Thursday, September 15, 2016

Summer Reading: The Innovator's Mindset

With a greater, intentional focus on Innovation within our board and schools this fall, George Couros' The Innovator's Mindset was high on my reading list this summer. Nothing fancy about this post - here are notes from my reading, with an emphasis on how I can address these facets in my role as a math co-ordinator in my board.

What is Innovation?

A number of us, in an attempt to describe "innovation" to colleagues, have been struggling to come up with a concise overview. I struggled especially with what innovation looks like - does it have to be huge and groundbreaking? Does it have to resonate throughout the school? Can innovation for one teacher be different than innovation for another teacher? 

Of course it can. George defines innovation very succinctly as "a way of thinking that creates something new and better." It can come from invention (something new) or iteration (the process of improvement). Change for the sake of change, though, is never good enough. What you are trying (that is new and better) should be done for a purpose, and with an end goal in mind. How will these changes help our students?

8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset

Thank you, @sylviaduckworth, for summarizing this! I keep coming back to this sketchnote to reflect on how I am interacting with school teams, and to continue developing my mindset.


What is My Role?

George challenged us to think about our role as an educational leader: Have I created an environment where risks are not only encouraged, but expected? How have I highlighted the great work being done by our school to others in and out of the organization? 

The latter thought is key for me. In my new role as a co-ordinator, I have the ability to work with many school teams on a variety of inquiry projects. Sharing all that great work and team insights is something I have the power and the leverage to do (as well as the comfort in doing). But I'm still figuring out: how best can I share? How can I convince others to share? How do we, as co-ordinators, create that culture of innovation for these school teams? How do we build those key relationships?

Eight Things to Look for in Today's Classroom Learning Environment:

George summarized eight things to look for in the classroom as indicators that innovation is taking place. He also suggests replacing "classroom" with "learning environment," and "student" with "learner." We are all learners... how can I foster innovation in all the various learning environments?
  1. Voice: Learners should have the opportunity to learn from others, and share their learning with others.

  2. Choice: Providing choice allows learners to build on strengths and interests to make learning relevant and fulfilling.

  3. Time for Reflection: "We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience."

  4. Opportunities for Innovation: It is important that innovation does not become an event for our learners, but the norm.

  5. Critical Thinkers: We need to teach learners to respectfully ask questions and empower them to challenge the ideas of others to help all move forward, not to challenge simply for the sake of it.

  6. Problem Solvers/Finders: Let's start asking learners to find problems and give them a sense of purpose in solving something authentic.

  7. Self-Assessment: Looking back helps learners develop their own understanding of where they have been, where they are, and where they are going.

  8. Connected Learning: We can design and activate powerful learning experiences for learners to engage with content experts and apply their learning to create new knowledge and ideas.

The Role of Leaders of Learning

Will growth in education happen organically? Though I'm sure it can, should we leave growth to chance? Can leaders of learning stand by and just watch to see if it happens?

In a workplace study, employees were far more engaged in their work when managers focused on their employees' strengths, rather than just assuming they would continue to grow on their own. Perhaps more importantly, they also found that having a manager who ignores you is even more detrimental than one who primarily focuses on your weaknesses. George mentions that active disengagement could be a "curable disease," if we choose to help the learners around us by encouraging them and focusing on their strengths.

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I Need to Learn to Wait

I love being able to jump into conversations with school teams, especially when they have exciting projects on the go. But I recognize that with a lot of these teams, I am the newcomer. I don't want to interfere with the natural rhythms of a group of teachers who have known each other for years.

Relationships are the most important element of schools learning spaces. George advises to sit back, wait and watch, and ensure that you are able to identify where people shine, rather than dictating roles in the learning process. I may have ideas, and I may be able to contribute these ideas in time, but I want to be able to coach effectively from the "sidelines," especially since it won't be me "on the field" with the students.

A Monomaniacal Focus

Ever since reading @RobinSharma's The Secret Letters of the Monk who Sold his Ferrari, I've been learning more about his approach to leadership, which include aspects of mindfulness, personal health, and a commitment to continually improving your knowledge base. He advocates continuing to learn about your craft so that you become the expert, and focusing all your energies on the leader you want to become. That monomaniacal focus, he calls it, is behind all great leaders stepping up to the plate, and making a difference.

In his own way, George states this too. He says, educators cannot feel like they are a "jack of all trades, master of none." Having a laser-like focus on a few things allows us to go deep and push our thinking, while creating new ideas to move forward. Innovation cannot happen when we stretch ourselves too thin. Less should definitely lead to more.

Final Words

Spend time discussing pedagogy, ideologies. If educators can't answer "why?", then they will never get to the "How?" and "What?" This in itself is the inspiration for another blog post...

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