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?

Filtering by Tag: Professional Development

Announcing: Steve's 'Innovate 5' Online Course

I am delighted to announce my launch of "Innovate Five": a 15-session live video-conference series focusing on 'capacity to innovate'. 

Click here for the official SCIL page where you'll find the registration links.

I'd appreciate you passing on word about the course to any colleagues who might be interested. It is open to everyone from any walk of life. 

Read on to hear a more personal account of it. 




The Heart of Innovation

Whether you're a teacher, a mum or an executive, a broader capacity to think and act innovatively opens new opportunities for making the world a better place. Innovation keeps society flexible, agile, ready to meet the future. I love innovation. I value it. I want to grow it in myself, and I love collaborating with other innovators. 


What is ‘Innovate Five’?

The course has grown out of my quest for mental toolkits that help enable creative thought, clarity and capacity to take initiative to 'get the show on the road' quickly.

The word 'capacity' sums it up for me; the shift from 'survive' to 'thrive' implies a sense of spare capacity.

I don't want to lead a reactive life. I want to be calm, centred and purposeful. Otherwise, in the noise of 2012, I'll just get blown away.


An Inventory System

I call Innovate Five an ‘inventory system’, because the process is aimed squarely at developing a meta-cognitive scanning process across five domains, which leave you with an inventory for future growth.

I’ve clustered toolkits under self, work, people, change, space: 






















You want as many of these kits working in your favour as possible. The greater the mastery of more of the toolkits, the greater your ability to nurture and maintain capacity in trying circumstances.  

You might already be instinctively strong in some areas, but less ‘awake’ to others in the grid. 

An inventory gives you a chance to identify what you don’t know that you don’t know, but also what you did know but brushed aside, or have been too busy to act on.


What is the format of Innovate 5?

60 minute video-conferences, once a week, in groups of up to 10, with presentation & discussion/debrief.

The course will include an optional reading program and optional homework tasks.

You need a computer with a reliable broadband Internet connection. 


Who is it for?

Anyone seeking to develop their capacity to generate and implement ideas to improve the world.

Not limited to educators. 


Is this a leadership course?



Is this a personal development course?

There is an overlap, especially in the 'self' dimension.

However, I frame personal development narratives in a strongly utilitarian fashion that may be unsettling to some. I emphasise a process of alienation that helps generate new insights and perspectives. And yet, this process is not designed to make you more vulnerable, but more profoundly safe; safe to be creative. 

The organising principle of 'Innovate 5' is capacity to innovate, not personal development.


How to Participate?

Sign up and show up! Our first group launches:

Thursday, March 8th, 8pm-9pm AEST (international times) (I can launch new series to suit your time zone)

Each series continues weekly, with some interruptions, until mid July. See booking screen for exact dates.


Not this time, but maybe later?

Get news on future re-runs by subscribing to our ongoing SCIL newsletter, or drop me a line here and ask to be updated when I launch re-runs of Innovate 5. 

Crowd-Source, Collaborate, Cross-Pollinate

For years now at NBCS our professional development has been almost entirely in-house and almost entirely consisted of cross-pollination and crowd-sourcing. We have no IT integrators. We have an executive structure but the emphasis is on distributed leadership and spontaneous "DO IT NOW" collaboration and innovation.

Our full-staff PD day last week included this creative collaboration:

And then the next day staff grouped themselves up and selected their own mini passion project, to be completed in a whirlwind within 4 hours. 

Our Stage #3 team were inspired by Yayoi Kusama's "Obliteration Room", and managed to whip up their own in no time (Skender ran home to get an old table... someone must sourced white paint from somewhere):

The students will add stickers all over the place (earning each one, mind you, via a gamified structure).

Elsewhere, Ben Hedstrom, Amanda Hill and colleagues are redeveloping the music rooms to an open-plan student-directed structure. They will crush the distinction between year groups: different classes and ages will share the space simultaneously, forming a semi-professional studio, the older mentoring the younger.

