Three challenges with innovation in an educational setting

Three challenges with innovation in an educational setting

The BSN, along with many other educational settings, is managing steady growth with an imaginative approach but there are plenty of pitfalls surrounding education, innovation and building with the future in mind. Here are three early challenges that we are facing with our approach to solving them:

Challenge 1: No compromise on standards

It is vital that our current students remain our top priority whilst we engage in planning for the future.

Academic progress, service delivery and exam outcomes remain the key metrics for students and parents.

Making decisions about the future is especially challenging – particularly when you are influencing the lives of children who will be inhabiting that future. We have to deliver the best “present” for our children first and foremost and be very careful about making assumptions about what the next 20 years will look like.

Solution 1:  It’s all about the learning

Make sure that whatever you are proposing addresses the question about how the development is going to improve learning outcomes. There is little doubt that well designed learning environments add to the productivity and well-being of students and staff:

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-16-21-41This RIBA study based research on post-occupation evaluation

There is also little doubt that architectural principles have developed considerably in the last ten years to embrace sustainable practice, the use of new materials and an increased understanding of educational contexts.

Challenge 2: What does the future look like?

When change looks like nothing people have ever seen before, we have to understand that questions will flow free and fast. Everyone will have an opinion but no-one can accurately predict the future.

Putting aside the sometimes distracting claims of futurologists, we need to consider how our children and community are living and working now – not when we were at school. Which tools are being used for learning? How is time being used? Which media are influencing thinking?

Solution 2: Read widely, ask your students and wider community. 

In my last post I reviewed “Mind Change” by Susan Greenfield. Concerns about the impact of our virtual lives can lead to us to forget the benefits we all enjoy and take for granted now.

Without the internet how would we share our thinking?

In the C19th the sharing of ideas took place via pamphlets. Did all of those experiencing the paradigmatic shift of the industrial revolution actually know what was going on while they were living through it? Even if they did, and made accurate interpretations of the consequences, was there equality of access to these opinions – to this thinking? Of course not. There was a highly stratified, selective view presented.

The internet has democratised the realm of thinking. Once we get beyond the red-herrings, trivia and narcissism the problem solving potential of the connected thinking available now is extraordinary. These connections would never have been possible previously.

For example, this is a brilliant book. It was recommended by @TeacherToolkit (after leading and sharing a school build process) and tweeted by a colleague at the BSN, Richard Human. This was a conversation and information that I just wouldn’t have had without the internet and Twitter.


Planning a school build? Read this.

Also, be comforted by the fact that our children and young people get new concepts, see new opportunities and understand how things can work for them very quickly. Involving students throughout the process ensures we keep challenge 1 in focus and helps create the important “ownership” that characterises a successful project.



Year 6 ideas from Junior School Vlaskamp

The future is only a few moments away from our present. Or as cyber-punk novellist William Gibson put it: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” 

Challenge 3: Communication

However carefully we think through the communication process, we know that someone somewhere is going to arrive at a unique interpretation and present a perspective that hasn’t previously been considered.

It is also natural when asked to think about change in a community to which you belong to immediately project the impact this may have on you personally. We’re only human.

Teachers are spending lots of energy on compliance based change within the curriculum; engaging colleagues’ energy and imagination is a challenge. Initially there may appear to be many more reasons to protect the status quo than to pursue a project representing change.

Solution 3: Get help from a variety of sources

Opening discussions enables us to discover assumptions and really listen to the priorities and thinking of the community. This should help the organisation make better decisions. What’s missing? Are you with me? Do we have any blind spots?

In addition to conversations with staff and students, I have meetings set up with some of our parents who have the professional expertise to help us articulate our vision.

People generally understand that every conversation adds something to the overall thinking behind a project without expecting to see their ideas set in stone. Every iteration helps clarify objectives and solutions.

On a personal level, keeping everyone on board, whilst moving at pace, whilst not “bouncing” people into decisions, whilst doing everything else that is required in a school leadership position is a challenge. Solution: embrace the pressure and stick at it!

Do you have experience of a #FutureSchool design process?