The New Think Tank


creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by ChrisDag

In my post yesterday, I put forth the idea of educational R&D teams and how they could be an affordable, scaled down way to bring research and development into our educational organizations without the cost and scale of an entire R&D department. In that post I suggested there would be merit in dedicating PD resources to developing knowledge and expertise amongst your own talented educators rather than paying people to come in and direct us with their innovations instead of us developing our own.

George Couros, the Division Principal in my division,  offered this in response:

If you only focus on developing and sharing ideas within, you can quickly see that the same things get done over and over again; it is tough to know any better.

He’s absolutely right, and while I was more speaking about replacing certain types of PD, it is important to keep this idea in mind. Just as important as empowering our own educators and building capacity in our organizations, is being open to the power of learning from others all over the globe.

Last night, I tried to imagine setting up an R&D team and trying to pilot this type of innovation and professional learning, so I started with a topic I am personally interested in learning about – Metacognition. When I thought about assembling a team, I realized that many of the people I would love to work with on this project weren’t in my division, or even living in the area. When I thought about connecting with them a new idea emerged – what about creating virtual think tanks, using all the tools we have available for online connecting now?

I immediately went and typed “virtual think tank” and “online think tank” into google hoping someone had already done this and could provide an easy to follow model. While there were a few similar ideas, I did not find one that involved educators. I think the closest idea I have seen would be the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program (SAVMP) that George ran last year. While that was an online mentorship program, I would see this more as eager, passionate educators who have an area of interest they would like to explore and try to bring to their building or division, connecting in some type of facilitating forum that helps bring together educators with a common interest. From there, using Skype, Google Hangouts, Twitter, Voxer, etc. they could find ways to research, share, develop resources, and push practice forward. A site would have to be set up and maintained, and resources could be curated and uploaded, but it wouldn’t have to be too expansive. Even if it started with just providing a message board or a hashtag on twitter, but doing something to bring the educators together to form these think tanks.

In a lot of ways I feel like I have lived some of this already, as I am sure many of you have. I’ve connected on twitter chats, on hangouts, or organized face to face meetings after first developing a dialogue on twitter. I’ve sought out help from others who have experience in areas I do not, by putting together a blog post or appealing to someone on twitter. I have connected with educators in Denver, Vancouver, Chicago, Philadelphia and London. This really is happening already, but because it feels so informal and easy, no one has named it a “think tank” because it probably felt too pretentious.

In my last post, I talked about how the constraint of a time limit would be important to any project, and when it comes to this idea, I believe even more constraints would need to be there to ensure follow through. Deadlines, scope of the projects, specific windows of time that meetings need to occur within etc. These think tanks would more than likely be projects educators would pursue on their own time and of their own volition, with people from multiple divisions from all over the globe, so some boundaries that pointed us in the right direction would be needed. As the community of innovators grew, accountability to the group and to share ideas would motivate people, but until that culture grew, it would have to start with these constraints in place.

Would people have an interest for this? What kind of support would you assume you would have from your administrator or your division? If the site was developed would you see yourself checking it out? What types of topics would like to see for innovations that should be pursued?

I would love your feedback so please leave a comment with any thoughts on this topic, and whether it is something worth working towards.

 

 

A Great Disconnect


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Joe Dsilva

I love to read about the ways that people are pushing boundaries and I do not limit that reading to the education realm. I believe so much can be learned from every other domain, be it business, the arts, etc. that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to focusing our learning from education minds alone.

My brilliant friend Paul Genge (follow him on twitter, he is doing amazing work in curriculum redesign) turned me on to the book Open by David Price which I am finding really quite interesting, as it talks about all the changes our new open knowledge culture will have on our global community in all realms – education, business, culture. While his commentary on the changes education will have to undertake to align itself with this new culture are fascinating, it was in a section on the changing world of business that I found inspiration:

If a business is simply buying in knowledge, as and when it’s needed, how is it going to grow its own bank of knowledge and expertise?  (Price, 2013)

Addressing just how easy it is becoming to outsource work, and to access freelance workers all over the planet, Price addresses the idea that by doing so, a business builds less and less intellectual capital within their company and amongst their own talented workers.

