How do you start an innovation process in a school?

Astrid Marissen is a teacher at College Den Hulster, where, together with her colleagues, she has rolled out a new Design & Technology course. But how exactly did she manage it? And which approach worked best? “Well, to start with, make sure your colleagues are 100 per cent behind the idea.”

Boost

To boost the appeal of technical education, College Den Hulster decided to also offer technical subjects in an attractive way to students in first-year bridging classes. In a pilot, the separate subjects of physics, technology and visual art were dropped from the curriculum and replaced by Design & Technology. Eleven hours were set aside in the time table and, thanks to its cross-curricular nature, it also covered parts of the subjects, Dutch and mathematics. Students were given the freedom to decide whether to follow Design & Technology or traditional courses.

Development team

Together with four of her colleagues, Astrid formed the development team. At first there was a lot of resistance; her colleagues feared that students would show little interest in other subjects, or wouldn’t receive enough theory lessons. But the team was able to allay such concerns through the instigation of a pilot. And, of course, at that point nothing had yet been set in stone. “To retrospectively visualise our high expectations, we decided to have the students answer the same test questions as students in the regular classes had to answer.”

After the pilot phase

Evidently, it’s been a great success: student numbers are increasing and girls are also opting for technology. “Now, in the third school year that the course has been running, we no longer refer to it as a pilot. When they enrolled, half our pre-vocational bridging classes opted to follow Design & Technology, so two teachers now teach this subject. Resistance and apprehension have decreased and I have noticed that many more teachers now want to collaborate or do similar things. Moreover, pilot students who are now having lessons in the senior school are doing at least as well as students from regular bridging classes. And about 80 per cent chose technology, which, of course, was our goal.”

Visibility

According to Astrid, it’s important that the result is visible to everyone. “Otherwise doubt and apprehension will impede progress. All in all, Design & Technology has demonstrated to me that if you believe in a plan it is worthwhile implementing it. When all is said and done, that is the only way to see whether theoretical plans can work in an educational context.”

Astrid’s top three tips

1) Only start a development process with a group of teachers who are completely behind the idea, because that will increase the likelihood of success.

2) Start on a small scale, by calling it a pilot for example. If the results are good, more people will become enthusiastic.

3) Be wary of island-forming; share whatever it is you are doing.

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