If we are really honest with ourselves our schools haven’t really changed a great deal since the idea of compulsory schooling began. We are all aware of the numerous ‘21st Century Learning’ presenters who talk about 19th Century production line education turning our standardised products for the industrial age. Trying to break free from the constraint of established buildings, systemic structures and engrained mental models of how things should be done can be a challenge.
Having fresh ideas and new ways of doing things can be challenging to established norms but necessary if we are going to progress learning to the ideals espoused by many proponents of 21st Century Education. One of the stumbling blocks to innovation is the notion of Best Practice. This very idea that there is one state or way to do things is from a stance of a Fixed Mindset (Dweck, 2012). Sometimes the pursuit of ‘Best Practice’ can be to the detriment of ‘Better Practice’. An iterative, growth mindset approach leads to better practice.
Innovation for us is all about deepening our pursuit of effective learning. Over the years we have implemented many innovative ideas including Student Led Conferencing, Bring Your Own Browser, Robotics, Coding, 3D printing, e-textiles, student driven timetables and maker culture. All these ideas have come from being connected to others, professional reading, and conference attendance. These initiatives have (or currently) started small in a trial environment before slowly scaling them up. Enabling teachers to connect and share via social media (especially Twitter) and face to face encounters provides a rich source of ideas, energy and enthusiasm from a variety of places and industries. As leaders we need to model the use of these vehicles for sharing ideas.
It is vitally important that innovation is a not linked to one individual, it needs to be part of the culture. This year we established an innovation team who are charged with finding new practices that will align with our school vision and deepen our understanding of effective learning. This team is lead by two teachers and has a voluntary component to the team composition. The team is not limited to teachers – board members, parents, scientists, IT brains, business people are welcome. The leaders of the team are given one management unit each ($4000) to coordinate the ideas, generate feedback loops and plan next iterations. The innovation team leaders report to the Leadership Team about their progress and thinking. As principal it is my job to coach these leaders in how we package and implement these new ideas in a way that will get maximum buy in and engagement from the school community.
A very recent outcome from the Innovation team is the ‘Staffie’ – a regular voluntary gathering of staff in an ‘unconference’ approach where we learn from each other. This was the result of our innovation leaders attending numerous educamps, unconferences and non-edu events that highlight our belief that the knowledge is in the room. Innovation, and therefore better practice, starts with an inquiring teacher given permission to think, act, reflect, re-design and share.
Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential. [eBook version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com