The Principal of Change George Couros

Stories of learning and leading
Updated: 2 hours 15 min ago

The Ability to Implement Feedback

24 May, 2017 - 07:23

Through reffing basketball, I learned a lot of lessons that apply to my learning to this day.  The ability to be challenged in learning on something you believe is not as bad as being yelled at that you are wrong about something while you are running and sweating

One lesson that I learned that was extremely valuable was not only about the importance of accepting feedback but the ability to implement that feedback quickly.

Whenever I was being observed in a game, the evaluator would meet with the referees at half and give you feedback on your performance.  Even if they wanted to sugarcoat it, they couldn’t; there was no time over a ten to fifteen-minute break.  The evaluators were straightforward and to the point on what you needed to work on.  The referees that did the best didn’t sit and process the feedback forever; you could see that it was implemented in the second half.  This doesn’t mean that they would do it for the rest of their lives because sometimes the evaluator was wrong. That being said, they were open to being pushed and wanted to get better, quicker.  

Listening to feedback is different than accepting, acknowledging, and implementing feedback.

Have you ever met the person that says they need time to process, yet it is more of a stall tactic to delay pushing themselves? Some people say they want to be pushed yet their “processing” time can seemingly last an eternity.  There is nothing wrong with being thoughtful; we should all think deeply about why we do what we do.  But sometimes we can think too much and overanalyze, paralyzing us from moving forward, or event attempting to do so.  The only way you will know if feedback is beneficial is by putting it into action, not by leaving yourself on “processing mode” forever.

As shared in this article, “Overthinking Will Destroy Your Happiness: 3 Tips to Keep Your Sanity“, “overthinking” can sometimes become the enemy of action:

There are a lot of positive things about being analytical. Being analytical allows you to make better decisions, develop a deeper understanding of the world around you and become a more successful person.

There is a fine line, however, between being analytical and overthinking everything.

Overthinking is detrimental to a person’s happiness and almost never makes a situation turn out any better than it would have otherwise. It also leads to indecisiveness, which can prevent a person from taking action when action is needed the most.

According to Amy Morin, “Whether they’re beating themselves up over a mistake they made yesterday, or they’re fretting about how they’re going to succeed tomorrow, over-thinkers are plagued by distressing thoughts. Their inability to get out of their own heads leaves them in a state of constant anguish.”

It is okay to be thoughtful of your practice and take the time to process, but when we wait to get better in education, we do not only hold ourselves back, we hold those back that we serve. We can think about ideas and feedback all we want, but until we make it happen, we will never know if it will lead to something better in our practice.

Categories: Planet

Empowered or Entitled?

22 May, 2017 - 00:09

I am writing to understand my learning…Hopefully, I can work this out through a blog post…

In a recent workshop, I was asked an interesting question that gave me pause.

“Where is the line between a student being empowered or being entitled?”

I could see where there is a perception of this line.  Talking about encouraging students to follow their passions, might also be seen as avoiding some of the “hard work” of school.  In my opinion, there has to be a balance of tapping into students passions in school but also helping them develop skills for later that they might not see as beneficial now.  In some ways, I wished that I would have been pushed to stick with playing piano as a child or learning to speak Greek.  That being said, I do not believe that these things should be taught to every child, hence the reason teaching is such a complicated profession.

Yet here was an example of a fine line that I struggle with in teaching a child to be “entitled”, as opposed to “empowered”. Think about what we are saying to students when we ask for money through “GoFundMe” or something similar for our classrooms or ask for others to retweet something so that our class can win a competition?  This borders on modeling entitlement.  “Give me something because I’ve asked for it.”

Now if you have ever asked for money for your classroom to give your students opportunities that may not exist without that funding, I can fully understand why you would do that.  Every great teacher wants to provide every opportunity they can for their students.

But as I have written before, what if we created something of value to earn that money?  If we asked students, “What would you create to earn this money? What would you sell for?  How would you get the word out to others?”  This is actually quite hard work, but what if you earned furniture through this process? There is ownership over the creation process while entrepreneurial skills are being developed.

I get the question and why it was asked, and to be honest, why it is important to make a distinction.  With all of the talk of “this generation” being entitled, can we add to that inadvertently through some of the things that we do or focus on in schools?

There is a fine line that we need to be aware of. Teaching students the importance of hard work, resiliency, and that even through these things, you may not get what you want, is part of the learning of life, that can help students not only develop as learners but as people.

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It’s Okay To Be a “Boss”

19 May, 2017 - 07:52

In Kim Scott’s book, “Radical Candor”, she states the following:

In an effort to create a positive, stress-free environment, I sidestepped the difficult but necessary part of being a boss: telling people clearly and directly when their work wasn’t good enough. I failed to create a climate in which people who weren’t getting the job done were told so in time to fix it.

