Tag Archives: Innovation in Education

Thoughts on September day

25 Sep


Schools are operating on a 19th century bureaucratic model. It is a compliance-oriented structure, based on:
• Deficit-based versus asset-based models of student learning.
• Teacher to student versus student to teacher models of authority.
• Extrinsic versus intrinsic models of motivation.
• Fixed versus incremental models of intelligence.
• Cognitive versus social-emotional models of knowledge.
• Status versus developmental models of performance.

We know that the impact of PLD on practice and student performance is inverse to its distance from the classroom. Yet most current PD is the carwash model, spray and pray, the least effective form of PD. Schools persists in practices that do not work. I really like that metaphor

Leadership is about building highly functional people into highly functional teams.
We know that teams learn best when…

  1. Through collaborative structures

Until this year when leading this area I have missed the boat here. I have tinkered with this but never seen the success it should have. Collaborative structures help to decrease teacher isolation, codify and share successful teaching practices, increase staff morale, and open the door to experimentation and increased collective efficacy. High levels of teacher collaboration improve teaching and learning, student behaviour, and student achievement on high-stakes tests. A team focus on learning helps teachers to discover causal connections between teaching and student learning and encourages collective questioning of ineffective teaching practices.

High levels of collaboration are likely to exist when the leadership marks it as a priority, when common time and physical space are set aside for collaboration, and when teaching and learning is seen as a team responsibility, rather than an individual responsibility. Collaborative structures enable teachers to learn from the experience and expertise of their peers.

Collaborative structures imply the provision of both time and space for staff to interact. Time is perhaps the most precious resource, and time to meet and talk is an essential resource for schools. Collaboration is time-consuming and staff need to be provided with adequate time to interact. The movement from ‘me’ or ‘I’, to ‘us’ or ‘we’, requires frequent teacher interactions which can be achieved through common planning time, team-teaching, and coaching and mentoring. Physical structures also need to support collaborative learning. Classrooms, staff workspaces, and furniture all either reinforce or detract from collaboration. Lets change this.

  1. Teachers are encouraged to take risks and be creative

Teachers need to be encouraged to be creative and to take chances to be wrong. Leaders need the support, encouragement, and freedom to challenge group norms and disrupt routines. When leaders display readiness to consider alternative points of view, staff can feel empowered to suggest their own innovative ideas. Risk-taking is also enhanced when leaders model their own learning publicly. This can be hard.

  1. Leadership is distributed

Over-managing slows teams down. Distributed leadership develops leadership capacity and talent throughout the organisation. Leadership can be provided by someone other than an appointed team leader. Sharing the responsibility of chairing team meetings or even rotating leaders within teams helps leadership become a collective endeavour.

  1. They are united by a common purpose

Every teacher should have an Individual Learning Plan, set in standards and the school improvement plan, and receive coaching based on that learning plan. Every subject department should have an improvement plan. The aim is a development culture, not a compliance-oriented culture. The aim is not to evaluate teachers, it is to analyse teaching and learning. The focus is on how to improve, rather than who to scapegoat for poor performances.

A leader’s role is to hold the team accountable to action, to help facilitate the next level of work conversations, and to ensure reflection on the process. The job of a leader is to follow the work, not to dictate the work. Imagine a developmental culture where for every team meeting a different team member was responsible for not participating, but just recording the team process and then providing feedback. There is also potential for providing coaching for teams to improve their performance in team meetings.

When people in schools are accountable to each other and work together towards achieving school aims, such strong internal accountability places schools in a sound position to respond to external accountability demands. Teams that are aligned across a school within a culture of individual responsibility and collective expectations provide an internal accountability system which is more powerful than any external accountability systems.



The Assessment Why?

8 Aug


“If you know why, you’ll figure out how.” –Unknown

I love quotes. I had them all over my classroom and I have them all over my notebook. The above is my absolute favourite and I try to keep them at the forefront of my mahi. With that reminding, I still manage to forget that all-important why when I am talking about assessment.

In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek talks about how discovering his own why helped him overcome a time when his work was not fulfilling. Frustrations with our work are inevitable, especially when we choose to take on challenging work in creating strong and meaningful assessment systems that help us accurately reflect what students know and are able to do. It is easy to become discouraged and to feel that the work is simply impossible. Why is this the best possible course of action? Does everyone on my team recognize that same destination? Does everyone on my team understand why this is what we are doing? What is it going to take to get us there?

This week I found myself stuck in the middle of a problem, I can trace it back to losing sight of why we started in the first place. It is not because we were unclear about why we needed the changes or even where we hoped to go. It usually was because in the middle of implementation, we were distracted by the details and logistics of what we were putting in place. When that happened, we stopped talking about our rationale and talked more about overcoming the hurdles and obstacles we had encountered.

An example that I see frequently relates to lesson objectives. These learning objectives help guide instruction, assessment, and are the products of effective collaborative conversations that help make sure that a team of teachers has common expectations and understanding of the standards. Learning objectives also provide valuable insights for learners as well and can promote self-regulation and self-assessment.

