Friday, 29 March 2013

Innovation Project

At the beginning of term four last year, I approached my Principal with a 'proposal' regarding facilitating the development of more innovative teaching approaches within our school.
The underlying principles of this proposal included:

  • The way children learn is changing.
  • Education is [needs to be] changing.
  • Schools and teachers need to be constantly evolving their practice in order to effectively meet the needs of modern learners - We need to be learners, too.
  • Innovation is more likely to develop ‘at the margins’, rather than when applied from above en masse.
More of the 'why' included:
Whilst how we learn and our resultant views about education have been [gradually... ] evolving over time, the modern rate of change is greater than it has ever been before, due to the 'digital revolution' and, in particular, the rise of the Internet.
The resultant changes in society are increasing exponentially and are affecting a range of different aspects of our lives, including how we access information, how we communicate, what we do for leisure purposes, the jobs that we have [and will have], as well as how we learn.

As usual, my Principal was very supportive and willing to try something new in a bid to improve the capacity of our teachers.


In terms of the process we were looking to implement, the plan was to work with one or two teachers who were keen to try a new idea / initiative / approach / etc. in their teaching. A point that we wanted to stress was that it wasn't especially important 'what' the idea / initiative was, but more that the teacher was looking to take a risk, try something new and adopt an innovative mindset. 
To support and help facilitate this, we would schedule some extra release time [one hour per week] for the participating teacher/s, support relevant Professional Learning opportunities and provide ongoing coaching. 


When considering how to best 'sell' this idea to staff, I had worked on a hunch about how our school tended to be perceived... 
Our school is very organised, very structured and very detail-oriented. I was pretty confident that the perceptions held of our school [both internal and external] would reflect this notion, so we did a 'word association' asking for respondents to nominate five words that they most strongly associated with our school. The words available to choose from came from two categories, borrowing from some left-brain, right-brain theory:

Sure enough, we were clearly perceived to be 'safekeeping', rather than 'experimental':



Not sure if my analogy was the best... but I tried to explain it in the context of us having one 'wheel' spinning very well [the green, safekeeping one... ], but we needed to start paying some more attention to getting this other 'wheel' [the yellow, experimental one... ] spinning... 


Anyway, we had two enthusiastic teachers take the bait and decide that they wanted to be a part of this project. Both did a great job in researching and implementing two very different projects in their respective classrooms [one focusing on Learning Spaces and the other upon Yoga and Relaxation Strategies].
This week, the two teachers completed the final aspect of their 'projects' when they shared their learning journeys with our whole staff. Both were very pleased with the outcomes of their respective projects, sharing student surveys, photographs and their own observations.
We have now invited other people to nominate to participate in a similar process [one has already committed] and we are hoping this more future-oriented, innovative type of mindset will spread to more of our staff and that this sort of initiative will allow us to 'build in' a structure and process for innovation and continuous professional learning to be occurring at our school.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Closing Gaps...

Interesting policy initiative coming out of England (whose edu policies, along with the USA's, we tend to mimic... ): Schools told to narrow pupil gap 

My first reaction was that it was good to see equity of outcomes being valued and prioritised... However, the devil is probably in the detail - how will "attainment" be measured..? Will a broad range of assessments be taken into account, or will a single test that only focuses upon a narrow range of knowledge and skills be the tool of choice..?

How will this affect schools and teachers..?

If the former method is used (multiple and varied sources of data to inform judgements about attainment), schools and teachers would be more likely to focus their energies on teaching and learning that addresses the full range of curriculum areas, as well as see less benefit in 'training' students in the formats and conventions of one particular assessment type....

If the latter method is used (single, large-scale test that excludes many areas of the curriculum), it would seem more likely that schools and teachers would narrow their own focus towards that which is tested, that which they are going to be measured upon... 
i.e. Poorer, less-privileged students get a narrower education, with far less opportunity for experiencing concepts, discussing with peers, making stuff and learning in modern ways... 


Maybe I'm being cynical, but this approach seems a tad short sighted to me, when longer-term, more strategic initiatives are required to fully address the inequities in educational attainment in our schools.
Is this an example of Government policy 'washing its hands' of responsibility for inequitable outcomes and passing the onus wholly onto teachers and schools..?

Friday, 22 March 2013

When is it OK to fail..?


I read this interesting article recently about the benefits of failure.

Some good advice regarding the mindset we should adopt towards failures... Here are some interesting quotes that resonated a bit with me:
  • embrace and foster a culture of experimentation... 
  • failure is acceptable... 
  • don't go on repeating the same failures over and over again... 
  • most companies have "low tolerance for failure culture" - no room for experimentation... 
  • failure... can mean different things to different people.
  • honourable failure... and incompetent failure... 
  • we learn through experimentation... 
  • it's not the failure [that's important]... but rather the learning.
  • failure in organisations most often happens on two levels: the failure to anticipate and the failure to execute. 
  • the fast pace of change we experience today actually seems to happen much faster outside organisations than inside. It takes time to adapt to changes... 



Takeaways... 


We need to adopt and value experimental ways of thinking and working
We need to 'budget' for failures to occur, when we are trying new ideas, initiatives, etc. 
We need to learn from failures that we inevitably experience from time to time, rather than continuing to fail in the same way. 
Failure to change, evolve and improve is a failure in itself - if we don't actively pursue new ways and innovations, we are guaranteed to fail. 
Change is happening in 'the real world' at an increasingly rapid rate, whether we like it or not - better to to be proactive about keeping pace with this than to bury our heads and have our practice become irrelevant.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

How do you want to work..?

Just read this interesting piece on introverts and work spaces.
The gist is that modern work environments, with their emphasis on open-plan spaces, 'incidental' meetings, high collaboration, etc, are not as effective as many people think they are and, in fact, actually have a negative impact upon those with introverted preferences.

I am a bit conflicted by this notion that open, collaboration-focused work environments are negative for introverts... I understand some of the discomfort felt by introverted types in such environments, but I believe strongly in the importance of people exploring diverse perspectives, accessing the knowledge and skills of many (rather than one),working together to solve complex problems, etc, etc... I also think schools need to be preparing students to be good at working with other people and communicating well, in preparation for living and working in a world that places growing emphasis on these skills...

We all have to act out of preference at certain times, so that we can get along with people that are different to ourselves, as well as tailor our behaviour to the situation and context we find ourselves in. The key to 'coping' with this need to act out of preference is to know how and when you can meet your own needs - the article has some techniques that are useful [and very familiar to me!] for - in this case - introverts. 

So should introverts continue to 'push back' against the growing emphasis on collaborative work practices, or should they 'put up', shelving their discomfort in the interests of the greater good..?