The Contradiction

We all hope to help our students grow to be creative, innovative, and self-actualized. However, we expect this to happen in schools where time is often a constant, rather than a variable. This is the opposite to how things should be…students should be given increasing responsibility over how their time is used. Instead, for the most part, we take away choice of time and activity as students get older. My daughter, who is 10, receives regular free play time in school. It is during this time that she learns valuable skills such as: co-operation, negotiation, teamwork, effective communication, and more. In high school, students are generally blocked in to certain time slots for certain courses. Free play (and recess) are eliminated. Students often become disenfranchised as the amount of choice is diminished. We end up with students who tolerate school, rather than embracing their education. Further, consider the role that a strict timetable/schedule might have on students with anxiety…this all leaves me wondering why? Why do we, as a system, continue with practices that limit the creativity and innovation of both staff and students? Why do we continue with structures that restrict opportunities? Why do we expect innovative teaching and learning to happen in the same old structures?

I’m not arguing that students should have complete free reign over the schedule and how their time is spent (although there are certainly those who subscribe to that idea). I’m not blaming anyone for our current focus on timetables rather than on structures that support learning, choice and innovation. I am, however, saying it is time for us to consider what we want the future of our system to look like. It is time for us to acknowledge the great contradiction we find ourselves in and to start looking for solutions that benefit our teachers and our students so a greater sense of ownership and empowerment permeates our system.

Thanks for reading,


Ignition 2015: School Re-Launched

Being the principal at Thomas Haney Secondary School is a very cool gig. Our model allows a variety of interesting opportunities for creative work in our role as administrators. My friend, and former THSS principal, Sean Nosek, mentioned to me that we would be facilitating a lot of tours…he was right. In my first year we hosted approximately 15 tours for educators from all over the province and from as far away as New Zealand. Part way through last year we started wondering what happens when our guests go back to their schools? They all love the tour, but does it lead to lasting change at schools?

At the same time, our admin team was reading about design thinking and Lean Start Up methodology. We started talking about the possibility of creating a new kind of tour….with a new post-tour conversation….and we wondered….

How could we build upon the great work Sean and the previous administrative teams had done in promoting innovative schooling?

What would happen if the tour became less of the focus?

What would happen if the tour acted as a disruptive event for our visitors and we followed that disruptive event with a facilitated dialogue for school teams to consider how structures can be adapted to fit with our incoming curriculum and graduation changes?

What if we took elements of design thinking and combined them with the relevant components of the Lean Start Up Methodology that fuels tech start ups?

What if we could develop the rocket fuel schools need to gain the confidence necessary to start a collaborative process that ignites change?

Ignition 2015: School Re-Launched is a 2 day learning event for individuals and school teams wanting to move beyond discussing innovation and move to actual implementation in the school renewal process. Charles Tsai, of Social Creatives, will kick off our event with a keynote titled “From Excellent Sheep to Motivated Elephants: A New Vision For Mass Education.” We will then take a tour of Thomas Haney Secondary before learning about how to scale innovative practices in our middle/secondary schools. Topics we will explore include: the concept of time, flexible scheduling, learning spaces, teacher collaboration structures, and using meaningful data to tell your school’s story. It should be noted that our purpose is not to promote the Thomas Haney model as the ideal model for every school. Rather, our purpose is to give you the tools to back to your school to create innovations that work for your school.

Ignition 2015 will give participants a chance to use Design Thinking and the Lean Start Up framework in planning transformation. These are structures and mindsets that can be taken back to schools to assist in change efforts. A unique feature of this event will be a focus on the user experience of teachers in the transformation process, something we believe is often neglected when personalization and transformation are discussed. Individuals and teams will leave with a practical, actionable set of strategies to use as well as a network of colleagues from other schools who are also involved in school renewal efforts.

We had the opportunity to preview some of this conference material to 25 staff from Timberline Secondary this Spring. From Principal Jeremy Morrow:

“Thank you for such a great day at THSS. The effort you all went to present, host, and challenge our staff was so valuable. The quality of the ensuing conversations has been inspiring and I have had a number of our staff express that this is the ‘best’ pro-d that they have participated in. It was refreshing to have so many people experience looking at a school that lives ‘outside of the box’, enabling staff to look freshly at some of the assumptions that we have been making….Again the ideas that are coming forward both system wide and course/department specific have been really exciting.  I appreciate the way in which you helped create such powerful conversations.” This year, Timberline Secondary has moved to self-directed afternoons, an initiative led by staff. See their progress here: and here:

Ignition 2015 is affordable, practical and has been developed with action in mind. We will go beyond the ‘why’ change needs to happen, and explore the ‘how’. Please see our Eventbrite link with all details here:

We look forward to working with you.