high school. For years, David had wanted to
develop a working farm at his school—particularly
to raise livestock. He commented,
I learned how difficult it is to get a big idea moving.
There are so many people who want to think it
through more. The bias toward action is hard. I had
approved ahead. I thought I planned ahead. I presented the strategic plan. There are so many people
who want to put a roadblock in front of you. Even
people who wanted it to happen.
So what was David’s first step after learning
the hack mindset? He bought some rabbits. From
there, students learned how to build coops, and
they figured out how to feed the rabbits and use
their pellets for fertilizer. With one small step, the
school farm was underway.
Another concept that resonated with the principals
was failing forward. This idea posits that it’s OK
to fail or to make mistakes, as long as you learn
from them (Maxwell, 2007). As the principals
tried small hacks at their schools, the coaches
encouraged them to celebrate their successes, but
also to reflect on what went wrong to inform their
next steps. As Henry Ford famously said, “Failure
is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time
A poignant example of failing forward occurred
when one participant, Jamie, came up with the
idea of creating an advisory program for 9th
graders in his school. When he and his team
of teacher collaborators began to sketch out a
system to support all 100 9th graders in a new
pilot program, they quickly became mired in all
the things that could go wrong, the additional
staffing required, the scheduling changes needed,
and so on. Jamie quickly realized that his planned
initiative was faltering. So, drawing on his hack
mindset and his ability to fail forward, he re-
started the conversation with a simple question
that focused the effort on the small number of stu-
dents who needed immediate support: “What can
we do, starting tomorrow, to hack advisory to help
these students?” he asked.
Starting the next day, teachers sat down individually with the students who were experiencing
difficulty and helped them to set goals or develop
other action steps to improve their learning experience. Jamie’s shift in perspective, informed by
reflecting on past setbacks, led to a breakthrough.
It also laid the groundwork for designing a more
comprehensive program: This small hack was
the first step in the design of a program that will
eventually serve all 100 students.
This idea of failing forward proved to be liberating for the participants. When paired with the
bias toward action, this notion reinforced the idea
that it’s better to move forward, even if things
do not work out exactly as planned. As one participant noted, “A hack might work and it might
not, and that’s okay. You learn from it and adjust
Hacking Change in Your Own School
School Retool encourages educators to dream
big, take the first small step, fail, and learn from
the experience. This simple mindset opens
up tremendous possibilities for innovation—
particularly when educators take these risks within
a supportive learning community.
We’ve found that using the hack mindset in
any professional development experience not
only increases engagement, but also lowers stress
and encourages creative and innovative thinking.
Although it focuses on quick wins, the hack
mindset can also help create a more creative school
WHY: Get the pulse of your community
on an important topic and make yourself
accessible for feedback.
n Choose a question that
you’d love to learn more
n Write this question on a
small signboard, and literally stand in the hallway
with the question in your
n Invite people to answer
the question—writing their response on
a sticky note and posting it to the wall, or
telling you directly.
n Compile the answers and share them with