There are always obstacles to innovation for teachers; time and focus on curriculum can often hinder creativity and design. After reading Daniel Pink’s “Drive” and listening to Tony Wagner speak, I reflected on Atlassian’s idea of “FedEx Day”,where
…to spark greater creativity among his team, and to make sure Atlassian’s programmers were having fun at work, he [Mike Cannon-Brookes] decided to encourage them to spend a day working on any problem they wanted… Atlassian calls these twenty-four hour bursts of freedom and creativity “FedEx Days” – because people have to deliver something overnight. (From Drive, p.92-93)
Other innovative organizations, such as Google and 3M, use 20% time to encourage creativity and design. How could I bring this idea to our school? Pink discusses the three keys to intrinsic motivation as autonomy, mastery, and purpose; a key component of autonomy is time. How could staff be provided with more autonomy and time to develop innovative ideas that would help student learning? In BC, similar to many other areas, we do not exactly have extra money floating around, nor do we have extra bodies to provide more prep coverage so providing teachers with extra time is a financial challenge.
This past month I have been covering a teacher’s class twice a week while he coached our soccer teams; I have thoroughly enjoyed being in an intermediate class (this year, I am teaching reading intervention to grade 3 students so I have less time teaching intermediates). What if I, as principal, could physically provide the autonomy and time (in the form of an extra prep) for a teacher to focus on an area in which they are passionate? This would benefit me as I would get to spend more time with students, it would benefit the teachers who take me up on the offer as they would be motivated to take a risk and try something innovative, and most importantly, it would benefit the students as the teacher would deliver something to our school that would impact student learning. The extra prep period would be their “FedEx Prep” (although it would be more like Canada Post as the delivery would happen a few weeks later rather than overnight).
This is in the beginning stages but here is my offer to the staff of Kent (2nd version, thanks to Jeff Utecht):
- I will provide you with an extra prep per week (“A Fed Ex Prep”) for 6 straight weeks. This would be prep-free for you as I would prep whichever subject the you would like. The time is also negotiable (ie. if you would rather have 2 periods a week for 3 weeks).
- This time will be self-directed to ANYTHING you want with the only goal that you must DELIVER your ideas.
- I also encourage you to use one of your professional days to provide further time (teachers in our district, under their contract are provided with a few extra pro-d days to use if they wish).
What this is NOT:
- time for marking, prepping current curricula, refining current projects/units/program
This will be presented to my staff Tuesday. I will let you know how teachers respond and what comes out of this. I encourage others to comment with any feedback on how we can improve on this “FedEx or Innovative Prep” initiative. If you are doing something similar in your school, I would loved to hear about it.
I’ll finish up with another quote from Pink (p. 89),
Have you ever seen a six-month old or a one-year old who is not curious or self-directed? I haven’t. That’s how we are out of the box. If, at age fourteen or forty-three, we’re passive and inert, that’s not because it’s our nature. It’s because something flipped our default setting… that something could well be management – not merely how bosses treat us at work, but also how the broader ethos has leeched into school families, and many other aspects of our lives.
We work in a system that is often inflexible and externally driven. It is my hope that, although we cannot provide 20% time, the Innovative Prep time will offer staff the opportunity for motivation to dive into their passion and deliver something creative to our students.
I would love feedback from you and I look forward to your comments.
UPDATE: EMAIL RESPONSE FROM DAN PINK (click on image to enlarge)
UPDATE FROM SCHOOL:
I have now presented this to the school and 3 excited teachers have taken me up on my offer. The time is completely theirs with the only plan being they must deliver this back to the staff/students. We will also be attempting an actual FedEx Day, that Pink speaks of in his email, at a professional development day in the future.