Tag Archives: education

Visual Arts and Education: understanding history and context

A recent trip to Venice was an immersive experience in some of the works of the great Italian Renaissance artists, notably Tintoretto and Bellini, whose extraordinary paintings adorn several churches throughout the city.

Seeing their works in churches is an authentic experience that links one to the historical continuity of the initial inception of the paintings: this is how they were intended to be seen, and it is a privilege to be able to still do this, although non-Venetians have to pay more or less systematically at every church, unlike in Rome where it is still possible to see Caravaggio’s work for free in churches as many did for hundreds of years before the globalisation of tourism.

Why might it be important to view artworks in the settings for which they were originally conceptualised? 

After all, the works are less well lit in churches, one has to stand in the slightly stiff and cold silence and the overall atmosphere of the museum is replaced by the austerity of a place of worship. Furthermore, frescoes on interior walls and ceilings can be difficult to see, especially when compared to well-lit works perched at eye level in an art gallery.

However, this is how these works should be viewed and appreciated. In the hauntingly simple and gorgeous church of the Madonna dell’Orto in Venice for example, where Tintoretto served as a chaplain, his grave lies right next to his dramatic panel of the last judgement: the spiritual purpose of Tintoretto’s work, embroiled with the existential anxiety it expresses are unified by the palpable and very moving traces of the artist’s life. One senses the significance of the place of composition which is much more than a backdrop to the art, it is a vital part of the art.

The way we encounter art today, and this has been the case since at least the late 1700s or early 1800s when the most famous European museums, such as the Louvre, Uffici and Prado were opened to the public, is in exhibitions. Hundreds of paintings and sculptures sit alongside one another in an industrial concentration that is difficult to seriously contemplate and digest. Rather than spending time at each painting, visitors shuffle from one famous painting to the next, walking past dozens if not hundreds of paintings composed by less well known artists. I’ve always felt that it is futile trying to view too much in an art museum, and prefer to appreciate one or two floors. How much art can one take in in two hours anyway?

There is another problem with the decontextualised positioning of such works, which is the ethics behind the curatorship of the works themselves, most especially concerning ancient art. For example, almost all Ancient Egyptian works viewed outside of Egypt (in Turin, Paris, Berlin and London for example) found their way to these places under the questionable policies of Napoleon Bonaparte whose emissaries either traded for them in an unscrupulous manner or simply stole them. Understanding how obelisks appeared in Paris, Rome and London or the Elgin Marbles ended up in the British Museum allows for a fuller understanding of the journey behind the art works, their political and cultural imprint, which is part of their story.

On the other hand, walking through the forest of columns at Karnak, or standing before the Colossi at Memnon in Egypt, one is irremediably drawn to the religious significance of these monuments: portrayals of the power of the sun, giver of life and light. A little understanding of obelisks will have you know that they were intended to always be grouped in pairs, standing on either side of the entrance to a temple. So the fact that the famous Luxor Obelisk stands alone while her sister is at the Place de la Concorde in Paris is not just an aesthetic incongruity, not a mere act of material theft, but a disruption of a sacred symbolic placement, thousands of years old. Indeed, by uprooting works of art from their original contexts and displaying them for decorative purposes, the metaphysics of an ancient belief system are destroyed. In fact, most of the obelisks one sees in their natural setting in Egypt today stand asymmetrically alone on one side of a temple entrance, leaving a gaping wound open on the other side, where the twin was literally uprooted and shipped to an English, Italian, French or even American city.

If one is to enjoy the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, it is equally necessary to travel to Athens to look upon the empty spaces at the Acropolis from where they were amputated. This is how we can fully connect the historical journey behind them.

What are the implications for all of this on education? Quite simply to give our students the historical depth of understanding to appreciate art fully so that they might have not only a critical perspective but a richer reckoning of the original purpose of art. Seeing a work as “beautiful” or well composed” is an incomplete analysis since there is almost always a strong sociopolitical context to understand in order to fully contemplate the work, feel its character and presence, its identity. 

