So just over a week ago I returned from the Innovate 2015 conference held at Graded in Sao Paolo, Brazil…and what a conference it was. I want to start this post by thanking Lee Fertig and his team for putting on such an outstanding and inspiring event, and to mention that the large group of 13 educators that we sent from Cotopaxi all came back changed for the better and ready to take action for our community. Like I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in my last post, we’re serious about innovation as a faculty and school, and we’ve just begun a transformational journey which will redefine who we are as an institution over the next few years. The Innovate conference allowed us to ask critical questions of ourselves, learn from innovative programs that are already happening at leading schools around the world, and to prioritize the next steps along our road to innovation. What I truly loved about the conference was that it was all geared around students and student learning, and how many of these innovative practices can, and will make a profound shift in how we teach, and how we approach education for generations to come.
There were so many incredible presentations revolving around educational technology, space and design, personalized learning, data analysis, and alternative scheduling of classes and time that it made my head spin! In many ways it was an assault on the traditional model of schools, and a definite call to action for international schools and their teachers and their programs. It became apparent to everyone there that the kinds of things that are the norm in schools around the world are simply not good enough, and in many ways, knowing what we know now through research and practice, educationally irresponsible. The conference certainly lit a fire in our hearts and minds, and we’ve come back energized, empowered, and hungry for change. We feel validated that the things that we set out to accomplish when we wrote our 5 year strategic plan are indeed the right things, and in line with where the leading schools are heading. We’ve asked the right questions, we’ve hired the right people, we’ve done our research and we’re gaining momentum…and it’s galvanizing for all of us.
There were a few underlying messages/themes that came through loud and clear over the four days, which framed our thinking and caused us to reflect deeply on our current practices as educators. One was that we tend to do what we know as schools and teachers, but often times what we know and do is in fact…wrong. We do these things because that’s the way that they’ve been done for so long, and we get stuck in the belief that they’re actually working for our kids…but they’re not. Another message was all about the “why”…asking yourself as a school why you’re actually doing the things that you’re doing…why are you becoming a 1 to 1 school? Why are you running the schedule that you’re running? Why are you continuing to give grades and averages? Why are you continuing to grade formative assessments? Why are you continuing to give homework to elementary school children? Why do you have traditional classrooms and traditional grade level bands? Why does your school day run from 8:00 until 3:00? Why, why, why? In many cases we don’t have the answers, except for the shrug of the shoulders and a weak comment that suggests that it’s just the way that we’ve always done things. Well, that’s not good enough…and we all know it. The final theme that struck a chord in all of us was that of action. The conference began with three student speakers, from all three divisions, imploring us to stop what we’re doing and change. Hearing these eloquent and passionate kids calling us out as educational institutions was beyond powerful, and made many of us in the room very sheepish in the knowing that in many instances we aren’t trying hard enough. They weren’t calling for an evolution of schools, but like Ken Robinson says, a revolution in schools. Well, we felt the message like a fist to the jaw and I think the rest of the conference attendees did as well.
I was personally inspired by the 3 keynote presenters who glued the conference together, and weaved the themes together seamlessly. Scott McLeod, who inspired us with what’s possible with educational technology and the idea of a global classroom…Suzie Boss and her approach to curriculum and learning through a project based philosophy…and Ewan McIntosh, with his passionate plea for all of us to re-imagine and redefine what’s happening in our current environments through design thinking and making thinking visible. I was also inspired by what a few schools around the world are doing to truly innovate and push the boundaries of what’s possible for education in the future…schools like SAS in Singapore, ISB in Brussels, ASB in Mumbai, FDR in Lima, and of course, Graded…schools that are using their research and development teams to bring about change, and to help us think about the imperative shift that we all need to make. These are only a few of the schools that are leading the way in the international school world, and with what’s about to happen here at Academia Cotopaxi over the next year or so, we’re very much part of this movement, and ready to lead the charge in our region. So, thank you Graded…for the inspiration and the call to action. Now my challenge to the rest of you is…what are you doing in your own environments, and in your own classrooms to do better? Start asking why…stop doing what you’ve always done…and have the courage to innovate, because the future of our schools and our children depends on it. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…
As educators, we tend to do what we know…but sometimes what we “know” is wrong.
Conference Keynote Speakers:
John Hattie: What Truly Effects Student Achievement?