Log in

FORUM: What does innovation look like in your school? | An Enabling e-Learning event

Started by Nathaniel Louwrens 16 Mar 2016 9:24am () Replies (81)

Innovation in schools of any type needs to start with the idea that the goal is not to force kids to abandon their passions and interests for our curriculum.

- Will Richardson, Stop innovating in schools. Please.

blue orange Dictionary.com defines innovation as:

  1. Something new or different introduced

  2. The act of innovating; introduction of new things or methods.

There is so much innovation going on in our schools. Leaders and teachers are coming up with new ideas, and new ways of doing things all the time. But what innovation looks like to one school could be completely different for another as each school has different goals and philosophies.

George Couros states in Innovation and best practice, that his “belief is that innovation in teaching and learning starts with empathy; truly trying to understand those that you serve.” He expands on this to say that it’s “not only a starting point, but a continuous part of the process”.

As with all things in schools, we need to ensure that student learning is foremost on our mind. This includes in how we innovate. Will Richardson made this very clear when he says,

To put it simply, innovation in schools today is far too focused on improving teaching, not amplifying learning.


Join the discussion

  • What does innovation look like to you?

  • What does innovation in your school look like?

  • Are the innovations in your school amplifying learning? If so - how?

  • How is digital technology supporting innovation in your school?

  • Where do the tensions/challenges lie if any?


Image source: Thom Lunasea - Flickr CC BY-2.0



  • Annemarie Hyde (View all users posts) 31 Mar 2016 7:16pm ()

    Nathaniel asks where the tensions and challenges lie in innovation in your school.  


    Preceding posts come from innovators who are school leaders who support innovation either with time, money or encouragement or who have school leaders who do so.


    Will Richardson challenges us to rethink “why we want kids in schools in the first place”.  But the bottom line for a lot of educators is that while they agree that the more important aim is to prepare our kids “as powerful, passionate, persistent learners,” the exam system and expectations for entry into the workforce or tertiary institutions narrow the focus.  Assessment systems like National Standards can stifle innovation.  External but powerful forces like the Health and Safety Act create hurdles in time, money and activity.


    Many parents too, look for schools they see as supplying (sic) a good old fashioned education with familiar structures.  

    As leaders in schools where innovation is encouraged and embraced, how have you got there? What hurdles have you had to leap or knock over and how have you done it?

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 11 Apr 2016 12:18pm ()

    Thanks Annemarie for reminding us there are educational influences, such as current assessment practices that can actually hinder innovation in schools. I think you're right about the importance of innovative leaders to initiate/drive/maintain the process. These graphics sum up some of the thinking behind the characteristics of innovative leaders:

    Innovative mindset


    Characteristics of innovative leaders

    Getting started in an ILE screenshot

    I'm thinking an important part of the process is understanding/knowing what effective and powerful learning looks like, having the moral purpose (like Maurie and Graham have discussed) to drive this shared pedagogy across a school, while encouraging collective/collaborative voices (including student voice) throughout the process. This webinar we ran last week, Getting started in an Innovative Learning environment is a fantastic testimony to how two schools are doing this already (full presentation material can be found in the associated thread).

    Resource and time allocation are extremely important aspects of innovative practice. My wondering is, if ...say a goal is to help students achieve Stage 5 maths understandings, do the learning experiences need to be completed alone on worksheets? For example, could a measurement unit become and authentic Inquiry?  For example: creating a new playground using measurement, scale drawings, model making etc as was the case in this story, Mathematics in a future focused school (ALiM) where "Teachers now plan for rich, authentic learning tasks that give maths meaningful contexts for learning, beyond procedural problem solving." The increased mathematical achievement data as a result of this kind of practice, now speak for themselves.

    What do you think?

  • Nathaniel Louwrens (View all users posts) 01 Apr 2016 6:02am ()

    Thanks everyone for your comments so far. There have been some really great points raised and innovation shared. 

    Stephen says,

    Is ‘Influence’ the driver of innovation in schools.

    Who is influencing you to be innovative?

