Connect with George Couros on Twitter: https://twitter.com/
George’s blog: http://georgecouros.ca/
George’s book: The Innovator’s Mindset
George shares a little about his family, background, and pastimes, his dogs named after two Los Angeles Lakers players, and the upcoming birth of his first child, and former hobby of running marathons (2:12)
The profound and lasting influence his parents, who were both immigrants to Canada from Greece, had on his life (4:55)
George discusses his career path, from the early days, to where he is today, and everything in between (6:20)
George never saw himself as a potential school leader until one of his bosses saw something in him and began giving him more and more responsibilities and authority (12:04)
An excellent piece of resume/interview preparation advice for teachers looking to move into administration (17:50)
At one point, George had come to despise teaching, but moving to a new school reignited his passion and changed everything about his career (19:12)
How and why George became a much better listener today than he was when he first started in education (21:00)
The importance of being honest with people offering their input when you can’t use it (25:18)
The happiness George gets from seeing some of his protégés thrive (27:30)
Moving from teaching to administration doesn’t mean you have to lose all your connectedness with students (31:00)
What makes it all worth it for George (34:10)
Teachers can create pockets of innovation, but admins can create culture of innovation (36:00)
How The Innovator’s Mindset was born (38:45)
The differences between a fixed mindset, a growth mindset, and the innovator’s mindset (41:27)
What sets The Innovator’s Mindset apart from nearly all other education books (42:20)
Books mentioned in this episode
Connect with George Couros
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Educators Lead Episode 76
Part 1 | How The Innovator’s Mindset Can Transform Your School | You Cannot Change People, But You Can Create An Environment Where Change Can Happen | Knowledge Is The Springboard For Creativity And Innovation
Show notes: http://www.educatorslead.com/georgecouros/
Welcome to Educators Lead, where we interview leaders in education to offer inspiration and practical advice to help launch educators into the next level of leadership. I’m your host Jay Willis and I want to thank you for subscribing to our show.
Intro: Hello Edu-leaders! Jay Willis here and I’m excited to introduce part one of my interview with George Couros. Yes George had so much great information to share that I ended up needing to split this into two interviews. So this is part one. George Couros is the author of the highly acclaimed book The Innovator’s Mindset and the Division Principal of Innovating, Teaching, and Learning with Parkland School Division in Stony Plain, Alberta, in Canada. He’s worked at all levels in K- 12 as a teacher, technology facilitator, and administrator. George is passionate about distributed leadership within his division, as well as music and the L.A. Lakers, and he believes the more well-rounded we are as educators the more students will see us as real people that they can connect with in the classroom. So that’s just a brief introduction George but tell us a little bit more about yourself.
George Couros: Well actually I’m in my last year of that role. I’m technically on a sabbatical, but I have decided to continue doing my work with other school districts so I’ve been doing lots of consulting, speaking, and writing so that’s changed for me. We’re expecting, my beautiful wife and I are expecting our first child in August so we’re really excited about that. And I‘ve got 2 dogs that are running around the house so you may hear them barking at some point so hopefully I can give them a bone and hopefully they’ll relax a little bit! Yes, I’m blessed to do what I do and I get to not only connect and share my ideas with so many people but I learned a ton in my travels which has really been a huge benefit on my learning and my growth over time for sure.
Jay Willis: Congratulations on the upcoming arrival. That’s exciting.
George Couros: Yeah, we already have a name her name is going to be Kalia Mary Couros. I already Googled it to make sure she doesn’t share with any serial killers or anything like that (laughter). You’ve got to do that in our world today. We’re really excited to, to have our first child we actually knew we wanted kids and we bought a house – it’s basically one house over from a brand new school that’s being built in our area so I’m looking forward to being a part of that community as a parent. It should be a great experience.
Jay Willis: Yeah that’s neat. Well so I I want to dive in and talk about your journey. But first, what would be something interesting about yourself that most people wouldn’t know?
