The New Think Tank

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by ChrisDag

In my post yesterday, I put forth the idea of educational R&D teams and how they could be an affordable, scaled down way to bring research and development into our educational organizations without the cost and scale of an entire R&D department. In that post I suggested there would be merit in dedicating PD resources to developing knowledge and expertise amongst your own talented educators rather than paying people to come in and direct us with their innovations instead of us developing our own.

George Couros, the Division Principal in my division,  offered this in response:

If you only focus on developing and sharing ideas within, you can quickly see that the same things get done over and over again; it is tough to know any better.

He’s absolutely right, and while I was more speaking about replacing certain types of PD, it is important to keep this idea in mind. Just as important as empowering our own educators and building capacity in our organizations, is being open to the power of learning from others all over the globe.

Last night, I tried to imagine setting up an R&D team and trying to pilot this type of innovation and professional learning, so I started with a topic I am personally interested in learning about – Metacognition. When I thought about assembling a team, I realized that many of the people I would love to work with on this project weren’t in my division, or even living in the area. When I thought about connecting with them a new idea emerged – what about creating virtual think tanks, using all the tools we have available for online connecting now?

I immediately went and typed “virtual think tank” and “online think tank” into google hoping someone had already done this and could provide an easy to follow model. While there were a few similar ideas, I did not find one that involved educators. I think the closest idea I have seen would be the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program (SAVMP) that George ran last year. While that was an online mentorship program, I would see this more as eager, passionate educators who have an area of interest they would like to explore and try to bring to their building or division, connecting in some type of facilitating forum that helps bring together educators with a common interest. From there, using Skype, Google Hangouts, Twitter, Voxer, etc. they could find ways to research, share, develop resources, and push practice forward. A site would have to be set up and maintained, and resources could be curated and uploaded, but it wouldn’t have to be too expansive. Even if it started with just providing a message board or a hashtag on twitter, but doing something to bring the educators together to form these think tanks.

In a lot of ways I feel like I have lived some of this already, as I am sure many of you have. I’ve connected on twitter chats, on hangouts, or organized face to face meetings after first developing a dialogue on twitter. I’ve sought out help from others who have experience in areas I do not, by putting together a blog post or appealing to someone on twitter. I have connected with educators in Denver, Vancouver, Chicago, Philadelphia and London. This really is happening already, but because it feels so informal and easy, no one has named it a “think tank” because it probably felt too pretentious.

In my last post, I talked about how the constraint of a time limit would be important to any project, and when it comes to this idea, I believe even more constraints would need to be there to ensure follow through. Deadlines, scope of the projects, specific windows of time that meetings need to occur within etc. These think tanks would more than likely be projects educators would pursue on their own time and of their own volition, with people from multiple divisions from all over the globe, so some boundaries that pointed us in the right direction would be needed. As the community of innovators grew, accountability to the group and to share ideas would motivate people, but until that culture grew, it would have to start with these constraints in place.

Would people have an interest for this? What kind of support would you assume you would have from your administrator or your division? If the site was developed would you see yourself checking it out? What types of topics would like to see for innovations that should be pursued?

I would love your feedback so please leave a comment with any thoughts on this topic, and whether it is something worth working towards.



5 thoughts on “The New Think Tank

  1. Love these ideas in both posts, Jesse. I believe that we have so much talent in our division, and it becomes a matter of how best to share that talent. At the same time, we need to be constantly learning and introducing new ideas that may come from outside as well. Does the Connectivist MOOC for Alberta Educators not fit into this model?

  2. Jesse, Your idea of bringing R & D teams into school districts to advance research and innovation in education is a very progressive approach. I agree that more must be done with professional development and utilizing the talents within our districts as opposed to constantly bringing in “the experts”. The current “one size fits all” approach to professional development of teachers is certainly not effective in improving the learning of our students. Often educators attend mass pd because it is mandated by the district or department, often resulting in little to no carry over of learned knowledge back to the classroom.

    A more personal approach is required for professional development to be effective. This past year I have been involved with the Teachers IN Action program at Memorial University of Newfoundland. This program permitted me to design my own research questions related to an area of personal need that I was experiencing in my classroom. Based on my research questions, I was provided with financial support and substitute release time to engage in research, collaborate with colleagues, and design effective lessons to support the research information I obtained. In essence, we were a “R&D team” focused on inquiry based teaching and learning in science education. Further information on this program and how it has transformed us and our teaching practice, can be at our website

    From this experience, I am now the expert, having presented my research findings to other educators at a conference in May, to my staff in June, at an international STEM conference in Vancouver, and again next week to a new group of Teachers In Action participants. This coming year we are extending our project to two new grade levels. Our “R&D team” is alive and well, fostering a culture of inquiry at the school where I teach.

    I think your ideas are worth exploring. In an age where technology has made our world a smaller place, Research and Development teams that have a specific agenda with stated goals and timeframes would certainly attract interested educators. Keep me in mind!

    • Wow Stephanie, that sounds amazing. That is exactly the kind of opportunities we need to bring to our educators. If you don’t mind me asking, who was paying for it? I would like to see divisions dedicate PD funds to developing these teams instead of bringing in “experts” all the time. But like George said, with some balance, as we don’t want to become an isolated group with no diversity brought in to our thinking.

      I would like to stay in touch with you on this, I think you have provided me, along with Paul, an idea of where to go if I can’t get this going in my division.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.


      • As an initiative of the Faculty of Education of Memorial University, the Teachers In Action Program is funded by a generous donation from the Hibernia Management and Development Company Ltd. (HMDC) The funding is intended to last five years (2013-2018) and will involve over 100 K- Grade 6 teachers from school districts across Newfoundland and Labrador. Our project leader, Dr. Karen Goodnough, is passionate about the teacher inquiry process and how it supports meaningful pd. Some colleagues and I were discussing what will happen when the funding runs out. The benefits of engaging in the process of teacher inquiry have been phenomenal, one that all teachers should experience!

        I look forward to hearing from you in the future!


  3. Pingback: Constraint | Opening Doors and Turning On Lights

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