Last Friday, I got the rare treat to watch Diane Sawyer’s World News segment on ABC News called “Person of the Week”.  I was so glad I did because they featured a wonderful example of a Seattle high school whose teachers were trying innovative techniques to engage their students.  The school was the  Shorecrest & Shorewood High School and the name of the experiment was “The Social Experiment” . You can visit the ABC website and read ” Persons of the Week: Tech-Free Teens and the Teacher Who Inspired Them“.

It started with the creativity of a teacher named Trent Mitchell.  From the clip, he looks like he’s a Generation Xer but I could be wrong.  He teaches Video Production in the school and his students were talking about the Facebook movie, The Social Network.  The teacher teased the students about their dependence on technology and bet them they couldn’t stop texting and using social networks for a week. The students took him up on the challenge and ultimately it turned into a “social experiment” where the teachers and students would go tech-free for a whole week.

Trent’s challenge to the students was a great idea and inspiring because according to the clip, he wanted them to “ think about ways they can communicate besides just sending a quick ‘OMG, LOL’ message”.  In other words, he wanted them to experiment with other techniques and ideas to see where it would go. But before he could do that,  he himself had to get comfortable with experimenting with a different approach to teaching. It turned out to be a great experiment and even though many of the students found it strange to go tech-free and go back in time they discovered a lot about themselves and they learned to get comfortable talking to their peers in person rather than through Facebook or texting.  I chuckled because to these  Millennials, going back in time was going WAY back to 1995!

The real beauty of the experiment was that the students created a website and documented the entire project.  You can click here and visit the site to see all the great ideas and successes brought on by this simple yet powerful experiment.  Some of the videos prepared by the students were creative and thoughtful and just great to watch.  Just a wonderful blend of 21st Century tools with 21st Century teaching to create a vibrant student experience.  Wouldn’t it be great if other teachers and students in classrooms across America could take a page from the creativity shown by the Shorecrest & Shorewood High School and create their own versions of the Social Experiment.  Imagine the collective achievement and successes that could be obtained.

One of the recurring themes in my blog is the need that I see for institutions – be they corporate or educational – to embrace the idea of infusing a sense of experimentation into their teams or classrooms.  I often talk about my success in doing that as I began to hire Millennials and slowly realized that the way I led before needed a leadership makeover.  Part of that makeover was to let go of some of my past practices – what I call the status quo – and embrace new techniques that were untested and often made me feel a little uncomfortable trying them.  As seasoned leaders or teachers we instinctively call upon our trusty toolbox which we’ve taken great care to develop after so many years of leading teams ,managing people and teaching students.  These are techniques and practices we’ve used in the past that long ago were new & untested for us but that now fit us like a glove. We feel very comfortable using them.  What I found was that I was so comfortable using these technques that I never stopped to think whether they were still effective or not.  When I finally did, I realized that many of them were not because so much had changed over the years.  That change was manifesting itself in the young workforce coming into my team and causing me a lot of frustration and confustion. 

Once I let go of the need to keep the status quo and I began to experiment, I was able to adapt the techniques of the past so I could effectively lead the workforce of the future and the results were amazing.   This is exactly what Trent Mitchell and the other teachers did in the Seattle high school.  They let go of the traditional forms of teaching and experimented with a concept that was new to them, it was untested and probably a bit scary to undertake.  But look at the great results achieved not only for the teachers but for the students and hopefully, for other schools that get inspired by this innovative approach.  All it took was a baby step and great things were achieved not the least of which was to be selected as a Person of the Week on ABC News. 

Kudos to Trent Mitchell and the other teachers at the Shorecrest & Shorewood High School that participated in the experiement.  They should be proud of what they started.  More importantly, kudos to the students for participating wholeheartedly in the experiment and going back in time to learn some techniques from the past that aren’t so bad and are still pretty worthwhile to learn.

So what about you?  How are you infusing experimentation in your class or in your team to engage the students and workforce of the 21st Century?