Category Archives: the innovator’s mindset

Side-By-Side Learning

Using 30 second video reflections has become one of my favourite ways to share on Twitter.  There are a few reasons why I see this as powerful:

  1. It forces you to focus on what you are wanting to share because of the 30 second time limit.
  2. You become more conscientious of what you are going to share because you know that anyone in the world can see it.
  3. The ability to hear voices and see faces, brings a certain amount of “humanity” to see who is behind the tweet.

It is a very powerful reflection tool, and this quote resonates through this process:

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 5.46.31 PM

This past weekend, I worked with a group of administrators from the “Texas Association of Secondary School Principals”, focusing both on their learning and leadership.  It was a tremendous opportunity for me to not only share my learning, but to learn from them as well.  I truly believe that the more connected we become, the smarter we all are. We can all learn from each other, no matter our experience or expertise.

One of the people who attended, was Dr. Kenneth Gay.  He is just an awesome person, and he shared his own fear of “jumping in”, and that he wanted to learn more.  So trying to help him see the opportunities, while understanding his own reluctance, we did a video reflection together, side-by-side. Check it out below:

Sometimes the best way to model the power of certain learning opportunities, is to do them together. And I appreciated this comment from Cindy Kirby.

What was awesome, was as the weekend went on, Kenneth saw the power of connecting through this medium, and ventured out to share on his own.

Throughout this weekend, as with any learning opportunity, there are people at all different levels in the room. What is important is not that they are learn the same thing, but that they learn. As stated in “The Innovator’s Mindset“,

Effective leadership in education is not about moving everyone from one standardized point to the next but moving individuals from their point “A” to their point ”B.”

What is imperative though is that that movement from point “A” to “B” is always the choice of the learner.  Sometimes standing in front and sharing ideas is one way to create this movement, but as Cindy stated, sometimes the best way to learn, is to do it “side-by-side”.

The Innovator’s Mindset (Book Study)

It has almost been one year since I committed to writing “The Innovator’s Mindset”, and decided to go with Shelley and Dave Burgess, and I couldn’t be more grateful. The response has been overwhelming, and my hope of this book starting conversations instead of ending them, has been something that has come to life.  My hope was to make people think differently about the possibilities for education, within the “box” that we work inside.

I was overwhelmed when I saw this tweet just the other day:

Seriously humbling.

People like Mandy Froehlich have been using it for book studies for pre-service teachers, many schools have coordinated group talks, some innovative leaders in Ontario coordinated a book study with it, and many others. Brandon Timm is doing a series sharing his thinking with his wife Jo, and making YouTube channels for each chapter (love it!).  I have done my best to jump into these conversations as much as possible, to use this to connect and learn from others. It has been an awesome experience.

This weekend, Bethany Ligon shared this book study resource that she used with her own district, and has graciously shared it with me for others to use, modify, and remix it, for their own purposes.  This was my hope and it is awesome to see it come to life.

I have also been updating resources on the blog for people to use and modify as well, with links to videos, books, articles, and anything else that I can find, relative to the book.  Please feel free to use it how you see fit.

Heather Campbell shared this picture that she created from the book the other day:

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 1.26.50 PM

As more changes happen in my life, I had to remind myself of this quote above. I just wanted to write this post to acknowledge all of those who have not only supported this work, but have pushed my thinking. The twitter chats, the voxer groups, the “skypes” with schools, and all of the face-to-face conversations,have been awesome.  I am looking forward to the continued journey.


6 Ways to Use Twitter To Enhance In-School Professional Learning


Here is a tweet I received from Jamie Sweeney on using Twitter to “enhance professional development”:

Connecting globally is really powerful, but how do we use this medium in a way to enhance professional learning and empower the voice of teachers in our own building.  Sometimes seeing the impact of using Twitter on a global level brings ideas back into our classrooms, but perhaps using Twitter locally could push people to connect others globally.

