Unstructured & Non-Commissioned Time for Teachers

Time is valuable. For teachers, there is never enough time, not unlike many other professions. Considering the need to deliver a contemporary education in an engaging manner, I ask the question….. are we using our time in the best way possible? 

For over 12 months now I have heard about different companies giving time to employees to “do whatever they want.” Well, not really, but some companies provide ‘unstructured’ or ‘non-commissioned’ time for their employees. Some examples are:

  • Apple who provide a “Blue Sky” program which allows employees to take two weeks to work on projects outside their normal responsibilities.
  • Twitter have “hack weeks” once a year where employees focus for a week on their own ideas.
  • Intuit gives employees 10% of their hours as unstructured time.
  • Google allows employees to use up to 20 percent of their time to work on a project unrelated to their normal workload.
  • LinkedIn have “InCubator”. This is where engineers can get 30 to 90 days away from their regular work to develop ideas of their own into products.

 The benefits which flow from such initiatives include the following:

  • Intuit say their legal department created a tool kit that lets product managers try new business ideas without needing to talk to the legal team. Also, the IT department accelerated the time it took to set up test environments for new Web products from two months to two hours.
  • Google claims that many of their products in Google Labs started out as pet projects in the 20 percent time program.
  • For LinkedIn, many ideas submitted to InCubator come from LinkedIn’s monthly “hack days,” in which workers can win awards for small bits of quickly written software.

 There are a number of theories about why such a concepts work. According to James Lawther via http://www.squawkpoint.com/2012/08/hack-days/ reasons include:

  • Staff are close to the daily work, so they know what the real issues are and how they could be fixed.
  • There is no downside if a project is a flop.  After all you can work on whatever you like, so staff take bigger leaps of faith, bigger risks, they will try things that they wouldn’t normally dare.
  • Employees are more engaged if they can work on what they think is important. They will work harder and longer if they can set their own agendas.
  • Employees will collaborate more, share ideas and solutions. They are all in it together and they don’t have their own targets to meet.

Whilst not as well-known as other companies, Atlassian is a company which gives employees the chance to work on anything that relates to their products, and deliver it during “Ship It Day”. When reading http://www.atlassian.com/company/about/shipit they strongly believe in a concept of self-directed, unstructured and non-commissioned time, because it can:

–          Foster creativity – When there’s no rules, anything’s possible.

–          Scratch itches – Every employee has something that bugs them about our products, and ShipIt is the time to tackle it.

–          Get radical, dude – ShipIt gives a spotlight and traction to radical ideas that might not normally be prioritzed.

–          Be fun! – Traditions like ShipIt Day help make Atlassian a more fun place to work.

In the interests of using our imagination, in an attempt to be creative, in an effort to be innovative, why wouldn’t we investigate such a concept for teachers? We could give teachers “Choice Days!” That is, they choose what the focus of their work. This is time where teachers can work on anything as long as it is linked to their work at school and so that it ‘value-adds’ to the learning environment. It is not a time for the ‘commissioned work’ of marking, reporting, programming etc. It is time for imagination and the creativity which can lead to innovation at the local school level and beyond!

What could come from this? Are you excited about such an idea? How could this work at your school? Your ideas?


Unless we have had our head under a rock for the last 5 years, all teachers, principals and education system leaders are acutely aware of the current movement to transform schools from 19th century to 21st century hothouses of innovation. Yes, I know, we are already 1/8th into it!

The ‘school transformation movement’ requires students to use their imagination and creativity to become more and more innovative. But, if “teachers make the difference”, I have some questions????

  • Do teachers know what imagination is?
  • Do schools, systems have a shared understanding of what creativity is?
  • Are education systems open to the concept of innovation?

Through the glorious Twitter network, I was introduced to a website which contained a fantastic 8 minute video featuring Sir Ken Robinson exploring each of these terms. It can be found at…. http://www.wobi.com/wbftv/ken-robinson-creativity-and-imagination

In short….


  • The “Well Spring” in all of us.
  • the extraordinary power, to bring to mind things that are not yet created or developed.
  • Possibilities for the future.

Sir Ken warns, “You can imagine all day but if you don’t DO anything with it, it (imagination) is useless.”


  • Putting your imagination to work.
  • Informally… it is “applied imagination”
  • Formally, “It is the process of having original ideas that have value.”
  • Creativity can occur anywhere; work, home, family and of, course, subjects/learning at school.


  • Simply “putting good ideas into practise.
  • “To innovate, you have to have a process of creativity and to have that you have to foster and encourage imagination.”
  • But, “You can’t go straight to it.”

Sir Ken also states, “A lot of companies are interested in innovation, and they are right to be because the world’s is changing so quickly.” Essentially, this is why innovation in schools is so important. Firstly, the companies, businesses and organisations that our students/your children will join tomorrow, will need to be innovative or they won’t be around. Secondly, “the world is changing so quickly.”

In summary, if schools can foster the process of imagination leading to creativity which results in innovation, then schools are making the transformation required to properly prepare students for the world which awaits them. BUT HOW????? That is a blog post of the future.