Whereas art and humanities teachers should always look to embellish students’ knowledge of the historical context of the works they are studying, mathematics and science teachers should do the same, explaining to students that while we might look at arithmetic in a functional, pragmatic sense today, for the Ancients, numbers were sacred symbols with magical, transformational  power. Having some inkling of the Egyptian and Babylonian origins of mathematics helps us appreciate how ancient mathematicians such as Pythagoras and his lineage of Chaldeans  were numerologists, attributing sacred properties to numbers such as 9 or Pi. And why is this important? Because it reinforces the mysterious allure of mathematical elegance, its abstract, magnetic power and, therefore, the central role it has always played alongside philosophy and religion in several cultures as a key to a deeper meaning and series of hidden truths. For the Ancients, maths was not invented, it was discovered.

So the next time you’re in an art museum, or viewing an artwork in its original context, or you’re in a teaching moment where you have the privilege to sensitise your students to great works of art, like those of Frida Kahlo, Katsushika Hokusai or Jacopo Tintoretto, or should you be teaching any other construct for that matter, be sure to expand upon the context and history as much as the plastic composition, for therein lies a story worth telling.

Psychological Safety and Education

In the 1950s, the educational psychologist Carl Rogers coined the term psychological safety. By this, he meant an environment in which people can explore their creative potential, take risks, not be afraid of failure, express themselves freely and essentially feel secure in that safe space that allows them to be themselves.

The concept might go back to the 1950s, but we still need to be reminded of it today.

For decades educational systems have been built on the wrong ideas: premised on shouting at children, threatening them, hitting and humiliating them while creating a stifling, stern atmosphere wrought with fear and power hierarchy. Unfortunately this Victorian model is still in force in some institutions, practices and households today.

What this type of behaviour does is it pushes students into their reptilian brains, shredding any sense of confidence in them and, ultimately, as it models symbolic and physical violence, it reproduces this in students who will not know any better than to copy the unpleasant behaviour they have been subjected to and exact it on others.

A good school looks at students in the exact opposite way: we are here to make sure that the classroom is a place where you want to be,where your self belief is built up every day by acts of validation, kindness, recognition, gift spotting and encouragement.

Unfortunately, some of the remnants of the Victorian past still make their way into what might look like enlightened classrooms through seemingly innocuous but potentially damaging throw away comments, sarcasm, damning reports and, quite simply, an inability to be generous enough to see someone’s potential and to say it. Giving a student a bad grade can be enormously hurtful to their inner core, and it should be scaffolded carefully and sensitively, not done with a sense of impatience or superciliousness. 

When students are starved of the feedback they need to garner that quantum of confidence to grow out of their shells, it can be demeaning or worse. This is all the more so since children need the validation of their teachers, in many ways it counts for more than that which comes from families and friends because it is institutional and less tinged by favouritism: it’s the first exposure to the outside world and whether that place will be friendly or hostile.

If we really want creativity, critical thinking, interpersonal sensitivity, multi literateness and human flourishing, then we have to keep reminding ourselves of the idea of psychological safety and should not be misguided into thinking that harshness, coldness, negative feedback and emotional cruelty bring out the best in students.

Some people, already down a track of mastery, already confident and thirsty to go from good to great, might actually seek out this type of “tough love”, the clichéd draconian sports coach type of relationship with their teacher, but these are exceptions and should be understood as such.

Finally, psychological safety, like so many  socio-psychological concepts, is not only educational, it speaks to the professional world too. We all know how tough it is to have a supervisor who never lifts you up, loses their temper, shuts you down and tries to make you afraid: they are lost in the same Victorian illusion and are not bringing out your creative potential. 

You might not be able to change that, but you can control the way you deal with your supervisees, so create a space for them to flourish and give your people what they need to thrive: a feeling that with you, they are safe, they can grow, they can fly. 

 (photograph: Ali Kazal)

The Springbok Rugby Team: Three Educational Lessons

“Rugby is a hooligans sport played by gentleman” the saying goes (as opposed to football, which is the opposite). Hyperbole aside, there is something remarkable about the camaraderie one finds between rugby fans: there are never crowd incidents and a deontological code of respect transcends not only the discipline players have in accepting the referees’ decisions, but the whole culture of rugby, which, despite the surface violence of the game itself, is built on peace and friendship.

