The Principal of Change George Couros

Stories of learning and leading
Updated: 1 hour 2 min ago

Your legacy as an educator is always determined by what your students do. #EmpowerBook

26 June, 2017 - 22:24

I am extremely honoured to announce that in conjunction with Dave and Shelley Burgess, the creators of the DBC, Inc. line of books, we have formed a subsidiary publishing company, IMpress.  This is a joint venture that will focus on publishing four to six books each year, focused on innovation, empowerment, leadership and unleashing talent at all levels of an organization.  Most of the books will have a connection to my book, “The Innovator’s Mindset”, but will not be limited to this.  We want to join forces to publish timeless manifestos by incredible educators that will truly push education forward in a positive way.  

That is why I am extremely proud to announce our first book, “Empower”, by AJ Juliani and John Spencer.  This book is remarkably special and different than most books in education.  When I read the first draft, I was not only amazed by the message, but its unique style makes it one of the most readable books in education. It is also LOADED with tons of practical ideas.  It is an amazing read, and I am proud that this will be the first in a line of books from IMpress.

Here is the foreword from the book which hopefully sets the stage for the rest of this amazing read.  I hope you enjoy it.


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. He even went 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 and 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 when we have to be compliant in our work as well. You have deadlines that you have to meet (i.e., report cards).

Compliance is not a bad word, but it should not be our end goal in education. My belief is that we need to move beyond compliance, past engagement, and on to 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, eventually the students will not need you.

That is why “lifelong learning” has been a goal in education forever. If our students are truly 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:1

“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.

A.J. Juliani and John Spencer do a great job of sharing why empowering our students is not only important in our world today but crucial. As they state, this is about shifting our mindset, which will ultimately lead to students not only believing they can change the world, but doing it because of school.

We all want our students to be respectful to educators and peers. 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 students feel they have the power to create a better world both 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

Your legacy as an educator is always determined by what your students do. You change the world by empowering your students to do the same.

Categories: Planet

Knowledge vs. Access to Knowledge

25 June, 2017 - 00:15

I ask you a question.

You are unsure of the answer, so you google it, tweet out if anyone has an answer, or use a plethora of resources that are at your fingertips. You find an answer and I call you resourceful. 

I ask the student the same question, and they use your same approach you just did.

Too often they are called a cheater.

There is something wrong with this narrative.

When you hire someone, you do not just hire their knowledge, you hire their access to knowledge.  No principal will ever know all of the answers to all of your questions, but some principals will know how to find, or more importantly, help you find, the answers to what you need.  Some will be adamant that if they don’t know, then it is either not a good idea or an answer probably doesn’t exist. Who would you rather work for?

Do not mistake what I am saying that I do not believe students should not have knowledge and that it is obsolete in our world today.  It is just that we need to understand that having knowledge is limiting compared to having access to knowledge. “Access” could mean it is in your mind, or at your fingertips. Unless your students are on Jeopardy, Googling something should not be a no-no.  I often get the argument, “Well you wouldn’t want a doctor googling stuff would you?” My doctor googles stuff all of the time. I would rather that they get it right with Google, than bet on something they learned in a class 10 years ago.

Yong Zhao said it best when he stated, “reading and writing should be the floor, not the ceiling.”  Yes we want our students to have basic skills, but we need to be able to go beyond.  The world is increasingly concerned with what you are able to do with what you know, not just what you know.

Have you ever met the teacher that knows all the content in the world in their subject area, but can’t teach?

Or the stock market expert, who doesn’t invest?

Or the sideline fan who knows everything about a sport, but can’t coach or referee?

Access to knowledge (brain and elsewhere) is extremely important.  Doing something with knowledge is crucial.

We just have to recognize that the real world is much more open to adults finding information and being resourceful, so we should be that way with our students.

Categories: Planet

The Worst Approach to Teaching Students About Social Media

20 June, 2017 - 22:05

Years ago, I had a real turning point in my thinking regarding social media use with students while listening to a group of students share some stories with me.

One boy from the group, who was probably about thirteen years old at the time, was sharing a story about posting a selfie of himself online. As soon as he posted it, a few of his friends started making fun of him. Not in a “bullying” way, but joking around as friends often do. He was talking back and forth with them and they were having some good laughs.  Eventually, his mom commented on the picture and said something to the effect of, “My boy is so handsome!”

