Imagine Learning

The professional blog of Stephen Harris, Director & Founder of the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning -

#EduTech Brisbane 2013

EduTech Brisbane 2013

I always enjoy the opportunity to share aspects of our journey of transformation at SCIL/NBCS. Included here is a link to a presentation June 2013 at EduTech, Brisbane. Transforming a school community into something far more relevant to the world that kids of today experience and will experience does not happen overnight - because it is about cultural shift. But it can happen. Gather your team - set your direction - broadcast your vision and just do it!

Pedagogy needs to inform the design process

The following question in the context of a conversation connected to class size was posed to me via Twitter and the blog of @danhaesler and warrants a response longer than 140 characters.

“A poor lesson in front of 40 kids will still be a poor lesson in front of 20″. Could a great lesson in front of 20 still be a great lesson in front of 40? Just throwing the question out there. I am not a teacher and have no research to quote.

Would be interesting to get @gregwhitby and @Stephen_H thoughts on this due to large space teaching/learning areas/classes in their schools. @darrenhowell


Some excellent issues are raised here. It is relevant to draw from Hattie’s research ( where the impact of class size is listed in the of ‘low influence’ group of influences on student achievement. I should mention that Hattie’s research also suggests differences between open and traditional learning spaces similarly have a low influence. This is at odds though with the 2012 research from the University of Salford, UK ( which suggests that learning space design can have a 25% positive impact on learning.

This leads me to the real issue – class size is not the issue, nor is learning space by itself. The key issue for me is the notion of a class being one teacher working in isolation with around 30 students in a confined room with little ability to do much other than sit in formed rows or groups. That is the key issue. Could the learning experience itself be vastly improved in a model where a class was viewed as a far larger cohort shared among multiple lead-learners (teachers)? If this was the case, then designed space is an issue because it needs to facilitate this larger cohort.

Our experience at SCIL/NBCS (  is that when we can get teachers to engage in an unlearn-relearn journey and figure out how to work in a genuine shared team approach, then the experience of teaching and learning can change dramatically. No longer is it dependent on the pressures of a one teacher to 30 student scenario, rather students have multiple mentors and can draw in learning relevant to their needs on a daily basis. If the team can provide an environment where they collectively own all the students (albeit they might have a smaller group for administrative oversight), then the whole issue of class size melts away. I’d be confident to say that our Stage 3 ‘Zone’ team are the most collaborative team that I have had the privilege of observing and supporting. I love the energy of the Zone and witnessing a combination of planned learning activities and spontaneous ‘just in time’ workshops to address obvious gaps in student understanding. Teachers have to surrender a great deal of their former practice (control and individual space), but they gain so much more. Their role shifts to being collaborative co-directors of learning and student behavioural issues become something of the past.

So my response? The issue is not class size or large space, rather how can we re-engineer learning so that the focus is on high expectations of students, formative evaluation, conversations, feedback, relationships – all the items listed in the ‘high influence’ on learning group in Hattie’s research. My experience is teaching me that working to develop the capacity of teachers to work in teams is the future. Debates on teacher / student ratios are increasingly irrelevant – and learning space design needs to follow pedagogy rather than dictate it. That is why I favour fluid learning spaces, lots of on-the-shoulder professional development – and all mixed with loads of team fun!

The world that our children experience

This blog post seeks to capture aspects of emerging technology and culture that will shape the world of tomorrow for the students of today. The way we have taught kids in the past just won’t cut it into the future. The traditional classroom is predicated on a control philosophy. The teacher’s role has been to manage and control the behaviours of the class and once this is achieved, to then be the provider of knowledge and content.

Some students can cope with the school models of the past, but many students (dare say most students) do not. The control classroom does not prepare students for the world they will enter. The control classroom says ‘it’s all about the teacher’s ability to be all things to all students’. No wonder that causes stress.

The African proverb that says ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is far more accurate. Left alone in many contexts, even parents struggle to raise a child. How much stronger is a collaborative and community approach where a child has multiple relationships and multiple mentors. Learning does not all hinge on the one teacher model. Business has moved on from this years ago. Why place this as the model for kids to experience? No wonder so many students get disengaged from learning so quickly. Life outside the school gates is so very different from the world we still create inside the gates.

Governments and education ministries around the world just do not get it. They must create strategies for the future, not votes or their past. The control classroom can place a ceiling on the capacity of a child to think, to know, to understand & to create.

