Global Insights: April 2017

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ISSUE 4: SPRING 2017 |



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Innovation is a buzz-word, admittedly. People think they’re fashionable when they use it, when they criticise schools (and other organisations and industries) for not being innovative enough. The truth is, though, that innovation is deeply challenging. Although we frequently hear a choir of folks sing the praises of failure, it should be pointed out, as Ben Slater of consultancy Bow & Arrow (London) does in the London Business School Review (2.2015), that “[i]nnovation is a complete and utter basket case in business [...]. There is no other discipline [...] that has a higher failure rate than innovation [...]. It is incredibly hard. There are multiple pain points where innovation can fail [...].”

in the project’s successful outcome, including the naysayers. 4. Products/Services that just aren’t feasible. This itfall cannot be ignored. If a school’s goal is to create an alternative revenue stream, then an idea that cannot produce revenue is really a non-starter and should receive no funding. If, however, the school’s goal is to innovate in order to enhance a programme through an increased perception of its value, then the investment needs to be proportionate to the anticipated outcome -- the impact to the value proposition of the school.

Whilst that citation may seem to buttress any resistance to innovation, I submit it here as an important part of the framework of the question “Why Innovate?” It is -- or should be -- part of establishing an appropriate frame when a school decides to become serious about innovation, moving from talking about it to doing it.

5. Poor execution. Don’t leave execution until after you’ve thought through the entire idea and obtained appropriate investment; it needs to be integral to the entire planning process.

Slater provides some very helpful parameters when it comes to identifying pitfalls in innovation, and considering how to overcome them. I list them here for your consideration.

6. No process. Here can be a major pitfall for a school, especially if there’s a history of not having established processes for things other than innovation.

1. No personal ownership by the Director. An effort will only go so far if the Director does not invest her/ his time, resources, and energy into a given project.

If schools heed these six possible points of failure, they will be on their way to establishing a more rigorous process and increasing their likelihood of favourable results with innovation.

2. Under-investment. Slater makes it plain: “Innovation is really expensive. It’s expensive to develop a strategy, a proposition, a plan with the team - and it’s even more expensive to implement it with high levels of capital and operational expenditure. If it doesn’t have the level of investment required, then it won’t succeed.”

Toward better things, always.

3. Lack of alignment of the right stakeholders in the community. Not simply confined to board members and the Director, alignment includes anyone in the community who will/may have some level of interest

Kevin J Ruth, Executive Director, ECIS



been extracted by the algorithm as the authoritative truth on the subject.” Under pressure from readers of Scocca’s recent article, Google has since fixed the error, but the story of his culinary and informational odyssey points to a valuable lesson for educators. Like Mr. Scocca, we have to dispel a myth touted by many of our fellow practitioners. We have to dispel this myth because it puts us terribly behind and leads to all manner of unproductive practices. We have to dispel the myth that one of an educator’s chief aims should be to create a smooth, welcoming pathway for student learning.


Back in 2012, Tom Scocca wrote an article for Slate about caramelising onions that made waves by debunking the notion that caramelisation could be completed “in five or 10 minutes,” as many modern recipes claimed. His carefully researched article supported by his own experimentation and no less an authority than Julia Child, should have put a definitive end to the notion of speedy caramelised deliciousness. However, Scocca’s informational victory didn’t last.

Before you decide to caramelise my reputation — or, sensing a convenient rationale, feel justified in doing so to your students — hear me out. Like Scocca’s own efforts, the importance of friction for learning is something that has to be prepared slowly and carefully, or it will turn into a mess fit only for the rubbish bin.

Writing recently for Gizmodo, Scocca notes that this erroneous notion not only was not dispelled, but speedy onion caramelisation had instead been enshrined as Google’s “One True Answer.” To add further insult, the text used to substantiate Google’s claim was Scocca’s own 2012 article, misprised by Google’s algorithm as supporting evidence. As Scocca writes, “A block of text from the Times that I had published as a quote, to illustrate how it was a lie, had

To understand why this instinct to smooth the path is so unproductive — and why we have it in the first place — we first have to dig into the history of our craft. That history is inextricably bound with the movement of information. While good teaching certainly comprises many goals and practices, at its core, teaching is an information technology, tied to the creation, dissemination, and expansion of information. Understanding how information works 2

is thus essential for seeing the trajectory teaching should take in the coming years. To begin, information, and particularly the information we learn in school, is often initially outside of our experiences, embodied in the teachers who will impart that information. Whether directly through interpersonal encounters or more abstractly as mediated through text or image, that information has to be made available so we can make it our own. And prior to 1439, this process was incredibly difficult. For most of human history, the movement of information was severely constrained. Rather than information being able to travel freely, people had to travel — sometimes considerable distances — to visit the information. Whether we encountered it in another person or via a book, the only way to encounter information, and the only way to duplicate it, was by hand. As a learner, I had literally to be within a hand’s reach of the informational source. If I wasn’t, the information simply wasn’t accessible. This was the core challenge of the “Age of Hands”: access. Teachers worked to minimise the impact of this problem by creating a particular educational practice: lecture. In the first version of this practice, which gives it its English name, teachers performed “lectura”: reading a book out loud so students could make their own copies of it. This way, as they moved into their lives and professions, they could carry the requisite information with them.

complex and daunting new challenge: how do you find what you’re looking for amid that sea of books? This, then, was the core challenge of the “Age of Books”: finding. Teachers worked to minimise this problem’s impact by creating a whole range of new educational practices. They trained students scrupulously to decode (and to incorporate in their own writing) complex citational procedures; they introduced informational tools like indices, bibliographies, and the “card catalogue”; and they transformed lecture into a crystallisation and reporting of basic research, saving their students hours of individual searching.

However, we soon invented a technology that displaced this educational practice, solving the problem of the first age. In 1439, goldsmith and tinkerer Johannes Gutenberg introduced movable type printing, engendering an informational revolution. For the first time, information no longer needed to be reproduced by hand. The “Age of Books” introduced us to the world’s first informational explosion, but it also introduced us to a new problem. Whereas the largest libraries of the Middle Ages contained perhaps a few hundred books, libraries now began growing to sizes hard to conceive, and they started popping up all over the landscape. While a library of a million volumes represents an unprecedented opportunity for learning, as many nineteenth and early twentiethcentury philanthropists recognised, it also creates a

Most of us grew up in this second informational age or were trained by teachers who did, and we’ve therefore internalised the goals of these educational practices: to smooth and facilitate the flow of information. Doing so was necessary, and thus good pedagogical practice. However, in the age we now inhabit, such facilitation is not only unnecessary; it’s counterproductive. In my descriptions of the first two ages, you’ll note that I’ve focused on informational consumption.


I’ve done so because that’s where we see the most change. If we look instead at the production of information, the change is much less dramatic. In both ages, only an elite few had access to the creation process, and because of the complexities of production — even with a revolutionary process like movable-type printing — the incorporation of information had to be carefully guarded to preserve resources. This meant that there was considerable friction to producing information even as consumption became radically easier. And it meant that the quality of information was generally reliable; false or inferior information was typically weeded out by the process itself.

This won’t be easy — and it goes against much traditional wisdom. However, having students do “what we’ve always done” — consume and report what they’ve found — without using the critical skills they’ll need to survive the third age makes a mess like 10-minute onions: either undercooked and unpalatable, or charred into oblivion and only worth the bin.

Today, things are different. Even many preschool children have access to tools for producing a wide range of media — text, image, audio, and video (and with a power previously available only to professionals); they also have access to any number of methods of global distribution. The explosion of information in this “Age of Data” makes the last informational revolution look minuscule by comparison.

Dr William Rankin is a professional speaker and independent learning consultant with broad experience in educational technologies and pedagogical design. He works with schools, governments, and learning organisations throughout the world to design, develop, and implement innovative learning initiatives. Prior to founding Unfold Learning LLC, Dr Rankin served as Director of Learning on the global education team at Apple Inc. in Cupertino, California from 2013 to 2016, where he had responsibility for developing, promoting, and enhancing innovative teaching and learning in pre-K to post-20 learning.

We thus face a new challenge, and its implications have been rippling around the world: how do we know what information is real or credible? In the vast sea, how do we find solid ground? Unlike the last two challenges, this one does not have a clear technological solution — at least not yet. What it needs, in fact, is human intervention. The ease with which everyone can create information means we need to insert friction to weed out what’s false. This is where today’s teachers must step in. Rather than easing their path, we need to compel our students to test, try, evaluate and make with everything they discover. Only through such activities can they develop the discernment skills they’ll need. We should take inspiration from new research by people like Derek Muller, whose work evaluating media offers a helpful map for classroom practice in general. And we need to take advantage of the global network of independent schools to expand our students’ networks as a check on ethnocentric and cultural bias.





opportunity to speak with the local district board and told them our plight. They asked us what we wanted to see, and somehow it ended up in my lap. My school experience was very mixed – from awful to great. It included a traditional, single-room country school house, private teacher to correspondence school, where you had to snail mail your assignments from overseas and get them back graded a month later. I grew to hate school. It became something that got in the way. I was one of those kids who figured out how to “crack” the system by getting away with doing the least and minimally passing.

Impossible to describe Ted with a few mere labels, it is his influence in transforming education experiences for students that roars across thousands of communities. For example, he was the original school model designer and developer of the New Tech Network that over the past 20 years has grown to over 200 schools (mostly U.S. public schools) and has been opening 20-40 new schools per year. He’s been instrumental in helping other project-based learning models develop and replicate, currently around 700 across the U.S.

ECIS: How did you get involved in education? Long story short, we designed a brand new 11-12th grade year high school - end of the pipeline because we wanted employees we could hire. No lectures. Just projects. The way students ran projects used the same protocols used by my most productive and innovative teams in my company. We literally copied our culture forming ideas, proprietary project management software and protocols and then dumped it into the school. Some of the terms used in Project-Based Learning today were terms like Know, Need to Know, and Entry Document.

Ted: In the early 90s, I owned and launched a small technology company in my freshman year in college. We created logistics, finance and relationship management systems for large cellular phone, finance and luxury goods/hospitality companies. It was in Silicon Valley and I decided to move it to Napa Valley where I’m originally from. There were 6 other tech and bio-tech companies who moved about the same time and we couldn’t find anyone to hire, including admin assistants with the skills we needed to grow.

This became the Napa New Technology High School. When we opened the doors in 1996, it was the struggling, least engaged kids who showed up.

It got so bad we were thinking of moving the company again. Our small group of business owners had the


Then the unexpected magic happened. We had to start kicking kids out of the school building at night because they wouldn’t leave. The level of engagement was over the top. Nine months later without teaching to the test, these kids out performed every high school in the region on the standardised test.

ECIS: How did this become New Tech Network that then scaled to over 200 schools?