This year’s rugby World Cup saw South Africa win for the fourth time in a nail-biting final against the mythic All Blacks. In following the team, three concepts came to mind which can help us in our reflections about the potential effect of an education:

  1. Unity

There was nothing individualistic about the squad. In fact, one of the hallmarks of the team was that the “bench” (the substitutes) was essentially as important as the starting players. The coach’s strategy was to use the substitutes strategically rather than merely to replace tired players. When interviewed on the victory, the charismatic captain Siya Kholosi spoke of a fleet of birds flying in a V formation – when one drops out, another automatically takes the position that has been left vacant. Assessments, projects, and general learning environments that draw on the collective and understand that learning is a social, team effort are more successful than cultures built on individualism. When students support each other, learning gains are stronger. 

  1. Relevance and purpose

The players kept coming back to the importance of this win for South Africa, a country that has been ravaged by iniquity and violence but at the same time in which there is an extraordinary human spirit. During the apartheid years, rugby was an entirely white sport but over the years it has come to be more multiracial and today the whole nation celebrates the Springboks’ victory. The players were clearly motivated by a higher purpose – the lift that this would give people at home – and this brought out the best in them. Our curricula must be relevant to the needs of society and the planet, not dry intellectual abstractions. This is all the more important in a world where climate change, political upheaval and globalisation are particularly virulent sources of change and impact. Curriculum relevance is about serving students with an education that makes sense to them and equips them for social realities.

  1. Self-belief

The Springboks beat France, England and New Zealand in the Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Finals by one point in each match! Every single detail mattered and on each occasion it came down to the accuracy of a kick, the precision of a tackle on the try line or the discipline of a scrum. To win like that, down to the wire with your back against the wall, takes not only courage but a razor sharp mentality that will not waver from a belief that victory is inevitable. We teach our students subjects, skills and dispositions. Self-belief, confidence, mindset are vital and should feature strongly in curriculum design and the hidden curriculum. Our students are entering a fairly daunting world where there will be no shortage of challenges, and they will be successful if equipped with that deep-seated belief that they are capable of something exceptional. This is an educational value that comes down to parenting as much as teaching.

In a world divided by war, let the beauty of sports continue to inspire us to work together as a team and, at the end of the day, to come together as friends. There is tremendous value in sports as I’ve written before, and the exhilarating Springboks reminded us of the power that it has to lift the spirits of millions of people. 

How might international schools position themselves in times of armed conflict?

For those of us who have the privilege to live away from the shadow of terrible human suffering that we see in the world, what position should we take when it comes to armed conflicts?

This is not a simple question, and one that many would probably rather avoid altogether, but we cannot because the reality that is around us engulfs the minds and experiences of our communities and students, either directly or vicariously through social media.

International Schools, in general, are beholden by a set of values around peaceful cooperation, critical thinking and social custodianship. In times of armed conflict, these four core principles might help you navigate your way:

  1. An international school is a place of learning and not a political organisation or national government – while all those working in international schools should deplore all forms of conflict, especially those that contravene international law, the purpose of an international school is not to publicly condemn nation states or governments, individuals or groups, nor is it to encourage our students to take sides, it is always to stand on the side of peace. While individuals might have their own positions, the school represents several nationalities and does not pick and choose a position that the whole organisation is expected to stand by.
  1. In times of extreme emotional turmoil, such as that which armed conflict creates, as educators we must not forget the vital importance of remaining focussed on being critical thinkers, not swayed by any form of propaganda and not assuming, most especially in the middle of such conflict, that information is unbiased or depoliticised, complete or not charged with complex details of context. Therefore, encouraging listening, learning, reflection, questioning and suspending judgement should be centred. 
  1. Students, parents and staff may be traumatised by events and schools will clearly therefore do what they can to be supportive, allowing members of the community who are affected to feel safe and using pastoral and human resources teams to give care and moral support to the community. 
  1. Armed conflict leads to several forms of real but also symbolic violence and we must be attentive to the dangers of overgeneralisation, prejudice, stereotyping and in-grouping or out-grouping that occur. Staff should be attentive to this and ensure that no one in their school community is ostracised because of the country they come from, their religion, culture or political orientation.

The bottom line is that international schools, and perhaps all schools for that matter, should never allow the armed conflict of the outside world to enter the classroom. 

