Tagged: innovation

Potential vs Opportunity – how schools impact on Social Mobility



Cartoon by Kevin Kallaugher

I love the word potential. It is full of hopes, dreams and possibilities. I believe we all have unlimited potential and the journey of our lives is how we cultivate and utilise opportunities to achieve our hopes and dreams. There are however challenges in how many opportunities we can create and how many opportunities we have access to. Unfortunately these challenges are harder for some groups than others, and as an educator, as a parent, as a human being, this frustrates me.

Public schools in more affluent suburbs have self-fulfilling prophecies. They attract their cohort because of their perceived success and have success because they attract affluent families.  This does not necessarily correlate to good teaching and learning, but it does mean that they can demand more of their families in terms of contribution; be that money; devices; uniform; or extra-curricular involvement.

As schools increasingly innovate and utilise technology to improve learning, this generates a greater disparity for schools with higher numbers of low-SES students. If schools in more affluent communities can insist (as does my own children’s school) that families provide a device (in my case an iPad) for middle school and another for secondary (in my case a Macbook Pro), how does this leverage opportunity?

There is undeniable evidence that when students have access to technology it increases their opportunity for learner led construction of understanding and personalised learning. If schools are able to demand the best of devices to be accessible to individuals 24/7, this of course enables a range of innovative approaches including the breaking down of traditional education. When students do not have access 24/7, this limits the opportunity for schools to challenge traditional systems, approaches and structures and ultimately makes it more difficult for them to foster and cultivate learning that leads to critical, creative and independent thinkers who can leverage a range of technologies.

The ultra-conservative approach to education reform and funding is failing a significant proportion of our young people to compete with their privileged peers. I do not believe for a second that the young people I work with could not have the same opportunities as those living in the leafy greens. In fact, I truly believe that the resilience and determination embodied in their daily actions would lead to the achievement of even greater potential if they were afforded the same opportunities as more affluent teens.  
If we do not address this issue, and do not support schools by subsidising technology in lower SE areas, then we will not long see the limitations upon social mobility, further widening the gap between the rich and the poor.

Reflection leads to Opportunity

time for reflection (1)

Brighton jetty (2015), a favourite place to sit and ponder!

2015 went by so fast and I expect that 2016 will be equally as busy (more likely busier). With taking on new challenges and responsibilities, I found there were a few things that I value that I neglected which have become critical to my personal growth and wellbeing. This year I hope to be better!

One personal attribute that I value is that of my curiosity and willingness to try anything at least once. This has opened so many doors for me because I don’t shy away from opportunities. Essential to this process of curiosity and exploration is time to reflect. When I don’t deliberately commit time and space to think, reflect, review and explore, I limit my capacity to see potential opportunities or create new experiences.

Something that has always resonated, in regards to being creative, is something that author Michael Morpurgo said in an interview with Sir Michael Parkinson back in 2012. When asked what advice he would give to young writers, he encouraged living an interesting life; keeping your eyes, ears and heart open, reading (a lot) and going to interesting places and experiencing interesting events.   I think critical to this is being able to take time to reflect on these experiences whether they be professional or personal, exploring what impact they may have or what it was indeed that made them good, bad or other.

In reading Innovators Mindset by George Couros, he identifies “Time for Reflection” as a critical to any innovative learning environment. He quotes John Dewey “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience”. There is nothing to disagree with here, deeper learning requires time to consolidate our understandings and develop connections to our prior learning. How often we are deliberate about ensuring time for this to occur, whether that be in the classroom or beyond, will surely impact on the nature of the learning and any opportunity for improvement or innovation.

So this year I hope to be more deliberate about creating time to reflect; for myself, for my peers and for students.

Innovation vs Disruption

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 12.39.55 pm

There are a range of different representations of the concept of innovation in schools. It’s a word that I don’t particularly like to use, in fact when my school was looking to name its new collaborative open learning space I strongly contended for the word “innovative” not to be included in the label.

Buzz words fly around business and education continually as we reevaluate what it means to develop successful organisations.  This is even more true now as change accelerates with modern technology and access to a global learning and business community.  Just recently my son’s school rolled out their new promotional campaign of being “Future Proof” claiming the aim is “teaching children at all ages to be happy, resilient, adaptable and inquisitive, … future-proofing its students, to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

The Edtechteam promote the “Future Ready Schools” initiative, claiming that “Future Ready means having a comprehensive approach to the technology integration”. Furthermore they claim “Being Future Ready is a mindset, not a destination… In order for students to have agency, learning should take places in inspiring spaces where teachers are empowered to make instructional decisions.”

