The Principal of Change George Couros

Stories of learning and leading
Updated: 2 hours 25 min ago

I am not that good with technology and you probably aren’t either.

17 August, 2017 - 09:22

Years ago, I was having a conversation with someone who I knew as a brilliant mind in using technology.  They were heavily recruited by both Microsoft and Google coming out of university, and they were able to create things using technology that I couldn’t dream of at the time.

I asked them a question after marveling about something they just had explained to me that they were creating.

“Out of 10, how good do you believe you are with technology?”


My jaw dropped.  I followed up by asking, “How in the world could someone with your ability with technology only be a 6 out of 10 in using technology?”

They followed up with the following response.  “There is so much out there that I have no idea exists and have never used, that I couldn’t tell you I was good with it without ever using it.  If anything, 6 is a high number, and I would probably rank myself lower.  I am really good at the stuff that I use now, but the amount of stuff out there, I have so much that I could still learn.”

My mind was blown.  The answer was so brilliant that I put them back at the 10 out of 10 ranking.

This is why to this day, I struggle with someone calling me a “techie” because I know how to blog and use Twitter. Would this be the equivalent of using a telephone at some point in time?  There is so much more I want to learn with technology at some point, but also with other things in my field. I have explored leadership, teaching, assessment, technology, innovation, curriculum, building relationships, amongst other things, in this blog over the years. I am still growing and have a long way to go.  I never want to be considered “tech savvy”, but I continuously strive to be “learning savvy”.

The most remarkable and intelligent people that I have met often talk about how much they don’t know and still want to learn. If you already think you have all the answers, you are probably already behind.

This quote, often attributed to Einstein, sums it up beautifully:

Keep learning.  We all crave growth.

Categories: Planet

10 Reasons to Try Genius Hour This School Year

15 August, 2017 - 09:17

My good friend AJ Juliani, co-author of the book “Empower“, with John Spencer, is about to start a Genius Hour Master Course.  His passion for this topic and his ability to share his enthusiasm has made a significant difference with so many educators.  I am reposting this from last year as many loved the opportunity and took advantage.

As this is a paid course, you can sign up here, and he is also offering a 20% discount if you use the following code to sign up by Wednesday, August 16, at 11:59 PM, EST:


Below is a blog that is reposted from AJ, and is great for those schools already using Genius Hour, or those looking to dive in.  Check out his post below and you will see just a sample of what will be shared.

Originally posted at

If you haven’t heard of Genius Hour or 20% time in the classroom, the premise is simple: Give your students 20% of their class time (or an hour each week) to learn what they want. These projects allow students to choose the content and still acquire/master skills and hit academic starts.

I’ve written extensively about Genius Hour and 20% Time, but wanted to share a list of the 10 reasons you should consider Genius Hour in your classroom (for those of you on the fence) and why you will not regret making that choice!

1. You will join a great community of learners

When I first did the Genius Hour project with my students I didn’t have a community of teachers or learners. Within months that changed as a number of great teachers before and after me started to share their stories online. The largest active group is the Genius Hour teachers (inspired by Daniel Pink) who have #geniushour chats, a big resource at, and a great Genius Hour wiki. Get involved and see what others have done!

2. You will allow students to go into depth with a topic that inspires them

One of the major issues we face in schools today is covering a wide breadth of information, instead of allowing students to get a real depth of knowledge. Students using Genius Hour and 20% time are able to delve into subject matter that means something to them, often times taking their free time at home to learn more. Isn’t this something we should be promoting at all levels?

3. There is so much positive peer pressure

When students in my school have their Shark Tank pitch day, they get to share with the entire class what they are working on. Publicly announcing what they are trying to accomplish makes the goal real. Students get to see what their peers are working on and want to make sure their project stands up to the rest of the class. Regardless of a grade being attached to the project, this makes for students going the extra mile.

4. It relieves students of the “game of school”

Too often our students complete assignments for the grade. They go through the motions to receive an external pat on the back (or bump on their transcript).  Genius Hour and 20% time take away the “game of school” and brings back the love of learning for learning’s sake.

5. It’s fun!

Randy Pausch famously said, “If you think you can’t learn and have fun at the same time. Then I don’t think you have a good understanding of either.”Without a doubt it is the best time of the week. Student feedback is not only positive, but also transparent. This work often carries back to their homes where parents/guardians share their passion for learning beyond the school walls.

