Building a Different Future
Successful pathways of innovation are created when an organization cultivates a landscape of professional learning (see Etiene-Wenger and Lave) inclusive of as many of the people who directly affect the success of that organization. As Peter Theil, founder of Paypal, puts it in his book Zero to One — “once you have convinced a large group of people of a plan to build a different future, the most important strength of an organization is new thinking.”
GEMS World Academy-Chicago, the first North American school from the internationally recognized GEMS Education Group, is moving into its second year with a bold goal — to build a different future for education. One of the core reasons for GEMS’ success in sustaining and scaling educational innovation is its unique professional learning program. The schools is a learning organization and professional learning is embedded into all aspects — from the mission and vision to daily practice in learning environments. This “anytime, anywhere” professional learning takes many forms across the school, and it involves everyone. The results are stunning collaboration, creativity and an atmosphere filled with effective professionals serving the children and families who will change the future.
How does it work?
Summer is the time of professional learning for schools, and at GEMS World Academy, we leverage this time in unique and highly effective ways. New faculty are immersed into a world of systems thinking for innovative curriculum design, prototyping, and practice. Though the innovative curriculum is defined for new faculty, the emphasis is on experiencing first hand what GEMS faculty are expected to do. New faculty learn through doing as they collaboratively plan inquiry-based curricula in the classroom, throughout the building and, perhaps most importantly, on Field Studies.
New faculty soon join veteran faculty, having experienced the world of GEMS education and having added their unique ideas and expertise to the school’s practice. What follows are weeks of participatory professional development led by people across the organization, specialists and thought leaders in the field. Sessions are hands on and strategic:
- Mission and vision Workshops and other norming workshops. These were highly academic and deliberative sessions focusing the organization’s commitment to including everyone in the articulation of the mission and vision of the school.
- Nationally recognized experts in mathematics, reading and writing joined expert faculty leaders to deliver professional learning.
- Faculty collaboratively build their inquiry-based curriculum
- The vast technology ecosystem at GEMS World Academy are illuminated and used to deliver much of the professional learning, thus providing new and innovative ways to collaborate and participate in professional learning while gaining important new skills, creating new contexts for learning, and asking probing questions about the future of education.
- Faculty plan their Field Studies cycles in the city (the “field”) to understand the incredible opportunity and complexity of using the city as a learning laboratory for students.
Leveraging Technology for Ongoing Professional Learning
Sustaining innovation through professional learning is taken seriously at GEMS. Whether in strategic planning or designing an interdisciplinary unit of inquiry, the need for ongoing collaboration, transparency and organization is essential for effective teams. In the spring of 2015, we successfully piloted Basecamp, an online project management software for professional learning and collaboration in interdisciplinary faculty projects. Building on the pilot’s success, we have adopted and launched Basecamp across the school for professional learning, and collaborative planning in 2015-2016. Using Basecamp provides a powerful and intuitive way for our faculty to cultivate strong interdisciplinary teams, identify needs and think in new ways. From an organizational perspective, Basecamp has allowed us to see how we are learning and leading as an organization, the incredible work we are doing on a daily basis, and the arc of new possibilities to manage.
The GEMS World Academy Faculty Seminar Series is a participatory professional learning endeavor cultivated by the Institute for Research and Innovation. The seminar series perpetuates ongoing growth in our faculty, administration, and school community while also providing an outlet for disseminating the thought leadership of GEMS World Academy to others.
Summer professional learning serves as the “entry event workshops” to the faculty seminar, giving an experiential root to ongoing professional learning. Entering the school year, the faculty seminar is a multi-month program of scholarly and experiential faculty development linking the GEMS World Academy curriculum and practice with theory and design in the field of education and beyond. The faculty seminar promotes the core mission and vision of the school by helping faculty members update their knowledge of developments in specific disciplines and then place that knowledge in the context of the innovative practices so essential to GEMS and beyond. Faculty seminars are intended to excite intense intellectual consideration of research, design and practice in the GEMS World Academy program, the field of education and beyond. Seminar topics are intended to encourage interdisciplinary discussion and inspire new avenues for practice, research, teaching, and collaboration. Collaborations among faculty, staff and outside professionals are vitally important. Each year, certain seminars will be dedicated to furthering thought leadership in the field of education. These public events bring sought-after experts and GEMS faculty together for public panels. GEMS families, community members and others gather for these exclusive events that highlight our globally recognized faculty as thought leaders. The first 2015-2016 faculty seminar is titled Field Studies: Building on A Foundation of Experience.
