Think differently about how you think…

Over the Xmas break I read a book by Carmine Gallo called ‘The Innovation secrets of Steve Jobs.‘ The book delves deep into the mindset of Steve Jobs and how he created an environment for innovation, selected the right people for innovation and outlines some of the characteristics that made Steve Jobs and Apple arguably one of the most innovative companies ever.

Reading the book I was able to draw a lot of comparisons with teaching and it made me think about how I can be a more effective innovator in the classroom. I am constantly trying to be innovative in my teaching strategies, SoW, e.t.c. to engage learners whilst battling to provide some consistency. I think it is a fine line between innovation that adds value and being innovative for the sake of being innovative. I often try out new methods and technologies with a vision of improving the learning experience of the student. But how often do we try to be innovative without any clear vision? Is there value in this? I will certainly hold my hand up and say that a few of my lessons have fallen down due to not fully thinking through ideas and trying things in a caffeine fuelled rage. It’s nice to be able to share new ideas and technologies with colleagues (where we think they may add value), but how often do we stop and say “actually it’s probably best to just use some paper…” rather then trawl iTunes for another new app. I think the point I’m trying to make (I’m sure there was one when I starting writing this post…) is how can we innovate more efficiently? What if there were small things we could do on a daily basis that sparked creativity and aided innovation…

One of the areas of the book that really struck a chord was a section that explored ‘The Innovator’s DNA.’ This covered four main areas that I plan to look at in a bit more detail…

Gallo says “Innovators get a kick out of questioning the status quo. Researchers found that successful innovators spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about how to change the world. More specifically, when they brainstorm, they ask questions such as, “If we did this, what would happen?” Michael Dell said his idea for Dell Computer sprang up after he asked himself “Why does a computer cost five times as much as the sum of its parts?””

As reflective practitioners, teachers are constantly questioning what they are doing, how their students are performing and what possible improvements can be made to further enhance learning. Asking the right questions during reflective periods could lead to more innovative solutions.


Gallo says “Successful innovators engage in ‘active’ experimentation, whether its intellectual exploration, physical tinkering, or seeking out new surroundings.”

Most teachers get the opportunity to speak with colleagues outside of their subject areas on a daily basis, but how often do they get the opportunity to experience teaching and learning in different schools? How often do you come across a new idea for teaching and learning and act on it? Experiment with it in lessons? How often do you associate ideas and strategies from other professions with teaching?

Gallo says “Most people think of networking as handing out business cards… Researchers found that innovators do network, but not in the traditional sense. Instead, they surround themselves with interesting people who expand their domain of knowledge.”

Networking is something I think some teachers do really well (if your reading this blog post chances are you came across my tweet!) using Twitter and attending TeachMeets up and down the country. However I think to truly aid innovative thinking you need to also consider looking outside your profession. “The more people you network with outside your chosen field, the more connections you’ll make that could lead to a breakthrough idea.”

Gallo says “Innovators watch people carefully, especially the behaviour of potential customers. It’s during these times of observation that successful innovators seem to discover their chief breakthrough.”

A great example of this from Gallo’s book is Intel. Intel hire anthropologists who “can be found visiting small villages in India, living families in Malaysia or watching students in a classroom.” Intel use the anthropologists to view the world through the eyes of their customer to ensure they build products that are compatible with the everyday lives of average people.

In teaching the word observation is often met with a worried stare on the face of the teacher to be observed. Observations should be embraced as way to improve teaching and learning and a chance to get real feedback on what you doing. Observing is an extremely powerful tool and works best when carried out regularly and also if the person being observed gets the chance to observe people. The more observations you can get involved in outside of your department and school the better! Observing a 10 minute section of a lesson inside/outside of your specialism could ‘jump start’ the creative process for you and help improve your teaching and learning strategies.

Next steps…

Here’s a few practical things (taken from Gallo’s book) you can do to kick start the innovator inside of you!

1. Spend 15 minutes a day asking questions that challenge the status quo. Instead of asking “How,” use questions that begin with “Why” and “What if.”

2. Seek out new experiences. If you typically read nonfiction books try fiction. Volunteer for local events that have nothing to do with your job. Take every opportunity to travel and use these new experiences to leverage or kick start the creative process.

3. In school try speaking with colleagues outside of your department to get fresh viewpoints on ideas. Outside of school try speaking to non-teachers to hear their point of view.

Here’s a couple of really innovative ideas around teaching and school improvement:

Tait Coles – Punk Learning

Ben Keeling – My School Improvement Doodle Book



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