Ted: I don’t mind starting small to work stuff out but what drives me is to create maximum impact. If this school worked so well for kids like me, why would any kid have to go through the torture of a regular school? About that same time, I had sold my tech company and was part of a venture group that acquired the consulting company known for designing the Saturn car company’s retail experience and re-engineered 11 automotive and hospitality retail network brands worldwide. The business problem they were great at solving was how you get a bunch of stubborn auto dealers to do something completely different and replicated that over 1000 times in seven years. they are in. Just like there is no one Ritz Carlton that is a clone of another. This brings up a few important points about innovative school design. First, one must focus on the non-negotiable conditions, protocols and systems that enable people (students and adults) to build healthy relationships with each other - a culture of trust, respect, responsibility and commitment to excellence. Without this foundation and without the systems to maintain it, no group of people can ever be great for a sustained period. Second, one must identify the non-negotiable distinguishers and design elements that are timeless and universal that define who you are as a school and your brand. This could include pedagogical approach or theme.

Or like a Ritz Carlton. How do hire nearly an entire island who live in huts and deliver a 5-star experience day 1? I learned so much from working with this group about how you can replicate a powerful empowering culture that enables people to use their mind and heart to deliver reliably and sustainably the excellence! So, New Tech Network, Big Picture Learning and a few other highly replicated school design networks that I have helped over the years share the DNA from this experience with Saturn and Ritz Carlton. It is no coincidence that these are the fastest growing with the highest fidelity school designs in the world even in challenging public school environments.

Third, one must develop a systematic way to maintain perspective. We call this calibration. What experiences are you exposing your school team and students to routinely that calibrates their perspective of the world and what is excellence? People who have only worked in 1 star motels can’t exemplify 5-star world class service if they have never experienced it for themselves.

ECIS: There are many things that have scaled but are cookie cutter – like McDonald’s. Are these schools clones of each other?

Ted: Quite the opposite. Effective schools must deeply personalise to each student and to the communities


ECIS: What advice would you give a school team who wants to innovate?

different now is the speed in which these problems evolve and how quickly leaders must process and make decisions. This is dangerous when you lack balanced perspective. Through technology and rapid access to knowledge, the exciting opportunities abound for developing solutions that can better lives for humanity - but only if our leaders have a world perspective and heart.

Ted: Respect how challenging being innovative in an academic environment is. There is a huge irony in the term, “academic,” which has been used in a derogatory sense by people who hated school and in my case, rightfully so as being impractical without real-life application. Patterns of success I see within schools that are truly innovative (my definition: being practical, real-life, real-world, materially advancing and sustainable) are the following: First, focus first on creating a powerful culture where people trust each other and are empowered to try things and fail. This means creating the right structure, policies and governance. It also means reviewing each policy and categorising it whether it helps, hurts or is neutral in promoting this culture.

I worry that elite schools usually find themselves by default in an ever-isolated bubble that can narrow perspective and empathy for people that are not like them. To put it bluntly, it’s easy in a bubble to create a next generation of narcissistic leaders. I would challenge school teams to reinvent their role to not only provide academics, but equally, the development of heart and empathy. That occurs through emersion experiences with people and cultures unlike their own and with hands on learning tackling real-world issues.

Second, know your role as a school as not being the curator and disseminator of knowledge but rather a mentor with immense relationships to create immersive experiences that shape perspectives about the world to include the very best and the very worst happenings in the world. Third, encourage and challenge adults and students to break things. What I mean is, encourage people to try things to see how far they can go until things start to break - that’s how you know where the opportunities for innovation and underlying risks are. The culture of perfection like the perfect grade, the perfect paper or GPA academia can kill innovation. Instead, school can become a place – a lab - to break things safely.

One way to start is for the school staff and students to take a month project and seek out all that is broken in the world, then select ones that they would like to work on. Once these impact projects are identified (there may be dozens), the school team can characterise their new roles in helping students pursue these projects including relationships and resources that the school can help bring to the table.

The school leadership team can then inventory policies the school needs to waive or change to enable this work to take place along with the school board to memorialise these. Imagine if all academic learning were accomplished through this type of learning. It is already happening. Don’t take too long to transform your institution - if it takes 7-10 years, we will miss opportunities with a whole new generation of future leaders.

ECIS: What role can international schools play in innovation?

Ted: International schools have a huge opportunity and immense responsibility. They often disproportionately educate the children of the most influential, affluent and internationally experienced families in the world. These children have advantages and often a trajectory to become the next leaders of the world in business, government and charities. The world has always had complex problems to solve whether in food, health, politics or war. What is

Research and seek out schools around the world that have made progress in this area to help shape your perspective, be your calibration and become part of your professional learning network.


ECIS: In your world, what is coming up that excites you?

Ted: Just in past few years school districts are going wall-to-wall with the school design networks— meaning all schools and all grade levels. The profound effect on the community in workforce development, job creation and developing the next generation of leaders is exciting. I can’t disclose much now, but an area that I am working on will place studio quality music creation and instruments into the hands of hundreds of millions of kids. We all know music has had such a profound impact on humanity throughout the centuries - and more recently we know music has an intense positive impression on engagement and learning. Imagine what can happen when all this capability is unlocked from behind the barriers of studios and band rooms and placed directly into palms of even young children. Stay tuned.

Discover why itslearning is Europe’s largest learning platform provider

Ted Fujimoto is President of Landmark Consulting Group, Inc., a management and investment consultancy for scaling innovations in learning. Clients include some of the most prominent foundations, investors and innovators that span across education, media, entertainment, technology, distribution, content, energy and real estate. Ted helped to design and create the replication systems and strategy for several of the largest scalable, fastest growing, highest performing public school designs in the country that created over 350 schools, including New Tech Network and Big Picture Learning. Learn more here: Coles Wilkinson Mobile: +47 452 57 696


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Along with Acorn (BBC Micro) and Sinclair (ZX Spectrum), RML were the “big” exhibitors and Microsoft hadn’t really found the door marked “entry” beyond a very average BASIC compiler that we had running on our Z80 based 380Z computers.

Can Constructionism prevent our children turning into Stormtroopers? Reclaiming 21st Century EdTech from 19th Century Practice.

I only mention this bit of history because as I walked around the 2017 edition of the Bett Show I was struck by a sense of déjà vu. In pre-internet 1985 we were also promoting coding, sensors, AI and VR and no, they weren’t steam-powered either. As one of their tech boy wonders I used to run coding sessions for Cobol, Pascal and Modula 2.


AI was all the rage in the form of expert systems and some of the pioneering work of Seymour Papert (we’ll come back to him in a bit) and Marvin Minsky. Papert, a few years earlier in 1980 had written and published, what for me was, his seminal book on children, learning and computers; “Mindstorms”, and it changed everything or at least the direction of my career.

London plays host to one of the world’s largest EdTech (Educational Technology) trade shows known as the Bett Show (FKA the British Educational Training and Technology Show) held in association with BESA, the British Educational Suppliers Association. It’s been running in various incarnations and locations in London since 1985 where it was hosted in the exhibition rooms of the Barbican Centre, an arts and conference venue.

“Mindstorms has two central themes: that children can learn to use computers in a masterful way and that learning to use computers can change the way they learn everything else.”

I remember attending the very first event in 1985 when it was called the “Hi Technology and Computers in Education Exhibition” as a young man at the end of his teens working for a British computer manufacturer called Research Machines Ltd (RML) now known as RM Plc.

Even outside the classroom, Papert had a vision that the computer could be used just as casually and as personally for a diversity of purposes throughout a


called Constructivism and Social Constructivism respectively. Constructivism is primarily focused on how humans make meaning in relation to the interaction between their experiences and their ideas. That is, their learning is as a result of their experiences. Such experiential learning, rather than the abstract learning of content by rote, inspired Papert to develop his own Constructionist learning theory. Papert saw how, at the dawn of the microcomputer, learning could be a reconstruction of knowledge rather than simply a transmission. That learning could be personal, experiential and situated where, aided by digital systems, learners would effectively construct their own meaning as a discovery of knowledge. This, Papert believed, was the true liberating power that computers would bring to future learners and teachers as creators of learning experiences. But this is where the similarity between 1985 and 2017 ends. The optimism that we shared for the future of learning dwindled as technology was coopted not to liberate but to reinforce standardisation and automation of schools ways.

person’s entire life. Seymour Papert makes the point that in classrooms saturated with technology there is actually more socialisation and that the technology often contributes to greater interaction among students and among students and instructors.

In 1993 in his book,”The Children’s Machine”, Papert lamented:

In 1985, the Apple Macintosh was just a year old and we were talking about “making” in a variety of forms. Yes kids, the future of learning was bright and educational technology would play a central role in its transformation by removing the curriculum, the artificial subject silos and the streaming of kids by age, so that learning could be experienced and lived.

“Little by little the subversive features of the computer were eroded away: Instead of cutting across and so challenging the very idea of subject boundaries, the computer now defined a new subject; instead of changing the emphasis from impersonal curriculum to excited live exploration by students, the computer was now used to reinforce School’s ways. What had started as a subversive instrument of change was neutralised by the system and converted into an instrument of consolidation.”

A few years later I would attend the second ever TED conference in Monterey where among other people I met Jaron Lanier, the pioneer of Virtual Reality and had the opportunity to try it out for myself. I also met Ted Nelson the pioneer of hyper-linking and Alan Kay who had conceptualised the idea of mobile computing, an idea that I later plagiarised to build a mobile computer for kids in the early 90’s called “Satchel”. Papert, who I had the opportunity to spend time with in those years, had developed a learning theory he called “Constructionism”. Papert had been a student of Piaget and Vygotsky who had developed philosophies about the nature of knowledge

As I walked around the 2017 Bett Show I was struck by how exceptionally bland everything was, bathed in fluorescent lighting that felt like it was irradiating the soul out of the machines like it was E.coli. Despite the incredible financial bets being made on EdTech, with more money than ever being injected into startups, they’ve turned EdTech into the equivalent of


airport passenger conveyors or “satellite navigation” for learning which means you never get lost and you always end up at the same destination passing through the town of Boredom. Enslaved to the tyranny of testing and measurement, the affordances of todays technology in EdTech form are being used to develop ever more efficient ways of delivering a 19th century curriculum. Perhaps we have lost sight of what education is for and why we send our kids to school? Essentially we are using today’s digital platforms to go into reverse. We’re talking about content, and teacher at the front distribution while measuring the effectiveness of our tech by improvement in measured learning outcomes for which read, passing tests. When you look at who’s making the big financial investments in EdTech things suddenly become clear. There is a chain of command of organisations, think tanks, agencies and deliverologists who brief financial institutions that whatever bells and whistles you’ve got the point is to get school kids through a set of tests preferably owned by another multinational corporation like, for example, Pearson. This, while the creeping privatisation of state education via academisation, charter and free schools who are adopting similar leadership strategies to those used in retail or fast food outlet management to the shop floor. Sorry, I mean classroom.

explicit teaching of facts or showing students how to solve problems and then having the students practice them. Instructionists believe that learning is the direct result of having been taught. But all is not lost. Amidst the big budget trade stands/booths at the outer fringes of the galaxy are new startups, many of which are existing on the financial equivalent of fumes. This, to me, was where the action and excitement was. New EdTech designers like Night Zookeeper, Erase All Kittens, SAM Labs, Pi-Top, Stepping Into Business, Detective Dot, A Tale Unfolds, Technology Will Save Us and many others have embraced, wittingly or unwittingly, the spirit of Papert’s Constructionism. These young organisations are all about providing the tools and the opportunities for experiential learning that is centred on the learner rather than the instruction.

