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I am wrestling with some ideas in my head…bear with me as I try to write to learn.

If you have an iPhone, do you remember taking out the manual and going over how to use your new device? If you do, you are making up this experience in your head because the iPhone does not come with a manual.  The goal of creating the device was to make something so easy to use that you wouldn’t need instructions which ultimately, making it much more marketable and appealing to everyone instead of only to “tech enthusiasts.”

I was thinking recently about technology in our modern day and how there is this notion that our students are so much better with technology in this generation than in generations past. So this is where I struggle…are our students better with technology than generations previous, or is technology so much easier to use in this generation?  With my Apple 2C, I knew much more about programming and coding as a child than I do now because that was necessary to use the technology in some capacity.

For example, I remember making videos as a child with zero editing other than pausing the camera and making things disappear by standing still and removing an object out of the frame. We once had to create a commercial for an English class (one of my favorite experiences in school) and what took us a week at the time and technology that was not as easily accessible would take less than an hour to do now on my phone.

So then I think that the technology is so much easier, and then I see videos like this with incredible editing and I would have no idea how this is done:

The above video (link here) is incredible and I doubt you could do it simply by using iMovie (maybe you can).

So what I have realized is that in many cases, both things can be true.

Technology is easier for this generation of students than it was for us.

In many ways, this generation is better at technology than the previous generation, probably due to the accessibility.  

But what does any of this mean in the context of education? That is where I am struggling.

In many cases, we can become enamored by what we see presented through technology because it was not our norm.  For example, using a technology that is flashy and looks like nothing that had we as kids, can look and feel like something compelling, but are we seeing true depth and authentic learning?

I thought about this more when I read this post by Blake Harvard titled “A Focus on Learning, Not Fun,” in which he shares the concern that “fun” can sometimes be mistaken for “engagement” and authentic learning:

Recently I’ve become more concerned with the ties among three words and their use in the classroom: fun, engagement, and learning. I see more and more teachers comment on creating fun lessons that engage students. I don’t know that there’s anything too terribly wrong with that premise, as long as learning remains the focus.  I fear, however, that upon reflection of a lesson, fun becomes the measuring stick of the lesson’s success and learning takes a backseat or becomes almost an option for the lesson.

This concern rings true for technology in the classroom as well. Technology may give the glitz and glamor, but the focus should always be the learning.  In many cases, I have been guilty of pursuing the “easy app” that would appeal to my students when I should have been focused on learning and long term goals for learning.

Technology will continue to become easier, but that doesn’t mean the learning will always be deeper with its use without a teacher or learner’s thoughtful intervention.  Technology has removed many barriers, but thinking should not be one of them.  We can do many things now with technology that we couldn’t do before which is why I am such an advocate of meaningful use of technology in learning. It is essential that we are aware our focus is always on the depth of learning, not only on the cosmetics of the process.

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One of the benefits I have of being in education is having an older brother that is heavily involved in the field as well. His feedback to me in the past has been some of the harshest that I have ever received from anyone with little or no filter.  Sometimes it hurts, but it always makes me think and grow.  But there is one thing I know while receiving the feedback; he has my back.

The best mentors I have had in my career have challenged me the most, but I always knew that there were supporting me to grow.  That is what made them special.

I write this because I have noticed this pushback to being positive and relating it to being adverse to criticism.  I have especially noticed it when I post this quote:

The quote came out of a very specific story and I have shared the context often.

But this quote isn’t meant to have people “shun” criticism. It is intended to focus on finding pathways where there are often obstacles.  Criticism is part of the process and challenge is necessary for us to grow as individuals and organizations.

How we criticize is important, especially in education.  If a student only hears what they do wrong, yet do not feel valued, would that promote or stagnate growth? Adults are no different.  I know that sometimes criticism I receive, which may be potentially valuable, is lost in the tone of the messaging, or even the messenger. If the only time I hear from someone, especially online, is to criticize me, it feels like it is more about “beating me” rather than finding solutions to move forward.

I have been guilty of this myself and continued to get better.  The people that I am closest to know that I will challenge them, but they understand why.

One of the moments that has shaped my thinking on this is an incident where I was focusing only on negative aspects of someone’s presentation at a conference and feeling that I was making things better by showing “the right way.” Later that evening, I was invited to a dinner where that same person was also invited. I remember seeing the hurt in their demeanor and knowing I was the direct cause because A) I had no connection with the person and B) I was more focused on looking good myself rather than helping that person grow. If I genuinely wanted the presenter to grow, I would have delivered my feedback in a much different manner. It made me realize that I always need to assume that input provided online has to be done in a way that is much different than in person, especially when we do not have a relationship, because we are not privy to the effects we have on a person on the other side of the screen.