He immediately pulled the picture down.

When he explained why, he said, “I would rather be teased by my friends than complimented by my mom online.”

As soon as he said that, I thought about one time when I was a kid and my mom said in front of a group of my friends about how handsome I looked. Immediately after she left, they started saying, “Hey George! Your mom thinks you’re hot!” This joke only lasted about six months.

“Hey George…I know things didn’t work out in that relationship but at least your mom thinks you are hot.”

I understood this boy 100%.

It was an eye-opening conversation, which also reminded me about the importance of having conversations with students regarding social media, not simply telling them what they can and can’t do.

I told this story the other day to a group of educators, and it reminded me of this picture.

Kid catches fish with toy fishing rod

I’ve blogged about this picture before, not only because of the image  but because of the top comment:

Good work Dad, support without interference.

This is what is so hard about social media in education. If you are too intrusive, kids will block you out (could be literally or figuratively), or they will move somewhere else.  Any social media that is the “new thing” isn’t something that we need to somehow work into our classroom.  We often take away the appeal of social media by just making it about what the adults want, not what the kids want to use.

Yet, we do need to understand it. We need to understand that what students do on social media today can impact them in either a positive or negative way later on in life.  I encourage parents to always sign up their own children to get onto social media younger so you can guide them. Would you rather your child make a mistake online at 8 years old or 15?

AJ Juliani wrote this great post, “Why We Let Our Six Year-Old Use Snapchat“, and talked about how “teachable moments” are crucial with social media:

Snapchat is also a great app for teachable moments with your kids. A few months back, our daughter had the iPad and was snapping some video of her brother acting goofy. It was harmless until she made a comment that was making fun of him and put him down. When we got the Snap on our phones it was the right time to sit down and talk about how she was treating her brother and what that would feel like if she was the one who was being made fun of in a video.

We often talk about “empathy” as teachers and parents. This situation was a quick reminder that we can build empathy through social interactions online and in person. We talked about the ramifications of this type of online action where it there could be way more than just her family who could potentially see the video. It could have been the moment we got rid of Snapchat, but it turned into a great lesson for all of us—parents included—to go through together.

…If we don’t allow our kids to use apps and platforms in a safe setting, make time for teachable moments, and support their learning and growth as online citizens, then it’s going to be tough to have these conversations as they get older. We are hoping that the chats we have now with our daughter will help later on when something new has come along and we don’t have as much oversight as we do now.

Adults need to get in so they can be a part of the conversation, without necessarily taking it over. As a parent and educator, we will sometimes overstep and sometimes we will miss an opportunity to support. That is why both roles are so complex.

With social media, there are lots of complexities and each child is unique and will need different supports, but I know that the worst approach to teaching children about proper social media use is ignoring it completely.

Categories: Planet

What is the future you would like to create?

19 June, 2017 - 03:58

Picture this…

I have been appointed the new principal of your school. As my first form of business, I think that the library should go.  Although they are full of information, there are much better ways to use that space and money that is allocated to that room.

How long do you think I would last?

Yet, as bothersome as this scenario would be to some (including myself), many have no issues with taking away devices from students in classrooms that not only have access to all of the information in the world but access to one another.

Yesterday, I noticed this article being shared; “Hays school district orders 800 padlocks for students“. I am glad that they are providing iPads to their students so it is not that they are not ignoring opportunities for both creation and consumption, but I am firm believer that the best device for any learner is often the one they own already.   I am never one to make sweeping generalizations over what any school or district does to serve their students as I do not totally understand their context, but I always think it is okay to ask questions.

For one, is there not anything else they could do with the money they just spent on padlocks?

How do we teach responsible use of your own device if you do not have access to your own device?

Will teachers lock up their own personal devices during the day as well?  Is this just a student thing?

This was an interesting comment in the article:

“One student’s phone was found, they lost it and had put it in the office, and it had buzzed, he said it buzzed in one hour, forty times with SnapChat messages,” said Thissen.

Soooooo…if the student had lost it and they didn’t turn off the ringer, would they have not known those messages were being received?  If a Snapchat notification is never heard, doesn’t that mean it doesn’t exist?

My belief is that dealing with technology and social media is not something we can simply use “hope for the best” as a strategy.

Dan Haesler wrote a great post on the notion that it would be crazy to teach driving the way we teach social media in many schools. Here were some of his thoughts:

We can do better.