    This is a really good question. I would maybe add to this, Who should be influencing you to be innovative? Should it come from leadership, colleagues, students? 


    And then the questions of How? and Why?, that Stuart raised.

    • Why do we need to be innovative in schools?
    • What is the purpose?
    • How do we go about it?

    Leanne stated,

    For me innovation is about being courageous and taking risks. It is about re-framing ideas and pushing the boundaries.

    • What support do you need to re-frame ideas and push the boundaries?
    • As leadership, what support do you give? And how do you show your teachers that the support is available, and they can safely take those risks?
  • Maurie Abraham (View all users posts) 01 Apr 2016 7:38am ()

    I am becoming more convinced that innovation is more possible with the combination of what I call moral purpose and courage. The moral purpose aspect is linked to Nathaniel's questions re Why do we need to be innovative and What is the purpose? This goes straight to the core of what schooling is about.

    We need to keep asking ourselves what is the purpose of schooling and what are the key principles that determine what schooling should look like. Personally, I think schooling needs to be centred on the needs and the passions of the students. To support this at HPSS we have 3 key principles: Innovate through personalising learning, Engaging through powerful partnerships and Inspiring through deep challenge and inquiry. ​Being guided by these principles allows us to fulfill our moral purpose of meeting the needs of the learners, rather than of the teachers or of the school or of the parents.

    A case in point is when we were settling on our innovative approach to NCEA which is largely to skip NCEA L1 and set our students on a 2 year journey to a quality NCEA L2. Having our 14-15 year olds ploughing through 120+ credits towards NCEA L1 did not allow us to ensure our students were inspired by deep challenge and inquiry as it promoted surface coverage to get through so many credits. Because it could not pass through this filter our moral purpose required us to think differently.

    The courage aspect comes in when you face teachers, students and parents who know no other pathway. It wasn't good enough for us to say we'd like to do something differently but our parents wont like it.

    The combination of moral purpose and courage is vital. 

  • Graham Young (View all users posts) 01 Apr 2016 12:07pm ()

    I agree Maurie... courage and moral purpose! But what about refining your moral purpose a bit more to 'leading with moral purpose for equity and social justice'.  Thats when real courage is needed... incidentally can you state you moral purpose (for equity and social justice) in a sentence.

  • Maurie Abraham (View all users posts) 01 Apr 2016 12:58pm ()

    Moral purpose is continually being refined as you enter different contexts and different stages of the journey. Right now I'm happy with creating a stimulating and inclusive environment which empowers learners to contribute confidently and responsibly in a changing world. Happy to have this critiqued and thrashed around.

  • Graham Young (View all users posts) 02 Apr 2016 3:38pm ()

    In my view moral purpose needs to have some sort of focus on those that have been sidelined or disadvantaged by schooling and our 'system'. Further to call someone a priority learner is to deficit think. By labelling someone as a priority learner I have shifted the issues from me the teacher to them the learner.

  • Di Cavallo (View all users posts) 01 Apr 2016 10:32am ()

    Kia ora

    My name is Diane Cavallo. I am Deputy Principal at Hobsonville Point Secondary School with responsibility for Learning Design.

    My passion is for connected learning: creating deep challenge and inquiry for students, enhancing the connections across learning area concepts and capabilities to create more authentic contexts for learning. One of the ways we do this is to combine Learning Areas through student voice, collaborative shared planning around concepts and skills. We use 8 Big Concepts to provide coherence and ensure students develop broad and deep conceptual understandings. (Maurie Abraham, Principal has mentioned this above).

    We have also been very excited to be part of the first Sorted Schools Financial Capability cluster in NZ over the last couple of years. Financial Capability is so important for all our students and powerfully connected learning area that puts learning into real, relevant and personal contexts for students. I have been the senior leader for our school and working with Jill MacDonald, our leader of Maths & Numeracy. This year we have expanded our FC team. 

