FedEx Prep: Time for Innovation

There are always obstacles to innovation for teachers; time and focus on curriculum can often hinder creativity and design.  After reading Daniel Pink’sDrive” 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.

For more conversations around education, follow me on Twitter and read my blog, The Wejr Board.


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.

58 comments for “FedEx Prep: Time for Innovation

  1. October 31, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    I am reading Drive right now, and I can’t seem to put it down. It’s amazing. It causes me to question so many of the decisions we make in our school. I admire your drive to bring more time for collaboration and innovation to your teachers! I am thoroughly jealous of the secondary schools in my district that can provide daily collaboration times for teachers. Our schedule just doesn’t allow it. Last year, the two support specialists and I covered an entire grade level for 45 min-1 hr at the end of the day, once every 8 weeks or so. This allowed the team to work together towards common initiatives. And, like you said, it gave me the opportunity to spend time in the classrooms!! I really like how you’re providing time for the individual teacher to learn and grow. Please let us know how your teachers embrace this gift you’re giving!!

    • November 1, 2010 at 6:06 pm

      Thanks Lyn – please see Jeff’s comments below as they seem to have guided me in a more DRIVE like direction. I am going to give it a try… we shall see what happens!

  2. October 31, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Nice post and even cooler idea. I love the last excerpt from Pink. Reminds me of another quote that goes something like this:

    The love for learning is not something we have to light in children, it’s something we have to keep from extinguishing.

    When a kid come to my class and says they hate this or that, my first thought is “someone has done you wrong and I’m going help you see they were wrong.”

    Let is know how this goes.

    Joe

    • November 1, 2010 at 6:05 pm

      Thanks Joe! And thanks for introducing me to Daniel Pink. I love the idea of what Pink talks about for kids – the DIY report cards and 20% time for them, I think there are teachers, like yourself, that are doing this and can see the huge benefits.

  3. October 31, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Here is a piece from my blog, written this past summer, which might interest you. http://bit.ly/clcSE3
    Kirsten Olson, author of Wounded By School, wrote a very interesting and apt response just today. You might check out her blog as well. She’s written about giving teachers more time to dream and create. You can find her on Old Sow.

    Hope this works for you.

    • November 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm

      Thanks Bill. I think by discussing creativity in the way you have, we look at ways to make steps toward changing the culture of our schools to be a place that encourages creativity, not one that extinguishes it. We have a long way to go but by bringing these ideas to light, we can then create action that moves us in the right direction. I do follow Kirsten on Twitter but I will take a look at her blogs more closely. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Cale Birk
    November 1, 2010 at 2:17 am

    We have made weekly collaborative time for our teachers, and have it backed on to subject specific tutorials for our students. The teachers must be working together to look at new ways to approach curriculum, instruction and/or assessment, and it is not preparation time for lessons or marking. We have it backed on to students either volunteering (if they are caught up and wish to get additional help) or being directed by teachers (if the student is behind and needs additional, subject specific support).

    Having an administrator cover a class is very challenging to sustain and very difficult to spread out (especially when you have 80 teachers). We have chosen the model that we have because it allows our administrative team to be a part of some of the collaborative learning that is going on (which, according to Vivienne Robinson (2007) is one of the most powerful methods of professional development in its impact on students), and allows us to spread ourselves out more evenly with the entire staff. Even with this model, we cannot be a part of all of our collaborative meetings, but we are trying!

    Just one set of thoughts.

    Cale Birk
    Principal, South Kamloops Secondary
    @birklearns

    • November 1, 2010 at 6:01 pm

      Thanks Cale. Yes, this would be a much greater challenge for admin to offer this at the high school level as we only have 15 teaching staff members. I have been part of the collaborative time before at the previous school I taught (high school of 1250 students). The time was not successful because our department tried to come up with consensus on where we wanted to go – I think this halted creativity. Is there a way that teachers can be given more autonomy that is not in a group setting? I think collab time is essential to discussing assessment/pedagogy; is there a way we can add time for particular teachers looking to be creative?

