Posts tagged ‘George Couros’

The innovator’s mindset

Our system has always welcomed the opportunity to engage with leading Canadian educator George Couros.  For me, George not only understands the theory but he is intensely practical – he knows how to empower teachers and learners.  George’s book The Innovator’s Mindset was recently published and I am grateful for his guest blogpost on why an innovator’s mindset will help educators and schools move forward.  

In an effort to bring the past alive, a historic tour of a Blockbuster store offers visitors a glimpse into the hardships of people who lived in the era of video stores. In a revealing video, reporters from The Onion interview period actors who explain that people once traveled great distances (sometimes six miles each way!) to rent and return movies. These poor souls lived in terror of never knowing if the movie they wanted would even be available!

The Onion’s video, of course, is a satirical look at a company that tried to continue operating as if the Internet didn’t exist. It was only a few years ago that video-rental stores, like Blockbuster, were the best way for people to watch movies in the comfort of their own home. In some places around the world, these stores still exist. But in the western world, cheaper and more convenient options (no travel required) have put most neighborhood video stores out of business.

The Internet completely changed the movie rental industry. Companies that took advantage of new technology, like Netflix with its DVD-by-mail and online streaming options, are thriving. Meanwhile companies that refuse to let go of outdated business models, like Blockbuster, experience a slow, painful death.

Blockbuster had the opportunity to buy Netflix a few times, but declined.[1]  And by the time it attempted to start its own DVD-by-mail program, the company had lost its place as an in an industry leader. The hard lesson that Blockbuster and its fellow neighborhood movie rental businesses failed to heed is this: innovate or die.

Defining Innovation

“Innovation” is a common term in many educational circles today, and has been used a number of times in this book already. But what does it actually mean—especially in the terms of education?

In my book, “The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity”, I define innovation as the following: a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new), or “iteration” (a change on something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative. That means that change for the sake of change is never good enough. Neither is using innovation as a buzzword, as many organizations do, to appear current or relevant.

Note, too, that I said innovation is a way of thinking. It is a way of considering concepts, processes, and potential outcomes; it is not a thing, task, or even, technology. As [2] Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, explains in his TEDx talk, “The New Rules of Innovation,” “Innovation is the process by which we change the world…. It’s the practical application of ideas and technologies to make new and better things.”  So, although many organizations approach innovation as if the word is synonymous with technology, it isn’t. Technology can be crucial in the development of innovative organizations, but innovation is less about tools, like computers, tablets, social media, and the Internet, and more about how we use those things.

Another word that is often used interchangeably with innovation is transformation, which is really more about dramatically altering the work educators do. Although I can see why some administrators are calling for transformation, the truth is innovation—in our thinking as individuals and organizations—is within easy reach; no dramatic shifts required. Katie Martin, Director of Professional Learning at the University of San Diego Mobile Technology Learning Centre, eloquently explains the importance of leadership in developing an innovative mindset:[3]

There is no substitute for a teacher who designs authentic, participatory, and relevant learning experiences for her unique population of students. The role of the teacher is to inspire learning and develop skills and mindsets of learners. A teacher, as designer and facilitator, should continually evolve with resources, experiences, and the support of a community. It is becoming increasingly clear that we don’t necessarily need to transform the role of teachers, rather create a culture that inspires and empowers teachers to innovate in the pursuit of providing optimal learning experiences for their students.

Establishing an innovative culture, doesn’t require transformation. However, it does require leaders who will develop and sustain systems that support “optimal learning experiences” and who value the process of creating and refining ideas.

A Constant Opportunity for Growth

One of John Maxwell’s famous quotes is, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” In many respects, that sentiment is true. We choose whether or not we will grow, change, or innovate. But in schools, where we focus on our students as the future, growth can no longer be simply an option.

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing. Perhaps, the great thing we can do is make growth mandatory—for ourselves as educators, as well as for our students. That is how we can truly serve our children.

Education cannot become the new Blockbuster, where we refused to embrace the new, in hopes that the old ways will suffice. In a world that constantly changes, if our focus is to only maintain what’s already been done, we are bound to become worse. The innovator’s mindset is necessary for all of us, if schools are to move forward.

