Education expert George Couros spent a day inspiring Ottawa Hills faculty last week. The enthusiasm was contagious, as it led to bursts of creative expression and new insights into our students and classrooms.
Mr. Couros is a former educator, having served as both a classroom teacher and principal. He’s taken the lessons from the classroom and transformed himself into an “innovative teaching, learning, and leadership consultant.” He also is author of The Innovator’s Mindset, which has been a faculty-wide read this school year.
“I believe we need to inspire our kids to follow their passions, while letting them inspire us to do the same,” said Mr. Couros.
He visited Toledo to lead a day-long in-service activity for OH faculty. The subtitle of his 2015 book conveys the lessons to be learned from reading it: “Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity.” The professional development event February 15 gave all faculty a chance to hear first-hand how the “innovator’s mindset” is needed in every classroom today.
“My takeaway from George is that we try to meet kids where they are,” said high school technology teacher Gerry Davis. “Kids are innovative and always growing and learning - they’re natural learners. And we need to make sure we don’t do anything to impede that process. Because kids are awesome; that’s why we do this stuff.”
- “You are so inspiring,” wrote fourth-grade teacher Grainne Kulka after the event. “Already revamping my lesson plans for next week’s writing class.”
- “I could listen to you all day long,” added fourth-grade teacher David Wells.
- “Thank you for reminding us why we all got into teaching,” said Judy Haudan, another fourth-grade teacher.
(To see day-of messages from faculty embracing the innovator philosophy, view the hashtag #inOHvation on Twitter.)
Visit his blog/website | Read our Q&A with Mr. Couros
Q: Why did you write The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity?
A: I hear a lot of educators talk about innovation, but actually see it used synonymously with use of technology. And, really, the way we see innovation is that it’s the opportunities we create for our students, the opportunities we create for our own learning, and how we develop a mindset. The analogy I use is that the iPhone is not innovative; it was the thinking that created the iPhone that is the innovation. And that’s what we’re trying to do in school. [The message of the book] is really focused on how we get our teachers, our kids, and administrators thinking differently and creating new and better teaching methods.
Q: What can parents do to promote an “innovator’s mindset” among their children?
A: A lot of times, it’s so easy for a parent to jump in when a kid has a question or even send a kid to ‘Google.’ We have to help kids not only to develop answers but develop questions. What are they curious about? And then help them find some strategies and practices.
Too often we take away ownership from our kids. Instead, what we need to do is create opportunities for kids to talk and be curious about things, find solutions they develop themselves. One of the notions I talk about is empowerment. We want to give our kids ownership so they’re not just interested, but actually doing something with their knowledge.
That’s hard for a parent because it’s tough not to step in when you see your child struggling. That struggle is a good thing and we want to develop that. Because when they leave us, they’re going to struggle. And how they deal with that adversity - not only deal with it, but thrive through it - can actually create opportunities.
Q: How do you measure the presence of an ‘innovative’ mindset?
A: What we’ve done for years is when teachers are evaluated, we often watch what the teacher is doing, which is not a good process. Ultimately, what we should do is watch what the students are creating because of that classroom. If a kid can regurgitate information that is given, they’re not necessarily being innovative; they’re just actually learning to retain knowledge for a short amount of time, and giving it back. They’re learning to play “the game of school.”
What a lot of people ‘hear’ when I say this, is that ‘knowledge is not important.’ Absolutely, knowledge is very crucial, but we don’t want our kids to just ‘know things.’ We want them to ‘understand’ and make their own connections. Ultimately, if we’re seeing innovation happen in a classroom, we’re seeing it because our kids are creating; they’re developing solutions, going beyond what the curriculum states they are supposed to do.
A lot of times, curriculum is a ‘minimum.’ You actually can go way above and beyond. So, if you want to see [the innovator’s mindset] in a classroom, watch what the students are doing.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories as a teacher?
A: I loved creating the projects, doing things with our students in the classrooms. But the favorite memories – the same ones I have from when I was a student – are the interactions in the hallways. I’d always play basketball with the kids, and it was something I was passionate about. What was really important to me was taking that time and building those relationships with the kids so that when I had to push or challenge them in classroom, they were more open to it.
It wasn’t me being their friend; it was me building a relationship, building a rapport with them. They didn’t just know I knew things about them; they also knew things about me.
Building those relationships outside of the classroom allows better learning into the classroom. Those are things that students and teachers remember significantly. We don’t remember giving tests, just like kids don’t remember taking them.
Q: On your website, you say you love dogs and that you named both of them after Los Angeles Lakers. Any plans to get a third and name it LeBron?
A: That’s depending on if he wins any championships with the Lakers. My dogs have several years to live, so no rush right now to name one “LeBron.” It’s awesome to see him play with the Lakers, but I know he got it in Ohio. He’s out for 15 weeks, but he won a championship for you guys.