These strategies are based around standardisation and automation of content distribution and testing. By focusing on instruction rather than the learner, actual personalisation can take a backseat. But what about “personalised learning” I hear you cry? Well, it takes a human being, practiced in the craft of teaching, to do that. Personalised learning is focused on the child rather than the instruction and the individuated or differentiated learning that software is capable of, think Amazon recommendations for example, is all about instruction.

I would argue that it is organisations like these who, rather than those seeking to automate and

This is what is known as “Instructionism” or the


standardise education, are like a “Rebel Alliance” liberating learners and teachers alike to create their own, powerful learning experiences. Learning how to learn, solving abstract challenges and creating new knowledge must surely be some of the most vital competences that a child can leave school with. It’s hard to see how another interactive white board or learning management system, with or without AI, will provide access to these skills. Yet these nascent enterprises give me hope that EdTech has yet to have its soul completely crushed, swallowed and spat out as another uberfication of education where the learner is simply a passenger and the destination is a set of certificates from a bygone age.

Graham Brown-Martin is the author of Learning {Re}imagined, the best-selling book on global education published by Bloomsbury. He has enjoyed a 30 year career spanning the education, technology and entertainment sectors. He was the founder of Learning Without Frontiers (LWF), a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning. He left LWF in 2013 to pursue new programmes and ideas to transform the way we learn, teach and live.

Perhaps we need an alternative event to the kind that the Bett Show, or ISTE for that matter, has become. Perhaps we actually do need to form an “EdTech Rebel Alliance” where all of the stakeholders of learning, that includes teachers, parents and learners can converge to design new learning futures. It strikes me that we need something that isn’t just another EdTech incubator/accelerator/trade association Ponzi scheme where whoever pays the most cash gets the most attention. I’m thinking of a mutually supportive collective committed to radically transforming education not by automating it but by liberating it from the tyrannical business plan of a multinational corporation.

EdTech Rebels of the World, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains! If this sounds interesting to you then please join the ERA news list This article was first published on Medium





for learning are ubiquitous and accessible on every Internet-connected device, students who know more than others no longer have a competitive advantage. Our students now compete for jobs with talented students around the world who will work for far less. As a result, the high school and college graduates who will get and keep good jobs in the new global economy and contribute solutions to the world’s most pressing problems are those who can bring what the author and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman calls “a spark of imagination” to whatever they do. They will be creative problem-solvers who will generate improvements in existing products, processes, and services, as well as invent new ones. Rather than worry so much about graduating all students college-ready, I have come to understand that the most essential education challenge today is to graduate all students innovation-ready.


Improving student achievement through innovation is the latest buzz in education. New test-prep programmes, online learning platforms, e-texts, charter school hybrids, and so on are proliferating, but they are only changing the nature of how we deliver the same old content. No one seems to question exactly what students should be achieving beyond better test scores. What matters today, however, is not how much our students know, but what they can do with what they know. None of these innovations addresses this fundamental shift in what our students—and our nation—will need to succeed in the 21st century.

What does it take to create an innovator? Research for my new book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World, has turned up some surprising answers to this question. The assumption of many business leaders is that we need more science, technology, engineering, and math education. But the scores of young STEM innovators and social entrepreneurs whom I interviewed learned to innovate most often in spite of their “good” schooling—not because of it.

Knowledge today is a free commodity and growing exponentially. Khan Academy currently offers more than 3,300 K-12 video lessons for free, and more than 6 million students are logging on every month. And now, growing numbers of our elite private and state universities are offering no-cost online courses for anyone who is interested. Because opportunities

“It is [the] combination of play, passion, and purpose that best develops the discipline and perseverance


required to be a successful innovator.” Some argue that innovators like Steve Jobs are born and not made, and so the schooling they get doesn’t matter. However, I have come to understand that most young people can be taught to innovate in whatever they do. We are all born curious, creative, and imaginative. And the best schools—from pre-K to graduate school—continue to develop these capabilities in students. They do so not by delivering more-of-the-same education, but rather a very different education. Schools like High Tech High or the New Technology High Schools have established reputations for producing highly innovative graduates. But what and how these schools teach are radically at odds with conventional education. These schools focus primarily on teaching students skills and not merely academic content, including critical thinking and problem-solving, effective oral and written communication, and many of the other survival skills, such as collaboration and initiative, which I described in my last book, The Global Achievement Gap. They do so by engaging students in rich and challenging academic content—and yet, content mastery is not the primary objective of their courses. In all of the classes, students must use academic content to pose and solve problems and generate or answer complex questions. Students are required to apply what they have learned and show what they know. Frequently, they do this work in teams.

All of them require collaboration in the classroom because they understand that innovation is a team sport. Most courses are interdisciplinary because, as Google’s former director of talent, Judy Gilbert, explained when I interviewed her in 2011: “A more interdisciplinary approach to learning will better prepare people for the kind of problems they’ll be confronting.” Understanding that innovation and self-confidence come from taking risks and learning from mistakes, teachers at the schools I’ve named encourage trial and error. Rather than talk about failure, they emphasise the importance of “iteration” in student work.

For example, 9th graders at High Tech High work in teams to imagine a new business, and then develop a detailed business plan that they present to local venture capitalists in San Diego. Some of their ideas, in fact, get funded. And all HTH seniors must complete a semester-long team-based service-learning project in which a group works to solve a real problem in the community. One team I interviewed discovered that the local food pantry was not able to store the food it was collecting for needy families. So the students used a computer-aided-design programme at their school to create a storage system. They then installed it at the pantry.

Perhaps my most surprising research finding is the extent to which young innovators—from both advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds— are much more motivated by intrinsic rather than extrinsic incentives. Their parents, teachers, and mentors encourage exploratory play, the finding and pursuit of a passion, and the idea of giving back. All of the innovators that I interviewed want to make a difference in the world. It is this combination of

What is unique about these schools is the learning culture they have created.


play, passion, and purpose—rather than the carrotand-stick motivation of most classrooms—that best develops the discipline and perseverance required to be a successful innovator. To graduate all students innovation-ready will require very different thinking from what’s currently being touted in education. First, I believe the U.S. Department of Education and state education departments need to develop ways to assess essential skills with digital portfolios that follow students through school, and encourage the use of better tests like the College and Work Readines Assessment. Administered by the Council for Aid to Education, the CWRA is an online test of problemsolving, complex thinking, and writing skills used by a growing number of independent schools, public school districts, and colleges around the country.

Tony Wagner is currently the innovation education fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard University. Previously, he was the founder and co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This Commentary was adapted by Mr. Wagner for Education Week from his recently published book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World (Scribner, 2012). His website is

Second, we need to learn how to assess teachers’ effectiveness by analysis of their students’ work, rather than on the basis of a test score. Teachers and administrators should also build digital portfolios, which their principals and superintendents should assess periodically. Third, to push educational innovation, districts need to partner with one another, businesses, and nonprofits to establish true R&D labs—schools of choice that are developing 21st-century approaches to learning. Finally, we need to incorporate a better understanding of how students are motivated to do their best work into our course and school designs. Google has a 20 percent rule, whereby all employees have the equivalent of one day a week to work on any project they choose. These projects have produced many of Google’s most important innovations. I would like to see this same rule applied to every classroom in America, as a way to create time for students to pursue their own interests and continue to develop their sense of play, passion, and purpose. Our students want to become innovators. Our economy needs them to become innovators. The question is: As educators, do we have the courage to disrupt conventional wisdom and pursue the innovations that matter most?



a community in innovation. He asked his district teachers and head teachers one simple question: ‘If you could design a school what would it look like?’ After a three-month design process, Milpitas teachers were ready to pitch their new models to Matsuoka, his executive team and the union.


“[Local authorities and Governments] usually take years to plan and produce a binder that sits on a shelf. But binders do not change the system,” Matsuoka says.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”, claimed Steve Jobs. Yet, amongst all the paperwork that sits unread on the shelf in your average school, few, if any, have an innovation strategy.

The design thinking process is normally found in luxury fashion houses, global tech, media and telecommunications companies, and small tech startups. It provides broad parameters that encourage divergent thinking and a human-centred approach to rethinking the way things are done, the way things are built, and how people might use them. It’s incredibly powerful. For example, by refocussing on people, rather than strategies, nearly two-thirds of Milpitas’ schools have been able to recalibrate learning, creating engaging, happy places with improved engagement.

At Milpitas public school district on the outskirts of San Francisco, 10,000 students enjoy the kind of innovative, student-led, technology-assisted, inspiring learning about which many educators can only dream. Students suffering from poor educational outcomes have seen their schools change from didactic, teacher-led classrooms to enquiry-based learning supported in school and at home by over 3,500 new Chromebooks, with more on the way. Attainment is on the up. This wasn’t a decision from on high, though: it came from the ideas and plans of their teachers.

In a high-performing school in Asia with whom we work, some departments have decided to stop issuing grades in place of better critique. In Barcelona, Collegi Montserrat took our design thinking process to create their own common language of learning across school, helping students make more connections between subject areas, and improving attainment.

In the spring of 2012, Milpitas’ Director of Education, or Superintendent, Cary Matsuoka was inspired by the process of design thinking as a means to involve


will set out the existing landscape of the school on which to build the next plan. “Who will make the decisions?” is the frequent reply. The fact is: a small team without the pressure of having to make decisions nearly always develops more creative ideas to fuel future development than a Board that feels the pressure to deliver weighty decisions. They can hold their ideas lightly, kill the poor ones earlier, develop the promising ones faster, and have less fear of feedback.

Each week, I get to work in both schools and creative companies, and there is much for each group to learn from the other when it comes to leading innovation. In the time I spend with school leaders and teachers, I see many struggling with overload, rejection and abortive attempts at innovation. Why does the formal education sector seem to have so much pain in creating fast change, resistance to it even? And are the challenges faced in education any different to those faced by the fashion, media or telecoms companies?

A shared language of innovation such as design thinking, has created a myriad of ingenious and powerful learning in the schools with whom we work. Education organisations with an innovation strategy built on it can create powerful and empowering learning environments that evolve naturally with the changing world around us.

In today’s schools, what is it that really counts? What is it that we want to change so badly with our strategy documents and vision statements? There is a gulf between what schools say counts – increasing children’s creativity, responsible citizenship, confident learners, workers and entrepreneurs-tobe – and what appears to count: getting through ‘stuff’ or meeting the test criteria of today can end up taking all precedence in the end over what we could achieve tomorrow.

