Moonshot Thinking

Why it is essential that we continue to provide opportunities for the girls to be innovators:


Creative Teams – What 7 elements do they all share?

Creative Teams – What 7 elements do they all share?

creative teams

Great creative teams — what do they all have in common? What can we learn from them?

Keith Sawyer got his PhD studying under Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — the researcher who coined the idea ofFlow. Sawyer looked at how creativity came about in collaborations vs. individuals. He analyzed jazz ensembles, improv comedy groups and other great creative teams to see what worked.

What did he find?

1. Innovation Emerges over Time

No single actor comes up with the big picture, the whole plot. The play emerges bit by bit.Each actor, in each line of dialogue, contributes a small idea. In theater, we can see this process on stage; but with an innovative team, outsiders never see the long chain of small, incremental ideas that lead to the final innovation. Without scientific analysis, the collaboration remains invisible. Successful innovations happen when organizations combine just the right ideas in just the right structure.


2. Successful Collaborative Teams Practice Deep Listening

Trained improv actors listen for the new ideas that the other actors offer in their improvised lines, at the same time that they’re coming up with their own ideas. This difficult balancing act is essential to group genius. Most people spend too much time planning their own actions and not enough time listening and observing others.


3. Team Members Build on Their Collaborators’ Ideas

When teams practice deep listening, each new idea is an extension of the ideas that have come before. The Wright brothers couldn’t have thought of a moving vertical tail until after they discovered adverse yaw, and that discovery emerged from their experiments with wing warping. Although a single person may get credit for a specific idea, it’s hard to imagine that person having that idea apart from the hard work, in close quarters, of a dedicated team of like-minded individuals. Russ Mahon— one of the Morrow Dirt Club bikers from Cupertino— usually gets credit for putting the first derailleur on a fat-tired bike, but all ten members of the club played a role.


4. Only Afterwards Does the Meaning of Each Idea Become Clear

Even a single idea can’t be attributed to one person because ideas don’t take on their full importance until they’re taken up, reinterpreted, and applied by others. At the beginning of Jazz Freddy’s performance, we don’t know what John is doing: Is he studying for a test? Is he balancing the books of a criminal organization? Although he was the first actor to think of “studying,” the others decided that he would be a struggling umpire, a man stubbornly refusing to admit that he needed glasses. Individual creative actions take on meaning only later, after they are woven into other ideas, created by other actors. In a creative collaboration, each person acts without knowing what his or her action means. Participants are willing to allow other people to give their action meaning by building on it later.


5. Surprising Questions Emerge

The most transformative creativity results when a group either thinks of a new way to frame a problem or finds a new problem that no one had noticed before. When teams work this way, ideas are often transformed into questions and problems. That’s critical, because creativity researchers have discovered that the most creative groups are good at finding new problems rather than simply solving old ones.


6. Innovation Is Inefficient

In improvisation, actors have no time to evaluate new ideas before they speak. But without evaluation, how can they make sure it’ll be good? Improvised innovation makes more mistakes, and has as many misses as hits. But the hits can be phenomenal; they’ll make up for the inefficiency and the failures. After the full hourlong Jazz Freddy performance, we never do learn why Bill and Mary are making copies for John— that idea doesn’t go anywhere. In the second act, a brief subplot in which two actors are in the witness protection program also is never developed. Some ideas are just bad ideas; some of them are good in themselves, but the other ideas that would be necessary to turn them into an innovation just haven’t happened yet. In a sixty-minute improvisation, many ideas are proposed that are never used. When we look at an innovation after the fact, all we remember is the chain of good ideas that made it into the innovation; we don’t notice the many dead ends.


7. Innovation Emerges from the Bottom Up

Improvisational performances are self-organizing. With no director and no script, the performance emerges from the joint actions of the actors. In the same way, the most innovative teams are those that can restructure themselves in response to unexpected shifts in the environment; they don’t need a strong leader to tell them what to do. Moreover, they tend to form spontaneously; when like-minded people find each other, a group emerges. The improvisational collaboration of the entire group translates moments of individual creativity into group innovation. Allowing the space for this self-organizing emergence to occur is difficult for many managers because the outcome is not controlled by the management team’s agenda and is therefore less predictable. Most business executives like to start with the big picture and then work out the details. In improvisational innovation, teams start with the details and then work up to the big picture. It’s riskier and less efficient, but when a successful innovation emerges, it’s often so surprising and imaginative that no single individual could have thought of it.

