Conditions for innovation

What are the right conditions for innovation to take place?  In a previous post I defined innovation as “significant positive growth” so with this in mind what are the right conditions for significant positive growth to take place?  As usual for me the questions start popping up.  What is our metric for growth?  What are the conditions that lets ideas thrive?  What is our measure of success?  Pulling this all together,

How Might We create the conditions for innovation in schools?

As a question it is incredibly nuanced and complex.  If we were to throw this question to a group to discuss, many would start with the road blocks, the items preventing innovation from happening.  While discussing these might railroad the conversation, it can also provide opportunities for greater insight and innovation.  Our roadblocks or constraints can actually allow us to think clearer, to adapt and to respond.  The use of constraints as a springboard for innovation was used for this exact purpose at a recent CoLearn Meetup.  A group of passionate educators and I tackled this design challenge.

How Might We create the conditions for innovation within the current constraints of school?

Our first step was to collectively define innovation.  To prevent groupthink, this was done using a technique from the Google Ventures Sprint process called Working Alone Together.  For those who read my blog, you know my feelings on contribution from everyone when it comes to collaborative activities so individual contribution was a non negotiable.  In the end, we defined innovation as the following:

New, exciting and uncharted improvement as a response to need, blocks or crisis.

How does that definition sit with you?  I personally think it is a good start but has a few areas that you could press on.  Does innovation need to be exciting?  Is disruption what we are striving for?  Not sure on that one.  Improvement and response to need, blocks or crisis sits well with me though.  After we collaboratively defined innovation, we spent time listing the current constraints that schools face.  The interesting element about our group was that there were are a few non educators in the group and it was really refreshing hearing their insights.  Sometimes the edu echo chamber can spin the same thinking around and around and so it was great to see how those in industry perceived the problems and questions education faces.  Here is the list of constraint themes that our group came up with:

Constraints for innovation

  1. System
  2. Mindset
  3. VCE
  4. Culture
  5. Fear
  6. Time
  7. Vision
  8. Religious beliefs

Now these constraints were loose themed titles for the individual thoughts of the group and can be seen as obligatory, cultural and personal.  The list is by no means exhaustive or indeed correct but it was where we landed.  From here our group then discussed what were the environmental conditions required for innovation to thrive.  How would we create the conditions for “new, exciting and uncharted improvement?”  The following list was put forward:

Conditions for innovation

  1. Commitment
  2. Growth mindset
  3. Incentive
  4. Support
  5. Shared vision
  6. Perceived problem
  7. Creativity
  8. Communication
  9. Courage
  10. Process

What do you think of this list?  It is a mixed bag of personal and cultural conditions with process being another key feature.  Did we get it right?  Have we left anything out?  This isn’t where we finished for the night.  We delved into developing innovation plays and there was some interesting learning turned up there.  But I’ll leave that for my next post.  As always thanks for reading.


Keynote presentation.021

It’s been a big week, both emotionally and professionally.  I write this after delivering the closing keynote to the #DigiCon16 conference which also happened to coincide with the ten year anniversary of my brother’s death.  I have written about Kev previously here and how his story as sad as it is has continued to inspire me daily.  I wasn’t really sure how I was going to go sharing it as it is still a raw wound.  Being honest, I collapsed in a heap after the conference as the magnitude of the situation hit home.  Presenting in any shape of form is always nerve wracking as you are exposed and vulnerable as you share your thinking, ideas and practice but this was much, much more.  I had always planned on sharing Kev’s story publicly because it is a beautiful and empowering story and so when I was blessed with the honour of being the closing keynote for this year’s DigiCon Festival of Learning, it felt right.  This feeling was confirmed when Bec told me the date I would be speaking was July 20, the date Kev passed away ten years ago.