Adapted from Ewan McIntosh’s How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen. Available in Paperback, iTunes or Kindle:

Of course, previous attempts to bring big business’s way of working to school have been tortuous failures. But bringing creative attitudes and divergent ways of thinking from small companies that have evolved so rapidly in the past decade is proving different. There are interesting differences between these nimble design-thinking startups and flabby incumbent corporates, and lessons for how school innovators develop their own ideas. First – a small team, not an innovative individual, owns the idea. Too often, innovation is associated with a bright light, an innovation leader, a lighthouse. A person. But leading innovation is not about running every innovative project yourself, writing grand strategies, ‘stakeholder involvement’ and fiveyear plans.

Ewan McIntosh is founder of NoTosh, a company with learning at the heart of everything it does, in schools and in the creative industries. It has offices in Edinburgh, Melbourne and San Francisco.

Second - the team understands from the get-go that they need to find, nurture and involve their community to help build and scale their idea quickly enough to succeed. Third, the team is nearly always the David to an existing, decision-making Goliath. School leadership teams and Boards are always perplexed when I suggest that a teacher- and student-based team






OPPORTUNITY The leader makes opportunities for him/herself, for others, for the entire community. There are different kinds of opportunities that are essential to creating an innovative school environment: to learn, to give, and to lead. The innovation leader needs to have a clear sense of inquiring into his/her own practice. What are the sites for the leader’s own learning? There is no one-size fits all answer to the question, but answering it is essential to leading for innovation. The learning of the leaders is always inextricably bound up with the learning of those they lead.


In his April 2013 column for Forbes Magazine, What is Leadership?, Kevin Kruse makes the case that leadership is not just about social influence or empowerment of others, it is also about accomplishing something together with others. He provides the following definition of leadership:

If teachers are expected to engage in pedagogy that is entirely new to them, it is imperative that they experience it first as learners. They need to know what inquiry looks like, feels like and sounds like as learners before they will be able to create a learning environment where authentic inquiry can happen. They also need many opportunities to give and receive feedback and to reflect on their practice. Observing a colleague and providing peer feedback is not only a learning opportunity for the observer but it is also a gift to help others improve their practice and therefore also an act of leadership. Encouraging giving and help-seeking are essential to opening up space for innovation.

“Leadership is a process of social influence that maximises the efforts of others, toward the achievement of a goal.” What I like most about this definition is that it implies leadership is not just a characteristic someone has, but it’s something leaders do together with others. Moreover, school leaders who want to create innovation are not just enablers empowering others; they have to be active makers with the school as their maker space. But what are they supposed to be making? I believe that making innovation is about making opportunities for people to be innovative, making space for innovation to happen, and making a story of innovation in which people can imagine themselves as protagonists.

Once we held a workshop for parents to help them understand how literacy was being integrated with math and science work. At pickup time, one of the


Another crucial aspect of opening up the space for innovation is a constant commitment to advocating for the rights of children to receive an engaging and productive educational experience and the rights of the teachers to deliver that experience. This might mean allowing for teachers and students to influence policy decision making in real ways. One year our fourth-graders complained about having too little recess time. Their teacher saw an opportunity to turn their complaints into a substantial authentic learning experience.

parents approached me asking, “Do we have to attend the workshop tonight?” I replied, “Well sir, it’s a learning opportunity for you, so you decide whether you want to take that opportunity or not.” He showed up and stayed for the entire session. Members of the learning community first and foremost need opportunities to learn. Try rebranding workshops and meetings for teachers and parents as learning opportunities. The choice and responsibility of whether and how to engage then is transferred to the the learner, making community members more active in their own development processes.

In a supreme example of innovation leadership, she pointed out to the students that if they wanted the Head of School to listen to them, they should come with solutions, not just complaints. So the students spent a week doing research and creating a report about the benefits of recess time for kids their age. They studied the master schedule and talked with many teachers and staff members about ways to increase recess time with a minimal impact on formal learning time. They came to me with a creative plan and I had to take it seriously, or run the risk of trivialising their innovative work and shutting down the space for dialogue among different stakeholder groups. In the end we did not adopt all of their plan, but we were able to use many of their suggestions and make positive changes.

SPACE The leader opens up space for innovation to happen. This includes social space, economic space, political space, and physical space. I used to joke that my job was to put a protective bubble over our classrooms so teachers could be creative and try new things without fear and students could develop in their own time. That protective bubble is essential to opening up the space for creative, innovative practices and behaviors by both teachers and students. Opening up the space often means finding a way to say yes.

Finally, to open up space for innovation, leaders must not only work on optimising the existing resources in the school, but also grow new ones. This might take the form of providing internal pathways and opportunities for staff members to define and pursue personal as well as collective development goals and to share their individual capacities with one another in order to build the collective capacities of the community.

STORY Every smart marketing person knows you need a story. The leader must understand the story and how to keep it alive and keep it evolving over time. Our stories are shaped by a strong vision and guided by a clear mission. Our stories have history and our stories are ongoing. We make our stories come alive. A couple years ago our team was helping a group of teachers make sense of student-led inquiry. In one


of the activities, teachers were asked to generate questions and one of the teachers unexpectedly wrote, “If I lost my curiosity how can I be a good teacher?� What a beautiful and profound question! That teacher was clearly beginning to understand her part in the story of inquiry-based learning as it was developing in her school. The leader has to help all stakeholders in the community understand how they contribute to the ongoing story, to see themselves as protagonists in the collective story. When people understand their place in the community story they feel invested and responsible for helping to move it forward and to help others do the same.


Marj Henningsen is a founding Partner of Grey Matters Education, a Beirut-based consultancy focusing on building sustainable, developmentoriented practices in schools. Since the 90s, she has written about and consulted for teacher and administrator training, curriculum development and school start-up projects across MENA and beyond, including in US, UK, South Africa, and China. She was honoured to be a featured speaker at TEDx Beirut 2012, where she spoke about a revolution of new possibilities in early education.

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non-linear, and have emergent properties, tipping points and limited predictability. Understanding, respecting and addressing system complexity is at the heart of leading the development of successful innovation-driven learning systems in schools.


Fullan’s five key dimensions for improving leadership and management, offer useful guidance for innovation leaders in schools:

As an innovation leader with experience in both the environmental charity and international education sectors, there is no book that I turn to more regularly for a reminder of the responsibilities of an innovation leader than Michal Fullan’s Leading in a culture of change. Its opening lines resonate as strongly today as the first time I read them.

1. Moral purpose ensures that learning innovations enhance the school’s long-term commitment to mission-critical excellence. 2. Relationship building is needed to ensure that staff are engaged in learning innovation decisionmaking and development and are invested in the learner outcomes the innovations promise.

The more complex society gets, the more sophisticated leadership must become. Complexity means change, but specifically it means rapidly occurring, unpredictable, nonlinear change.

3. Knowledge creation and sharing highlights the importance of professional growth, seeing ourselves as learners, and harnessing the energy of peer-led professional learning and collaboration.

As a former Environmental Systems and Societies teacher, the IBDP course’s constructs for thinking about and describing complex systems provide a useful frame for thinking about the relationships between education innovations and the complex school systems within which they must evolve and operate. Complex systems are defined by their elements, interconnections and functions. They are

4. Understanding change provides a roadmap of the processes and challenges associated with the diffusion and adoption of a learning innovation. 5. Coherence making helps the school community see the obvious and subtle relationships between


the parts and the whole – between discrete activities and overall learning success. In real-life learning communities, all of these are important, but in my experience the most challenging of these is coherence-making – the process of “extracting valuable patterns worth retaining” while working toward clear outcomes or goals. In schools, coherence making may take the form of ‘story telling.’ The ability to craft a narrative that connects the familiar to the unfamiliar and the discrete elements to the unified whole is fundamental to leading learning innovation in schools.

supported by access to professional development that builds research methods and professional collaboration knowledge, understanding and skills. This range of options differentiates the experience and insures that innovation drivers as well as late or reluctant innovation adopters can find a professional growth pathway that is both intellectually challenging and expands existing skills.

ACS International Schools is committed to identifying, implementing and understanding the effectiveness of emerging learning innovations in education. In 2012, the school’s Board of Directors established the Centre for Inspiring Minds (CIM), a physical and virtual hub supporting practitioner-led learning innovation.

Farmer and ethical foods campaigner, Joel Salatin observed that, “[I]n our culture today – our Western, reductionist, Roman, linear, fragmented culture – we don’t ask how to make a pig happy. We ask how to grow it faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper, and that’s not a noble goal.”

While the new centre had the resources to support a limited number of innovators and early innovation adopters, it recognised a responsibility for cultivating the professional knowledge and skills that would build the capacity of a larger number of staff members to use structured inquiry to understand the efficacy of emerging new ideas in international education.

Driving much of the learning innovation in schools today is a fundamental rethink of the purposes, outputs and processes of teaching and learning. While most, if not all international schools have placed learners’ happiness and self-actualisation at the heart of school ethos, many have continued to focus measurement and reporting on traditional outputs – exam results and university matriculation.

The introduction of a new teacher performance evaluation system presented an opportunity to reframe the school’s commitment to continuous improvement as a defining characteristic of professional growth. The school set the teacher performance evaluation system within the wider context of a Performance Effectiveness System (PES). The PES established the need for newly hired staff to undergo structured formal appraisal, but redefined performance appraisal for returning staff as a triennial process. The two intervening years are designated as a professional growth period, during which staff members can use a range of formal inquiry methods to address practical challenges associated with the use of learning innovations.

Recently, our four schools developed a shared set of Expected School-wide Learning Results (ESLRs). While taking the first steps on our new innovation journey, we quickly realised the implications of this decision for the entire fabric of the school culture. Because the expanded set of learner outcomes included success skills and dispositions not previously addressed in the curriculum or measured by assessments, the changes needed called for professional learning, curriculum revision, and new assessment measures, among other important changes.

The inquiry methods range from formal action research, to collaborative lesson study, to teacherdirected observation. All these methods are

The connections between re-framing the goals of


our education system and re-framing our approach to evidence-informed innovation in teaching and learning began taking on the qualities of something quite big. Although the emergence of these new innovation strands had the potential to be quite joined up, they also had the potential to be overwhelming – crossing a time/scale tipping point and sending teachers and education leaders over the edge. Of course, this is why its important to have an understanding of change processes and a plan for managing the stresses and growing pains that are inevitable in a complex system with emergent properties and unavoidable levels of uncertainty.

