The Principal of Change | Leadership Education Blog
George Couros is a learner, educator, and Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership consultant. He is also the author of "The Innovator's Mindset". He believes people need to inspire their kids to follow their passions, while letting them inspire us to do the same.
I am trying to work through some thoughts, so bear me as it is one of those “write to learn” posts.
My daughter Kallea and I are watching the movie Smallfoot (which she loves but basically if there is music and it is animated, she will love it) and there is one part in the movie that made me think. Without going into too much detail and ruining the film for anyone who hasn’t viewed it, Danny Devito is a Yeti dad with a unique job in the community. His son finds out some things that he reveals to his father that ultimately makes the dad feel like his job is no longer of value (or maybe never was). In short, you could feel Danny Devito’s character lose his purpose.
I think a lot about the importance of purpose in not only education but many aspects of life. I remember watching my dad work seven days a week at a restaurant that he owned from basically 8 am until 10 pm, every day. I thought that when he retired, he would be thankful for all of the extra time that he had, but I watched him struggle to find purpose again. The restaurant had brought him joy through the act of bringing others joy. He continued to cook at other restaurants, but it took him a while to find that purpose again outside of the joy he had for his family and grandchildren.
Purpose matters, and we can still be in the same job but lose that sense of purpose if change happens too quickly, and we see as what we have done in the past as irrelevant in the future. I remember a conversation I had with a teacher many years ago about shifting to more student creation in the classroom and how powerful that was their learning. She said something to me that made no sense to me at the time, but for some reason, it was the first thing I thought of when I saw that scene from Smallfoot.
“When I became a teacher 25 years ago, it was because I wanted to stand in front of kids and inspire them to learn about an area that I was passionate about and now you are encouraging me to get out of the way?”
At the time, I didn’t understand why she didn’t want to celebrate the opportunity for what seemingly would be less work on her part, but when I saw that scene, I understood. Her purpose of why she became a teacher was disappearing in front of her eyes. I knew this teacher, and she was wonderful with students, and her focus was the same as mine; to do what is best for kids. This is not a post regarding pedagogy and ultimately, what strategies best serve students. It is to flesh out why some people, with the same great intentions as any person reading this, might struggle with change. They, in some way, might feel they are losing their purpose.
I am not going to share any strategies on how to remedy this as I am still struggling with this in my brain. I might even be wrong in my synopsis. I am merely writing this as a reminder to myself that I have always excelled on days where my purpose level was high, and that sense of purpose is just as important to others.
The concept of “focusing on strengths” is something that I have shared in “The Innovator’s Mindset,” and dive into deeper in my next book, “Innovate Inside the Box” (Coming out in August 2019). One of the ideas that I discuss as a “Core” element is focusing on “Learner-Driven, Evidence-Informed” classrooms. This is to suggest that when we identify student strengths and help students have the ability to recognize that themselves, the experience of school will not only become more rewarding and empowering now (while still working within constraints), it will help students not only become “prepared for the future,” but create a better world now and in the future.
A few things about the picture Jeff shared:
Finding strengths and still “doing school” does not have to be an “either-or scenario” in education. When we understand and help develop our students’ strengths and tap into them, and work the curriculum in backward from knowing your students, you can still help students find their way without ignoring the system.
Focusing on strengths does not mean you ignore weaknesses. It means that by developing the abilities in our students where they are passionate, the things that are “harder” become more tolerable in a system where students (and adults) feel valued.
Although we want to tap into the strengths and passions of our learners, there should be an opportunity to help expose our students to “unknowns” as well. For example, I didn’t start writing until my 30’s, but one of the reasons I love writing is because I have the opportunity to write about ideas in which I am passionate. So yes, a student might hate writing now, but if we know their strengths and tie that into the writing process, how would that help grow the process? There are so many teachers that share how they do this now, and I hope this is the same experience for my daughter in school.
This simple picture reminded how important school is in the process of developing our students, but more importantly, in empowering students to develop themselves. A simple shift to focusing on strengths can make all of the difference in the experience of school for all learners.
I have this soft spot for music teachers. It is interesting where you see this massive shift to focusing on “data,” that the arts tend to be cut first when they are needed more than ever.