Just remember that “Twitter” isn’t just for days that you are discussing technology.  It can amplify and accelerate learning in any topic, whether it is on health initiatives, assessment practices, or deep understanding of any topic. It is easy to do, yet can share several mediums, which allows for different types of processing and understanding.

Here are a few ideas below.

  1. Hashtag for professional learning days (and beyond).  This one sets the stage for the other suggestions, as it makes it easy to “pre-filter” information towards a hashtag.  Check for a hashtag before you start using it, and ensure that it is not being used by another group. This gives an opportunity for the “room” to tap into one another, not just learn from any one person.  If you are interested in doing this, I would suggest finding a hashtag that goes beyond any single day; you want to start a movement, not share a moment. (For the purpose of this post, I am going to use #InnovatorSchool as the hashtag.)Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 5.37.08 PM
  2. 20 Minute Summary. Little ideas like this can help further deeper learning.  Stopping every 20 minutes and asking participants to share a 140 character reflection (minus the hashtag), and encourage them to limit it to only one tweet.  Having to summarize and be succinct in a tweet, provides a bit of a challenge, but it is also encouraging “mini-reflection”. It is also a nice assessment of where learners are at during that moment.
  3. Image Sharing. The beautiful thing about Twitter is the opportunity to capture different mediums.  Groups may have to draw some type of summary of learning, but share it to this group.  Here was one suggestion from Bethany Ligon in a book study she was doing with a group on “The Innovator’s Mindset“:

    Using Play Doh, pipe cleaners, and multi-colors of Post It papers, create models to represent a fixed mindset, a growth mindset, and an innovator’s mindset. Take a picture(s) of your structures and insert them into a single Google Drawings. Also insert a text box and write a brief blurb describing your thinking…if any. :)

    This is a great way to capture the visible learning that happens in these days, but also gives people a reference long after the fact.

  4. Group Hashtag Modification. Sometimes I will ask for groups to share a “big idea” together in some type of reflection. I have seen things such as 140 character tweets, captured images of writing, videos, etc., which provides lots of opportunities for learning.  The problem is finding this information the more any hashtag is used.  To do this in a simple way, I always suggest making slight modifications to hashtags for different questions.  So if the original hashtag is #InnovationSchool, then for the first question, I would simply change it to #InnovationSchoolQ1, and so on.  This way, again, you are pre-filtering to find information from any particular question in a simple and succint way.
  5. 30 Second Video Reflections. Twitter has an awesome video function (only on phones that I know of at this point), that allows you to take 30 seconds of video.  What I love about this is the unedited, raw learning that can be shared.  As people are finishing off the day, I think encouraging them to share a 30 second video reflection is a great way for them to process their thinking and can literally be done on a walk out of the building.  If someone does not feel comfortable taking a “video selfie” (#Velfies), I have seen some people turn their camera on an object or screen and discuss what they have learned.  This promotes the importance of “open reflection”, which is beneficial to not only the person doing the reflecting, but the community, as we can learn from one another.
  6. Collect Ideas in a Storify. Storify is one of my favourite sites as it makes it simple to not only capture tweets, but put them into context.  Random tweets might not make much sense to someone outside of the process, but using this site to give further explanation and share media (it is not limited to tweets, but has a wide range of social media services you can pull from), encourages people to share professional learning days from a wide-range of views, not just from what one person said.

Here are some of the benefits from this process.

  1. Assessment of professional learning days. What do the tweets tell you about the takeaways from the day?
  2. Sharing your learning with your community.  Shouldn’t parents know what educators are learning on professional learning days and doesn’t this help dispel the myth that many have about professional learning days that they are just a “day off”?
  3. Positive development of school and personal digital footprint. We can’t teach something we have never learned.
  4. Modelling things that you are able to do in the classroom. Asking at the end of the day how we would use these things in classrooms (because it will differ through K-12) helps create the connection between what was just experienced, and how it applies to learning in the classroom.

As I write this, I think how simple these ideas could be, yet how much of an impact they could have to make great learning go viral.  We have tons of experts in our own buildings, so we need to create these opportunities to shine a light on them and their thinking, for the benefit of each other, as well as our communities, both local and global.

