I had the opportunity to be part of the Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria Fringe Festival over the past two days. On the Friday I had students from Year 5 through to Year 11 showcasing their 3D printing knowledge by assembling a 3D printer, printing and the constructing a working prosthetic limb and running a series of mini-workshops for teachers using various CAD packages and resources. On the Saturday I gave an Ignite talk titled ‘Permission to Innovate.’ Find notes/slides below.
Here’s the thing.
Schools are in the learning business, yet rarely define learning, therefore rarely define their business. Schools are also connected places, where ‘everything affects everything’ yet they rarely think systemically. So for schools to be effective they must think systemically and also design connected learning experiences that are driven by a common definition of learning.
And central to these learning experiences is the curriculum itself.
The value of any curriculum however is as a framework for creating experiences that are personally meaningful, real, relevant and authentic. A curriculum is not picking something up off the shelf and rigidly enforcing and imposing it on kids. A valuable curriculum doesn’t impose time limitations, age restrictions or subject barriers on learning but rather values the perspective of the student and has as its fundamental characteristics; entrepreneurship, creativity, curiosity, decision making and independence.
The statement “but we have a curriculum to cover” doesn’t even make sense in a rapidly changing world where we can learn anything at any time, from anywhere and from anyone at any pace and to any depth. In grappling with this, a diverse group of leaders and staff from our College drew the conclusion that for us to be effective moving forward we must pro-actively and collectively design a more connected learning system driven by a shared language of what we value in learning. Drawing widely on national and international research, with a future focus that embraces aspects of experiential and constructivist learning philosophies, we designed a comprehensive framework for learning titled our Vision for Learning. This broad framework defines learning not in terms of discreet subjects, specifics or narrow measures, but in terms of seven conceptual dimensions: Identity, Creativity, Thinking, Communicating, Contributing, Creating and Enterprising.
Co-constructed over a period of twelve months, we talked about wanting to be an “innovative” community of learners and how sometimes negative connotations go with the term “innovation” – schools operate on trust and relationships, they have to, but when we talk about innovation we often and unintentionally create a divide by creating a perception of the need to fix a perceived deficit. And sometimes this is true. Absolutely and without a doubt. But because schools are built on trust and relationships, people need to know that innovation isn’t about devaluating anyone’s work. Innovation isn’t necessarily a deficit statement. Innovation can simply refer to the introduction of something new – an idea, product, teaching approach or in creating more effective processes to create a new dimension of performance. Certainly, innovation is contextual, and what represents innovative thought and practice for one person might not necessarily be innovative for another. Being innovative however requires us to step outside of the normal and suspend our biases. Suspending our biases allows us to develop a capacity to disassociate from the way things have always been done. By developing this capacity we give ourselves permission to innovate.
At the official launch of our Vision for Learning it was important to drive home this message so each staff member received a “permission to innovate” card which they were asked to keep with them at all times when developing learning experiences for kids. This card reads, “This card entitles me to try something new. If it doesn’t work as well as I wanted I will be free of criticism for my efforts. I’ll continue to pursue new ways to help my students be successful.
There is no one formula for great teaching and that’s what makes our profession such a rewarding one. Just like learning is a deeply personal endeavour – so is teaching. We can absolutely pause, momentarily, reflect and be proud of what we have achieved and where we have come from. However, just as we want our students to improve, it is a moral imperative for even the best teachers to continue to strive to be better and for the best leaders to create a safe environment where innovation can flourish. So by developing this shared vision for the future of learning at our College, it ensures a full alignment in purpose and language and changes the paradigm of curriculum work from a cycle of documentation to a process for focused collaborative review and improvement. Most importantly, and supporting our shift towards an empowered and innovative learning culture, it brings teachers and students together around a focal point for collaboration and gives each and every staff member permission to innovate.