    The most important learnings for us have been:

    • the power of collaboration across education sectors
    • alignment of financial capability planning within our curriculum model
    • financial capability learning for all students

    We have learnt so much through sharing and planning for Financial Capability with colleagues from primary, intermediate, secondary and tertiary. Beyond this, the network of connections we have made across the world of the financial industry and providers have been invaluable. Aligning our FC planning to how we plan the rest of our curriculum was a huge development in our thinking. We link our FC to the Big Concepts we use across our school for each term. This alignment meant FC has become part of what we do, embedded across the aspects of our curriculum and not an extra add-on.  For example, Term1 2016 our big concept is Identity, so we focus on students understanding their money profile. Moving into next term's Bog Concept of Space and Place we will look at the influences around you on money and Financial Wellbeing. All our students will get these learning opportunities as part of our approach is that all students need financial capability. Our students can then opt in beyond these 'Must-Do' sessions to select 'Could Do/Might Do' modules and workshops that offer deeper Financial Capability learning. Other events have included a 'Sorted for Sunset' community event around retirement planning and kiwisaver to meet the improveing FC for the community goal. This had a small but interested audience and very positive feedback. This is a format we would definitely use again.

    We are enjoying planning and delivering financial capability across our school and our students' enjoyment of it. They keep asking for more! Our next challenge is developing our wider team and staff capability. 

    I am happy to discuss our innovations and approaches to learning design and financial capability further. 





  • Gerard Macmanus (View all users posts) 02 Apr 2016 10:36pm ()
    What does innovation look like to you?
    This has been something of a journey for me in my years of teaching. I suppose being in the technology learning area with what is now digital technologies innovation has been at the centre of my thinking.


    Adaption and Innovation are at the heart of the technological practice. The course planning and ideas I have looked at what new technologies I could include in my development. However, there has been other things that I have looked at about what innovation is, that has been around course structure and assessment.


    The other has been I have been lucky to be in departments that looked at changes within education. Moving away from unit standards to offer achievement standards. This has allowed a better understanding and access to the professional learning that was available at the time. Something which is now lacking for teachers that did not move at the time.
    Project based learning has been a big part of my courses and changing assessment from tki.org.nz to new contexts such as developing historical websites for heritage places, pokemon trading cards and nzta crash analysis mapping. These have allowed students to have a meaningful context to showcase their learning. Students have also been able to develop their own projects which have allowed for a spelling game to be created for younger students, an information website about parkour teams as examples. Also looking at competitions to allow meaning contexts for learning and assessment, brightsparks, codeworx and kiwibots vex as examples. Rather than just being an extra thing.
    Then there is innovation within teaching, the use of Learning Management Systems to help students rewind learning as well as develop tangents for learning. The use of the LMS has been a big part of the change of my teaching, it allowed for better feedback around a students work. Then came the online apps changes, this has allowed commenting within students work, and better feedback -feedforward. 
    Working with other departments to help make learning and assessment easier to manage. Developing systems to assist to help the learner show evidence, as well as for the teacher so assessment is not so onerous. 
    To me its being agile within my teaching, working with other teachers, not just in your school, but also in other schools. Developing partnerships. It is through these partnerships where you challenge the current thinking that you get to work with industry and dare I say the Ministry of Education. 
    What does innovation in your school look like?
    Innovation at HPSS, this is part of our schools motto, Innovate. Engage. Inspire.
    These are also the goals that our appraisal is around.

    This year you will be constructing three personal professional learning goals based around our principles:


    Innovate through personalising learning

    Personalising learning by meeting the needs of diverse learners e.g.

    • Differentiation

    • Universal Design for Learning

    • Self directed learning

    • Blended learning

    • Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

    Engage through powerful partnerships

    Evidence of powerful partnerships being developed e.g.

    • Strong teacher and student and whanau learning relationships

    • Appropriate and responsive co or team teaching strategies

    • Opportunities to connect with their wider community

    • Critical friendship - observation and feedback

    • Open to learning conversations

    • Restorative Practice (being a warm and demanding hub coach)

    Inspire through deep challenge and inquiry

    Evidence of students being inspired through deep challenge and inquiry e.g.

