The people making the decisions are no smarter than you are.
This is a Steve Jobs quote that sums up what I believe holds most educators back from making small steps with massive improvements for learning:
"When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way that it is, and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money...
"That's a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact:
"Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build things that other people can use.
"Once you discover that, you'll never be the same again."
The harder I work the luckier I get.
Samuel Goldwyn, the film producer, sums up what makes people successful. It's rarely the "overnight success", and many of those making the greatest waves, often quietly, in classrooms all around the world are simply working harder on the right things. Too many educators work too hard on the wrong things, things often foisted upon them or which they use in their classrooms without questioning hard themselves. Working hard isn't about hours spent: it's about thinking hard about how everything we do impacts—or doesn't impact—the lives of the young people in our classrooms. If it's not adding value, make those hard decisions and, yes, the luckier you and your students will become.
Vision is a process, not an away-day, a statement, or a project.
At a recent, trying away-day to which I was invited, the Head Teacher of the school wasn't interested in talking innovation process: he wanted to know what would be the Next Big Thing that he and his colleagues could somehow prepare for and innovate upon. Innovation, though, is not about looking at things that already exist and jumping on the most promising bandwagon. It's about looking at what's out there and having an ongoing process for experimenting with them in new ways. It's also about having the innovative thinking toolkit of approaches that empower any number of people in a school community to take what they see around them and blend them in new ways to create innovative spaces for learning. Setting a vision for innovation is as much about setting a process for innovation. It's certainly not about statements or missions.
The world moves faster through projects.
If you have a process for innovation that your entire organization buys into, whether it's perceived as the 'right' one of the moment or not, then you'll never cease to innovate. Our firm has harnessed design thinking for years, and relentlessly delights clients with unexpected projects. Projects are essential to marking progress and success in innovation. You need a beginning point from which to depart, and an end point to see if progress was made. You need a short enough timescale (a month? six weeks?) and small-enough budget so as not to feel all eggs are in one innovation basket. It might sound contrary to achieving long-term success, but as long as the vision and process are set, one project snowballs into the next one and so on until you've made significant impact. This agile development of ideas can cope with technological, environmental and personal changes.
Teaching needs learning, not the other way around.
Professional development through social networks, both digital and real (down the local pub, over a Chinese meal with colleagues, or with a coffee in a structured discussion in the staffroom), is not an addition to the work of teaching—it's an inherent part of the job. We know through the work of Sugata Mitra and others that learners don't need teachers to learn. But a teacher who themselves doesn't continually learn can just get in the way of learning, slow it down, turn students off. Learning needs teachers who learn more than learners need teachers who turn up to teach. Too many teachers still don't read a book about learning, or take part in an online discussion with any regularity. That has to change if we are to improve teaching and learning.
The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.
Ewan McIntosh is the Founder and CEO of NoTosh Limited, the world's leading education consultancy for fusing learning, media and design thinking. The firm works with leading fashion, technology and design firms on daring new projects, fuses the understanding gleaned from that with educational research, and brings new practices to classrooms around the world.