George Couros: I don’t know…I think I just told them. We haven’t really used social media to share it; we haven’t done the typical baby announcement I’ve seen so many people on social media. We’ve been a little bit quiet about it. I used to run marathons and then I broke my ankle and that ended. So it’s like the Al Bundy on the Married With Children show, “I used to be a good athlete but now those days are long past me.” (Laughter) So I try to keep – I grew up in a really small town and grew up with a really good group of friends I’m still friends with so this day and I think that that bringing in a small town and surrounding myself with people that were really pushing me. It really shaped a lot of what I do today.
Jay Willis: Well so for people who may not be familiar with your story maybe if you could start from the beginning and talk about how you got to where you are today. I think I ran across or read somewhere that you’re a first generation child of parents who are immigrants from Greece. Is that right?
George Couros: Yeah my parents actually both grew up in small villages in Greece. My mom is actually there right now. My dad passed away in March of 2013 and she’s going to see some of his family as well right now but they both came to Canada and actually met in Canada so they didn’t know each other until they moved to Canada. And they really shaped my upbringing and the way I think about stuff and when I do speak I talk a lot about their influence on me. I think people need to share stories of what helped shape their thinking. And I know my parents working basically seven days a week from 8 AM to 10 PM developed a certain work ethic in me but they also saw the value of school. And we didn’t really have a choice to do anything other than go to school – like we were we were forced to go to university because my parents made us go because they didn’t want us to, to be honest, to work as much as they did. They saw school as a way to a better way of life, and that really shaped a lot of what I do today. But I actually, as I said, I was kind of forced to go to university by my parents but I didn’t really decide I wanted to be a teacher until I was probably 22 or 23 years old.
So after my first degree I went into education and want to become a kindergarten teacher, but because I made a website when I was in university and people weren’t doing that I was immediately hired as a high school technology teacher even though I wanted to work with five year olds. And so that really shaped a lot of my thinking today because I had no idea what I was doing in that class; I had no idea what I was teaching. So I had to be very comfortable walking into a space of not knowing and learning alongside kids. I would literally go to that class probably a half hour before and start doing the work that they had to do and learning it on the fly because I had no prep time. I was basically hired on a Friday and started on a Monday, not knowing what I was doing.
But I just have never known a way of teaching where I was uncomfortable with students teaching me because of that experience. I think that really shaped a lot of my thinking today, and that that opportunity to learn from anybody at any age, no matter how smart or talented you are in an area. I think that it’s something that I really learned from my experience which has probably helped me to develop into my philosophy of what I believe in education today to be honest with you.
Jay Willis: So what was the next step after that?
George Couros: Well I did go back after like I did really want to work with younger students and so I ended up after the end of that year they wanted me to stay. But I decided to go work with younger students. So I worked with Grade 4 and I was immediately a Tech Director of a school because if this amazing teacher could teach a technology course of course they could run the technology for the school (laughter) because nobody had that knowledge at that time it seems, so they were really scrambling to find people. And so basically the only grade I never taught is kindergarten, which I set out to do. I taught basic Grade 1 to 12 and then I applied for some tech director positions in the school district that I’m currently in. And before I never got them. They encouraged me, like, “Just look at some leadership positions and hopefully that will happen for you.”
So a Vice- Principalship came up and I just threw my name in the hate just to kind of show that I’m serious about moving on in my career. And I had a terrible interview which I thought at that time and ended up getting the job. I literally argued with the principal in the interview and I thought that was the end of it for me, but when he hired me said that he loved that I challenged him. And that’s not something he sees because he wanted to make sure that I would never put him in a situation where I would let him do something that I disagreed with and just let him kind of die out there on his own; that I would challenge his ideas and make sure that we’re focusing on what’s doing best for kids.
