Cultivating an Innovator’s Mindset in schools today

The world is changing quickly, and schools must change, too, to stay relevant to their students. Here are ideas from The Innovator's Mindset that inspired me. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

The world is changing quickly, and schools must change, too, to stay relevant to their students. Here are ideas from The Innovator’s Mindset that inspired me. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Sometimes, when I get ready to write a new blog post, I have this nervous excitement in my fingertips. When that happens, I know I have something really good to share with you.

Today’s one of those days.

The world is changing very quickly.

Technology is changing. The workforce is changing. Our students are changing, and even the way their brains work is changing.

Schools and classrooms must keep up if education is going to stay relevant to our students’ worlds. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that 65 percent today’s schoolchildren will have jobs that don’t exist today.

With learning available with a Google search or YouTube video, we can’t continue to teach the way we have for decades — centuries! — before.

We must innovate. Change. Adapt.

That’s what George Couros’s book, The Innovator’s Mindset, is all about. The subtitle: “Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity.”

If you haven’t read it yet, George’s book is a binge read of the kinds of insights you see all the time on his blog, The Principal of Change.

After checking out his book, I wanted to share some of my take-aways from it with you. I started in the introduction and started taking notes.

I had the whole blog post planned out before I hit chapter 1. 

So today’s post are all ideas that stirred my heart as an educator from the introduction of The Innovator’s Mindset. And with chapters like these, it should be plenty of incentive to dive right into the book:

  • Engage Versus Empower
  • Powerful Learning First, Technology Second
  • The Biggest Barrier and “Game Changer” to Innovation in Education

First, what is “innovation”? I created a YouTube video called “Innovating in the Classroom” where I suggested this: To innovate in the classroom, you don’t have to be a genius, you just have to try something new.

George’s definition takes it a step further: “a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either ‘innovation’ (something totally new) or ‘iteration’ (a change of something that already exists).”

Here are my take-away messages from just the introduction of his book:

Superintendent John Carver once told me he believes the world is at a “printing press” time in history. (p. 2)

This is so true. Many schools are starting to embrace the flood of available information, technology and best teaching practices. But things have changed so quickly that, really, I think we’re still early adopters in this new era of education.

Right now we have many twenty-first-century schools with twentieth-century learning. (p. 3)

I love how George and many other forward-thinking educators frame this issue. We can’t continue doing the same teaching and learning that we did with new tools, ideas and practices available to us. They just don’t “plug in” to the old ways. To take full advantage of what’s available to us, we often have to modify and redefine what we’re doing instead of just substituting and augmenting what we’ve done before. (Hat tip to the SAMR model and Dr. Ruben Puentedura there.)

Students have access to better resources online than what teachers could possibly offer. (p. 3)

Teachers used to be the gatekeepers to information. (I wrote a whole chapter about that — Chapter 6 — in by book, Ditch That Textbook.) If we wanted to learn, we had to get it from their minds or from books at the library. Now, information is no longer at a premium. What we do with it is what’s really valuable. If we only offer our students what resides in our brains, we’re limiting them.

Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later, so we can “get through” the curriculum. (p. 4)

I think about my own curiosity as an adult learner. When I’m curious about something, I’ll ask someone who knows the answer or will do a quick Google search to start. If I’m still curious, I’ll dig deeper, asking questions and gathering information as I work it over in my brain. It’s learner-driven, and that’s the kind of learning that’s possible with all we have available to us today. Schools need to do some foundational changing to take full advantage of that potential.

We’re expected to raise our hands to use the restroom, then three months later be ready to go to college or have a full-time job, support ourselves, and live on our own. It’s not logical. (p. 5)

That isn’t George; it’s Kate Simonds, whose 2015 TEDx Talk contrasts the compliance that schools demand with the independence that awaits in the real world. That real world requires more and more independent thinking from students. The less “just do what the teacher tells me” mentality will serve our students better.

Their students remember them as “great teachers,” not because of the test scores they received but because their lives were touched. (p. 6)

This one hits home for me. A friend who teaches high school English is facing this now. He has reworked his curriculum to engage students in his content. He wants them to really think about what they read and become critical thinkers about the world around them. The test scores haven’t immediately improved (as it so often happens with change), and he’s facing heat from his administration. He’s the kind of excellent teacher that’s going to be chased from the profession with this kind of discouragement. That doesn’t help anyone.

We are spending so much time telling our students about what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do. (p. 7)

As I travel to school districts for presentations and workshops, I see this so often. Signs posted in classrooms telling students what they can’t do. Questions from teachers about how to control student behaviors or block certain actions. It creates an atmosphere that makes students want to test the system, to see if they can get around teachers’ rules. With a “can do” emphasis, it changes the classroom culture entirely. It takes some control from the teacher, and there will be abuses, but the results are often worth it.

In reality, you can’t make anyone change; people can only change themselves. What you can do is create the conditions where change is more likely to happen. (p. 8)

As changes in education become possible, some people will resist them. They won’t want to change. They might not see the value in it. They might say that they want to stick with what they know works. And, honestly, there’s little we can do to make the proverbial horse drink the water. I think showcasing the success stories of change in the classroom is one of the best ways to change a teacher’s hardened heart. But, in the end, despite suggestions and ideas and threats, it’s ultimately up to the one doing the changing.

… our students benefit when we learn from one another. (p. 9)

When we were in school ourselves and got excited about something we learned, we were still learners. When we got into education, we were learners in college and university. As new teachers, we were likely still learning how education works and what works in our classrooms. The longer we continue to be learners, the better educators we’ll be. We’ll also remember what it’s like to learn and struggle and improve, which makes us more relevant to our students.

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing. (p. 10)

Change is uncertain. It’s difficult. But we often do it because it’s worth it. It’s OK to see change as scary as long as we’re not deterred by fear from doing what will help our students. When we let fear steer us away from good new ideas, we’re focusing on ourselves and what might happen to us instead of our students.

If these ideas resonate with you, you may want to check out the rest of The Innovator’s Mindset, which is available on Amazon (paperback / Kindle) and Barnes and Noble, among others.

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