Becoming an innovative school? My top 10 ideas

Northern Beaches Christian School: one of the most innovative in the world. Thanks to everyone for great day of discussion …from @wethink

When one of the world’s leading authorities on innovation described Northern Beaches Christian School as “one of the most innovative in the world” we were amazed and honoured. Charlie Leadbeater (@wethink), is a former adviser to the British government and author of We-think: The Power Of Mass Creativity. Leadbeater ran a one day seminar with us in June 2011. His TED Talk Education innovation in the Slums has more than 300,000 views and he was described as:

early to notice the rise of “amateur innovation” – great ideas from outside the traditional walls, from people who suddenly have the tools to collaborate, innovate and make their expertise known.


We are often asked about the distinctives that have led to Charles Leadbeater, and other leading educators and thinkers, to make such comments when they spend some time at Northern Beaches Christian School. While not the definitive list, here are some of the key conditions that can make a difference:

1. A vision for learning is incessantly and clearly communicated

  • What is your vision? Make sure you know where you are going.
  • Find ingenious and relentless ways to communicate it. This takes courage.

2. Learning is future-focused

  • The world is changing, make sure the learning context recognises this
  • Observe the students, how they work and communicate (Tip: they aren’t using email anymore)

3. Culture takes time and persistence to embed

  • 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.

4. Engaged and motivated students are the goal

  • Think about your own conditions for productivity and creativity, maybe it’s same for students
  • Put current practices through the ‘learning’ filter – do they still belong?

5. Equipped and supported staff are essential

  • Vision + ‘Learning’ Filter = Regular PD to support through change
  • Teacher PD needs to look like student learning, otherwise it’s “do as I say, not as I do”

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

  • This is not about who has the most bright shiny toys
  • Students live in a world of technology – the school-world needs be relevant

7. 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

8. Learning is authentic

  • Set in a real-world context, skills will be learnt readily when there is purpose
  • Provide opportunities for students to be world-changers

9. Spaces for learning are welcoming and comfortable

  • This is not about bright shiny spaces and colourful furniture, it is about aesthetically pleasing environments where students (and teachers) will want to come to learn
  • Think about where you like to work and learn, maybe it’s the same for students

10. Creativity and innovation have expression

  • There will always be barriers to innovation, find ways to break or go around them.
  • Make this your culture, give it voice, take risks, embrace failure

When people visit Northern Beaches Christian School often hear them say:

“I thought I was coming to see buildings, now I know it’s so much more”

6 thoughts on “Becoming an innovative school? My top 10 ideas

  1. Loved your post, Anne. As someone who visited your school last year, I agree with your visitors’ comments, “it’s so much more.” What anyone sees in action at NBCS is real collaboration, true respect for students and colleagues as human beings first and foremost, a culture willing to give things a go, where you all reflect and learn from the process. Would be brilliant if more places could function like that. Not everywhere are schools lucky enough to have real servant leadership, where the vision from the top is grown by the passion at grass roots level.

    Funny, when I think back about our visit, technology was most certainly NOT the most notable feature of your school – it was the relationships and the warmth, the little signs everywhere about what you valued as a school – and the congruence between what you said you valued and what you did. And then the technology and the spaces came in and helped it work even better. Well done, and well said.

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