September 04, 2010

Let's save millions: What's your 100 hour challenge?

Moon walk
Changes happen all the time in schools. But, in the same way as it’s hard to realise that the flight you’re on is moving swiftly through the air until either all 24,000 kms are up, I think change in education often goes unseen. And those iterative changes cost a lot of dosh. I reckon this lack of marking time could be costing us millions of education dollars, pounds and euros, but could be resolved by every teacher undertaking one simple challenge.

Why is marking time on our learning important? This lack of awareness makes every professional development course a potential financial liability. In one room three weeks ago we worked out that between staff present and staff covering lessons, not to even mention the cost of my time there (and by comparison I’m incredibly cheap) that somewhere near $80,000 was being invested in that one day. If nothing BIG happens off the back of that day then we have an expensive problem.

Research proves that most professional development does very little developing at all, since we rarely do anything significant with the input and conversations we have: Professional Development - A great way to avoid change is a pretty seminal paper in that respect (pdf). And most of those buying in professional development are not interested or empowered in budgetary terms to take the long-line approach that's required to make a difference, that Sheryl outlines in her long post (the clue is in the length - learning is a complex beast that requires more than 60 minutes of brim and sparkle from a keynoter).

This is serious. It’s not that I think we should all be patting ourselves on the back every moment we tweak (or overhaul) our work, but unless we know where we’ve come from and how far then we cannot hope to build upon what we have learnt and achieved in the future. Marking time and distance in change is important. That’s why I think more of us should be setting ourselves the 100 hour challenge.

Less effort, more action

I had thought years ago that all schools, once a year, could aspire to achieve 100 innovations in 100 days. But then, when I sat down and thought about it, it would need coordination, voting, people collaborating to get it all done, more organisation to carve out that time together… Basically, in most school environments I know, collaboration of this nature would end up being 90% management, 10% action.

However, if instead of trying to organise the effort, and instead allow the forces of our ‘education market’ within the school community to take hold, we might see something different. What would happen if everyone in the school community decided to undertake their own, personal, 100 hour challenge – working on something they’d like to learn how to do, one hour per day, every day, for three months or so.

Matt Webb was the chap who framed it this way for me, pointing out that 100 hours is an incredibly long time to learn something when, say, compared to learning how to drive (30-50 hours-ish) or the total time spent walking the moon (160 hours) - the pic above is from the marvelous Nasa Moon set.

And yet, 100 hours only represents an hour a day for three months, something most of us would be happy to sacrifice in order to get really good at something.

Change requires invitational leadership

I’d add to this a point for school leaders and managers, which employs my favourite leadership style: the policy of invitation. The most important thing with these personal 100 hours challenges is that the school leaders, from department heads to school principals, resist the temptation to tell staff what they should spend their 100 challenge on. This has to be learning of the DIY variety (not the HIDTY (Have It Done To You) genre). If a member of teaching staff wants to learn how to tango, then by goodness let him learn to tango. If another wants to learn how to write great apps in C++, then let them go for it.

Next, provide a place (physical and maybe also virtual) where students, teachers, admin staff and even parents can post their 100 hour challenge title on a post-it note. Let them move others’ post-its around. Encourage it as a leader by moving a few around yourself when no-one’s looking, finding where people have common graft in mind. Make it a real learning wall.

The 100 hour challenge might, for everyone, begin on the same day, and crescendo towards some kind of celebration of change, of a community of people clustering into mini communities, pairings, loosely grouped individuals pulling together to make their world that little bit better, more interesting or engaging.

The point is to make the most of the learning already going on in our lives, or to unlock the learning we've always wanted to do as teachers - too many teachers think that teaching comes first and learning, if there's time, comes after. If we're not to waste $80,000 one day, $60,000 the next on professional development that fails to develop anyone then we need to find some kinds of practical strategy that allow us to check and mark time on our learning thereafter.

Don't just read this post. Do something.

Here’s my challenge. Right now, put aside 100 hours starting at some point in the next twelve months. Do it right now, in your head. Put that time aside. 100 hours. 7 hours a week for 14 weeks. One hour a day, or one working day a week. It’s one term out of your entire life, it’s nothing. Okay, you’ve got that 100 hours?

Now for the next two days, go to talks (or listen to them online) and start conversations with people you don’t know, and choose what to spend your 100 hours on.

I guarantee that everyone reading this can produce something or has some special skill, and maybe they’re not even aware of it.

Ask your friends, colleagues and students what their’s is. Find out, because you’ll get ideas about what to learn yourself, and decide what to spend your 100 hours on.

Because when you contribute, when you participate in culture, when you’re no longer solving problems, but inventing culture itself, that is when life starts getting interesting.

Some 100 hour challenges we're already seeing emerge:


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A great challenge and one I was just thinking about before reading your post. What do I want to be good at? What activity can I do this autumn/winter to give myself a real goal.

Thanks for the prod. I'm not sure what I'll be doing, but in 102 days time I hope I can report back something good.

Hi Ewan,
Straight after your talk for DECS Learning Technologies in Adelaide I blogged about my 100 hours project:

Thanks so much for the inspiration :-)

This is the truly an interesting, affordable way for personal development for teachers. Here at CompassLearning, our PD service, Impact Teacher Academy, works very closely with teachers. This will be a great little something else to share with teachers. Thanks!!

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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