3-D Printer Helps Save Dying Baby

Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Parent Blog

From CNN

By Stephanie Smith, CNN
Wed May 22, 2013
Kaiba Gionfriddo as a newborn, before he experienced breathing problems.Kaiba Gionfriddo as a newborn, before he experienced breathing problems.
A second chance for Kaiba

  • Kaiba Gionfriddo stopped breathing daily and had to receive CPR
  • Doctors tried the equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass
  • They created a splint on a 3-D printer to enable him to breathe

Editor’s note: “Life’s Work” features innovators and pioneers who are making a difference in the world of medicine.

(CNN) — When he was 6 weeks old, Kaiba Gionfriddo lay flat on a restaurant table, his skin turning blue. He had stopped breathing.

His father, Bryan, was furiously pumping his chest, trying to get air into his son’s lungs.

Within 30 minutes, Kaiba was admitted to a local hospital. Doctors concluded that he had probably breathed food or liquid into his lungs and eventually released him.

But two days later, it…

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Brain, Interrupted

An interesting article on how the brain deals with interruptions and distractions.

Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Parent Blog

Brain, Interrupted, The New York Times

By Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson | New York Times – Tue, May 7, 2013

  • Yahoo! Finance/Getty Images –

Technology has given us many gifts, among them dozens of new ways to grab our attention. It’s hard to talk to a friend without your phone buzzing at least once. Odds are high you will check your Twitter feed or Facebook wall while reading this article. Just try to type a memo at work without having an e-mail pop up that ruins your train of thought.

But what constitutes distraction? Does the mere possibility that a phone call or e-mail will soon arrive drain your brain power? And does distraction matter — do interruptions make us dumber? Quite a bit, according to new research by Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab.

There’s a lot of debate among brain researchers about the impact of gadgets on our brains. Most…

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Why Reading Aloud to Older Children Is Valuable

From MindShift

May 14, 2013  By 





Educator and author Jessica Lahey reads Shakespeare and Dickens aloud to her seventh- and eighth-graders, complete with all the voices. Her students love being read to, and sometimes get so carried away with the story, she allows them to lie on the floor and close their eyes just to listen and enjoy it. Lahey reads short stories aloud, too: “My favorite story to read out loud has to be Poe’s ‘Tell-tale Heart.’ I heighten the tension and get a little nuts-o as the narrator starts to really go off the rails. So much fun.”

While reading Dickens aloud helps students get used to his Victorian literary style, Lahey said that it’s also an opportunity for her to stop and explain rhetorical and literary devices they wouldn’t get on their own. And they read the Bard’s plays together, divvying up the parts, because “that’s how they are meant to be experienced.”

“Shared words have power, an energy that you can’t get from TV, radio, or online.”

Reading aloud to older children — even up to age 14, who can comfortably read to themselves — has benefits both academic and emotional, says Jim Trelease, who could easily be called King of the Read-Aloud. Trelease, a Boston-based journalist, turned his passion for reading aloud to his children into The Read-Aloud Handbook in 1979; it has since been an unequivocal bestseller with sales in the mult-millions, and Trelease is releasing the seventh, and final, edition in June.

Obviously, Trelease firmly believes in the value of reading to kids of all ages.

“The first reason to read aloud to older kids is to consider the fact that a child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until about the eighth grade,” said Trelease, referring to a 1984 study performed by Dr. Thomas G. Sticht showing that kids can understand books that aretoo hard to decode themselves if they are read aloud. “You have to hear it before you can speak it, and you have to speak it before you can read it. Reading at this level happens through the ear.”

Research collected on middle school read-alouds showed that 58 percent of teachers read aloud to their students – and nearly 100 percent of reading and special education teachers. And, while middle-school students reported liking read-alouds, little data has been collected on the “extent and nature” of reading aloud to twelve- to fourteen-year-olds.

“Research indicates that motivation, interest, and engagement are often enhanced when teachers read aloud to middle school students,” wrote research authors Lettie K. Albright and Mary Ariail. Teachers surveyed for the study cited modeling as their number-one reason for reading aloud.

Trelease acknowledged that modelling the pleasure of reading is important, but there are more reasons read-alouds work so well — like “broadening the menu.”