Later, she follows with:

As you probably know, for every piece of subpar work you accept, for every missed deadline you let slip, you begin to feel resentment and then anger. You no longer just think the work is bad: you think the person is bad. This makes it harder to have an even-keeled conversation. You start to avoid talking to the person at all.

In all of the talk about “being a leader”, or “don’t be a manager!”, sometimes we forget that it is important to simply be a boss.  It is not all awesome, and sometimes you have to do some tough things in a position of leadership.  If someone is performing in a way that is not helping them move forward, saying something and being honest with them is not a sign of disliking them; in fact, it is the opposite.  It is because you care.  I do not believe any educator or student wakes up in the morning wanting to do poorly, yet sometimes to spare their feelings, we let them continue on a path that may be detrimental.

People sometimes do not like hearing those truths, but you do not want to get into a situation where it is too late and they say, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Personally, I am against the “positive sandwich”; we say one positive thing, follow it up with our criticism, and then end with a positive.  When this was happening to me, I would simply say, “Tell me what you need me to fix.” I could care less about the positives at the beginning.  A sandwich is named by the filling in the middle, so if it is “crap”, the delicious bread on the outside ain’t helping.  I prefer being direct and to the point while ensuring that people know you are guiding them out of a place of caring and putting them in a place where they can be successful, not allowing the opposite.

I remember working with a student teacher and they weren’t up to the level of what I had expected.  No one had said anything prior, but I could not put my name on an evaluation and say they did a good job going on the path they were headed.  We had a tough conversation, they were upset, I gave them guidance on how they could get better, and they were so proud of how far they had come, that they were thankful I stepped in.  Imagine if I would have waited until the evaluation?  There is not much coming back from that.

As long as people know that you are both on the same page (that you want them to be successful), they will accept the feedback. For some, it is harder than others, but when they know it is because you want them to be better, it is a much easier pill to swallow.  Leadership is not always an easy position, but the most effective leaders are willing to do the stuff that others are scared to do, for the sake of helping all the people they serve in their organization.

Categories: Planet

5 Great Non-Education Books That Might Change Your Thinking on Teaching and Learning

17 May, 2017 - 07:16

I love Twitter.

If you are looking for some good books to read over the summer break, take a look at this thread:

What is a book that had a significant impact on your views and practices on education, but is NOT an education book?

— George Couros (@gcouros) May 15, 2017

Lots of interesting suggestions there. Books I have read, books I haven’t heard of, and books that I have heard of that I have never read. These books are listed as ones that are beyond “good”, but have changed the mentality of many towards education.

To model an answer to what I have asked, I wanted to share five books that I have read that have shaped my philosophy, why I liked them, and some powerful quotes.

1. Drive – Daniel Pink

If you don’t think a book on the “science of motivation” applies to education, you are missing a huge opportunity in education. This book did not reaffirm a lot of my thinking; it changed it. As many, I thought grades and awards were an excellent motivator for people and students, but this debunks this notion in a world that needs creative thinkers. Think about it…how many kindergarten kids are worried about their grades? Schools condition them to that.

This led me to write a post on “The Impact of Awards“, which I receive emails on weekly with educators or parents, who are trying to convince their school of moving from a system of awards that may be detrimental to their students. I used to think that a lack of awards was about being “soft” on kids, but in reality, it is much harder to help children develop intrinsic motivation than to use “carrots and sticks” to learn. Although it is harder, it is increasingly beneficial long term.

Quotes from the book:

“When the reward is the activity itself–deepening learning, delighting customers, doing one’s best–there are no shortcuts.”

“For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation—the drive do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing—is essential for high levels of creativity.”

“People use rewards expecting to gain the benefit of increasing another person’s motivation and behavior, but in so doing, they often incur the unintentional and hidden cost of undermining that person’s intrinsic motivation toward the activity.”

2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey

This book taught me that you can say something simple and profound at the same time.  The lessons here seem like common sense but are not necessarily that common.

Here are the “7 Habits”:

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Habit 4: Think Win/Win
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Habit 6: Synergize
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

These lessons are not only beneficial to adults, but children as well. The spinoff book, “The Leader in Me“, helped me reshape my thinking to look for the strengths in both kids and adults, and move backward from there.

Quotes from the book:

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and
he will become as he can and should be.”

“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are──or, as we are conditioned to see it.”


