction collections, asking students to develop a wish list of new books. And our entire school is preparing for a “One Book, One School” experience during the 2015-2016 school year.

This year, as I talk with my seniors about scholarship essays, I can’t help but remind them of our school’s success in the Follett Challenge. And I can’t help but remind them of all the benefits we enjoyed before the winners were even announced.

Many schools will receive generous prizes in this year’s Follett Challenge. Why not you?

John Lodle

John Lodle

226 Flavors of Innovation (a.k.a. Follett Challenge Retrospective)

by Susan Adelmann

Innovation to a kid growing up in Woodstock, IL in the early 70’s meant a trip to the new Baskin Robbins and the difficulty of selecting just one of those 31 flavors displayed side by side in the long ice cream cooler. For me, the young radical at age 10, it was always the bubble gum ice cream. There may be better techniques to eating ice cream with gum in it at the same time, but for me it always ended with the double treat and soggy prize of extracted gum pieces waiting to be enjoyed after that last bite of cone.  And this was the essence of disruptive innovation ala 10 year old kid in 1974.

Why the trip down memory lane?  And what does this have to do with the Follett Challenge?

Both are great examples of disruptive innovation and both are truly delightful.  Choosing from those 31 buckets of ice cream was delightful and the bubble gum treat that kept on giving was, too.

There aren’t so many things in my adult life that can trigger the same kind of delight, but I really do feel the same way working my way through the incredible assortment of Follett Challenge videos that have been shared by our customers since we launched the Challenge.

Between this year and last year alone, there are 226 flavors of innovation and inspiration, all archived for your viewing delight at Use this link to explore and see if you don’t agree with me that they line up just like buckets of ice cream at the ice cream counter.

You might sample the innovation of Delaware Valley Elementary School in Milford, PA, where fifth grade students have been broadcasting a live television show every morning for the past 22 years. DVE-TV airs on public television in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and on the internet. Over the years, more than 1,400 fifth graders have spent at least one school year as reporters for the program. They choose news, features, sports and weather. They use computers to research and write scripts in their own words, and then broadcast their stories live every day at 9:00 am. These fifth graders and the students they reach are preparing for the 21st century by blending their voice with the world around them and learning in a personal way about the events, leaders and issues that they will face as adults.   

Or, you can find North Park Junior High School in Lockport, NY, where they changed their school’s culture and climate by rallying around Miranda Lambert’s “All Kinds of Kinds” song with an “All Kinds of Kinds” program that engaged students to identify themselves using 800 different signs and celebrate their uniqueness and individuality working together to create a video. Their video brought together their school and community and went viral attracting news stations—eventually reaching Miranda Lambert herself. It’s impossible to watch the video and not be inspired at how the effort and creativity that starts with just a small group of people can catch on and spark meaningful change.    

Then there is P.S. 54 in Bronx, NY, where the school library media center has become the center of collaboration between classroom teachers, a science teacher and gym teacher to promote an interdisciplinary approach to information fluency, literacy, citizenship, and technology through a Community Garden Project. That’s right; the library media center implemented a vegetable garden using pallets which are otherwise regularly discarded as junk. While building gardens and caring for the plants, students create, solve problems, and learn about a variety of interdisciplinary subjects.

Or check out the Ardmore Hackers of Lakeview Middle School in St. Clair Shores, MI, where fifth graders are hacking their education in a maker pilot program that has sparked interest and had a tremendous impact on participating students.  Not only has the program been a success, but new teaching strategies piloted in the program are carrying over into more traditional classroom curriculum.   Test scores have soared in content areas covered by the program and it has sparked great interest, enthusiasm, and support from students and parents alike.   

The best part here is you don’t have to just select one – by my count there are 226 flavors of innovation at the Follett Challenge ice cream counter.  If you’re ever in need of inspiration this is the place to be. Click anywhere and prepare to be inspired as you think about submitting your own Follett Challenge entry… or any old day you need a reminder of how just a few motivated people really can change the world.