I have a deep love for hearing and telling stories that were instilled in me by my elementary music teacher, Cindy Penrose. I learned as much in her music class that I have applied to what I do today than I did in any of my other classes as a student, if not more. This is not only in my work, but my love of music, drama, and movies, as well as hard work and discipline. Mrs. Penrose gave me an appreciation of these things that I would not have had without her.
Dan Pink discusses the importance of the arts in “A Whole New Mind”:
“Design. Story. Symphony. Empathy. Play. Meaning. These six senses increasingly will guide our lives and shape our world.”
The reason I bring this up is that I was sharing this with a music teacher that I had met yesterday. She made a comment about my “presence and timing” as a speaker, and I told her that was 100% because of the influence of my music teacher as a student, and that I guarantee, as a teacher, she had the same impact Mrs. Penrose had on me on a ton of her students, she just did not know it.
Many teachers have no idea their impact on the lives of people today. For every one positive message you have received, there are probably 100’s that you didn’t that could talk about your positive influence on their lives today. Mrs. Penrose is not the only one to have had a positive impact on me today. Every generation of educators wants to help their students make the world a better place and I believe that in some way, every generation of teachers has done just that.
While “data” is becoming all the rage in education, understand that your impact as a teacher is genuinely immeasurable and permeates every facet of society. Education, in my mind, will all be the most human profession in the world, and that is not something that could ever be easily measured.
As the year winds down and stress levels can become high in education, I just want to say thank you for all that you do.
PS…I am not the only who has been impacted to this day because of a teacher. Check out some of the responses below:
As a K-12 student, what teacher had a positive impact on you? How does the experience of being in their classroom or learning from them positively impact you today?
Google Search App : Martin Van Buren [funny commercial, transcript, 윤현우] - YouTube
What I stress about the video is that it is less about finding information and more about what you do with it.
But, what a lot of people argue is that you can’t google everything and it is essential that we develop our knowledge, in which I 100% agree. The idea that technology gets rid of the “basics” is ridiculous; it is more about going beyond those basics and doing more than you could without access to endless information.
Yes, we can “google” answers, but that practice alone won’t make connections or promote a deep level of understanding of any information. Learners will have to do that for themselves, and as Katie shares, educators are central to that work.
My good friend, Patrick Larkin, purchased the book for me, “10% Happier“. I have been enjoying it, and this quote gave me pause for personal and professional reasons:
“Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy. Because many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. And imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is continuous stress.”
― Dan Harris, 10% Happier
I have a tough time appreciating the present moment because my mind seems to be always thinking and worrying about the future. The quote doesn’t suggest you forget about the future but understand the present is not “your enemy.”
Professionally, with all of the talk about being “future ready,” we have to realize that the moment our students have in school today is something truly meaningful to them. I think of how often I look back fondly on experiences I had in school, and the learners in front of you need to know how important the present moment is in their lives and how we, as educators, value this time tremendously. The grade 12 student doesn’t care about your 2030 plan as much as they value today. We, myself included, need to keep that on our minds.
Don’t ignore the future but remember to value the present. It is your friend.
I was asked the following question from Kim Powell on Twitter:
@gcouros If you were on an interview committee for HS principal, what questions would you ask to look for an #InnovatorsMindset? Great opportunity to move forward and would love your expertise ! #leadership
Although I had written a post more focused on interview questions for teachers, I had not done one specific to administrators. Below, I have created questions that might be useful to an administrator interview but could also help leaders think more deeply about their practice. As always, please feel free to use and modify to suit your specific community.
Interview Questions (For Admin)
How do you learn to meet the needs of your staff, students and community? If they were to tell me about your leadership style, what would they say?
How do you encourage your staff to develop their learning while connecting to the larger version of a school or district?
How do you create a culture where the community feels taking risks to support student growth and development is something that is encouraged, not looked down upon?
We often hear “we want a world-class education” in schools. How do you connect outside the community to learn and grow and how will you support your community to learn from others outside our school community to provide the best opportunities for students?
Tell me about something outside of education that has influenced your leadership? How does it connect to education?
We want our students to be active creators in their learning. Give some examples of how you would do that as an administrator and how you develop staff as creators as well?
How have you led others through tough situations? How have you helped them and yourself grow through the process?
How do you create opportunities for active reflection within the work day for yourself and community?
This is not a comprehensive list of questions for every administrator interview, but hopefully, you can find some value.