My talk was about living a life of passion and ‘walking on’ to new opportunities and challenges.  Kev had always dreamed of playing college basketball at the highest level and he never baulked from any opportunity to chase that dream.  To make the Georgia Bulldogs squad, he had to earn a ‘walk on’ spot by giving up the safe road of a Division II scholarship for one shot at a Division I spot.  ‘Walk on’ was the real message for delegates.  In education, we need more educators to ‘walk on’ and take on new challenges, to rethink pedagogy, reimagine school and to grow our collective voice.  We all battle our inner self when it comes to new opportunities.  Talk ourselves out of going for something, self defeat with our own negative self-talk but why?  Why do we do that to ourselves?  Your value is needed, your voice counts and we need all educators to #WalkOn.  To step out of your comfort zone, to not settle for the way we have always done things but to seek as Seymour Papert dreamt, ‘radical new opportunities to develop school-as-it-can-be’.  

For those who are looking to do that, come and join us at CoLearn MeetUp at Collective Campus (1/20 Queen street, Melb) on August 11 at 6.30pm.  For more details, visit

There are many constraints within classrooms and schools and often we view these as blockers but constraints can actually allow us to be more creative.  This MeetUp will allow us to use these constraints to unlock new possibilities.  We will be tackling the following design challenge

How Might We create the conditions for innovation within the current constraints of school?  

This Meetup will collectively develop ideas and propose solutions to allow teachers at any school to create the right conditions for innovation in their classroom or school.  Help us develop an innovation playbook for educators to drive change within their classrooms and schools.



CoLearn MeetUp

In my last post, “Are these the greatest challenges teachers face?” I shared a curated collection of challenges ranked in their priority order by a mix of educators. The greatest challenge as listed by the 40 participants was Quality teaching time with students.

Screenshot 2016-06-21 15.16.39

The more time I spent looking at the data, the more questions I had.  What does quality teaching time with students mean?  What is the meaning of quality?  Now the wording of the questions on the Google form most definitely influenced the responses so contextual colour is required.  It is always required.  While we may have similar problems in our schools, it is different in each context.  The environment, the culture, the cohort, the policies, the community, these all play a role.  A lack of quality teaching time with students for one teacher may be as a result of a school’s expectations to perform well on NAPLAN or it might be as a result of too many competing extra-curricular activities.  It might be as a result of the range of capacities within the class itself.  It might be parental expectations. Whatever the case may be, a problem is an opportunity or as Taiichi Ohno calls it “a kaizen (continuous improvement) opportunity in disguise”.  Taiichi Ohno is the Former Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation and is the pioneer of the Toyota Production System, a system that allowed a small time Japanese car company to compete on a global scale with the big American car manufacturers. The 5 Whys technique was developed by Taiichi Ohno as a systematic problem solving tool and it was (and still is) an incredibly effective tool.

Spending time in this post trying to decipher the why for the number one listed challenge would be time spent speculating.  What I want to spend this post talking about is how we bring colour and context to these challenges so that we can kaizen or continually improve.  Solving the big (and small) challenges in education is a passion area of mine.  I am interested in the subtlety, the details and the possibility to influence positive change through innovation.  At the bottom of the form I sent out, I put the call out to see if there were educators out there who would be interested in working together to try and develop solutions for some of these problems.  The rationale behind the survey was the development of the CoLearn MeetUp.

The CoLearn MeetUp is a meeting of educators and innovators to collectively problem solve the challenges teachers face in their classroom and schools through local action research and innovation.  The CoLearn MeetUp is a meeting of educators and innovators to look at the challenges that you face in your classroom and to help you to design solutions to solve them  CoLearners will share their insights and observations with other educators and be open to the collective feedback, insight and ideas you receive when you do. The CoLearn MeetUp is free, designed by educators and for you

The CoLearn MeetUp is not me selling a product or pushing professional development.  It is built of the same ilk of a TeachMeet.  It is reciprocity, teachers giving to other teachers and colearning together.  Look at the CoLearn MeetUp as a gym buddy for innovation and change at your school.  It is a set of friendly eyes asking how your innovation experiment is traveling.  It is a sounding board for ideas and feedback.  It is collaboration of the truest nature and professional learning of the highest degree.  The more you put in, the more you get out of it.