    • Students being supported, challenged and extended in their learning

    • Use of SOLO

    • Use of Learning Design Model / Inquiry Learning

    • Learning area expertise / literacy and numeracy across curriculum

    Personalising learning
    Personalising learning is a strategy focusing all of the schools resources to ensure that the potential of each learner is realised by ensuring that the learning experience is appropriate to them personally and that they are able, with support, to decide what they learn, how they learn, when they learn and who they learn it with. 
    Personalising Learning is about strengthening the link between teaching and learning engagement. 
    Personalising learning recognises that the quality of learning is shaped by learners’ experiences, characteristics, interests and aspirations. High quality teaching explicitly builds on learner needs – as well as on high expectations and good subject knowledge. 
    Personalised Learning puts children and their needs first. The distinctive feature of the pedagogy of Personalising learning is the way that it expects all pupils to reach or exceed expectations, feel fulfilled and achieve success. 
    Personalised Learning maximises personal potential. We personalise learning so that...
    • Everyone get the chance to be the best they can
    • Everyone gets the chance to have high quality teaching that is responsive to their needs 
    • Everyone gets the chance to have an educational path that takes into account their needs, interests and aspirations 
    • Everyone’s integrity, dignity and validity is respected 
    • Everyone thinks about and presents their knowledge in different ways 

    Personalised learners… 

    • Are engaged with learning and the life of the school 
    • Take responsibility for his or her own learning and behaviour 
    • Show independence in, and having control over, learning
    • Enjoy confidence in oneself as a learner 
    • Display maturity in all relationships, marked by mutual respect.

    Are the innovations in your school amplifying learning? If so - how?
    This is from our Principal, Maurie, A case in point is when we were settling on our innovative approach to NCEA which is largely to skip NCEA L1 and set our students on a 2 year journey to a quality NCEA L2. Having our 14-15 year olds ploughing through 120+ credits towards NCEA L1 did not allow us to ensure our students were inspired by deep challenge and inquiry as it promoted surface coverage to get through so many credits. Because it could not pass through this filter our moral purpose required us to think differently.

    I have a Qualification SPIN, which is two 80 minute blocks a week, through this I am covering design through digital media. The students have been working on web development and image manipulation. Normally I would run this for 6 weeks and then assessment. As I am only focussing on one achievement standard, I can delve into it deeply, I am not rushing through, I am allowing students time to develop and create portfolio's of evidence, rather than a single shot assessment. This is allowing students to learn from failure, be creative in their designs and application of the tools and techniques. Which in terms of the learning allows for quality work to be produced. One of the students is a priority learner, it also means that I am working on personalising his learning, which is allowing him to develop a digital media and print media outcome. It is working towards his needs, still along the school theme for term one around identity, rather than the school identity, it is his own identity. 

    How is digital technology supporting innovation in your school?
    I am going with the ideas of the Core Education 2013 trend of ubiquitous, http://www.core-ed.org/thought-leadership/ten-trends/ten-trends-2013/ubiquitous-learning.
    Social media
    always on, always connected
    mobile technologies
    cloud computing
    online services
    UFB access

    Learning works best in the right context and the right time. Ubiquity helps learning be right there.

    We have bring your own device, this allows for the learner and the teacher to use different activities to allow for different learning needs. Rathe rather than one activity for all learners. 
    We also have the platform, no, not the same computer for event student, but hobsonline, this allows for a one place for students to goto to access their learning needs. 


    Where do the tensions/challenges lie if any?
    For me, its the challenge from the traditional, I know its hard to explain, but one of my titles at a previous school was ICT Innovator, I was always looking at what is happening next, having that future focus look. The challenge was from the people that are not. 
  • Nathaniel Louwrens (View all users posts) 05 Apr 2016 2:36pm ()

    Thanks for all the stories and thoughts shared so far!

    Gerard stated that while he was ICT Innovator at one school he was,

    always looking at what is happening next, having that future focus look

    • What steps are you taking to see what is happening next? To stay future focused?