I think we spend a lot of time generating labels and linguistics to represent modern learning and modern spaces and by the time they are adopted, things have changed once again. It’s no wonder schools and teachers become overwhelmed and even despondent as new ideals are continuously rolled out.

So where am I going with all this? Well for me it’s trying to make sense of how I can be part of a leadership team that supports and develops continual and sustainable change in a school without it feeling like an entire makeover every year. How can we develop an emerging culture that embraces disruption as an ongoing response to making choices about what is best for kids in the now, which could ultimately mean rapid change in some respects in short periods of time. A definite challenge, but ultimately what choice do we have if our ambition is to do what is right for kids?


Innovation is a Mindset

My Creations (15)

Disruption by Tsahi Levent-Levi via Flickr

The word “innovation” has been a driver in business for many years and is increasingly becoming part of the discourse in schools.

I think often when we talk about “innovation” in schools, there is a tendency to accompany that with new devices, or developing new spaces.

The dictionary defines innovation as;

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I believe innovation to be a mindset, not a title, nor something that occurs in a special space.

It’s how we disrupt our actions and methods to always seek something better. It may be in the routines we have created or the rules we maintain.  It may be in the content we teach or the way we teach it.

It may be hard to conceive of innovation without some form of digital technology participating, but innovation is definitely not limited in this way.

I believe it’s about the willingness to explore and challenge ideas, to take on the status quo and to implement change. To test and try and to respond to the results.

Not everything will succeed nor will all change be sustainable, thus there is inherent risk involved. Whenever there is risk, we need to ensure there is trust. I believe this is the biggest challenge in developing cultures of innovation, they must be cultures of trust first and foremost.

Understanding —> Shared Vision —> Trust —> Innovation

What do you think?

For some articles and perspectives on innovative mindsets check out these links:

The 7 key principles for an innovation mindset

Developing an Innovative Mindset

Forbes Best-Of Blogs: How To Encourage Innovation In Your Company

Innovative Teaching and Learning #SAVMP

Do-it-yourself Game Changing

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Simon Young

George Couros provided the following prompts as part of the #SAVMP week 6 challenge on Roads to Innovation:

How do you go about creating innovative practices in your schools?

How do you know if they are making a difference?  

How are they revisited to ensure that they have the same impact that they once had before?

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be part of a team to establish a faculty all shiny and new. Not only was this a fresh beginning as a new faculty but I was also new to the school, thus not entirely compromised or pressured by previous practices, history or approaches.

I was adamant that we would not create a carbon copy, but base all our decisions on what is best for our kids and their learning. That might mean that some of our choices reflect that of other schools, but would not be  because of other schools. I had only been working in the area of disability for a year prior so had again, not been influenced by traditional practices, approaches or expectations for how this new environment should run.

No limitations, no deficit model in sight!

Working with students with disabilities comes with many assumptions. Misconceptions about students “abilities” to be problem solvers or to manage technology. Attitudes towards “wasting” time, effort and money on students with little to contribute to the community and ignorance to the expertise and skills required to support these young people to access opportunities despite their personal challenges and the limitations from these external forces.

If you enter our learning spaces you will quickly see that our students are negotiating their learning, problem solving and manipulating a wide range of technology to enhance their development.  Our space is innovative, not because we have 1:1 iPads,  interactive whiteboards and laptops, but because we approach learning as a constantly evolving practice, always trying to find ways to improve both the teaching and the learning.

I develop innovative practices, by constant reflection and asking these questions:

  • Is it authentic?
  • Is it student driven?
  • Is it improving student understanding and skills?
  • How can we do it better or replace it with something better?

I think these questions are valid for all learning practices and environments, do you?

What other questions would support the development of innovative teaching and learning?

Get Class, Add Tech…Innovation?

Developing innovative teaching is not a “get class and just add iPad” fix. In fact innovative teaching doesn’t require iPads, computers or devices of any kind. These things are just tools that enable the production of the same “stuff” just in different ways.  It’s the approach that makes learning innovative.

I was recently at a school that has a great reputation for providing students with “21st century” learning. They have amazing spaces, facilities, technology and materials. I was able to see two classes in action. One group of students were constructing iPod cases which were to hold speakers which they soldered themselves.

Sounds like a great design challenge doesn’t it?

The second group of students were racing cars they had built. They were constructed from the same materials and as they raced in pairs, the slower car was eliminated.

Sounds like fun yeah?

Both tasks provided opportunities for students to engage in relevant content that they could connect with. Both tasks provided opportunities to engage with peers and/or work independently.