Ben Hren is the Head of the Centre for Inspiring Minds, part of ACS international Schools. To learn more about the work of the Centre for Inspiring Minds, visit

For three years, the Centre for Inspiring Minds has been refining its approaches to evaluating the outputs, short-term and intermediate outcomes, and long-term impacts of this increasingly coherent approach to understanding and improving our learning innovation system. Of course there are many other complex interconnections in this system that affect and are affected by the work that has been described. This requires regular dialogue, data collection and analysis and a more dynamic approach to strategic school development. It is tempting to stop doing something that presents short-term challenges, or to reconfigure the innovation to suit special needs or interests. The work of our school is not unlike the work happening in international schools around the globe. Education has never been an easy undertaking, and now, more than ever, school leaders are compelled to focus more on the difficult questions than on the easy answers. In fact, what may appear to be an easy answer may be a temporary tipping point in a dynamic system, destined to return to a previous state of equilibrium. Understanding change and coherence making are at the heart of innovation. Knowing what works and doesn’t – what to stop doing and what to continue – requires systems thinking and leadership. It also requires an eye on the prize – happy learners who are prepared and inspired to make a difference.




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On a macro level, such uniqueness makes it difficult to glean transferable guidance from formal research or informal insights from our counterparts in other international schools as we aim to do things differently in order to improve. On a micro level, broad diversity of perspectives within our schools offers additional complexity as we seek to collectively work towards innovation-oriented improvements in student learning.


Fortunately the majority of our learning communities can now say that we are beyond what Toffler (1970) dubbed “future shock� and are comfortable with the concept of innovation, having made strong moves to do things differently. We have adopted robust technology, are well aware that change is needed, and are working hard to translate the opportunities brought to us by way of technological change and globalisation into powerful learning moments.

Designing opportunities for dialogue can ignite educators to embrace innovation. However, without the collective understanding needed to frame the context by which data is interpreted and decisions are made, innovation can do more harm than good. Designing opportunities for dialogue provides stakeholders with the discernment needed to make informed decisions and unites individuals to launch into deeper innovation-oriented inquiry.

Yet as we rapidly onboard new 3D printers, cool standing desks, and the latest apps, we are doing so with such enthusiasm that our energy is directed towards the next new idea before we have had the chance to build the collective intelligence needed within our schools to evaluate earlier innovations.

INTRODUCTION Innovation can take many forms. Whether you are involved in rolling out a new technology initiative, implementing a new pedological method, designing learning spaces, or considering other changes, making informed innovation related decisions is essential. As international schools we are often on the cutting edge of innovative schooling and have very unique and diverse contexts and perspectives.

The pressure and enthusiasm to innovate now overtakes the time and energy needed to collectively unpack how changes are working together, or worse yet if they are working at all to improve


student learning. (Admit it, most of our schools have “innovative” objects that gather dust shortly after they arrive on our campuses). Ten years ago this style of “innovate now, reflect later” was arguably less risky. Unlike ten years ago, today’s educators, constantly connected to digital streams, have less time to pause and reflect on the impact of innovation on teaching and learning (Levy, 2007). According to Rushkoff (2013), we now “exist in a distracted present, where forces on the periphery are magnified and those immediately before us are ignored” (p. 4). Shocked by the present, we often onboard innovation without the necessary collective understanding needed to make informed choices given our unique contexts and diverse perspectives. As we scramble in this way to innovate, it is easy to ignore the need for face to face inquiry about innovation in a broader sense within our learning communities that is essential to make informed decisions. Collective inquiry is essential for dealing with large, complex institutional questions at all levels of the learning organisation (Eaker, DuFour & Dufour, 2002). Only after collective insights and understandings are formed can individuals start to contextualise their practices and make objectively informed decisions that will benefit their institution’s innovation aims as a whole.

associated with rapid innovation. It protects space for individuals to engage with different perspectives and to contextualise their practices as well as their sentiments in a whole school context.

But how do we ease the tension between the pressure to rapidly innovate and the need to collectively understand our unique contexts and diverse perspectives in order to make informed innovation decisions?

In May 2016 Middle School and Upper School faculty at Zurich International School, some nine years into a one-to-one programme, launched into a series of inquiry rounds starting with the World Cafe method outlined by Brown (2002).

INTERNAL INQUIRY: FOCUSING DIALOGUE According to Eaker, DuFour, and DuFour (2002), “a school cannot function as a PLC until its staff has grappled with the questions that provide direction both for the school as an organisation and the individuals within it” (p. 3). Making space within our learning communities for collective inquiry breeds the curiosity and insights needed to ignite change (Vogt, Brown & Issac, 2003).

THE WORLD CAFE’ Grounded by the understanding that all individuals interpret the world differently based on perceptions, the World Cafe process starts with four or five participants converging around each table. A question is then introduced to the whole group followed by silent think time. Leveraging the power of visible thinking, individuals are encouraged to draw and write their ideas on large sheets of paper in the middle of each table during this and all portions of the process.

This collective inquiry helps learning communities overcome the barriers associated with onboarding and scaling innovation, and alleviates tension


Once individuals have had time to think privately, they each have two uninterrupted minutes to share. Only after each member at the table has shared their thoughts does the discussion open up for the group to respond. Individuals then move to a new table with one member staying behind to connect the new group to the ideas of the previous group (Brown, 2002). Mindful adding or changing technology absent of contextual factors such as space, curriculum, and pedagogy would not yield the true innovation shifts our students need, ed tech leadership framed the World Cafe inquiry with the following three broad questions: •

What does learning look like currently at ZIS?

What will learning look like in three to five years?

How will we get there?

Through their explorations of these questions teachers discovered that there were diverse views amongst their colleagues that did not always align with one another. The World Cafe protocol allowed teachers to learn more about one another’s ideas and build a collective understanding about a set of common beliefs and values regarding the role of innovation in helping the community achieve its learning goals moving forward.


> DESIGN Aim to design opportunities for dialogue that build collective understanding through systems inquiry


> INQUIRE Collectively engage with powerful questions supported by dialogue structures that create equity and illicit engagement

Collective insights in the form of patterns and trends emerged from the World Cafe experience. This formal opportunity to contextualise individual practices and sentiments, on a whole school level, primed faculty to be able to launch deeper into contextualising innovation from other sources. For example, identifying the the strength, opportunity, weakness and threats (SWOT) of changing computing devices from PC to Apple, or onboarding Google Classroom to replace Moodle.

> IDENTIFY Once patterns and trends emerge, identify areas of further inquiry in objective ways using strong data sets to inform decision making


CONCLUSION This article highlights the need to contextualise practices and sentiments associated with new innovation ideas. It showcases how one school formalised dialogue using the World Cafe method to explore broad innovation oriented questions which allowed for individual contextualisation and collective understanding from a whole school perspective. Almost one year after the Spring 2016 individuals and groups are now better equipped, and united as they contextualise innovation ideas from outside sources. As the pressure to innovate continues, this example highlights the power of first taking time to inquire within to make informed decisions in the future.

Dr Elizabeth Wargo has developed and sustained research-driven educational technology for Zurich International School and larger communities for the past eight years. She is directly responsible for implementing and reviewing the school’s oneto-one laptop programme, and has developed a professional learning community where members explore and learn from and with each other.

More information on structured dialogues: SWOT World Cafe Data Driven Dialogue



REFERENCES Brown, J. (2002). The World Café: A resource guide for hosting conversations that matter. Mill Valley, CA: Whole Systems Associates. Eaker, R., DuFour, R., & DuFour, R. (2002). Getting Started: Reculturing schools to become professional learning communities. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree. Ifediora, C., Idoko, Onyebuchi, R., & Nzekwe, J. (2014). Organisation’s stability and productivity: the role of SWOT analysis an acronym for strength, weakness, opportunities and threat. International Journal of Innovative and Applied Research, 2(9): 23-32. Levy, D. M. (2007). No time to think: Reflections on information technology and contemplative scholarship. Ethics & Information Technology 9(4): 237-249. Rushkoff, D. (2013). Present shock: When everything happens now. New York, NY: Penguin Group. Toffler, A. (1970). Future shock. New York, NY: Bantam Books. Vogt, E.E., Brown, J., & Issac, D. (2003). The art of asking powerful questions: Catalysing insight, innovation, and action. Mill Valley, CA: Whole Systems Associates.




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But, what does this have to do with empathy? In teaching, when we innovate, our goal is usually to improve student learning and the student learning experience. We believe the new approach will be a better fit to the students’ needs and abilities. I mean, look at all the innovations we have seen in teaching. Once, we taught students who were seated silently in perfectly aligned rows of desks. Now, we differentiate, because students learn in different ways. We allow students to work standing up, because some concentrate better that way. We use student-led learning, because students retain material much better when they seek it out themselves.


It’s funny: I’ve noticed that when someone says “innovation”, almost all of us think “technology”. At conferences, I see a lot of people showing really amazing technology-based lessons, or just amazing technology. There’s nothing wrong with technology - it’s great! - but that’s not what innovation is. Technology is innovation, but innovation isn’t technology. Still, I think we can learn a lot about innovation, not so much from technology, but from technologists.

We have students work in teams (talking in class!) because it promotes creative thought, and because students understand better what they explain to others. I could go on here, but you get the point: we innovate to improve student learning. It’s so obvious, it’s barely worth mentioning.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s come back to technology later. Because, what I really want to talk about here is the relationship between innovation and empathy. Let’s start back at the beginning: if innovation isn’t technology, what is it? I think it’s very simple: innovation is doing something differently, with the aim of doing it better. That’s all. And, a successful innovation is one that actually does it better, and gets used.

Or is it? How do we know the innovation will work? What works for one student, or one class, or one school, may not work for another. We know some innovations work sometimes, but not always, and part of the challenge for the teacher (and school) is to identify which innovations, which methods, will work with


these students, on this topic, in this situation. And that requires having a pretty good idea of this: when this innovation works, why does it work? And, do we have that “why” here? In other words, it requires understanding the needs and abilities of the students - these particular students, in this place, at this time, on this topic - and matching the innovation to them. And it’s not just a matter of matching the innovation to the students. Any lesson has students at one end, but it has a teacher at the other end. If the innovation is to work, if it is to be sustained, if the teacher is going to use it more than a few times, it also has to meet the teacher’s needs. Some innovations will work well for some, but not all teachers. What kind of needs? They vary but, for example, when we do something using our strengths we are more likely to succeed, more likely to enjoy it, more likely to do it again. An innovation should not require us to do anything we feel is beyond our abilities. Some of us enjoy variety, and constantly look for ways to change our approach - others enjoy stability, and need to be convinced that change will be good. Most of us need a pretty clear idea of how the new approach should work, and how to adapt if it doesn’t go as expected - but some are willing to jump in and take our chances. We may need time, to think it through.

Usually, when a teacher simply decides to innovate - when it’s teacher-originated innovation - we can assume the teacher’s needs are being met. But, a school can still increase the amount of innovation its teachers do, by thinking about needs like the ones I’ve listed, and taking steps to meet them. In other words, by using empathy to identify and lower barriers to innovation, support thoughtful attempts, and recognise success.

We may need colleagues trying it at the same time, to share experiences with. We may need encouragement, perhaps recognition and praise for even partial successes. We may need to know that we are doing this because it advances a mission we care about, because “this is who we are” as a school.