3. Humanize – Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant

This book made me look at the Internet and social media in a totally different way.  While many focus on the negative aspects of social media, this made me look for the positives and how we have this powerful opportunity to connect as human beings more now than ever.  It also helped me to focus on the importance of what this new era of transparency means for leadership.  When you can see other organizations so openly, it can easily shine a light on the weaknesses of leadership in your own organization.

Quotes from the book:

“One of the reasons social media has grown so fast is that it taps into what we, as human beings, naturally love and need and want to do—create, share, connect, relate.”

“As the Internet has become more central in our lives, we have begun to witness a revival of the importance of being human.”

“Creating human organizations requires more than social media. It requires new leadership.”

4. Mindset – Carol Dweck

This book was a springboard and influence for my own book (as were the others), “The Innovator’s Mindset“.  Carol Dweck’s work has made a significant impact on how we look at students and their potential, and how they learn, as well as how we look at our own learning as adults. If someone changes their mindset, their potential is limitless. We are often the biggest barrier to our own success.

Quotes from the book:

“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”

“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

“What on earth would make someone a non-learner? Everyone is born with an intense drive to learn. Infants stretch their skills daily. Not just ordinary skills, but the most difficult tasks of a lifetime, like learning to walk and talk. They never decide it’s too hard or not worth the effort. Babies don’t worry about making mistakes or humiliating themselves. They walk, they fall, they get up.”


5. The Paradox of Choice – Barry Schwartz

We often talk about “choice” as being crucial to students, and I agree, that there are many options for our children today.  That being said, too much choice can be crushing to people. As an administrator, it influenced my thinking on how I would at one time bombard my own staff with too many options on their use of technology when it only led them to be overwhelmed and unsure if they went the right direction (See – Conference session on “100 Tools To Use in the Classroom”).  Not only is this important to understand in schools that are drowning in initiatives, we have to recognize this for ourselves.  Do we inundate ourselves with too much?  In a world with so many options, “choice” can be a benefit or detriment depending on how we see it.

Quotes from the book:

“Focus on what makes you happy, and do what gives meaning to your life”

“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”

“Most good decisions will involve these steps: Figure out your goal or goals. Evaluate the importance of each goal. Array the options. Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet your goals. Pick the winning option. Later use the consequences of your choice to modify your goals, the importance you assign them, and the way you evaluate future possibilities.”


When I look at this list, I realize how many of these books have had an impact on me not only as an educator but as a writer. For those “aspiring” authors out there, my best advice if you want to write, read other books.  Reference ideas you get from them, but also think of the different styles of writing and what you enjoy reading yourself.

As people are preparing their own summer reading lists, any books you can suggest in the comments would be of great value.

Categories: Planet

Compliance is Not the End Goal of Education

15 May, 2017 - 08:13

Recently, I was listening to a teacher talk about their more “traditional” view of education, and how “compliance” wasn’t a bad thing for students. Even going a step further, saying students should be “obedient”.

I cringed a little.  Okay, maybe a lot.

First off, let’s look at the definition of “obedient”:

obedient – complying or willing to comply with orders or requests; submissive to another’s will. Is this what we really want from our students?  That they are simply submissive to the will of their teachers?  Do we want to develop generations of students that will challenge conventional ideas, think for themselves, or simply do what they are told?  I do not know many teachers who would want to be “obedient” to their principals.  We teach the “golden rule” to our students; we must follow it ourselves. So let’s look at the word “compliant”. compliant – inclined to agree with others or obey rules, especially to an excessive degree; acquiescent. Is compliance a bad thing to teach in education?  Not really. In some ways, people have to be compliant.  Think of tax season.  You have to be compliant with the rules that are set out by your government.  As educators, there are times that we have to be compliant in our work as well.  You have deadlines that you have to meet (ie. report cards).  Compliance is not a bad word, but it should not be your end goal in education.  My belief is that we need to move beyond compliance, past engagement, and onto empowerment. These ideas are not separate, but in some ways, can be seen as a continuum. Let’s go back to the word compliance.  Has that really ever been the end goal of schools? Maybe as a system overall, but I think the best educators have always tried to empower their students.  They know that if you are truly good at your job as an educator, the students will learn to not need you eventually. That is why “lifelong learning” has been a goal in education forever.  If we truly want our students to be “compliant” when they walk out of schools, they will always need someone else’s rules to follow.  To develop the “leaders of tomorrow”, we need to develop them as leaders today. Focusing on “empowering” students is seen by some as “fluffy”; students just show up to school to do whatever they want.  This is not my belief at all.  Empowering students teaches them to have their own voice and follow their own direction, but if they are going to be successful, they will need to truly have the discipline (using the definition, “train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way”), to make it happen.  “Empowerment” and “hard work” are not mutually exclusive; in fact, both elements are needed to make a true difference in our world. Think about how many of our kids in school talk about becoming “YouTubers”.  If you truly want to make that happen, you do not apply to some job, but you will have to focus on creating content consistently over time while building an audience.  This might be your dream, but to make it happen, there is a lot of work to be done. Becoming a content creator allows you to follow your own path, yet to be successful, hard work is needed. I love this quote: “Hard work does not guarantee success, but lack of hard work guarantees that there will be no success.” Jimmy V Helping students find their own paths, not the ones we set out for them, has always been the focus in education, yet we need to be more explicit about this path. We all want our students to be respectful to educators and peers, but hopefully, we all want them to walk out of school, become intrinsically motivated, and find their own ways to success and happiness.  Compliance is sometimes a part of this, but it is not the end goal.  Are we trying to develop students to fit into our world, or are we hoping that students feel that they have the power to create a better world, now and in the future? “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” Steve Jobs
Categories: Planet