New technologies provide an amazing opportunity to allow a child to reach beyond the experience and knowledge of their teacher. Why limit that? Education as we currently know it in traditional schools will reach a tipping point. I suspect sometime in the next decade. Too much is changing for ed change not to happen. Costs of traditional education. Changing economic contexts. Changing cultural contexts. The current schooling model will exhaust itself. Why would a child attend school in a traditional way if better ways to educate a child emerge? Children will need a functional community. That will be the key to why schools should still exist.

Bubbling along behind the scenes of our society, our culture is being reshaped by new technologies. Think back 20 years as to what either did not exist or was not widespread. Can we now imagine a world without the Internet or mobile communication? Just as mobile phones have altered the way people communicate, so too access to mobile technologies will alter the way we work & learn. We receive and retrieve information in different ways. This will continue to change. Our children will interact with technology in ways that are not yet mainstream. Voice activated writing, touch screen technology, spreading from being fixed installations to multi-surfaced & pervasive will be their world. An ever-growing world of sensor-directed environments will be their story. Will our grandchildren even know what it is like to drive a car? Sensor technology is already taking over much of our daily experiences, even when we don’t realise it. Schools must adapt. The aeroplane industry is an example of computer controlled transport. Who needs a pilot when computers can now manage all aspects of a flight?

Technology is integrating into our existence. We see this happening now. This integration will filter into all aspects of life. The line between human and cyborg is already crossing. This will be the medical world of our children. In the UAE over 80% of television is consumed via mobile devices. The world is changing. Rapidly. The technology that surrounds our existence is changing. This will fundamentally change schools. Already children seem to be born with an inherent touch-screen capacity. I’ve seen that in 2 year olds in both the developed/underdeveloped world.

Why teach for redundancy, when we could be teaching for competency & creativity & relevance. The shift to the online world is not just about social media and games. Increasingly we shop online, do courses online, schedule our days online. We do our banking, buy our books, find our clothes, organise our travel - manage our whole lives online. Schools will change. We need to be training our children into the responsibilities of the online world. Has any country created a core curriculum that includes that? And this isn’t just the developed world. Are you aware of the impact mobile technologies are making in Africa and Asia? Have you seen whole villages painted over with the colours of the local telco companies? Mobile communication / learning is the future.

There have been enormous shifts in the world politically & economically in the last two decades. Our children will be forced to find solutions for some enormous challenges - climate change, cultural shift, changing demographics. Our children will be forced to find solutions for a new uncertain economic world order. Can education leaders respond to the ‘arab springs’ of social change? What will happen when those ‘arab springs’ demanding change hit our schools hard? Are we prepared for a new way? Whatever the outcome of the GFC, there is a monumental shift occurring from ‘west to east’, from the northern hemisphere to the Asia Pacific. Globalisation has already occurred and continues apace.

And around the world - whether in the developed or developing world, unemployment issues are starting to dominate the stage. Why educate a child if after 13 years they are still working alongside an uneducated neighbour in subsistence living? We have to teach job creation skills - otherwise we will fail our children. Over 50% of the youth of many nations are either unemployed, under-employed or mis-employed. Many students will graduate into a world unconnected to their higher education and training. Students are & will finish up with an enormous debt for the privilege of having a higher education. It has to be relevant. The NIC 2025 and 2030 Global Issues Reports both point to a near future that will be dominated by chronic food shortages and lack of access to water. Are we teaching students the skills to increase production, reduce conflict and focus on the critical issues that they will face? Have we given serious attention to enabling our children to understand how to respond to a world that is warming, whether that be from man made or historic cycles?

Our children are likely to live on average at least a decade longer than current life expectancies with new medical advances. Nanotechnology and other advances will provide better health care. Their lives and stories and social interactions will be inherently different. They already are. We have to focus on creating learning communities that are totally adaptive to change - but within the security of positive relationships, nurtured in functional communities. We have to collaborate. We should not compete. We have to think beyond ourselves. We have to second guess the world these children will inherit and give them every advantage to not only survive - but be those who shape and lead this new world.

Manifesto for education change #edchat #education

(Text version of a manifesto for educational change. i have also tweeted in tweet-sized chunks as a bit of an experiment - @stephen_h. I’d love you to join the change journey - and add your reflections as well.)

Imagine Learning Manifesto

The world is changing rapidly. Regrettably, education is not keeping pace with change. We need to re-think education. Toffler said 21st C learning is about learning, unlearning & relearning. So true. Governments are rarely visionary. Educators need to lead the vision of education as politicians cannot. Do not. Education should be about empowerment of people. Education should be about growing people.