(PS…I am good friends with the same person now, and we challenge each other often.  The relationship is there and that matters.)

These are some things I think about when I want to challenge the thinking of someone online as well as in person:

  1. Do I have any type of connection as human beings other than this initial interaction and do they know their contributions are valued?
  2. Do I ever connect with this person to say something positive or do I only share feedback with others (or specific people) when it is negative?
  3. Am I open to being challenged and critiqued in the same manner in which I am ready to deliver?

The above three questions are ONLY valid if the answers are genuine and authentic. For example, throwing in an arbitrary and inauthentic compliment with the sole focus of delivering criticism but to “soften the blow” probably won’t lead to growth in the person or the idea.

I focus on relationships so often in my work not because I am only focused on the positive, but I know that if you build the relationship, how challenge and criticism are perceived is more likely to aid in the development of others.  Yes, you can learn from people where you don’t have a positive relationship, but I feel that growth is extremely limited.

The message can be lost in the delivery.  If your hope (and mine) is to help someone grow than be willing to put in the time to that person where they know their contributions and work are appreciated.

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As I was re-reading, “Take the LEAP; Ignite a Culture of Innovation” by Elisabeth Bostwick (published by Impress Books), this passage stuck out to me and was one that left me feeling uncomfortable as I know it happens far too often:

Matthew and his building principal were close as colleagues, and they shared a similar philosophy of education. The more Matthew’s career blossomed, however, the more strained their relationship became. From Matthew’s perspective, it seemed that his principal resented his achievements. His principal never once celebrated his accomplishments in a staff meeting, let alone an email or newsletter. Instead, his demeanor toward Matthew was cavalier, and he would even strike Matthew with snarky remarks at unexpected times. Matthew began to feel that his vast efforts were unappreciated, and it hurt. As a result, Matthew, who cared deeply about his school community and about pushing the boundaries to cultivate innovative practices, began to pull back from his relationship with his principal. As a teacher leader, he knew that if the roles were reversed, he would want to celebrate the accomplishments of colleagues.

In work I do today, I have many educators confide in me that this is something that they have experienced themselves.  It often holds them back from trying new things in the classroom or even moving toward new positions. Fears of going into school administration due to comments of going over to “the dark side” are portrayed in jest yet have some underlying resentment in the sentiment from colleagues.

I can’t pretend I have never felt the sting of professional jealousy.  Wondering why someone else receives opportunities where I think I would excel is something that I think is natural to the point of being merely human nature.  Feeling that is different than acting upon it.  My goal from my work is to do my best to lift others in my interactions and focus that if I continue to work hard and do things for the right reason, opportunities will happen and I can genuinely be happy for the success of others.

Bostwick encourages others to personally reflect if they are a fountain or drain for others when they achieve personal and professional success:

I challenge administrators and teachers alike to reflect upon how others’ successes make you feel. Do you celebrate the accomplishments of colleagues or feel threatened by their growth?

The reason I appreciate this sentiment is that education is a space where our work is to lift our students to become better versions of themselves, both in and out of school.  If we are to create the mission that Elizabeth shares below, we need to both push and support one another:

My mission became fostering a community where students genuinely enjoy learning and recognize that they’re capable of anything that they put their minds to with practice and support from their teachers. Shaking up traditional learning experiences by creating empowering, authentic, and meaningful opportunities felt like a vital part of that mission. From my study in psychology, I understood that teachers have the potential to turn lives around. We can be the difference makers in the lives of children—the influencers who offer positive contributions to the development of their story—and my vision became ensuring that every child had as many positive experiences as possible.

If we are to create these “empowering, authentic, and meaningful opportunities” as Bostwick suggests, we need to constantly ask how do we bring out the best in one another, in pursuit of serving all of our students. When I feel that sting of jealousy in myself about a colleague, I try to catch myself and ask, “How would I celebrate the accomplishments of this person if they were my current or former student?”  It is a grounding sentiment for myself.

Tom Murray, who writes the foreword in “Take the LEAP” talks about the urgency of creating these cultures of innovation in our school and how it falls on all of us, not just admin:

Simply put, in a toxic school environment, innovation will not thrive. In a culture where teachers are not able to take risks, they will retreat to areas of comfort; and, honestly, who can blame them? So who’s responsible for creating such a culture of innovation in your school?

