Building a Different Future
Successful pathways of innovation are created when an organization cultivates a landscape of professional learning (see Etiene-Wenger and Lave) inclusive of as many of the people who directly affect the success of that organization. As Peter Theil, founder of Paypal, puts it in his book Zero to One — “once you have convinced a large group of people of a plan to build a different future, the most important strength of an organization is new thinking.”
GEMS World Academy-Chicago, the first North American school from the internationally recognized GEMS Education Group, is moving into its second year with a bold goal — to build a different future for education. One of the core reasons for GEMS’ success in sustaining and scaling educational innovation is its unique professional learning program. The schools is a learning organization and professional learning is embedded into all aspects — from the mission and vision to daily practice in learning environments. This “anytime, anywhere” professional learning takes many forms across the school, and it involves everyone. The results are stunning collaboration, creativity and an atmosphere filled with effective professionals serving the children and families who will change the future.
How does it work?
Summer is the time of professional learning for schools, and at GEMS World Academy, we leverage this time in unique and highly effective ways. New faculty are immersed into a world of systems thinking for innovative curriculum design, prototyping, and practice. Though the innovative curriculum is defined for new faculty, the emphasis is on experiencing first hand what GEMS faculty are expected to do. New faculty learn through doing as they collaboratively plan inquiry-based curricula in the classroom, throughout the building and, perhaps most importantly, on Field Studies.
New faculty soon join veteran faculty, having experienced the world of GEMS education and having added their unique ideas and expertise to the school’s practice. What follows are weeks of participatory professional development led by people across the organization, specialists and thought leaders in the field. Sessions are hands on and strategic:
- Mission and vision Workshops and other norming workshops. These were highly academic and deliberative sessions focusing the organization’s commitment to including everyone in the articulation of the mission and vision of the school.
- Nationally recognized experts in mathematics, reading and writing joined expert faculty leaders to deliver professional learning.
- Faculty collaboratively build their inquiry-based curriculum
- The vast technology ecosystem at GEMS World Academy are illuminated and used to deliver much of the professional learning, thus providing new and innovative ways to collaborate and participate in professional learning while gaining important new skills, creating new contexts for learning, and asking probing questions about the future of education.
- Faculty plan their Field Studies cycles in the city (the “field”) to understand the incredible opportunity and complexity of using the city as a learning laboratory for students.
Leveraging Technology for Ongoing Professional Learning
Sustaining innovation through professional learning is taken seriously at GEMS. Whether in strategic planning or designing an interdisciplinary unit of inquiry, the need for ongoing collaboration, transparency and organization is essential for effective teams. In the spring of 2015, we successfully piloted Basecamp, an online project management software for professional learning and collaboration in interdisciplinary faculty projects. Building on the pilot’s success, we have adopted and launched Basecamp across the school for professional learning, and collaborative planning in 2015-2016. Using Basecamp provides a powerful and intuitive way for our faculty to cultivate strong interdisciplinary teams, identify needs and think in new ways. From an organizational perspective, Basecamp has allowed us to see how we are learning and leading as an organization, the incredible work we are doing on a daily basis, and the arc of new possibilities to manage.
The GEMS World Academy Faculty Seminar Series is a participatory professional learning endeavor cultivated by the Institute for Research and Innovation. The seminar series perpetuates ongoing growth in our faculty, administration, and school community while also providing an outlet for disseminating the thought leadership of GEMS World Academy to others.
Summer professional learning serves as the “entry event workshops” to the faculty seminar, giving an experiential root to ongoing professional learning. Entering the school year, the faculty seminar is a multi-month program of scholarly and experiential faculty development linking the GEMS World Academy curriculum and practice with theory and design in the field of education and beyond. The faculty seminar promotes the core mission and vision of the school by helping faculty members update their knowledge of developments in specific disciplines and then place that knowledge in the context of the innovative practices so essential to GEMS and beyond. Faculty seminars are intended to excite intense intellectual consideration of research, design and practice in the GEMS World Academy program, the field of education and beyond. Seminar topics are intended to encourage interdisciplinary discussion and inspire new avenues for practice, research, teaching, and collaboration. Collaborations among faculty, staff and outside professionals are vitally important. Each year, certain seminars will be dedicated to furthering thought leadership in the field of education. These public events bring sought-after experts and GEMS faculty together for public panels. GEMS families, community members and others gather for these exclusive events that highlight our globally recognized faculty as thought leaders. The first 2015-2016 faculty seminar is titled Field Studies: Building on A Foundation of Experience.
Building the future of education will take the collective work of everyone involved in a school’s organization. It is not enough to offer pieces of professional learning and support. Instead, we need to cultivate the dispositions of everyone to imagine, understand, use and create the sustained innovations necessary to do something truly different, prescient, and needed in our world. To this end, GEMS World Academy is exploring, experimenting, and cultivating innovation through ongoing professional learning. This post is the first in an ongoing series on professional learning and innovation in the 2015-2016 academic year at GEMS World Academy.
This post is an adapted version of a post I wrote for GEMS World Academy — Chicago. The post will be published at Explore: The GEMS World Academy Blog in the coming week.