So I got the Vice- Principal ship and I would actually say about three days into the school year I decided I want to be a principal. I just loved it so much and just…and I became a Principal a couple years after. Doing the work I’ve done last few year as division principal but like I said I’m on sabbatical. Really part of my job for the last few years was to help kind of develop innovation in our school districts and what that looks like…but one of things that I really think that a lot of people say is they’ll look at the positions of administrators and they’ll say “I don’t want that job! It just seems terrible.” And I never really had an interest in doing it – not because I thought the job was bad, but I just never saw myself in that position. And I think when you’re in administrator position you don’t need to be a principal like your former principal; you have a lot more flexibility to do things that you would see a beneficial.
I really encourage people when they look at these leadership positions to think about the people they serve and move backwards from that position. So I would always think about, like, if I was on my staff as a teacher would I want to work for me? And do I do these things that drove me crazy as a teacher and do them as a principal and how do I get rid of those things? And so really just trying to kind of learn them on the fly and now I do work with a lot of people in developing their leadership but also getting them to think differently about how they lead and how they model their learning – how they effectively create a vision. And it’s been a pretty crazy journey; it’s been the like snap of a finger. It seems like a long time ago when I first started this profession but it’s been awesome. It’s been amazing just the learning that’s happened for me or the years for sure.
Jay Willis: Yeah, it just flies by.
George Couros: It does, right. I’m at a point now where if you ask me how long I taught like I don’t know.
Jay Willis: Willis: So. You mentioned you really didn’t necessarily set out to be a school leader. I mean so what changed? Was there an event that kind of caused you to start thinking about becoming a school leader?
George Couros: Well that’s actually a really good question. I was in a school district for a long time and the y were doing some good things but I don’t think they ever looked at me in that way of leading… they looked me more as someone who could run the technology in a school. And when people don’t look at that and you may not look at that yourself, and so it’s just by some serendipitous events I ended up leaving that school and going to another school. And the person who is currently The Deputy Superintendent – it’s kind of like second in command in our division. She actually hired me as a principal and she was easily the most influential person in my career. It’s not even close.
Just the way she brought out the best in me and brought out stuff that I didn’t even know existed really has shaped my thinking and has continued to shape my thinking. Because of her, just through her demeanor, like I can honestly say I’ve screwed up a lot in my career and I never once got in trouble from her. Ever. Because I would own when I got in trouble, when I would do something that maybe she didn’t agree with. And she’d just say “hey if you can’t laugh you cry.” And we’d work through it. She was just amazingly supportive but I would always be doing stuff for her in the school and I would be right in the middle of it and think, “How is she getting to do all this stuff?” like, “Why am I working so hard and pushing this?”, and I would really think about that.
And she just she really empowered me in my role and I remember one day distinctly – they gave me a schedule for the year. And I was supposed to work with classes and help them with what they’re doing and it was a terrible schedule. It was so bad; it was just basically me working forty minutes with every class. And I went to her and I said it. “I don’t think the schedule is really conducive to what you want. ” And she was like, “Well, what would you do? How would you do it?” and so I said well can you give me like a day? And she’s like absolutely. So I brought her a totally different schedule where I would work with classrooms for, instead of 40 minutes a week, I’d work with them like two to three weeks and we’d do our project based learning and I would help integrate technology into their practice.
And she’s like, “This is why we hired you! It’s great!” And so we did it and just little things like that that she was willing to she would always say like when I would ask her about certain technologies she’d say, “That’s why we hired you. You’re the lead in this.” And this is not from a leadership position it’s from an it’s from a position as a teacher who was given leadership responsibilities, if that makes sense. So just the way she looked at that she was always supportive and she would give you suggestions but I can’t really remember a time of her saying, “No, don’t do that.” It was always like “that’s really interesting” or “Let’s take look at how we can make this happen.” When you have leaders like that it does make you better and yeah very grateful to her because I didn’t really know what a really amazing principal looked like or a leader looked like until I connected with her. So she’s retiring this year and it’s like terribly sad. She’s been…actually been she’s been amazing.