What I love about Elizabeth’s book is the focus on practical ways we can create these cultures from her experience as a teacher-leader while appreciating the different viewpoints within a school and how they are a strength, not a weakness if we utilize them effectively:

While some of us avidly advance as innovators, striving to motivate and challenge colleagues to try new ideas, others want to know every minute detail and speculate all of the possibilities to grasp the big picture and purpose before committing to taking action. Our schools benefit from both types of personalities: We need to think critically about what we’re working toward, and we also want to move forward at a steady pace, creating deeply meaningful learning experiences.

The book and Elizabeth have helped me refocus on the importance of building a culture of innovation and seeing the success and difference of others as something to help our communities move forward.

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This past July, I led a book study on Instagram, and it was a tremendous experience. It was a short process and encouraged participants to not only think deeply about their teaching and learning but also create their own media from the process while connecting with others.

Because of the success of the first book study, we are going to lead another book study on”The Innovator’s Mindset,” starting on January 27th, 2019.  It will last for less than two weeks and is something that people can easily drop in and out of as they did the first time, or stay through the whole process. Having a copy of “The Innovator’s Mindset” is beneficial for the process but not necessary as the questions are pretty open-ended.  Other than the book, the process is free, and if you already own a copy, you are good to go!

The goal is to go through a chapter a day and share learning through some visual medium.  Each day I will post a question or challenge from each chapter that you can either respond to in the comments on my post or create your own post.

Each day of the book study (or as you see fit), participants will be asked to share a reflection in some form on what they have read. It can be a video that they talk or share something, a visual they create, or whatever you can think of that can be represented through Instagram like a “Booksnap” (information on that from Tara Martin here).

There are many ways you can share your learning through Instagram, so please do not limit it to my suggestions.

I encourage participants to share in the following manner:

  1. Share your post to the hashtag #InnovatorsMindset and the applicable chapter reading.  For each chapter, the second hashtag will be the following:

    Intro – #InnovatorsMindsetIntro

    Chapter 1 – #InnovatorsMindsetCH1
    Chapter 2 – #InnovatorsMindsetCH2
    Chapter 3 – #InnovatorsMindsetCH3
    (Continued for all 14 chapters)
  2. Each post should have #InnovatorsMindset AND the appropriate chapter hashtag. You can share any other hashtags that you see fit for the process as well.
  3. Tag me (@gcouros) on the post on Instagram.  I will do my best to see as many as possible and comment.  I am blessed to have Annick Rauch (annickrauch) helping to facilitate this process, so you are more than welcome to connect with her as well. You are more than welcome to follow me on Instagram as well, but my account is open, so you do not necessarily have to do so.
  4. Write as much as little or as much as you want in the subject line on your reflection.
  5. Feel free to use the story feature to share your learning as well.

*Please note that if your account is private only people that follow you will be able to see what you share.

This process is something that I am still learning, but I learned so much from the group last time, and it was hugely beneficial. My ultimate hope is that this endeavor opens new and better doors for learning in the classroom that participants create for themselves.  Bear with me as I am growing through the process as well.

The dates for the reading are the following:

Date Chapter
January 27, 2019 Introduction and Chapter 1
January 28, 2019 Chapter 2
January 29, 2019 Chapter 3
January 30, 2019 Chapter 4
January 31, 2019 Chapter 5
February 1, 2019 Chapter 6
February 2, 2019 Chapter 7
February 3, 2019 Chapter 8
February 4, 2019 Chapter 9
February 5, 2019 Chapter 10
February 6, 2019 Chapter 11
February 7, 2019 Chapter 12
February 8, 2019 Chapter 13
February 9, 2019 Chapter 14

As well, please sign up here so I can try to follow all of the accounts that are taking part:

Thank you for your interest in this process.  I am looking forward to connecting with educators through the Instagram platform to push my own learning and connect with others.

(PS…If you are interested, there are some shirts available here that some have already purchased for the book study and/or their schools. Below is a sample.)

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I have run a few marathons in my life in what seems like an eternity ago. They are as much a challenge to the mind as they are the body as any negative thought that you might have will creep into your head on a long run.

After completing a marathon, someone said to me, “I can’t believe that you ran a marathon…That seems incredibly hard.” My response at the time was that the marathon was easy; the training was arduous.  Because I trained so hard and consistently, by the time I hit the race, it was much easier than it looked.  It wasn’t easy overall, but preparation led to me being successful, not merely showing up on race day.

This is something that I do my best to remind people of when jealousy creeps in because they feel someone accomplished something because they are just a “natural.”  The reality is that we often see the race,  not the training.

