Become an educational innovator & disrupt! 5 key skills to develop

This week I briefly spoke to our key leaders about innovation, an integral part of the DNA at SCIL. A culture of innovation is essential to achieving our vision and values.
Our 21stC life is a result of innovation. Innovation differs from improvement because it disrupts. It messes with the way we do things, it can be uncomfortable, but ultimately, if it is truly innovative it will change our life for the better.
School education is currently being disrupted. There is tension between the old and the new. Sacred cows are being challenged, these include:
  • Physical design of the school
  • Methods of learning
  • The role of the teacher
  • Exams and assessment
  • The day – timetable, duration
  • Libraries, books and other resources
How do I know that this innovation is working toward positive outcomes?
I have met too many passionate educators who are seeking change for the right reason: They put the need of the learner at the heart of all they do. They recognise that school and it’s associated traditions and systems have been alienating young people from the joy, excitement and passion of learning.

How can we bring innovation to education? Develop the innovators’ DNA – practise the five “discovery skills” of true innovators

1. Associating – If we only look at schools, we will only think about new and improved schools. Connect questions, problems and ideas from different fields that may be seemingly unrelated.

At SCIL, we seek inspiration outside schools. Many have seen the sofas in the classrooms at Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS). That idea came from a deserted cafe/bar area we stumbled upon when we were at the Cite Des Sciences in Paris.

2. Questioning – We need to challenge the status quo – ask why, why not and what if.

At SCIL we ask:

  • Why do we have textbooks’? What if we found another way to provide resources students need?
  • Why not abandon the timetable?
  • What if students brought their own devices to school and school put IT recourses into a robust wifi network?
Innovators challenge common wisdom, imagine opposites and embrace constraints.

‘Embrace constraints’ seems counter-intuitive, however, great design and innovation comes from working to constraints. What are the key factors that have been Ikea’s success? Affordable design that can be flat-packed and put in a box.

3. Observing – Become anthropologists and social scientists. Look out for small behavioural details and gain insight into new ways of doing things.

What is the physical environment that is most productive for you? What spaces foster creativity? I like to sit with my feet up and computer on my lap, and look out at a view (exactly where I am right now). When I write, I stop, think, gaze at the view, work out my thoughts and then get back to writing.

At SCIL we observe where are students prefer to work. In the open spaces there are many options – beanbags, sofas, pods, stools, tables and chairs and, of course, the floor. They have freedom to choose where to sit and freedom to move around. we find that our students are more productive when they have choice.

4. Experimenting – intellectual exploration, physical tinkering, engagement in new surroundings.

SCIL Associates are a group of teachers at NBCS who try out ideas, meet up regularly and share their experiences. They are the classic “iron sharpens iron” group. When the SCIL Associates meet they encourage one another and are comfortable to talk about the ideas they have tried, those they will develop further and those they won’t.

5. Networking – Innovative entrepreneurs go out of their way to meet people with different kinds of ideas and perspectives to extend their own knowledge.

One of the most significant activities that has impacted the work of SCIL has been developing national and international connection and engaging in dialogue with other like-minded people who are passionate about students and their learning.

Twitter is a great place to start!

As an innovation it is definitely disrupting the traditional approaches to PD.

Ref: “The Innovators DNA” HBR December 2009

5 thoughts on “Become an educational innovator & disrupt! 5 key skills to develop

  1. All I can say is amen, amen, amen! How I wish I’d known you when I was still in the schools. Now I’m on my own, online, and things are busting wide open! Despite being physically out of it—my teaching is on fire! Love your work. 🙂


  2. Yesterday I was reading Neil Stephenson on “Liberating Constraints”:
    and now you on ‘Embrace constraints’…

    As we look to do things fundamentally different than the traditional classroom, I am very interested in knowing what schools of inquiry are doing around:
    a) Providing scaffolding for students to find success
    b) Monitoring student progress, and
    c) Intervening when student progress is not significant or ‘meaningful’.

    Any SCIL insights or links to share are greatly appreciated!


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