The Principal of Change George Couros

Stories of learning and leading
Updated: 37 min 36 sec ago

Wonder, Explore, Lead

19 April, 2018 - 08:04

I tweeted this quote from my book, “The Innovator’s Mindset“:

“Our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or
mechanics of a task but to spark a curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own. To wonder. To explore. To become leaders.

…if students leave school less curious than when they
started, we have failed them.”

— George Couros (@gcouros) April 17, 2018

As I look at it, I think more about what our learning experiences look like for our staff. Do they have the opportunity to “wonder, explore, lead,” or is this something we save for our students only?

The best way to create the culture you want for your students is to build it for the adults. There are so many constraints placed on schools from government mandates, but do we add to these constraints ourselves? I know that people complain about the state of testing in the US, but I also know that many districts add a multitude of their testing in pursuit of doing better on the state tests. Ask in your organization what you control and what you don’t. Then when you figure out what you control, make those conditions better.

Simple.

The learners in your organization should have their curiosity stoked. Their ability to explore their learning. When you limit staff, you restrict students.

Find a way for your staff to “wonder, explore, and lead”, and they will most likely do the same for their students.

Categories: Planet

5 Points To Get Across in a Teaching Interview

16 April, 2018 - 23:30

I applied for a job at a historical park when I was in university, and I was excited about the opportunity to be a tour guide and share some of the history with visitors. Eager to get the opportunity, I went through the interview and thought I was doing well.  Then they asked me this question and I will never forget it.  The interviewer held up a pencil and said, “Pretend you are telling the history of this pencil to a group.  Go!”  Right away I shared that I didn’t know anything about the history of the pencil, and the interviewer said, “Make it up then!”

I stumbled along making stuff up that was utterly incoherent and had a Billy Madison debate moment where nothing I made any sense and everyone in the room was dumber for listening to what I had shared.

To this day, I still think the question was stupid and more of a “gotcha” moment. It was not something that was helpful for the interviewers to determine if I was a good fit for the job because I would hope that any of the history that I would have shared at the park would have been accurate, not something I made up on the spot.

As I have seen interviews in education, I have seen some of this disconnect as well.  Asking teachers to “teach a lesson” to a panel, when we are looking for more collaborative learning in classrooms, or panels that don’t talk to applicants and have conversations, but shoot rapid-fire questions their way.  If you are going to get the best educator for your school, you have to do your best to see how they are in an environment that is most like your school, or the school you want to create.

As someone who is being interviewed, you don’t ask the questions but that doesn’t mean you can’t guide the conversations though.  Some of people I have interviewed and some that have interviewed me, keep coming back to specific themes, no matter the questions.  When working with educators that are about to have interviews or newer teachers, I encourage them to have some focus points for interviews that they will come back to throughout the questions.  Here are five key points that I would suggest you look at:

  1. Relationships (staff and students) – One of my favorite principals in the world stated that if you were exceptional with relationships but weak with content, you could last a longer in education than if the reverse is true.  Of course we want educators with both, but focusing on the relationship piece is paramount, this goes beyond students as well. I know some very gifted educators, who are great with children but struggle with other adults.  The focus is finding school teachers, educators that are focused on the benefit of every child in the school, not only ones they teach directly. If the word relationships does not come up in your interview, I would be concerned.
  2. Have a willingness to grow and learn. –  Whatever you know now, should be less than what you know in a year. Somehow in the interview, it is important to give examples of times that you grew through your career as a teacher and learner. You could have been an amazing teacher ten years ago, but if nothing has changed, you can now be irrelevant.  Growth is necessary as individuals, or will not happen at the organizational level.
  3. You have access to knowledge outside of yourself. – Collaboration is key in education, so if you are limited to your own thoughts and ideas, so is your classroom.  Face-to-face collaboration is crucial, but how can you learn outside of your local community? For this post, I asked people for thoughts that I could share for this post:
  4. If you were interviewing a teacher for your school, what things would you like to hear from them? Would love to know your thoughts.

  5. — George Couros (@gcouros) April 15, 2018

  6. If you read the responses, you will see that there are so many great ideas that go beyond this post.  If you want to provide a “world class” education, you have to take advantage of access across the world.
  7. Passionate about the content they teach. – Obviously, content knowledge is crucial to any teaching position, but if you are in education, we all know the teacher that knows their content inside out but is unable to share that knowledge with their classroom. Having a passion for what you teach though, can become contagious.  If kids see you love your subject, it is probable; it will become contagious.
  8. Education is a calling, not a career. – Why did you become a teacher? The prevailing sentiment is that teachers do not get into it for the money, but I also think about the mental tax teachers pay and how much we feel alongside our students.  This doesn’t mean that a teacher should only care about teaching; they should have outside interests as well. But if you don’t LOVE the job, the job will eat you alive or wear you down.