Another team made a boredom buster station:


I'm not sure what this was but it looks fantastic:


Some Visual Arts staff recycled their own previous works, I believe by cutting it into strips and mashing it up again. Their vision for the art spaces is busting them open into a Parisian studio, with no clear distinction between the inside and a creative, rive gauche esplanade in the open air. 

Tim Barrett and colleagues made some new furniture, and videoed the process!

The day ended with some crowd-sources post-it thoughts:

The crowd-sourcing of teacher development is the most powerful PD you can offer. Teachers have limited need for outside experts - a more pressing need is space to collaborate, then cross-pollinate.

Two weeks ago I worked with two Brisbane schools for a day. Walking in as an outsider to a new context, I took a hunch on the crowd-source/collaborate/cross-pollinate processes and allocated three sessions in the day for them. It worked a treat, and I don't see why it won't work anywhere. I think it's fine to have top-down leadership: we all want to look up to a leader to help steer the ship, BUT what joy and power there is in grassroots, bottom-up collaboration. No one controlling, no one waiting to act.

It's beyond the scope of this post (it's dinner time) but it's fascinating watching the business world shift in the same direction, to the same distributed-leadership model. All about agility, flexibility, contextual-leadership etc.

And on that note I will abruptly finish this post. I have a roast waiting! 

Self, Work, People, Change, Space

Last term, in the process of pulling together the 'Effectiveness' training day, I decided that thriving as a teacher boils down to these five elements, and in each of the five we face dilemmas and contradictions. In each of the five there is insight and clarity to be had: a path forward through the forest. 

Below is a brain dump on them. I hope it sparks your own thinking. You might use the 5 headings as a way of gathering your own observations, insights and curiosity.

Oh and please if you're local to Sydney, come hang out with me on June 9 and we can explore them together!


Almost every challenge is a self-challenge. Our biggest limitations are our self limitations. Our self-conceptions, self-knowledge, self-acceptance, self-love, and so on, set the upper limit on all other development. For instance if a colleague or student really gets under your skin, the problem isn't with them, but with you. It simply gets projected outward onto what you perceive as reality. 

I remember going pale with shock at a certain moment when I realised how much my 'self' was constructed by concepts of who I was that OTHER people had, and that I had then internalised and taken at face value. Rewrite the script!


You have reports due Thursday, parent-teacher night tonight, three students you have to catch in the playground, a cheque requisition form to drop off at the office, two unplanned lessons, a conversation you have to have to with a colleague, a phone call to see a dentist, a stack of marking, and then when you glance up you realise there are 30 new unread emails! This is no caricature or hyperbole, is it? In fact I could go much further without exaggeration. 

How can we thrive in the complexity and chaos of school? How can we be creative when we only get the top 5% of our 'to do list' done?

I have felt so much better since I cracked this one with the GTD methodology. Once again I recommend How to Get Things Done by David Allen. It is a life saver. Or... come to my next workshop!


All work is people-work, especially at school. Students are people. Colleagues are people. We convince, inspire, neglect, insult, deride, undermine, praise, negotiate with, get permission from, give permission to, equip, resource, empower, assist, mentor, damage, save and enable each other. 

Picture a school as a network, focal points around optimists, pessimists, leaders, and gate keepers. Where do you fit on this map? What are you broadcasting? What are you known for? 

A helpful tool I find is the notion of 'social currency'. What is your currency? Is it high or low? 

How can you improve your currency? How can you use it to better shape your responsibilities? How can you use it to benefit others?


Well everything is changing. Society is changing. Traditional schooling is a dead duck, plain and simple. The model we grew up with, and see in films and in soap operas, is bankrupt. Schools that don't come to terms with this will not survive another 10 years. I suspect many schools will indeed go under, while new schools will be seeded with a much different charter and radically different structures.

