Constraint


creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by graymalkn

Constraint:

  • something that limits or restricts someone or something
  • control that limits or restricts someone’s actions or behaviour

For a while now I have been a strong advocate for student voice in their learning and choice in what they learn. I have written about our four Innovation Weeks, and proselytized at length about the power in turning over control to our students, and the resulting learning that has occurred as a result. The push back against relinquishing control of our classrooms is dwindling, and I find far less resistance to these ideas when I present them at conferences or post about them here.

During one of my last conference presentations, the question came up about why I thought Innovation Week was beneficial to student learning, and how I felt it compared to other similar ideas like the wildly popular and fantastic Genius Hour. My response was that I find great value in the experience being limited by time, and that the deadline pushed our students to do amazing things in just that one week. I feel that the constraint of a one week time limit (5 days really), pushes students in ways that force them to deliver on their ideas (see fantastic Seth Godin video on “Shipping”), and that it helps focus what might otherwise become aimless or unmotivated without an end-point.

I read a fantastic post about Google’s ATAP team (Advanced Technology and Projects) a few weeks ago and in the article it talks about how the two-year time limit imposed on these ATAP teams motivates them to achieve great things because with every week that passes they are 1% closer to the deadline. I loved this quote, and it inspired a few posts (here and here) about how we should create similar research and development teams in education.

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.”

Since my last conference presentation I have been revisiting some ideas I had, and trying to look at them through the lens of constraint. I am starting to think that building in constraint can be just as effective as building in choice when we look at creating learning experiences for our students that challenge and grow their imagination. I was reminded of the scene from Apollo 13 when the NASA engineers had to create a solution to get a square CO2 filter into a round hole:

I believe that working to find a solution to a problem while navigating the restrictions or difficulties is an authentic means to fostering creativity, critical thinking and innovation in our students. We have no doubt done this already with spaghetti bridge building, shopping on a budget, and Rube-Goldberg machines built with things you find around your house. Where I think there can be some growth in this area is instead building a learning experience around a constraint rather than adding a constraint to an already developed learning experience, as I would suggest all of the above would qualify as.

Maybe one of the following may have potential, and maybe you can help me turn them into great experiences for our students with some suggestions:

Guerrilla/Ambush Learning – excuse the cheesy title, it is a work in progress. The idea is built around the constraint of time and limited preparedness. Students sign up to participate, and on a chosen day, all participants are shuttled into the gym where we have tables and chairs set up. They are handed a coloured card and asked to sit at the table that corresponds to their colour. Once everyone is in, a problem is shared with the group, and the challenge is given to each table to develop a solution to the problem. A clock with let’s say 5 hours on it starts to countdown. The groups have to work together to come up with a solution to the problem and have it ready to defend at the end of the 5 hours. Sample problems could be clean drinking water in a third world country, inner-city literacy rates or limiting cars into a city centre. As long as the problem is big enough to tackle and a problem that exists somewhere in the world, I believe the task would be engaging and meaningful.

Helping Hand – again, cheesy title that will be improved by someone (anyone?) out there. The idea is built around the constraint of space and limited resources. The idea initially started as lunch boxes to a 3rd world country but with some help from my colleagues (Thanks Courtney, Dana, Brad and Carson) we refocused this on cloth grocery bags for homeless people. The idea is that students have to come up with the best use of the space provided by one cloth grocery bag. The question would be what would be the most effective way they could fill the bag to provide to a homeless person with the most beneficial contents they could come up with. The limitation would be that they would have to actively seek out the donation of all contents. Whether it was medical supplies, a blanket, non-perishable food items, toiletries etc. they would have to contact a business, explain their project and then convince the business to help them out with a donation. I think with some work done behind the scenes before the project you could probably get some businesses or associations on board to help.

For the helping hand project we are thinking of doing it in January or February when it can get very cold in our neck of the woods, and after the Christmas season, when the shelters get a great deal of help from people already. We hope to partner with a shelter that can not only act as a resource for the exercise, but can hopefully facilitate our participating students in the handing out of these bags.