Building the future of education will take the collective work of everyone involved in a school’s organization. It is not enough to offer pieces of professional learning and support. Instead, we need to cultivate the dispositions of everyone to imagine, understand, use and create the sustained innovations necessary to do something truly different, prescient, and needed in our world. To this end, GEMS World Academy is exploring, experimenting, and cultivating innovation through ongoing professional learning. This post is the first in an ongoing series on professional learning and innovation in the 2015-2016 academic year at GEMS World Academy.
This post is an adapted version of a post I wrote for GEMS World Academy — Chicago. The post will be published at Explore: The GEMS World Academy Blog in the coming week.
One of my summer research strands is to extend the work and design I am doing around participatory and practice based learning. I have found a few works exceptionally helpful and thought I would list them here in hopes others will too.
What I like about this work is that it builds on the previous works of Wenger and Lave on situational learning, perspective and identity specifically — Wenger (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity: Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives on CoP’s and the foundational work of Lave and Wenger on situational learning (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation: Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives . I will also add to this list the book all in education should read on critical ethnography by Lave (2011) Apprenticeship in Critical Ethnographic Practice .
I find each of these works intriguing and valuable towards the design of new professional development, organizational, and ultimately educational ecologies. Learning in Landscapes of Practice…. resonates because the concept of knowledgeability is so salient to schools and educational ecologies. In education, our silos for competency are legion and attempts to integrate professional development and participatory learning for the whole organization are very difficult. One of the main reasons for this, is our lack of robust frameworks to understand and critique the whole educational system that exists, quite often at this point, to perpetuate itself, as opposed to the needs of learners and communities.
This is tough work to tackle and the space of theory in schools often neglected. A common refrain in K-12 schools, “We do not have enough time for theory, we just need to….”, or, “we will leave that to the experts”. These views are at opposition with the reality that education is a social construct, that must be theorized, constructed/reconstructed through praxis, and care-taken by individuals in the community. No educator, parent or policymaker should leave the spaces of education, specifically praxis, unexamined. So where theory can open your eyes to a million valleys of thought and wonder, ultimately praxis allows for experience, knowledge building and networking towards both the boundaries and possibilities of education. These are critical conversations to have in education and society and I feel we need to take a much closer look at what we are doing.
If you have considered these works in the K-12, Higher Ed or informal learning space please do reach out, via comment here or by way of Twitter, email….
A few notes (of many) on Valve’s Employee Handbook.
We want innovators, and that means maintaining an environment where they’ll flourish
Never be afraid to run an experiment or to collect more data.
This company is yours to steer—toward opportunities and away from risks. You have the power to green-light projects. You have the power to….
Why does your desk have wheels?
You were hired to constantly be looking around for the most valuable work you could be doing.
Nobody expects you to devote time to every opportunity that comes your way. Instead, we want you to learn how to choose the most important work to do.
Yes. There’s no secret decision-making cabal. No matter what project, you’re already invited. All you have to do is either (1) Start working on it, or (2) Start talking to all the people who you think might be working on it already and find out how to best be valuable. You will be welcomed— there is no approval process or red tape involved. Quite the opposite—it’s your job to insert yourself wherever you think you should be.
Sometimes things around the office can seem a little too good to be true. If you find yourself walking down the hall one morning with a bowl of fresh fruit and Stump- town-roasted espresso, dropping off your laundry to be washed, and heading into one of the massage rooms, don’t freak out. All these things are here for you to actually use. And don’t worry that somebody’s going to judge you for taking advantage of it—relax! And if you stop on the way back from your massage to play darts or work out in the Valve gym or whatever, it’s not a sign that this place is going to come crumbling down like some 1999-era dot-com start- up. If we ever institute caviar-catered lunches, though, then maybe something’s wrong. Definitely panic if there’s caviar.