With clear shifts to online activity everywhere else, we should expect this to happen in education. This will change the nature of schooling. To not expect a fundamental shift to online would be to make a fundamental mistake. We need to train teachers to know how to maximise benefits of online learning. We need to re-shape online learning space and make it personalised, engaging & suited to the task. We need to recognise that in some contexts, students will more effectively pull in relevant learning via the Internet than they receive in class.
Online learning could empower students in developing world to rise above the knowledge ceiling of their often untrained teachers.

Will schools have a role into the future? Yes! Schools should be the core functional, relational communities of society. Students/parents will select a ‘base camp’ community & from there select relevant providers of learning opportunities. Schools need to be at core relational.Teachers who cannot relate have no place.

Physical space is just as important as virtual and/or pedagogic space. Kill off desks, chairs and lockers. There are so many better & engaging ways to furnish a space. Think creatively. Children live in multi-age communities (and will work in same). Change schooling to replicate this.

Leadership roles should match priorities, not history. Budgets need to follow vision. We need to grow people - students, teachers, parents, administrators. Students must learn to be engaged learners. Parents need to grow their understanding of the realities their children will face, not re-live their own school experience.

I heard it said recently that “schools are not mortgage paying institutions”. We should teach because we are passionate. Teaching could be about creative direction, rather than about behaviour management. We need to reorganise learning communities to allow teachers to shift their roles from being control agents to creative guides. Teachers need continual PD to learn, unlearn, relearn how to teach in collaborative multi-team environments.

Engaged learning cultures need to be stronger than any other culture a child experiences. We are assessing the wrong outcomes. Literacy & numeracy are critical, but so are many other areas. Discipline silos should give way to authentic real life integrated approaches. Curriculum should be meaningful, contextual, authentic, integrated, challenge based, relational.

Schools need to be located in new spaces avoiding/rejecting the ‘one box per batch’ classroom model. Schools should take over empty factories, empty malls as those spaces offer great collaborative opportunities. Existing schools would make excellent retirement villages. One room = great space for a retirement unit; good disability access too.

Teachers need to grow their capacity to be inspirational mentors, working in teams. We should kill off the one teacher per class model. It is fraught with emotional risks.

Learning is life; life is learning. Learning should enable and grow innovative capacities. View learning as a growth opportunity and grow the opportunities for students. Learning involves sessions of highly engaged community conversation. Learning involves collaborative team approaches. Learning involves times of individual high focus. Learning involves real life contexts, regularly. Learning involves times of expert knowledge transfer - small group, large group, individual.

Students should be given capacity to delve deeply into topics, not punctuated by factory-style bells. Schools need to experiment with far more timetable-less days - opportunities for real life learning. Street, social, sport etc cultures do not need to be defeated, rather take the backseat to engaged learning culture. School communities need to assertively shape a positive engaged learning culture by questioning every aspect of their operation. If engaged learning doesn’t naturally occur, look at what could be changed to nurture it.

Teacher PD needs to replicate the teaching methods expected of teachers. No more prolonged one-size-fits-all whole group instruction. Universities teach MBA courses in collective teams. Why don’t those same institutions use the same methods for training teachers?

And assessment. What do we think is ultimately important? Five years out from school, has a student continued learning? Could we measure that? Five years out from school, has a student shown capacity to be compassionate? Could we measure that? Five years out from school, has a student shown capacity to positively grow community? Could we measure that? Five years out from school, has a student shown capacity to take up or start a job? Could we measure that?

Brave new worlds: matching exec functions to 21st century priorities

(Cross post from my recent ‘Connected Principals’ article) 

As I plan for 2013, I was inspired to take up a challenge. Most executive positions in schools piggy back on to old paradigm thinking and roles. How many companies retain positions and titles simply because you’ve always had them? They wouldn’t and if they wish to remain alive, they don’t. Yet why do schools cling on to roles? We don’t think like businesses. Schools are excellent vehicles for recycling old ideas and not changing. No wonder Seymour Papert recognised back in 1995 that unlike other sectors, megachange was hitting a brick wall in education. And nothing much has changed almost two decades on. Time for a re-think!


