Pilots: Creating Safer Space for Experimentation in Schools

In a recent post, “Creating a Progress Culture One Pilot at a Time,” I identified four reasons to support piloting ideas and programs in schools. In this post I will expand on the third of those ideas:

  • “Supporting pilots encourages experimentation and mitigates the damage that may occur when a new idea falls short. If we are trying to push the boundaries of what we can make happen in a school, we are likely to take a bridge too far from time to time. A pilot course or program creates a safer space for trying something new.”

Part of what we are trying to encourage in a moment of cultural and curricular transition in a school is a kind of entrepreneurial spirit. We want faculty members to experiment and to try new things in order to find a better way forward in our work with students. In the business world this approach, when thoughtfully and creatively applied, pays off in increased profit and market-share—in schools our “profit” is deepening and enriching student learning.

Experimenting and trying new things is difficult to say the least if everything happening in a school must operate constantly as if we have been doing it that way forever. Working with a pilot course or program places experimentation in a safer and more exciting place—there is a remarkable pay-off for success, and there is not lasting damage done by falling short.  It gives a school the rare ability to learn from both success and, importantly, from failure.  Interestingly, this also places the school in the position we seek for student learning—we want our students to learn the same way, and thus in working with pilots we model the approach we want them to take in their own education.

Another advantage is that when faculty members design and teach pilots, they are in the position to lead the school toward strategic outcomes. Designing, teaching, and reflecting on a pilot course places the faculty member at the center of the action where they should be. Such opportunities are important levers to impact faculty culture and thus student learning.

4 thoughts on “Pilots: Creating Safer Space for Experimentation in Schools

  1. bllbrwn423 April 15, 2012 / 5:57 pm

    Thanks, Ross. You articulate the benefits clearly and convincingly. We teachers, which includes all of the adults in school communities, need to take risks–not only to advance the work of the community, but also to keep remembering how it feels to do what we are asking students to encounter.

  2. glichtman April 15, 2012 / 6:31 pm

    Along these lines, I had a conversation the other day that I will blog on when I get the time, but the essence was this: one of our very best and most respected teachers wants to innovate at school but does not know how, or what the process is, or who to talk to, or if he will be supported. It was one of the most disheartening discussions I have ever had! We need to make sure that the paths to innovation, including piloting, are discussed so much and in so many different ways that our faculty and staff become natural pilots with a good map, not lost due to lack of navigation.

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