Sunday, February 5, 2017

Exiting the edu-bubble


Diversity, dissonance and new ideas are not only proven to inspire creativity and innovation, but also to stimulate cognitive development in adults. With this in mind, in 2016 I deliberately sought to participate in professional learning experiences that sat outside the normal realm of education conferences. After all, we all seem to agree that education is particularly slow to respond to change, or to adopt new ideas. It seems to me, that if you want to be a leader in education today, looking outside of education to the global, national, economic and academic landscape is key.

With that in mind, here are a few of the key events I attended in 2016 to gain inspiration from outside the edu-bubble:

  • SingularityU New Zealand SummitSingularityU New Zealand exists to support New Zealand to understand, adapt and thrive in an exponentially changing world. The group was originally formed to bring the SingularityU New Zealand Summit to Christchurch, but we know this is only the beginning of our journey.
  • Startup Weekend Auckland: Startup Weekends are weekend-long, hands-on experiences where entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs can find out if startup ideas are viable.  On average, half of Startup Weekend’s attendees have technical or design backgrounds, the other half have business backgrounds. Beginning with open mic pitches on Friday, attendees bring their best ideas and inspire others to join their team. Over Saturday and Sunday teams focus on customer development, validating their ideas, practicing LEAN Startup Methodologies and building a minimal viable product. On Sunday evening teams demo their prototypes and receive valuable feedback from a panel of experts.
  • Complexity and Leadership with Jennifer Garvey BergerJennifer designs and teaches leadership programs, coaches senior teams, and supports new ways of thinking about strategy and people with clients facing these dramatic shifts in complexity, volatility, and change in their workplaces and markets. She blends deep theoretical knowledge with a driving quest for practical ways to make leaders’ lives better.
  • Kiwi Foo: Kiwi Foo Camp launched the Unconference format in Warkworth, New Zealand for the first time back in 2007, bringing together experts in fields from neuroscience and physics to open source programming and politics. This annual, invite-only gathering attracts nearly 200 people from New Zealand and across the globe to share ideas, network, show off their latest tech toys and hardware hacks and find new partners for future collaborations. Attendance at Kiwi Foo, like every Foo Camp around the world, is by invitation only and is free for attendees. 
Each of these events have paid off in a number of ways. Kiwi Foo consistently inspires me into action and motivates me to keep tackling enormous problems in the world. On top of this, Kiwi Foo is a phenomenal networking opportunity where you not only meet inspiring people, but you also create connections that often later pay off in fantastic ways. For example, it was great to be able to invite the ambitious Ludwig Wendzich, founder of NZ Gather (whilst he was still in high school), to speak to the students at my school.

SingularityU inspires me to feel like despite climate change, Trump and his cronies, there is hope. This stellar event convened by the inspirational Kaila Colbin, captured and discussed some of the radical changes that already disrupt our day to day lives, but also those that are likely to radically disrupt our lives in the very near future. The event also came with a very firm call to action, to not let the opportunities brought about by innovation in the tech world go to waste in making the world a better place. Of course, just learning about these things is only one step of a learning journey, it's what you do with these ideas that count. I am looking forward to teaching a course inspired by exponential technology such as genomics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology this semester at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. In a maths module I have planned, I will even be touching on block-chain technology. If you don't know about these yet, you better get outside that edu bubble of yours... 

Both of Kiwi Foo and SingularityU gives insight into the massive volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) that has become so characteristic of our world. Despite the healthy dose of hope these events come with, these ideas can be so big that one could almost be forgiven for responding with paralysing fear. Fortunately, I was also lucky enough to attend a two day workshop with Jennifer Garvey Berger (thanks to Edge Work, The Educational Futures Network) focussing on leadership in complex times and spaces. This fabulous two day workshop explored some of the strategies we might use to navigate complex and uncertain times. If you haven't yet, I highly recommend reading Jennifer's book, Simple Habits for Complex Times. I've just recently purchased a copy for my mum too!

Adapting some of the strategies from a Lean Canvas
for managing my thesis.
Adapting the Kanban board for my thesis.
For some reason, in education conversations, I have often heard the mindsets and ideas from the business and corporate world dismissed, even ignored or avoided. Although I can see some merit in not blindly adopting strategies from the corporate and business world in education, there are many great things to be learned from this sector. Startup Weekend is perhaps one of the best places for educators to do this. Not only is it targeted at being an educational experiences, it does so in a phenomenal way that combines hands on learning, learning to collaborate in a diverse team, and learning to become more agile and responsive. I have also been incredibly fortunate to have acted as a mentor for Auckland Startup Weekend in 2016. This was an intense and rewarding experience where I had the opportunity to work with stellar mentors including Rowan Yeoman and Alan Froggatt. Not only is this event carefully curated to ensure lots of diversity in the room, but it is also a great experience in learning to be a mentor. Perhaps one of my favourite experiences of this event is the mentor room where all the mentors meet to talk about the strategies they have been using with different teams, and what each team might need next. The experience of hearing the thinking that goes into each mentor's decision making is a stunning example of learning from the diverse wisdom of the crowd. Interestingly, Startup Weekend is also where I picked up two of the strategies that is helping me manage my thesis writing at the moment. I have converted the Lean Canvas into an academic one to ensure that I keep the full picture visible at all times and update it regularly, whilst also adopting the Kanban board to juggle the many different strands of things to do.

Without a doubt, some of my biggest learning moments, but also most useful strategies I have picked up over the past year, have come from those who work outside of education. I know that my students have benefited from me being able to offer them insights and opportunities from and with the world that is happening outside the classroom door. I can not hope to keep their learning and my leadership up to date and relevant if I am trapped in the education bubble where things change ever so slowly. Although there are some quality professional learning events in education, I urge you all to step outside the education bubble.


PS: Upon reflection, it is really interesting to note that of these events, how much of an investment came from me personally, rather than from my school. Although school paid for my registration and relief for SingularityU, I paid for the flights and accommodation. Startup Weekend saw me gave up every minute of my weekend (twice!) for a whirlwind of an experience, and again with no contribution from school. Kiwi Foo, thanks to the phenomenal work of Nat and Jenine is free to attend for those lucky enough to be invited, however again takes your whole weekend. That said, I would gladly invest the time and money in these events again. They are 100% worth it.