      • Cale Birk
        November 1, 2010 at 7:51 pm

        While it may only be my perspective, I find that collaborative learning is incredibly powerful. I just think of my own experiences with Twitter, and with my colleagues locally and globally. Moreover, as collaborative learning and problem solving are brought to the forefront as skills for 21st Century learners (and for many other centuries both past and future), I really believe that we need to role model these for our students as well. As a result, I believe we have to work with eachother as educators to try and get through that “stalling” that certainly can happen when we wrestle over a common goal: our students will be experiencing the very same thing when they develop this skill, and we need to work through that with them.

        I also feel that collaborative learning can be used as the springboard for individual learning. While we may not be able to provide the 20% of time that Google does, we can provide a little time, and from that time with our colleagues generate a fire inside of us that leads us to sitting on Twitter for the majority of a Hallowe’en night (yes, I have officially become a nerd) checking out what is going on in the world of education. I would not have done this if I hadn’t gotten an initial push from my learning network.

        An interesting phenomena that I have found with Twitter (and just using this as a current example) is that I feel a certain sense of accountability to the greater group of people out there to continuously find and pass along good information. This is because I feel a part of a larger collective–a collaborative group of individuals with whom I work interdependently. Personally, I find it extremely motivating, and more motivating if I were to work on my own. I would also think that Google gives this time with an end in mind, and if that end were not being met, they would find a means to improve the use of this time–in my opinion, the accountability may not be explicit, but it is still very real.

        Of course, none of this is to discredit what Google or anyone else is doing. I just have not found the way to free people up (yet!) in the manner suggested that is sustainable. I also feel a bit shameful in critiquing one of the most successful companies in the world–certainly I am not purporting to be an expert, quite the opposite in fact. Rather than pontificate from the top, I am more suited to shouting from the bottom!

        Great discussion!

        • November 1, 2010 at 10:54 pm

          Yes, I think I have been considering these two items as separate when they could be much more closely linked. If I could provide some “Innovative Time” for teachers to create or design, then collab time would be a powerful tool to spread this. I completely agree with the power of collab time. We offered release time for our staff 3 years ago but only one person took us up on it and so she spent some days in another teacher’s classroom. I think I need to visit a school where they are using the collab time effectively. Autonomy can be a great thing but isolation is a problem. Thanks for linking the two Cale!

          Also, so great to network with another BC admin on here!

  5. November 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Chris,

    I think this is a good idea but want to give you some push back…..

    From what I understand from Pink’s book is that the Autonomy over time needs to not have any strings what so ever. In your case teachers get the time if they decide they want to work on A) Something dealing directly with school/their class and B) It has to have some Instructional Technology component.

    In both the Atlassian and the Google stories there were/are no strings attached to how employees use that time. It does not even have to focus on any aspect of the employees work. Complete Autonomy is no strings attached. This is also where the innovation is coming from. Google is not saying we’ll give you 20% if you look at how you can do your product differently. They just give 20% time. So an engineer that works on the search team hates e-mail and create gmail. Someone at Google wanted to see the future and has been using their 20% for who knows how long to create a car that drives itself! http://gizmodo.com/5662005/test-driving-googles-driverless-car You can’t tell me this was part of Google’s search strategy to begin with.

    This kind of radical innovation could not / can not happen if there are string attached. Will the 20% time as you outlined it make the learning better for kids? I have no doubt and I do think it’s a great start. But what if it was untethered 20% time? What if you had a teacher that would rather design a garden for kids, or build an iPhone app for your school, or redo say the evacuation route of your school for a fire alarm because they see a better way to do it and they are passionate about student safety.

    What if that time was completely untethered? I know how crazy of an idea this sounds…which is what makes Pink’s point so strong to begin with. That when a company, employer, Principal, gives complete control of the time over to the employee amazing things happen and new innovations are amazing ways to do things emerge.

    And of course there comes risk…I’m sure for every Gmail story at Google there are 10-20-50 product failures, but learning happens in those failures as well. The second quote you use I think speaks to this point. In Kindergarten we don’t have “Free Time” and then tell kids it’s only free if they build with blocks this way, or use the kitchen set like this…..no….we just give them free time, and then we sit back and watch the learning happen.

