Thursday, 9 April 2015

Reflections from the World Educational Leaders Summit - Simon Breakspear


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Another of the speakers at the World Educational Leaders Summit was Simon Breakspear; the focus of his keynote address was on Innovation for Better Learning. I really appreciated his approach to this topic, not least because he did not adopt a deficit position, highlighting all that is wrong, inadequate and substandard about education today. Rather, he emphasised the need to honour the past, even as we design for the future. Very many teachers should be celebrated for the complex and demanding work that they are doing. 



Nonetheless, the changing world requires changing education. We must ask "Can we do this better? Are there are better way to shape learning for our students?" I am convinced that such an innovation mindset can be held without condemning or putting down the past; it does not entail 'fixing' something broken. 

Innovation in schools faces particular challenges. Schools are unique contexts with long and (largely) stable organisational histories and culture, diverse stakeholders and particularly high stakes - the present and future lives of young people! Recognising these challenges, Breakspear recommends three key strategies for innovation in schools.

The first is to clarify the desired change. This entails being specific about the preferred and achievable future to which you are moving. It involves having fewer foci, in order to maximise impact. And, crucially, it requires contextualisation; we need to work out how any particular good idea will be enacted in our unique context.

The second is to mobilise the designers of learning; his argument is that educators are more akin to designers than to any other profession. Design is a form of creativty that suggests deliberate planned innovation built on a foundation of researched informed professional opinion. The process of design is one of starting small, prototyping rapidly, seeking feedback and iterating often. Failure is an inherent and essential element in the design process, whether designing vacuum cleaners or lessons.

The third is to amplify successful innovation, so that it spreads and is taken up willingly across the school and beyond. SImply put, if the innovation is simple, reliable and effective, it will be adopted. People will follow the lead of others whom they know and trust, therefore a system will transform at the speed of trust developed between the most innovative and their colleagues.

There is a lot of wisdom in the approach outlined above. As I reflect on the last few years at Inaburra, I can see that a number of our changes and innovations have been most successful where these strategies have been deployed (intentionally or otherwise). I am delighted that Simon Breakspear will be working with Inaburra throughout this year as we engage in strategic planning and in learning design.

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