Ice cream analogies aside and reflecting in all seriousness on the small slice of K-12 education that we see through the lens of the Follett Challenge, we don’t ever forget the challenges educators face every day are daunting.  From teaching to new standards amidst controversy, to stretched budgets; from kids who face food insecurity or wonder where they will sleep, to principals charged with keeping kids safe in school—we know you face complex and difficult issues each and every day. And yet somehow, with passion and conviction, we see you rise beyond these challenges and push forward amazing, thoughtful, inspiring, and innovative programs like those exemplified here. Against that backdrop, it makes these videos and the work behind them that much more of a special treasure—one to be shared and celebrated.

Thank you Follett Challengers – your innovation inspires me and delights me!



Susan Adelmann

Susan Adelmann is a judge for the Follett Challenge and vice president, market intelligence for Follett School Solutions, a division of Follett Corporation. In her 7 years at Follett, Susan’s work has centered on digital and personalized learning platforms, data measurement and interoperability and other emerging technologies that support 21st century learning in K-12 schools. Prior to joining Follett, Susan held a variety of engineering and marketing leadership roles in the software industry. Notable achievements include leading the development and launch of what is today the Epicor Vision distribution system, along with guiding the direct marketing product launch efforts for numerous high profile software companies and technology media publishers. Susan punctuated her 30 year technology career with a passion for teaching and learning as a community college Computer Science instructor. As a digital learning evangelist, Susan is an industry speaker on education technology trends and opportunities and she currently serves on several working groups and the board of directors for the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), Education Division.

It’s the Journey: Even if I don’t win this Challenge, I am the richer for entering

by Oletta Branstiter, Sue Crouch Intermediate School, Fort Worth, TX


“Preach the good news. Use words if necessary.” – St. Francis of Assisi.

School libraries are neglected places nowadays. Most in my school district are staffed by overworked, underpaid Media Specialists, expected to be the full-time Computer Lab Aide as well as emergency substitute and cafeteria monitor for paraprofessional pay. So, when I snagged my position at Sue Crouch Intermediate in Fort Worth, TX, I felt blessed!

When Ms. Bland interviewed me for the job, she told me teachers were begging for a full-time attendant in the Library. I showed her my 1901 stereoscope and 1906 San Francisco earthquake stereographs to demonstrate my educational philosophy: giving students at least two perspectives lets them step inside the lesson.(A stereoscope is a device for viewing a stereoscopic pair of separate images, depicting left-eye and right-eye views of the same scene, as a single three-dimensional image.)

Branstiter's 1901 stereoscope

Branstiter’s 1901 stereoscope

Having the time to do a job well speaks volumes. My co-workers voted me Campus Teaching Assistant of the Year in 2010 and 2012. I also won the Crowley School District October Heartbeat Award in 2012.These acknowledgements gave me the platform to preach the word! “School Libraries are relevant!!” When Dan Powell, the school superintendent, and Board of Trustees attended the award ceremonies, I made sure they heard the good news: when a creative person is given the opportunity to do their job well, students make priceless and meaningful connections to curriculum, and discover that learning is fun.

This is why I am entering the Follett Challenge. I want to spread the message as far and wide as I can! As an English major and amateur writer, the essays were fairly easy to accomplish. At first, it seemed the topics were redundant, but then I realized that a dynamic learning program needs various, overlapping criteria to describe it fully. And, by being forced to dig a little deeper into what I do, I got the thrill of realizing that I don’t facilitate my program just because it keeps me motivated and curious, but because it really does help students make discernable cognitive connections!

I must admit, the video requirement made me pause. I am not technologically savvy at all. I don’t have a videographer’s eye. I’m self contained and self sufficient here in my Library World, used to relying only on myself. When I mentioned my trepidation about the video requirement to a co-worker whom I had invited to be interviewed on camera, she got all excited, offering to compile and mix a video for me – I just needed to send her the photos, music and video clips. If I didn’t have a good argument for fulfilling the “collaboration” part of the Follett Challenge before, I DO NOW!!

Interviewing parents, students and other staff members is an invaluable gift! Even if I don’t win this Challenge, I am the richer for entering. I chose specific rubric questions for each person I intended to interview, and was slightly astonished when they would use the question as a mere starting point for what they gained from my educational program. I was seeing it from their perspective. Now, they were providing the stereoscope and letting me step into the picture! I was learning in 3D.


Oletta Branstiter

Oletta Branstiter