Shira Woolf Cohen: An Innovator in Education

Shira Woolf Cohen is an innovator and leader in the field of education. As an experienced educator and the co-founder of Innovageous, a consultancy that helps schools transition to more innovative and equitable learning environments, her experience as a school leader has been invaluable in understanding the needs of students and educators and making sure that their needs are met in inclusive ways. After joining the Catalyst:Ed provider network, Woolf Cohen took Innovageous to the next level and has had the opportunity to work with clients in various states across the U.S.  

Creating Innovative and Equitable Solutions for Schools

Woolf Cohen has spent the past 25 years in Philadelphia working as a teacher, out-of-school time (OST) leader, and school leader. With her business partners, Joanna Hightower and Alicia Woolf, she established Innovageous in July 2020 to provide virtual supports for students and educators. Since then, Woolf Cohen and her team have shifted their focus from short-term to long-term needs. “We’ve been working to build templates and tools and professional developments and interactive toolkits that can be used for years to come for organizations, and not just at the moment,” says Woolf Cohen. “A lot of organizations are leaning into those solutions, recognizing that every time a new staff member comes aboard, we don’t have to have a person ready to give the orientation; we can actually have an interactive and engaging pre-recorded orientation that’s ready to go.”

Harnessing the Power of Identity and Experience

Woolf Cohen’s identity has been integral to her work. As a Jewish woman, she has leaned into her values of opening opportunities for others and has shared her personal life experiences with her clients. She has been a woman in a leadership role for a long time and has experienced both positive and negative experiences, making her aware of her impact on others and how her words and actions can influence those around her. 

“Part of what we do is not only is who we are as individuals important to our work, and important to know who the individuals are that we are working with, but it’s also part of our Innovageous process.” Woolf Cohen adds, “I would say that that’s probably one of my biggest growth areas is understanding how I come to the table. Understanding how my words and actions not only impact myself, but impact my clients, the school communities, and partners—holding each other accountable, but not afraid to have courageous conversations and push each other to think further.”

She’s a passionate advocate for equity in education. Her work with her partner organizations and schools across Philadelphia exemplifies the kind of innovation and courage she brings to her work at Innovageous. Their process starts with a review of artifacts, including strategic plans, evaluation reports, compliance data, audits, curriculum materials, surveys, and key informant interviews. In addition, the team takes the time to learn more about their clients and their students, so they can develop tangible resources that will best suit their needs and ensure that their voice is not the only voice in the room. 

“We actually tend to be more facilitators and resource sharers than experts,” says Woolf Cohen. “By doing that, we’re really bringing all of our clients to the table, different stakeholders, and building an environment where people feel comfortable, that you feel comfortable to share, they feel comfortable to have discourse, they feel comfortable to reach out to us afterward and share a question or a thought. We’re really leveling the playing field of how our clients come to the process with Innovageous and how they recognize that we are true partners.”

Making a Lasting Impact

Woolf Cohen has been able to expand the reach of Innovageous and build her own network of other providers. “We as individual consultants don’t always have the answer, but we can help people together to get to that answer,” she says. Through her involvement in the Catalyst;Ed provider network, she has been able to take on leadership roles and collaborate with other consultants by participating in the School Reopening Provider Resource Group and Social-Emotional Learning Sprint. Most notably, Woolf Cohen has been able to help Philadelphia schools secure $120,000 in funding and worked with school principals to fill out applications and provide them with the necessary resources to submit their applications just through her collaboration with fellow providers in the network.

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