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March 12, 2021

Hacking Education: 5 Key Elements For Implementing New Ideas

Think back to a time you implemented a new idea with a group of your peers. What made it successful or challenging? For me, this process is both exciting and intense, wanting the idea to work and also understanding the stress that such changes bring about.

Hacking EducationThis school year, I’m trying a new role on for size — Instructional Coach. In this role, I’ll be bringing a lot of new ideas to the table. I’m nervous, energized, and filled with hope. Yet, I needed some reminders on how to successfully implement new ideas within systems that may or may not have equivalent buy-in from all members.

Enter Mark Barnes, author of Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School (special thanks to Mark’s co-author, Jennifer Gonzalez, as well). This summer, a group of 50 educators and I embarked on a journey as we read their book. Now, we’re preparing to implement hacks as individuals at our respective schools. In talking with Mark via Google Hangout, he guided our thinking with five key elements that will help provide focus and direction as we implement new ideas in our systems.

Don’t Go It Alone

“We’re better together than we are apart.” Get a small group of people together who are energized and willing to try the new idea. Trying a new idea alongside others will help with motivation, iteration, and continuation of the idea over time. Approach your administration as a team, informing them of the idea and the objectives, while simultaneously asking for their help and support. Change often begins at the grassroots level with teachers (as Mark reminded me), and is elevated when we advocate to leadership as a team. When your administration is also on board, the success of an idea has the potential to increase and spread. This helps to create a cohesive team and a supportive environment.

Use Your Small Group To Launch Globally

Once your small group has tested, evolved, and created a successful idea, you’ll be able to say, “We’ve learned how to do it, so it won’t be as big of a learning curve for you.”The case study that your small group went through will help you to be authentic with the rest of your staff. You can inform them how the idea changed over time, the pitfalls you experienced, and the successes you saw from the implementation. This will help you to condense the process for others and ensure less stress, when possible, as they integrate these hacks into their practice.

Understand The Upfront Investment

“You might have to put time in, in the beginning, but you’re going to get that back later.” The implementation of an idea includes immense planning, thought, and collaboration. All of this can consume much of your time and energy. In the moment, this can feel overwhelming and potentially be an opportunity to give up on the idea itself. Understand going in that the time you invest will provide a tremendous return on your investment. However, also understand that this return often will need time to develop.

Be Committed

“Go in realizing and expecting there will be a learning curve.” Your idea will change and grow over time. The plan will need to adjust based upon the many factors in your learning environment. Go in with an understanding that change is necessary and essential to develop an effective idea. During this process of refining an idea, continuously try to separate your pride from the success of the idea. Your initial thoughts will continue to develop, and that will mean getting rid of a piece of an idea you once thought was essential. This only gets easier with practice and will help your idea grow in its success.

Narrow Your Focus To Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed

(Mark quoting Hacking series author Starr Sackstein“If you come away with one thing… and it will make them (the reader) better, then we have succeeded.” Try, whenever possible, to make only one change at a time and sustain that change long enough to iterate the idea and improve it. When you try to change too much, you have too many variables in play, often resulting in confusion and overwhelming the educators (and students) in the building. Keeping a narrow focus will help to build trust among your community that will enable them to be successful with the implementation.

I’m often challenged by the number of ideas that have been abandoned in education. True, some ideas are worthy of being abandoned. However in my experience, it’s more often the case that being overwhelmed with the quantity of new ideas or implementing an idea that’s time consuming, that results in such abandonment.

This year, as I implement my own hack, I’ll remember — thanks to authors Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez, and the 50 educators in our book study — that my idea will change, evolve, and grow and through that, my commitment must remain. I’m also reminded that my immense preparation will pay off as I anticipate push back and challenges, and I’m committed to open and honest feedback from my peers.

Most importantly, I’m comforted by the quotation “Mistakes are evidence you are trying.” All of my ideas won’t be successful, yet my effort will sustain nonetheless. This undying effort will help display my commitment to educators and student learning, while simultaneously increasing my teacher leadership skills.

This year, I encourage you to share your ideas, iterations, and challenges that lead to successful student learning in your building. Let’s all be the source of feedback and unwavering support for one another, as we implement new ideas.


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