Four principles, therefore, in these terrible and difficult times:

  • Stand on the side of peace
  • Think independently and critically
  • Love and care
  • Be wary of prejudice

An education for human rights: working from the ground up 

Tracing back the origins of some sort of declaration of human rights is not that simple. Some situate it at least 2600 years ago in the Akkadian Cyrus Cylinder, declaring racial equality, others the Edicts of Ashoka in the 2500 BCE Maurya Empire, which sets out a deontological code. The late 1700s French  Déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du citoyen, outlining principles of unalienable natural rights and sovereignty paved the way for other Enlightenment statements such as the soaring American Declaration of Independence and, later, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The latter is a powerful set of normative statements that should be a reference in every school and organisation. 

Behind the actual writing of these remarkable historic statements are people, and it is commonly known that the driving force behind the Declaration of Human Rights was the chair of the Human Rights Commission at the time, the visionary and deeply ethical  Eleanor Rooseveld, a truly wonderful and inspiring woman. It was her unflagging passion and dedication to the project that marked those around her and in a way it’s not surprising, writing something as significant as a declaration of human rights for all of humanity is enough to make someone give their everything! That is a key for reflection.

The problem with these normative statements is that once  they have been drawn up, they remain at the lofty level of the deontological code, a type of 10 commandments that look down on us from a higher place. One might gaze at the words and statements in awe and even be asked to abide by them, but since they were written by someone else, the fundamental pedagogical act of integrating and owning information by shaping it oneself which creates great productive energy, cannot be harnessed. The statements are somehow inert, pre-baked, off the shelf.

And history has shown us that there is a difference between saying something and doing it. The Cyrus Cylinder declares forward-looking tolerance but Cyrus was no angel, and the French Rights of Man, like so many other Enlightenment ethical treatises, applies to some and not others, most especially those who bore the yoke of European slavery and expansion across much of the planet at the time. Where were their rights?

Perhaps committing to a series of statements as a community is a way of consolidating not only what we think is important, but of galvanising us to live actively by those statements: precisely because they are our own.

This is why at our school, we decided to embark on a collaborative project whereby staff and students would brainstorm the types of behaviours that we wish to see in ourselves and others, to then vote for the statements that emerged and to use these statements as our guidelines. It does not mean that these supersede other moral imperatives, but it does mean that these statements were created by the community creatively and collaboratively, and that there’s some ownership involved.

The statements themselves are quite concrete and simple, and perhaps in that tangible simplicity there is a power that one loses in abstract, general and universalist claims: it’s a call to action and an invitation to live out human rights (and, of course, responsibilities!) every day!

In fact, one of the precepts of The United Nations Office of Human Rights, who are working with the International School of Geneva on a Global Citizenship Education course, is to bring human rights down to earth, into the corridors of the school, into each classroom, the playground and workspace. It is in these spaces where simple decisions lay out the type of respect we truly show for one another.

If you haven’t already done so, I would recommend a bottom-up approach to some normative moral statements by your community and for your community, much the way  teachers would agree on norms with students at the beginning of a school year.  It engages the community and shows us what’s important to us here and now, in this precious moment we share together alive on planet earth.  

The power of sports: two lessons

A few years ago my son’s basketball team won the Swiss national championship. There was much celebration, social media posts, pride and joy. How much does victory teach us though?

The next season was a different affair: the team got to the semi-finals and the match was a palpitating affair, hanging on a knife edge with one point in it. It came right down to the wire as the expression goes, literally the last fraction of a second as the final buzzer went off, my son, who is a point guard (so his job is to take the 3-point shots) received the ball. His team was two points behind, and as he released the three pointer and the ball soared through the air, time seemed to stand still. I remember watching the mighty parabola carve out space as the ball spun high up and then hurtled towards the hoop, only to bounce off both sides of the rim and then down to the ground. The shot was missed, the match was lost.

Lesson 1: camaraderie

My son was in tears and so were his team mates, but they quickly huddled around and owned the defeat together. Later, as we made our way back from the match, they laughed about it and commiserated with one another. That was the first lesson: camaraderie. I’m not sure which academic subjects or formal assessment protocols teach this, but team sports does, and the deep lesson of solidarity, support, followership and leadership, empathy and friendship that is brought about is extremely powerful and much needed in a world where we must come together to face the planet’s problems.