Whether the limitation or constraint you put on students is real or imagined, creating this type of experience challenges students to be imaginative in their finding a solution. Just as the best way to foster resilience in students is to give them a meaningful reason to be resilient, the best way to foster innovation and creativity is going to be to challenge them in ways that force them to be imaginative and innovative.

In a great article that Whitney Johnson wrote for the Harvard Business Review entitled Why Innovators Love Constraints, she talks about how constraints can push us, and how in the real world this type of thinking is required. I think this quote does a good job of connecting this type of learning to the type of thinkers our world is going to require, or already requires:

A tightly-lidded box can stifle and suffocate. It can motivate us to figure out how get outside the box. To make choices about how we will expend the resources we do have available to us, to find cheaper, more nimble ways of doing something as a person – and as a corporation. Our perceived limitations may give us direction on where we might play, or want to play. Indeed, if we will let them, constraints can (and will) drive us to disruption.

As always, I’d love your thoughts, comments, or recommendations.

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?”.

Innovation Week 4 – Day 2/3/4

What a great three days we had this week as students put their plans into action, working hard to make their visions for their projects a reality. These three days are always the most impressive, as projects that seemed lofty suddenly become reality in front of your eyes, and students blow expectations out of the water. If there is one thing that has stayed true in all four Innovation Weeks we have run, it is that we don’t challenge students they way they challenge themselves when given the opportunity.

After a weekend away from their projects, there was a great deal of energy in the building as the students got back down to work. Now because our students in Gr. 6 & 9 had to write Provincial Achievement Tests (PAT’s – government exams in Alberta) during Innovation Week, we waited until after the tests were completed to start our days. Students had brought the vast majority of their supplies in and were laying them out and finalizing plans in their Innovation Rooms. It wasn’t long before you heard the buzz of tools, the music from performance groups, and lots of conversation as groups worked together to get their projects underway.

After running three of these in the past couple years, our organizing committee was committed to improving the quality of learning, and we did so on two fronts. The first was incorporating a Design Thinking process that we learned from Ewan McIntosh (and he documents on his site here) and the other was improvements to our Proposal Forms. Spearheaded by Claudia Scanga and Katy Rogal, these forms had added spaces for feedback and reflection as well as better questions to help shape the process for students. They were photocopied on BRIGHT pink paper, and students were expected to have them at all times during the week (see in picture above). As I went around from room to room over these three days, I asked groups about their process, about their guiding question, and about how they met the criteria for the week, and the vast majority could all answer the questions I had for them, and I am quite certain it had a lot to do with our improved forms.

One thing I noticed when talking with students this time around was how much better our students were at managing the time, tackling projects that were achievable, and troubleshooting their own issues. In previous weeks this was definitely a struggle as students were not used to being on their own to guide their learning. We’d see groups choose projects too complex or too simple, we’d see groups struggle when they ran into difficulty, and we definitely saw groups have trouble with managing their own time. I am sure that most schools that would try Innovation Week would see similar issues their first couple times through, but I also see great power in the learning those difficulties provide. There is no doubt our students have learned from their adversity, or the adversity of others, and the improvements in this week are a testament to the three we have run before.

With 414 students participating, 81% of our eligible students (Gr. 9’s couldn’t participate due to PAT’s), it meant we also had most of our teaching staff participating as well. It is a unique interaction for teacher and student as the teacher is not there to do any instruction, but to simply be a resource for support and guidance, and it is often with students from other grades or classes that they don’t get a chance to work with. During the three working days, we had a lot of great feedback from teachers, with common themes including high quality projects, great work ethic and excited, focused learning.

As we wrapped up Day 4 on Wednesday, the prospect of the showcase and assembly the next day made for a lot of excited, and some nervous students as they prepared to share all their great work with family, friends, and visiting guests from our division. I’ll post the Final Day reflection soon, so stay tuned to see how this great week finished up!