I have written about 1500 blog posts, a book, and over 100,000 tweets, yet am known for a handful of quotes over the past ten years of writing in this blog.  The reason people know those few quotes are because I have stayed consistent with my writing.

When I see someone that I perceive as having immense success, I don’t assume anything. I do my best to connect and ask them questions on what they have done to get to the point that they are at and where they hope to go.

Don’t think someone just showed up to success. Ask them about the training to get to that point.

One of my favorite quotes:

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I recently shared this image on Twitter:

This was written in my book “The Innovator’s Mindset,” and since then, my thoughts have evolved on the question.  I will get to that in a minute.

Here is one of the challenges I received on the question:

I believe all 3 are key to success. Without compliance, there’s no opportunity to develop the disciplined mind for engagement and empowerment. https://t.co/5RPMyHNfXz

— K Welch (@KWelch7) December 30, 2018

I agree to some extent with the comment. I don’t believe that these are an “either/or” scenario but empowerment is the end goal, yet compliance and engagement are steps in the process, not a final destination.

The word I want to focus on here is “discipline.” From what I have read in many comments, “compliance” and “discipline” get used interchangeably where there is a crucial distinction between the words. In my view, compliance is done to you by others. Discipline is something you do to and for yourself.  If you look at through the perspective of sports, compliance is listening to my coach and doing what I am told. Discipline is doing things that make me better when my coach isn’t necessarily asking or watching.  That will separate the good from the great.

When I think of “discipline,” this Muhammad Ali quote says it well:

Doing something challenging when you are not asked or pushed by others is not compliance; it is discipline.  Helping our learners develop that internally is crucial if we want “empowerment” to lead to success in the short and long term.

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A couple of things that I have been thinking lately:

  1. When we say, “We want our students to change the world” or “solve tomorrow’s problems,” I wonder if we are acting like the generation of teachers before didn’t?  A lot of the great things that are being created by people today is because of teachers in the past having the same intentions of teachers’ today.  We have to realize that for the best educators, no matter the generation, the intent was the same, but the access to information and each other is different.  Many of the things that I do today are DIRECTLY because of the opportunities that I had in school BECAUSE of those teachers.  I know that not everyone can say that for their school experience, but I know that many can and do.
  2. I struggle with the idea that some schools were terrible until one person got there and changed the whole thing.  This can be hurtful to the people that were in the building before and is giving credit to “one” while not realizing that it takes a group to improve and move things forward.  We might have a different vision and different skills, but understand that in any building we walk into, great things were happening before and after.  Find the strengths of the new people you encounter and build on those to help them grow. You are not to fix people, but every great leader helps people develop and reach a higher potential.  Maybe I am naive, but I do not believe anyone goes into education with the intention of making things worse, no matter their position.

Neither of these thoughts is pointed at anyone other than myself. I am focusing on becoming more thoughtful of my language when I work with groups, and I want to find the balance of push and support. My work is to help people grow and see better opportunities, WHILE learning from them and growing alongside.  I think it is essential to write this stuff down as a reminder to myself to honor those that had done so much in education long before I was a student and/or educator.

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For the last two years, I have shared some of my favourite quotes from the past year that have inspired me or made me think deeper about a subject. I wanted to provide some for this year as well.  Have an amazing 2019!

2017 

2018 

Believe in yourself, take on your challenges, dig deep within yourself to conquer fears. Never let anyone bring you down. You got to keep going. – Chantal Sutherland

Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best. – John C. Maxwell

We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. – Barack Obama

On my own I will just create, and if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, I’ll create something else. I don’t have any limitations on what I think I could do or be. – Oprah Winfrey

If you believe it will work out, you’ll see opportunities. If you believe it won’t, you will see obstacles. – Wayne Dyer

Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all. –  Dale Carnegie

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible. – Francis of Assisi

There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success… but if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you’re going… you’ll know that it was you and the people who love you that put you there. –  Taylor Swift

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. – Nelson Mandela

I measure my own success as a leader by how well the people who work for me succeed. – Maria Shi

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. – T.S. Eliot

Success means doing the best we can with what we have. Success is the doing, not the getting; in the trying, not the triumph. Success is a personal standard, reaching for the highest that is in us, becoming all that we can be. – Zig Ziglar

Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute, or an hour or a day, or even a year. But eventually, it will subside. And something else takes its place. If I quit, however, it will last forever. –  Eric Thomas

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. – Nelson Mandela

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. – Helen Keller

Have a wonderful 2019!  All the best to you and those close to you!

(ONE BONUS QUOTE!)

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