Jay Willis: So was it was it her encouragement? Or was it just something about her..was it kind of seeing how it could be and thinking if I could be a leader like that then I could see myself being in that position or what was it that encouraged you to pursue school leadership?
George Couros: Well because she was very like she was just really great with her personality like she was very fun and she would joke around but yet people would do amazing stuff. Like school became a joyous place to come to. But she would question you. She’d ask you questions, she would challenge you and she just made me want to be better and she just was so supportive and she really connected with me on a personal level and took time with me and trying to get to know me as a person. But she – the school when I was there probably in our division in that school…I would say there’s probably 10 -15 people in leadership positions now that were under her in that year that I went but I was only there for a year and so you can see that it became a place of like this is where you went to be developed as a leader. Like she develops leaders that have made a huge impact throughout the school division. That’s just kind of amazing to understand her influence.
She was really really great. The best piece of advice that she had given me was when I started looking at admin positions and they are looking at your resume, your portfolio. We have what’s called the operating principal quality standard and that’s probably very similar in other states or provinces where they’re called leadership standards or leadership quality that they expect their principals to do. So what she told me at that time she said, “When you’re applying for this look at those those standards and show how you’re already meeting them in the position that your in so that it won’t be such a gamble on someone new to a leadership position.” It was, “Hey. I’ve been doing this for a long time as a teacher.” That has really shaped a lot of my thinking and so I always give that advice to others. Think of your qualities of the job you want not necessarily the job that you’re in right now. Especially people looking at going into a leadership positions – they should look at how are they meeting those standards that are expected for leaders in their division or their community or whatever, how are they meeting those qualities right now.
Jay Willis: Yeah that’s good advice. So tell us about some of the biggest struggles you encountered along the journey to becoming a school leader.
George Couros: I don’t know I don’t want to say like I didn’t have any…I think just kind of finding a passion for what I was doing. There’s a lot of times where I was teaching subjects that I didn’t want to teach and that was hard. Or when you are in a position like when I was a tech director, there is a lot more convincing to help people move forward and to get them to try different things. Where it’s a little bit easier as a principal because to be honest with you when your boss is sharing the ideas so are we going against it and so… Just I think just kind of finding my way like I honestly probably. I would say in about 2005, 2006 I can’t remember the exact year. I was done. Like, I was so done in teaching. I hated it with all my passion. And then just left that school and went to a different one and it was just so much of a better fit and it just totally changed what I was doing and I think that when I tell people that they’re surprised because like I’m very passionate for education and very passionate about what we can do in schools but I was…I had had the life sucked out of me. And I think just having a leader that was so empowering to me changed everything.
Jay Willis: Also in what ways do you feel that you, if you were to compare yourself now to who you were as first year as a school leader, what are some ways that you feel like you’ve grown the most?
George Couros: I try to definitely listen more. I remember…what’s funny is that probably my first day on the job I was in a conversation with a teacher who’d probably had like 23 – 24 years experience in the profession at that time. And we had a conversation – I had just started as a vice principal like literally probably 24 – 48 hours and right away we got into a huge argument. You could tell we did not like each other and I was like how come she doesn’t see my point of view and I think she’s thinking the same thing. And so we really struggled and interestingly enough 2 years later I hired her as my vice principal. I think that what I really try to do is that –and going back to what I talking about earlier in the interview with my principal – when she didn’t agree with me she would let me know and so I always knew I could go to her and she had a lot of influence with the staff but she was brilliant. But yet I think when I first started you weren’t brilliant if you disagreed with me, that was my thinking, and that’s that’s kind of part of it is that.