Checklist or Art Form?


As I was watching a video on “professional learning” this morning, the speaker was discussing the importance of our time to increase results, and something kind of dawned upon me.  There seems to be two “camps” on education “reform” that I have noticed on somewhat polar opposite sides of the spectrum.

  1. Group 1 that focuses on “improving test scores” (better equals improvement in traditional measures).
  2. Group 2 that thinks we should totally start over again and school should look nothing like it does now.

If you asked me, which way I lean, I would go to “Group 2”, but I also know it is not a reality.  Schools that are publicly funded will always demand some type of accountability, and I can change what I do, but not necessarily what politicians or districts dictate.  I hate to say this, but I am somewhere in the middle, which is why I am always big on the idea of “innovating inside of the box“. In education, we work in a box and we can either do what we can within it, or ignore it and be in jeopardy of losing our livelihood.  This is a reality.

Sometimes I think what is being taught in the curriculum is not going to be relevant to our students by the time they leave school (example…students are still tested on writing a “newspaper” article while the industry is dying in many areas of the world), but I can’t tell a group of teachers “ignore the curriculum” and teach what you think is best.  First of all, they could lose their jobs for not meeting the requirements of the job, but I also think, not all teachers think the same. What they believe kids will need in the future, can greatly depend on so many factors and biases.  I am not saying it is wrong, but I am saying it is more complicated than what we first perceive.

In a workshop recently in Manitoba, I asked educators what their “big question” was, and one question that came up several times in their results was the idea of being “innovative” and how it would be hard to do within the curriculum. So as the group was out for lunch, I googled the Manitoba curriculum standards, and the first link I saw was “Social Studies”. I clicked on it, and just randomly chose the Grade 5 standards.  After looking at it, I found a section based on the “Fur Trade”, which is something that I learned about when I was in school in the 80’s, but honestly, couldn’t tell you much about now.

One of the suggested activities to learn about the fur trade (for grade 5 students) was to, “listen to songs about the fur trade”.  I thought to myself, that listening to songs about the fur trade might not be the most “engaging” activity for grade 5 students, and when I shared this with the group, they agreed.  After this, I shared some ideas on ways to empower students through this process, and asking them ways that they could create and research this topic, and share music they created, a website, oral presentation, etc., or they could come up with ideas on how they share their own learning, that would be much more powerful and develop a deeper understanding of the “fur trade” while building on other skills such as communication, literacy (not just reading and writing, but how we communicate in today’s world), or even digital citizenship, if students were to think about posting their work online. Questions such as why did you share what you chose to share, and how could an audience interpret your work?

Why did I pick this topic and curriculum objective? Because it was the first one that I saw and I wanted to prove a point that teaching goes way beyond curriculum objectives.  What we teach is not really as important as how we teach. In my first years of education, those suggested activities were my lifeline. I needed them because I thought of teaching as more of a checklist, than an art form.  “If I do this, then I will be able to say that I taught this objective.”  But the other element of this is that here is where I see this middle ground.  The art form should still help kids do better on any “test” because if they feel engaged AND empowered in their learning, they will know the subject as well as develop skills that will last them long past my time with them as their teacher.

If we only try to “engage” students, will they become dependent upon us for their learning?  When we focus on empowering their learning, they will thrive after us as learners.  That’s what the best teachers do.  You will eventually not need them because you have learned to learn, not just what to learn.

Is my suggestion the best way to teach the fur trade?  Probably not.  But I know that I think of teaching more of an art form in how to really get students learning more than how I teach. I am not sure you can do this with every curriculum objective, but I do know that it is easy to say “we can’t” because of the system we are a part of, and in reality, is not changing any time soon. Instead, I want to figure out how to make something so much better out of our realities than simply treating education as a checklist on how to get better test scores.

We often wish change for others, but do not think of what we can change ourselves.  Just a reminder, how we teach is so much more important than what we teach.  That will make the impact that lasts much longer than any one curriculum objective.