Do we ask if the learning objectives were created individually or by a team of teachers? Do we ask how the learning objectives are used in assessment design? Do we ask students how they use the learning objectives? Do we even stay in the classroom long enough to see how the teacher uses the learning objectives throughout the lesson? The further we get from why learning objectives make a difference both for teachers and for students, the less likely we are to realize their power.


Sinek, Simon (2009).  Start With Why.  New York: Penguin


Pushing Back

18 May


One of my appraisal goals this year deals with being more patient. I do not like to lose. I just do not like it. Moreover, every time I toss an idea out there that does not stick, I feel as if I have lost. That is something I am working on. This links nicely to my piece this week.

Conversation on the topic of innovation in education can be found at every turn. If you go to twitter it will not take you, long to find a connected educator. If you Google search it right now, you’ll get more than 350 million results. Articles abound (like this one from Edutopia) on the topic of innovation in education, and in seconds, anyone can find videos (like this that features Bill Gates) or Ian Jukes or this brilliant piece by Richard Wells.

There is something contagious and exciting about innovation. The best educators thrive in the search for serving students well, and that shows today more than ever.

Even with all these voices in the conversation promoting innovation, innovation is still a little intimidating for me.

It is not that I do not want to take part in it. I led the charge to change our bell schedule moving into this year to give our teachers opportunities to help students who were tough to catch up with before and after school (probably equal parts “I won’t” and “I can’t” make it in for help outside of school).

In many cases, it is our fear of failure or the unknown that limits our willingness to take those risky first steps toward meaningful change and innovation in our schools.

A Mid Term Reflection

22 Aug

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I love being a connected educator. I have gained immensely from connections I have with others through Twitter, Facebook, Edchats, podcasts, at EdCamps, and in person. But, I have a confession, sometimes I feel inadequate when speak with some these talented teachers.

Before becoming a connected educator, I operated in a vacuum, in isolation. I would connect with my faculty and staff but our work wasn’t about sharing best practices or what we were doing in our buildings. It was mostly about listening to ministry and making sure we were leading those. Being connected has opened a new world for me, a world in which I see the amazing things educators are doing every day. And that contributes to my feelings of inadequacy. Often, I have thought, “Wow, that is inspiring; I wish I could do that.” I wish I could communicate and reach out more through blogs, podcasts, You Tube channels and other media as prolifically and proficiently as others do. I wish I could spend more time in classrooms, on the playground, and learning with students as much as others do. So some thoughts:

I reach out to my PLC. Through Twitter I can share with groups or individuals. The times I have reached out individually through Twitter have been powerful and cathartic. It’s amazing that I can share through social media with other educators whom I have never met and feel supported and validated. Just being able to share and have another person, or persons, listen makes a huge difference for me.

I remember to take small steps to put things into my practice. I continually look at our annual plan which indicated a need for improved communication. I think start small and make trying new things part of your practice. By learning from others I have explored and used augmented reality, robotics, video production, and coding.

I must use twitter to refuel. I participate in Twitter chats and engage in discussions. Through thought provoking questions and engaged conversations, I glean a lot from others but I also get to share things I’m doing. The feedback and support I receive makes me feel like I am headed in the right direction. I had been contemplating finding a way to positively recognize more students. Last summer a teacher in a Twitter chat stated she made one positive phone call home daily. What a great idea. What are you doing that innovative? Love to hear from you.

Early Findings

30 Jun


Our HOF Inquiry this year has been the following:

What will an innovative learning environment look like at Sacred Heart Girls’ College New Plymouth?

Recently I added this particular clip by Charles Leadbeater.

I am now reading the findings of the inquiry along with the HoF group. We are discussing next steps. I believe the following are key conditions that can make a difference:

  1. A vision for learning is incessantly and clearly communicated

What is our vision? Make sure you know where you are going.

  1. Learning is future-focused

The world is changing, make sure the learning context recognises this. Observe the students, how they work and communicate. Email is becoming obsolete. Find different ways to assess e.g. make a website or tweet an answer.

  1. Culture takes time and perseverance

Once you have the vision – prioritise your steps. The reality is, change will take time. If you believe it, be resolute. Help those who are struggling to change, but stick to your guns.

  1. Be student centred

Do students have voice or agency? Put current practices through the ‘learning’ filter – do they still belong?

  1. Equipped and supported staff are essential

Vision + ‘Learning’ Filter = Regular PD to support through change. (Fullan)

  1. Technology is an environment for learning, not the driver

Students live in a world of technology – the school-world needs be relevant.

  1. Relationships matter

In the midst of all the learning, technology and activity nothing matters more than quality relationships. Students need to belong, be known, valued and accepted. This is only achieved through relationship. Our GEMS programme is central to this.

  1. Learning is authentic

Set in a real-world context, skills will be learnt readily when there is purpose.

  1. Creativity and innovation have expression

There will always be barriers to innovation, find ways to break or go around them. Support those who are willing to make the first step and embrace failure. See an earlier blog on this.

The inquiry continues.