And so I learned to see that feedback and challenge and I think that even as… a lot of times when we had conversations when she was on my leadership team and we were together. Sometimes she would disagree with me and we would go more to her side, and sometimes she’d disagree with me and I’d be, “Well, I know you disagree and I understand that, but this is what we have to do. This is how I need to move forward” and so we always supported each other. Plus, and I think that this is part of it and I think that when…I don’t know if this is like maybe the right thing to say but the principal ultimately has the veto power for lack of a better term. Because at the end of the day the superintendent isn’t calling the vice principal the superintendent is going to call the principal. I have to be comfortable with making those decisions but I spent a lot more time listening to others and and trying to build on what they are saying, and build from there. As opposed to focusing on being so stubborn on the “well this is my idea so it’s obviously it’s the best.”
And so I think that time and I think that there are, I think the trick of it or the skill is really powerful is that you have to you have to be comfortable when to kind of like shift your point of view. And you have to also be able to say “This is the way we’ve got to go. At the end of the day, this is what we’re going to do.” Especially In that leadership position. You don’t just fold just for the sake of someone challenging you. But if you truly listen, sometimes you have to like bend to someone else’s perspective, but sometimes you have to stand your ground
Jay Willis: Right.
George Couros: And the art of leadership…there’s a…you have to understand when is a good time to do that because…sometimes the loud minority in a school can set a tone for your school that’s not a good one, often, so you have to kind of shift back and forth there. So I was willing to back down when I needed to and I was willing to stand up when I had to.
Jay Willis: Well ultimately decisions have to be made, right? So you can’t just have a deadlock forever and somebody has to kind of make the final call and say “this is what we’re gonna do” and move forward with it.
George Couros: Yeah. And I think that when you look at this like…I remember seeing this as a principal that when I need your input and I need ideas and we need to shape something I will gladly ask for that, but when we have to move forward, because we have to, I won’t waste your time pretending that I can take your input on the matter. I don’t know like that hopefully that’s not thinking the wrong way but basically sometimes I was expected to do things by my bosses and I would never…to be honest with you, I would always challenge if I didn’t think it was best for kids and so I would be comfortable saying like “Hey, this is the way we’re going. And so I’m not going to waste your time and pretending otherwise. So you can share your thoughts with me but at the end of day I still have to go in this direction.”
And so I think people are appreciative that I was honest with them because I know sometimes a lot of people will listen and they’ll get feedback and you’ll share your ideas and no matter what, they’ll just go in the same direction they were always going and you thought your feedback actually mattered in that process…And you see this all the time like how many times do schools do student voice and they spend all this time listening to what their kids need and they get all this data and then do nothing. They actually do nothing from it. So why waste my time. Like don’t make me do this stuff if it’s not actually going to be valued if you’re just going to be in the exact same direction. And so I would be very transparent with my staff on that and I think obviously there’s nothing you can do as an administrator where 100% of people totally love it but I think most of them appreciate it when I say like, “Hey, this is the way where we’re going and this is what we’re going to do and I’ll explain the reasons why but if you want to share your thoughts that’s great, but at the end of day we still got to move this way.”
Jay Willis: Yeah. Well so now you’ve been in leadership for a while and I’m sure that you have some amazing stories about the impact that you’ve been able to witness and be a part of, but what’s been one of your best moments as a school administrator?
George Couros: One of the best days that we had and it just was really powerful was my vice-principal – the one I hired that I said I got a big argument with – she had this day called “Identity day” and it was not something I’d ever heard of. She basically created this idea where every person in the building – and this was not just students; it was teachers, custodians, secretaries, myself. They basically talked about something they were passionate about. And so it is a good way to get to know people. So like I for example one year I did my love for basketball and the LA Lakers, the next year my love of dogs and I shared that and had a little display there. And I’ve never seen a community come together so well and I’ve never seen such excitement for learning and just a buzz in the building and why I share this is because to be honest with you I really had nothing to do it. It was someone that I hired and they felt empowered to do this and so I was there for guidance and to see her succeed in that position, in that role, and in that project school-wide was pretty amazing.
