Leading and Empowering – reflections on George Couros’ The Innovator’s Mindset

I am combining a few ideas in this post.  In chapter 5 George Couros writes about leading, learning and innovating while in chapter 6 he writes about engagement versus empowerment.  He also focuses on compliance and how this stifles any real, deep learning.

These are challenging chapters because schools continue to be places where compliance is valued and innovation is in short supply.  As George mentions in an earlier chapter, it is not good enough to have islands of innovation, we need systems that encourage innovation and engage people in such a way that they are willing to take the risks necessary to bring about real change.

I think this is a tall order in education where compliance is valued as a way to make sure that the corporate vision is sustained.

Maybe real innovation, and real learning cannot be done on a system-wide basis.  There are organizations that thrive on innovation and engagement like Google and Apple to note the two best examples.  In neither corporation is compliance a core value.  Valuing compliance kills creativity and invention.  So how are we going to manage change and encourage innovation when we are more about ‘school’ and less about ‘learning’ as outlined in Sylvia Duckworth’s graphic above.

I would argue that there is nothing wrong with having our islands of innovation.  Over time, as more people write about creativity and learning there is always the chance that these islands will grow and possibly merge into subsystems where the results of innovative, empowering leadership may be noticed as the real way to encourage student growth and creativity.

My hope is that more people will write about the innovator’s mindset and that true innovation in education will become more than a convenient label.

People who want to lead their educational community will have to  seriously consider the lessons in these chapters.  Leaders need to ask are they all about learning or all about school.  Do they empower their staff, do they create a climate where risk taking is encouraged, have they moved away from a compliance model to one that favours empowerment of staff and students.

We are charged with developing the next generation and we need to always question and assess how we are doing.  Are we creating a generation of consumers or creators?

How to connect parents to your school

One of the most important parts of my job has to do with finding new ways to connect our parent community to the school.  It some areas where I have worked this has not been a big problem.  I have worked in schools with strong parent councils and parents groups who have the time to put a great deal 0f time and resources into the school.

Not all communities are like that however.  For a variety of reasons, it is a challenge for the parent community to connect to the school.  There are a whole host of reasons for this.  It might be the culture of the community or it may have a great deal to do with the need of parents to work several jobs to make ends meet. Whatever the reason, it can  become a real challenge for the school.

I have written in the past about connecting to the community through social media.  This can work really well, but what if your parents don’t have access to social media, or don’t have the language skills to follow school events through blogs or Facebook?

We are beginning to find ways to make these connections, but it really is a challenge for our community.  Our parent community does not connect in the traditional ways.  We have always had a very small school council and parents are generally too busy to spend much time in the school.  They connect to the school through their children and support the school through their work with their kids at home.  What I am learning is that we need to connect with our parents by holding more events that can draw them into the school.  I think we are starting to have some success.

Our first real success was a June BBQ that we put on for the whole community.  We brought in a special caterer and got some great deals from a local business who rented out inflatable castles and mazes.  We didn’t charge any admission and used money from parent engagement grants to cover our costs.  One drawback with this event is that it all had to be planned by staff.  Still, it was a great success and convinced one parent to take on the school council for this year. She is doing a great job now and has focused all her efforts on getting parents out for short, fun social events like a Halloween party and a Christmas sing-a-long.

We also made a real effort during our Education Week activities last year.  Instead of holding an event at night that parents would not be able to attend we had a five-day open house.  Every morning we had coffee and homemade snacks made by our staff out in the yard ready for parents as they brought their kids to school.  As the week went on, more and more parents stayed behind to talk with each other and some of the teachers.  We invited them into the school every day and some did come in to visit the classrooms.  One thing we did that I really liked involved taking pictures of the parents with their children.  We then asked our photographer to make a montage of all the pictures.  We also gave all the parents a print of their picture.  We were able to take over 30 photos and the montage now hangs in our main hallway.  Kids and parents really liked this and it was a really easy way to strengthen the connection between school and our community.

This year we took an idea from another school that experiences similar challenges to ours.  We usually hold a ‘meet the teacher’ event about ten days after the beginning of the school year.  This year, we invited all the parents into the gym the very first morning.  I introduced all the staff to the parents and the kids found out who their teachers were.  Then, all the parents were invited to follow their kids to class for another short introduction to the new year.

