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?

Goodbye for Now, Education

Friday I spoke with the Stephen and broke the news, it's time for me to move on.

Saturday - 12 further phone calls, one by one, to dear colleagues, I wanted you to hear this first from me.

Sunday - I took the car and drove into the wilderness...

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...and ended up here, in "The Artist's House" - a little cottage beside Morton National Park. For a few days I'm in a bubble - away from dear ones, from home, from agendas and responsibilities. 

In a few days I start an entirely new chapter.

It's goodbye for now, education. 

We had 15 years, and never a dull moment.

If I vastly oversimplify, I can put the journey in chapters: 5 years as a full time teacher, 5 in leadership, 5 as a speaker/facilitator.

In the end, I genuinely think we had an impact on education in Australia and New Zealand... a little dent in the industrial schooling model. I hope this work continues.

It was all teamwork. I learned a stack from colleagues, all the way through! 

We leave bits of ourselves in each other, we inter-weave ourselves. You, my colleagues, will be fondly remembered when I'm old and reminiscing. Anne, Michael, and Michael - I mean you. Mark B, Mark L, and Lou, you too! Clariss and Suzanne, you too. And many more from the present and past.

You've made me me! 

Look at this fellow I met this morning outside the little cottage I am staying in. 

This little property is exquisite - like 'grand designs' level of exquisite... with mystery pathways, strange installations, rough walls, stone archways and more.

Everywhere I look I see inspiration and intent. 

The guestbook is something else: it's full of poetry, superlatives and exclamation marks - the place has elicited deep feelings.

I noticed one of messages said: "we found the secret room". So I went searching, and came up blank. Until... I looked at how the wooden tree ornament near the fireplace might be climbed on, on my eyes rose up to little hatch in the roof.

Climb up there and you can see the stars and swaying tree branches.

I need to take my hat off to school principals. Ours in particular - Stephen Harris. 

I started in 2002. In 2005 he said - hey, I saw this online collaboration program in Europe, why not start something like that here? That was the first of many gestures: prompts, opportunities, and latitude to experiment, that broadened my horizons and experience.

Stephen's view, that people want to grow, will grow if given the chance, infuses his leadership. It brought the best out in me, and deepened my viewing of others in the same light. It plays out in a focus on shared conversations mixed with autonomy and trust. The conversations create the glue that allows agency to thrive. 

And this how he thinks of every child, too, and built a school community through this lens: opportunities to grow. 

I'm pretty sure the same builder/artist has been active in the neighbouring property, which is full of overgrown mayan-like ruins.

I think he must have given up, or had a break, because it's all half finished and rather creepy. 

School is a design-space, and an odd one at that - the routines, conventions, constraints... and the sheer economics of the thing: 1 adult for 30 kids.

The oddest of all is how school becomes the locus for societal conversations about how we want to be. Watch as every player, parent, politician and educator project anxieties onto the screen of schooling, that collective shopping-list for every should and every ought.

Three cheers for any and every humanising gesture in the intensity of it all.

It's been a busy 15 years, no stop for breath at any point. 

In the early days, learning the basics. Then Beyond Borders online collaboration project, which grew to thousands.

There was Twitter, and virtual 3D worlds, technological sweet spots. New spaces, pedagogy, collaborative norming, vision setting and idea-sieves. I travelled the world with colleagues, now for research and inspiration, now by invitation to speak. I facilitated teams of every type in all kinds of places - in High Schools, Primary Schools, and universities...  events of entire clusters of schools, and tiny schools. Teams raring to go and teams in crisis. Each was a privilege, and a chance for me to learn.

Once last year in the busy-ness of it all, I was invited to write an academic book chapter. How to fit it in?? I got up very early on the weekend and slogged it all out in a day, finishing at midnight! There! If they hate it, it was only 1 day... but it passed peer review and now it's in print!

The learning curve was so steep I often felt out of my depth. I stood waist-high in anxiety, flying in to new places, trying to decode the context and contribute something useful.

One lesson I'll never unlearn: it was always far better to be part of a team than to play solo. 

With colleagues Mark, Lou, Anne & Michael, I lead the invention of a clever little learning design kit, shrink-wrapped, shipped around the world! To see it used by teachers to ask, "how will what we do work for the kids?", has been a mountain top moment!


As 2016 unfolded, I lost my mojo.

It resurged when I travelled... some amazing new memories in Alaska, Christchurch, Perth... and Moree, Griffith and Lithgow. Every place, passionate educators trying to cure schools of their industrial culture-toxins. 

But once home my mojo dropped again.

And stayed low.

My languages colleagues Suzanne & Clariss said "we're concerned, something's wrong with you!"

It was physical.

This is all I can say: my heart moved on months before my brain could understand it. There's no explanation, apart from a primal sense of cabin fever... a need for new horizons. 

I walked down a gully to see "Erith Coal Mine" - dating from the turn of the 19th century. The plaque outside painted quite a picture: apparently the coal from the mine was crap, only useful for very undemanding tasks. The mine eked out a living for a couple of decades before closing.

Now, I certainly don't want to end up like that!

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My final, lingering thought, as I step outside, is that a school is a community, second-family and village.

It's a place for being and becoming, inspiration and aspiration, a sense of horizons, and knowing and being known.

More than any other way, each learns from the potential acted out in the broader social fabric.

For a child, just one teacher can make the difference of a lifetime - just one phrase, just one look, just one day, recognised only in hindsight.

I'll never lose my deep respect for the hard work of teachers, breathing their very identities into a new generation. 

The good stuff, it comes from somewhere very deep within. 

Colleagues, near and far, present and past, it has been an honour!


I'm genuinely not sure yet if I will disappear from education entirely or find myself earnestly edu-tweeting within days.

My new role involves corporate consulting around spaces and culture. I'm actually very excited about it. In theory there's scope for keeping a toe in education, either officially or on the side, but I genuinely don't know how or if that will play out. Still, if you have an idea or proposal, you can get in touch. Or if you want to share the cool stuff you've been doing, well I'd definitely love to hear about it!

With that, education, it's goodbye for now!

Steve Collis, Nov 3, 2016