And just walking around and hearing some of the stories…like there was a girl in Grade 2, she was a Champion B.M.X. biker and nobody had known this, nobody had known this until that day! And her Grade 1 teacher is like an avid skateboarder B.M.X. biker and they have this instant bond like “wow! I had no idea!” They connected for like probably their entire time in school because of that. But one of the young ladies there, hers was on Tourette’s syndrome and the reason she did that because she had Tourette’s Syndrome and so she was kind of teased about it. And so she kind of just owned it and said, “This is this is why I am this way and this is what it looks like”, and it totally changed the dynamic of how students treated her after. It was such an amazing moment and I was so proud of her. She was such a good kid and yeah. My Vice –Principal went there and went through that process. I guess the only credit I could take from that is she felt comfortable doing these things and she felt comfortable trying that stuff and to be honest to you she never asked me and because she knew she didn’t have to. I wanted her to do great things and she told me that she was going to do it and what she thought and you just want to create an environment where people are trying new things and trying stuff. They don’t feel you need permission and I think that that’s the big takeaway for me in that process. But she did all the work and it was just amazing to watch it all come together.
Jay Willis: It’s neat. Well so speaking of that I kind of want to dig in to a couple things here – I want to talk about the book but before we do that I know some of our listeners who are considering making the transition from classroom teacher to school administrator (or as some teachers call it the dark side) and they’re worried about losing that connection they feel with classroom students because they maybe have just a handful of students that they get to really pour into over the course of a semester of the course of a year. So how does a classroom teacher move into administration and not lose that connectedness?
George Couros: Well I think for me I actually I actually spent a lot of time before I was an administrator spending time with kids during recess during breaks during all this other stuff. And when I look back at that I literally considered myself to be what I’d call a school teacher not just a classroom teacher – that every kid in that school, I wanted to create connection with. Whether I was teaching them at that point or not. And so I went out of my way to do this. As an administrator you don’t have the same connection you would as a classroom teacher with a small group. But it doesn’t mean you can’t be in a classroom, it doesn’t mean you can’t do this. In just little things that I would do I would actually go into classrooms and I would take my laptop. And I would just share ideas and I would just basically sit there and do my e-mail because I didn’t have to be tethered in my office right especially with a laptop and just little things like that. I really wanted to create those connections you just have to do things differently and if you look at Patrick Larkin I think he dismantled his like traditional office and he just put a desk in the middle of the hallway so kids would be able to see him all the time. And so there’s that connection that you can create so I think it’s maybe not as deep but you can still create some really powerful connections through some powerful ways of that if that makes sense. Like you’re not, when people look at it as a dark side, I spent more time with kids as a Principal I felt than I did as a teacher. It’s just different right and like I would spend every morning outside waiting and welcoming kids and welcoming community and talking to them and I never did that as a teacher to be honest you because I’d be in my classroom prepping and getting ready for the day but as a principal I would do that I would go into classrooms all the time and that’s how I’d connect. So I think that, that was are really powerful thing.
Jay Willis: Yeah. Well makes it all worth it? Because just being a school leader, you get blamed for stuff that’s really not even your fault. Just because you’re the leader, you’re the one in charge and then you just have so much more responsibility. It’s not that being a teacher is not demanding – it’s just once you move into school leadership there’s just so much to it and so what makes it all worth it?
George Couros: I think that, I think it’s just when you see teachers and kids doing amazing things , when they’re really pushing the boundaries of what is happening and creating a culture where people feel comfortable trying new things and really pushing their learning…I just think that as a principal I wanted school to be a joyous place. And there’s not many deal-breakers for me, if you’re going to be a principal, but I know there’s one – if you can’t connect, if you don’t have good rapport with people then I really would struggle to hire you as an administrator. I think that to me is really powerful and growing up in my family’s restaurants just how welcoming they were to people and watching that, that really taught me a lot about how you connect with people and they always understood that if people didn’t feel welcome they wouldn’t come, and they’d have no customers which means no business. Where we might even take for granted that kids kind of have to be there every single day. They’re forced technically where I live by law to go to school, probably as in most places, and so we sometimes take it for granted as opposed to creating this welcoming environment. So I was the principal that kids would like come to my office they would come and talk to me like it wasn’t like this terrifying place for a kid. Now sometimes when they’d get in trouble they’re a little freaked out walking in there. But seeing the number of kids throughout the day to come and see me, it was awesome. It was something I really appreciate about all my time as a principal.
