Thursday, October 20, 2016

Vision, Culture, & Conversations - #IMMOOC Week 3

I’ve had an amazing few weeks of learning that caused me to put a lot of thought into what school can be. In addition to reading Part II of The Innovator’s Mindset and viewing Episode 3 of the #IMMOOC YouTube Live Sessions, I also attended the Iowa Technology and Education Connection (ITEC) Conference last week. I always enjoy the opportunity to learn from presenters and participants at conferences. I found this year’s conference very inspiring as I attended many different sessions that made me think about how we can innovate to better meet the needs of our students. Presenters like George Couros (@gcouros), Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp), Chad Kafka (@chadkafka), Robert Dillon (@ideaguy42), and more pushed my thinking and helped me dream about the possibilities of education. I was impressed as I learned more about Iowa BIG, a project-based high school built around the ideas of student passion, authentic projects, and connections to the community.
George Couros signed my copy of The Innovator's Mindset at ITEC
Throughout all of these learning opportunities, I kept coming back to the themes of vision and culture. I truly believe that vision and culture go hand in hand. A staff that has a shared vision in which they truly believe, will establish a culture of learning (for educators and students). This reinforces the importance of involving all stakeholders in establishing a vision. Everyone affected by the vision needs to have a say in its creation and should be able to explain how it translates into the classroom and learning.

This simple step of allowing voice (whether in creating a school-wide vision or one for your own classroom) can have a profound effect on the buy-in of all stakeholders. This can be one of the first steps in establishing a collaborative culture of learning. Inclusion of all stakeholders in this process helps to build trust and is the first step toward empowerment of learners. This allows for the development of a culture where learners (whether teachers or students) feel supported in taking risks and feel that their voice matters. Leaders must then continue to develop relationships and allow learners to meet their own needs through the procedures that are in place.

This week's #IMMOOC challenge was to make a meme related to this week's learning
As I read The Innovator’s Mindset, I was struck by the power of conversations. This theme was also prevalent in my sessions at ITEC and as I listened to Kaleb Rashad on the YouTube Live session.  I realize this may seem like common sense, but I kept coming back to the importance of meaningful conversations that involve teachers, students, parents, and community members about what all of us see as the purpose of school. George’s comparison of school vs. learning got me thinking that few people would disagree with his assessment of learning and that many would also not argue about the realities of  school. However, I think many people have not put a lot of thought into the disparity between the characteristics of school and those of learning. This leaves us to discuss how we can narrow the gap between the two. Educational leaders must promote these meaningful discussions that can be impactful for the educational process. Resources such as the characteristics of school vs. learning, the “what if” questions from chapter 7 of The Innovator's Mindset, and documentaries such as Most Likely to Succeed can provide excellent conversation starters to help us push the envelope of innovative educational practices.

Duckworth, Sylvia. "School vs Learning" 10 March 2015. Online Image. Flickr. 18 January 2015. <https://flic.kr/p/qRgiYR>
Beginning these conversations promotes a move toward a more unified vision of action that goes beyond a written vision statement. As more voices feel empowered to contribute to this discussion, culture will begin to shift and the focus will truly become about what is best for learners.  I certainly do not believe that discussions alone will create idyllic learning environments, however, I feel that a process that involves everyone in a discussion about schools will help establish a culture that puts learners first. This is essential for innovation in education, as I believe culture is the biggest determinant of success in schools.



Friday, October 7, 2016

Inspired to Innovate - #IMMOOC Week 2

Week two of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) involves a study of Part I of The Innovator’s Mindset and a YouTube Live session featuring Shawn Clark and Brady Venables from Saluda County Schools in South Carolina (check out their blog, Classroom Confessional). As I read Part I and watched the YouTube Live session featuring Brady, Shawn, George, and Katie, I began dreaming about what school could look like.

I started thinking about how we can create a school system that gets kids excited about learning rather than dreading each day of school. I excitedly considered ways we can change the structure of learning to better meet the needs of our 21st century learners and prepare them for the world they will face, rather than the world our grandparents faced. I began thinking of examples like High Tech High, Iowa BIG, and ideas such as those from the documentary Most Likely to Succeed. Thinking like this gets me excited about the possibilities of education, but the excitement then fades as I consider the realities of our educational system and its place within our larger society.

The pragmatist in me recognizes the realities of our data-driven system that emphasizes test scores in measuring the successfulness of schools and teachers. As George Couros states in The Innovator’s Mindset, “we have taken the most human profession, teaching, and have reduced it to simply letters and numbers.” I see teachers that are struggling to keep up in the current system and thus unlikely to try new ideas. I see administrators pressured by outside voices that want schools to do more and more for students while maintaining our 19th century paradigm of how school should look. I see parents and community members who want what’s best for their kids, but are stuck viewing education through their own experiences and thus view more school (more and longer days) and more homework as more rigorous. Too many people in our society are stuck in the factory model of education that no longer applies to our students. There is no need in today’s world to drill students on facts. I agree that a certain level of factual knowledge is important to be culturally literate and creates a base upon which further learning can build, but the days of school being about learning facts are gone. Our students have a machine in their pocket that can produce more facts, faster than we could’ve conceived during our days in school.