Innovation Week 4 – Planning Day and Day 1

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So here we are again, time for our fourth Innovation Week as we wrap up another great school year. This time around our theme is “Invent, Improve, Innovate!” with the goal for students to:

  • Invent something new
  • Improve an existing object/practice
  • Innovate how something is done/used

We also included some detailed information on how the week connected to the 10 Cross-Curricular Competencies from Alberta Education, which I think we will explore in more depth for Innovation Week 5.

So this time around we did a lot of work up front with our Application Form, with our planning for providing feedback and for checking in with students, all with the purpose of setting higher expectations for the learning that would occur during the week and the quality of the projects being worked on. Probably the biggest addition to this Innovation Week was the addition of Design Thinking for the student planning of projects.

In May we were lucky enough to see Ewan McIntosh at the Ideas Conference in Calgary and he put us through a workshop on Design Thinking. The process followed four steps – Immersion, Synthesis, Ideation and Prototyping, and was a powerful tool for thinking, learning and problem solving. We loved it so much that the week after we returned from the conference, we used this process with our staff to tackle our annual Education Plan (documented on video, look for that post this summer).

We decided to use this process with our students, but we broke it up with the first two steps (Immersion & Synthesis) done last Tuesday for our Innovation Week 4 planning afternoon, and the third and fourth steps (Ideation & Prototyping) were carried out on Day 1 of Innovation Week 4, this past Friday. I want to provide a little snapshot into how that went:

Innovation Week 4 Planning Afternoon

For the afternoon we had students use the Immersion and Synthesis steps of the Design Thinking process to create their guiding question for their Innovation Week 4 projects. The process required groups of 3 (or as close as possible), which meant some groups were mixed with members doing different projects. The groups then interviewed each other, asking questions about the student’s project, why they chose it, what they hoped to accomplish etc. . One group member was the interviewer, one was the recorder and one was interviewed. We rotated the jobs each interview, which differs slightly from Ewan’s plan, but was necessary given our mixed groups. Each interview was 4 minutes long, with the recorder writing down EVERYTHING they heard. (12 minutes)

After the first round of interviews we addressed the idea that many of the interviews sounded more like conversations than interviews (common happening I’m sure). We did some coaching to help them understand that an interviewer needs to provide space (and silence) for the interviewee to think and process, and that they need to be patient and not jump in and start a conversation. We then suggested some deeper questions to ask, and challenged them to get more out of the next 4 minutes. We repeated the interview cycle one more time. (12 minutes)

We then took 4 minutes each to allow the recorders to review what they heard, to circle or highlight key words or things that were repeated, so that the person could really see what they talked about, and what was important to them.  (12 minutes)

From these highlighted/circled and reviewed notes, students were than challenged to come up with a big question, phrased as follows: “How might we/I…?”. They were asked to look closely at what they said in their interview so that they could formulate a question that was clearly important to them. The questions had to meet the following criteria:

  1. New to You
  2. Original to the Audience
  3. Important to Others (What is the Impact?)                     (10-15 minutes) 

As a group we then shared some of the questions and tried to provide feedback (students & teachers) that was helpful, specific & kind to make the questions even better. The goal was to remove jargon and have the question have a clear expectation and developed focus on what the students would be working on during Innovation Week. We then sent the students back to try and improve the questions by doing the same work on their own question. (15-20 minutes)

Once the students were happy with their question, they worked to complete the rest of their Proposal Form to take home and get signed by a parent. These proposal forms stay with the students, and are to be used to guide their process and to record feedback from teachers/students. They also have a place for their own reflections on how they used the feedback to improve their work. (10-15 minutes)

With the proposal forms ready, students were done the planning day and were all set for the opening day of Innovation Week 4 on Friday.

(We used this presentation to walk our students through the process.)