“Let’s take a nine-year-old who’s just finished two solid years of drill and skill, a lot of testing, a lot of work, and they’re competent, but they’re thinking in terms of reading as a sweat experience,” he said. When a teacher reads a good book above student reading level, he show students that the good stuff — the really great books — are coming down the road, if they stick with it.

“Broadening the menu” becomes even more important if a child has difficulties with reading. According to Wandering Eductators’ Dr. Jessica Voigts, who homeschools her daughter Lillie, reading aloud can make reading more pleasurable for someone with dyslexia. “Reading together – with her watching the words as I read, and then her reading to me – is a way to be together, to experience the world, to enjoy a common pleasure. I read to her, about two-thirds of the time, and then she takes over for one-third of the time. We pass the book back and forth, although we’re usually right next to each other,” she said.

And though her daughter struggles, Voigt admitted she reads to Lillie for more than just academic benefits. “This is a time — tweens, teens — when life is full of craziness. This is one way to have a place of rest, of being, something to count on each day. Shared words have power, an energy that you can’t get from TV, radio, or online,” she said.

For Trelease, the power of shared words is a big reason to keep on reading aloud after children are able to read for themselves. Students might interject questions, comfortably wading into complicated or difficult subjects because they are happening to the characters in the story, and not to themselves. “Why do you think so many children’s stories have orphans as characters? Because every child either worries or fantasizes about being orphaned.”

While Trelease maintained that read-alouds can happen through any device (“Look at all the truckers listening to books on CD,” he said), and Lahey reads from a physical paper book, dogeared and scrawled with all her notes in the margins, both emphasized how students recall read-alouds with fond memories. Trelease recently received a letter from a retired teacher who reconnected online with former students some 30 years later. She wanted to know the one thing her former students remembered about her class.

“Without fail, it was the books she read to them.”

The Innovation Imperative

Independent School Magazine

Patrick F. Bassett
Summer 2012
In a recent blog on teaching communications skills, I remarked about being on a “Schools of the Future” panel with several prominent university presidents and deans, representing some of America’s finest institutions of higher education, to whom I posed this question: “What are you finding lacking in the group of talented students you admit?”

Among the usual suspects — lack of writing skills, lack of moderation with regards to alcohol use, etc. — was this telling observation: “Not enough intellectual risk-taking and divergent thinking.” Not surprisingly, this is exactly the same concern of Sir Ken Robinson, one of the world’s leading authorities on creativity, who routinely observes that kids come to us in pre-school as incredibly creative and inventive, but more often than not leave school discouragingly conformist in behavior and thinking.

Since “Innovation” was front center as the theme of the 2012 NAIS Annual Conference in Seattle this past February, our community had many opportunities to examine examples of programmatic experiences in independent school classrooms that bolster divergent thinking, creativity, and innovation. These signs of change are encouraging. Nevertheless, innovation in schools remains an institutional challenge. How do school leaders create the conditions that will allow innovation to thrive in their schools? How do we nurture the innovative leaders among our teachers so that their efforts leverage greater institutional change in this critical area?

Here are some observations on how we advance an innovation mindset:

• In his New York Times Op Ed, “True Innovation,”1 Jon Gertner attributes Bell Labs’ glory days of inventiveness (the transistor, the first laser, radio astronomy, the UNIX operating system, etc.) in part to the layout of the labs and the talent within them. Essentially, they put creative people in close proximity to one another so that a stroll down the hallway inevitably produced unexpected conversations.

• In Shine: Using Brain Research to Get the Best from Your People, psychologist Ned Hallowell documents five steps to rich innovation: (1) Select: put the right people in the right job, and give them responsibilities that “light up” their brains; (2) Connect: strengthen interpersonal bonds among team members; (3) Play: help people unleash their imaginations at work; (4) Grapple and Grow: when the pressure is on, enable employees to achieve mastery of their work; (5)Shine: use the right rewards to promote loyalty and stoke a desire to excel. (Note the similarity to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research captured in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience).

• In Six Thinking Hats2, economist Edward de Bono, nominated for the Nobel Prize in 2005, offers a creative approach to problem-solving and idea generation — essentially, a “parallel thinking process” that encourages us to adopt six distinct perspectives when tackling any difficult challenge. Among the perspectives, of course, is the “green hat,” which asks us to focus on creativity — to be open to possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas.