We will be running the first CoLearn MeetUp on Wednesday July 13 at Collective Campus (1/20 Queen St, Melbourne) at 6.30pm.  To continue the conversation, we have a Slack group set up that will allow educators a real-time communication platform to discuss the experiments or projects they devise.  The CoLearn MeetUp is free.  Please also connect with CoLearn MeetUp on Twitter (@colearnmeetup).  We hope to see you there.  Please RSVP on the CoLearn website and we look forward to colearning together.

Are these the greatest challenges teachers face?

I am incredibly interested in the commonality of challenge faced by teachers. Regardless of context we face many of the same problems. Sure, there are the context specific elements that make your problem unique but largely they can be qualified together. As part of a curiosity experiment I threw out a tweet on Twitter a while back asking for educators to list the greatest challenge that teachers faced in the classroom.

I then compiled the tweets in a Google form and sent out the following tweet.

40 fantastic people completed the quiz and so thank you to those people. While the total number of people who completed the quiz isn’t large, it does paint a really interesting picture. A total of nineteen challenges was listed and below is an ordered list from the largest perceived priority to the smallest.  The number one listed challenge was quality teaching time with students.

Screenshot 2016-06-21 15.16.39
Number 1

Now each of these challenges does require unpacking as there can only be so much that can be relayed in 140 characters and so I’m spending time trying to articulate the real problem.  I have many questions.  Is it time in total that places pressure on teachers?  Is it curriculum pressures?  The word quality needs unpacking as it is fairly ambiguous.  All those questions aside, the lowest score it rated was a three so there is something to this challenge.  As for second place, reaching all students and differentiating was listed as the next greatest challenge for teachers.

Screenshot 2016-06-21 15.17.12
Number 2

The interesting element about this challenge was that it was definitely a high priority but not the highest for many people.  I wonder why.  In third place we had time for curriculum development.

Number 3
Number 3

Time is a common thread between the top three challenges.  I have spent a fair amount of time working with staff at my school to unpack time as a challenge for educators.  My question is whether or not the real challenge is value and not time.  If we value something enough, we give it time.  If we feel that our time, which is valuable is being utilised in poor ways through the direction of others, we make a choice to pull back our investment.  While I can’t speak to any of the contexts above, I am intrigued by the challenge of time for teachers.  The following challenges are listed in their order.

Number 4
Number 4
Number 5
Number 5
Number 6
Number 6
Number 7
Number 7
Number 8
Number 8
Number 9
Number 9
Number 10
Number 10
Number 11
Number 11
Number 11
Number 12
Number 13
Number 13
Number 14
Number 14
Number 15
Number 15
Number 16
Number 16
Number 17
Number 17
Number 16
Number 18
Number 19
Number 19

I have attached a link below to a compilation of the challenges and I have created another survey link that I would love your feedback on.  It is the same survey but a different collector and I have added another box so that people can add their own other challenge.

Click here to access the ordered challenge list.

Click here to access a survey link to have your say or fill out the form directly below.

As always comments and thoughts welcome.


Minimal and Essential

We all lead busy lives.  We bounce from meeting to meeting, from class to class, from activity to activity.  We are chased by email and hounded by notifications.  We are constantly on.  It has worn me down over the past little while.  I work to create more room but then struggle with focus. I want to devote energy to the important things in my life but I find that my energy is sapped by trivial matters.  This is a battle many of us face.  A battle many of our students face.  I have found two messages that help to clear the clutter, reduce the noise and help provide focus.  One is from a fantastic podcast called the Minimalists and the other is from a book called Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

The first message is called “Sitting in the chair”.  Joshua Fields Milburn and his friend Ryan Nicodemus are the Minimalists.  Their podcast, essays and books share stories about living a meaningful life by stripping life back to the bare essentials.  Joshua was an aspiring writer but was forever aspiring.  Four words changed his life…

“Sit in the chair.”