All these events have one thing in common.  I want our school to be our parents’ community center.  I want them to feel welcome at our school not just on special occasions, but every day of the year.  I am hoping the more we hold these social events parents will begin to see our school as their school and gathering place.

at our June event, we invited local community agencies to set up booths so families could sign up for summer recreational programs

 

We have a great deal more to do.  We are now focussing our attention on making the yard more inviting for our students and our parents.  We have done a little work in this area by providing more benches and more greenery in the yard.  I have noticed that in the good weather parents will now linger in the yard before and after school to chat and enjoy the yard.  We have big plans to do much more in this area which i think will make a huge difference for students and parents alike, but that is another post.

For now, we will continue to look for ways to make our school a community hub for our parents and students.  We will continue to break down any and all barriers so that we really become a second home for the entire community.

 

The Innovator’s Mindset – It’s all about Relationships

We need to build more organizations that prioritize the care of human beings.  As leaders, it is our sole responsibility to protect our people and, in turn, our people will protect each other and advance the organization together.  As employees or members of the group, we need the courage to take care of each other when leaders don’t.  And in doing so, we become the leaders we wish we had.

Simon Sinek (pg. 67)

In chapter Four of The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros starts out with this quote and I think it sums up the message of this chapter.  So far, George has defined innovation and its essential elements.  In this chapter, he begins writing about laying the groundwork for innovation in an organization.  We all want to either be in or lead innovative organizations, but how common are these organizations?  How do we move from having ‘pockets of innovation’ to an organization where innovation is accepted and encouraged?

You can’t make innovation happen by stuffing the newest concept down the throats of your teachers.  This may encourage compliance, but it hardly encourages people to try new things, take risks and think outside of the box.

People need to know that their ideas will be valued, that they will be protected and that they live in a culture of ‘yes’ rather than in an environment where innovation is actually feared.

What a bizarre concept!  Fearing the innovative spirit because it may put more pressure on others in the organization or that it will raise expectations beyond what is considered reasonable.  When we create an atmosphere where we are most concerned about managing people we discourage innovation and stifle creativity.

This would not be acceptable in a classroom, so why would it be considered appropriate for a school or a system?

Still, we have all been in situations where ‘no’ is the norm.  No means the status quo or it means that one person’s ideas matter more than anyone else’s.

What we need to focus on are relationships.  We need to trust the people we work with and let them know that their ideas will find acceptance and understanding.  As George writes, “…we need to strive to create a “culture of yes.”  When trust is the norm and people know they are supported, taking chances seems less “risky” – for learners, educators, and leaders.” (pg. 73)

I totally agree with this approach.  Our job as leaders is to develop positive relationships with our staff so that new ideas have a voice and teachers are confident that their ideas are being listened to.  We need to be the spark, build confidence, then get out of the way. (pg. 78)

Why do we so often feel that we need to be the ones leading the change?  Why is our opinion so much more important than the collective? How do we limit the imaginations of our teachers managing the change process in our schools?  I really have no idea, but I do know that this approach stifles innovation and creativity.

Last week I watched a video on a Google experimentation lab.  The video is amazing, so I have included it here.  Basically, the idea behind the lab is to try new ideas without the normal institutional restraints.  If failure is going to happen, the members of the lab are actually encouraged to ‘fail faster’ so they can move on to some other new idea.  When you watch the video is clear there is mutual respect amongst the members of the team and all ideas and notions are valued by the group.  

What would it be like if we ran our schools even a little bit like this lab?  What would we be able to create?

Reflections of George Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset – Chapter Three – Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset

There is lots to write about in reflecting on this chapter – too much for one post.  Examining the characteristics of the innovator’s mindset is really important, so this is a chapter that should be read carefully – a few times.

The first point that resonates for me is that we don’t have to sacrifice innovation because of the limitations of the system.  It is a poor excuse to surrender just because it is too hard to work ‘within the box’.  We will always be inside a box – that is where the students are so we need to challenge ourselves to innovate where we find our students.  We can clearly do this and we have an obligation to do so.

The challenge for the innovative teacher is to find a way to reach every student, to help them to find the problems, not just solve the problems that we hand them.(pg 49)  Giving them the freedom to find and solve their own problems will create a generation of students who can learn effectively.

As an administrator, I am really interested in what George has to write about how educational leaders can support innovation in their schools.  What is especially important is the notion that every staff member needs to be able to progress from their point A to point B (pg 47).  Too often we see the one-size fits all PD that does not consider the learning needs of the educator.  As George puts it, we need to be able to lead with empathy and help teachers to find their ground so that they can become effective innovators.

In our school, we have chosen to focus on a few digital tools that can help teachers to innovate and meet the needs of the different learners in the classroom. Through a series of great webinars and prepared lessons, our teachers have been equipped to explore the possibilities of Discovery Education, Mathletics and Atomic Learning.  While some of these sessions were structured in a way to give teachers an introduction to these programs, they are now ready to develop their own learning plans to explore the great potential of these and other programs.