• A recent McKinsey Quarterly article, “A CEO’s Guide to Innovation in China,”3 attributes China’s rapid emergence as a major player in innovative products to these factors: (1) rapid development and early prototypes to market, with serial improvements thereafter; (2) the creation of “innovation hubs” (22 of them) similar to Silicon Valley, the “research triangle” in North Carolina, and Boston’s Route 28 corridor; (3) ameliorating the “fear factor” in inculcating a culture of risk-taking in a traditionally risk-averse culture by shifting the risk away from individuals to teams.

• In her Time magazine article “What Would Steve Do?”4 editor Rana Foroohar speculates on Steve Jobs’ approach to innovation, especially the entrepreneurial impulse “to put engineers above bean counters” in the corporate hierarchy. While most of Silicon Valley stopped spending during one of the recent recessions and thereafter, Apple started ramping up research and development, hoping to invent a lot of innovative new products that would put it ahead of competitors after the downturn. The strategy worked brilliantly. Out of that recession came the iPod, the iTunes online store, Apple retail stores, and a new operating system. In their business schools now, Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford are distilling what Jobs taught the business community. “We’ve largely tapped out efficiency gains in corporate America,” says Nitin Nohria, dean of Harvard Business School. Harvard is now shifting its curriculum to focus more on Apple-like product-driven innovation and less on financial engineering.

Where can we find many of these ideas in play? At Google, for one. “The best company to work for” in the world, according to many, hires smart people who can collaborate and communicate, puts them in an open-space office environment; takes care of their kids in on-premise Reggio Emilia pre-schools; and gives them 20 percent of their time each week to do whatever they choose (from which new ideas for Google’s business spontaneously emerge).

So, from the business sector, we learn that “creating the conditions for innovation” involves hiring talent, putting talent together in close proximity, investing in R&D even when the economy tanks, creating teams with rapid development time frames, and making experimentation (including failure) safe for individuals. It strikes me that all these conditions exist — or could exist — at NAIS and its member schools.

As one enters the (LEED-certified) open floor plan of the new NAIS headquarters in Washington, DC, one immediately senses how the light-filled, playful nature of the environs complements and inspires NAIS’s four core values (independence, interdependence, inclusivity, and innovation) and its vision (sustainability in all dimensions).

“The root of all trees meet in the center of the Earth to drink water together.”
—Four-year-old Boulder Journey School student

Likewise, the new urban elementary school building at Bertschi School in Seattle, featured at the NAIS/NBOA Town Hall symposium at the 2012 NAIS Annual Conference, embodies the school’s mission and vision. Beyond the standard of LEED certification, the new Bertschi classroom building…

• achieves the higher goal of “net zero consumption of energy and water” via active and passive solar-produced energy and water-recycling systems;

• incorporates the elementary schoolchildren’s wishes, including open-space and a rivulet running through the urban-bound campus building;

• demonstrates, with its “living wall” of tropical plants that treat and recycle the gray water the inhabitants produce, how nature cleans itself;

• blurs the distinction between outside and inside by its transparent membrane of walls of glass;

• manifests the “garden to table” movement by not just using local produce, but by growing its own vegetables and thereby acculturating kids to choose “slow food” over fast food and allowing the cafeteria to become what Lawrenceville School (New Jersey) Executive Chef Gary Giberson calls “the inconspicuous classroom”;

• creates the ultimate new goal of a school building, where the building itself “generates” a new perspective and behavior toward the fragile planet on which we live, literally empowering kids to choose a sustainable future.

Thus, in the words of Josh Hahn, assistant head of school and director of environmental initiatives at Hotchkiss School (Connecticut) and the moderator at this year’s NAIS/NBOA Town Hall symposium, we move beyond the concept of sustainability to the concept of generativity, literally generating all the water, energy, and change we need.

Innovative thinking about design and learning spaces begets innovative thinking about new design for teaching. I believe independent schools and faculties have an obligation to sustain serious conversations about what the MacArthur Foundation calls “The Big Shifts in Education.”5 These are the six paradigm-shifting revolutions (to which I’ve added a seventh) that are rocking the foundations of what we know as “school.” The Big Shifts are:

1. From Knowing to Doing (Project-Based Learning)

2. From Teacher-centered to Student-centered

3. From the Individual to the Team

4. From Consumption of Information to Construction of Meaning

5. From Schools to Networks (online peers and experts)

6. From Single Sourcing to Crowd Sourcing

And my addition:

7. From High-Stakes Testing to High-Value Demonstrations6

These Big Shifts are, in fact, emerging and gaining traction in independent schools, as manifested in my list of the “Top Ten Most Promising Innovative Ideas for Schools”:

1. Adopting backward design and mapping of curriculum around skills and values rather than subjects.

2. Documenting student outcomes via formative assessments and “demonstrations of learning.”

3. Connecting appreciative inquiry, the strengths approach, and growth mindsets — all subsets of the positivist psychology movement.

