How to Come Up With Great Ideas and actually make them happen
Written by Vlatka Butković
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If You Don’t Put An Idea Into Practice in The Next Two Weeks…
I met Ewan McIntosh at the CEESA 2015 Annual Conference. He hosted a whole-day pre- conference workshop there, and I was lucky enough to choose his workshop as the first ever to attend at that conference, or at any of the CEESA conferences, for that matter. What an introduction to the world of CEESA that was!
Right from the start of his session, you could tell that he was someone who spent years in the classroom, and you got that feeling that his students were lucky to have him as a teacher. His ideas were familiar, the twists to the standard practices logical, designed in a way that you were jealous you hadn’t come up with them before. More than anything, they were easily adaptable to any classroom environment. They invited students to critical thinking, deep analysis of the topic, they provided freedom that educates future creative individuals, and made students get immersed in the subject. They were fun!
At the end of that 2015 CEESA conference in beautiful Dubrovnik, a sentence said by the keynote speaker Michael Furdyk stuck in my head, glued to everything I had learned from Ewan, and that combination of Michael’s call to action and the ease Ewan’s ideas seemed to bring, forever changed the practice in my school:
“If you don’t put an idea into practice in the next two weeks, you never will.”
And so it happened. On the very first Monday after the conference, I started teaching differently. For example, My students were given a pile of small pieces of papers in two colours: one to mark the topics they didn’t like in the textbook, the other to mark their favourites. We made the selection and assigned the tasks to them according to their individual choices.
I presented the idea of a change to other teachers. We quickly developed few initial steps we could integrate in the classes immediately and test them from then (mid-March) till the end of the school year. Our students’ results had already been great for years (the school was founded in 1990) and it was time they felt more involved in their learning process. We got our students included in the decisions over the topics, they suggested various practical exercises, we loosened some of the demands and put the stress on the ones they saw were of greater importance to them etc. It brought everything to a whole new level. Among other benefits, it resulted in 13 ESL textbooks that my colleague and I have written in the following years. The content was largely chosen by our students, the graphic design was tested with them, and the approach to each topic has been open to the input of every new generation ever since.
Why am I saying all that in this review? Well, everything that has made such an impact on me and a few thousand of students and a few dozens of teachers since then, is written in this book.
It’s About Teamwork
Ewan makes a connection between various industries and education. It makes sense to learn from one another, and soon an obvious question surfaces: why does industry adapt so readily, and school system doesn’t? Why is innovation in industry seen as something that is valuable, cherished, built upon, whereas in education it seems that although it is needed, it is seen as too disruptive and too complicated to be (fully) implemented?
This book provides numerous examples of efficient approaches to the process of bringing innovation to schools, all tested, all successful and none of them merely theoretical. It explains that innovation does not happen because of one visionary, but because of the leadership capable of recognising the right people to have an idea implemented, tested, challenged… In order to achieve that, Ewan offers various steps for successful dialogues within the teams, supported by the stories about why and where those steps worked, what changes they had brought in the long term, leaving it to you to make your choice of the right tool.
“One of the key things we tend to associate with innovation is coming up with ideas. We will see in the course of our innovation journey that this is a relatively short and swift part of a process that, first and foremost, is about identifying very specifically the people whom we can work to benefit the most.”
Learning Nests is just one of the systems/terms Ewan mentions for a successful tool to gather ideas, store them in a visible place and have them sit there until the right time comes to either use them or toss them. It pictures well the safe space for the involvement of anyone who wants to participate in the ideation process. This is how he sees a school open to new ideas (and learning from those ideas):
“I’d love to see school reception area walls coated with the thinking that has led to the innovations in learning and policy to which parents, students and the wider community can still have a chance to contribute. For the schools we work with they do indeed dedicate a wall space that becomes a working wall.”
There are many innovative teachers whose ideas live only in their classrooms. Although their students benefit from them, it may be considered a failure because their ideas are isolated, they have not been tested in different environments, and other teachers may feel isolated from them. This book offers many ways to avoid that, invites you to recognise an idea worth sharing, lets you doubt it, teaches you how to approach it and explains various possible outcomes.
“The problem with strategy in schools is that we don’t even build a great idea – we just write it down….The difference between startups that start and keep going and startups that never get started is that the founders of them, the people with the idea, work hard to recruit people to their cause.”
You Are the Change
There are changes that need to be approved by a board, implemented in curriculums, decided upon by several levels of decision making. And then there are changes that a teacher can bring singlehandedly, the ones that can start with your next lesson. Try something new, test it, discuss it with your students and present it to your colleagues. See what they think. Agree with them, disagree, use the tools presented in this book and grow your idea into the first step of a change.
After reading Ewan’s book, a world of possibilities opens, maybe even a world of greater responsibilities where we as teachers are aware that the changes that need to be made as soon as possible (we are already late), are the changes that we owe to our students. This is where the similarities with startups end. Because generations to come depend on our readiness to come up with one (by one) great idea.
‘Don’t think too hard, try the experiment.’
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