And what about top-down innovation, those schoolwide initiatives that can arouse everything from excitement and enthusiasm, to worry and skepticism and resistance? Once again, empathy is key. There’s an article on school-wide innovations, and how to make them successful, that I recommend to anyone who’d like to go more deeply into this topic: When Change Has Legs, by David Perkins and Jim Reese.

If we are innovating on our own, we need to know that the school will allow us to do things differently from our colleagues (which can be an issue in schools that emphasise uniformity across grades). Many of us need to know that the school will have our back, if the innovation doesn’t go well at all - that honourable failure (with a good backup plan) is at least accepted, or even welcomed.

But, we can’t stop there.


Our students have parents, and they also have needs. When we innovate, in particular, it’s important that parents understand what is happening in the classroom or, at least, trust that we know what we’re doing. We’ve all heard about the challenges that arose when parents complained they didn’t understand their children’s math homework, but the lesson applies to almost anything we do in a new way. We need to see our classrooms and innovations through their eyes, also. We have to empathise with them, too, to guide them through the process. Should I stop there? Probably, most of the time. Our innovations may involve others in the school community - administrative staff, maintenance staff, and others. Usually they won’t, but it’s worth a thought - even if it’s just to make sure that maintenance staff won’t have to clean up after our brilliant lesson!

Paula Marra is a Junior School teacher at the United Nations International School in New York, Design Thinking Guest Coach & Creativity Catalyst with The Teachers Guild, founding Chair of the ECIS STEAM Special Interest Group, and RSA Fellow. Paula has led workshops on Design Thinking, PBL, STEAM and Tech integration and also has two books on projectbased learning via the Apple Store. Paula had the honour of being a breakout session leader for the Beating the Odds Summit at the White House in 2016.

I promised I’d come back to technology - or, actually, to technologists. When we think of innovation, we tend to think of technology - I do it too! It’s not surprising: technology is where we see the biggest number of innovations in our daily lives. But, a lot of technological innovations - and a lot of technologists - don’t succeed. Success, for technologists, is not just about inventing something new: the invention must do an excellent job of meeting the needs of customers, at an attractive price; it must be delivered by an organisation attracts good people, and can pay its suppliers; and it must offer an attractive return to its investors. The technologists who succeed understand the needs of everyone they deal with - in other words, successful technologists must master empathy. For teachers, successful innovation is not about innovating for the sake of it, either. It is about constantly re-thinking and improving teaching to meet our students’ needs, about being part of a school community that is willing to experiment, and about supporting parents so they will take the walk with us - in other words, successful teacherinnovators must master empathy. Innovation isn’t about technology, It’s about change, with empathy.



to be successful in their future jobs. Bloom’s revised taxonomy (Anderson, Krathwohl, 2000) is the foundation of designing higher level thinking through educational and learning processes and the pinnacle of the new learning domain is ‘creating’.


This is because creating utilises the building of structures or patterns from diverse elements to create new meaning or new solutions. To ensure these valuable skills are acquired, design thinking should be embedded in every classroom to achieve the higher level problem solving skills the future demands. A quote by John Maeda describes it well:

You may have heard about STEM or STEAM in education, but what is it? STEM represents projects that include the subjects Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. In STEAM projects, the Arts are also represented.

’Design use to be the seasoning you sprinkle on for taste; now it’s the flour you need at the start of the recipe’.

Introducing STEAM projects in education is a growing trend because it allows students to utilise their creativity, thinking and analytical skills to solve complex problems and allows hands-on-learning. Using STEAM in projects also links knowledge of different subject areas together to find real world solutions. This forces students to apply the skills they have learned in Mathematics, Science, Design/ Engineering, Technology, Language and Art and use it in a new and complex way.

STEAM projects have many other non-subject related benefits and are often team activities that develop real-world skills that employers seek. The 10 skills employers most want are described in order of importance by Susan Adams in a 2015 Forbes magazine article as Ability to work in a team structure, decision making and problem solving skills, verbal communication skills, ability to plan, organise and prioritise work, information gathering and processing skills, ability to analise quantitative data, technical knowledge, proficiency with technology, ability to create and edit written reports and the ability to sell and influence.

This is not a new way of thinking, but historically design has been considered as a part of the art curriculum and not seen in it’s own right. The fast changing world means that today’s students need to become skilled and competent workers with new skill-sets and habits based around design thinking

Many STEAM projects tend to have a real-world


problem to solve and this in itself is a great motivator for students. It not only encourages the finding of solutions, but helps students to be more resilient and continue to try new approaches to enable them to find a solution. It allows students to pursue the areas or fields that interest them the most in a larger problem. It also forces students to do more higher-level thinking. Unlike in traditional education, the teacher does not phrase the questions and the students have to take a more active role in developing questions and hypothesis to lead their projects. According to Dan Rothstein, co-author of ‘Make just one change: Teach students to ask their own questions’ and director of the ‘Right question institute’, students become more engaged, take greater ownership and learn more when they formulate their own questions. Design can be seen as the foundation of the skills and core competencies that should be learned, practiced and obtained in education (Berk, 2016). According to Sarabeth Berk, Ph.D. ‘Design is no longer a “nice to have’ it is a “need to have” and all learners should be learning both the technical skills of design, but more importantly the habits and processes that designers use to create better and more innovative solutions.’

animation, film making or even in art installations. STEAM projects can be set up to meet specific curriculum goals, but can also be used to assess other skills like resilience through developing a range of solutions. Students often play it safe when creating for traditional projects because they want to be sure they can earn a good grade. By adjusting the assessment criteria to reward risk taking, prototyping and testing instead of a perfect end-product, students can be encouraged to be more adventurous and really think outside the box to develop or initiate innovative solutions to the problem they are addressing.

STEAM projects can help to foster these strengths: by working in a team, students develop social competence through collaboration, communication and problem solving. Research skills can range from traditional research in the books and print media, through the internet, but also through experimentation, observation and prototyping. Planning skills are strengthened, as students have to find solutions to the problem and ensure that everybody in the team has a role to play in the team’s success. Communicating verbally, through drawings, in writing or through the use of technology allows students to share the knowledge they have gained and present their findings and solution to both team members and a wider audience.

STEAM and STEM education has had a place in primary education for a while, but is now becoming more common in many secondary schools too. Maker spaces and cross- curricular projects are more commonly included in progressive schools to help students develop the knowledge and skills needed for the future jobs they will work in. The increasing focus on teaching coding and programming skills also fit into the STEAM framework.

Technology use in STEAM projects permits students to select different ways to communicate their progress, findings or end product. Technology can itself even be the product for example robotics, programming, app-design, web-design,

This trend can be seen in the educational media and conferences in the past few years. In the past two years the Educational Collaborative for International schools (ECIS) has been offering


workshops and presentations at their conferences to help educators develop STEAM skills and projects in their own schools and there has been a growing need for skills and knowledge in this area. During the November 2016 ‘Cultivating curiosity’ conference in Copenhagen, the ECIS STEAM Committee offered a two day workshop: ‘Powering creative minds’, that attracted international primary and secondary school educators from multiple disciplines from all over the world. The focus on the first day was on two projects: ‘Bridging the gap’, a bridge design-and-building project that includes skills and knowledge from Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology by Jackie Van der Steege of Bonn International School in Germany. Mark Allen from the Sotogrande International School presented the second project: ‘What a Clock-up’, a clock design project that included skills and knowledge from the fields of technology, engineering, art and mathematics. Although both of these projects had been developed for secondary students, each could be used in a scaled down version in primary projects. During the second day the delegates were introduced to the Teachers’ Guild design thinking process by Jess Lura and had the opportunity to tinkered with technology, engineering, art, science and mathematical tools and ideas to include in their projects.

Jackie van der Steege is a Design teacher, APD trainer and STEAM advocate with 12 years of experience in teaching Art, Product design, Digital design, Food technology and Textiles. She regularly presents at international educational conferences on technology and creativity in the classroom. She started her career in the UK teaching GCSE and A-level students prior to relocating to Germany where she teaches and develops courses in the MYP (IB) Design curriculum at the Bonn International school. She speaks 4 languages and creates watercolours and etches when she has spare time.



For schools to remain relevant and valuable facilitators of learning, we need to embrace change and innovation and look for new ways to support diverse learning pathways for all students. Most importantly, we need to realise that this requires new approaches that exist outside the traditional change management structures of top down leadership, rigid professional development and evaluation.


1. Create Space Often when discussing the impetus for educational reform we’re directed to the somewhat nebulous case for ‘21st century skills’ or preparation for jobs that ‘don’t exist yet’. Yet right in front of our eyes, a compelling case has already unfurled.

There’s huge opportunity for schools to create new physical and digital spaces that provide a platform for creativity, collaboration and range of learning experiences. Most importantly, they’re cheap and easy to implement.

Forbes-listed companies like Ernst & Young and PriceWaterhouseCooper (PwC) have removed degree requirements from their recruitment process, stating that they believe there is significant untapped talent outside of the graduate pool. Universities such as Curtin now accept admissions based entirely on learning portfolios, suggesting a level of uncertainty in the state of secondary grading and accreditation processes.

Put castors on existing desks, chairs and couches so they can be rolled around into a range of configurations. Put consumables in cheap IKEA trolleys to make them always accessible. Invest in cheap modular stools that can be stacked out of the way. Try hanging whiteboards vertically seam-to-seam across an entire wall instead of horizontally to provide huge areas for learners to showcase thinking. Most importantly, have clarity around why flexibility is important. Educators need time to explore and discuss both the pedagogical intent and the practical logistics behind leveraging different learning layouts.

Students (for as long as higher ed and schools have existed) have bypassed further study to pursue their own entrepreneurial endeavours. And while all this has happened, most schools have remained obsessed with giving 8 year-olds standardised tests.


possible, devolve leadership and have teachers facilitate the sessions. Initially, some educators may be reluctant to share but be persistent. Tap people on the shoulder if you need to. Help them plan, present and share their experience. It won’t be long before a melting pot of passion, expertise and interests emerges that you never knew existed. Realise there’s also a wealth of experience in your parent community. Developing learning partnerships with parents can be mutually beneficial and will help create a shared and supported vision. Imagine a school where you didn’t need parent evenings because they attended PL alongside teachers and were regularly involved in learning experiences both physically and virtually.

You can also look for digital tools that can help deprivatise great teaching and learning and allow your community to share ideas online. Many schools like Shekou International School (#SISrocks) use a Twitter hashtag to make learning transparent, encourage vertical collaboration and to connect students with an authentic audience. Instagram, Facebook, Yammer and Slack can all provide similar environments and assist in sparking new ideas across your school.

3. Boost agency Innovation and change will be stifled if educators are required to do the same thing at the same time under the guise of ‘consistency’. We need to trust in the professionals we’ve hired and provide inspirational leadership and support rather than micromanagement of their curriculum and calendars.