Lesson 2: learning from the past 

After mourning the loss – and it did take some time, my son picked himself up and drew conclusions from the loss. He had to work on his shot more and so he went outside to the village basketball hoop and practised every day over the holidays. This ability to pick yourself up, to show resilience in the face of challenge, to learn from an event and turn whatever disappointment there may have been into a lesson, is another powerful lesson that  sports can teach you. That comes down to coaching, the moral messages that sports coaches give their students, the emphasis on the long game, on looking past temporary failures to the ultimate objective  – ideating an objective till it becomes a reality.

Coaches: the unsung heroes of education

Both of my children are top performing athletes. It is less the physical prowess that is important in what they have developed than the competences. So much of this comes down to the wonderful sports coaching they received at school, something for which I am forever grateful. To this day, years later, they still speak about their coaches.  Sports teaches you important values: self discipline, self knowledge, collaboration, stress management. But this does not happen by itself, it is communicated by coaches who show a dogged commitment and investment that is heroic. The idea that physical education is seen as less important than traditional academic subjects is not only wrong, it is ridiculous in a world where it’s increasingly clear how important all the intrapersonal and interpersonal skills that sports give you are for human flourishing. 

With reforms to transcripts , like the Ecolint Learner Passport and the work done by the Coalition to Honour all Learning, we must continue to broaden assessment and to recognise athletic disciplines for their extraordinary life-worthiness. And next time you walk past the physical education department or your school or university’s sports coaches, thank them for the profound gift they give to their students.

A Framework for Education

In a recent conversation with an International School of Zug and Luzern (ISZL) parent, he commented on how much he values ISZL’s approach to education and the school’s learning process. When pressed for specifics, he highlighted an appreciation of the achievements associated with academic success, such as impressive IB test scores, but, even more importantly, he values the focus on holistic development. He further elaborated by sharing how much he holds in high regard ISZL’s emphasis on social development, emotional intelligence, confidence levels, independent thinking, and communication skills, among others. I share these sentiments, both from my personal and professional perspectives but also based on the feedback I have received from staff, parents, and students during last semester’s transition interviews. One of ISZL’s greatest strengths is our teachers’ abilities to personalise learning in a manner that enables our students to realise their potentials in individual and unique ways.

This approach to teaching and learning also corresponds with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) recent report on The Future of Education and Skills 2030. The document is guided by a shared vision stating, “We are committed to helping every learner develop as a whole person, fulfil his or her potential and help shape a shared future built on the well-being of individuals, communities and the planet.” With a broad focus on global challenges that are economic, social, and environmental in nature (excuse the pun), the 2030 vision maps out an educational view that is framed by five distinct but related approaches.

The first frame is a belief in the need for broader education goals that encompass individual and collective well-being. The concept of well-being goes beyond material resources to include quality of life as defined by, for example, health, civic engagement, social connections, education, security, and life satisfaction.

The second frame is related to learner agency and the ability of our students to navigate through a complex and uncertain world. This focus involves both the building of a solid academic foundation and an approach to personalised learning.

The third frame is the ability to apply a broad set of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values. This focus is about students’ abilities to mobilise their learning to meet complex demands.

The fourth frame is about taking responsibility for our society and future, in addition to the corresponding and necessary student competencies. These competencies will require that students be innovative, committed, and aware with respect to creating new value, reconciling tensions and dilemmas, and taking responsibility.

The fifth frame is about the design principles needed to move toward an eco-system in which a students’ different competencies are inter-related in nature and application.

While the challenges for schools to adapt to this philosophical shift are not insignificant, it is encouraging to see a movement among schools to embrace these design principles. ISZL has made important progress in these areas, though the fifth frame is, perhaps, the most challenging as the inherent structures of schools, including our physical spaces, do not necessarily lend themselves well to the concept of inter-related, cross-curricular learning and the application of competencies in a holistic manner. As with any change, this is a process that takes time and commitment, which will also continue to build on past developments while furthering current initiatives and implementing future strategies.

Fortunately, the OECD provides a framework to guide learning programme development through concept, content, and topic design that includes a focus on student agency, rigour, coherence, alignment, transferability, and choice. This framework also relies on process design and the related importance of teacher agency in which teachers are empowered to use their professional knowledge, skills, and expertise to develop an authentic, inter-related, flexible, and engaging learning programme. It is these design principles that ISZL embraces as we continue our work to ensure our students are benefiting from the most relevant and meaningful learning programme possible.