Over time, we have learned that our collective ability to meet challenges, take advantage of opportunity, and respond to threats is far greater when the responsibility for doing so is distributed as widely as possible. Namely, to every individual at the company.
We all need feedback about our performance—in order to improve, and in order to know we’re not failing. Once a year we all give each other feedback about our work. Outside of these formalized peer reviews, the expectation is that we’ll just pull feedback from those around us when- ever we need to.
You’ve solved the nuts-and-bolts issues. Now you’re moving beyond wanting to just be productive day to day—you’re ready to help shape your future, and Valve’s.
Everyone is a designer. Every- one can question each other’s work.
Would I want this person to be my boss?; Would I learn a significant amount from him or her?; What if this person went to work for our competition?
Valve will be a different company a few years from now because you are going to change it for the better. We can’t wait to see where you take us.
Still captivated by this slide from John Seely Brown. Carla’s adroit projections for the theory of knowledge are so prescient and useful.
Imagining how events could be otherwise than they are is a hallmark freedom and power of human beings
D. Bob Gowin (1988)1
Many educational projects today are trying so very hard and nobly to mutate: to rescue, bypass, reconfigure and support–provide more than a catalyst, cool project or amazing school specific feat. The projects are seeking more, prototyping like mad and gaining grounds in certain spaces–I am wildly impressed by many. My hopes for you, for us, is that we face our dragons. Take a look at Bruce Sterlings NEXT talk from minute 8:58- With a brilliant critical voice, a pin drop hearing claim, and a passionate tenacity he implores a group of the best and the brightest (like you), to look up, look at the system, deeply question–yes keep questioning. Be forewarned, Bruce does not coddle, he offers critical deliberation for a complex world. But my point is not to posit yet another schools and sky’s falling argument. I want you to look up and ask yourself why the copier is still so important, why meetings are still so long, why that schedule is still not working, why the kids–even given control– are still only as good as the control given…. why they are still only engaging in “school”…. do the school and its processes exist for the students future? These, and so much more you see and feel as educators — are your dragons.
Before you undertake another school revision, plan, proposal, design or development please do the following.
In a safe and caring space spend a few hours minimum asking kids what their self and social concerns are. Have them write these concerns on a wall or in an online discussion. Their souls are churning; their adolescence, ever-present, but trust that the world they know, they may not show in school. When the writable surfaces on walls, discussion forums online and all in between (and beyond) are filled with life, pull colleagues with domain knowledge in all of the core subjects together to read and discuss. Agree on how creating projects from the life on those walls/spaces might meet all of your teacher/school objectives.
As elders, guides and yes, teachers you can support young people as they are involved and engaged in an enormous range of knowledge, from information to values clarification, and including content and skills from all disciplines of knowledge–integrated in the context of themes and activities within them. The topics you see written on the walls are organizing centers, significant problems or issues that connect the curriculum to the larger world. These centers serve as a context for unifying knowledge. Knowledge in turn is developed as it is instrumentally applied to exploring the organizing centers; Personal Knowledge: Addressing self concerns and ways of knowing about self; Social Knowledge: addressing social and world issues, from peer to global relationships, and ways of critically examining these; Explanatory Knowledge: content that names, describes, explains, and interprets, including that involved in the disciplines of knowledge as well as commonsense or popular knowledge and Technical/Twenty First Century Knowledge: ways of investigating, communicating, analyzing, and expressing. Finding,Validating, Leveraging, and Synthesizing Information; Communicating, collaboration and problem solving in a technologically rich environment.2
I would love to hear about your experiments and findings.
1.Boulding, E. (1990) Building a Global Civic Culture: Education for an Interdependent World
2. For more in this current of thought see Beane (1997) ‘Curriculum Integration: Designing the Core of Democratic Education’ essential reading.
