There have been myriad of reform efforts over the past twenty years, encompassing system-wide school improvement strategies and structural reforms as well as smaller-scale initiatives targeting a particular aspect or group within education. Despite the best of intentions, there has been little demonstrable improvement in the enduring challenges facing our education system. The system is further challenged by the struggle to keep pace with the evolving demands being placed on it from the changing social, political and economic conditions and technological advancements.

While sustained, system-wide innovation and improvement has remained largely elusive, there exist pockets of innovation and educational success around the country. Much of the innovation occurring in education is taking place in schools, driven by school leaders and teachers who are creating new approaches, constructing new learning environments and providing novel opportunities for their learners in response to the challenges and new demands facing our school system. However, too often these innovative practices remain unknown and untested outside the school in which they were developed.

The sub-scale nature of most educational innovations results from the lack of channels, incentives, and support to disseminate new approaches, as well as the absence of mechanisms for testing and validating innovations in new school contexts. Even in government initiatives such as the Teacher Led Innovation Fund or Communities of Learning, which are designed to promote new knowledge creation and knowledge sharing, there are few structures in place to support the sharing of knowledge and ideas beyond the immediate setting in which they were developed. Consequently, it is unsurprising that the New Zealand Council for Educational Research’s (NZCER) 2015 survey of secondary schools found that only 33% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that they had good opportunities to see and discuss the work of teachers in other schools whose work interests them.

There, however, is potential to learn from what is occurring in other sectors around agile learning and local innovation hubs. Creating local hubs, based in schools or across clusters of schools, could facilitate the scaling of educational ideas and practices as well as promoting bottom- up innovation and knowledge generation. These hubs would provide external support and resources and the necessary infrastructure to enable educators to design, test, review and iteratively develop approaches and practices in the contexts of practice and in doing so formalise the design and experimentation processes that occur in schools and oversee the scaling of successful ideas and practices across the education system.

In a move towards such a vision, The Education Hub has recently launched its Bright Spots Awards, supported by NEXT Foundation. The name comes from the notion that bright spots – the schools, teachers and programmes that are providing innovative and enriching opportunities and achieving outstanding outcomes for learners – exist across the education system and that there is considerable potential to leverage and learn from their success.

The awards provide the opportunity for teachers and school leaders to design, trial and iteratively develop, with expert support, new ways of working and innovative practices in their schools. Each award is worth up to $75,000 over two years, and will include funding for teacher release time,

specialist support, and also to enable the scaling of effective practice to new school contexts. Successful applicants will also receive hands-on support from The Education Hub and the opportunity to participate in a two-year professional learning programme focused on the effective design, development, implementation and evaluation of promising practices.

The Education Hub hopes that the Bright Spots Awards will play a critical role in the educational R&D infrastructure by formalising and supporting the design and experimentation processes that occur in schools and the dissemination of successful ideas and practices. In doing so they would celebrate and validate the knowledge and expertise of educators, positioning them as key drivers of change and development in education.

For more information about the Bright Spots Awards, including an application form, visit here. Applications are open to any teachers or school leaders working in the school-level sector in New Zealand. Applications close 1st June.

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