    I think there’s another point to this that Pink makes as well and that the idea of working in groups and having the autonomy to create your own groups around common interest or passion. Do your teachers have to work alone? Or could they pair up with others across grade levels and create something cool that they are all passionate in? How would you work that into your plan?

    i think if you truly want to take on Pink’s idea then you only need one rule:

    What this is NOT:

    time for marking, prepping current curricula, refining current projects/units/program

    and then see what happens? Risky? Absolutely! Willing to give it a try for 6 weeks? That’s up to you. :)

    • November 1, 2010 at 5:49 pm

      Thank you so much for the motivation to actually do what should be done. When I originally spoke to some of my colleagues at a conference, I presented the idea to them and they believed that it would be better to keep it a bit more focused – to take baby steps. This time, however, is not about baby steps. I emailed Daniel Pink to get his thoughts and my questions focused on exactly what you are saying. In my presentation tomorrow, I will remove the “strings attached” piece. In a system where control is much too prevalent, I, too, got caught up in where I would like to see our school go. Thanks so much, Jeff, for bringing me back into the real idea of autonomy. I will edit this blog too. For those reading this after edit, the proposal used to say:

      “This time will be self-directed to develop, design, research, observe, reflect or create something in the area of Education Technology that will benefit your students. At the end of your 6 weeks I will remain in your class to help you implement your ideas.”

      • November 1, 2010 at 5:54 pm

        Also removed:

        “You will have to submit to me a proposal in the general area that you would like to focus your efforts.”
        and
        “It will benefit student learning”.

        Thanks again Jeff!

        • November 1, 2010 at 6:03 pm

          The other thing to note, Jeff, is that at Google, Atlassian, and 3M, people were hired because they were particular thinkers. In a system where teachers are hired by seniority, creativity and outside the box thinking may be a challenge – will let you know how it goes!

          • November 2, 2010 at 12:23 am

            Glad I could help Chris!

            My hope is that more administrators will try this. I do agree that the culture of those business is different then many of our schools today.

            I think the sad reality of our education system is that as Pink says at our root we’re all innovative, but for the many you have mentioned life and the education system itself has taken that out of them.

            Let’s hope that this complete autonomy will help some of those who have lost the creative spirit to find it again.

            I look forward to your updates…..and any administrator willing to take a risk like this…..is one I’d work for in a instant…..and so will many others. :)

    • November 12, 2010 at 12:24 pm

      I could feel the excitement rising in me as I read this conversation. As a classroom teacher, I am bound by curriculum and the 40 minutes per week we get to collaborate is all about the curriculum as well.
      What would I work on? You are asking me to set my mind free and create from the place in me that secretly holds passion and intense energy. I feel a bit like a prisoner coming out into the light. Will I need to frolic in the sunshine for a bit? Will “my” time allow me to dream a bit during those first hours, maybe talk with others about those dreams, before actually setting out on my creative journey? I would be thrilled!

      • November 14, 2010 at 9:41 pm

        Thanks Gail! Although I think this is a baby step for our school – I hope to somehow expand on this in the coming years. I’m excited that teachers are excited!

  6. November 1, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Hi Chris,

    Wow, this idea is great. I loved the idea of 20% creativity time in Pink’s Drive but I never thought it could be used in School. Until now. It is great that you are willing to experiment with this idea in school. My hope is that your teachers will find it a worthwhile endeavor and take advantage of this wonderful opportunity afforded them. I am definitely looking forward to hearing how this works out for you. Thanks for sharing. Brian

    • November 1, 2010 at 10:56 pm

      Thanks Brian. Thanks for the conversation around Pink’s ideas on Twitter as well. I will keep you posted on how this pans out!

  7. November 1, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    I read Drive last year and the 20% time peaked my interest as well. I wondered if it would be possible to implement with my staff. I haven’t given it further thought since though but will be very interested to hear how it goes for you.

    Cale talks about collaborative time… I want to encourage you to think about that some more. I just read comments from DuFour and DuFour in a book I’m currently reading “21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn (Leading Edge)”. As you probably know, they advocate strongly for Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) where teachers work together examining student work, problem solving, learning, discovering, etc. in teams. They strongly argue that teachers have worked far too long autonomously and on their own. The power of professional learning, they say, is best realized together. You might want to read some of DuFour’s work on PLC’s and see how that influences your thinking on 20% time. Maybe there’s a way to reconcile the two…

    Great post Chris – and a very leading edge idea for an educator / principal to try out.

