Staff learning – Genius Hour and Design Thinking

“You can’t teach 21st century learners if you haven’t learnt anything yourself this century”

Dr. Gary Stager at EduTech 2013

Providing challenging, engaging and relevant learning to staff is one of the most important elements of a great learning facility.  It inspires great dialogue, opens up new possibilities and this transpires positively into the classroom environment.  We all remember a great planning session, a great conference session or a great book and the power of motivation behind those “A-ha” moments.  On the flip side, we also remember the mental blocks during planning, the terrible conference sessions where we wished we chose one of the other sessions or the book that we planned to read but just can’t connect with.  Connecting and engaging with your staff as learners is in my mind the second most important element of school’s after a clear and collaborative school vision.

Finding time to learn will always be a challenge for teachers as we are pulled in many directions and wear many hats.  That means that we must be smarter with our time.  We must find innovative ways to find “good” time to learn.  After school sessions can work but if they aren’t engaging or relevant, then they can transcend into a chorus of yawns or synchronised head nodding micro sleepers.  This post is the beginning of a series of posts that hopefully will prompt a few ideas to try out or tweak to promote greater staff learning at your school.

#Genius Hour for staff

I love the notion of Genius hour and have worked in a school where we implemented a version of Genius hour that we called Passion projects.  I have seen students forgo lunch times, come in before school and want to stay after school to work on their passion projects.  I have also seen projects flop because they aren’t driven by a great question or that the student has chosen an area that they already know so much about.  To lead by example during these sessions, I would show students projects that I was working on myself and how I set out my learning, what questions drove me and how I planned to demonstrate my understanding.  However, my projects had to happen in my own time and this usually meant post 8pm, which isn’t exactly my “firing on all cylinders” time.  It got me thinking that it would be great for staff to have a time set aside where they could work on an area passionate to them.  This passion obviously needs to be related to education if it is going to happen on school time and it may also be an area that might be of interest to a teaching team or faculty.  It might even be cross faculty or year level team.  To ensure that the time made available is used to its best capacity, preparation is paramount.  Key questions need to be developed, ideas need to be developed and resources need to be collated and curated.  How understanding will be demonstrated is also a key factor that needs to be developed.   When I ran these sessions with my students, I would get them to carry a notebook with them wherever they went so that they could jot down any ideas or questions.  This notebook then became the conversation starter in the initial stages of planning.  For staff, a space on a bulletin board in the staff room, a shared Google doc or a blog space might be the way of capturing ideas or questions.  Once a rich conversation has begun, the wheels of learning are on the move.

For Genius hour to work with staff, it also needs to be an ongoing element.  Staff meetings should not be admin meetings.  Staff meetings should be greater than this.  Staff meeting should be about big picture vision for learning at your school, discussion about student development and care and for staff learning.  Ideally, it would be great to devote each staff meeting to some element of staff learning but I know that this is probably not going to happen.  Maybe one staff meeting a fortnight could be replaced with a Genius hour for staff.  For those schools wishing a little firmer structure around the sessions, using the Design Thinking for Educators framework would be a fantastic place to start.  It would provide common language and process.  Check out for more information.  To learn the process, staff might like to begin with a school wide problem and work through the process of discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation and exploration together.  Staff would also need to commit their focused energy to the process of Genius hour.  Time is a teacher’s greatest constraint and I know that there are a billion and one things that they could be using the time for but in my opinion, a school that clears the deck to support and inspire staff learning through such initiatives deserves your undivided attention and total commitment.

To be truly effective, Genius hour for staff requires regular sharing, peer to peer feedback and an open mindset.  See the possibilities, be open to critique and review and remember that a shared idea is a more powerful idea.  In my next blog post, I will be talking about ways to share learning with staff.


2 thoughts on “Staff learning – Genius Hour and Design Thinking

Add yours

  1. I really need to go back and read your older posts Steve, I must admit that it is not something I often do. I can’t believe that you didn’t share this with me. I wonder what other gems I have missed? From you, from others.

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