Category Archives: Patrick Larkin

Purpose and Empowerment

I remember spending part of my career on my back, looking up at desktop computers trying to fix them for other teachers.  Since my job had the word technology on it, that seemed to put me in charge of anything that ran electricity.  It drove me nuts, and I used to think “this is not what I wanted to be doing with my teaching career”.  It wasn’t that I thought the work was beneath me, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I love using technology, but fixing it wasn’t my thing.

Then one student came up to me and said, “Mr. Couros do you want me to do that for you?”

My response…”Ummmmmm…yeah!”

After that, our school’s student run technology department was born and a group of students were in charge of taking care of technology needs. Not only did this take it off of my plate, but these kids LOVED doing it, and it provided a bigger purpose for them in the school.

Other schools, like Burlington High School, have their own “Help Desk” and have pushed this idea to a new level.  This is not about removing what we might hate to do as educators, but really tapping into the passions of our students.  I have seen this way beyond technology, whether it is a student welcoming committee, communications department run by students, or entire arts programs run by students.

There are so many ways that we can do this in schools, but for it to be truly successful, it has to be run by students with them having ownership over the program. This means letting them run these programs in ways that they feel best not just the way the teacher wants.  With empowerment comes ownership, and if you think about students developing as entrepreneurs, it is about more than just “doing the job”, but it is about creating their own systems through this process.

This goes way beyond the curriculum, and in my opinion, is often a much more valuable learning experience than what is in those static documents.



Communication and Community

open culture

When people first jump into social media, specifically Twitter, there seems to be this inclination from administration to start a Twitter handle (ie @sampleschool) so that they can communicate what is happening in their school community.  This is a great idea and nice way to give an audience quick snippets of the day, but this is also limiting in the view of what we can actually do with the medium.

The way I compare the “handle” (@sampleschool) versus the hashtag (#sampleschool) is that one is about communicating, and the other one is about building community.

For example, a school might share events, things happening in classrooms, news, etc., to a hashtag, but the view of the organization is limited to the view of one or sometimes a few.  Yet encouraging others to use a hashtag says, “your voice matters in our journey and we want you to share it”.  I have been proud of the #psd70 hashtag (from Parkland School Division) that started with only a couple of educators in the district using it relentlessly, until now it has so many voices sharing a variance of samples from what is happening throughout the community.  Burlington Schools in Massachusetts uses #bpschat, but I remember the days when Patrick Larkin was the only one using the hashtag.  He wasn’t trying to control the message; he was trying to get others involved. Communication versus community.

This is not to say that communication isn’t important and that we shouldn’t try to reach people on the mediums in which they use. It is saying that we can (and should) do more.

One school in West Fargo is using the #legacyK5 hashtag to share their story from many perspectives, which also builds community.  Leyden School students use #leydenpride to share the great stuff that is happening from the viewpoint of students, and I bet if you asked principal Jason Markey about this, it has been a great way to build community.

A challenge I have been giving schools is to encourage their community to use a hashtag for the rest of the year. Share things they are learning, things happening in the classroom, and compile them into something like Storify to make your newsletter with many different perspectives and viewpoints.  Educators can share what they are learning at conferences by tweeting back to their school hashtag. There are a million ways that this can be used, and what I have encouraged these same schools is to start off their next school year with a poster in the front of their school encouraging the entire community to see and share to said hashtag.

What impact would that have?


Stories Can Become the Fuel for Innovation

Recently, I was asked by my friend Patrick Larkin to discuss my new book, “Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity”, in an interview originally posted with EdWeek. Check out the interview below.