As I dream about the possibilities of education and then crash back to reality, I finally settle somewhere in between. This week’s activities helped me to more fully develop some of the thoughts that have kept me involved with education despite my rollercoaster of emotions. I enjoyed the emphasis on innovating within the box. As I read about this concept, I realized this is something I have done throughout my time in education. I have never been involved in a school that truly went outside the box, yet innovation can take many forms and doesn’t have to involve blowing up the existing structure (even if we would like to do this at times). As we work within the tightly constructed box that is our educational system, we must continually ask the why. I agree with this week’s reading that the why of education is to develop learners and leaders that will create a better present and future. As long as we keep our focus on this goal, we can innovate within the bounds that exist in our educational realities. This means we all need to focus on the creation of a new and better way of reaching the students we serve. We must improve upon existing practices to allow us to meet the needs of our students. Working toward this end will allow us to grow in our profession, our methods, and our own personal learning, while adapting our practices to better meet the needs of those we serve.

Pezibear. "Untitled." 14 December 2014. Online Image. Pixabay. 7 October 2016. <https://pixabay.com/photo-746931/>
Katie Martin reinforced this idea by stating, “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.” George uses this quote in The Innovator’s Mindset to reinforce the point that innovation does not require transformation. We must simply change the way we look at things. Innovation can come from invention (creating something new) or iteration (changing something that already exists), but it requires us to open our thinking to new possibilities.

The biggest change that needs to happen is putting students, rather than teachers, at the center of the classroom. For too long we have existed in a teacher-centered model of education, but we want students to do the learning. This brings me to another theme that continually popped up throughout Part I of The Innovator’s Mindset and in this week’s YouTube Live session; empathy. Educators must put themselves in the shoes of their students. Consider what it is like to be a student in your school or your classroom. How would the methods, routine, and culture of the school feel to a student? And, more importantly, how can you improve this?

To create a learner-centered classroom and to promote empathy in our views of school, The Innovator’s Mindset suggests the following critical questions to help us create new and better learning opportunities for our students:
  1. Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom? 
  2. What is best for this student? 
  3. What is this student's passion? 
  4. What are some ways we can create a true learning community? 
  5. How did this work for our students? 
As illustrated above, innovation does not have to involve expensive technology, we don’t have to scrap our existing system and start from scratch, it does not have to be something no one has ever done, we simply need to look at things from a new perspective and apply it to the needs of our students. This is what the innovator’s mindset is all about, a mindset that allows us to look for new ways of working toward our why - developing learners and leaders that will create a better present and future. As long as we are always asking ourselves, what’s best for students, and working to achieve this end (even within limitations that are outside of our control), then we are being innovative.

This seems like a simple proposition, but it will not always be easy. People do not like change, even when they know deep down that it is for the best. Others will question our adaptations of the existing system. Students may even want to go back to the old methods. We have trained students to be “academically compliant.” They often enjoy the simplicity of not having to think too deeply and of there always being a correct answer that can be found from a textbook or a lecture. However, is this what is best for them? If we truly think we are right, then we must stick to our philosophy and not allow a few naysayers to derail our efforts to improve the educational experiences of our students.

Those who promote change and embody the ideas of the innovator’s mindset exhibit the following characteristics as illustrated by Sylvia Duckworth.


Duckworth, Sylvia. "8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset." 10 March 2015. Online Image. Flickr. 5 October 2016. <https://flic.kr/p/rh9vco>
As George states, “When forward-thinking schools encourage today’s learners to become creators and leaders, I believe they, in turn, will create a better world.” So ask yourself every day, how can I improve the learning experience for my students in order to develop learners and leaders that will create a better present and future. By following through with this thinking, you are innovating and making a difference in the lives of our young people.

I want to thank Brady, Sean, Katie, and George for helping to push my thinking while at the same time keeping me grounded. I love the opportunity to dream while recognizing how to adjust these dreams to the current realities of our educational system.



Monday, October 3, 2016

#IMMOOC: Introduction: Moving Minds to the Opportunity Of Change

After a few hectic weeks of work, life with kids, and a move to a new house, I’m finally getting started with The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC). As I blogged about last week, I’ve followed George Couros for a while now and I’ve had his book (The Innovator’s Mindset) on my list of books to read, so I was excited to hear that he and Katie Martin are facilitating a MOOC based on The Innovator’s Mindset.