    • November 1, 2010 at 10:59 pm

      Thanks Brian. I remember DRIVE sitting on your shelf when we met last year. As I said to Cale (above), I think I may have set aside the collab time far too early. I need to find other ways to try to implement this. If someone comes up with a great idea from the Innovative Prep, it would be great to have some time to collaborate with colleagues on this idea. I have read some of DuFour’s stuff a few years back but when we offered it and very few took it on, we shifted conversations – time to revisit, I think. We do use our staff meetings for collab toime but this is far too rare.

      As Wagner said, “How are we supposed to model collaborative learning when we teach in isolation?”

      Thanks for continuing the conversation!

    • Cale Birk
      November 3, 2010 at 3:09 am

      Having been a disciple of Dufour for the last 9 years, I guess that I have some pretty strong beliefs about working in isolation, and having done it for so long as a teacher and as an administrator, I truly believe that working with others in an interdependent collaborative group (much like the one that we are all a part of here) is refreshing, energizing, and makes the members excited to be accountable to eachother. Having made collaborative time a part of our instructional week is something that I have done at two separate and relatively large (1000 and then 1550 students) schools, and I will do it again and again. I totally agree with Tony Wagner–if we value collaboration as a process to improve instruction and also as a skill for students to take forward in the 21st Century, then we need to make it a priority in our schools.

      Great discussion, and I am excited to see how it goes for you and your staff Chris!

  8. Mindy Dickerson
    November 2, 2010 at 1:30 am

    Hello!
    I tried this concept with my staff a couple of weeks ago, and they were astounded that I was letting them have time during a faculty meeting for their own learning. They got together with people who shared their “passion” for research in a specific area. All I told them was to think about what they wished they had time to research, try, create, and they were to find a few people (or work by themselves) in order to complete the task.

    There were many questions, specifically, “Can we ____?” I would reply with the proverbial, “If that’s what you would like to do.” They looked like little kids, all on task and engaged. It was really inspiring!

    Out of the time together (which I have extended to our early dismissal afternoon this coming Friday):
    Research on Boys in Crisis; activities centered around character development in conjunction with our current Tribes activities; how to deepen book club discussions in intermediate grades; recording book trailers using flip cameras; creating smart board activities geared for student usage during small group rotations; small group math structure and concurrent classroom activiies.

    Wow! I was so excited with how our kids will benefit from the “work” of our staff!

    • November 14, 2010 at 9:42 pm

      Awesome!!! This is just the start of something great for teachers. Keep me posted!

  9. November 2, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Hey Chris – We also tried this last year after I read Drive – Here are a couple of the Blog posts I wrote on the topic:

    http://burlingtonhigh.blogspot.com/2010/03/were-going-google-on-monday-can-this.html

    http://burlingtonhigh.blogspot.com/2010/03/i-cant-believe-these-comments-came-from.html

    I am sure that your teachers will love this format. The next question I have is how to we do this for students?

  10. November 3, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    I have just begun to read Drive and am really intrigued by how intrinsic motivation works. Has anyone tried something like 20% time or fedex days with students? I would love to hear what happened in those instances and how they were implemented by those teachers.

    If any of you could direct me to some people who have tried this I would love to speak with them as well.

    Great post.

    • November 14, 2010 at 9:44 pm

      I have not yet read about any teachers doing this yet bur people like James Gill (@jagill) and Joe Bower (@joe_bower) have been talking about it. I will let you know as soon as I hear!

  11. November 7, 2010 at 5:52 am

    Wow, Chris – talk about putting your money where your mouth is. Bravo I say. I will post more after I have had time to reflect. I didn’t want to wait before saying what a great idea you have had.

  12. November 11, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    What a great find – I am in workplace learning (education’s cousin), a parent (in the BC ed system) and I love Dan Pink’s books too. I love that you are actively experimenting with concepts that are rooted in business.

    My observation (for what its worth) is that allowing for some time for complete freedom is something you do for the long term. It is almost irrelevant that people create things in the beginning. I think the goal is to nuture the curiousity, imagination, sense of play/risk, and yes drive. So, remind yourself that you are doing this to create a culture of curiousity. It’s more about the process, than the outcome. Focus as much as you can on the process – debrief on how it felt to be working this way. How did they self-organize? What did they notice about their attitude. Did they find it really hard to do? Really reflect on the experience. Eventually, you can shift the focus to outcome. I’m not sure if this totally aligns with the fed ex idea, though!