If our executive structures cling to an old paradigm, how difficult would it be to shift the roles of thirty five people en masse to support where we wish to journey? We set about this journey in the last six weeks. To remove fear and anxiety, we set the parameter that no salary or status would go backwards. Then we were free to move forward. We made the process as fluid and as inclusive as possible. (e.g. tomorrow afternoon, we’ll re-think the roles of grade learning managers in a new model – join the conversation)

Four questions for design thinking

It is always helpful to use a framework for thinking – and we adopted this:

Where were we now? Where do we want to go? How do we get there? What do we need to do to get there?

Our progress

We haven’t completed the task – but we have made immense headway. Four new pillars of leadership have been created, all with fresh perspectives on the task. There will be a community leadership team – people with a prime role to maintain community confidence and vision. A new logistics & data ‘dream team’ has been created. We are going to view the main people in our community (students and staff) through a new lens of ‘growth’. How do we grow people? And a team working on priority projects has been created to drive new directions (e.g. one embedding PBL more consistently across K-12; another addressing any implications of new 2014 national curriculum; another with a focus on growing our online learning capacity).

A helpful metaphor

The following metaphor has proven very helpful – the boats that follow the current (and drive activity) will no longer be the subject areas or siloed disciplines or stages. They will be the priority projects we are seeking to embed. A team leader will steer the boat. Other exec will nominate as team members into boats, with anchors into different areas of responsibility (e.g. mathematics or early learning). The implication with this metaphor is that an anchor will at times be down and the focus will of necessity be on the ‘sea floor’ of activity, but at other times, with the dispersal of responsibilities, the team members of the new boat (e.g. embedding PBL consistently K-12) will ‘up anchors’ and be able to focus on that priority task. Anchors permanently down run the risk of getting covered in barnacles – something that would eventually likely sink the whole boat: our goal will be to get team members to continually empower their teams to take up micro-responsibilities and grow themselves professionally.

At the same time we are viewing our working spaces differently. After 12 years of sitting in isolation in my own office as Principal, I moved into a shared, glassed-walled space with my deputy – an infinitely more productive and visible way of leading a school. The philosophy – teams need team space for working together and all ‘office’ space is up for re-think now. Teams will have choices as to locations and types of space. The best spaces have entire walls painted with IDEA paint for continual creative thinking.

A fantastic outcome

Already some exec have launched into their new roles, not wishing to wait until 2013, with a sense of fresh freedom to accelerate the change processes across the school. A new perspective has been added to the school-wide key focus on ‘learning’ – opportunities. We recognised that we could better educate students into understanding, recognising and taking up opportunities. A great new lens through which to open up new thinking and possibilities. One new role has been created: ‘student opportunities leadership’ and with multiple people putting their hand up for this position, we have appointed two people into this new team-building function. That in turn has opened up new ways of better utilising the talents of the previously-labelled Grade Learning Managers. Now we will have a leadership team looking to lead fresh teams around the tasks we really want:

  • community relationship developers
  • activity-based growth agents
  • culture shapers
  • 'good choices' influencers
  • learning mentors
  • entry (to high school) inductors
  • exit (to further learning) managers


This process is open ended. I suspect with an exec team re-cast around a cabinet approach, we will shift roles and titles to continually match 21st century change priorities as they emerge. It is a much more agile and adaptive framework. And since we are already 12% of the way through the 21st century, isn’t it high time we matched structures to priorities?

Talk more? Love to hear from you via twitter: @stephen_h

Be our guest: take a tour of the SCIL Building

Leading Change: Five quick encouragements connected to innovative spaces (& a video)

The SCIL Building: a sequence of multimodal flexible learning spaces

The Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL) has as its home the SCIL Building – an inter-connected sequence of multi-age learning spaces. It is a deliberate collection of agile, active and adaptive environments – and the students love it.

Enjoy this short video and take a quick tour:

2. Vision has to be grown and shared to be authentic

I have always felt that vision needs to drive transformation, but that vision has to be an active growing and shared entity – not something that is printed onto a strategic document and placed in a file or drawer. One aspect of my role that I love is the uptake by my colleagues of a shared vision for converting a school from fifty classrooms to a collection of flexible learning destinations. We’re working on transforming the 50 classrooms into 100 learning spaces – and teachers select the most suitable space as the destination for that day’s lesson, a bit like a destinations board at an airport.

3. Tipping points will come

A tipping point has occurred in the process – a critical step where the need to push change is overtaken by a desire to pull in change by teachers and students. Then the challenge becomes how to keep pace with the re-purposing of any area in the school.

