The exchange of ideas

I had the privilege of opening the Building Learning Communities conference (#BLC12) in Boston last week with Alan November from November Learning – an international leader in education technology. BLC started with a group of 20 friends and has grown into an international exchange of ideas with over 90 workshops presented throughout the three days. Despite its enormous growth, BLC aims to maintain its early roots by bringing together thought leaders and educators to share ideas and create partnerships to help expand the boundaries of learning and teaching.

There was a great energy in the room on our first day with over 1,000 educators and teachers gathered from 20 countries. The opening session was designed to change the game plan and rethink our first engagement with students. Alan launched November Learning’s 1st5Days project, with the aim of creating a global, online professional learning community focused on changing students’ experience in the first five days of school. Using the power of crowdsourcing, Alan hopes to start an international conversation about how teachers and leaders can transform the start of each school year for learners, to focus and engage students in learning from the very first moments.

As I commented in the opening sessions, often the first five days of school, even the start of each school term, can be taken up with organisation, administration and management instead of learning. I shared the example of a New Zealand colleague who used local fire fighters to inspire his students on the first day of school. One of our own principals, Attila Lendvai from St Canice’s Primary in Katoomba, does a similar thing by creating a ‘wow’ moment for students and staff to engage them in a new learning focus from the first day of each term.

I think the first five days project will provide a great source of inspiration for teachers and leaders and has the potential to really challenge and transform the way we traditionally approach the start of the year; certainly an exchange of ideas worth participating in via Twitter #1st5Days or to register visit

My Catholic Education colleagues, Anna Dickinson, Gary Brown and Paul Meldrum and I led two workshops at BLC2012 on the theme, Learning by Inquiring, which focused on three key elements for schooling: Imagination, Creativity and Innovation.

It seems obvious for learning to always start with a process of inquiry. Too often perhaps, this is not the case and our traditional approach to learning and teacher learning has been focused more on recitation of facts or information gathering rather than inquiry.

Fortunately, as educators we know a whole lot more today about how people learn. Through the work of Bransford et al we now understand that powerful learning requires knowledge of the learner’s context; building connections between concepts; and the opportunity to engage in metacognition or reflecting on what and how we learn. This process enables deep learning and allows the learner to apply what they have learned to a range of contexts – essential in today’s world.

What does this have to do with imagination, creativity and innovation?

Learning theory - imagination creativity and innovationIf we consider the learning theory in the context of making schooling more relevant and effective for today’s learners we can identify a process for our own work as teachers and leaders – ‘the HOW’ – through the lens of Imagination, Creativity and Innovation.


Imagination – is about looking at the current model of schooling; identifying what is relevant and what is no longer relevant to today’s learner/world; and imagining new approaches = RELEVANCE

Creativity – is about exploration and discovery; playing in the sandpit; the testing and trialing of different approaches using a range of tools = ENGAGEMENT

Innovation – is about monitoring and reflecting on what works and what doesn’t; sharing innovative practice; allowing innovation to take hold and taking it to scale = APPLICATION

This can’t be achieved in an adhoc way. We need a clear intent, a well defined theory of action based on sound educational research and practice, and a framework for building capacity within schools supported by leadership. In our own diocese, this has been an iterative process for our schools based on their individual needs and within their local contexts.

‘The HOW’ is about creating the space to consider new possibilities, to tinker with those possibilities and to learn from what fails and to measure and share what works. The beauty of today’s tools means sharing innovation isn’t limited to just across the classroom or the staffroom, but across the globe.

Through collaboration and the exchange of ideas with other teachers and school communities we are able to benefit from the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ and share our own wisdom to benefit our students’ learning. The old adage says ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ In the 21st Century it takes a global, connected, learning community.

In the closing session with Alan November, I presented the proposition to educators for the need to ‘start yesterday’. In responding to the challenges of schooling in today’s world there is a need for urgency. It’s not simply a question of tweaking what we already have but looking at new models and new approaches. The only way to achieve this is through a process of learning by inquiring i.e. imagination, creativity, innovation. It is key for sustained change, engagement and improvement in learning and teaching.

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