The Principal of Change George Couros

Stories of learning and leading
Updated: 2 hours 10 min ago

Traditional Practice Versus Bad Practice

12 hours 31 min ago

A “traditional” practice in education is not necessarily bad.

A “bad” practice is bad.

There are some things that teachers have done year after year that have worked for students.

There are some things that teachers have done year after year that have worked for the teachers, and not necessarily students.

The point of “innovation” in education is not to change everything. It is to find new and better opportunities when they are needed.

The point of “The Innovator’s Mindset” is not to change all that you see in front of you; it is to have the willingness to identify what doesn’t work and to either find or create something that does.

This all being said, something that has worked in the past might not work now, or work for kids in the future.

But just remember “bad practices” and “traditional practices” are not necessarily the same thing.  They can be, but it is always in the best interest of our students to identify what works, new or old. To change for the sake of change is not a strategy for success.  Amazon still sells books. They also do other things that work that they didn’t do at first. Things change. Things stay the same.

If you are pursuing being innovative all of the time, you might overlook the “traditional” stuff that worked.

The key to all of this is just to keep asking questions and focus on your growth. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Every student, class, and colleague you serve is different; adjust accordingly.

Categories: Planet

Relationships Are the Foundation of Great Schools (But They Aren’t Enough)

16 January, 2018 - 00:03

Speaking with two very close friends who happen to be fantastic school leaders, we started talking about how essential relationships are in education, but how relationships in education alone are not enough.  I have watched both of these passionate leaders create a solid foundation with their schools, but they have pushed their learning ahead as well.  They understand the constraints that they work within (measurements that are evaluated by the state and school district) and they have helped move their schools forward.  The relationships they created with their community helped them push forward.  If there is no relationship foundation within the school, they might help their learners forward, but it is going to be much harder and take a longer time.

When people feel valued, they are more open to being pushed.  When they are pushed without feeling valued, they will either push back or leave.

Years ago, I read an article from a school leader talking about how their test scores were low, and at first, it bothered them, but later they talked about how they had built relationships, and how the tests were stupid, so they let it go.  I struggled reading it because although I agree that standardized testing is not the best option to measure the growth of the school, if that is used as a primary measurement by my bosses or our community, then I do have to take it into account. This is a real struggle for many administrators today, and why I focus on innovating inside of the box. There are constraints and measures that we have to live up to in our schools, agree with them or not, and how you find a way to improve that while ensuring kids walk out of your schools as better and more curious learners is part of the complication of the work.

Here is the thing…I assume people want to feel valued, BUT I also assume they want to grow and get better.  I have asked teachers the question, “How is your principal?” and have heard the simple response of, “They are really nice.” is often code for, “They are nice but they aren’t pushing the school or me to get better.”

This should be no different for our students.  I have heard a similar sentiment on how students talk about teachers and how “They are awesome because they let us do anything we want!”  Sounds like fun, but is it serving the student?

I have challenged the term “data-driven” (which I despise), and how we need to be learner-driven, evidence-informed.  I believe that if you know the student well, you can support them to do significantly better with better long-term results.  If I teach to the test, the students might do well at the moment needed (the test), but if they lose all learning a week later, did it help? If I teach to the student, I believe they can still do well on the test, but long-term, they will be better learners.

Don’t forget the focus on relationships. It is crucial to the work we do in education, which should be the most human-centered profession in the world.  Just remember though that relationships are the foundation, not the end goal.

Categories: Planet

Closing the Feedback Loop

14 January, 2018 - 00:03

Working with two teachers who had worked in a co-teaching position, we talked about taking advantage of learning from peers in the same classroom.  I suggested it would be beneficial to ask each other specific focal points to get feedback on, such as are students actively engaged and empowered in their learning (not just on task).

What you would look for here is feedback that you can work on, not just to compliment (which is nice but not necessarily helpful).  Having these “points of emphasis,” allows a teacher to focus on something specific, but how do we know the feedback has helped?

I often bring up my time as a basketball referee and how feedback was not only given during the middle of games, how you implemented the feedback was looked at as well.  If I was given ideas of strategies that I could improve at halftime, my evaluators wanted to see that if their feedback was implemented in the second half.  They looked at “sponginess” as a quality in the best referees.

To ensure we close that feedback loop, it could easily be stated, “…because of your previous feedback, I did the following, and here is what I found.”  This doesn’t mean the feedback helped, but it does show a willingness to learn and try based on someone else’s input.  You could easily say, “I tried this, but I do not think it was beneficial because of…” What this does is ensure that when feedback is given, it is not only listened to but acted upon. The second part is often more important than the first.

Feedback is only as good as our willingness to implement and learn from it.


