Organising a ‘not like us’ educational study tour

Stakeholder Design’s ‘not like us’ study tours have been described by many school leaders as life-changing.

Five years after the first trip was organised, two of the participating headteachers ran up to me in a hotel and told me that they still think about the tour every day. They can be seen in the video above, which covers the ‘schools’ part of the tour and was intended to enable teachers to stand back and look at schools as a concept. The full programme also included sessions on design thinking, meetings with people who have challenged our conventions about how learning happens, and a look at future technology that could easily be ported into the schools sector.

The idea for the tours originated at a meeting in the UK Department of Education in 2007, where I was introduced to around a dozen headteachers from Wolverhampton Local Authority.

In conjunction with what was then called the National College for School Leadership, they had been asked to go on an overseas study tour, with the findings being used to inform the design of the Building Schools for the Future initiative.

During our first workshop, I asked them to put forward ideas on post-it notes to help populate the itinerary. We then looked at the ideas, judging them according to the extent to which they either looked like or worked like a present-day school. The group quickly realised that 90% of their suggestions both looked like and worked like contemporary schools, which was another way of saying that they were unlikely to find much that was truly transformational by visiting them.

Clearly, there was still much to be learned from visiting recently built schools. However, the group realised that the tour would offer much more value if they increased the percentage of time that fell outside of the ‘looks like us/works like us’ bracket. So they asked me to arrange visits to places that looked like schools but did not operate like them, or worked like schools in places that did not look at all traditional, and even learning environments that neither looked like nor worked like schools.

This was the start of the ‘not like us’ study tour, which has since helped headteachers in England, Australia, Ireland and America to stand back, rethink learning and acquire the design thinking skills necessary to make a success of transformational learning.

If you would like to discuss the ‘not like us’ study tour concept then please feel free to get in touch by emailing [email protected]