Steve Jobs had a profound influence on the world of technology. One could argue that under his leadership Apple redefined the user experience so much so that technology has seamlessly integrated with every aspect of our lives.
Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson has written a concise piece in this month’s Harvard Business Review on the Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs. While it relates to Jobs’ business philosophy, I think there are always valuable lessons for educational leaders and teachers.
According to Issacson, ‘focus was ingrained in Jobs’ personality’ and he would often ask his top employees to identify 10 things that Apple should be doing. When the list was complete, he would cut it back to just three ideas. Jobs believed that “deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” How many of those ‘additions’ to the curriculum or classroom over the years have had a positive impact on student learning? Michael Fullan has often told us that when schools/systems focus on three goals and commit to achieving them, you get results.
The second is simplify. Jobs aimed for the ‘simplicity that comes from conquering, rather than merely ignoring, complexity.” He regcongised the importance of understanding the role ‘each element’ plays. Expert teachers ‘simplify’ the complex in the way they organise and use content knowledge. As John Hattie says, expert teachers understand the various elements that promote or restrict student success and respond accordingly.
The third is engage face to face. Jobs believed in the spontanaeity of face to face meetings. The article states that Jobs even designed the Pixar building to promote ‘unplanned encounters and collaborations.’ This is why the way we design schools and learning spaces is critical. We know that stimulus rich environments stimulate learning. Secondly, agile learning spaces offer opportunities for teachers and students to work, plan and learn together. I saw this in action recently when I visited Parramatta Marist as boys sat around a table working on project based learning. Jobs recognised the creative possibilities when people engage to solve problems.
The fourth is combine humanities with science. Isaacson says the essence of Jobs’ life was bringing humanities and science together. This is what a 21st century curriculum aims to do – the integration of everything intended to promote students’ critical thinking and learning. It balances the various aspects of learning by focussing on the practical, social, aesthetic and creative aspects of human endeavour. Isaacson predicts that the key to building innovative economies will be the intersection of humanities and science.
The last is stay hungry, stay foolish. Jobs was a perfectionist who continually pushed the boundaries. Good teachers continually push the boundaries because they are passionate about their work. Thinking differently and taking risks are the norm if it means understanding how to teach more effectively. At a system level, staying hungry is about keeping the momentum going – the desire to continually improve the quality of learning and teaching even if it challenges the status quo.