Innovation Week 4 Day One

For Friday, we placed the students into the rooms for Innovation Week based on their project. We had 5 “Hands-On” rooms, 3 “Building” rooms, 2 “Research” rooms, 2 “Tech” rooms and a “Performance”, “Music”, “Arts/Writing” and “Crafts” room. Here the students were surrounded by students doing similar work, with a teacher prepared for that type of project, and ready to dive in to the next two steps of the Design Thinking process: Ideation & Prototyping. 

For Ideation, the students were challenged to come up with 100 ideas that would answer their guiding question in 10 minutes. Now this was challenging, so I went a little nuts and tried to go classroom to classroom to get kids fired up about ideas…sorry the coach in me came out a little bit:


For 10 minutes they tried to get everything they could down on paper and we instructed them if they ran out of good ideas, to start coming up with silly, off-the-wall or impossible ideas. In some rooms we got a lot of ideas, and some not as many, but in the end our 414 students came up 8,684 ideas!!! (10 minutes)

From here they needed to select 5 great ideas and 3 silly ones, and rate them on a 10 point scale in three categories (See pictures above):

  1. New
  2. Useful
  3. Feasible

When all was said and done, they were to choose their top rated idea and move on to the prototype stage. (10 Minutes)

In the Prototype stage, students were asked to create a visual representation of their project. Some chose to make mind-maps (which I would recommend against) but many actually sketched out their project. Ewan has a great quote on his webpage about the process:

Sketching one’s ideas, instead of writing them, is a great way to both ideate and create your first prototypes. It tends to lead to higher quality feedback.

Once the students were done their prototype visuals, we were ready to open the floor up for feedback. (10-15 minutes)

Students were asked to provide feedback to the group next to them, and the feedback again needed to be helpful, specific and kind. Students were then told to go back and use the feedback to make improvements to their drawings. At the end of this process, it was lunch time, but the students were then set with a great picture of where they wanted to go. (10-15 minutes)

In the afternoon, students got down to work and finished their Friday by getting their plan together and beginning the initial work on their projects.

It was a great start to this Innovation Week, adding the Design Thinking process definitely helped students prepare and start to be creative before they even started work on their project, which will be very beneficial. We wanted to up the quality of learning going on in our building during this Innovation Week and with the work our staff put in well in advance of the week, along with the addition of the Design Thinking, I believe we are well on our way to seeing some really quality projects and really exciting learning.

Here is one more video, an interview with Kiana and Sara about their thoughts on the addition of the Design Thinking process to Innovation Week 4.

 

 

Innovation Week #3 – Entrepreneurial Spirit, Day 1 & 2

 

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Our third Innovation Week is underway with the theme of “Entrepreneurial Spirit”. This wasn’t the easiest topic for our students to grasp, so at first we turned to the Alberta Education material on the topic, since it was part of the “Inspiring Education” work that came from them. This quote outlines their idea of Entrepreneurial Spirit:

“Entrepreneurial Spirit: who creates opportunities and achieves goals through hard work, perseverance and discipline; who strives for excellence and earns success; who explores ideas and challenges the status quo; who is competitive, adaptable and resilient; and who has the confidence to take risks and make bold decisions in the face of adversity.”

– from the “Framework for Student Learning” – Alberta Education

To help further explain the topic to our students we turned to a quote from Yong Zhao:

“a process that results in creativity, innovation and growth. Innovative entrepreneurs come in all shapes and forms; its benefits are not limited to startups, innovative ventures and new jobs. Entrepreneurship refers to an individual’s ability to turn ideas into action and is therefore a key competence for all, helping young people to be more creative and self-confident in whatever they undertake.”

– Yong Zhao

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Once we helped our students understand where they could go with the theme, they took off in a way even we didn’t expect. The first two days had a calm feeling that seemed almost eerie. Gone was the chaos and numerous questions and in its place was a feeling of focus and determination. In our third Innovation Week our students seem no longer surprised by the freedom or intimidated by the task, but rather excited, engaged and ready to get to work.

While the benefit to our students has been there throughout all three Innovation Weeks, it seems in this one we have found our groove and now our job turns to maximizing the potential of the experience.