    I think the process is what we are hoping kids will learn. But, we don’t focus on process we focus on outcomes. So, what you are doing is hard, hard, hard!

    You are also leading people through a process of unlearning and shifting culture. Changing culture takes time. That’s what is going to sustain your ideas – once it becomes “the way we do things around here”, that’s when it will stick.

    Thanks for letting me (a pseudo educator!) add my two cents.

    Holly

    • November 14, 2010 at 9:46 pm

      Yes, we work in an education that is unfortunately, often focused on marks and outcomes. We need to shift the focus to the process of learning – for staff and students. I am planning that this is just the beginning and we will continue to build on the process. Thanks for your thoughts!

  13. November 13, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Hi Chris,

    I love your idea! While reading “Drive,” I too, wondered how exactly, within the confines of a public school with contractual obligations and restrictions, how I could bring the FedEx concept. How do you think the “offer” of a FedEx day would have gone over differently if it was a a requirement?

    I look forward to learning more about the products your school creates!

    Well done!

    Steve

    • November 14, 2010 at 9:48 pm

      Yes, as soon as we require staff to do something, it takes away the important autonomy piece. We are in a field where autonomy is a challenge but if we take small steps toward this, we will get more motivated staff and students.

  14. Brian Sullivan
    November 25, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Thank you for this hosting this conversation. I teach in Northern Ontario and we are following Dufours model for PLC’s. The collaborative nature of the PLC is essential in education. We’ve developed job enbedded PLC’s at my school and organized the PLC’s so that member of curriculum units are free at the same time allowing them to collaborate on a project. These PLC project’s are directed in the sense that there is a framework and a goal that is usually tied to student engagement or student achievement. I think the time we free up our teachers to develop, plan and innovate is better used if it is directed and it is collaborative. This requires the admin team to have a vision and be able to influence the staff in such a way the their creativity and abitlity to innovate is encouraged and respected. I think we’ll see the same kind of results as Atlassian’s FexEx Day except we will all be pulling the same direction. I could be more powerful.

  15. December 2, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    I recently wrote a post for my company blog about Dan Pink’s TED.com talk in which he discusses “FEDEX days”. He also talks a bit about ROWE (results only work environment), in which the only thing that matters is that you get your work done – how and where are irrelevant. Check it out here: http://www.suttonintegrated.com/blog/corporate/the-future-is-motivated/

  16. Terry Daugherty
    December 11, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    I have been involved with a type of PLC that came out of Annenberg Research. It is called Critical Friends groups. The idea is to bring a variety of educators(not just Math or third grade teachers only) together to make public their practice and problems in order to work together to improve it. No one in the group is the one expert they are all the experts, using protocols to give equal voice to all. In the seven years I have been participating in this work I have never left a meeting where I have said “that was a waste of time”. In fact I usually come away with new insight on something to try in my own classroom and inspired by a colleague. This is the best professional development I have been involved with in my 39 years of teaching. It also sustains me in this hard work of teaching

  17. December 30, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    This is a really compelling idea! I’m thinking of trying to implement the idea at our school. I think people would really go in for having me take over their lessons for a while so they can be innovative. That would send a really powerful message. I’ve written down my favourite education-related quotes from Drive on my blog here: http://bit.ly/dxetSm

    Thanks Chris, Jeff and everyone else for developing (and sharing) this great idea!

  18. March 26, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Chris! I love the idea and the thread! Any updates?

  19. October 6, 2011 at 6:00 am

    Well done on providing this great opportunity to your staff. I am sure the results will exceed everyone’s expectations. I cannot wait for Daniel Pink’s work on motivation to become common place in education. Maybe students should be made the same offer.

  20. November 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Chris!

    It is very nice to read this thread!
    We at Projectplace belive in FedEx days and decided to try it out. You can read how we made it on our blog:
    http://blog.projectplace.com/projectblog/2011/11/08/the-power-of-creative-days

    Best regards,

    Roza

  21. Sandy
    November 26, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Thank you for inspiring me to take risks, Joe.
    One thing I do that is successful in my classroom is
    providing a “Creative Hour” each week for my students
    to tinker with whatever interests them at the time.
    They do plenty of thinking as they look forward to
    that important hour each week. It seems to unleash
    their desire and need to just BE.

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