Barriers to Innovation

23 Jun


It’s amazing to me how many fantastic, game-changing tools are blocked on some school networks. I’m not saying we should remove all filters – they do help to prevent us from accidentally stumbling onto things we don’t want to see and can’t unsee. But in 2017, our filters do almost nothing to prevent students from intentionally accessing inappropriate material. Blocking content is ineffectual for four reasons: (1) Most students have smartphones with a direct connection to the internet. (2) Most students have unfiltered internet at home. (3) Any student who walks home through the city centre has unfiltered access to the internet. (4) Students know about VPN services which bypasses our filters.

Over-strict filters just thwart our best teachers’ efforts to make learning more meaningful. Our failed attempts to keep a few miscreant students from doing the wrong thing just hampers the majority of students who want to use the internet for the right thing.

Inturn our attempts at innovation are being imped that we are making hard for those teachers who have outrageous ideas. The are being boxed in by logistics. As a SLT we must create the space.

Often, as teachers gain the authority to influence and effect change in a school, their openness to change diminishes. Teachers enter the teaching profession wide-eyed and keen to try lots of different things and experiment with new pedagogies. They don’t have much power though because they are seen as “green” by older, wiser, more seasoned teachers who hold the decision-making power. I’ve seen young teachers silenced, gossiped about and even bullied because more experienced teachers took offence at these young, upstarts thinking they know a better way to do things. Eventually these new teachers learn to tone it down and conform to ‘the way things are done around here’. The most effective school leaders I have seen, identify innovators (irrespective of their seniority or experience) and invest them with the ability to influence.

In our inquiry we must create space and cut down barriers if we are to keep students at the centre.

Not Just Innovation

9 May


Doing what we we’ve always done won’t cut it with today’s learners. They are different and they need different skills to live and work in the 21st century. We need a new and better education for young people in our schools. Schools where timetables, homework, still exist are now irrelevant and nothing like the world of real learning and work. We need our teachers to be better learners in different and new ways, but more importantly we as leaders must be better different learners ourselves. We need an evolution in education that is owned by learners, lead by leaders and designed in deep learning principles.

Improving Schools through TED talks

14 Apr


I recently came across a talk by Michael Fullan on making change. I heard him at ULEARN 16 where he was phenomenal. I thought this talk would be useful to share but it also reminded me of a TED talk by Linda Hill, which when combined might give schools and their leadership teams some real incentive and instruction for change. They also combined to indicate that progress will not be made with either top-down or bottom-up approaches but from a developing a new school culture towards shared, networked collaboration at all levels. It got me thinking about a few issues.

The SLT must be seen by the teachers as an equal participant in learning. This I got from Fullan in his talk he gave about transforming the Canadian school system. He highlights that a principal behaving as an active learner was a surprise key indicator in his research into schools making significant and positive change.
Hill talks about innovating or dying. This so important for schools as we sit at a watershed moment in time in NZ education. Our courses cannot remain the same. Linda Hill says “Innovation is not about solo genius but collective genius.” She goes on to outline how the most successful organisations build organisational structures and cultures that are “iterative, inter-related and quite frankly messy.” She also highlights that investing in all the people to give them time to develop and collaborate around new challenges and ideas. It is also critical to build a culture where everyone feels they might have something to offer in improving the operation of or output from the organisation.

This is a huge issue for schools, where many teachers never bring problems to the leadership team because they do not think it’s there place to suggest change. Schools are often not flexible or iterative enough to adapt to changes as they arise. A fixed-time vision for learning in a school issued from top-down can kill excellent ideas that surface during the period in question. What I took from Linda’s talk was that schools need to develop a staff culture for collaborative problem solving, discovery driven learning (and that’s the teachers we’re talking about) but run integrated decision making where everyone is confident to express ideas

Being Creative

19 Jan


Creativity  happens when people take risks with innovation, problem solving, and actions. If creativity is encouraged in schools, then the leader’s job is to create the conditions where it can happen.

The key question is though what are these conditions?

In an effort to understand the students we serve and the role of teachers in creating spaces where learning can happen, we created a list of what we believed these conditions were:

  • Knowing our learners (creating learning plans)
  • Creating a safe community of learners
  • Having something meaningful for students to learn about
  • As teachers we have to have a deep understanding of the content, the learner and instructional practices
  • The notion of teacher as learner and actually doing the risk taking, being open to make mistakes

Can you think of any further?

Something Different for the Holidays

28 Apr

A cool little website to look at over the break is Thunks

“A Thunk is a beguilingly simple-looking question about everyday things that stops you in your tracks and helps you start to look at the world in a whole new light.”

Here are some examples of questions?

  • Is there more future or past?
  • Is black a colour?
  • If I switch the lights off does the wall change colour?
  • If you are caught in a thunderstorm will you get wetter if you run to shelter or if you walk?

They are a great way to get students thinking, which is one of the key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum, and could be used as “Do Nows” or plenaries. Once you’ve modeled a few thunks, the students will be able to write their own to share with the class.

The independent thinking website has lots of ideas about thunks, as well as other cool stuff. They even have their own YouTube channel.

It’s all about supporting and motivating students to think independently.


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