2. Rethink PD

Encourage staff to bring new ideas, practices and ways of working to their classes and accept they may need to diverge from the ‘topic’, lesson plan or unit. If someone wants to expose students to algebra via coding then let them. Beats meta paper based examples any day of the week. Most importantly, provide avenues and mechanisms for educators to share their practice as it evolves. Keep it fluid and allow teachers to love the exploration and sharing of their craft.

Collectively, our school communities are a fountain of professional knowledge and experience just waiting to be tapped. There’s huge opportunity for us to rethink how they approach traditional professional learning (PL) days and calendared meetings. Explore PL opportunities that encourage sharing of expertise and experience rather than a leadership driven agenda. Teachmeets and EdCamps are a great way to tap into collective knowledge of your staff. PechaKucha is a fast and fun way to share ideas or initiatives and can easily involve the wider community. And for the truly innovative, Hackathons are a fantastic way to support bottom up change, boost educator agency and expose and new ideas within your school.

The benefits of this type of exploration and occasional deviation from the curriculum far outweigh the potential of inconsistencies across classes when one teacher fails to cover adverbs, igneous intrusions or the causes of World War 1. Encourage risk taking, share the highs and lows, celebrate successes, and focus on the positive outcomes for learners.

Encourage staff to run school PL opportunities and reduce the number of external consultants (preferably to zero) that you bring in. Wherever

4. Capture Sparks If something great is happening in a class at your


school it shouldn’t be secret to everyone else, particularly the teacher next door. Make it a priority to capture and showcase any success you see, however small. Agree on a simple framework whether it’s a tweet, blog post or video snapshot. Rough and ready is fine as long as great teaching and learning is at the forefront. If you’re fortunate enough to have learning coaches in your school, leverage them as documentarians as well. This showcase will become a catalyst for open and honest discussions about the teaching and learning occurring in your community. Tie this to an agreed upon Twitter, Facebook or Instagram hashtag and you’ll soon have a visible community of practice that’s not limited by the traditional bounds of curriculum vaults and structured PD sessions.

John Burns is the Director of Creativity and Innovation at International Schools Services (#ISSedu) and advises around educational reform, change leadership and contemporary learning. His work extends to government, private and international schools and the industries that support them. You can learn more about John at

As the year comes to a close consider codifying the best examples of practice within a video, iBook or similar. This is a great way to create a tangible agreement on great learning and is fantastic pre-emptive strike to share when recruiting new educators. 5. Immerse in change Most importantly, school leaders need to immerse themselves in the change they’d like to see. Only when we’re at the coalface of teaching and learning can we truly have empathy for our students, teachers and parents. Get into classrooms, team-teach, run lessons and contribute to the school Twitter hashtag, and you’ll rapidly garner genuine insights into the wellbeing of your school community. With these authentic experiences at hand you’ll be in a far better position to support innovation and change across the school. If we value these concepts and are persistent in their growth then great ideas will spread like wildfire. With a culture of innovation burgeoning in our schools we’ll be in a stronger position to address the shackles of discrete subjects, rigid timetabling and high-stakes testing, and ultimately be empowered to give agency to those who deserve it most – the students.



suppliers. Results highlight the subjects and learning areas where digital resources are in particular need, and the type of content in most demand. The report also identifies other requirements that many international schools have when it comes to digital learning, such as training and optimising integration within the classroom.


Digital learning in the classroom


Less than half of the international schools that responded to the research (41%) said they currently use digital resources to support personal learning, whether it’s free or purchased. However, well over half of the schools (59%) said they felt digital resources supporting personalised learning could help them raise their standards and want to see more innovation.

The first ever in-depth study into the use and demand for digital learning resources at international schools has been conducted by IERP (the International Education Research Panel), a research collaboration between ISC Research and C3 Education. It suggests innovative approaches to teaching and learning are being used and more innovation is in demand.

Almost three-quarters of schools indicate using free resources for lesson planning and only 34% indicated paying for content for this purpose. More schools said they prefer to invest in practice and revision content, and in summative assessment, rather than sourcing free resources. Cross-curricular digital content is in high demand, as are Science and English subject learning resources. Also in demand are digital applications that offer simulations and animations to support learning. Many schools (77%) are using digital content and applications as teacherled tools via interactive whiteboards and projectors.

The study attracted responses from 836 international schools; 9.7% of all K-12 Englishmedium international schools around the world. A minimum of 8% of international schools from each region of the world responded, including a reliable cross-section of schools offering primary and/or secondary learning. The 90-page report which includes regional analysis provides valuable insight for schools and education


potential by many international schools. However, in some areas schools believe there is a distinct lack of good quality, relevant resources that are intuitive enough for busy teachers to use or incorporate into children’s learning, and also there is insufficient training and support. Investment during 2017 In separate research of international school senior leaders, with results published in A Review of Edtech in International Schools, IERP identified a number of areas where investment is likely to take place during 2017. 34% of respondents said they will definitely be making significant investments in edtech over the next year and another 34% said they probably will do so. The results suggest that this investment will most likely be in resources supporting personalised learning and the training of teachers in their use of edtech.

There is also a bias towards using content with pupils via desktop and laptop PCs. 34% of the schools that responded said their pupils use tablets.

Both of the reports are now available from ISC Research. For more details contact: or call +44 (0)1 367 246031

Almost 60% of schools surveyed said they would definitely or probably be sourcing and purchasing new digital content or applications in 2017. Technology challenges Internet accessibility remains a challenge for some international schools. 19% said they still do not have suitable internet links with more than 30% saying they have concern regarding their internet provision. The regions where this is most a challenge are Africa (where only 67% of international schools have suitable internet access, and South East Asia (where only 65% of schools have the access they need). However, the lack of internet is not the biggest challenge limiting new or expanded use of digital content amongst international schools. According to the IERP research, it is the lack of time to integrate solutions into lessons, combined with a lack of suitable training that are the biggest issues. 33% of international schools said there is insufficient training to optimise their use of digital content.

Diane Glass is Commercial Director at ISC Research, the leading provider of data and intelligence on the world’s international schools market. Diane supports education suppliers wishing to develop their business with international schools and directs the International Education Research Panel (IERP). She has presented at many conferences including GESS and Learning & Teaching Expo.

This identifies some excellent opportunities for edtech suppliers and service providers. The research highlights significant need, desire and investment



and learning, a 360-degree student view, and more effective ways of communicating with parents. Bridging language and cultural divides with MIS One example of innovative use of MIS has been in helping to bridge language and cultural divides. This approach is being implemented at HD Ningbo, a private bilingual international school for Chinese children in the Zhejiang province of China. HD Ningbo’s students and parents, and many of its teachers and administrators, come from a culture where children are ranked according to academic ability, and where league tables dominate student performance. However, HD Ningbo is working towards a very different ethos; one that focuses on every individual student’s learning progress.


Many international schools today have some form of management information system and recognise its value, but very few are optimising its use. In a WCBS study in conjunction with ISC Research about management information systems (MIS) that was conducted earlier this academic year, 85% of the schools researched said information management is important or very important for their school. Research trends suggest that an increasing number of international schools are developing an improved understanding of their MIS.

Through its information management system, HD Ningbo is gathering holistic as well as numeric data on each student which it is using to track the progress of the student and help them move forward with their learning. Alongside this, the school is continually coaching its staff, children and parents about the data it is collecting, enabling everyone to understand how this data is being used to move the student’s learning forward. This approach is helping the whole school community to move away from a ranking mindset, towards one focused on student progress.

As well as benefits to efficiency, data security and cohesiveness, some schools are saying they see a number of improvements to student learning as a result of effective and innovative use of their MIS. 78% of the schools researched said it gives them improved trackability of student learning. Other benefits include greater insight into each student’s specific needs, enhanced approaches to teaching


Tracking a student’s learning journey

As technology becomes increasingly crucial to school success, and information management becomes an integral part of school life, providing the right resources - and the right support - for the entire school community is an investment every school should consider.

Another example of taking an innovative approach to MIS is at Cairo English School in Egypt where the information management system is being used to track each student’s learning journey from Early Years through Grade 12 in an integrated way. Over a three-year process, the school has levelled all of its summative assessments; aligning the Early Years profile, English National Curriculum levels, IGCSE, A levels and the IB Diploma against an average points score baseline. Within its management information system, numeric equivalents are now recorded across the whole school. Tracking an individual’s learning journey in such an integrated way, throughout their entire time at the school, is giving the school an effective collegiate approach to student progress.

Ian Hunter is Chief Commercial Officer at WCBS, one of the world’s leading providers of information management systems for international and independent schools. The Management Information Systems Survey Analysis 2017 report is available free from WCBS by emailing

Optimising MIS potential Cairo English School has also invested in a full-time specialist role to ensure it remains innovative and learning-focused in the use of technology and its information management system. Its Technology Integration Specialist acts as a liaison between the IT department, the educational staff and the school administration, ‘translating’ the IT vision of the school in a way that everyone can understand. In addition, the specialist works closely with all the staff to make sure they know how to implement and make the most of the technology within the school. This is a challenge that many schools face and one that is highlighted in the WCBS study. Only 32% of schools that were researched said they are satisfied with the way their school currently manages its information, and only 9% believe they are managing it very well. Although many schools said that staff are engaged to some extent in managing data (46% average engagement, 33% good or very good engagement), 21% of schools said that staff engagement is poor. Most schools (almost 80%) recognised that ongoing training for staff is important, and 60% of the schools surveyed said they are planning to invest in staff development this year and over the next five years.



music in a different way this Trimester. I planned to teach them the way popular musicians learn their craft, by copying and playing songs they love. In a way, I would be trying to model for the students the experience I had in Middle School when I didn’t know anything and picked up a set of drumsticks and “jammed” with my friends.


Our motivation came from wanting to play the music we loved. The parents learned that their children would play the music of their choosing, as their final projects. The learning would be scaffolded so that a student who never played an instrument could play in the same band as someone with some experience. My job was to create a safe atmosphere so that the students would feel comfortable enough to experiment, possibly fail, try again (and again) and then succeed.

Our cosy little music room really felt alive, about 25 parents were sitting and playing guitars to the Oasis song, “Songbird.” Some had just picked up the guitar for the first time and happily found themselves able to play along. As I scanned the room, I saw a mom sitting in her beautiful blue and yellow Senegalese outfit, an Australian dad with his t-shirt and jeans and an American mom in a classic blue business suit, all holding on to guitars and doing their best.

