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Catalyst Schools - the key ingredients

Updated: Apr 20


We close our series of WCID 2022 articles by introducing a project which is very close to our creative hearts. In June 2021, following a pilot programme we delivered for Catalyst, it was confirmed that Catalyst had secured funding from the Department for the Economy to deliver ‘Catalyst Schools’ for the academic year 21/22. Collaboratively designed and developed by Peter Worth , designer and facilitaor of transformative learning experiences , and Rejig , this programme has been delivered in partnership with Catalyst.


Catalyst is an independent, not-for-profit organisation working for the greater good to build a connected entrepreneurial ecosystem throughout Northern Ireland. Catalyst ‘make it easy to innovate’ and currently supports over 900 entrepreneurs across NI. Catalyst is committed to the development of a grassroots entrepreneurial ecosystem and are home to two initiatives in support of this: ‘Generation Innovation’, a work experience programme for 16–17-year-olds and Catalyst Schools.


In a rapidly changing world, it is becoming increasingly complex to prepare all young people for this world of work and civic life. School communities lead this work, but the broader community can play a key role. As part of this community, Catalyst Schools brings high-quality, authentic professional learning to leaders and teachers. Grounded in design thinking, this programme brings together school leaders, teachers, pupils and Catalyst business partners to empower one another to prepare the next generation of innovators for the future of work, learning, and civic life.


Since October 2021 twenty schools from across Northern Ireland have participated in Catalyst Schools which has engaged 32 school leaders, 36 schoolteachers, 836 pupils and seven businesses. Amid a global pandemic and an ongoing substitute teaching crisis we have been thrilled to work with these schools, their leaders and their staff witnessing their whole hearted commitment to the programme in an exceptionally difficult environment.


The key deliverable for this project were:

  • School leaders explored how to hack towards inclusive innovation and worked on developing equitable aspirations for their schools

  • Teachers explored tools and techniques which might help them in classroom delivery and reflecting a bias towards action teachers agreed to deliver a one-hour design challenge to pupils back at their school

  • We visited five of the schools and had the opportunity to go deeper with students in an extended design challenge, supported by the teachers

  • The Catalyst Schools business programme kick started a two-way conversation between schools and business to begin to create meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships. Several business prototypes were developed further and tested with a mix of school leaders, teachers and businesses.


Throughout the programme one “tool” stood out as highly engaging all participants – leaders, teachers and pupils - “Alternative uses for an empty water bottle”. We challenge participants in a race against the clock to come up with as many wild ideas as they can to use an empty water bottle in different ways. We find that the ‘water bottle’, a simple established tool, never fails to help demonstrate what an idea actually is making this a practical, memorable and fun way to introduce ideation. This exercise generated genuine laughter, smiles and fun while also giving everyone the freedom to think differently.


It was a huge privilege to work with twenty schools this year who are passionate about and committed to failing forward and hacking towards more inclusive learning communities. This is just the beginning of the journey, and we look forward to continuing this work in partnership with Catalyst and schools across Northern Ireland as we help prepare young people for the future of work and civic life.









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