Categories: Planet

Does Spellcheck Make “Learners” More Intelligent?

12 January, 2018 - 07:48

The title of this post is not something I have ever really thought about until recently.  As I have blogged for almost eight years now, I do not know if I have become a better writer, or naturally more comfortable with writing often.  In the last few months, I paid for “Grammarly.” Before I purchased the program, I would have put the period after the quotation mark in the previous sentence.  Now, because I have been corrected so many times on that specific error, I know that is not right. It still looks wrong to me, but hey, I didn’t make the rules.

All though many of my grammar errors are highlighted real-time (not the best for my ego but it does help), at the end of each post I click on the little “Grammarly” button to see how many mistakes I have made.  It is like this weird game that I am now playing with myself to get that number to almost zero.  Hasn’t happened (it’s up to five by this paragraph, but you wouldn’t know that because I have already fixed them!).

When I first started using Grammarly, I thought,

“Me bad English, that’s unpossible!” Ralph Wiggum

Now I know.

Every time I click on that button, I learn more about my writing (ugh…I put a comma there, and I totally shouldn’t have…grrrrrr!) and writing in general. Before I wouldn’t proofread my work, but now I am forced to. That little number at the bottom of the screen lingers and just looks at me saying, “Fix me!”

So is this the same for a spellchecking program for our students?  Do our students just haphazardly spell things incoherently in hopes that a spellcheck program makes something of value?

In the 2012 Slate article, “You Autocomplete Me,” it states:

Still, autocomplete is no substitute for human spelling skill, for several reasons. For one, you need to get somewhat close to a word’s proper spelling in order for it to be helpful.

Grammarly suggests that the last sentence should be “for it to be helpful,” not “in order for it to be helpful.” It does seem kind of wordy when it is said that way now that I look at it. It is also identifying that I have ANOTHER error in my sentence because I recognized the mistake by the other author.  You can fix my grammar, Grammarly, but you can’t change my mind.

I thought about all of this when I saw this tweet from Alice Keeler:

The feedback that a “Grammarly” or a spellchecker is immediate. If I continuously see that I spell the same word wrong over and over again, do you think that I will just continue to do that and just let spellcheck do that for me, or will I start picking up how to spell the word correctly? The immediate feedback that I am receiving is helping both now and in the future.

I would love your thoughts and any links to articles on this topic, but from my experience, I know this has helped in my own growth as a writer. I appreciate you baring bearing with me as I continue to learn.

Categories: Planet

The Alignment of Vision and What is Valued

10 January, 2018 - 10:41

In the last few years, I have noticed districts and schools have made much more compelling visions of what school could become for students in our world today.  You will read words in vision statements like “empowered” and “inspired,” but you will never read “compliant” and “demotivated.”  Those words aren’t as catchy and compelling.

But how powerful is a new vision if the measures stay the same?  If you want to empower students, do you think compliance amongst your staff is going to make this happen? Of course, no matter how empowered one is, there will always be elements of compliance in a job, but are they the norm or the exception?  But if you say, “we are more than test scores!” to your public, but always highlight improvements or drops in those scores as your main measures, do you think people care about your vision?

I hear “We value collaboration!” while I see schools filled with individual awards for students and teachers.

In my career, I have seen more and more how assessment often drives teaching, not the other way around. Now, I am starting to see how that same evaluation drives the work we do, not necessarily the vision.

You can create a compelling new vision, but if what you show as measures of success (or lack thereof) stay the same and focus on the “old way,”  not much will change.

Categories: Planet

Why “Innovating Inside the Box” is Crucial

8 January, 2018 - 09:17

I wrote about the idea of “Innovating Inside of the Box” in “The Innovator’s Mindset.” Here is what I shared:

Let’s not kid ourselves. In education, especially the public sector, schools are not overloaded with funding. Innovating in our schools requires a different type of thinking, one that doesn’t focus on ideas that are “outside of the box” but those that allow us to be innovative despite budgetary constraints. In other words, we need to learn to innovate inside the box.

In my conversations with schools, I have been thinking about this concept a lot lately.  Questions like, “What about the curriculum?” or “What about standardized testing?” often come up in reasons why we can’t do something.

Often our complaints are about things that are out of our control and are the decisions made by others (politicians, central office, etc.) for our schools.  If we see those barriers that someone else created the obstacles to doing great things, that means only those people that created the restrictions have the power to change what happens in our classrooms. I refuse to believe this and believe that teachers have more ability to do incredible things than they give themselves credit for.  This has been proven by educators all over the world, time and again.  When someone (or something) else is the problem, we too often give them the power as the only party to be able to fix it.