Teach Like a Pirate - Dave Burgess Speaking. Digital image. 
Teach Like a Pirate: Dave Burgess. Dave Burgess, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
Each week #IMMOOC will feature a YouTube Live Hangout with a special guest speaker followed by conversation and questions with George and Katie. As I play catch up with #IMMOOC, I watched the recording of the first week’s YouTube Live session featuring Dave Burgess (@burgessdave). I first learned of Dave Burgess in 2009 when I attended a session he facilitated at the NCSS Conference. “Outrageous Teaching: U.S. History Edition” was unlike any conference session I had ever attended. Dave entered the room dressed in pirate regalia and proceeded to teach/entertain the audience with magic, props (including a woman’s bra - #tlap fans will recognize this as the taboo or mystery bag hook), and audience involvement. Dave’s energy and passion were infectious and very inspiring. I left this session feeling like I had to find a way to increase the engagement of my students. I became even more intrigued a few years later when I learned that Dave was publishing a book, Teach Like a Pirate, and he was developing his own consulting and publishing company. Dave’s company has gone on to publish excellent educational books, such as The Innovator’s Mindset.

Dave’s portion of this week’s YouTube Live Hangout focused on doing whatever it takes to engage and teach kids. As educators we need to embrace our purpose as life changers who raise human potential. To achieve this end, we must be willing to think outside the box to engage students and create buzz for learning (and perhaps be innovative, hmm . . . does this relate to The Innovator’s Mindset??). Listening to Dave is inspiring and his energy is infectious, but as strange as it sounds, messages like Dave’s and George’s can be disheartening. We, as educators, listen to and read these amazing messages, then go back to our schools and see change perceived as an obstacle rather than an opportunity. Dave addressed this reality and offered reassurances that change does not happen all at once and cannot be a top-down directive, but rather must be a grass-roots initiative that starts with a few committed individuals. I loved Dave’s analogy that effective change is like a snowball, you must start small and as momentum gains, it will grow. This is a great message; we need to focus on those who want change and ignore the negativity from others. This builds a base of support for trying new things and as others see the effectiveness of these ideas, momentum will grow and the push for change will gain energy. Dave closed his portion of the Hangout by encouraging educators to share their journey. He stated that we have a moral imperative to let others know how we are engaging in innovative practices. This helps the snowball gain momentum and can help educators all around the world.

George and Katie followed Dave with a fast-paced discussion of topics related to the Introduction of The Innovator’s Mindset. Much of the conversation focused on adjusting our educational practices to the current realities of the “real world” that schools so often use to try and justify outdated methods. The “real world” involves skills and achievement over aptitude and includes learning environments that are comfortable and collaborative (picture Starbucks), rather than a factory model of teacher-centered learning. We need to teach students to value learning rather than jumping through hoops to achieve a grade. This also means that we need to not only acknowledge, but incorporate “real world” tools such as Google, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

As I watched this Hangout and read the Introduction to The Innovator’s Mindset, I was continually struck with some of the same ideas. Change can open up a whole new world for us and our students, but change is difficult. Many of my thoughts on this topic can be illustrated by the “Be More Dog” video from O2 that was referenced in the Introduction of The Innovator’s Mindset. Sometimes we fall into the trap of teaching like teachers have always taught, but by making the decision to try something different we can open up a new world of possibilities. Although this sounds good, it is not such an easy proposition. This involves changing our paradigm of school and maybe even of what we consider innovative.


If we continue to view the purpose of school as the acquisition of knowledge, then change will not occur. We must ask ourselves what do we care about in schools? This question determines the course we take as educators. I loved the phrase in The Innovator’s Mindset that we need to inspire students to be better people because of their experiences in school. This is what I see as the purpose of education! This can take many different forms, but it ultimately comes back to always doing what is best for kids, even if it does not look like our experiences in school (which it shouldn’t, the world has changed, so should school). In order to make education relevant to our students we must embrace change and the opportunities that are available in today’s connected world. Find a way to inspire your students and to spark their curiosity for learning, wondering, exploring, and becoming leaders. As George states, “If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.”

Hogan, Aaron (@aaron_hogan). "'If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.' #InnovatorsMindset via @gcouros." 12 January 2016. Tweet.

We must also consider that innovation is incremental. We do not have to scrap everything and start anew. Most educators are innovating on a daily basis, they just don’t view it that way. Every time you try something new to reach a student, you are innovating. Every time you try to connect students to a new resource, you are innovating. Now we all need to build on our existing innovations and keep pushing ourselves one step further and move from your point A to your point B. Start small by taking one or two measured risks in your classroom and build from there.

With this thought, I want to encourage teachers everywhere to be more dog. Don’t act the way teachers always have, do what you think is best, be adventurous, embrace change, and open up a new world for yourself and your students. As you seek the bone to motivate your students, connect with other dogs and spread your ideas, not just for adjacent possible, but for adjacent powerful! Start the snowball rolling!