Found today, unpublished in blog form– c. 2011
Sitting in a meeting today I heard teacher after administrator and teacher do battle with the soul of the machine, the system and an environment yet realized. On the discussion plate was a slice of fifteen minutes reading in a day of six hours. That fifteen minute time period is held like a light in the darkness of olden day for this community at times. “If only kids would take a break from the machines that control them something might be better”; a humanitarian view indeed but one that misses the point.
Educators so often seek clarity and demand an attention from this generation that according to Wesch (2010) has had a media introduced and will not go back. The machine becomes a burden when the system they are in, one built for the 20th century fails to reach the young. It is the system, not the child or machine is at fault, for if you give the young freedom and self determination, collaborative and democratic spaces inside a school or out–more often then not they will engage wildly with any task at hand (yes it might be messy, but so are they….so is human learning). Adolescents seek freedoms as a function of their biology and not one bit of schooling can do the end job of getting rid of this. Yes we’ve all seen generation after generation stuffed through the square hole, their triangular and circular edges (the parts we want in the 21st century) shaved off, but the spirit is still there. This spirit exists within the stories we hear of wasted years in school, heartache, and struggle to regain a spirit–(except for the square shaped kids who fair OK, or remember sports events and prom instead of school).
The problem is not the machine. Machine use in most schools represents the only freedom and self-determination a young person often has. “Read a book because it is good for you” goes only so far without a solid reason for doing so in a generation that can as easily learn from MIT online as they can in your classroom (and at MIT they give solid reason why it is important–everytime)….and alluding to the need to go outside more–in the minutes before or after a six hour sitting day–does little for this generation who actually spend a fair deal of time outside (at least in Maine).
I love reading and come from a family that read. But it was the freedom given me in school to explore, and the consistent support given me by elders that fueled the passion on a daily basis. I was given the choice of what to read, and took it. The choice and a reason as I engaged in a learning environment that tested ideas and values not content.
Not unusual for Papert, his forcefulness around topics of education, computers and mathematics flow through the talk and one is left looking at machines anew (again). But that is not what resonated for me this time. Rather it was two statements at vastly different parts of the talk that I would like to briefly explore.
1. At minute 8.41, Papert speaks of educational change as “a very complicated social movement….[that]should be thought of as a complex system”….and goes on to propose the need for and a definition of a revolutionary in education:
(9.40) I don’t think of a revolutionary as someone who wants to force change, but one who looks far enough ahead to see that there is going to be change, fundamental change …
Fundamental change he argues, is out beyond the horizon of transformation. A Decade after Papert posits this are you looking ahead “far enough” do you see fundamental change? Is it upon us? Are you reading, networking and thinking daily about education as a complicated social movement– a complex system?
2. As Papert argues the salience of machines for teaching in this talk and for active learning, at one point he seems to open a dialectic and then veers away. He states, while addressing the active learning which mathematics was taught through in centuries past–
we cannot let kids sail seas and build pyramids anymore….
My mind raced, and heart pounded–yes we can, and I argue we should! Perhaps its the “2004” that Papert was within, perhaps he meant to inspire, perhaps it was a slipped metaphor, but no matter. Today, we are in a time of insatiable opportunity. A time where machines can be built by kids, and kids can write their own operating systems (as Papert states in the talk is a true test of computer use). Further, there are Labs like the Future Cities Lab , Superflux and Near Futures Laboratory along with so many other university, city, region and countrywide initiatives in research and design that are presenting incredible growth in society, media, computing and culture.
But importantly, kids can and should sail the seas and build the next pyramids to learn. This may be by computer inside a school–but more, I believe it will be a blend of spaces outside and in. Designing, prototyping and building–indeed our kids are doing this daily already through games, at home and in certain schools but we should be ready for more, much more. Keep working on what the new learning ecologies will look like for students young and old, keep designing, looking ahead, opening our minds to active, deep and experiential learning in 2015.
And there is no need to force change. In an incredibly honest and needed blogpost, Peter Gow argues so adroitly about why we need not belittle what has been or is in education as new ecologies of learning emerge. As another colleague Grant Lichtman argues in his book #Edjourney , educational mutation will be a vision and manifestation of the great middle grounds of education and experience in the 21st century. Keep sailing–keep building.