Immediately my mind went to the topic of research and development in education, a topic I have written about before, including my last post. In that post, I put forth this quote from research I had read in my recent masters coursework:

Advances in educational know-how are likely to remain slow and uncertain until educational institutions follow suit and devote funds to supporting their role in the production of educational PPK (Principled Practical Knowledge). (Bereiter, 2014)

Bereiter advocates innovation from within, and I have imagined this as our own funded and supported R&D departments, most likely at a divisional level, pushing practice and driving systemic change. When I honestly look at what that would mean, logistically and financially, I see the minimum commitment being no less than three professionals, and when including research, professional development and a working space, the cost would probably end up being close to half a million dollars. Working in a relatively small school division, the chances of this happening are probably very small. So what is the answer?

In a study done for Strategy & Business magazine entitled Making Ideas Work, Jaruzelski, Loehr and Holman looked at the research and development budgets of some of the world’s most innovative companies and measured that up against the success each company had, and the feedback the company itself gave about their own level of innovation. While their study presented companies with R&D budgets in the billions, and names like Apple, Google and Toyota, I found this finding the most interesting:

As our study has consistently shown over the past eight years, there is no long-term correlation between the amount of money a company spends on its innovation efforts and its overall financial performance; instead, what matters is how companies use that money and other resources, as well as the quality of their talent, processes, and decision making. Those are the things that determine their ability to execute their innovation agendas. (Jaruzelski, Loehr & Holman, 2012)

The “quality of their talent”, I would imagine this is a key indicator of success in any industry. So you need talented people. Of course. And you need to spend your money effectively. Yep. Nothing earth shattering in that, but when you think of the talent your educational organization has, and you think about what David Price talks about when he illustrated a key pitfall that occurs when businesses look outside their walls with freelance work and outsourcing, I find myself forced to reflect on our current practices. How much money is spent in an educational organization to bring in talent to guide us on our way? What would happen to the intellectual capital and level of talent/ability in an educational organization if that money was directed towards individuals within the organization to develop knowledge and guide the way from within?

So we probably aren’t ready to shell out half a million to set up an R&D department in most school divisions, but there has to be another way to develop ideas from within while developing ability within our organization at the same time. What about R&D teams? What about an R&D team of educators who come together periodically to work on an idea? Let’s say 4-6 educators, meeting 8 days of each school year and doing so for a 2 year cycle? The division provides a space to meet, sub coverage for the educators and support in the way of required materials and/or PD. The whole thing could probably be done for under $30,000 over a two year cycle. Hmmmm, now we are getting closer to numbers that are pretty reasonable.

Hypothetically, we put together a pilot group to tackle the idea of mindfulness in schools. We bring in 4- 6 educators, they review research and publications, they attend a conference or two, they use their time together to plan ways to bring the research to life in buildings, and at the end of two years they present the findings to the division, and hopefully to the rest of the educators so that the seed can spread, the practice take root and systemic change can occur.

The two-year cycle idea came from this great article that I read today about Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) team, and how Google pushes the team by creating a firm two year delivery date for their team projects and reminding them that every week they are 1% closer to the deadline. I think the constraint of a two year deadline is a key factor in the innovation, if you don’t put a delivery date on it, there is always a chance the work could keep spiralling without ever finishing – Seth Godin has a great video on the “Shipping” of innovative ideas. Since the teams would be on two-year cycles, this would by no means be a career change, there would be no need for permanent positions to be set up. It could be a lot like the way Regina Dugan, Google ATAP leader, puts it in this quote:

There is a sense of urgency, you don’t come to build a career. You come to do a project, to do something epic, and then you go.

A great disconnect I see is that we talk about innovation and building the capacity within our organizations but then we spend money to bring in outside experts to show us the way and to be the innovators. A lot of times, the topics  or areas covered are not beyond us, but out of convenience we pay them to come and lead sessions. If we looked within our organizations I am sure we often have the talent to lead in this area, or at the very least, a small group of passionate educators willing to learn more about it. If a goal for the professional learning of our organizations started first with a goal of building the knowledge and abilities of our educators we would be purposeful in the way we directed resources to ensure that we weren’t simply adopting someone else’s “best practices” but instead developing our own. The question should not be “Who should we bring in to be the expert?” it should be “who can become our expert?”.