    • How do you find/come up with that next innovation for yourself, your class or your school?

    • Who/what inspires you to keep being innovative?

  • Leisha Barnes (View all users posts) 09 Apr 2016 7:51pm ()

    Hi my name is Leisha Barnes and I am a Year 1 and 2 Teacher at Upper Harbour Primary School. Why do I love teaching 5 year olds? Because they are cute of course but also I believe that if I can help students develop their thinking skills, be audacious, be socially responsible, know how to collaborate with people near and far, seek out new and diverse ideas from around the world at 5 years old, imagine what they could be doing when they are 17 years old. Embedding a desire for always wanting more, for asking those next questions, having a growth mindset, going beyond the walls of the classroom at 5 years old is going to make the students of the future unstoppable in terms of what they can achieve in the future!

    Being innovative is about looking beyond what we currently do well, identifying the great ideas of tomorrow and putting them into practice. It’s about people being open to change, wanting to further themselves professionally to help ignite passion, love, motivation and desire towards learning and learning outcomes in all students they teach.

    Innovation at my school is being driven by our Charter and our commitment to being a highly reflective and responsive learning organisation. We have 3 main visions that are ‘Climb, Connect and Create’. Strategic teams have been created around these 3 visions and are the driving force in creating new learning opportunities and innovations for both our teachers and students to be involved in.

    I am part of the Create strategic group who’s vision is to help our students to be audacious, imaginative, skilled, visionary THINKERS. To dream, to do and to be. The biggest implication we have found that is holding our students back from being able to achieve this is their opportunities in all curriculum areas to connect to real issues in their lives, that enable them to respond with innovation, planning, energy and leadership. Our Create team has begun to work alongside Julie Mills to begin a journey of helping our teachers implement the use of SOLO rubrics and thinking maps into their everyday teaching across different curriculum areas. The use of SOLO rubrics pushes teachers to extend their students thinking to a higher level and take it beyond the walls of the classroom and out into the world where students can begin to make amazing connections and discoveries.

    As a school we feel that the strategic teams are making a difference in developing teachers to be more innovative and create amazing learning opportunities that wow students and leave them wanting to discover more. Strategic teams are now using the Kanban board which is a work and workflow visualization tool that enables them to optimize the flow of your work. During regular meetings teams commit to 2-3 short term goals that are going to help improve teachers and student’s outcomes and meet the overall goals of our school charter. Introducing SOLO rubrics and thinking maps has helped our staff to have a tool that they can use to make sure they are planning and developing deeper order thinking in lessons they are preparing. It has also given students a structure to help them understand how they can achieve amazing thinking and learning outcomes.

    Our schools Connect strategic team are amazing and have been involved in the MindLab courses that have really helped them to explore possibilities of how technology can support collaboration and innovation in our school. Digital technology is enabling students to have more and more access to the world and all it has to offer them

  • Erika Ward (View all users posts) 06 Jun 2016 8:14pm ()

    I am from Outram Primary School In Dunedin and I teach Year 4. This year saw me move from Year 1-2 to Year 4 and I am loving the challenge of working with a different age group. Along with working with older children, I have been reflecting a lot on my practice and wondering if anything I do would be classed as 'Innovative.'

    Reading this thread has opened my eyes to some of the amazing things happening in our schools and inspired me to try some new things.

    The first thing I have undertaken is student voice. I am currently working with a group of 9 struggling readers in Year 3-4. Before I began working with this group, I surveyed each child and the group to get a feeling for where they were at and what they were thinking. The challenge for me is to now try and gear my teaching to meet the things they asked for. It is going to be challenging, but I think for struggling learners, it is important for them to know they have a voice and it will be listened to. Perhaps that will be the thing that is done differently that then allows them to make more progress.

    Thanks for sharing all the ideas and great things on this thread guys!

  • Nathaniel Louwrens (View all users posts) 10 Jun 2016 1:17pm ()

    Thanks for sharing, Erika. It's great to hear that your eyes have been opened to other possibilities! That's one of the great benefits of forums such as this one.

