It is only sitting down and stringing together some words—despite not knowing what you want to write or where your narrative will go—that puts you into the place where the story can begin to unfold. This expresses an idea that is central to the Fail Fast approach: You can’t know what something is like, how you will feel about it, or what will result from it until you actually are doing it.
– An excerpt from “Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win” by Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz
As I sit here and struggle to piece together the words needed to recap one of the most challenging and rewarding weeks of my life, I constantly have to remind myself that the only way for the story to unfold is to start putting some words together. Just like a student at school, I am held back by the fear of failure and “not getting it right.” Writers block and learning have many similarities in the sense that it is our fear of failure that prevents us from trying. What would we write if we gave ourselves the license to make mistakes, be messy and not feel the need for instant coherence? What would school be like if we allowed students to take risks, make mistakes and learn “to be comfortable with not knowing all the answers?” This is exactly the question that motivated our first week in the Innovation Academy called iWeek.
During iWeek students were given the question “How can I help new people feel welcome to FDR and make their transition to our secondary school better?” Rather than begin the school year with the traditional syllabus and “rules of the class,” we* wanted students to feel what the Innovation Academy was all about by experiencing its core principals for one week. In mixed grade groups (grades 10, 11 and 12), students had to define their roles, go through the design thinking process and “serve an authentic audience in a purposeful and meaningful way.” At the end of the week, students were judged on the desirability, feasibility and viability of their “product” by an authentic audience in a room full of their peers, parents and teachers.
While I could make an incredibly long list of the things I learned during iWeek, here are my top three:
1. CULTURE IS PARAMOUNT
In a piece by Brian Chesky on culture, he points out that “in organizations (or even in a society) where culture is weak, you need an abundance of heavy, precise rules and processes,” and that “when the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing, which allows “people can be independent and autonomous.” In the Innovation Academy (IA), there is a strong culture of trust and students have the ability to work autonomously without the litany of rules and regulations that normally accompany project work and stifle creativity. In fact, in the IA, students take ownership of the culture and actually help younger students who are new to the IA embrace the culture. During the start of iWeek I witnessed this first hand when the seniors in my group stopped the whole team about an hour into the project and let the other students know that they were now a part of the IA. The seniors succinctly told the group that being part of the IA meant that anyone could “stand up and share ideas,” that learning spaces were flexible and everyone could sit “where and how worked best,”and finally that the learning environment should “feel alive,”at which point they elected someone the iPod DJ turned on some music and got back to work.
2. TRUE LEARNING TAKES PLACE WHEN FAILURE IS ENCOURAGED
In a great piece on the idea of flipping failure, Diego Rodrigo suggests that “instead of learning what went wrong when it’s too late to change anything, insist on getting feedback as early as possible.” This tip is both essential to what we do in the IA and a critical piece in the learning process. What made iWeek so much fun for the students is that they were encouraged to “fail fast” and “fail often”. Through out iWeek students were constantly confronted with “failure,” but it was what they did with that failure that was incredible. When it was clear that my groups original idea of an “Incredible Race” for new teachers was not going to work, they pivoted and started looking for other solutions. After working for some time without clearly defined group leaders or roles, my team reflected and realized that this was a huge mistake. Within minutes they regrouped, defined roles and got back to work more focused and efficient than they had been all morning. By giving students the space to learn from their failures, they were able to see how constant feedback (and failure) is the key to learning.
3. WHEN YOU EMPOWER STUDENTS, GREAT THINGS HAPPEN
I realize that this last one sounds cliche, but it is absolutely true. I can not begin to list all of the times this week that I was utterly in awe of my students. They amazed me with their creative ideas, their team management skills and their technical expertise in creating presentations and movies. Most of all, they amazed me with their honesty. When they needed my help or guidance they let me know and when my quick tips started turning into lectures they let me know too. Finally, I also felt empowered by truly letting the students take charge. During iWeek I was able to use to my whole self to best serve the needs of my students, rather than only sharing my “subject specialty” self. At times I was using my background in anthropology to help answer questions about interviews and observations. During other times I was able to draw on my passion for design thinking to help students prototype their ideas. There were also many moments where I was able to simply just sit and listen to what my students needed and go searching for the answers with them. By empowering students, I was able to truly come alive as a teacher as well as witness the amazing and varied abilities of the members of our Innovation Academy.
While iWeek was an amazing introduction to what this school year is going to be, I know there will be many challenges ahead. For now though, I am just excited that I am in a place where ” the story can begin to unfold.” In the IA we won’t always be “getting it right,” but we will be trying new things and learning from our failures, just as we expect our students to do.
Check out the iWeek video to learn more : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlyBrZXBOA0&feature=youtu.be