Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

Click on "contact", won't you, and wave right back at me?

While I can't knock down walls...

After spending a day working with staff at a local state school in Sydney, I received this comment on my blog from a teacher, Natalie Aoun...


While I can’t knock down walls, I’d like to change the way my classroom looks inside. Can I send you a photo of what my classroom looks like?
Classroom pre-makeover! 

Classroom pre-makeover! 

"While I can't knock down walls, I'd like to change..."  !!!!

I replied and few moments later, Natalie sent my this photo, and some more information...

Natalie also told me her ideas: 

- black painted feature wall for chalk drawing (rather than the pinboards at the back)
- grouped tables
- bean bags/ pillows/ comfy chairs
- floating bookshelves
- 'fan' space (because the girls love their music bands)
- iPod ports for music
- iPad ports for charging, like the way they have it set up in the Apple store (we currently had 3 that were issued to our faculty that are not in use yet)
- fairy lights/ lanterns/ hanging bottles (as suggested by my students in roll call)

In my next reply I put Natalie onto these resources:

Inspiring videos by Ira Socol also here and here. Also the Third Teacher website and video. And blogs by Bianca Hewes and Henrietta Miller and Greg Miyanaga

I mentioned other stuff too, including the idea of using www.freecycle.org where there is a wealth of free stuff being given away by local people.


Before I know it, Natalie has started a blog, AND she's set up two spaces where her students can add ideas, including this virtual "padlet" where her learners contributed to the vision. Scroll down and right to browse through all their ideas: 

Where did it go from here? 

Well you'll want to high-tail it over to her blog to see! Here's a sneak peek: 

The blog is a wonderful read - in it you'll find a hilarious conversation with a student starting with "what's the point" and ending with "Omg this is really cool."

And along the way Natalie Aoun is resourceful, creative and proactive. She seeks (and receives) support from the school leadership, gets help from friends outside school, collaborates with the school grounds staff, gets hands-on painting a wall with the students. She puts out word on Facebook and various friends and colleagues get on board.

A transformation takes place!

Water on every table!

Water on every table!

Where to go with this? 

  • first of all, three cheers to Natalie Aoun. Follow her on Twitter, read her blog. What a creative, resourceful, empowered, transformative person!
  • from her blog, there is about a gazillion strategies for transforming a space  on a small or zero budget.   Don't tell me what you can't do - Natalie has already done it!
  •  'While I can't knock down walls'... what can you do? Plenty!

Natalie's story also illustrates what I've come to see as mission critical in school transformation: Inspiration is a force-multiplier.  

Whereas I keep encountering this assumption over and over again: ???to get transformation we need to give teachers release time???

Why? It seems to be... because they're so exhausted, we can't take ANYTHING MORE on, so we need release time.  

Wrong diagnosis I'm afraid. Why are teachers exhausted? Well, lots of reasons, but release time isn't going to cure it.  

I'm not anti-release time, bring it on, but without inspiration and vision it isn't going to cut the mustard. 

Here are Natalie's words in a recent email to me:


Hey Steve!

Are the exclamation marks indicative of the mood I am in right now? I hope so! I wrote a proposal last week for the classroom and it just got approved today. I’m so excited!

The answer to school transformation does not lie in money or release time, but in vision, inspiration, and resourcefulness.

Why not forward on Natalie's blog to colleagues who might like the inspiration? And if you have a second tip your hat to her on Twitter


 P.S. Taxonomy of Frames applied to Natalie's Project:

Note the layers of space involved in her project: physical (furniture, features, etc), virtual (the chalkboard wall), and cultural.

Cultural? Yes because look at the quotes wall: the students themselves have now imprinted messages like "Life stops when you stop dreaming" onto the space itself. It's not just physical & virtual space that will frame their experience from now on, but quite literally the building is clothed in ideas.