#NAISac12 Helping me clarify thinking about EduInnovation

In terms of transforming schools, there are obviously degrees of transformation. How far we educators are willing to travel along that spectrum of possible transformation will determine a number of things, including: 1) if we will transform schools, 2) when we will transform schools, and 3) how fast we will transform schools.

While attending the 2012 National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference: Innovation (Twitter hashtag #naisac12), I believe I have clarified my own thinking about EduInnovation. To an even greater amplitude than I previously felt, I think we should be pushing harder and farther and faster down the spectrum of transformational innovation in schools and of schools.

In the keynote this morning, Bill Gates advocated for four primary means to leverage technology to transform schools:

  1. Reimagine textbooks
  2. Scale our best teachers
  3. Connect through social networks
  4. Personalize learning

While I certainly agree with these tactics for improving school, I don’t think Gates pushed hard enough for the kind of deep innovation that would truly transform schools for our learners. To me, the issue rests in the fact that Gates seemed to imply that adults would continue to be the producers and students would continue to be the consumers of school. Yet Gates said himself that school eventually got in his way as a learner and as a doer and as an innovator. When Bernie Noe, Head of Lakeside School, introduced Gates, Noe told a story of asking Gates and Paul Allen what Lakeside did to help them be so innovative at such an early age. Gates and Allen both answered something to the effect that, for awhile, school got out of their way and let them pursue their passions and interests. My interpretation: school, for awhile, permitted Gates and Allen to “study” that which interested them and fulfilled them most – building computer systems. By permitting Gates and Allen to be producers, not mere consumers, Gates and Allen created some amazing innovations at school age. Of course, Gates later dropped out of undergraduate school…because it was getting in the way of his learning and producing.

Later in the day, I was treated to two new views of school. In one after-lunch session, I listened to a team from Hathaway Brown (OH) describe their Centers for Learning and the Institute for 21st Century Education.

In addition to studying the core, in what I interpreted to be the more “traditional” component to HB, the girls choose to engage in the Centers for Learning. They can spend one day in a center, or they can spend four years in a center…or they can enjoy any amount of time in between. The girls are not graded, and they pursue deep learning and engagement in these areas of knowledge and understanding. In all cases, the girls are engaging in “real-world” issues and matters through these centers for learning. Like Kiran Bir Sethi indicates in her TED talk that I reference ad infinitum, learning in this age should blur the boundaries between school and life. By doing so, young learners are much more likely to catch and spread the positive contagion known as the “I CAN” bug. [see this HB video about student space scientists]

According to one of the shared quotes of an HB graduate, she is sincerely grateful for what her experience provided her…

Just after the Hathaway Brown session, I learned with CEO (Chief Excitement Officer) Saeed Arida from NuVu studio and Head of Beaver Country Day School (MA) Peter Hutton. While I was blown away by the concept and design of the partnership between these learning entities, I was also reminded of my friend Gever Tulley’s Brightworks School in San Francisco. NuVu is putting student learners in the driver’s seat as producers of knowledge, design, and understanding. The adults are serving as guides on a fun course of scenic exploration and iterative prototyping.

In similar fashion to Hathaway Brown, Beaver Country Day School has a traditional component to its schooling, but it also offers a school within a school via its NuVu partnership. During a trimester, students can spend time in two-week iterative cycles of creative design and product development. How I wish I could be a student at Beaver Country Day and/or Hathaway Brown.

Despite being a presenter on Wednesday (with Jamie Baker, Grant Lichtman, and Lee Burns) on the topic of moving from “why innovate” to “how to innovate” (see our resources at http://bit.ly/WhytoHowNAIS12), I remain deeply curious about the notion of whether an existing school can completely and wholly innovate. Does an existing school practically have to create a school within a school to seed innovation and grow a tree of fresh design within its existing forest of trees? Could this explain why so many new start ups seem to be emerging on the school landscape? Are those innovators at existing schools essentially creating micro start ups within their current cultures?

What interesting times these are for schools and educators and parents and students. How thankful I am for Hathaway Brown, NuVu, Beaver Country Day, Brightworks, Presbyterian Day School, and the many others who are pushing harder and farther and faster down the transformational and innovative spectrum of school change.

View the story “Contemplating EduInnovation” on Storify

[Note: I look forward to continuing to develop these unfinished and emerging thoughts and ideas with my colleagues and peers at #NAISAC12.]


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