Two Things All Parents Need To Know From Their Schools

13 May, 2017 - 01:48

Speaking to parent groups is always a pleasure. I truly believe that although there are many fears of technology (especially social media), the access we have to one another is a powerful opportunity to bring parents into our classrooms.  Instead of asking, “What did you learn today?”, with the standard response of “nothing”, parents are now saying, “I saw what you posted on your blog at school today…tell me more about that.” A totally different question that helps parents dig deeper into learning with their children, and reinforce what is happening in schools.

I have also talked about “Digital Parent Volunteers” (an idea from Tracey Kracht), which is an opportunity for parents to comment on student blogs when they can’t physically volunteer in classrooms.  The best way to help a community to understand the power of social media to create positive opportunities is to have them directly involved in the use of it.

Last night, when I was speaking with a parent group in Sudbury, Ontario, talking about the role of social media in the classroom, I started off with the the following thought:

There are two things that I want you to know moving forward with tonight’s presentation and I am hoping that you agree.  We are focused on keeping your children safe while ensuring they have every opportunity in the world to become successful.  Are these the two hopes for your children in their experience of school?

Everyone agreed immediately.

Although it seems simple, it is the first time that I had started a parent presentation that way, which set the tone throughout.  It not only helped frame the presentation for the parents, but it also helped me lead with this end in mind.  What parent would not want those two things?

This will hopefully squash the argument of “well this was what I did in school and I have turned out totally fine.”  People know that there are more opportunities in our world today and that some of the opportunities that have existed before are disappearing.  My parents wanted the same thing for me as I do for my daughter; every opportunity for her to be successful and happy.

Keeping kids safe while ensuring doors continue to open for them is a simple thought, while a large responsibility.  Pretending things don’t exist and closing our minds to possibilities for our children is ensuring that our fears drown out their aspirations.  We teach our children to cross the road safely, knowing that there is danger in the task, yet opportunity on the other side.  We want them to get safely to that other side. A simple metaphor that may help us move forward together as school communities.

Categories: Planet

Two Simple Questions To Ask at the End of a Professional Learning Day

11 May, 2017 - 07:51

I have shared parts of this story before, but it has been stuck in my head for awhile and I wanted to create a solution to a problem…

After a group of students introduced me to speak at an event, they started walking out the door of the auditorium, when I basically started begging them to stay and listen to what I had to share.  They didn’t seem too excited about the prospect, so I promised them that if it sucked, I would take them all out for lunch at the Dairy Queen a block away. They stayed, excited about the idea of a free lunch, but luckily, I never had to pay up.  They were blown away by what I shared and had hoped that this would start making its way into classrooms.

While I sat with them over lunch, one student said this to me:

If teachers are doing this on these days that we are not here, why are they not getting any better?

I have not been able to stop thinking about this in terms of education since.  The student had a wonderful point.  This is time and money invested, so what is the return on investment and how is it benefitting students?  If the professional learning days and times are not directly benefitting students, is this ultimately a waste of resources?  It also makes me think about how much time we talk in circles about ideas, yet do not necessarily move forward with them.  Action creates change, not discussing action.

As I thought about it, here are two questions I think that educators should think about at the end of any conference, professional learning day, or even Twitter chat:

How beneficial would it be that after a professional learning day at a school, that educators would talk about what they learned and how it would help them become a better educator with the students? This does not only put an onus on every educator to own their own learning, but for the person(s) delivering, designing, or leading the professional learning day to have accountability to the students we ultimately serve as well.

This should go beyond “I am going to use this new app”, as that is surface level learning.  It might not be something that you will do right away, but something that is at least pushing your thinking. Yet, simply having that conversation with the students helps to create an accountability to them.  Isn’t that who we ultimately serve in the first place?

Categories: Planet
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