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One of the hottest new education books is The Innovator’s Mindset by my friend George Couros a Division Principal of Teaching and Learning with Parkland School Division, located in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada, as well as a highly sought after innovative teaching, learning, and leadership consultant. I caught up with George recently and had the chance to ask him some questions about his first book. Check out the interview below and grab this must-read for you and others in your school community!
What was your motivation in writing The Innovator’s Mindset?
“Innovation” in education is in danger of becoming a buzzword because we use it without really thinking what it means and what it can look like in our schools today. The other trend that I have seen lately is that “innovation” is just used to replace the world “technology, and it can be so much more than that.  Ultimately what the word really means in education is about creating new and better ways of learning, which is something educators should all get behind.  I wanted this to be more than an “education” book though, but really something that made connections through telling stories, because that is what helps people move forward. If I can help more educators see themselves as “innovators”, and help them embrace this mindset, our students will not only have better opportunities in learning, but we as educators will find opportunities for ourselves that are more rewarding. This book is meant to empower people to embrace change and the opportunities that are in front of us.
Who do you see as the primary audience for the book?
What I am hoping is that this book really reaches leaders, but when I use that term, I am not reserving it for administrators, but any educator that sees the need for creating something new and better for our students.  It is meant to not only help see change as something we embrace and model ourselves, but help create the foundation where change is more likely to happen with others.  I try to weave in and out between ideas for leadership and things that can happen in the classroom because I truly believe that every educator has the potential to be a leader and make a difference on a larger scale, no matter their title.
Why do you think it is important for educators to focus on Innovation?
If you look at organizations around the world, if they do not innovate they die.  Blockbuster actually had the opportunity to buy Netflix but there thinking was that they were good with their current business model, and obviously ended up losing an opportunity to become a truly global organization.  Yet many people believe that “innovation” is for someone else, not our own organizations.  If school stays the same while the rest of the world changes, people are going to either find or create something better for our kids.  My parents saw education and school as a way to something better, because it was vastly different than what they experienced, so I want to continue to make sure that we support this idea and develop not only our students as innovators, but also our educators. We cannot expect our students to become innovative, if we do not create the opportunities for them to do this within the context of school.
Is this more of a mindset for upper grades or is this something that we need to do K-12?
This meant for any level of educator.  I share stories from kindergarten to high school, of educators who are really trying to challenge the traditional notion of school and develop something better.  What my hope is in this book is that we move from “pockets” of innovation, to a “culture” of innovation.  These stories should not be the “outliers” but become the norm, and if we don’t see this as a whole system emphasis, we will spend more time trying to catch up as opposed to moving forward.  Innovation has no age barrier, and as discussed in the book, it is about a way of thinking more than anything, that can be a part of what we do at all levels.
As a school and district leader, how would you recommend that educators use this book to engage their schools and communities in a constructive dialogue regarding change?
One of the things that I wanted to do is model innovation even in writing the book.  Often authors will provide some type of guide, but I wanted it to be a living and breathing opportunity for not only others to discuss this at their school, but to also be a part of the conversation as the author.  By using things like the hashtag  #innovatorsmindsetand also creating a list of resources for each chapter on my blog to continue discussion, as well as a Facebook page for the book, I am hoping that I can learn alongside readers.  There is also questions at the end of each chapter that is meant to spark conversation and push the idea of innovation in teaching, learning, and leadership within each school.  I did not want to write a book that told people how to become an innovative school, because that is the exact opposite of the idea.  It is meant to push conversations forward, while also providing ideas and inspiration for schools to become places where creativity flourishes.  This will only happen if this book becomes the start to a conversation, not the end of it.
What was your biggest takeaway from writing this book?
One of the things that I talk about in the book is the ideas of “networks” being crucial to innovation, and as I was writing it, I realized how much I have learned from connecting with others and blogging about my learning over the last six years.  Stories can truly become the fuel for innovation, and my thinking has been pushed by so many across the world that share their experiences with others.  I know that this is not a book I could have written six years ago and that because my thinking was isolated, honestly, because I chose it to be that way.  One of my favourite quotes is from Linus Pauling who says, “the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas”, and this book would not have been possible without the connections to so many amazing educators to which I am truly grateful.