What does this mean?  It means to stop aspiring and start doing. Sit in the chair and write.  I aspire to be a lot of things but I create mental conditions for this to happen.  I need to be in the right mood, have the right environment, have a cup of coffee, etc…  These are little excuses.  Little excuses that I dream up.  Remove aspire and just sit in the chair.  Just do it.  You then stop being an aspiring writer and become a writer.  These four simple words have helped create greater focus in my life.

The second message refers to energy and our constant strive to do it all.  I am guilty of this on so many counts.  I want to do it all and I think I can do it all but I can’t achieve a depth which I am happy with.  Then Essentialism landed on my desk (Thanks Mike Reading!).  Greg McKeown lives by the mantra:

“Do less but better.”

We have only so much energy. We can make only so many decisions. This is best depicted by the below image from Greg’s book, Essentialism.


What do you want to achieve in your day, your life?  What is most important to you?  How are you best utilised?  Focusing on less allows your energy to be spent on going deeper.  Remove the superfluous. Say no to more.  You are in control of your choices. You are in charge of your energy supply.  So sit in the chair and do less but better.

Thanks as always for reading. Comments welcome.

“SCRUM-tious” collaboration

I stumbled across a quote a few years ago and apologies to the original owner because I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it or saw it but it goes as follows.

“Without contribution, you don’t have true collaboration”

Originally the quote resonated with me due to my dealings regarding staff apathy during professional learning sessions with my focus initially being on what THEY (the staff) weren’t doing. Recently the quote has led me to reflect on the other half of that equation and I’m now questioning whether or not I have been designing learning opportunities that enable true collaboration. In my Year 7 Multimedia class, my team and I spent time mapping out the learner development we were working towards and then developed a learning model that we thought would help us enable true collaboration.

Screenshot 2016-04-30 13.25.02
We are hoping to develop learners with a desire to contribute. Our learning model lists working collaboratively as one of the roles the learner will play throughout the learning but our sequence doesn’t really highlight any opportunities for students to collaborate or list any strategies they could employ. So as a result I highlighted collaboration as the area of focus for the next task. The Inquiry Oriented Innovation framework by Richard Olsen (@richardolsen) allows you to pose problems and test solutions. Below is a screenshot of what I proposed.

Screenshot 2016-04-30 13.41.36


I am a little obsessed at the moment with Lean Start Up and Agile methodology and Richard has based the action research element of the IOI framework on lean methodology so it is a perfect match. I have a problem. I pose a hypothesis, create an experiment and find out quickly whether or not it worked. I then use this information to shape the next experiment. My experiment was going to test my hypothesis that a visual collaboration process called SCRUM could be used as a way to assist students with organisation, focus and personal productivity?

One of the books that I read and reread is SCRUM by Dr. Jeff Sutherland. SCRUM is a methodology, that like its rugby namesake is where a group of people unite collectively to achieve one goal through equal contribution.

Image source:
Image source:

SCRUM is used all over the world and has proven to be tremendously effective in industry. A SCRUM board is used to organize a project into it’s component pieces and visually display where tasks are in their development.

Visual Collaboration using SCRUM (5)

The start of the SCRUM journey is a User story.

Visual Collaboration using SCRUM

In software development, this might be a feature request for a particular user. It is designed to capture the human elements of the process. This feature request is then broken up into individual tasks and these are placed on post-it notes in the Backlog.

Visual Collaboration using SCRUM (2)

This is a list of all the work that needs to be completed. The next two columns are for work in progress. A person is required to take one task from the backlog and place it in the Doing column. They have responsibility for this one task. Once they have completed the task, they place the task in the For Review section where this task is verified for completion. Once the task has been verified that it is complete, it is moved to the Done column. The student would then take another task from the backlog and place it in the Doing column.

Visual Collaboration using SCRUM (3)

In SCRUM, there are only three roles, a SCRUM Master, a Product Owner and the Delivery Team. The SCRUM Master is responsible for the vision of the whole project. The Product Owner is responsible for the Product Backlog and managing the order of work and the Delivery Team completes the work.