Recently, I saw this powerful video from 2011, and it reminded me of how much we take for granted.  Please take two minutes to watch it.

I do not know if the situation in that area is the same in 2017 as it is today, but I know in some parts of the world, they would be grateful to have access to some of the same technology that we literally ban from our classrooms.  Perspective is everything.

The quote below was amazingly powerful.

“Information is powerful, but it is how we use it that will define us.”

I am in no way advocating that students should bring their own devices so that they can just keep up their social lives. What I am hoping for is that we help our students think about the power that they have in their hands, and how they can use it in meaningful ways.

I always say to students, you have the world at your fingertips, what are you going to do with it?  Let’s not take for granted the opportunities we have as schools right now to change the narrative and direction of education in an amazingly positive way, so that we can just always hold on to “what was”.

Seth Godin, said it best;

Transformational leaders don’t start by denying the world around them. Instead, they describe a future they would like to create instead.

What is the future you would like to create?

Categories: Planet

Do you see distraction or opportunity? #SocialLeadia

17 June, 2017 - 02:18

My good friend, Jennifer Casa-Todd, has released a wonderful book on the topic of social media and students, entitled, “Social Leadia; Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership“.  This book not only provides a powerful “why” for students using social media in powerful and positive ways, it provides practical strategies for educators and parents while sharing stories of students doing amazing things right now.  It is a unique book, and I am proud to have been a part of it, while also writing the foreword.

The book is now available on Amazon, and I think it will definitely push your thinking.  Below is the foreword from the book.


I will never forget a workshop that I was leading with educators, that also had a significant number of students in the room. We were discussing the ideas of digital citizenship and digital leadership, and one of the adults in the room expressed the idea that these things were not something we needed to talk about in school.  No matter what I had said, he countered that social media wasn’t important in schools.  One of the students in the room stepped in and said, “Sir, social media is like water. It is everywhere. You can either let us drown or teach us to swim.”  Not only was I moved by his words, the teacher immediately redirected his focus to get into the conversation, not stop it.  This was a beautiful reminder that we need to stop telling our students that they are the “leaders of tomorrow”; they obviously can have a major impact on the world today!

I was reminded of this student’s words when I was speaking at a “Digital Leadership” event for approximately 2000 high school students.  At the beginning of the event, I encouraged the students to share any ideas, thoughts, or questions they had to a specific hashtag, or tweet me directly during my talk or both.

Usually, when I do this, I show videos during my presentations, which allow me to check the hashtag and gauge what the audience is feeling or thinking.  What I noticed was one tweet that expressed how “boring” the talk was, using an expletive in front of the word boring that started with the letter “f”.  Feeling a little squeamish, I went on, showed another video, and then noticed two more tweets that were much worse, and attacking me directly.  As one of the biggest advocates of the power of social media for helping people to make a positive change in the world, I have to be honest what I felt at that moment: I need to shut this down.

Then while I was presenting, I caught myself and thought, “Am I really going to shut this down because of three students out of 2000?”  Am I going to let them drown or help them learn to swim?

I had to redirect.  Without directly acknowledging the inappropriate comments, and in the context of the talk, I stated the following:

“Every single one of you in this room can have a major impact on the lives of others, including me. Do you know how I can tell if you have made that impact on me?  If I saw you outside of this school, would I cross the street to come talk to you.  If I would, you have made an impact on me, and I hope that I can be the person that you would go out of your way to talk to as well. Let’s be that for each other.”

Showing another video, I checked the tweets again.  This time, I saw a student say, “I like the way you present your message. It’s really entertaining and informative.”  I immediately stopped everything and asked for the student to stand up, which he did.  With a tear in my eye, I said, “You have no idea the impact you just had on me. Thank you.”  I will never forget that moment as the other students cheered for him as well.  What followed though was incredible, because his impact was not only on me but his fellow students as well.  They started bombarding the hashtag with positive messages to me and what and how I was presenting, They were literally finding anything nice they could say to me. One student even said, “I love your sweater!”  Anything nice they could think of, they said to me.

After the presentation, I was overwhelmed by the positivity that they shared towards me.  Going through the tweets, the first three that I mentioned were “buried” at the bottom of the pile. So much so, that the teachers from the school had no idea that it actually happened in the first place until I brought it to their attention; they had only seen the compliments.  Those students taught me something that day that I will never forget.

