Apple Institute 2013

Last week I had the privilege of attending the 2013 Apple Institute in Bali as part of the Apple Distinguished Educators program. As a new ADE at first I was unsure of what to expect. Having attended many conferences and study tours in the past, there were feelings of nervous anticipation about what I had got myself into. The lead up to the institute involved some course work and preparation through the participation in an iTunesU course, which on reflection was a great way to prepare for a weeks worth of professional learning and networking. On arrival in Bali we were welcomed and certainly made aware of the expectations for the week ahead. The nerves soon passed as excitement and energy built with the opening address in true Apple style. There were a number of opportunities to meet new ADEs and begin our professional learning networks. With a mixture of workshops, keynotes and personal project time, the week seemed to fly. A highlight was a workshop by Bill Frakes from sports Illustrated/CNN. Bill shared his life’s work around photography and the many connections to learning and following your passions…simply amazing! For me the message was about the power of story through the use of video and pictures, and allowing students to be creative in order to make learning relevant to their lives. Bills workshop has encouraged me to investigate further forms of photography and ways this medium could be used in schools to drive innovation and creativity. As the week unfolded we were challenged to think differently from many educators with inspiring stories about how their schools and learning communities have embraced Apple technologies to enhance and make learning more powerful.

My 3 take aways from the Institute

Learning and teaching in todays world is not about technology it’s about the how of learning and the ability of individuals to rethink schooling

The power of developing relationship with like minded people can never be underestimated- all teachers should have this opportunity

Our schools and learning communities can be different in terms of size and systems but our challenges are very similar and relevant when it comes to technology integration and learning design

While the institute has now concluded, I sense the learning and networking may just be beginning to unfold. Already there is a real buzz on the twittersphere as we reflect on what just took place and the amazing community we are now part of. I look forward to the new learnings and ideas ahead as we go about our work of making our schools powerful places of learning for our communities.

Rethinking Relevance

Recently I presented to a group of Teacher Education students about the concept of thinking differently about teaching in todays schools and the power technology can bring to the our learning environments. I spoke about the need for collaborative learning approaches and the expectation now that we must work in TEAMS to go about our daily work. More so than ever we must rethink our work and learning spaces and we need to ask ourselves a simple question- As a teacher what do I need to know and be able to do, in order to be relevant?

Research into Professional Learning supports the view that schools can no longer afford the luxury of separating professional development activities from the ongoing realities of teachers’ work (Johnson, 1999, p.13.) Teachers need to adopt a learning approach that is ‘relevant’ for our time. Learning can happen anywhere, anytime and with anyone. As leaders and teachers we must clarify our learning needs and source others to support us in doing so. Twitter, blogs, YouTube, iTunesU, Apps make up the new learning landscape for teachers and leaders of schools.

Scull (1997), Johnson and Scull (1998) list ten characteristics of effective learning teams. While their research is somewhat dated the evidence is clear. We must think differently about our needs as learners and work in new ways.

If capacity building is to be effective and influence school transformation then it needs to be built into the life cycle and culture of schools as learning communities. These characteristics listed by Johnson and Scull are effective and work if the school culture embraces the ideas. A school’s culture must foster an atmosphere that supports teachers, students, and parents to know where they fit in and how they can work as a community to support teaching and learning. Creating a school culture requires instructional leaders to develop a shared vision that is clearly communicated and built on actions. Additionally, principals must create a climate that encourages shared authority and responsibility if they are to build a positive school culture (MacNeil and Maclin, 2005).

10 characteristics of learning teams

  1. Learning teams require a reason to learn and a purpose to engage in collaborative professional development practices. Projects provide reason and purpose, and allow an integrated approach to the implementation of curriculum improvement.
  2. Learning team projects are best focused on collective responsibility for producing more effective learning for ALL students.
  3. Learning teams benefit from a combination of outside-provided and work-embedded support
  4. Effective learning teams practise many forms of collaboration and systematic reflection on practice.
  5. A sense of ‘personal productive challenge’ and a balance between pressure and support characterizes the work of effective learning teams.
  6. Learning teams require knowledgeable, skilled and supportive formal leadership
  7. Successful learning teams address the tensions inherent in the formal leader’s role and in the personal and professional relationships within the learning team
  8. In effective learning teams all members consider themselves to be change agents and leaders
  9. When challenged by a change proposal, effective learning teams practise ‘mutual adaptation’ and stay in control while implementing change for the purpose of improvement
  10. Learning teams implement change in ways and at rates different from one another


Creativity and the Workplace

Companies, business organisations and workplaces are full of people with talents, passions and great ideas, many untapped and unidentified. The structures of current day organisations often have people go about their work with little connection to their everyday life and living. All too often you hear people say “in my real life I…. What I would like to challenge is that we need to rethink our workplaces and find ways of using peoples talents and passions to drive innovation and creativity.