Jay Willis: Yeah that’s neat. I read an interview that you did with Education Week when you mentioned kind of moving from pockets of innovation to kind of a culture of innovation and would you that that’s kind of a good representation of the difference between being a classroom teacher and being a school leader in some way? In that like in a classroom, you kind of, even if you’re super innovative it’s more of a pocket but then as a principal you have an opportunity to actually create an entire culture in your school.
George Couros: Yeah I think as someone, as someone who’s like a consultant, here’s a question I always ask principals and get them to think about that I always will say, like, “How many of you have awesome things going on in your school right now?” And it’s like 100% of their hands go up. Every time. But then I’ll say, “OK so if I came to your school could I just walk into any classroom and see those awesome things?” And it’s like it’s been 0% several times and a lot of times principals will kind of cut you off at the door – they’ll take you to certain classroom teachers and those teachers that are maybe like really pushing and doing some really amazing things and are really passionate about education we kind of overwork them sometimes, because they get so many visits, they get so many people coming to see their classrooms and things like that.
And I think that’s part of the goal is that if I was to walk in your school as a principal could I just go into every classroom and see awesome stuff going on? Now, that doesn’t mean they’re all the same and it doesn’t mean we get away from doing the basics or anything like that. But if you would be worried that if I’ll go into this classroom and no matter when I walk in there I would see kids in rows doing worksheets…is that really fostering this like – not even a culture of innovation, but a culture of learning, just plain learning, or are we sucking that out of that them? And I think that’s one of the challenges that a lot of administrators going in when they see it as kind of the dark side they’re thinking more of a management stuff as opposed to how they would make that impact. I think that’s why I spend a lot of time in classrooms is to try to be an instructional leader and I wasn’t there to be in the evaluation process or anything like that. I was just being part of the culture and being able to share some of these things like I would just be like tweeting like “hey this is what’s going on in this classroom now this is awesome” and it would not only go to like the entire world but more importantly it would go to my own teachers and then they get to see it right there and real-time as we’re going, as opposed to the staff meeting a month away.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So I want to kind of talk about your book The Innovator’s Mindset. One of the reasons I was so excited to have you on the show is because I’ve had a whole bunch of great guests on Joe Sanfelippo, Tony Sinanis, Brad Gustafson, and just a whole list of great people and I would say your book far and away above any other book that’s been recommended has been recommended by more guests. So I was just super excited and kind of starstruck a little bit and like, Yes! He’s going to do the podcast – this is so exciting!” (laughter)and so can you kind of tell us the story of the book – like how it came about and what it’s all about?
George Couros: Well it’s kind of interesting because really if I look at how my writing came about it was when I was a principal we had to do individual portfolios year after year after year yet we weren’t doing them. And I think that the big reason why we weren’t doing that and I was still hold on to this this day is because we’re asking a bunch of educators to teach something to kids they’ve never learned – not just never taught but never learned. So I actually kind of set out to do my own digital portfolio to try to understand what it looks like from the viewpoint of a learner and go through the process. So I think I started like April 2010, so I think it’s about 6 years old and so I started writing about things that we were doing and sharing stuff. And I would see certain themes in my writing like what was something I was passionate about and what was something that would come up over and over again? And I think it was 2011 or 2012 I became a Division Principal of Innovating, Teaching, and Learning. Nobody had innovation at that time in education. I cannot find anybody and maybe that’s an exaggeration but to Google people…nobody was talking innovation.