6. Your class will be covering all types of common core standards

It doesn’t matter if you teach elementary, middle, or high school. The Genius hour and 20% time projects cover multiple common cores standards. We’ve had teachers propose this type of learning to their administration backed by awesome research. Remember, the community will help if you are fighting a battle to get Genius Hour or 20% time started at your school.

7. It’s differentiation at its best

Students are working at their level, and as teachers, we should be helping to challenge each one of our learners at their best pace and ability. Because each project differs, students are not bogged down by following the same steps as their classmates. The entire class is learning, but it is truly differentiated.

8. You learn by what you do, not by what you hear

Experiential and challenge based learning puts the mastery back into the student’s hands. We provide guidance and pushes along the way, but they are the ones “doing” and “making”. Confucius put it perfectly: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Let your students make and they will understand and thank you for the opportunity.

9. It is a perfect way to model life-long learning

I did Genius Hour with my students and took it upon myself to learn how to code and make an app from scratch. I failed to make that app. But my experience learning how to program left me with a whole new perspective, and was a teachable moment about what we call failure. There is no real way to fail a project in which “learning” is the end-goal.

10. Your students will never forget what it felt like to create

Have you seen Caine’s arcade? It started out as a little idea and now Caine has inspired hundreds of other kids his age to create something unique. When you create a product, it becomes part of who you are, and there is a “care” involved that we just never see with multiple-choice tests. What would you want for your child?

This is the most important time to be in education. It is the most important time to care about education. It is the most important time to impact a different type of education.

Now, more than any other time in the past 100 years, education seems on the verge of a paradigm shift. You see, for the past century, most of the educational change has been doing old things in new ways. Today, we are beginning to see educators, educational institutions, and educational companies do new things in new ways.

My challenge to you as a teacher is to allow your students the choice to learn what they want. That’s what Genius Hour and 20% time is all about, and that is why it is so successful.

Again, if you’re interested in this great opportunity, you can sign up for AJ’s course here.

Categories: Planet

Focusing on Mastery Over Marks

12 August, 2017 - 22:32

I came across this interesting article on, titled, “Goodbye to Grades? Mastery-Based Learning Is Becoming the New Standard“, and thought it was great that an outside education site was talking about changes in education in mostly a positive way.

Some swear that learning based on mastery instead of grades, or a “one size fits all” approach to teaching, has changed kids’ lives. It makes sense that when kids are allowed to learn at their own pace, they can thrive. Not having to learn something just to get that “A” also takes the pressure off, which may also help foster favorable conditions for learning. And it’s true that kids are still being graded in some way, but on specific skills instead of entire subjects, just lumped together.

It also showed one of the arguments against this change, which you often hear in education (bolded parts below are my emphasis):

Understandably, some parents worry that mastery-based learning will adversely affect their kids. Does it put children at a disadvantage for when they go out into the real world, where concrete results rule? Is it just another example of the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality that marks a major departure from how you and I grew up?

When you get into assessments and how it is done in schools, there are massive debates (as there should be) on how we move forward.  Here is something that I would challenge though…If you are asking students to achieve “mastery”, the expectations are actually higher, not only for students but for educators as well.  To move students towards “mastery” doesn’t mean just saying they have done something well, but getting them to that point.  I have never been about the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality because although on a short-term basis it might be “nice” for a student, long term it can be damaging.

In a recent conversation I had with an educator, I discussed the idea of not having the whole year entirely mapped out before you even meet your students. This is not to say that you shouldn’t have an idea of what you are teaching and you ignore the curriculum, just that you should not know exactly what you are teaching on September 23 at 9:12 am.  If you are teaching a concept and all your students have mastered it, do you move on or stick to the schedule? If students don’t understand the concept, do you move on or stick to the schedule?  It is impossible for all students to be at the same point at the same time (which is part of the point of mastery based assessments) but I think that the point I was trying to make is that moving on from a topic or conversation should be based more on where your students are.  This is not an indictment of educators because many are put into a tough situation of helping their kids understand a concept deeply versus getting through a curriculum that is often more focused on breadth than depth in a constrained amount of time.  Too often educators are put into a tough situation of doing what is right versus doing what is considered their job. The two are, unfortunately, not always aligned.

