Thursday, 16 March 2017

IMMOOC Short blog challenge - Catching 'em all

Creating a culture of permissible innovation is challenging so how do you capture the innovation that is going on? 

I regularly have a number of conversations with teachers who are buzzing after a great lesson where they've tried something new, or reflecting on what to do differently next time when it didn't quite turn out as planned, that aren't captured or shared. It would be a real bonus for our community of teachers if these could be spread further than the corridor space or their own rooms.

Here's my thoughts (nothing innovative) but I'd welcome yours. Please comment and share:

  • A staff group or personal blog
  • 'Wow' wall in the staffroom
  • 'Pineapple' lessons (staff offer a lesson for others to visit)
  • Weekly briefing meeting item - staff share something that went well (or didn't!)
  • A shared Google doc or Google form
  • Video 'Big Brother diary room' setup
It would be great to create a list of innovative ideas to capture that we can all use so please comment below.

IMMOOC Short blog challenge - Dreaming out loud

Driving to school this morning and One Republic's Dreaming Out Loud came on. The title struck chords with me (excuse the pun), particularly given the recent swebinar of the IMMOOC I'd just watched.

I love working with teachers and children who dream out loud.

Those who challenge the norm; those who consider that there might be another way of doing something to make it even better;  those who know that ticking boxes isn't enough; those who ask 'what if?'; those who try (and succeed) to make every learning experience perfect for each individual; those who dream big on behalf of their learners; those who make dreams come true because teaching is their dream job.

IMMOOC Short blog challenge - I'm a champion

I'm not really, well, technically.

I am however a little addicted to the gym and that's where I had my champion moment. A fellow regular gym user, who is a ripped and muscular personal trainer, helped me squeeze out the last few reps of the lat pulldown and as he let go said "You're a Champ".

Then something odd happened. I heard my automatic inner response immediately counter with "not with my back, my knees". That's the odd thing. I heard my automated response. And I didn't like it.

What's wrong with considering myself a champ? Do you know what, I'm going to train as if I am. I know I'm not technically a champ and I know it's extremely unlikely I'll ever be a champion bodybuilder, but why should I automatically generate barriers or excuses? I go on about Growth Mindset at school and expect children to use 'yet' on the end of almost every sentence and yet my seemingly innate response is one of reasons why I can't do it. My unconscious inner self is a hypocrite. Well, my hypocritical, excuse generating inner friend, you're not welcome any more. Pass those dumbells.

I wonder how many children already have an inner voice that limits them. How do we, as teachers, ensure that the genuine positive feedback we give them is heard over their inner voice? How do we develop their ability to monitor and control the volume of their inner selves? At what point do children genuinely, internally believe the growth mindset message, rather than just putting a crowd pleasing 'yet' on the end of every sentence?

I don't know the answers (I'm not a champion at this either) but my increased awareness will make sure I consider the internal barriers that both I and others may put up and how we create a genuine Growth Mindset culture within our children.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

MOOCing - Blog 2:

So this is my second blog post as part of the Innovators Mindset MOOC #IMMOOC.

Before I get into this, I'm pleased to say that I've already learnt two things:

1. I have to take notes of all the content from the videos that I want to talk about - I've learnt that I can't rely on my memory. I'm sure this reflects the quality and quantity of nuggets from George and guests rather than my slowing mental capacity.
2. In a house where both adults are teachers there are no working pens or pencils in order to take said notes. How is this?

Having watched the second video in the #IMMOOC series I thought I'd focus on one element of an Innovator's Mindset: Resilience.

Here's a couple of definitions and I think they link nicely to a thought I had during the video about the range in innovation amongst teachers within the same school. My mind conjured up a continuum (originally I used the word 'spectrum' but felt that continuum was a more expectant choice) of staff from those who have no intention or interest to innovate through to the almost 'head firsters' - innovators taking risks without considering the outcomes. 

Then I began to focus in on one group on this spectrum: those who begin to innovate but then return to the safety of the known and the norm. As a leader I am still surprised by this. I feel time had been spent investing in moving these people to a point of willingness to innovate, in fact in some instances innovation had started but then they stop.

But why? What's going on?

Maybe it's baggage.


What is the teacher bringing to this scenario that they are already carrying? Have they been keen previously to 'innovate' only to have something change - the system, the expectations, the leader themselves - that has meant the innovation was squashed? Are they afraid of leaving colleagues who are friends who are maybe settled further to the left of the continuum? Do they feel they can't match the perceived 'better' innovation elsewhere? So many potential factors, some more easily recognisable than others. What is stopping the desire to innovate being an intrinsic part of them as teacher?

The concept of support and space was discussed as a strength of leaders, at least for those staff who responded to this style. Some staff would prefer more support and less space. Moving all staff along the innovator continuum above perhaps requires leaders to know their staff as well as they expect teachers to know their children. Easy to say. What about those who refuse to engage in innovation or even disrupt the efforts or enthusiasm of others? 'Culture' is often identified as a key component of leading an organisation and I am not going to disagree with this however sometimes even the panacea that is 'cultre' struggles with this small percentage. The key is to remember that this is a continuum and there will always be variance within a staff popoulation. 