How you teach is an art, not a checklist.

Learning Before You Innovate

The emphasis on “creation” in schools is crucial, yet it does not mean that consumption is not crucial in the process.  Several years ago, I saw John Medina speak (the author of “Brain Rules“), and he said something that resonated with me (paraphrased):

Creation without consumption is similar to playing the air guitar.  You might be able to go through the motions, but you do not really know what you are doing.

That is why the ability to learn is so crucial to innovation.  It is not about just learning information, but what you do with it that is mattering more in our world today, but if we are not willing to learn in the first place, the innovation will not happen.

A beautiful song that you compose on the piano, could not be composed if you don’t learn to play the piano first.

This thinking is beautifully illustrated in an older visual from Alberta Education, called the “Alberta Competency Wheel”.

Alberta Education Competency Wheel

In the middle is the learner, but without the crucial foundation of literacy and numeracy, we lose a lot moving outward from the centre.

That being said, we still need to move from the centre. Of course we want every student to be able to read and write, but it is essential they go further.  Yong Zhao sums this up nicely.


The “basics” and “innovation” are connected; it is not one or the other.

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” Friedrich Nietzsche

How Quickly Things Change

If you have never seen the “Blockbuster Offers a Glimpse of Movie Renting Past”, it is a great (and funny) piece that promotes some great conversations on how quickly things can become obsolete:

It is a great video to discuss how quickly things change in our world today. Although this was “best practice” only a few years ago, it is already outdated and the company closed the last of it’s stores in 2014.

I wrote about this specifically in “The Innovator’s Mindset“;

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, like Blockbuster, that refuse to let go of outdated business models experience a slow, painful death.

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

This reality hit me hard recently at a parent evening the other night when I shared this video. As parents and adults in the room laughed, I noticed one child who was probably around eight or nine years old, looking around and wondering what was going on.  After the video played, I asked him if he could talk about what was going on and he had no clue.  When I tried to explain about going to a store to rent movies, he looked at me like I was crazy.  He had never known this reality, and never would, yet this was our reality, not his.  If he was four, it would make more sense, but he wasn’t.

I often think about what we will be laughing at or shaking our head at ten or twenty years from now, but if we do not understand that we need to change, maybe we won’t have the chance to laugh at all.  You either create change, or change will happen to you.  In all other industries, different and better options are either being offered by current organizations, or by new ones coming in.  We should never take for granted the continuous need for all organizations to get better.  Education not excluded.


Moonshot Thinking #InnovatorsMindset

On Twitter, I asked for a great video on “Forward Thinking Leadership”, and Christina Carlin (thank you!), shared this great video:

The quote at the end resonated;

When Kennedy said, that we would put a man on the moon, it’s about the fact that he said,”We don’t know how to do this yet, but we are going to do this anyway.” And that sends chills up everybody’s spine, because if that happens, what couldn’t we do?

As I have said before, the biggest barrier to innovation is often our own way of thinking. This is a beautiful addition to resources that supports that.

Innovation To Best Practice

Innovation To Best Practice

This image is a first rendering of some ideas I am trying to bounce around in my head. I would love your feedback.


This has been something dancing around my head on the notion and process of innovation in education, and how it connects to “best practice”.  This is a space to share that learning.

In “The Innovator’s Mindset“, I define the notion of innovation as the following:

…innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative.

As I was working with a group of administrators, something stuck out to me.  Sharing a Google Doc that we could easily collaborate on, they had never seen this before, and were somewhat in a state of awe, yet to me, this was normal, or my “best practice”.  In the terms of teaching and learning, “innovation” can be a very personal practice. One’s “best practice” could be another’s “innovation”.

Discussing “The Innovator’s Mindset” in a Voxer group with educators, in what is becoming global bookclubLeigh Cassell made the comparison of this concept in literacy, which is a constant state of flux.  If literacy is ever-changing, do educators change alongside of it?  Others in the group made a unique comparison to the “decline of newspapers” and that some students are still tested on their ability to write a “news report” using the same format.  Does this “testing” include the ability to link articles, embed media, and source from different mediums (amongst other things), or is still your typical “newspaper” report?  The continuum could be from “innovation” to “best practice” to “dead practice”, if we are not trying to understand our current realities, let alone anticipate the future.

