Thursday, March 31, 2011

School System Idea-Management?

"Idea management is the practice of gathering and evaluating ideas in a structured fashion, with a goal of selecting the best ideas with the greatest bottom-line potential for implementation." (

Why are idea-management systems ideal for schools?  

Schools are problem solving centers.  Schools' overarching problem is how do we educate each and every child to their best potential?  Teachers are continually asking that question and employing idea after idea to provide the best possible education for their students.

Tenured teachers like me have seen positive ideas flourish in schools and make substantial change.  We've also been witness to ideas that take time, but have little to no value.  Idea management systems could potentially evaluate all ideas from the start, helping schools and teachers to choose ideas with the greatest merit.  Ideal idea management systems would also become a place where schools' good ideas are noted, discussed and exchanged.  When I attended an idea-management lecture a few years ago, I was struck by the fact that most of the good ideas come from those in the front line -- in schools, that would be the people working with students.  In some schools, those people's ideas get little to no attention, and in other schools vehicles exist for idea sharing and evaluation.

How would a school system create and employ an idea management system?

School systems need to create a welcoming atmosphere for ideas and a system for idea collection, evaluation and exchange.  Unlike businesses, schools' bottom-line is not making money, instead it's to best educate each child.

So for starters, school systems have to define "best educate" for their system/schools.  Currently, I would describe "best educate" as the combination of the following criteria:
  • simple, inspiring, productive, welcoming work spaces/environment/structure.
  • energetic, educated, inspired staff.
  • students who are ready to learn i.e. adequate nutrition, rest, health-care, commitment to learning.
  • family members who are both welcome and integrated into the school culture and efforts.
  • essential skill instruction/development: reading, writing, math, social competency.
  • project-base learning opportunities which integrate the arts to build content, knowledge and 21st C skills: communication, collaboration, critical thinking/inquiry and creativity.
  • adequate tools and supplies for learning including up-to-date technology.
  • sports, health and recreation facilities, equipment and programs.
Next, schools need to promote a process of continual evaluation and response.  This action would promote an attitude of positive change -- embracing and strengthening what works, and eliminating, revising or replacing what doesn't work.  How can schools do this in a fluid, productive manner that includes all voices in a school community?

A simple solution for schools could be to start with a collaborative Google doc (see model below) where all are invited to share their ideas.  There could be a protocol in place about how to post, what's acceptable on the document and what is not, and the process of evaluation/implementation.  I use a similar "action" chart with my students.  We look at the chart once a week to determine student/teacher work and goals.  It's an effective process.  

Obviously the chart will have limitations, and that's why businesses and other organizations employ computer-model idea management systems.  But for now, this is a start, and in summary, ideas are important ingredients to healthy, forward-moving, student-centered schools and educational systems.  When ideas from all involved are welcome and reviewed, the system has its greatest chance for success and innovation.  I believe these thoughts were supported at the recent The IDEAS ECONOMY Conference sponsored by the Economist on the Berkeley campus as summarized by Randy Haykin in his Innovation Sparks Bulletin:

This post is a leap for me.  It's a post based on my belief in the potential ideas hold for positive change in schools -- ideas from all members of the school community from students to family members to staff to community members to administration.  As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Model of a simple idea chart schools can use to collect, review, evaluate and implement ideas from all members of a community. Note that the ideas expressed in the chart are just examples, not ideas related to any one school.