For #isedchat on the topic of experience in education.
Hahn Bookmarks: https://pinboard.in/u:steelemaley/t:hahn/
Roberts (2012) Beyond Learning by Doing….
What is experiential education? What are its theoretical roots? Where does this approach come from? Offering a fresh and distinctive take, this book is about going beyond “learning by doing” through an exploration of its underlying theoretical currents. As an increasingly popular pedagogical approach, experiential education encompasses a variety of curriculum projects from outdoor and environmental education to service learning and place-based education. While each of these sub-fields has its own history and particular approach, they draw from the same progressive intellectual taproot. Each, in its own way, evokes the power of “learning by doing” and “direct experience” in the educational process. By unpacking the assumed homogeneity in these terms to reveal the underlying diversity of perspectives inherent in their usage, this book allows readers to see how the approaches connect to larger conversations and histories in education and social theory, placing experiential education in social and historical context.
Stilgoe (2009) Outside Lies Magic
A book about the acute observation of ordinary things, about becoming aware in everyday places, about seeing in utterly new ways, about enriching your life unexpectedly.For more than 20 years, John R. Stilgoe has developed and practiced the art of exploring the everyday world around us, where so much lies hidden just beneath the surface, offering uncommon knowledge if we but know what to look for. In this remarkable book, Stilgoe inspires us to become explorers on our own-on foot or on bicycle-and by so doing to reap the benefits of escaping, even temporarily, the traps of our programmed lives.”Exploration encourages creativity, serendipity, invention,” he writes. And while sharing his insights on how to explore, Stilgoe provides a fascinating pocket history of the American landscape, as striking in its originality as it is revealing. Stilgoe dissects our visual surroundings; his observations will transform the way you see everything. Through his eyes, an abandoned railroad line is redolent of history and future promise; front lawns recall our agrarian past; vacant lots hold cathedrals of potential.From the electrical grid overhead to fences, malls, and main streets, Stilgoe offers a fresh understanding of the links and fractures in our society. After reading Outside Lies Magic, your world will never look the same again.
Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning reports on the accessibility and power of mobile devices as a learning tool, both inside and outside the classroom. This collection of news stories and interviews with digital media experts and scholars shows how widespread adoption of mobile devices provides an opportunity to rethink student-teacher and student-to-student interaction. It also includes practical information on how teachers are transforming their courses using mobile technology, and looks at efforts to alter school policies to allow students to use mobile devices, from phones to GPS trackers, to bring more hands-on experience to the learning process.
Smith (2008) How to Be an Explorer: Portable Life Museum
Artists and scientists analyze the world around them in surprisingly similar ways, by observing, collecting, documenting, analyzing, and comparing. In this captivating guided journal, readers are encouraged to explore their world as both artists and scientists. The mission Smith proposes is to document and observe the world around you as if you’ve never seen it before.
- Take notes. Collect things you find on your travels.
- Document findings.
- Notice patterns.
- Focus on one thing at a time.
- Record what you are drawn to.
With a series of interactive prompts and a beautifully hand-illustrated two-color package, you will enjoy exploring and discovering the world through this gorgeous book.
Save for unique pockets of time in unique decades, education has drifted from the roots of participatory research known in the late nineteenth century. From the scholar tutor of early New England to the emboldened teachers of Kurt Hahn’s Salem1 it has been only the laboratory schools and experiments during the the middle level movement of the 80’s (some may argue Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools and a few bold independent schools should be on this list) that have looked at schools as true communities whose flexibility and purpose was as real as the world with which we live. Learning in the context of these schools had to be created and often co-created with learners–it was in the school DNA to experiment and thus research what they were doing along with why and how it could consistently get better.