In a paper entitled 'What works best in education: The politics of collaborative expertise' John Hattie uses the phrase 'earned autonomy' to describe the space given to those staff who can be trusted to achieve the outcomes. He describes 'in-school variance', and the tolerance of it, as a key barrier to better pupil outcomes. 

Can this be applied to innovation? Should it only be staff who have already proven that they can get the outcomes, that children and schools 'need', that are only given the space to innovate? I think there is a delicate (and difficult) balance here. It's wrong to assume that teachers who aren't achieving required pupil outcomes aren't keen to innovate, nor for the opposite to be true. In fact it could be the case that the 'head firsters' are innovating at the cost of pupil outcomes. It comes back to knowing individual teachers. 

Also, if only allowing innovation after outcomes are achieved, innovation, or innovating, risks becoming seen as an extension activity - something to do after you've completed the 'basic work', when in reality it's possible that the basic work could be completed more effectively if innovation was employed.

So what has all of this got to do with resilience?

For staff to feel confident enough to innovate, to step out of their safe zone, resilience has to be an integral part of both them and the school culture. It is something that many teachers expect of their children so should be modeling themselves; the same applies to leaders' expectations of their teachers. 

BUT....taking the definitions of 'resilience' above do we want teachers to 'spring back into shape'? Surely this reflects those staff who stop innovating. Perhaps this is because they don't embody the 'resilience' in the second definition. The ability of a teacher to bounce back from adversity, when things don't go to plan, whether it be an innovative trial or even a lesson, reflects their ability to be, and remain, further to the right of the continuum - they are less likely to return to the safety of non-innovation. Leaders need to reflect this definition in their expectations of teachers - not all innovation is going to be successful and leaders have to understand this. 

I have no doubt that 'resilience' is a key component of an innovating teacher but let's be precise about what that means, what our definition is, so that we all share the same language and expectation. Which means no springing back into shape!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017


So, I've signed up for (and started) my first MOOC! Having read The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros and signed up for his regular thought provoking emails, when I saw the opportunity to join in some deeper thinking about using innovation in education I decided to push myself and sign up.

This is the first blog as part of my MOOCing and based on week 1 of the IMMOOC. I haven't blogged for ages and it's a bit rambling but here goes...

The fact that George was joined by John Spencer and AJ Juliani was an added bonus as I'm a big fan of their work also. Sorry Katie Martin, it's nothing personal but I haven't come across you yet!

Listening to the conversation between these four was easy. I agreed with almost everything but maybe this isn't a good thing. Given I've read books by George and AJ and John I need to make sure I'm challenging myself and not sat in some self-righteous echo chamber. The other problem I found was that the points were discussed so thoroughly that anything I thought of to add in a blog post was covered!

During the discussion the quote below was mentioned:


This resonates strongly with me. The playing of 'the game of school' was also discussed and watching children conform, stop asking questions and display dependency on the adult spouting at the front is depressing. (This is the reason that I am a big fan of Ian Gilbert's 'Thunks' and the Philosophy 4 Children program, which research shows positively impacts on academic performance as well as encouraging children to identify, ask and answer deep questions.)

But does simply ensuring children continue to be curious mean we haven't failed them?

Surely children need more than this. There's the obvious academic 'stuff' that's needed (if only to achieve grades which, whether we agree with them or not, unlock future possibilities) and then beyond that...what? Just curiosity? Is being curious enough if you don't know what to do about it? An example mentioned in the discussion of astrophysicists never stop being curious even as their own understanding increases indicates the importance of remaining curious but it surely can't just be curiosity that improved their understanding. The ability to frame appropriate questions, to follow a logical and structured path of 'research' to begin to answer the questions as well as the ability to synthesize, analyse, compare and contrast and relate to, and recall, previous understanding etc. are key skills that support and in term fuel curiosity. 

So what are the implications of this?

It strikes me that if we allow children to be spat out at the end of an education system just being able to recite facts then we have indeed failed them. There's a lot of talk about future jobs and employers wanting skills over knowledge so, if this is accurate, education needs to ensure we aren't failing our learners by using them to meet performance targets and tick boxes. Allowing children to remain curious, and providing them with skills to use alongside their curiosity, seems essential to me but in this day and age of increasing scrutiny, accountability and public shaming of 'underperforming' schools it takes a brave leader to resist playing the game of school results.

So where does 'innovation' sit in this over scrutinised world?

As the guys said in the session, our educators have to make education work for 2017 - take Netflix and Blockbuster Video as an example. It's not about doing 'new' stuff, it's about doing what works well better and more relevantly for our modern learners. This is innovation - adapting our techniques, structures, policies and curriculum content to best suit the learners we have in front of us day after day. If we get this right then I've always believed that the outcomes, held so precious by outsiders but only a small measure of the complete child, look after themselves. Curiosity, innovation and it's only week 1!