What questions would you add? What would you modify? If you have questions that you think would be great for administrators, please leave them in the comments below.
Please take 90 seconds to watch this video (it is SOOOO worth it):
Every day, this elderly woman says “hello” to school kids as they pass by her house. When they found out their beloved neighbor was moving, hundreds of kids left school to give her one last “goodbye.” https://t.co/t4TrADCOhipic.twitter.com/jGazeW7QLI
When forward-thinking schools encourage today’s learners to become creators and leaders, I believe they, in turn, will create a bett er world. That’s my why, and it’s the way, I believe, we must approach the what and the how of our work as educators.
Here is the thing…”Forward-thinking schools” don’t just allow teachers to find and create their solutions; they encourage it. We can all work together toward a broader vision but our pathways as individuals to that destination, can and should be different based on who we serve.
When I hear of “scripted” curriculums, the argument is that every student should have the same experience, but should they? They should all have a great experience, but I would say that looks different in every classroom for every student. This is why giving over ownership of the journey matters as much as a shared destination.
In my next book, “Innovate Inside the Box,” written with Katie Novak, I discuss “The Core of Innovative Teaching and Learning,” and I identify four essential areas for schools to focus on:
Here’s the deal…I explain why each is important and give some examples to prompt thinking, but I encourage the reader to find their way and make meaning of each principle. You know your community and classroom better than I could, so what does each look like to you?
The journey, especially in a field where learning is at the center of what we do, is as important, if not more so, than the destination. We have to encourage those we serve to find and create their own path.
The reason I write about this today was that I recently discussed with a group of administrators on the “Core of Innovative Teaching and Learning,” one asked about what to do when you face resistance. I suggested two things:
What is assessed will drive teaching, not the other way around. If you encourage people to take risks and try new things, but only celebrate and validate “scores,” they will do what they can to get high scores. If creativity is encouraged but shown to have no value, then you will get people sticking with what they have done.
Go first. If you ask people to take risks and be vulnerable, you have to be open to modeling that as well. They won’t “jump” if you don’t jump first.
Recently, I posted an image from my upcoming book on “The Core of Innovative Teaching and Learning” and asked for feedback on an image. Not only did I change the title of the book (Innovate Inside the Box) based on thoughts and conversations, several commenters suggested different color schemes and the image became this:
I put it out there because I know that if I can put stuff out there and get feedback, it will be so much better than it will ever be in my thinking. I have also embraced that no matter how much input I consider and tweaking I do, nothing will be perfect for everyone. I have to be comfortable with this vulnerability if I ask it from others, and I know it helps me tremendously.
I have been reading and watching a lot of Brene Brown lately, and this quote resonates:
“Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.”
Our own willingness (or lack thereof) to “show up” is noticed by those we serve. If we can go and grow first, that is always the best way to lead those that are resistant. When we avoid taking risks and trying new things, we can expect that same unwillingness from others. “Leading” often means going first.
At the beginning of my teaching career, I applied for a Kindergarten position, and from that interview, I was given the opportunity to teach high school technology. The reason I was hired to teach a technology class was that I had minimal experience with technology coming out of college and that “minimal” amount was more than anyone they had encountered in their interviews at the time in 1999. I was reluctant to take the job because I didn’t think I could do it, but my mentor teacher advised me to take any job since they were sparse at the time.
I walked into a class knowing a little bit more than some of my students, but not all. Every time we learned something new, I would learn a program a little bit before my students, and we would work through things together. I was honest with them that this was something I didn’t fully understand, so if they had some knowledge that I didn’t, please share with me and others, so we can all help each other out. The class was excellent, and we learned a lot together. Little did I know that this three-month job would shape much of my thinking for my career. I understood I did not know everything, even in the course I taught. I also appreciated that my students, all had some knowledge that I didn’t, and if I could tap into that, we would all grow.
I am often asked, “What is the next big technology in education?”
My answer is always the same. “I have no idea, and neither does anyone else.” We can all guess but something new will come and eventually go, and something better will replace it. The key is not to think about the technology but to learn to adapt to anything that comes our way, and not only survive but thrive. Honestly, if you knew what every day would look like, the job would become boring.
This is why “mindset” matters. Whatever comes our way, we will figure it out. Lucky I learned this in my first year of teaching, and because of that experience, I am still learning today.