In trying to implement this new way of teaching and learning, I received a great deal of support from the organisation Musical Futures UK (musicalfutures. org). For the last 10 years, this company has been educating students with the same “realworld” techniques that professional musicians use. I integrated their comprehensive curriculum, engaging resources and extensive training to create a programme that would suit the learners at ISD. The valuable resource that led me to Musical Futures is Professor Lucy Green’s book, “Hear, Listen, Play.” The most important and probably most challenging aspect of this kind of learning is that it is done

And there were the 8th grade experts and Janel Trinchitella, my co-teacher, helping them play the trickier parts. The parents were all laughing, playing, and above all, musicking together; mirroring what their children had been doing in music class for the past twelve weeks. As we played the last few chords of the song, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How did we get here so fast?” During Back to School Night in August, I explained to the parents that I would be teaching their children


informally. With regards to music, the basic tenets of informal learning are: •

Learning music that like and identify with



Learning by listening and copying recordings

Learning with friends

Personal, self-directed learning

Maintaining a close integration of listening, performing, improvising and composing throughout the learning process, as opposed to gradually specialising and differentiating between listening, performing, improvising and composing skills

In order for 15 musicians to play in a small classroom, I put together something called silent practice rooms. Essentially they are small but fully equipped recording studios based on very small, portable equipment. Dr. Jonathan Savage at UCan Play (, one of Musical Futures partners, came up with the unique idea.

They knew if they were going to succeed they would need to put in the work. I provided them with a list of songs that I thought they would like and would be easy to learn, but they wanted to explore. After all, I told them they could play anything.

We didn’t have the proper equipment at ISD, but I was able to write a school-sponsored Innovation Grant to get the basics we needed to get our project started. Another aspect of the work that was going to be important was documentation and consistent blogging about our work and progress. So we set up a website for learning and reflecting:

Slowly, they started printing chord charts and playing. I began hearing the sounds of musicians at work (transcribed from a rehearsal recording): Student 1 (S1): Are you sure those are the right chords? Maybe you are not in tune?

My fifteen 8th graders were really excited to break out into bands and start playing. They found the friends they wanted to work with and then started listening to songs on to decide what they might perform. I was now less their teacher and more of a facilitator and roadie. They were all nodding their heads and tapping their feet and all smiles.

(S2): That is not the bass part, the guitar should do that, maybe I should play that on the piano too. (S3): No, no way, I am absolutely not singing alone. We should all try to sing that part. (S2): How do I play a C Chord on the piano? Do I need any of those black notes? I can’t hear myself; you need to play lower. What? Which knob do I turn?

Some were even looking up chords on the internet and checking out a Youtube instructional video to see how hard a certain song might be to play. They were finally taking charge of their own learning. 45

(S4): You can’t hear yourself because your guitar is not plugged into the mixer. (S3): Oh! Well where does it go? I think we need to get Mr. Posner (S1): I know where to put it. Let’s just play and see what happens. Flash forward to the culmination of all of this hard work and collaboration: a soldout JagARTS performance in the late fall. It was amazing evening! Parents and students poured into our music room; it was literally a standing room event.

Gary Posner is the Secondary Music Teacher at The International School of Dakar where he has taught since 2015. Gary also teaches gneral music in the middle school and both songwriting and music technology at the secondary school. He is an Emmynominated composer with over 40 film scores, including PBS’ The Draft, Lincoln @ Gettysburg and Peabody award-winning Silence of the Bees, History Channel’s Emmy Award-winning Russia: Land of the Tsars and its 13-hour miniseries The Revolution. He has been teaching film scoring at university level for the last 11 years and general music in primary and secondary schools since 2012.

I originally asked for about 25 chairs to be set up, as that is all that we thought could fit but somehow there were now about 75 people wanting to see the show. The parents were spilling out into the hall. Some pushed open the window to the room and propped up their little children to see and experience the show. Was someone famous coming to our school to perform? What was the draw? Well, it was our incredibly passionate, motivated and talented 8th graders and they were about to “rock the house” with their bands.

Notes: 1 musicking: To music is to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called composing), or by dancing. Small, Christopher (1998). Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Hanover: University Press of New England. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-8195-2257-3. 2 Green, Lucy. Hear, listen, play!: how to free your student’s aural, improvisation and performance skills. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2014. Print. 3 D’Amore et all. Musical Futures: An Approach to Teaching and Learning. London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation, 2008. Print. 2nd Edition.



be able to home-in on project management, presentation skills, teamwork, and in the process see how essential (and in-demand) innovation and creativity are for a wide range of potential career pathways. The message was simple: Think first, design next.


I stepped away from the front of the class, put the emphasis on feedback more than the grade, and something interesting happened to their intrinsic motivation - it went through the roof! The students had ownership, and although I had handed them the keys, they were very much in the driving seat. Suddenly, their whole approach to learning shifted and the focus took on a more altruistic approach with innovative and fresh ideas to help society. We’d kick off the day with a design briefing, students would talk about the “jobs” they were working on and the support they needed, either from me and/ or their peers. The just wanted to get on with it!

Real-world learning with added autonomy and benefits for life after graduation. After I’d worked for advertising agencies on the conceptual side in Vienna and Berlin, I went on to teach, and developed a Communication Design curriculum for students in Grades 5 through 10. One of my goals was to present students with a flavour of the creative agency world, minus the late nights, strong coffee and (sometimes) tricky clients. As well as facilitating their practical design skills and creative understanding, it was also crucial that the “soft skills” were paramount - this would be much more than just designing on a Mac and producing visuals. Collaboration, idea generation, and autonomy were critical.

One student in particular picked up new skills in her own time outside the agency at such a rapid pace, it wasn’t long before she was sharing her new-found knowledge with the class and teaching her peers along the way, I also learned a great deal from them. I encouraged the students to share at every opportunity and to support each other. If anyone found something interesting or picked up a new skill then they were encouraged to share it - we were all learning from each other every step of the way.

I couldn’t take the students to a creative agency every day, no departmental budget would ever stretch to that, so why not bring the agency setting to school so they could be part of a simulated creative agency/collective? As well as developing practical and conceptual skills, they would also 47

We had Creative Directors, Copywriters, Conceptual Designers and Graphic Designers, and sometimes we were lucky to work on some actual live briefs thanks to parental connections. We also had projects with other subjects which gave the agency a feeling as if they really were drumming up business, even a leaflet for a school event, it all added to the authenticity, minus the invoicing!

as well as challenges set at the end of class. There was only one rule, do not invest time making the concepts look pretty or art-worked, just get the basics down, and if that meant writing it and not doodling, then do whatever it takes to explain the idea in the simplest way possible. No rules, just a few suggested tools to aid the process. They were also encouraged to swap books to see if others could follow their respective ideas.

During one of the two weekly periods, students focused on the more technical side of things - how to work with the basics of Photoshop and InDesign, understanding typography, layout, images, colour, to name but a few. They had a list of skills to learn, what order they did them in was up to them and I supported their development along the way.

This book of ideas wasn’t just for the class, it could also be of great benefit further down the line. Employers of all kinds are looking for a spark, something different that sets applicants apart from the competition. If we imagine the scene whereby an applicant reveals his or her ideas book at an interview to show their innovative ideas (which may or may not have come to fruition), they are exhibiting an innovative and curious mind-set, which must be a huge plus in anyone’s book.

But it was during the first period where they had the opportunity to drum up creative ideas using a variety of effective methods, which they could then link with their new found technical skills to bring the concepts to life. Often, it was giving them the time and space which resulted in some of the most innovative ideas, and part of this involved switching off.

So, let’s encourage our students to invest in the process just as much as the result, and aim to create the exceptional, not the conventional.

During this session there was limited technology, and instead they relied on paper and pens, plus the most vital addition of all, people. The emphasis was to first understand the brief and to share any initial ideas. Often, they were too keen to fire up the Mac and let the tech do the talking, but this stage gave them the opportunity to see that the innovative ideas needed time to grow. Time and space were crucial elements, and “walk and talk” team meetings were also encouraged, at a reasonable distance! They also learned about presentation techniques in order to pitch concepts to their peers and invited guests. Example briefs included generating awareness campaigns associated with the amount of plastic in our world, another focused around the design of a cultural festival to help migrants feel welcomed and bring communities together. The focus was on getting the students into the habit of generating concepts, and understanding that an innovative idea might not even feature a great deal of design application, it could be something that helps society.

James Wren is the Brand and Marketing Director for ECIS. He has previously taught Commuication Design at international schools, and also worked for design agencies in Graz, Vienna, and Berlin. James has previously run “Agency in a Day” workshops for both staff and students at international schools. He is also the author of “People, Pens & Paper”, a practical guide for teachers featuring a range of realistic briefs, projects and activities to give students more creative autonomy, available in paperback and Kindle.

Students were each given an A5 notebook, and the focus was on drumming up concepts - both self-led




has truly been exemplary in its commitment to a global outlook.



In particular, Renmin University commands a strong and distinctive reputation for exceptional educational provision, research, and its service to Chinese society. In order to advance the vision of Renmin as a premier global university, the university desires to enhance the international awareness of its academic excellence.

ECIS and Renmin University are pleased to announce their formal partnership. Renmin University of China, which turned 80 in 2017, was the first university established by the People’s Republic of China, and is regarded as one of the top universities in China. It has established itself as an academic powerhouse in Humanities and Social Sciences, and has consistently been ranked amongst the top-three in terms of the best research universities for Social Sciences and Liberal Arts in China.

Renmin has developed an ambitious internationalisation strategy centred around global expansion and strategic partnerships. The university is already closely affiliated with several British universities, including Manchester, Warwick, King’s College London, York, Edinburgh, Kent, and Leicester. Renmin University remains firmly committed to strengthening and expanding its global partnership base, and believes that an exciting opportunity has emerged to develop an even closer relationship with yet another strong British partner: ECIS, the Educational Collaborative for International Schools.

The university is also widely recognised as one of the most important platforms for academic and cultural exchanges between China and the rest of the world. As a result, internationalisation has become one of the core features of Renmin University, and this feature has permeated all aspects of its operations. In particular, the university has a proud tradition of nurturing the international aspects of its research, teaching, and learning activities. Renmin University

ECIS has shown a penchant for innovation, which it has used to play a leading role in the international education sector. As of today, ECIS has established


a reputation as one of the top global non-profit membership organisations for international and internationally-minded schools. This achievement has been truly remarkable, and Renmin University has been thoroughly impressed by ECIS’s global ethos, knowledge, and experience in professional learning, research, and advocacy. We believe that Renmin University and ECIS are passionate leaders and natural partners in quality education, research, and advocacy. As such, we are pleased to announce our partnership, which allows both of us to align our successful track records in order to develop new opportunities to deliver transformative educational change, whether in China or elsewhere.


Together, we will constantly revisit our shared vision, to ensure that that it remains in alignment with the ECIS community, pushing the boundaries of international education. We look forward to cultivating a landscape that attracts the highest quality educational institutions, and that promotes leading practices in international and internationallyminded education. The complementary strengths and abilities of Renmin University and ECIS will allow both of us to amplify our international impact and significance, and bring about necessary innovation and positive change in the education sector, from primary to tertiary education.

EXCEEDING COMPLIANCE STANDARDS Protecting the children in our schools is our most important job; learning itself depends on a child feeling safe. The ECIS safeguarding certificate (on-line and approximately 6 hours in total) sets the benchmark for safeguarding training. Our four-part programme provides training in the foundations of child protection policies and practices, complemented by assessments requiring successful application of that knowledge.




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