Blog: www.barrydequanne.com

Twitter: @dequanne


Reference: Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). (2018). The Future of Education and Skills 2030. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/education/2030/oecd-education-2030-position-paper.pdf

Photo Credit: OECD

What is Pedalgogy?

Pedalgogy

Hello! We are Matthew and Niamh, two new bloggers for TIE.

Bicycle touring
Photo Credit: Erik Peterson Photography

Working hard in international schools definitely has its rewards. We are spending our savings on a life-long dream of combining a bicycle ride around the world with an education project. We are enjoying the daily physical challenge of pedalling across all kinds of terrain in all types of weather while raising awareness of Prader Willi Syndrome. The people that we meet and cultures that we learn about along the way give further meaning to this endeavour. Our desire to travel was fuelled by a shared interest in global citizenship. We have previously run a Global Citizens after-school club which enabled us to build the foundations of a story sharing website for children around the world. Our hope is to visit schools along our route to gather more stories and transform this website into a valuable, interactive resource for teachers. Lots more detail can be found at www.pedalgogy.net and www.tedweb.org.Ted Web

We will be blogging about a range of topics including:

1. Tales from the Road

2. Education Project

3. An Economists Take

4. Selected Ramblings

5. Beautiful Places and Moments

6. Lovely Mapping

7. Biking Stuff

8. Hacks and Recipes

9. The Reasons

Bicycle touring

Follow us on our Facebook page: Pedalgogy

Videos from our bicycle travels can be found on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsG7n5CjPz3zj-muSezAWuA

Looking forward to being part of the TIE community!

2018

Photo JM
Nyon, Vaud, Switzerland.

As the first days of 2018 arrive, any reflections on last year seem to contain an uncomfortable rawness because of the events continuously populating our devices – the immediacy, brutality and complexity of a world fueled by- FakeNews?”, each one of us trying to construct a context in the “Filter Bubble” choreographed by algorithms from which we build a sense of the world we live in.

As International School educators, we straddle between the walled garden of “school” and the outside “world”. The reality is that we are surrounded by constant change and ambiguity. But there is a gap between the accelerated rate of change and our capacity to adapt to it. For some, the gap is wide. For others, the gap stays the same, and for a few, the gap is narrowing. How we interpret and engage with the gap and our own capacity to keep up influences many of our feelings and emotions. These in turn fuel the perceptions, opinions and behaviors with which we express ourselves.

International Schools have to juggle the fine line between ensuring students and parents are pleased and ensuring that they feel safe, challenged and cared for. In the unique world of International Schools, a percentage of parents come from a comfortable socio- economic environment. Often times, their education is a contributing factor to their current positions. This education provided the opportunities for their successes and their economic prosperity. Living with this becomes a strong marker in what International School parents believe their children should get from an education and an International School. This pedagogic reference point in many cases 25+ years old. The world was a very very different place then. However we try as schools to innovate, change and adapt, we do this with a level of caution and reservation. At the end of the day, the invisible mandate between parents and international schools, is “provide my child with stability, continuity, what I remember from my school days and more certainty then I have in my life today“.

As educators, we fall into a similar narrative. We have a desire for of stability, continuity, and more certainty than in the outside world we interact with. We do innovate and change in our schools, but the presence of the invisible mandate between our parents and schools influences the level by which we break the status quo.

Photo JM
St. Cergue Switzerland

Today the level of stability, continuity, and certainty that we were once used to has eroded. Uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility are an unavoidable part of the day. The complexity of this change permeates into everyone’s lives, and often not by choice.

2018, is an opportunity to embrace the world’s uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility, not as something eroding our past and challenging our present, but as an opportunity to re-frame the possibilities in front of us as a unique and rich learning journey. We have a responsibility to take this on in our roles as mentors, facilitators and educators. We bring a wisdom, resilience and care that has served us well and can continue to serve us today. Many of our students will one day be International School parents or educators who look back at their education as a point of reference for their own success. The measures will be different. We live in a world where uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility are part of our lives. We should not depend on reference points from our past to give us stability, continuity and certainty. The gap for many will still get bigger and more uncomfortable. But hopefully, in 2018, we can work to bridge that gap as well.