 

[1] “Epic Fail: How Blockbuster Could Have Owned Netflix”, November 12, 2013. http://variety.com/2013/biz/news/epic-fail-how-blockbuster-could-have-owned-netflix-1200823443/

[2] Bass, Carl. “The New Rules of Innovation”, February, 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKV3rhzvaC8

[3] Martin, Katie. “Creating a Culture of Innovation versus Transformation”, June 10, 2015. http://katielmartin.com/2015/06/10/creating-a-culture-of-innovation-vs-a-transformation/

 

 

 

No teacher left behind

I’ve often written that Twitter has been an invaluable professional learning tool for me. We have at our fingertips as Will Richardson says the ability to connect with two billion teachers and that presents unlimited opportunities for collaborative learning.

Educators like George Couros and Gary Stager also reflect that it isn’t the tool per se but how teachers use the tool to build, connect, learn, inspire, change etc.  For many teachers and leaders, social media is a brave new world and I believe that if teachers and leaders aren’t operating in this space, they will be left behind.

The danger is though that we make several assumptions about the professional use of social media: teachers have the skills to use social media and they actually see the benefit of using it.

Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills says that in order to build a great education system, teachers need not only to have access to the tools to develop 21st century skills but they must also recognise the importance of these skills.

The one thing we cannot do is assume that we don’t need to invest resources to up skill all teachers to use the tools effectively.

Certainly there is growing evidence of the positive impact social media use is having on teacher and student learning.  In 2011, Julie McCulloch, Ewan McIntosh and Tom Barrett authored a report called Tweeting for teachers: how can social media support teacher professional development?  The report identified a number of research studies linking the impact of professional social media use on teachers’ practice, attitudes and beliefs to improved student learning.

CEDP social media surveyA recent survey of 755 educators in the US revealed how they were connecting online.  We asked the same question recently of our staff to find out how and what social media tools they were using professionally.  The 650 responses provide us with a good snapshot of which tools and the frequency of use.

Three themes emerged from the feedback that needs to be addressed at a system level. These were training, culture/privacy and network access.  Perhaps these are universal challenges for many education systems.

The point to be made is that if we are serious about ensuring no child is left behind, we need to be just as serious about ensuring no teacher is left behind in a hyper-connected world.

 

 

 

 

Beyond the limits of our own perspective

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to present to a group of Singaporean educators via video conferencing.

A decade ago we didn’t have the capabilities to do this so easily. As part of the discussion, I mentioned that social media needed to be part of a teachers’ toolkit in today’s world. Without it, we face irrelevancy because for many of our learners, it is where they live, communicate and learn.  Understanding where they are and what they are doing with the tools helps us to deliver more personalised learning experiences; to deepen the learning.

One of the questions I was asked in the conference was ‘how can teachers make time to use the tools?’ Since we can’t add any more hours to the day we need to demonstrate to teachers how and where the tools fit within a contemporary understanding of learning and teaching.

I understand there will always be an element of fear associated with using new tools.  People burnt books in protest of the printing press.  However, we are in the business of learning and if any profession should embrace social media, I believe it is ours.

We have a growing body of research investigating the impact of social media on teacher education as more and more teachers begin using these channels to deepen their professional learning and practice.  The very nature of social media reflects the way we learn, which isn’t linear but interactive, iterative and complex.

Respected educators like Will Richardson and George Couros have been writing about the relevancy of social media in classrooms for many years. These are powerful tools for connecting educators to students but importantly for connecting educators to other educators around the globe.

My fear in a rapidly changing world is not that technology is changing so rapidly, it’s what will happen to those educators who don’t see social media as relevant to learning. As Alvin Toffler famously said the “illiterate of the 21st century will be those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” How can we find ways of bringing colleagues not already using social media on the journey – to teach, share, demonstrate and present alternatives?

Educator and poet, Robert John Meehan wrote,”The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.”

Social media provides a powerful argument for moving beyond the limits of our own perspective.

 

‘Connected’ learning

Canadian principal George Couros spent last week sharing his  ‘connected’ learning with our teachers and leaders.  Several school leaders said they felt ‘inspired’ after hearing George talk so passionately about his students, profession and his professional learning.

The workshops with George and our Principals Masterclass may look like ‘stand-alone’ or ‘one-off’ events but they are actually part of a learning continuum that began seven years ago.  The mere fact that our leaders have an opportunity to collectively engage in deep conversations on learning is powerful learning.