Obviously, the five above are vital points that I think are important to get across in an interview, no matter the question, but are a personal preference.  What would be some of the ideas that you would want to ensure you were to get across in a teaching interview?

Categories: Planet

Every “Best Practice” in Education Was Once an Innovation

14 April, 2018 - 07:49

Adam Grant recently tweeted this article, focusing on the importance of theory and delving into the unknown for science. It is a fascinating read, and the end quote stuck out to me:

Some of the most interesting scientific work gets done when scientists develop bizarre theories in the face of something new or unexplained. Madcap ideas must find a way of relating to the world – but demanding falsifiability or observability, without any sort of subtlety, will hold science back. It’s impossible to develop successful new theories under such rigid restrictions.

In Grant’s original tweet regarding the article (read the replies; there is some interesting back and forth), he states:

Demanding proof stalls creativity. New ideas need room to breathe, and a good imagination will always be ahead of the best evidence.

So what does this mean for education?

When I read this, I first thought of people always demanding that everything is done in classrooms in schools has to be “best practice”.  Ultimately, that means nothing new can come into education, because if it is unproven, then it can’t be best practice. Here’s the thing though…

Everything we have ever deemed as “best practice” in education was once an innovation.

Someone saw things weren’t working the way they should, and they did something better.  I have shared what I believe this process continuously looks like in education.

But these ideas did not come out of thin air. People have based it on their own experience, understanding the students in front of them, while looking at the future in front of them.  There is a balance of learning from what we know and how things could get better.  If we only did what we know, where does “learning” come into the fray?

Not every new idea works.

But not every “best practice” works either for every child.

The focus is not holding onto the past or being solely focused on the future. The focus is on learners and creating betters schools and classrooms.

To do that, we will have to focus on continuous growth, not only what we know.

Categories: Planet

The “Push” That Comes With Being Valued

12 April, 2018 - 09:23

Feeling valued.

We all want to feel that we are valued for the work that we do daily, and when you don’t feel it, “checking out” becomes an option.

When one is truly valued, they are not just commended for the work they do but are pushed to the possibilities of what they possibly could do.

My best boss always found the balance of ensuring she appreciated me, but asking me questions and pushing my thinking on where I could go. The majority of my conversations with her ended with me feeling that I am on the right path, but I have work to do. She was masterful in how she maintained that balance.

Personally, there are many people that I mentor who I know that I push to their limits because I know what they can achieve. I do my best to make them feel appreciated (working on getting better), but because I care, I push them.  Sometimes when you don’t push, that is a sign of giving up.

I also know that there are people that do not build relationships with people they push. That feels more like an “ego” thing than a support thing. The balance is necessary.

As you read this, think of the people who have shown you that you are appreciated while simultaneously frustrating you with their challenges. Think of the students you cared for, but you still focused on getting them to their best. The feeling you had and your students had, were probably quite similar.

Categories: Planet

Focusing on 3 Layers of Education

9 April, 2018 - 22:40

The saying, “The customer is always right,” has been around forever and one that I have known since I was a kid.  Switch this to the context of education, and many schools are focusing on the question of “What is best for the learner?”, which is a “learner-centered” approach to education.

What is essential to understand when you are looking at starting with a “student-centered” approach is that serving the adults in the building IS how you serve the students.  In the business world, many companies have shifted to the thinking that you treat your employees like you would your best customer. This thinking puts the people closest to those they serve in positions where they are most likely to be successful in the venture of helping learners.

Management is a crucial part of leadership.  Leadership is focusing on people, but management is focusing on the “stuff.”  You can have a tremendous vision for what you would like to do within your school, but if you are not able to do things such as manage budgets, or create meaningful professional learning opportunities for staff, the vision becomes that only. A thought of what we could do instead of it becoming a reality.

I thought of the following three layers in creating amazing schools that are crucial to leadership.  They are the following:

  1. Focus on Environment
  2. Development of Talent
  3. Learner/Student Experience

Although they seem obvious, the “simple” sometimes need to be stated.  In each area, I would like to focus on three areas, creating a 3 X 3 model for innovation.  

