Monday, February 22, 2016

Innovative Schools

I don't usually read educational books all the way through. I prefer to read blogs; they are shorter, to-the-point, and if they're not relevant to me, I just close it and look for something else to read. Well, I just got through reading The Innovative Mindset by George Couros, and it was one of the best  books I've read!

I "discovered" George a few years ago via Twitter. I saw a Tweet that mentioned him, and I read his blog, "The Principal of Change."  I enjoyed reading his blogs, so I followed him on Twitter, and he became part of my connected learning network. Prior to the 2013-2014 school year, I read one of his posts about SAVMP, a School Admin Virtual Mentor Program, I signed up to be a mentor, was accepted, and virtually mentored three new principals, one in Montana, one in British Columbia, and another in Washington state. It was a great experience for me, and hopefully, for them as well.

When I attended the 2014 ISTE Conference, I attended a session with George Couros. It was in a crowded room, and I sat on the floor at the previous session so I could hopefully get a seat for his presentation. It was worth it, one of the best sessions I had the opportunity to attend.

I decided to purchase The Innovative Mindset when I saw it on my Amazon suggested list of books to buy (usually I purchase Connelly, Baldacci, Rollins, or Child on Amazon), and I'm glad I did. I read it cover-to-cover and if I had stopped to highlight or put sticky notes to bookmark pages, the book would be covered! I reflected on why I found it hard to put down, and I think it was because it was both inspiring and validating for me. I liked the examples he shared; the quotes were meaningful; and the questions for discussion made me think more deeply about our school. I know that I want to go back and re-read the book. That's how I know how much of an impact it had on me.

Empowerment is something I feel passionate about. I've written several blogs about this topic, and I believe that if our goal is to have empowered students, we need to empower our teachers. But innovation is more than just empowerment. Innovation is about a change in our mindset, and too many of our schools are compliance-driven. Students and teachers do not have the opportunities to ask questions, to follow their passions, or to be innovative.

In the first chapter, George Couros clearly defines what innovation is - "a way of thinking that creates something new and better. " (page 19) He goes on to say that "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." (page 19-20) Innovation is a mindset.

Clearly, George Couros wrote this book, not as a 'how-to guide' but as a 'how can our schools be more innovative?' In his last paragraph, he shares that "the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking. I am also reminded of the biggest game changer - and it isn't technology. The biggest game changers in education are, and always will be, the educators who embrace the innovator's mindset. These teachers and educational leaders look at change as an opportunity, not an obstacle, and they constantly ask: 'What is best for the learner?' With this mindset, they provide new and better learning experiences for our students every single day." (page 227)

So what does this mean for our school? First, I think we have teachers who are innovative and connected and who try new ideas that they learn from others, not just at conferences or workshops, but virtually as well. We have a pretty forward-thinking staff who understands that changing the way we teach and learn is essential in today's world and that we are all learners. In fact our vision states, "Hale Kula Elementary empowers learners to explore, discover, create, and share." Very shortly, tenured teachers will be able to apply for a transfer to any vacant position at our public schools. I know that when we interview any prospective teacher candidates, we will be looking for innovative teachers and asking questions to see what they have done that is "new and better." I certainly hope we have a large pool of teachers to select from!

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