My belief is that innovation in teaching and learning starts with empathy; truly trying to understand those that you serve. Yet this is not only a starting point, but a continuous part of the process.  Once the needs of the learner are defined, innovative practices may be developed, which if they truly are “better” as per the definition, will eventually become “best practice”. For them to stay as “best practice”, they will need to be constantly revisited and reflected upon, with reflection, tweaking, and recreating as part of the process, with the possibility of eventually discarding the process altogether.  Some things could always be considered “best practice” (applicable to individuals, not necessarily as standardized solutions), but could eventually become obsolete.  This is why reflection is crucial to the process of teaching and learning.

This is not about change for the sake of change; it is about constantly understanding and questioning why we do what we do, not just taking it for granted.  Some practices in education from before I was born, could still be utilized in education if they work for learners, but we can’t simply rely on TTWWHADI (that’s the way we have always done it) as an effective answer when it comes to learners.  We must understand deeply why we do what we do to effectively serve the needs of learners.

(I am wanting to try different mediums so here is a short reflection I shared on Facebook.)

Some ideas floating in my head on “Innovation Moving To Best Practice”. Wanted to try something different.

Posted by George Couros on Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Teacher Platter

We often hear about having “too much on our plate”. but I once heard an educator say that teachers don’t have “plates”, but they have “platters”.

Think about it…how often do we add more initiatives to what we do in education compared to how many times do we purposefully pull things off of the plate?

If you want to really do something well, you don’t try to do EVERYTHING. Something has got to give.

Apple, one of the most profitable businesses in the world, doesn’t focus on making a plethora of items, but a select few that are of high quality. Steve Jobs, in an interview with Fortune in 2008, said the following:

“Apple is a $30 billion company, yet we’ve got less than 30 major products. I don’t know if that’s ever been done before. Certainly the great consumer electronics companies of the past had thousands of products. We tend to focus much more. People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”

It is important to think about not only why we do things or how we do things, but what things we do. If we do too much, what impact could we truly have?



What is innovative leadership?

In 2014, I wrote about the “8 Characteristics of an Innovative Leader“, and listed those characteristics as the following:

  1. Visionary
  2. Empathetic
  3. Models Learning
  4. Open-Risk Taker
  5. Networked
  6. Observant
  7. Team Builder
  8. Relationship-Focused

Although these characteristics are obviously a part of the equation, could the idea of an “innovative leader” be simplified?

In the book, “The Innovator’s Mindset; Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity“, I define “innovation” as the following:

innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative.

So what does “leadership” mean? Many people have different definitions of the word (this is a great article on “30 Ways to Define Leadership“), but for the sake of this post, I would say leadership is the ability to influence others to move towards positive results.  What is crucial about this idea is that leadership can happen from any position, in many aspects of what any organization does.

So what does combining these two ideas look like?  Here is a first definition:

Innovative leadership is the ability to both think and influence others to create “new and better” ideas to move towards positive results.

Here are the elements that are essential in this definition:

  • The ability to think differently.
  • The ability to create something from thinking differently (“Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison)
  • The ability to model this in your own leadership practice.
  • The ability to also influence others to do the same.
  • That these actions lead to “new and better”, not just new.
  • “Results” should not simply read “test scores”; it can be providing opportunities for students to find and solve meaningful problems, finding positive ways to develop community, developing more effective assessments that serve student learning, developing positive inclusive practices in school, or a myriad of other positive ideas.

Leadership is not about “self”, but others, yet what one models to others is essential in leadership.  We cannot expect others to think differently without embracing this ourselves.

Just some thoughts on the idea of “innovative leadership” and how “The Innovator’s Mindset” below is embraced at all levels of our organizations.

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth

Image created by @SylviaDuckworth