We need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.

And to think, I was so close to shutting that opportunity down from the majority, because of a very tiny few.  Do we do this too often in schools?

This is why I am so happy that Jennifer Casa-Todd has written this book.  Her perspective as a leader, educator, and parent brings these ideas together in a way that will not only provide answers, but have you asking questions as well.  This is extremely important because adults need to be in on these conversations.

Think of all the stuff that we used to get away with when we were kids, that could totally alter a life today?  We all made mistakes (and still do so to this day), but our kids don’t have the same luxury that we did when we were growing up.  Many of the people reading this book didn’t post anything inappropriate on Facebook when they were teens, not because they thought so deeply about their future, but because Facebook didn’t exist (although you might have something on a MySpace page somewhere!).  When I talk about this with students, many of them say that it is unfair that they are held to a different standard than we were as kids.  What I tell them is that, “You are right, it is unfair.  But you also have more opportunity than I ever did at your age. What will you do with it?”

What Jennifer does beautifully in this book is she not only shares an adult perspective on how to make an impact on leading towards a positive narrative, she shares powerful examples of young people already doing this, and rather than speak for them, she let’s us hear from those students directly.  Some of the positive stories she shares about the transformative power of social media are because of their teachers, and some are in spite of them.  I know that personally, I would like to be the reason that our students make positive choices in these spaces. In reading Jen’s work over the past few years, and in what she is sharing in this powerful book, she is showing how kids right now, are creating opportunities that were impossible when we were kids.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be aware of the negatives, but we also need to take advantage of the positives. As Jennifer will show you, these positive opportunities are not meant only for the outliers, but can become the norm for our students, if we are purposeful in how we look at the world, and the opportunities that exist.  When you look at a device in a child’s hand, do you see distraction, or do you see opportunity?  How you look at it, will determine how you lead.  

I am 100% confident that Jennifer will not only push your thinking, but she will guide you as to how to embrace the realities that exist in our world today.  The book might make you feel uncomfortable at some points, which is how our brains grow and is part of the “messiness” that is learning that we need to embrace, but if you are reading this, it means you are in on the conversation.  

Knowing Jennifer personally, I know she is just as passionate about changing the current trajectory of how we view social media in education as I am. As parents and educators, we all want the same thing for our kids; something better for them than what we had at their same age.  Jennifer hasn’t written a book that only focuses on the idea, “social media is here to stay, so we might as well pay attention.” She has done something much more powerful.  She has shown that the opportunities for our children are now better than ever, and she walks you through how to make this a reality in your schools.

Categories: Planet

Removing Barriers and Hurdles

15 June, 2017 - 22:17

Remember when SmartBoards were all the rage?

Schools rushed to get these to every school, sometimes because they saw them as beneficial, and sometimes because the school across the way wanted them.

I will be the first to admit, I was on the SmartBoard train.  To this day, I still believe that every learning space should have access to a projector (or some type of screen), and audio. These are absolutes.  But did we need a SmartBoard?  I was an advocate at a much different time in my career, while others thought they were nothing more than a glorified way to lecture.  This is always a good reminder of where I have come from in my thinking, but also to empathize that people are at different places.

But this isn’t about the validity of SmartBoards. This is about the process of implementation.

Do you remember the “portable SmartBoard”? The hope was that each teacher would get a chance to use this, but the slightest bump of the board or the projector would lead you to the dreaded recalibration process.  You would have to stop right in the middle of the class to set up this board.

The majority of people hated the process, but some didn’t have an issue with jumping the hurdle. The portable SmartBoard that was meant to be used by many, was kept in the room of the few because only a few people would jump this step.

Yet, when the SmartBoards were mounted, use went up.  No pulling in on the cart, no setting up, and no recalibration. It was there and ready to go.

PLEASE!!! Do not take this as a pro-SmartBoard post.

This is a pro-remove-the-barriers post.

The more hoops people have to jump through, the more people you lose along the way.

If you want something happening in the classroom, remove every barrier you can to make it the norm, not the exception.

SmartBoards might not have been (or be) the best learning tool, but it doesn’t mean we couldn’t learn something from the process.

Categories: Planet
ACCE Partners
ACCE Partners
ACCE Partners
ACCE Partners