One task had students follow an explicit sequence of instructions. Every end product looked identical except for the colour or decoration on the outside.

The other task had students challenged by a design problem. They had to consider how to make the BEST product with the materials provided and test the end product to see if their design was successful.  Each end product looked different even if the colour matched others.

Only one of these tasks was different than a traditional build from the 20th century tech class.

I remember woodwork in high school. We built paper towel holders and coffee cup trees. Each one looked the same, some were sanded finer or stained darker, but generally the end products were hardly different.  I know that some schools still complete very similar tasks and thus we would consider them static in their progress.  I argue that the first task I mentioned above might as well be a paper towel holder. The only difference is that kids would prefer to make it over the paper towel holder!

Whatever the product, the change in the innovation is giving students the opportunity to approach it in authentic ways. Given a design brief with limitations, not a sequence of instructions which results in identical products at the end.

The same can be said in all class rooms. If we are just providing options to do the same task in different ways, for example instead of writing your narrative, type it on the iPad/computer or record it in audio, this is differentiating the learning yes, but it is not transforming the experience for the student. It is not challenging them to think about their learning in different ways. It is merely making the learning look pretty. Don’t get me wrong – I LIKE PRETTY!!!

Developing an innovative learning experience is not limiting our students to topics or ways of expressing themselves, it is about inspiring our students to think beyond the examples we provide.  It is about establishing a culture of exploration, adaption, modifying what we know and making it better!

This is what I endeavour to do each and every day. How about you?

The Power Game

Lately I have been thinking about the role that power plays to inhibit the learning in our classrooms and schools.  This has led me to think back…back ………back to my early impressionable years at university, as I studied justice and law and visited the works of such thinkers as Michel Foucault and german cultural critic Friedrich Nietzsche. I remember being caught up in the ‘rise of the institution’ as a construction of power and control. At the time it wasn’t the institution of schools that I was most intrigued by, it was in fact the prison and psychiatric institutions I was more obliged to investigate.  The system of education was secondary but still of interest due to my reliance on being part of that machine to complete my degree!  It is now that my memories of such studies comes to the forefront as I consider why it is that our classrooms often preside as the playground of power struggles and control and how the systems we work within constrain and restrict originality.

Foucault saw schools in the 17th century as functioning to contain disorders, prevent ignorance, idleness, and insubordination (see Discipline and Punishment).  He then saw it develop with the rise expanse of the factory and population increase into the more modern system.

Schools began to develop, first, functional spaces, and later, separate classrooms; and pupils were distributed spatially and serially, not only according to progress, age, or level of achievement but also character, cleanliness, even morality.

The twentieth-century shift from traditional didactic or teacher-centred to more co-operative or child-centred instructional formats has not dissolved or tamed power relations but merely reformulated them.

 Roger Deacon 

I can walk around my school on a daily basis and see this in action. We have some amazing teachers in our school, yet if you asked each one of them who owns the power in the classroom, who controls the learning, I am quite sure most, if not all, would say they do.

George Couros recently suggested reading Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant. It was quite serendipitous that 2 days from starting to formalise these thoughts on here, George would make this suggestion.

Notter and Grant declare that we are in fact struggling to be “fully human within our organizational lives” as they explain that our organisations have been “modelled after machines”.  Foucault would assert that in fact they ARE machines and we are but cogs within it.

Are we just cogs in a machine?

Are we just cogs in a machine?

Notter and Grant see that the “revolutionary breakthrough in technology” (the internet) has enabled us to become “more human”.  The social connections and implications creating transparency and enabling the line between professionals and amateurs to be blurred.

Yet our organisations (schools) remain rigid and our classrooms structured to maintain the machine. The struggle for control and power continues despite the mechanics failing those it is trying to ‘produce’. Most would agree and most schools would even impart in their vision that their objective is to support students to be innovative, creative and successful. How many of our schools are actually able to support their staff to be innovative, creative and successful? Does it start there? Shouldn’t our principals be able to be innovative, creative and successful too?

The challenge as Notter and Grant see, is “to make our organizations more human”. They suggest:

Taking more chances

Giving up control

Shifting authority

Thinking about old issues from new perspectives

Bringing in new voices

I would love to see these ideas being discussed within faculties, within schools, within executives, within regions. I would love to hear  about and see schools challenging the machines and transforming themselves to become more “humanized”. Most emphatically I am excited about challenging my own classrooms, my own staff, my own peers and my own leadership, to see how WE can become more “humanized”!