4. Light-bulb moments

‘Light-bulb’ moments have hastened the process. A particularly powerful one at NBCS has been when teachers working in courses where only one class exists per grade work out that there is no impediment to learning if you team up with a colleague and share space across grades. In fact, learning will most likely improve, classroom dynamics will be inherently positive and peer tutoring and mentoring will become a natural process. This has now happened for us in a few key subjects.

5. Batch-based learning has to be identified and ditched

Sir Ken Robinson has powerfully challenged the notion of organising learning around batches of students born in time-proximity. Why do we do that? Progression, friendships and creativity do not know such boundaries. We should view our structures through a different non-batch based lens – and make changes so that the needs of the learner and context come to the fore. We should view our spaces through a similar lens and facilitate deeper learning.

Twitter: Stephen Harris @stephen_h

When it comes to leading schools …

Talk about a comprehensive analysis! Conclusions based on an analysis of the behaviour of 30,000 managers, as seen through the eyes of some 300,000 of their peers using 360-degree evaluations. The finding was that bad leadership is defined not so much by any appalling things leaders do as by certain critical things they don’t do.

When it comes to leading schools, those with capacity and position to grow a vibrant learning community should constantly be looking to our own habits and perspectives. This list, published in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, is pure gold. 

I suspect the implications can stretch further - every teacher is the leader of their learning space and students. If teachers view their role as the effective ‘boss’ of their classroom, then understanding this list is critical lest we inhibit the potential to learn by viewing leadership as control, rather than empowerment. 

"Are You Sure You’re Not a Bad Boss?"
by Jack Zenger and Joseph  from the Harvard Business Review Blog Network

Here’s the list:

1. Failure to inspire, owing to a lack of energy and enthusiasm. Again and again failed leaders were described by their colleagues as unenthusiastic and passive. This was in fact the most noticeable of all their failings.

2. Acceptance of mediocre performance in place of excellent results. The poorest leaders did not set stretch goals, inadvertently encouraging mediocre performance by letting people coast along doing less work, less well than their counterparts working for better managers.

3. A lack of clear vision and direction. Poor leaders have a murky view of the future, don’t know precisely what direction to take, and are (not surprisingly) unwilling to communicate about the future, leaving their subordinates with no clear path forward.

4. An inability to collaborate and be a team player. Poor leaders avoid their peers, act independently, and fail to develop positive relations with colleagues. The worst of them view work as a competition and their colleagues as opponents.

5. Failure to walk the talk. Saying one thing and doing another is the fastest way to lose the trust of all your colleagues. The worst offenders here also pose a wider threat as dangerous role models — creating the risk that their organizations will degenerate if others behave as they do.

6. Failure to improve and learn from mistakes. Arrogance and complacency combine in the poorest leaders as they rise, causing them to come to the dangerous conclusion that they’ve reached a stage in their careers where development is no longer required. Closely connected to this failing is an inability to learn from mistakes, leaving these unfortunates to repeat the same ones over and over.

7. An inability to lead change or innovate owing to a resistance to new ideas. Whether stemming from a lack of imagination or simply too closed a mind-set, this flaw manifests itself as a failure to take suggestions from subordinates or peers.

8. A failure to develop others. Leaders who were not concerned about helping their direct reports develop and were not seen as coaches or mentors were highly likely to fail. Primarily focused on themselves, they were not concerned about the longer-term success of their employees or their department.

9. Inept interpersonal skills. These are the leaders who are rude, talk down, yell, and belittle either out of positive malice or out of boorish insensitivity. But even these failings often are manifested in things these poor leaders don’t do. Included in this group are the people who don’t listen, don’t ask good questions, don’t reach out to others, and don’t praise or otherwise reinforce good behavior and success.

10. Displays of bad judgment that leads to poor decisions. Here at the bottom are the leaders who lead the troops over the cliff by deciding to do the wrong things.


Learning differently. Thinking differently. Solving differently.

6 powerful strategies for paradigm-shifting teacher PD

As educators and leaders, we need to re-think every aspect of our professional practice to consider ‘could we be doing this better?’ Here is a brain-dump of the 6 most powerful strategies that I have used or in which have participated.


1. Use a ‘hands-on’ approach that teaches team work


I want the teachers for whom I am accountable to comprehensively embrace student centred, inquiry based learning.