4. Globalizing independent schools.

5. “Greening” independent schools.

6. Developing STEM (and beyond) signature programming.

7. Professionalizing the profession.

8. Developing “Public Purpose of Private Education” initiatives.

9. Creating online learning consortia for independent school-branded courses.

10. Embracing “design thinking.”

Judging by the schools that are engaging in such innovative practices, we have already started the migration away from the 1,600 years of organizing education around subjects toward organizing teaching and learning around skills and values — especially around the six essential competencies (“6 C’s”) that graduates need: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, and cosmopolitanism/cross-cultural competency. We are doing our part to move away from what Liz Coleman, president of Bennington College and NAIS board member, calls an experience of teaching and learning “more and more about less and less.”

In the new vision of school, we’ll still teach traditional subjects, but not as ends in and of themselves (to pass a test and then be forgotten), not “just in case” there is a remote chance a student would ever need this fact or formula sometime in his or her life. Instead, we’ll manifest the promise from both the earliest days of civilization and the recent days of 1:1 laptop programs and access to the Internet: teaching ideas and skills in the service of doing something meaningful. Examples abound in our schools.

But for innovation to truly take hold, it must be led from the bottom, the top, and the middle. We must empower the 20 percent or so of faculty who are early adopters of innovation in our schools to continue and expand experimentation in all 10 of the arenas noted above — and in any other ways they are inspired to do so. But we must also have the institutional vision that contextualizes and legitimizes such experimentation and transformation.

And, indeed, a grand institutional vision is what I’m starting to see in some strategic plans that cross my desk, the most recent being one from William Penn Charter School (Pennsylvania). Approaching its 325th anniversary, the school has established a strategic vision document that cites an observation from educator Heidi Hayes Jacobs: “Mind shifts do not come easily, as they require letting go of old habits, old beliefs, and old traditions. There is a necessary disruption when we shift mental models. If there is not, we are probably not shifting. Growth and change are found in disequilibrium, not balance. It takes some getting used to.”7

The essence of a new vision for the school emerges from William Penn Charter School’s vision/values/goals statement:

Vision: We will educate students to live lives that make a difference.

Core Values: Excellence. Innovation. Collaboration.

• Quaker Values: Invest in character — “Let your life speak”;

• Faculty Growth: Invest in professionalizing the profession;

• Innovation: Reimagine time and repurpose space;

• Re-engineering Teaching and Program: meaningful engagement, project- based approaches, and differentiated instruction; and

• Achieving financial sustainability.

It strikes me that if a 325-year-old school steeped in tradition can be so bold, any independent school can do so. In fact, “tradition” — a school’s long history of excellence — implies that schools must change to remain great.

Bill Gates, our 2012 Annual Conference kick-off speaker, tells us that “innovation is the means, and equity is the end goal.” One powerful way we can meet our objectives of “the public purpose of private education” is to model the best 21st-century education in the world.

Patrick F. Bassett is president of NAIS.

NEW: The Green School Alliance is seeking 2 additional Faculty Fellows

This sounds like a great opportunity.

CAIS Commission on Professional Development

Become a “U.S. Green School Fellow” and gain extraordinary insight and training through the nation’s premier week-long environmental leadership training program at the state-of-the-art National Conservation Training Center of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in Shepherdstown, WV, just outside DC.

This opportunity is made available in conjunction with the 2013 Student Climate & Conservation Congress (Sc3). Apply here:

The Green Schools Alliance (GSA) is accepting applications and nominations from those who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in their schools or communities. Coordinated by Green Schools Alliance and the US FWS. images

Train in advanced Open Space Technology (OST) methodology taught by U.S. FWS and other OST Experts. Participate for FREE from June 23-29, 2013.  Learn from world-renown speakers. Join Faculty and Students from across the U.S. Apply NOW for this unparalleled opportunity.


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