Much resistance to change comes from the reality that we are confident experts of the old model, whereas much of the new model is still to be worked out. If a teacher has spent 5 or 10 years of their career perfecting techniques for 'getting control' of their class, they may be reluctant to embrace a model where 'control' is not even sought. 

It's not only starting from scratch, but it's going where no man has gone before. Yikes! 

But then, who said we had a choice?


I repeat this like an automaton now. I think these words are original, so yes you can quote me:

"Technology mediates relationships. Space mediates relationships. Technology is space." 

Gettit? Two people in a meadow. Their proximity allows them to hear each other and have a conversation. The space mediates the relationship. If they stand further away they can't hear each other, so no conversation, so no relationship. 

Ah, but if they use technology... such as smoke signals, or a telephone, then although they are not in the same physical space they are in the same virtual space. Technology is space. Technology creates space.

Furniture is technology and is also therefore space.

How does your classroom mediate relationships? The shape of your room is technology. The furniture is technology. The layout, centres of gravity, signs and decorations, doors and windows, are technology.

And yes of course the computers and internet are also technology, and are also therefore space. Does your class move through virtual space as well as physical? Do you help your students nurture a virtual persona? Do they publish online? Do they tweet? Do they Skype? Does each have a profile page representing their current learning? Do they answer questions from other students in other schools, and ask their own questions in turn?

Very tricky one, space. Whatever we do we mustn't take it at face value, or ignore it. Every decision about the physical space of the learning environment, from chairs to the internet, is laden with meaning and implications.


How to understand the revolution.

In this post: the wonderful TED talks movement. Scroll to the bottom of my post to hear how we bit the bullet and booked up a TED speaker and are inviting you to come hear him too. 

"What on earth is happening?

Someone took my map away from me! 

I spent 13 years of my life AT SCHOOL learning what SCHOOL WAS. I still see that old school on the tele and in films. But I know in my bones it is cracking at the seams."

Not just education, of course, but all society. Industrial era schooling is irrelevant now because we are no longer in the industrial era. 

We need maps to navigate life. Who am I, where am I going, and am I doing well? What are the rules of the game here (I have a feeling they're changing)? Now if we equate calm orderliness in your classroom as a great sign, we may have an out-of-date map. If feeling 'in control' is our litmus test, then I propose we venture out of this comfort zone.

The 'map' for what school is and for what society is (the former is measured by relevance to the latter) is going through a revolution. So what will the new map look like?

My way of finding meaning in the chaos begins with deciding who to listen to. Who is making sense? Obviously my group of guides spans my school, family, friends, TV shows, blog sites, tweeters, videos, and without doubt books, books, books. The voices I reject are as important as the ones I embrace. 

One of the best sources of intelligent, innovative, creative, perceptive, revolutonary thinking I have encountered is the 'TED Talks' videos website.

If ideas are food, these are my daily bread. 

Originally, 'TED' was an elite conference held in California. It was invitation only, but if you were invited you had to pay a packet to attend. The speakers were heroes, outliers, game-changers - thinkers and actors who had already changed the world, or whose ideas had found that special traction which emerges when an elegant path forward is perceived in a pathless forest. 

This was back in the 1980s!

After 2000, TED took what proved to be a critical new direction: they started freely and openly publishing the conference talks online. 

Some of these videos are so famous that, even if you haven't heard of TED, I wonder if you have heard of the videos:

- Bill Gates releasing mosquitoes to bite the participants.

- Sir Ken Robinson on 'Do Schools Kill Creativity' 

- Al Gore, in 2006, on averting climate crisis. (Coincidence that 2006 was when CC got traction?) 

- Sugata Mitri on the incredible 'hole in the wall' project.

Possible the presentaton with the highest impact, for me, was this one; show-stopping, jaw-breaking:


The speaker Hans Rosling, has developed a poweful visualisation tool for the development of countries. The world is getting better and better: People are living longer, are better educated, and wars are fewer, and health care is improving. People in Vietnam, for instance, have a life expectancy now that equals the life expectancy of people born in America in 1974. Over 40 years the improvement has been phenomenal. 

