Building a maker and design culture within schools

By admin

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… The ones who see things differently—they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

-Steve Jobs


Take a moment, and close your eyes. Think back to a time when you attended school, and recall something or someone that caused your mind to reach a state of rapture, something you still talk about to this very day. Odds are, you’re not thinking about worksheets you did back in 7th grade or the teacher that made everyone do “popcorn” readings. The moments we recall, and that have inspired us to become teachers and school administrators, are often the hands-on projects where we could make and design, or the outgoing teachers who inspired us daily to question the very things that they were teaching. These moments occur when students are empowered by educators to take risks outside their comfort zones, and when the main focus in the classroom is learning, not grades. Student empowerment reawakens curiosity, wonder, and moments of awe, which are sadly missing in many secondary school systems.


Photography by Glenn Robbins in MakerEd

Educational leaders, particularly school administrators, need to be “the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes…” that create energizing experiences for all that walk into their schools. We need to create environments with a culture that screams for creative confidence, where anything is possible. We need to instill in students and staff the belief that mistakes are obstacles that we need to overcome with confidence, instead of retreating backward to our comfort zones. Unfortunately, these goals can be hard to reach for many administrators. Too often, school leaders get caught up in fear of new ideas and fail to push themselves to try things that don’t fit easily into a rubric or have never been tried before.

If you want to create a maker and design culture, you must learn the “best practices” and do it differently! Focus on the limitless, and the impossible. Focus on using the design thinking process to reawaken your “child-like” state of mind. If you truly want to create this type of culture, you need to be willing take a few shots to the chin from traditionalist, and understand that you need to “embrace the squiggle,” as getting from A to Z is far from a straight line.

Here are ways to “embrace the squiggle” that I’ve found to be particularly impactful as an administrator, and will hopefully inspire both your staff and students:

  • To bring out the Maker and Designer in your staff and students, try placing makerspaces in the hallways. Too often, makerspaces are confined to certain classrooms or libraries, where the majority of the student body and staff can’t access them. Focus on building up your maker and design culture for all to be a part of, instead of hiding them in certain pockets of greatness in your buildings.
  • Team up with your IT department, blow the dust off the old computers buried in storage closets and place them in the hallway for all to tinker with. Put up lego boards, stationary bike desk, flexible seating, dry erase paint all desks and walls, and most importantly, think about the experience you are trying to create for all that enter the school building.
  • Create a daily student-led EdCamp period, that is ungraded and allows students to select what they want to learn and how they want to learn. Students design the board, and students lead the class. Teachers are off to the side as facilitators and learn with students throughout the period. Allow the voices of the learners to be heard.
  • Finally, the most crucial ingredient to building a Maker and Design culture is showing students and staff that they are given responsibility, trust, respect, and autonomy, from the leadership team, and in return they are rewarding everyone else with trust and respect back. They don’t need to be watched over, and told what or how to do. They just need a chance to use their creative imaginations to Make and Design something.

Glenn Robbins

About the Author: Glenn Robbins is the proud superintendent of the Tabernacle Township School District, in Tabernacle, New Jersey. He is a NASSP Digital Principal of the Year, and SETDA Student Voice Award Winner. His passion is harnessing a school culture that thrives on design thinking skills, innovative digital spaces, BYOD/1to1, and Makerspaces.

Follow Glenn on Twitter at @GlennR1809, Voxer at GRobbins, or email him: His blogs are: & You can also follow Tabernacle Township School District on Twitter @Tabschools.

This article originally appeared in MakerEd.


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