John Mikton @beyonddigital.org

Innovation and Creativity

I am writing this week’s posting from 44G, my assigned seat on the plane returning me to Brasilia. It has been nearly two weeks since I departed from Brazil to attend a series of international teacher recruitment fairs, planning meetings, conferences, professional development workshops, and school visits. As with any professional trip of this nature, the challenge with the follow-up is to determine how best to consolidate and apply the essential outcomes within the context of our school’s ongoing growth and development strategies. To that end, the concepts of creativity and innovation, among several other resulting focus areas, emerged as one of the dominant themes of this trip.

During a retreat hosted by the Academy for International School Heads, the school directors in attendance agreed to the American School of Bombay’s proposed working definition for the word innovation:

Innovation: an idea, practice, or object perceived as new by an individual, team, organization, or community.

Equipped with this definition, the directors were then asked to rank the following industries from the most innovative and relevant to the least:

Agriculture, Communications, Education, Entertainment, Medicine, and Military.

While a debate about the ranking order ensued, there was a general consensus that education was the least innovative among this list of industries. While the reasons for this are varied and complex, it is clear that inhibitors to innovation in education can be attributed to two key areas: (i) the challenge of teaching in a manner that is different from how teachers were taught; (ii) overcoming the adult expectation for children to learn in a manner that is similar to how these same adults learned as students.

David Burkus’ book, The Myths of Creativity, presents the metaphor of a mousetrap, which may be used to better understand the challenge of innovation in schools. While the catchphrase, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” may be widely believed as a fact, is not necessarily true. Our initial reaction to an innovative idea is usually to reject or ignore the idea. Burkus emphasizes, “Creative ideas, by their very nature, invite judgment. People need to know if the value promised by the new idea is worth the abandonment of the old.”

Since the original and current version of the spring-loaded mousetrap was patented in 1899, over forty-four hundred new versions of a mousetrap have been patented, with several identified as more effective than the original. Yet, it is the original model that continues to be the most popular. Why? Burkus highlights several other examples of resistance to key innovative ideas, such as Kodak’s rejection of their own digital camera invention in 1975, as Kodak did not believe people would prefer digital to film pictures. Sony, in contrast, is now a digital photography industry leader, and has been a key benefactor of Kodak’s inability to embrace its own innovation.

According to Burkus, our natural tendency is to inherently reject innovation, resist change, and act with bias against new ideas, the later of which has been established through validated psychological research. Based on these arguments and the deep, personal nature of education, it is easy to see why education is ranked as one of the least innovative industries. So, how do we move forward in the face of these challenges? Burkus again provides us with helpful advice:

“It’s not enough to merely generate great ideas. Though we live in a world of complex challenges and our organizations need innovative solutions, we also live in a world biased against creative ideas. It’s not enough for an organization to have creative people; it has to develop a culture that doesn’t reject great ideas. It’s not enough for people to learn how to be more creative; they also need to be persistent through the rejection they might face.”

I am not alone in my belief that education is currently undergoing a transformative change process representative of an inflection point in the history of educational reform. While we can speculate, no one can be certain about where this change process will eventually lead us. Only time will determine which of the current innovations in the world of education will prove to be highly effective and become standard practice. EAB is no exception to facing this challenge. However, there are innovative approaches, such as EAB’s new assessment policy, the focus on collaborative learning and associated learning spaces, like the iCommons, that educational research has established and validated as best practices.

Like other industries, education will continue to face challenges associated with establishing and embracing an effective culture of creativity and innovation. Based on Burkus’ work, it is probable that several key innovations, which would likely lead to significant improvements in education, may not come to fruition in the near future. However, we also know that some innovative ideas will be accepted and will soon be recognized as standard practice. By way of example, it is predicted that, in the near future, the pervasive use of technology in learning environments will be second nature, rather than new and innovative.

As I submit this note for publication from seat 44G, I can’t help but reflect on Burkus’ theories about our inherent nature to reject innovation in the context of my current travels. How outlandish it must have seemed when someone first proposed the idea of passengers sending email messages from their airplane seats while jetting across the sky.

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Reference: Burkus, D. (2013). The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas. John Wiley & Sons.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) flickr photo by Morten F
Flying from Copenhagen to Oslo https://www.flickr.com/photos/glimt1916/15506061634

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.