Visual Collaboration using SCRUM (4)

There are many variations and nuances to the approach but in a nutshell that is the whole thing. When reading Dr. Sutherland’s book, I was originally drawn to using this approach as a way of improving the project work I complete across the school but then I stumbled upon EduSCRUM. Inspired by SCRUM, Willy Wijnands, a High School Chemistry teacher from the Netherlands developed EduSCRUM as a way to teach his students to manage their own learning. At the start of the unit, Willy works with his students to map out the learning required and to break it into individual components. These are then listed in the All Items (or Backlog) column. Students then work through the content in teams and when they hit a review, they are assessed. Content that is determined as mastered is then put in the Done column. This content can still be assessed at any time as determined by the SCRUM Master. Check out EduSCRUM for more great ideas on how to use it in your classroom.

Visual Collaboration using SCRUM (6)

To test the collaborative effectiveness of SCRUM, I have set up an A/B test with another teacher’s class. To keep the experiment as valid as possible, the teacher is unaware of the experiment. As a teaching team we have highlighted collaboration as a focus for this task but he is unaware of the use of SCRUM in my class. The students in his class have split up into pairs (as we did on our last learning task) and are working on completing individual projects. A group’s success is a finished product. In my class, the group is completing all the projects and so success is not obtained until the completion of ALL projects. I will be spending time in his class assisting with 3D design throughout the term but will also be using this time to make observations of the collaboration between students. The true measure of success however will be the final product. I believe that my students will produce work of a better quality as a result of this process. More hands working at a higher level in a targeted fashion with peer reviewers should produce better quality work or so I assume. Comparatively our classes have nearly the same bell curve when it comes to learning performance so it will be really interesting to see how this pans out. To truly test this, we will use an independent assessor to assess the quality of the work. Both classes will be mixed up with no student names available and the independent assessor will assess as we would normally. I’m really keen to see the results but I must also be ready to invalidate my assumptions.

As always, thanks for reading.  Comments and conversation welcome!!

Source: Presentation template by SlidesCarnival


Student action

I have long been an advocate for authentic student voice and action. It is the driving reason behind the establishment of the Digital Leader program at Ivanhoe. Nick Jackson (@largerama) is driving this in Australia and I am constantly inspired by his dedication to the action component.  Our Digital Leader program is in its third year and has gone from strength to strength.  This is due to a combination of factors.  Passionate students desperate to learn and share, great teachers like Jason Coleman (@jc_igs) and authentic opportunity for real action.  A goal for this program was always to have students present at a conference.  Just recently Ivanhoe hosted the TeachTechPlay conference and a highlight was the student participation.  Our Digital Leaders were split into two groups.  One group was to capture the conference through a Touchcast TV series and the other group was to create a student keynote video titled “From one learner to another”.  Below is an image that I came back to after presenting my first session.  It is four students self-organising and self-directing the project.  It is complete ownership of their learning and an unbelievable level of pride in their work.  When I first came across the board, I just stood there in admiration.  It is an example of students who have been given the green light to take the lead, to try, to fail and to improve.  It was one of my proudest moments as an educator.


Now you may think that these students are the cream of the crop and will always stand out but these students have faced real challenges with school and for them the Digital Leader program has helped give them voice, challenge and direction.  I believe so much in student voice and action that I asked my Digital Leaders to co-teach my Touchcast session.  The students absolutely rocked it.


We need more co-learning opportunities for teachers and students. The experience was so moving for these students that they are still on a high over a week later.  The closing keynote for the conference was designed to show teachers that students need to see them learning.  Students need to see teachers struggling with a concept, taking notes to connect thoughts, asking questions, using strategies to help make things click.  The Digital leaders used GoPros, video cameras, cameras like pros and ended up creating the most amazing conclusion to the conference.

Hearing Mark Anderson’s keynote (@ictevangelist) where he talked about how the Digital Leader movement has grown from strength to strength in the UK has inspired me to connect our program with other Digital Leader programs.  Nick Jackson does this really well through and the #ozdls hashtag on Twitter.  If you have a Digital Leader program, please reach out and connect.  This movement of authentic student voice and action needs to grow.

As always thanks for reading.