As an administrator, I see my role as the risk-taker for the staff.  If I don’t innovate and try new ways of doing things why should anyone else try?  It is certainly more easy to do things the way they have always been done, but then we are not serving our students.

This is not an easy route, and there can be consequences for taking these risks, but as educators that is what we need to do if we truly want to have an innovator’s mindset.

The Innovators Mindset reflections on George Couros

mindset

I am now completing my third chapter on George Couros’ book The Innovators Mindset, and it is a truly liberating chapter.

Innovation is a complex idea.  I have seen innovation, especially in the last two years as having something to do with the use of technology.  What I am learning now is that innovation is all about mindset, technology can only be an assist.

This morning, I asked my wife – a wonderful teacher – ‘do you see yourself as an innovator’?  She said no, I don’t use the technology that you do.

My wonderful wife needs to read this book.  She is a true innovator.  She adapts her methodology to fit the child.  She is all about making her students successful.  She is truly an innovator.

I think what we need to do is let our courageous teachers know that they can innovate simply by assuming the mindset that failure is not an option.

George also makes a really important point – in an earlier chapter.  We are not all about scores.  We  want our children to be ready for a brand new world.  We need our children to be free thinkers with the ability to come up with ideas that have not yet been thought of.

I had a conversation with a supervisor who questioned the concept of digital innovation as there was no proof that this led to higher test scores.  This was a really disheartening conversation as I thought it missed the whole point about what innovation is all about.

As a wonderful solace, I was  offered an article by Dean Shareski.  If you are getting discouraged, read this.

It’s not about the scores, it is about creating new learners.  Teachers with an innovative mindset can do this.  Lets encourage the innovators and support them in the brave  work that they are doing.

What Innovation is and isn’t George Couros

 

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graphic by George Couros (pg 24) adapted from @PlugUsIn

 

I am working through George Couros’ new book, The Innovator’s Mindset.  It is a great read and it needs to be digested slowly.  In the first chapter of the book, George writes about what innovation is and isn’t.

This is extremely important.  Innovation is the new buzzword in education.  Just saying that we are being innovative doesn’t make it so.  We all know innovative teachers and administrators, but as George points out, having pockets of innovation is not enough, we need to be able to innovate as a system (pg 18).

Innovation according to George has to do with creating a mindset that leads to something new and better.  Making change just for the sake of change is nowhere good enough.

Richard Rohr has a wonderful quote that has meant a great deal to me.  He says, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” (Simplicity: the art of living, Crossroad, 1991)  What I take from this chapter, is that for true innovation to take place, we really need to start thinking differently.  We don’t need to change the whole structure of education, but we need to constantly evolve to make things better for student learning (Pg 21).

What a liberating idea!  To be innovative we do not need to reinvent ourselves, but we must live our  way into new ways of thinking. Technology can be a part of this new thinking, but it is not an end in itself, especially if it does not produce results that benefit the student.

What does this mean for our school?  If we are to be truly innovative, we need to constantly look at the ways we are teaching and how we offer new opportunities for our students to grow.

Staying still is simply not an option, not if we are to assume an innovation mindset.

The Innovator’s Mindset – George Couros

gcouros

I have been a big fan of George Couros for a long time.  I love his spirit and how he inspires people.  Now he has a book out – The Innovator’s Mindset (Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc 2015).  I think this is a very important read.  Even in the first chapter, we are encouraged to share our own stories, “because our students benefit when we learn from each other.”

I would like to use this blog to comment on what George is writing about.  When I can, I will add observations from my own innovators journey in the spirit of sharing that George is encouraging.

What I love about the first chapter is that George is clear on saying that innovation is not reserved for the few; it is something we will all need to embrace if we are to move forward.(pg 9)

How are we embracing innovation?  We all belong to large systems that thrive on stability.  How can innovation happen within these systems and how can it become part of what we do every day?

George makes a great point in this chapter that we can’t expect teachers to learn new technologies and train on ways to implement them on their own time.  At our school, the focus of our professional development is on digital transformation and we will do the learning during the school day as part of our professional development plan.

I am intrigued to see how we can develop a plan for constant innovation.  I think this idea is so important that I hope to write something about every chapter as I go through this book.

The bottom line is that we have to keep learning – George starts off the book with a great quote from Albert Einstein which we all need to consider, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

 

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We are embedding our learning into the school day this year. “As leaders, if we ask teachers to use their own time to do anything, what we’re really telling them is: it’s not important.”(pg 5)