Do we have insanely great learning? What does it look like? Can we describe it using the power of story? Can we act as if this is going to be a transformational year for our classroom, our school, and our organization? These are the challenges from Nigel Barlow, author of the book Re-Think: How to think differently and keynote speaker at the recent Apple Canada Educational Leadership Institute. I was fortunate to hear Nigel speak on innovation in leadership and how to be more adventurous in achieving your goals.
“You can create or invent a more successful future for your organization,” encourages Nigel Barlow. The key is to have a possibility mindset where you think, “Why not?” or “What if?” rather than “Yes, but…” Steve Jobs wanted to create “insanely great products.” Design was important to him and the team at Apple. They wanted to design the icons to be so aesthetically pleasing that people would want to lick them off the ipad. The image sticks with you. Can we create our vision of the future of learning with the same kind of intense metaphor? Can we write the future of learning as a series of stories? What would “insanely great learning” look like for students? And what does “insanely great teaching” look like? Am I providing “insanely great leadership?”
In our work, do we use the power of story to invent the future? As Barlow states, “Stories communicate the future in a way that bulletin points will not do.” He gives the example of the Good Samaritan. Jesus could have used a mission statement like “Be kind” but instead chose to invoke the power of the story. Story has an emotional and visionary impact. Story can touch our hearts and minds and move us in such a way that we want to live the story.
In Barlow’s session, we did not work on creating a mission or vision for our organization. Instead, he walked us through some story instructions for “Inventing our Future.” We worked in teams at our table to identify the most inspiring and exciting ideas that struck us during the Institute. We were to record these and use them as the ‘Ingredients Of Our Story.’ This was a crucial step to the story. Then the group had to choose a viewpoint from inside or outside the school (eg. student, teacher, parent, etc.) and weave our ideas into a brief ‘Day in the Life’ set ahead two years in time. He asked us to ensure it was achievable but push out the boundaries, to use humour and creativity and focus on attitudinal and behavioural changes. The teams shared out at the end of the session, either reading the stories or showing the movies that each group had created. It was some intense work but allowed people to invent a future that capitalized on some of the fabulous ideas we had explored throughout the conference.
I met with a small group recently and used Nigel Barlow’s ideas to talk about Creating a Legend for Insanely Great Learning. The slideshare includes some of his ideas and also two links to videos where Barlow shares his ideas.
This was an opportunity for those in the room to think about their work in fresh ways. One leader found the session “therapeutic…very refreshing.” Another participant described it as “just what they needed.” The session was designed to be an opportunity to create some dissonance, push against some organizational stereotypes and ponder some different possibilities. We need to take more opportunities to pause and think about our work in reflective ways that allow us to move forward. It was fascinating to see how one principal in the room was already creating the story of the future. She was learning iMovie: filming teachers and students in their great learning moments as a way to capture the story of her school going forward.
What does insanely great learning look like? Can you tell the story? Are you living the story? Is this a transformational year for you, your class, your school and the district?
Perhaps T.E. Lawrence was more prophetic that we realize:
“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”
Credit for the ideas in this post go to Nigel Barlow. Thanks to Apple Canada for inviting me to the Educational Leadership Institute. Thanks to Donna Vansant for her help in pulling some of these pieces together for presentation to my f2f network.