    I'm wondering how you surveyed your students. Did you give them a survey (online or paper-based) that they completed? Or was it more of an individual (or group) interview? Or maybe something else altogether!

    I also wonder if you would mind sharing some of the things that your students asked for? These may be things that are new ideas for others or simply things we haven't considered before.


  • Erika Ward (View all users posts) 26 Jun 2016 6:41pm ()

    I surveyed my students by interviewing them with  the questions I had prepared and I wrote their answers so they didn't feel any pressure. I did this out of class and talked about what I was planning on doing for them so I wanted them to be as honest as possible. I saw the children as a group and as individuals as a follow up incase there was anything else they wanted to add in private.

    I asked the students to following questions-

    What do you like about reading?

    What don't you like about reading?

    What do you think you do well at reading?

    What do you think stops you from being as good as you want to be at reading?

    Is there anything your teacher does that isn't helpful to you at reading time?

    What would you like to be helped with to get better at reading?

    The answers were fascinating and have given me a lot of things to think about.



  • Vanessa Bentley (View all users posts) 09 Jun 2016 10:56am ()

    What does innovation looks like at my school?  

    Innovation looks different to everyone.  One could argue that collaboration between teachers or between students is innovation, yet this has been around forever.

    Using digital tools in the classroom could be viewed as innovative, yet that too has been around for a long time.  iPads and Chromebooks are new(ish) but often they are used no differently to any other classroom resource.  Pedagogical change is required for transformative practice.

    Innovation is about taking risks.  It’s about challenging current practice and evaluating whether it is best practice.  I consider using smart assessment tools such as asTTle to be innovative for some.  When teachers move away from assessment to reporting towards using assessment to guide teaching and learning, they are being innovative.  It might not be innovative to us, but to some teachers, it is transformative. e-asTTle has given teachers faster and graphical access to assessment data, therefore allowing the teacher to plan lessons that target students individual learning needs.  Zucker (2008) uses language such as “power innovations” and “significant” to describe such on-line testing.  However, without significant teacher support and development, such digital tools run the risk of becoming under-utilised and becoming a tool merely for reporting purposes. 


    When it comes to resourcing in a school, innovation needs to exist.  Schools increasingly need to find ways to fund digital tools, fix leaking roofs, build new playgrounds.


    So, what does it actually mean to me?  Being creative, taking risks and being a learner.

  • Veronica van der Straaten (View all users posts) 02 Jul 2016 2:15pm ()

    Hi Vanessa

    I agree with your thinking around innovation Vanessa; that we have many of the resources we need already in school, its how we use them in an innovative way that makes the difference.

    For some teachers what we regard as best  practice and "just what we do" is in fact innovative to them at this point in time because they have not engaged perhaps in the discussions earlier and therefore it is now a revelation and new innovative practice for them.

    Innovation and resourcing requires a strategic direction, looking forward as to next steps and what is required , always with what will improve engagement and student achievement at the heart of all decisions. We can change the look of classrooms, add sliding, connecting doors, break out spaces but if teachers are not using these features to change their practice to create more collaboration within classrooms then all we are doing is changing the look of the classrooms not the practice as intended.






  • Kane Fraser (View all users posts) 10 Jun 2016 10:33am ()

    Innovation in our school looks like engaged students using a variety of tools and resources.  We try hard not to get stuck in the monotony of the core subjects, using technology to support and enhance learning opportunities.  Innovation also can be the use experts from outside the school brought in through Skype, the physical layout and furnishings within the classroom and at the curriculum level keeping up to date with recent ideas and changes in pedagogy and practise.  The challenge is to ensure that these innovations are suited to our school culture and have a positive effect on student achievement.  It has seems to have had an impact on student engagement but could be something that we need to measure to show growth.

Join this group to contribute to discussions.

e-Learning: Leadership

e-Learning: Leadership

Exploring leadership for change, vision, policy and strategy that integrates ICTs into learning.