This is a complicated topic that is not black and white.  What the “real world” actually does, what colleges and universities accept for students, how schools are accountable, and how we move to this new type of assessment in a system that doesn’t seem to support it, are all conversations educators are having, and I am thankful they are doing just that; having conversations.  Simply doing something because we have always done it is not a good argument for anything.

Many have argued that if you are focusing on “mastery-based” assessments that you are using grades already.  In response to that, the problem that many educators face is that they will spend a significant amount of time giving feedback to help students move forward, but once a mark is posted, the feedback is disregarded and the “number or letter” becomes the focus. In this great article, “Delaying the Grade: How to Get Students to Read Feedback“, talks about the frustration teachers feel when students solely focus on the grades, and also gives an awesome idea on how to get students to focus on feedback over grade:

In English I ask my students to write a lot. I don’t grade everything they write, but when it comes to the “big essays”—the graded, polished drafts—what grade they will receive becomes the sole motivator for their writing. This frustrates me, and, in my opinion, distracts them from what they should actually care about: writing.

…The solution was remarkably easy and accidentally originated out of my laziness (score one for being a little lazy!). Last year, kids had turned in essays on Google Classroom, but rather than pasting a completed rubric into their essay as I usually did, I made hard copies of the rubric and wrote on them. This meant that I could return papers with comments but without grades.

And from this a whole new system was born: Return papers to students with only feedback. Delay the delivery of the actual grade so student focus moves from the grade to the feedback.

The simple act of delaying the grade meant that students had to think about their writing. They had to read their own writing—after a few weeks away from it—and digest my comments, which allowed them to better recognize what they did well or not so well. The response from students was extremely positive; they understood the benefit of rereading their essays and paying attention to feedback. One boy said, “Mrs. Louden, you’re a genius. I’ve never read what a teacher writes on my essay before, and now I have to.”

I encourage you to read the whole article, as it provides an awesome way to focus on “mastery” while being within a system that still uses grades.  This is a beautiful example of “innovating inside the box“.

The assessment conversation is a critical one and something that we should have keep having in service of our students.  Not because expectations should be lowered for our students, but that we expect more from and, more importantly as educators, for them.

Categories: Planet

Things Change and Things Stay the Same

11 August, 2017 - 10:24

When I first saw this tweet, it literally made me laugh out loud:

A lot has changed since I started teaching in 1999.  This was seemingly my biggest dilemma with technology at the time.

It used to be that people wouldn’t admit that they met their partner online and they would make up a story. It was weird to meet a person online, and now, most of my friends, are people I connected with online before I ever met in person.  Some of the people who have had the biggest impact on my learning were once considered “strangers” to me. The narrative of “don’t talk to strangers” has now progressed into something much different.  We are all “strangers” until we meet, whether online or offline, but as one of my favourite quotes states:

“Every person that you meet knows something you don’t; learn from them.” H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Yet in education, some things stay the same.  Relationships are the core of great schools and as I have stated often, 50 years ago, relationships were the most important thing in education, and 50 years from now, it will be even more so; you can get great content anywhere.  The human connection is something that we will always need.

Educators have always believed that respect is important in schools, but perhaps, we are focusing more on respect being a two-way street, and not something we just expect to command from our students for being there.

What is important is that we recognize the following:

  1. Some things change.
  2. Some things stay the same.
  3. All things are opportunities where we can grow.

There are no absolutes in education.  Silence doesn’t mean bad learning environment, while noise means good learning environment, or vice-versa.  Textbooks and worksheets do not make you a bad teacher, but if that is the only way you teach, there are kids who are losing out.  Makerspaces are great for some kids, and not necessarily beneficial to others.  Collaboration is not only good, while isolation is only bad.

What is needed is that we see there are not “sides” to education; we are all on the same team.  There is a lot a “forward-thinking teacher” can learn from a “traditionalist”, and again, vice-versa.

I guess there are some absolutes. We can all learn, we can all grow, and we all get better by being open to conversations with one another in service of our kids.

Ask questions. Try to understand other viewpoints. Keep focused on serving students but start off with the assumption that others are doing the same.

Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness. “To know all is to forgive all.”
― Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends & Influence People

Categories: Planet

Education Decision Making Flowchart

8 August, 2017 - 22:20

I recently heard this term called, “Occam’s Razor”, and I found it quite interesting:

Occam’s razor is a principle first developed by the Franciscan friar and philosopher, William of Ockham.

Whilst it is likely that the philosophy was posthumously attributed to him, as it was based upon common medieval philosophy, it seems to be a result of his minimalist lifestyle.

Occam’s razor is more commonly described as ‘the simplest answer is most often correct,’ although this is an oversimplification. The ‘correct’ interpretation is that entities should not be multiplied needlessly.

Yet in education, how often do we make things harder than they should be in service of our students?

With that being said, I made this simple “Education Decision Making” flowchart (first draft):

Should it really be more complex than this?

This is not to say that the conversations won’t get complicated.  Having conversations ultimately on what is “best for the learner” will definitely have differing opinions. I guess the point of the initial prompt is that we are having the conversation in the first place.  Are our solutions focused on what is best for the learner, or most comfortable for the adult?

It is also powerful to be able to identify that certain things don’t work for certain students, while others do.  For example, have you ever worked with a student that had much better focus wearing headphones and listening to music? Wearing them they would seem to zone in on what they are doing and could create some amazing content.  On the other hand, we all have worked with the student that if you gave them headphones and music, they would be utterly distracted and not be able to focus on anything.  That is why the question starts with, “Is this best for the learner?”, not, “Is this best for the learners?” It identifies the needs of the individual learner, and it doesn’t standardize your classroom.  Although “standardization” is impossible to avoid entirely, it should also not be the only way.

But not all “yes” answers are easy. There are many things that would serve our students in a much more powerful way but does that mean we don’t even pursue them?  I always tell people that “somebody, somewhere, is doing the same thing that you say you can’t do.”  Simply put, they are finding a way.  They identify the barriers and then find the solutions.  This is the process of “Problem-Finding/Problem-Solving”; we want our students to have BOTH abilities, not just one or the other.  We should model that in our process on how we make decisions within our organizations.

This “flowchart”, as all things I create, should be more of a conversation starter than anything.  I hope it actively pushes people to identify what students need and then look at ways we can provide them.  Yes, the hurdles might be a lot to overcome, but they can be overcome.  It is all about our mindset toward the problem in the first place.  If we believe it is best, we need to find a way.

Categories: Planet

3 Quotes on Becoming Successful

7 August, 2017 - 08:47

Where I seem to really decompress and clear my mind is through running in a new city.  I love to explore where I am and listen to motivational playlists that provide me inspiration to push harder.  This playlist was quite powerful and there were some quotes that really stuck out to me.  Here are a few that I loved and put the idea of “success” into perspective.

If you have never heard of Inky Johnson (I hadn’t heard of him until this morning), take time to watch this video. Overcoming so much adversity in his life, multiple times, he is an inspiring story of how important the process is, not simply the product that you have in your life. I alternated time between being amazingly inspired and crying on the trail this morning.

If you want something, you have to first ask yourself, are you willing to put in the time to make it happen? Are you willing to work extremely hard and not get it?  By listening to Inky, it reminded me that by developing a certain work ethic, you may not get exactly what you want, but you do become so much better through the process.

I was truly blessed to grow up with a group of friends that not only supported me, but pushed me to be better, and I am still connected with many of them to this day.  I am very thoughtful of who I have close to me in my life, as I do want to surround with myself with people who do things that continuously make them better.  These are not people who seek perfection, but constant progress.  By being around those who push themselves, you have no other option but to do the same.


Running in the morning, sitting in this Starbucks right now, reading a book that pushes my thinking, are all investments in myself to become better in service to others. A lot of people make comments about how they have no time to “workout” or “blog” or whatever, but when you stop investing in yourself, the people that you are around get a lesser version of yourself.  There is a difference between finding time and making time. You make time because it is priority, but finding time is accidental. You don’t accidentally become better at things. It is only through hard work, consistently over time, that you grow.  Invest in yourself.

What I have learned over time is that “success” is truly a personal thing. What one person considers to be a “success” can be something totally different for someone else.  But what it takes to be successful, no matter, the definition, seems to be quite universal.  Work ethic, the people who surround you, and the investment you make into yourself, are all commitments that seem to be crucial, no matter your goals.

Categories: Planet
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