I'm not saying it won't all come crashing down - but I am a different person since seeing the raw data on this stuff.

In the 'noise' of information overload, endless bloggers (like me!), the idea-soup of the web is too much to stomache; it just makes you sick and disorientated. I have found TED, in comparison, to provide insight and clarity. For me, insight and clarity are two of my most sought-after prizes. Our world is nothing if not confusing.

Let me mention a final TED speaker who has gone down in history: Charles Leadbeater. I associate his TED talk in 2007 on 'Innovation' with a series of related presentations that managed to capture for me, in essence, the value of 'bottom-up' analysis of social movements, education and the economy. I think my distrust of 'top-down' control mechanisms crystalised from that point.

(A case in point: Twitter... all of these educators passionately looking for improvements to learning without anyone telling them to, measuring them, getting them to sign-off, filling in forms etc - much of the time there is one lone tweeter at a school, starting a mini-revolution in their own backyard, answerable to no one but the hive mind of the REAL education revolution. OR the old cliché: a bunch of buzzing bees being the change they want to see in the world!) 

Leadbeater has more recently spoken at TED on 'Education Innovation in the Slums', a crucial topic, because it would break your heart to see the approach of poorer nations like Rwanda or Cambodia who are embracing a cliché of 1960s English Boarding School class control & rote learning that is ill-fitted to economies needing not factory workers but entrepreneurs. 

***** We have booked Charles Leadbeater to come to our school and we're inviting you too! ****

At my school (NBCS, in Sydney) we have been so taken by Leadbeater's insight and original thinking that we booked him up to come and speak! We're running our own one-day Leadbeater conference! 

We figured we'd go ahead and book him in and then get the word out so people can come and join us! 

He is presenting on "Learning from the Extremes" on June 14, 2011. You can book up a spot right now, while we have spaces free: http://charlesleadbeater.eventbrite.com/

Please post comments with your own top 5 recommended TED talks! 

'A Day With Steve Collis' at my School in Sydney

Only read this if you live in Sydney or Australia - or are willing to travel!!

This is a guilty pleasure - instead of offering thorough practical training for a particular ICT in education skill, I'm just running a general 'Day with Steve Collis'.

The course is for educators, especially leaders or aspiring leaders.

The day will let me explore a variety of the 'best bits' of what I have to offer.

These 'best bits' will cluster around these core challenges I have faced since becoming a teacher:

1. How can I act effectively and make progress in my projects and ambitions when I am so busy I only get the top 5% of my to do list done and have creativity sapped out of me by relentless interruptions, deadlines, paperwork, etc.

2. Following on from #1 - how can I bring order to the chaotic information systems of my school? In my case, I get 80 emails a day. Many emails imply I should take action - but what action, and how do I remember it, and what if the sender is ambiguous? There is a method for bringing elegant, practical clarity to all this mess. I go home each day with Inbox at zero. We'll look at the method together!

3. Following on from #1 or #2 - how can I reduce cure work anxiety and nurture my energy levels, creativity, and optimism? 

4. How do I create change-momentum in my school? How can I effectively catalyse transformed teacher practice? It is a rare visitor to my school who has not identified this as their number 1 question.

5. Following on from #3... How do I bring out the best in students and colleagues, especially if they are off-side, negative, or are feeding a collective culture of defeatism.

Now, I have not nailed these dilemmas quite yet, but I've made progress with a great deal of them, and I think I have a map for how to navigate the rest.

It's going to be pure indulgence having a full day on this stuff! 

If you're interested, our first date is 1 April 2011 (no this is not a practical joke!). I am sure we will re-run the day in future too. Contact learn@scil.nsw.edu.au for more information and to book.

Our official advertisement and overview is here: http://scil.com.au/workshop/a-day-with-steve-collis

The page includes this ridiculous photo of me: (which nevertheless pretty much sums HappySteve up)