Before I go into each one, there have to be two statements that filter in all three levels.  The first is relationships. No matter what level you work or who you serve, relationships are crucial to learning.  In fact, as content is now everywhere, relationships are are more important in education than ever.  The second focus is innovation. At each level, we should always look at new and better ways of doing things in the environment, talent development, and the learner experience. This does not mean “best practice” is ignored, just that we never become comfortable with “that’s the way we have always done it.”

Here are the three areas of focus that I am looking at initially and will give you some brief thoughts on each point.

  • Focus on environment
    1. Stewardship of Resources – How we allocate funds within our school is where we bring the vision to life. If you are looking to go to a 1:1 environment, spending inordinate amounts of money on textbooks might show a disconnect between the type of learning you want to happen in your school and where you put your money.  But resources are not only limited to funds but also time. Do you create professional learning opportunities that have no follow up? Do people have to jump hoops to get things done, or do you remove barriers so they can make things happen quickly? Where we allocate our money and time, shows where our priorities lie.
    2. Infrastructure – If you are looking at an environment where students are taking advantage of learning opportunities exist today, do they have the resources they need to connect with people on a global scale?  For example, how long does it take to login to your Wifi within your school? Is it quick like Starbucks, or are you creating the Wifi equivalent of “dial-up” in your school? The longer it takes for a teacher to access something, the less likely they are to use it.
    3. Learning Spaces – When we hear about “learning spaces,” the default is to think about our classrooms, but what do the adult learning spaces look like?  Do students see the areas where adults are learning and do we create opportunities for staff to experience the same type of spaces that we want with students?  Where the adults learn and what that space looks like can have a significant impact on the practical use of modern learning spaces for our students.
  • Development of Talent
    1. Leadership Development – When staff is developed to lead within the school, the culture will change a lot quicker than if there is only one “leader.”  Leadership development also puts more ownership on the direction of the school on the staff. When people are given ownership over the direction of the school, there care more about what is happening.  When the direction is “ours” instead of “yours,” the speed the vision happens can be much quicker and a lot more meaningful.
    2. Professional Learning –  Do the professional learning opportunities mirror the learning that you want to happen in the classrooms?  Is the learning for the year done in a way that is thought out over time, or is the year just a bunch of “one-offs” with no clear direction? Professional learning should focus more on depth, than breadth.
    3. Learner Driven-Evaluation – The practice of going into a teacher’s classroom and evaluating what you see based on a short amount of time needs to get a massive overhaul.  The focus is too much on what the evaluator thinks, as opposed to led by the learner. We need to create opportunities for teachers to drive their professional learning opportunities, but also to be able to self-assess their areas of strength and weakness.  This does not mean that administrators have no say in professional learning or growth, but teachers need to be given more ownership over their direction and self-assessment.
  • Learner Experience
    1. Classroom-School Experience – Of course we focus on the design of learning in the classroom, but we need to think of a school as an opportunity to develop people, not just students. What opportunities do students have for leadership within their classroom? What opportunities do students have outside of their classroom?  What do students see on the walls in the building? Does it reflect them or something else? Do students have opportunities to lead the school and have more ownership in the culture? Many of my best experiences in school were not in the classroom. A lot of those experiences help shape our kids in the future.
    2. Personalization of Learning – Do we know our students and do we tap into their strengths and passions, or focus only on where they need to grow?  Knowing our students and tapping into their desires, helps develop their resiliency. Is school about fitting students into a box, or adjusting to the needs of the learners in front of you?  
    3. Assessment – How we assess often leads the teaching, not the other way around.  Student-led conferences, rethinking report cards, meaningful portfolios, are conversations that we all need to have if we are going to change the way we look at school.  Self-assessment is also a skill we need to develop in our students so that they are not dependent on someone else to tell them where they need to grow. Where and how we assess, shapes a lot of the learning experiences in our schools. This needs to be an ongoing conversation.

As this 3 X 3 model is something that I am working on, I would love your feedback.  What did I miss? Where do we need to focus to create schools that serve and empowers all learners to make incredible things happen both in and out of the environment?  

What is important to understand is that this is not meant to be an “admin” model, but an “all-hands-on-deck” process.  Part of the disconnect in each of these areas is that they have happened in isolation. How do we know the environment needed in classrooms for our students and staff to survive if they are not active, contributing members of the conversation?

Hopefully, these three layers start some conversations in helping move schools forward together.

Categories: Planet
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