If as a school leader I expect staff to sit in a room listening to me talk for longer than 5 minutes (or saying anything at all), then I am assuming that the collective cost of the time of the number of attendees is best spent that way. I doubt that I could say anything so powerful or clear that it would justify the cost. Think about it. 100 people for 60 mins = 100 hours x the cost per hour of each person. (There are very good meeting costs apps like Meeting Cost Calculator – a very useful tool.)

Instead, use the mode of PD as a means to shift staff practice by getting everyone to experience the methodology you are advocating. Create tasks where every staff member has to be an integral part of a team where they create a challenge relevant to themselves, collectively work on a solution and during the same time frame reflect on the challenges and success of the task completion via a written blog or video blog.

The emphasis on this style of PD is that you get teachers to do exactly what you would want them to do with students. You also get them to experience the challenges of collaboration and people can then usefully reflect on what are the key essential qualities of be a team member. Useful in every way.

2. Run an Open Space workshop

The best thing about an Open Space approach to running a workshop, summit or conference is that it places core value in the capacity of any attendee to contribute something worthwhile that will in turn shape the outcomes or directions of the event. View as a means by which to sift and distill the thinking of every participant attending a conference or workshop and use their knowledge, experience and passion in collaboration with like-minded professionals to drive thinking for change forward and at the same time create new strategies for immediate implementation. And it is entirely scalable. The process works for 5 or 500. In fact, after participating in some of these type of summits, you will become very restless if forced to attend an industrial paradigm conference which is all about an ‘expert’ delivering content to passive recipients. You can still use the expert input – they can become an integral part of an open space process, but as a fellow participant whose thinking and experience you value.

3. Encourage as many staff to develop courses or present at conferences or workshops

The benefit of this approach is that any person from beginning teachers through to highly experienced people can be affirmed in their professionalism. As they articulate their journey and thoughts, so they strengthen and live those approaches. Again, another win/win. (Works with students too). We have been growing this culture for many years and our biggest challenge now is either fitting in all the PD courses that our teachers wish to prepare for their colleagues or working out the logistics for the large numbers of teachers getting selected to present at external conferences to attend. A great problem to have. If at all possible, I will seek to resource and support any person willing to develop PD for others. It is a high motivator for someone when they are asked to present and they are building their career at the same time.

4. Pecha kucha style gatherings

If you have experienced a pecha kucha style TeachMeet gathering you will know they are informal, informative and fast-paced. Translate this idea into the local school context where you get your change champions or your quiet achievers alike to share and celebrate with their colleagues their success and programmes. The busyness of a school day is such that many people are simply unaware of what their colleagues are doing. A pecha kucha style session is a great way of celebrating successes. A common outcome from such presentations is to have ignited passion for learning or sparked an interest in trying something fresh.

5. Take teams on observational journeys

The most powerful way to create fresh vision created in a collaborative context, is to plan a physical journey that will form the foundations for a professional and emotional journey. This was the way I started the journey to change at our school – and as a result the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning was born ( A shared journey is at the one time collaborative, empowering, affirming, active and game-changing. I recall ten years ago checking out for the cheapest web based airfares in order to take a team of 4 – 6 people (or more) interstate for a crash course of observation, conversation and dreaming. You can do it in a day, or take two or three days. People feel immediately valued and they will rise to the maximise the benefits of the shared collegial and professional dialogue. Ideas will form and grow during the process. Capture them and place them into an implementation timeframe so that you maximise the benefits of this activity.

It can also be done as a one day whole staff professional development. As we were considering the use of space and activity to more actively engage our students into learning, we sent all the staff in teams into the city on a schedule that was in part suggested and in part created. Teams then came back the next day to share their new ideas and thoughts and were encouraged to implement at least one idea as soon as possible. This is another game changer because it accelerates the process of change and it particularly appeals to the kinaesthetic and visual learners in your staff.  For greater interest, we added a ‘race-around-Sydney’ component where we captured some ‘mathematical’ images within the central city area from Google Earth and teams got bonus recognition for the teams that identified and visited the greatest number of those sites. Perfect training for a fun excursion also.  

6. Join or create a ‘Vision Tour’

It has been wonderful for a number of our staff to receive awards, fellowships and scholarships from time to time during our journey of change. While the awards are all very well and good, the money that often accompanies this recognition has been fed back into a recurrent process of taking a core team of change leaders on an international journey to look at exemplar schools, programs, museums, libraries or spaces, as well as meeting up with outstanding individuals who will immediately inspire or promote fresh vision.

