by George Couros
Review by Gunter ISD Superintendent Jill Siler
“Our job as leaders is to make sure that innovation isn’t simply a word but a mindset that intentionally and consistently shapes our daily practice.”
There is so much talk in education about innovation, transformation, future-ready and the like that it can be overwhelming. If we’re really honest with ourselves, it can even be daunting. In our social media world, we hear snippets of our neighboring districts and their showcase programs or activities and we think that “innovation” must mean when students build rockets or hovercrafts or when lessons are personalized for every child or when every student uses a device seamlessly every day.
What I love about George Couros’ work is that it takes this nebulous concept of innovation and grounds it in powerful meaning for educators. The goal is for classrooms to be learner-focused and allow for student voice, choice, time for reflection, opportunities for innovation, critical thinking, problem solving/finding, self-assessment, and connected learning. None of those elements cost money but they do require having an Innovator’s Mindset, which Couros describes masterfully.
Couros begins by sharing the characteristics of an innovator’s mindset—things like being empathetic, taking risks and becoming more reflective. The book then shares how to lay the groundwork for innovation including developing relationships, modeling what we seek, empowering our people and creating a shared vision. He concludes with how we can unleash talent in our own school communities and create environments that foster innovation.
Dave Burgess (author of “Teach Like a Pirate”), wrote in the book’s foreword, “don’t be disappointed that there is no map, no step by step plan to take you to the educational Promise Land.” He instead noted that this book is a starting point, and hopefully an impetus for further conversation and perhaps will even cause discomfort as readers begin to question long-held beliefs about teaching and learning.
This was definitely the case for our leadership team as we embarked on reading Couros’ work together. We found ourselves shifting from a goal of engaging students to one of empowering students; we began to see the role of technology differently in light of how he contrasted what we want our students doing with technology (making prezi’s and starting blogs vs. raising awareness and making a difference in the world); and we began talking differently about professional development in light of the conversations we were having around student learning.
While the writing in the book is both tangible and profound, the multimedia resources included led to rich discussions amongst our leadership team. Every chapter had a dozen or more resources including TedTalks, illustrations, blog posts, videos, books and articles, etc. The way these ideas, images and stories were embedded within the writing enhanced our conversation, and more importantly, began trickling into faculty meetings, board dialogue, strategic planning sessions and teacher conversations.
Our district recently launched a Strategic Planning initiative, and I am so thankful that our leadership team dove deeply into this book in the months leading up to it. Our district will be forever impacted by the conversations that stemmed from Couros’ work.