Monday, 28 October 2013

Apply some constraints to unleash some creativity...

'20 % Time', 'Genius Hour', 'Passion Time' - all inspiring names for initiatives that hold similar principles. Namely, people being allocated significant blocks of time that are designated for the pursuit of personal interest areas in a highly-autonomous environment. Part of the popularity of these initiatives is that the large amounts of freedom bestowed are often in [very] strong contrast to the remaining [80%... ] time in the work day / week! 
Increasingly, workplaces are using initiatives like these as a means to spark creativity and new solutions. Schools, too, are getting in on the act, driven by a growing recognition of the importance of creativity, of developing new ideas, solutions and products, as well as building diverse skill sets for a future that is less-predictable.
There certainly is a lot of 'gung-ho' support for these sorts of initiatives, so I was interested to read a slightly-critical perspective here:
This piece suggests applying some boundaries and focus to these sorts of times, rather than allowing such time to be completely loose, directionless and out of alignment with the needs and goals of the organisation [or the child themselves, in the school context]. It does seem quite easy to imagine inefficiencies, irrelevancies, as well as general time wasting and low productivity starting to seep into these times if the freedom wheel is turned up to 10... 

In the article, Ewan McIntosh identifies how children in 20 % Time-style settings "often don't know what to do, or... they run out of steam.
I'm sure the same argument could be applied for many adult workplaces - people often don't have the skills or, perhaps more crucially, the experience in working with high-levels of independence and empowerment. They will often need some boundaries to work within and some support with how to get started, in order to confidently go off and exercise their 'genius' or explore their passion... Having these 'loose' constraints in place will also make relevance and alignment with the needs and goals of the company more likely to occur...

Last week, we did try something along the lines of 'Genius Hour' or 'Passion Time' at our final pupil-free Professional Learning day for the year - the afternoon session was dubbed 'Choose Your Own Adventure', with staff able to go off individually or in small groups to investigate and find out about a topic of choice. 
We did apply some constraints to this activity, providing a starting list of seven topics for people to choose from, which were drawn from staff feedback from previous PL days, recent Professional Learning foci, or school priority areas. 
We encouraged staff to nominate any other topics that they were personally interested in - the only proviso being that this was negotiated with school leadership first. This ended up seeing about four new topics added to the starting list and which people explored on the day.
We also gave some starting suggestions for how people may go off and do this work [read articles, view case studies, watch video clip, talk to colleagues, etc... ]

We also wanted to add a layer of 'internal accountability' [read Elmore re. this], by designating time at the end of the session for each staff member to share their learning experience with a small group of colleagues. As well as ensuring that everybody needed to contribute something, this element also enabled some new ideas to spread and pollinate, as well as gave individuals opportunity to demonstrate their own developing expertise to their peers.

Hopefully, we will be able to continue to give supportive, personalised opportunities to our staff to develop their own skills and capacity as learners, whilst continuing to strengthen our collective capacity in identified school priority areas.

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