At the start of the 2012 school year, we set our collective focus to ‘learning by inquiring’ – how we could engage in the inquiry and knowledge building cycle within schools and across the system.  It builds on the work of Helen Timperley by responding to the emerging needs of ‘our class’ – whether it be school leaders, teachers or learners.  It requires a commitment to engage in continuous learning through collective problem solving and data analysis to improve the learning outcomes for each student.

PMC-98For me, the principals masterclass was a high point in this journey to improve learning and build capacity.  When we started we relied heavily on outside experts but last week we had our own leaders sharing their learning.  Although the context of the school communities may be different, there is a shared vision that transcends physical and virtual borders.

As I listened to the keynotes, three things became clear.   The first is we are beginning to get the language right – we are crafting a new narrative shaped by the best of what we know when it comes to improving learning and teaching.  The second is we are developing greater precision around the work by getting rid of the ‘noise in the background’.  We are focusing on the things that make a difference – the high effect strategies to drive change where it counts most.  Thirdly after listening to our school leaders, we are now seeing tangible evidence of building teacher capacity and its impact on student engagement and learning.  It’s starting to make a difference.

All of this leads into new areas for discussion and new ways of working but we are doing this together.  In the past we’ve “intellectualised” the process of improvement but ignored the implementation process.   Competing narratives haven’t led to sustainable change – the discussion was broad and shallow.  Yet what I saw and heard last week was a significant shift at the point of delivery – system leaders working with school leaders working with teachers – everyone as George said ‘elbows deep in learning.’

If there is one thing that resonated with me when listening to George it was the importance of modelling the what, how and why of what we do.  It challenges us to lead in the way we ask our leaders to, teach in the way we ask our teachers to and learn in the way we ask our students to.

It’s a small ‘virtual’ world

I’m not sure if you have had this experience, but the last thing I expected while travelling in Greece on a pilgrimage with Catholic Education colleagues was to be approached by two fellow Australians who recognised me from my Twitter profile.

A 21st century encounter with my colleagues developed through social networking.

It was a powerful moment to connect ‘face to face’ with people who had become my professional colleagues in a very 21st century kind of way. Social media is a phenomenon that’s here to stay and one that has made it possible to connect with people outside your physical sphere on a daily basis to share thinking, learning and ideas. This chance encounter helped me realise that the professional learning community we are a part of via Twitter or other online tools might feel mostly ‘virtual’ but it is real. It’s not just a world of ideas, it is a community of educators who share a common interest to improve learning and teaching. What we share online has the potential to encourage, inspire and stretch us to improve the work we do and the way we go about it.

Recently George Couros (@gcouros) wrote about the importance of using Twitter to not only share information, but to listen and to engage. He made the point that it’s not good enough for schools, organisations and businesses to just ‘be online’ and share information alone. They must listen to those they serve. If we don’t use the tools effectively to engage, to collaborate and participate in the conversation, we risk using a ‘Web 2.0 tool in a Web 1.0 way’ and never take full advantage of its capabilities. Online tools shouldn’t be used as a monologue stream, because the technology is designed for dialogue.

For myself, tools like Twitter and Bluyonder allow me to be part of a global professional learning community and is an opportunity to share my own ideas and engage with the ideas of others for my own professional improvement in the work I do as a system leader.

Bumping into my colleagues in Greece demonstrates the power of this online community and is a good reminder that what we share and do in the virtual world does have an impact in the physical world.

The change gap

Last week I attended a “learning and leading conversations” workshop at Ravenswood School for Girls with Canadian educator George Couros. George and his brother Alec have developed a significant professional learning network on Twitter and it was good to see the physical and virtual connections converging.  The more this happens, the greater the drive for principals and teachers to become a part of it and learn from it.  George shared this open letter to educators – very Bueller-esque.

We spent the day working in groups on some of the big questions such as what would we change about schools/classrooms? There wouldn’t have been anyone in the room who wasn’t convinced that schooling needs to change.  But in my experience, it often falls over in the next stage when people go back as lone change agents.

This is the change gap. Too often the “change gap” terrifies people and they respond with inertia or take the first up solution.  I see the change gap as a great opportunity to focus discussion and collaboration. I think this is why Twitter and other social networking tools are becoming a critical part of teachers’ learning. The change gap could become our wikipedia experience.  A place where we invite the wisdom of the community to help us work through the complex processes of schooling. It will also help build a culture that says we’ll find ways forward when we listen to the voices around the education table be it here or around the world.