Innovation and School - Steve Barkley

Innovation and School

I was recently asked to explore innovation with the staff of a new high school as they prepared to start the first year in a new building with lots of flexible space, increased flexibility of schedule for staff and students, increased technology options, and encouragement from administration to take risks and feel free to fail.

My search for a video clip to use for a discussion trigger lead me to a Ted Talk , What 60 Schools Can Tell Us About Teaching 21st Century Skills.   


Lichtman, conducted a cross country trip visiting over 60 schools known for innovation and interviewing hundreds of educators who worked in them. He describes schools as being historically risk adverse, with the down side of risk-taking outweighing any upside. Seeing change as uncomfortable rather than labeling it as hard is a suggestion Lichtman shares for supporting innovation.


Lichtman proposes that the schools we need should mirror an ecosystem rather than our historical industrial model. As I listened I recalled similar words from Sir Ken Robinson :

“…. many of the current policies are based on mechanistic conceptions of education. It’s like education is an industrial process that can be improved just by having better data, and somewhere in the back of the mind of some policy makers is this idea that if we fine-tune it well enough, if we just get it right, it will all hum along perfectly into the future. It won’t, and it never did.

The point is that education is not a mechanical system. It’s a human system. It’s about people……”


 I really like the thoughts of dynamic and self –correcting. I find many educators continually struggling to find the “right way” or the “right program”  as if then the problem will be solved rather than recognizing that people are involved and the system is in a constant state of change…. evolving as every new step creates a chance to learn and then grow/change from that learning.


Lastly, Lichtman identifies anchors, dams, and silos that interfere in our implementation of learning processes that we KNOW are right. He synthesizes his finding down to one word: DEWEY. Lichtman is convinced that John Dewey would have approved of all the innovations Lichtman observed.


Anchors hold us back. It’s the feeling of my classroom, my course, my content. Anchors prevent us from designing learning that is student centric, where students take a greater role in deciding “what to learn”. Dams are created by testing programs and requirements that lock students into prescribed sequences of study often with little to validate the necessity of the particular content to the students’ success. Silos reinforce the anchors and dams, preventing us from seeing the “whole” and connectedness of learning. I’ve focused on a need for educators to “trust the brains of students.” We need to trust that students will learn things that we didn’t teach.

Lichtman describes this as teaching to the unknown and developing self-evolving learners. That requires us to be self-evolving systems.Slide6

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