In education and more specifically schools we have an abundance of talented and creative people. It is what we do with these talents and how we harness people’s capacities that can make a difference in our schools. John Cleeses talk (see below) illustrates this beautifully when he refers to closed and open thinking. Often in our day to day work we operate in a closed thinking mode due to the nature of working environments. Many workplaces are systems of top down structures, where the BOSS thinks of an idea and brings that to a meeting for the followers to implement. It’s only when we get outside our comfort zone and become open in our thinking that true creativity in our work can flourish. Schools are places of huge potential for open thinking models of work and learning. Innovation can happen every day. Schools can be places of “open think tanks”, innovation and creative work.

  • How often is your talent or passion used in your day to day work life?
  • Could a person’s talents actually make your organisation better?
  • How much opportunity is there to “play” in your workplace?

Creativity in the classroom- a recent article in Mind Shift – How to Turn Your Classroom into an Idea Factory

Good projects start with good questions. Listen closely to students to find out what makes them curious. Instead of presenting them with ready-made assignments, invite student feedback when you are designing projects. Make sure your driving questions for projects involve real-world issues that students care about investigating.
Projects offer an ideal context to develop students’ collaboration skills, but make sure teamwork doesn’t feel contrived. If projects are too big for any one student to manage alone, team members will have a real reason to rely on each other’s contributions. Teach students how to break a big project into manageable pieces and bring out the best ideas from everyone on the team. Offer them examples of innovations (from the Mars rover to the iPad) that wouldn’t have been possible without team efforts.
Innovators have a tendency to think big. They know how to use social networking tools to make a worthy idea go viral. Encourage students to share their projects with audiences beyond the classroom, using digital tools like YouTube or online publishing sites. Help them build networks to exchange ideas with peers and learn from experts around the globe.
Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Innovators who have empathy can step outside their own perspective and see issues from multiple viewpoints. Approaching a problem this way leads to better solutions. Teach students strategies for making field observations, conducting focus groups or user interviews, or gathering stories that offer insights into others’ perspectives.
Passion is what keeps innovators motivated to persist despite long odds and flawed first efforts. Find out what drives students’ interests during out-of-school time, and look for opportunities to connect these pursuits with school projects. Ask students: When you feel most creative, what are you doing? What tools or technologies are you using? Their answers should set the stage for more engaging projects.
In today’s flat world, where access to information is ubiquitous, innovation can happen anywhere. Opportunities to support good ideas are also getting flattened. Philanthropy and venture funding, once reserved for the wealthy, have been crowdsourced with online platforms like Kiva ( and Kickstarter ( To participate fully in the culture of innovation, students need to be able to do more than generate their own ideas. They also need to know how to critically evaluate others’ brainstorms and decide which ones are worth supporting. Develop classroom protocols for students to critically evaluate each other’s ideas. They may decide to throw their collective energy behind one promising idea or pull components from multiple teams into a final project.
Being a critical thinker also means being able to spot ideas that aren’t ready for prime time. Bold new ideas may have bugs that need to be worked out. An approach that appears to be a game-changer may be too expensive for the benefits it affords or may have unanticipated consequences. Give students opportunities to look for potential pitfalls and know when to say no.
Will students come up with breakthrough ideas in every project? Probably not, but you can encourage them to stretch their thinking by setting ambitious goals. What would students be able to do or demonstrate if they were truly operating as innovators?  Provide them with real-world examples by sharing stories of innovators from many fields, including social innovators who tackle wicked problems like poverty or illiteracy. Share the back stories of breakthroughs to show how much effort went into each inspired idea. Let students know they can’t expect to reach breakthrough solutions to every problem they tackle. Finding out what doesn’t work can be a useful outcome, too. Genuine innovation is indeed rare—but worth recognizing and celebrating when it happens.