One of the best examples of “innovation inside the box” is the Fosbury Flop.  In the book, “Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results,” the authors highlight how Dick Fosbury changed the high jump competition with a change in how he would clear the bar.  From Wikipedia:

Before Fosbury, most elite jumpers used the straddle technique, Western Roll, Eastern cut-off or even scissors jump to clear the bar.

The authors noted how Fosbury went from the “scissors jump” and created something better within the rules of the competition:

The most common problem with the scissors is that the jumper knocks the bar off with his or her buttocks. To compensate, Fosbury tried lifting his hips higher, which forced him to simultaneously drop his shoulders when he jumped. He continued to raise his hips until he eventually cleared another six inches, which allowed him to place fourth in a competition, setting a new personal record. No one noticed what Fosbury was doing, because he was tweaking the old technique, one tiny step at a time. Each attempt was only marginally different from the previous one. When Fosbury slowly began overtaking the competition, however, coaches for opposing teams noticed that he was doing something different. Checking the rule book, they could find no evidence for anything illegal in his hybrid technique. Fosbury was simply applying incremental improvements to an existing one.

Dick Fosbury changed how the high jump is done to this very day by creating something new and better within the constraints of the competition by doing and thinking differently about his approach.

No matter how long you have been in education, can you point to the year that schools seemed to just not know what to do with all of the money they have? It has never happened, and it never will.  This is part of the unfortunate truth about education.  I have seen some schools with less money do more, and some schools with more money do less.  It is about their belief system more than anything.

I am not saying that educators need to stop advocating for what they know is right for students.  In fact, I believe they should continue to do so.  But I also think those big “system” changes take time, and if we wait for others to make those changes, we hurt the students that we serve today.  Figuring out how to best serve students while working within the constraints of education is what the best educators continue to do every day.  Their focus on innovating inside the box is their way of saying, “I have the power to make something incredible today,” no matter what obstacles are put in their way.  They don’t just identify the problem, they figure out how to make things happen.

Keep innovating inside the box. The students in front of you need you to figure out a better way now, instead of hoping someone will come along and do it for you.

Categories: Planet

The Risks in What We Don’t Do

6 January, 2018 - 09:44

One of my goals for 2018 is to read more books.  I read a ton of articles, but I have slacked off on the number of books that I have read in the last two years.  The balance I want to find is reading books that are new, but also non-fiction classics. I am trying to not only relearn from some of these books but actively seeking why these books have stood the test of time.  The book, “How To Win Friends and Influence People,” was first published in 1936, yet I only read it last year for the first time.  The ideas in it are timeless and influential.

The book that I have started with this year is, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen R. Covey. I read it several years ago, but it has so many great ideas that seem to be common sense, but Covey wanted to make them everyday practice.  Common sense and common practice are not always connected; what we know and what we do not always align.

One of the things that I started thinking about in this book is about the risks we take in our learning and growth.  Below is how I see the idea of “risk”:

As I talked about this notion of risk yesterday with a group of teachers, I realized that “risk” is not only in the things that we do but often in the things that we don’t do.

For example, I am trying to focus on my health over the last few months (and onward), and have worked out harder than I have in awhile.  I have always gone to the gym, but how I used my time, there was not helpful. I would kind of float around and not break a sweat. Showing up is not enough.  But every time I get on that treadmill and push myself, I could fall off, injure myself, or whatever.  On the other hand, every time I don’t go to the gym, there are risks associated long-term with my health that I might not see now, but they are there.  I might have time to do other things if I don’t go to the gym, but will I do them as well.

“Risk” is not only what you do, but what you avoid to do.  They both have outcomes.

This thinking was sparked by Covey’s sharing of the “Time Management Matrix”:

Time Management Matrix


This has helped me to focus on how I spend my time and what it will lead to in the long run.  I have seen this used and have been familiar with this matrix for years, but for some reason, it is only making sense to me now. Where individual items go is based on the person looking at the matrix, but what matters to me is that I start sorting those things and focusing more on both where I spend my time, and how I utilize it.

This matters in our classrooms as well.  When I am asked, “Why would you change something that works?” My response is that I wouldn’t. If something is working for your students, that is what you want.  But does it work for all of your students?  Does it really work for the adult more than the learners?  Is there a better way?  Time is limited in our classrooms and schools, but we have more control of how we use that time than we often give ourselves credit.

Meghan Takacs, one of the trainers on Aaptiv (I love this app and might be a bit obsessed with how much it is pushing me), made the simple statement in one of the training programs, “The clock is going to do what it does.”  Simply put, I am focused more on how I use my time and what it will lead to not only now but long term. Showing up is a start, but it is not the end goal.

Categories: Planet
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