One criterion we informally add into the expectations of participating in these tours (if not the immediate recipient of a scholarship), is that there is the intention to stay at our school for at least the next three years so that the monetary investment can have an impact back into the school community. I don’t think that unreasonable – and it is not a signed contract context anyway. These journeys have morphed into the most powerful type of professional development I could be involved in or could conceive. It has the potential to enable any school to create world class examples of transformation and it will also help shape the path of what schools could look like in 2013 or 2030. We shape the future with vision, rather than letting context and circumstance shape us or our thinking.

It will not necessarily be the places, spaces or people that will have the most impact, it will be the constant conversation, creating and collaboration that will shape fresh vision. And vision does have the power to transform communities and nations.

For further information on the types of activities we would recommend visit:

Leading innovative & transformative change: 5 key considerations

This blog follows closely on the back of my colleague’s recent blogpost ( as I consider her thoughts and some recent consultancy experience. What are five of the key considerations I can see in leading a learning community down fresh pathways?

1.      Cast vision as clearly, concisely and strongly as you can

When it comes down to it, vision becomes the greatest unifier and direction-setter you can draw from. When ideas might be challenged, you can fall back to vision. The stronger you cast vision, share vision, grow vision, the more aligned everyone’s thinking will be under the ‘stardust’ of that vision.

2.      Claim & reclaim conversations: be forward thinking & inspiration based, never reactive or defensive

In the sometimes battleground of change, look to the future as the rationale for thinking. What is the world these students will graduate into? Is it likely to be the same as ours? If in doubt, use a resource such as the NIC documents (see links). The world of 2025 / 2030 will require divergent, collaborative thinking and action. It will involve urgent conversations about food production, access to water, shifts in world economic and ideological power. The learning spaces of today must be preparing the leaders of tomorrow with the tools to address these issues. They will not be using current technologies. Those technologies are still only dreamt of at present. However they will need the thinking skills and challenge-based learning strategies immediately available to us.

3.      Know the big picture of educational best practice – but resist resorting to empirical evidence of improved data to be the reason to justify change

I am often asked to provide the evidence that new learning spaces are better for learning or that changes from teacher-delivery or ‘industrial’ model teaching is no longer the best method. Yes, I could provide every evidence available to me that the data highlights that the learners for whom I am responsible have only gone forwards. Has any one single change created that? May be yes, may be no. Prof John Hattie’s effect size table suggests it is the combination of strategies that will have the most impact (see link). My experience? National data suggests our students are consistently moving ahead in a ‘value added’ way; staff and visitors to our learning community can clearly see that the learning culture is stronger than other cultures and owned by the individual learners; students are positive (and can articulate hope) about the future – but most importantly, they are being daily resourced in a relational environment to be the functional thought leaders and problem solvers the world and our communities will need.

4.      Identify your team and grow people

This is a big one. Let’s face it. Education faculties and government policies worldwide have not taught teachers how to innately work collaboratively. Many colleagues are great at having conversations, sharing coffee – but when it comes down to the core skills of sharing a task, we often default to that which we have experienced: separation – trained to be separate teachers, working in separate rooms on separately created class programs. As education leaders, we have to tackle this one head on. Every teacher professional activity needs to involve teamwork at some level. Even better, make it the primary learning mode. How I can I justify taking up the collective time of 100+ professionals by talking for longer than 5 minutes. The lost productively is alarming. How much better to get those people into teams of their own choosing, working on relevant challenges linked directly to their core tasks and gradually learning the skills of collaborative problem solving? NASA did not get a vehicle on Mars through the efforts of one person. I’d love to know how many teams contributed to pulling that one off.  

5.      Be resolute – just do it

This one is a given. If you spend time working out a ‘safe’ way to introduce change, you will either waste months (probably years) on small scale trial programs, rather than taking the ‘risk’ of using your professional intuition, training and experience and allowing passion to direct the way. We have to accelerate change in education because traditional change processes will only ever see schools continually needing to catch up to society, business, technology – the world. What will the learning world of 2025 or 2030 look like? It will be the world that we will shape it to be! Take the lead and #justdoit.

Love the creativity of the NBCS community! In these photos: recycled whiteboard table by Ben Pridmore for the Design Studio; modular stool & table blocks by Chris Woldhuis for the Production Suite; Global Learning Village ‘Racer’ (3 in one: chair, desk, locker) - concept by Jordan Keller. If we can unleash creativity, passion, empowerment and ownership within a community, there are no limits!