So we kind of just made the title because it sounded awesome, to be honest with you. It wasn’t like …actually, none of us really understood what innovation meant. Like what does this mean for the work that we’re doing? So I actually was like totally given the freedom to figure out what that meant and what it looked like and how to foster it. So that continued and on my blog I just started sharing and then yeah I just noticed that was the theme and really started thinking about how much important it was to get the process of thinking and how we look at ourselves as creation. And like I was talking to my friend, Felix Jacamino (I don’t know if I’m saying His name right but he’s from Miami) and we were just talking about this. Because a lot of it was based on the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck and she talks about fixed mindset and growth mindset and so the analogy that I give when I talk about the difference between them is that fixed mindset this is the analogy I use all time is that I will never be able to play piano but a growth mindset is that with hard work and time and dedication I’ll be able to play this piano.
But the Innovators Mindset is that not only will I l learn to play the piano, I’m going to compose my own music, I’m going to create my own stuff from this. And so it’s actually not just about learning English it’s how you apply it, how you create something different because of this that’s better. And so because of the blogging and the writing and all the access to their resources I actually wrote the first draft beginning to end in the last 2 weeks of last July. Which kind of throws people off it’s like “holy cow that’s a quick time to write a book.” But really it’s because I wrote for 5 or 6 years before, so it was all ready to go into one space. But it was kind of neat to be able to reference my own stuff because if I needed something for my blog I would just write George Couros’ Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. Boom! First result! And it just showed me how powerful that digital portfolio had become over time, because I could actually use Google as my way to do a quick find – it was like the new Dewey Decimal System right! Just easily connecting to what I had written before and how I could find my own stuff.
And so yeah it was a great process and I wrote the book with Dave and Shelley Burgess and they were just amazing and they really wanted me to write it in the way that I write. Because to be honest with you I don’t read many education books; I find a lot of them are, this is gonna sound weird but they’re too education focused. Like they’re just so, “here’s how to do this, here’s how to do this, here’s how to do this…”, right? And I do read a lot of business books though so and I find there’s a lot more compelling storytelling that’s happening that, that go deeper into so much more compelling point. So that’s how I’ve always written and people that approached to write the book (I had several people coming to me and asking me to write it)_ they wanted me to make it way more academic. And I’m like I wouldn’t read that. It’s not that I don’t appreciate research and all this other things but I want something that it’s engaging to read. I want something that’s interesting to read. So Dave Burgess and Shelley Burgess encouraged me to write the way I continue writing and it’s done really well and connected with a lot of people. And I think it is because of the storytelling, it’s because it’s not like “Here’s a definition of innovation.” Like I do talk about my parents quite a lot in the book and their experiences and how it connects to what we’re doing in schools today and how change happens. So yes it’s been…and people are already asking me what my next book I going to be. I’m like “let’s just slow down” (laughter).
Jay Willis: Whoa, slow down! (laughter).
George Couros: But the other thing too, when I wrote the book I wanted to write a book that you could pick up 15 years from now and it would still be relevant. It’s not very tools focused or anything like that. It’s really focused on helping people see differently and I think one of the big premises of the book is that you can’t change people – you can just create an environment where change is more likely to happen and kind of embracing that. So whether that environment could look the same… I think if the book had been written 15 years ago you couldn’t have done some of the things I talk about in the way I talk about them. But they definitely all apply and that 15 years from now be it should still be a relevant book. That’s the hope anyway.
Jay Willis: Edu-leaders, this has been part one of my interview with George Couros. To listen to the second half of this interview, please tune in for the next episode of Educators Lead!
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Educators Lead is a podcast created to help launch educators into the next level of leadership. This show is for you if you are interested in educational leadership as an assistant principal, principal, superintendent, teacher or someone who hopes to be a school leader one day. Educators Lead offers inspiration and practical advice to help you lead more effectively. Jay Willis interviews school leaders three days a week to discuss why and when these educators made the decision to move into school leadership, challenges along the journey, and stories that made it all worthwhile. Educators Lead is a great resource for any educator looking to make a greater impact.
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