Most schools today have suffered a standardization epidemic almost as potent as the worst epidemics of health and ecology imaginable. To be fair, this standardization ensured the largest single boost to global education in modern times.2 Just as the cure to epidemics created immunities, so to did we create institutional immunity to the kinds of learning innovation we would like to see today. This immunity fights against change as strongly as antibiotics fight bacteria. Now, as we look for holistic approaches to the health of our populations, we must also look for our institutions–our schools. We now know what causes many diseases and what over medication does to our children. But what of our penchant for holding onto blanket prescriptions for our schools health?
This is the era of looking systemically at the individual, the environment and indeed the ecology of learning again. Instead of being radicals, those who are taking this path are the pioneers of a new world. Sounds bold, but really it is on all educators minds, every headmaster and for the world of independent schools I identify with most–our parents minds. Yes, if you graduate form an elite boarding school, you are likely to get into the college of your choice, but what of your prospects there? Your prospects in life…. regardless of income? These are the questions I am asking as a parent, and the parents I serve are asking of me.
It’s time to innovate, and stake claims anew to a world of learning that has so boldly expanded it frightens even the most agile school leader. To innovate is to create pathways that others can benefit from, not just offer catalyst moments for others to be amazed by. Tackling problems like:
- weaving experiential and scholastic learning together,
- learning outside of the classroom for extended amounts of time (be it online or field studies based),
- personalizing the learning process (a personal learning plan for all),
- balancing tradition with innovation to ensure the legacies and innovations are translated together,
takes extensive effort, tireless imagination and action.
To create pathways for innovation we must replace myths with methods. I strongly believe one seminal way to do this is through teachers being participatory researchers in the innovation process. Opening up our innovation process to ongoing and meaningful contributions from everyone in our institution not just surveying opportunities offered in professional development or school initiatives, but offering ongoing involvement in a measured cycle of experimentation for the practitioner. This is sustained, measured participatory research driven by the end users to contribute to innovations on the ground.
It is time to take the Skunkworks across the school. Does your school reflect the change in knowledge and networks ever present in today’s world–at a systemic level? Are you visioning for this world, translating that vision into practice with your managers as well as your mavericks? Are you collecting longitudinal evidence both qualitative and quantitative that it’s working? I believe many in the audience reading this post do have a good start on this (A direct nod to Brett Jacobsen, Bo Adams and Team at Mount Vernon Presbyterian). I want us to create networked and sustainable pathways for innovation in education together.
On Friday at the annual TABS 14 Conference, I discussed a few solutions that flatten participation in the design, prototyping and iteration process for innovation in educational change.
It was an honor to present for the second year with two incredible educators. Kim Sivick is a cofounder of the EdCamp movement and an EdTech maven and Scott MacClintic who is the founding director of the Kravis Center for Excellence in Teaching at Loomis Chaffee, a deep thinker, designer and teacher representing a new American Boarding Schools movement. In our presentation Kim will painted an amazing picture of what the landscape of what participant and tailor made professional development looks like across the world right now, Scott chronicled a successful movement to bring Unconferences and social media based professional development into some of the most elite Boarding schools schools in America and I summarized new forms in participatory teacher research for both professional development and resilient pathways of innovation in schools.
This is not easy work yet so many amazing things are happening in education. I hope we embolden a new generation of teacher researchers across our schools and learning ecologies that interweave both the innovators disposition and effective action we so badly need to see in education. Just as an armada of ecologists and citizen scientists are contributing to a systemic change in the way we see our health and well being, lets proliferate the same movement in education.
Your interest, thought, vision and ultimately your work is needed to transform our schools into learning ecologies that hold the best of tradition and see the frontier of innovation. I would love to hear how your school innovations are being studied, how you are managing the design and experimentation phases and who you are learning the most from in your networks.
1 I am starting a research process into how Kurt Hahn’s interwar schools like Salem supported teachers. I have found enough disparate reference to include my reference in text. As I paint a bigger picture for myself of the incredibly rich pre -UWC legacy of Hahn’s thinking and school practice I continue ot be amazed. This will undoubtably be a focus of future posts in the new year.
2 One of the best contextualizations of this point is found in Zuboff, S. and Maxmin, J. (2002) The Support Economy: Why Corporations are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism, pp. 77-78.