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We are being very purposeful with our collecting of feedback from our students including multiple ways for them to express themselves. We will again conclude the week with an open house showcase of their learning, but to this we have added a “Speakers Corner” where students can go and share their thoughts on some well crafted questions, and we will also have our teachers interview each individual/group taking part on Thursday.

While not all of the 450 students are engaged in earth-shattering projects, they are all engaged. From jumping in to the experience, to finding purposeful themes to drive the learning, we have been trying to find ways to make the experience a valuable one for our students. Now with Innovation Week 3, we are starting to see just how powerful this can be with each improvement we make and each week we bring to our students.

We can’t wait to see how this week unfolds, but as you can see in the pictures, there are a lot of happy faces busy at work on projects they are very excited about. It’s going to be an exciting next few days, stay tuned…

Educator Innovation Day – A Reflection


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Bridget Coila

I have been having a tough time getting going this week. For the first time in my career I haven’t been overly excited to come back to school. After 2 months of steady “Daddy Duty” it has been tough to think that I have to go back to the busy schedule of work and coaching. I usually come back motivated and ready to start a new initiative or try a new project and this year, not so much. As the sun sets on another summer break, I have been in need of a jolt. Today, I had the perfect “jump start” in the form of our Educator’s Innovation Day and it was exactly the jolt I needed.

25 teachers and administrators took part in our Educator Innovation Day today and worked on projects of their choice with the only guidelines being that the project had to improve education. It was very inspiring to see teachers who signed up for this event on a day off, and worked so diligently on their projects. Even more impressive was the amazing quality of work that was produced. Projects on home reading programs, mindfulness in education, leveraging technology, and collaborative planning for student interventions, you couldn’t help but smile at just how much these educators were willing to challenge themselves with.

I had the pleasure of working with Travis McNaughton, assistant principal of Muir Lake School, on a project where we worked to create an option course designed around teaching entrepreneurship. While I am proud of the work we did, and while I am excited to implement our course, I want to talk about the experience.

You see, we love to do projects that provide opportunities for our students to challenge themselves to be innovative. But when we were planning our first Innovation Week it was George Couros who came to me and asked if I thought our staff would be equipped to put on a project like Innovation Week without first experiencing something like that themselves. Long story short, we went ahead with Innovation Week 1 & 2 but it always was in the back of our heads that we needed to ensure that we gave our educators a chance to have the same experience.

Today, I got to feel the excitement and energy of exploring an idea, with someone equally, if not more, passionate about the topic. I got to enjoy that feeling of time flying by as we worked through our plan. I got to experience getting stuck, and working through a difficult stretch. I got to stand in front of the group of participants while Travis and I presented the work we were proud of and eager to share. Take away the time it took to get started, the side conversations, the coffee and muffin breaks and I bet we really only worked for three hours, but it was the most invigorating, challenging and thrilling three hours of work I have done in quite some time.

I was a learner. An engaged and motivated learner.

I think there are many of us who have been trying to re-imagine the staff meeting experience, have been trying to re-invent the PD day process and who have been looking for ways to ensure that professional learning is happening in the most powerful ways possible. Today I experienced powerful professional learning, so much so that I don’t think I can settle for hearing excuses why we CAN’T change the way we learn anymore. I know the excuses – PD days are too valuable, money is too tight, we can’t ask people to give up their own time – but after today they just don’t seem so compelling anymore.

We are trying to re-imagine the educational experience for our students, and things are moving relatively quickly, so why aren’t they moving when it comes to our professional learning? We have to start thinking of ourselves as learners too, and create our experiences with the same ideas and goals we would have for the learners we are serving each day.

Why am I so passionate about this? You would be too if you had a day like we had today. I know we are going to work to find ways to put more of these days on for our school staff, and hopefully our division staff. I challenge you to find ways to have this experience for yourself, your school or your division. The sun is setting on “sit-and-get” meetings and “stand and deliver” PD and I think its about time.