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creating a culture in which innovation can spark

"San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of….. You could strike sparks anywhere".  ~ Hunter S Thompson

I love this quote because it strikes at the heart of successful school reform.  While the compelling case for change in education is well established (and has been for some time) the conventions and realities of day-to-day schooling make it a difficult beast to shift.  If the broader education system has proven anything over the last 200 years, is that it’s incredibly adept at resisting innovation.  You can have a clear vision, comprehensive strategy and resource rich environment but if your school culture isn’t equipped and supported to change you'll be quick out of luck.  Sparks won't catch.

For compelling ideas to thrive we need to see beyond traditional notions of strategic planning, professional learning and infrastructure development and focus on growing a culture and community that is receptive to change.  

Embrace personal devices.  

If you value personalised, authentic and creative learning experiences then users need full access to their device.  Managing devices inhibits teachable moments, hinders creative potential and ultimately reduces feelings of ownership.  Managed devices are more likely to be left at home, damaged and discarded in preference for user owned devices.  Just look at any trolley of shared laptops in a school.

There is often a concern that personally managed devices will see a blow out of video game playing, gross media consumption, computer hacking and the overthrowing of small governments.  Model and share positive ways in which you want to see devices used.  Have clear expectations for positive device use at lunch time and home.  Equip parents and guardians with guidelines for positive conversations about technology use.

Switching to personally managed devices also bring significant benefits to your IT Ops team. Managed devices are time-vampires that spawn disenfranchised users who need support for even the simplest of tasks.  Managed devices are easily the number one consumer of an IT Ops team’s time.  Personal devices free up teams to be proactive, respond to requests, explore new systems and improve internal efficiencies.  

Ultimately, as much as some may like to manage and control devices, it's at most an illusion of control.  There is ALWAYS a way to circumvent these securities and tools.  Would you rather foster a culture of positive and transformative learning or one of subterfuge and pedestrian use of tech?

Give agency to educators.

Innovation will be stifled if educators are required to do the same thing at the same time under the guise of 'consistency'. 

Trust in the professionals you've hired and provide inspirational leadership and support rather than micro-management of their curriculum and calendars.  Encourage staff to bring new ideas, practice and ways of working to their classes and accept they may need to diverge from the ‘topic’, lesson plan or even unit.  You can even implement an Action research type iterative cycle but don’t make it lock-step.  Keep it fluid and allow teachers to love the exploration and sharing of their craft.   

The benefits of this type of growth mindset far outweigh the potential disaster of inconsistency across classes when one teachers fails to cover surds, adverbs or the causes of WW1.  

Diversify learning tools.

It’s unlikely a single Learning Management System (LMS) or productivity tool can be everything to all learners, subjects and divisions. Learning experiences ebb and flow at different times in different places.  Requiring everyone to use the same platform is counterintuitive to the goal of personalised, student driven learning.  It doesn't even touch on the fact that most of these tools do little outside of shoving the traditional classroom model online.

Learners need the ability to leverage different curation, feedback, inquiry, collaborative, creative and portfolio tools.  If a learner wants to use Evernote, Google Docs or OneNote for personal note-taking let them.  Don’t think about standardising tools but rather think about establishing positive expectations for all.  Eg.  “A great productivity tool should allow you to embed text, media and share ideas with other people”.  Showcase the tools you use and suggest others that may be useful.  Remember that a personal device model empowers users to independently explore and evaluate tools and that there will be less of a need to teach them explicitly how to use technology.  Sure it means leaners will need to juggle additional credentials but you know what, it still beats the hell out of Blackboard or Moodle.  

"But we need to monitor what students and teachers are doing for consistency and accountability!".  This old chestnut.  Gary Stager nailed it on the head when he stated that embracing a single LMS afforded little change outside of allowing parents to sit at home and Day trade their kids.  If you're concerned about transparency provide all learners with a blog and ask that this becomes the conduit for their passions, creations and work, regardless of how they're created. Oh, and if they find a better platform, let them use it.

If your learning intent is clear, the choice is easy.  Would you prefer a school driven, rigid, one-stop data shop for parents or a rich student driven portfolio that is used to showcase learning and share what they love?  Which is more authentic?  More empowering?  More useful to the learner?

Evolve spaces.

Flexible spaces are are worthy pursuit but before you spend fat stacks on a swathe of slightly odd-looking desks be aware there are cheap retrofits that can be just as beneficial.  Put castors on desks and couches so they can be rolled around.  Invest in modular stools that can be stacked out of the way.  Provide plenty of space to showcase student thinking and learning (Make Space suggests shower-board as a cheap whiteboard alternative). 

Most importantly, have clarity around why flexibility is important.  Teachers need time to explore and discuss the pedagogical intent and the practical logistics behind leveraging different learning layouts.  

Oh, and buy plants. Lots and lots of plants.  

Showcase great practice.

If something great is happening in a class at your school it shouldn’t be secret to everyone else, particularly the class next door.  Make it a priority to capture and showcase any success you see, however small.   Agree on a simple framework whether it’s a tweet, blog post or video snapshot.  Rough and ready is fine as long as great teaching and learning is at the forefront.  If you’re fortunate enough to have coaches or integrators in your school leverage them as documentarians as well.  This showcase will become a catalyst for open and honest discussions about the teaching and learning occurring in your community.

Tie this with an agreed upon Twitter, Facebook or Instagram hashtag and you’ll soon have a visible community of practice that's not limited by the traditional bounds of curriculum and classroom. 

Build staff capacity.

Collectively, your staff are a fountain of professional knowledge and experience just waiting to be tapped.  In the last year alone they've initiated both personal and professional projects and attended a multitude of Professional Learning (PL) events.

Encourage staff to run school PL opportunities and reduce the number of external consultants and experts you bring in.  Wherever possible devolve leadership and have teachers take the lead.  Mix up your PL plan and offerings so not everything has top-down, leadership driven agenda.  BarCamps, EdCamps, Pecha Kucha, Maker days and debates can be frameworks for tapping into the collective knowledge of your team and exposing new ideas.  Realise the wealth of your experience in your parent community too and the potential mutual benefits of involving them in your learning community.  Imagine a school where you didn't need parent evenings because they attended PL alongside teachers. 

Initially, some educators may be reluctant to share but be persistent.  Tap people on the shoulder if you need to.  Help them plan, present and share their experience.  It won't be long before a melting pot of passion, expertise and interests emerges that you never knew existed.  

If you value these concepts and are persistent in their growth then compelling ideas will have a better chance of spreading like wildfire.  With a culture of innovation you’ll be in a stronger position to address the shackles of discrete subjects, rigid timetabling and high-stakes testing and ultimately be empowered to give agency to those who need it most, the students.