The Principal of Change George Couros

Stories of learning and leading
Updated: 1 hour 38 min ago

The One Answer to All Questions in Education

22 January, 2018 - 00:33

I am at the end of a three-week trip, and I ended it with an excellent day with an energetic and eager group of educators.  Their willingness to push their learning was humbling and inspiring, and it was such an honor to work with them.

As I talked to the administrators throughout the day, I could see that they not only had an inspiring vision for education could go, but they also provided support to their teachers in their endeavors of serving students in the classroom.  Although they have work to do (all great districts do AND acknowledge that themselves), they were on a great path.

One moment stuck out to me though.

After my morning keynote, my room was full of participants, and seating was limited, so educators chose to stay and sit on the floor.  I had invited them in and encouraged them to grab any spot they could, but then I noticed the superintendent leaving the room and bringing in extra chairs for the teachers.  He was doing everything he could to support them and make sure they had a spot in the session.  It was beautiful to watch, and you could see this focus on servant leadership was part of the eagerness of the teachers in the district.  I am sure that not everything is as perfect as I paint it right now, but it was just an awesome day with inspired learning.

But not all of my days are like that.  And when they aren’t, it often is a reflection of what the administrators do, their vision, and how they support their staff in their development.  They can work within the constraints of what they have to do, and do what needs to be done.  They are not only called “leaders,” but they actually “lead.”

The answer to all questions in education keeps pointing me back to one thing; leadership.

Now right away, a teacher may see this and think that I am saying that they are not as crucial in the work that is done every day in the classrooms.  In fact, I believe that the very opposite is true.  The work of the teacher in the classrooms is the most significant thing needed to serve students (obviously).  But is their (teachers) ability limited because of the culture of the school, the superfluous “extras” that seem to bombard teachers and limit their time to do what is essential, and the lack of meaningful professional learning?

I have seen far too many administrators blame their teachers for the lack of moving forward.  Similar to a teacher blaming a student for not getting good grades, if you try the same approach and continuously get poor results, perhaps it is not the person that you are serving that is the issue.  Of course, I believe that there are always elements of personal responsibility in our work and learning that are important, but how one is supported makes a significant difference through the process.

This is not about any one person passing responsibility on to someone else, but understanding how important the role of an administrator is in ensuring that students, teachers, and all staff are successful.  Many educators have a tremendous impact not only on their classrooms but their schools in spite of weak leadership.  Imagine how much more they could do though if they had a great administrators supporting them? Many educators do not realize this until they work with a great leader, or sometimes, unfortunately, they realize when they receive the opposite.

If you are in a leadership position and things don’t seem to be working, ask first what you can do differently and better before pointing fingers at others.  I have never seen a great school or district that has sustained greatness with weak leadership.

I love this quote that I first heard from Eric Thomas:

We can all do better, but when in positions of leadership, legacy is created by what the people you serve do.  Keep finding a way.

Categories: Planet

Traditional Practice Versus Bad Practice

19 January, 2018 - 00:13

A “traditional” practice in education is not necessarily bad.

A “bad” practice is bad.

There are some things that teachers have done year after year that have worked for students.

There are some things that teachers have done year after year that have worked for the teachers, and not necessarily students.

The point of “innovation” in education is not to change everything. It is to find new and better opportunities when they are needed.

The point of “The Innovator’s Mindset” is not to change all that you see in front of you; it is to have the willingness to identify what doesn’t work and to either find or create something that does.

This all being said, something that has worked in the past might not work now, or work for kids in the future.

But just remember “bad practices” and “traditional practices” are not necessarily the same thing.  They can be, but it is always in the best interest of our students to identify what works, new or old. To change for the sake of change is not a strategy for success.  Amazon still sells books. They also do other things that work that they didn’t do at first. Things change. Things stay the same.

If you are pursuing being innovative all of the time, you might overlook the “traditional” stuff that worked.

The key to all of this is just to keep asking questions and focus on your growth. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Every student, class, and colleague you serve is different; adjust accordingly.

Categories: Planet

Relationships Are the Foundation of Great Schools (But They Aren’t Enough)

16 January, 2018 - 00:03

Speaking with two very close friends who happen to be fantastic school leaders, we started talking about how essential relationships are in education, but how relationships in education alone are not enough.  I have watched both of these passionate leaders create a solid foundation with their schools, but they have pushed their learning ahead as well.  They understand the constraints that they work within (measurements that are evaluated by the state and school district) and they have helped move their schools forward.  The relationships they created with their community helped them push forward.  If there is no relationship foundation within the school, they might help their learners forward, but it is going to be much harder and take a longer time.

When people feel valued, they are more open to being pushed.  When they are pushed without feeling valued, they will either push back or leave.

Years ago, I read an article from a school leader talking about how their test scores were low, and at first, it bothered them, but later they talked about how they had built relationships, and how the tests were stupid, so they let it go.  I struggled reading it because although I agree that standardized testing is not the best option to measure the growth of the school, if that is used as a primary measurement by my bosses or our community, then I do have to take it into account. This is a real struggle for many administrators today, and why I focus on innovating inside of the box. There are constraints and measures that we have to live up to in our schools, agree with them or not, and how you find a way to improve that while ensuring kids walk out of your schools as better and more curious learners is part of the complication of the work.

Here is the thing…I assume people want to feel valued, BUT I also assume they want to grow and get better.  I have asked teachers the question, “How is your principal?” and have heard the simple response of, “They are really nice.” is often code for, “They are nice but they aren’t pushing the school or me to get better.”

This should be no different for our students.  I have heard a similar sentiment on how students talk about teachers and how “They are awesome because they let us do anything we want!”  Sounds like fun, but is it serving the student?

I have challenged the term “data-driven” (which I despise), and how we need to be learner-driven, evidence-informed.  I believe that if you know the student well, you can support them to do significantly better with better long-term results.  If I teach to the test, the students might do well at the moment needed (the test), but if they lose all learning a week later, did it help? If I teach to the student, I believe they can still do well on the test, but long-term, they will be better learners.

Don’t forget the focus on relationships. It is crucial to the work we do in education, which should be the most human-centered profession in the world.  Just remember though that relationships are the foundation, not the end goal.

Categories: Planet

Closing the Feedback Loop

14 January, 2018 - 00:03

Working with two teachers who had worked in a co-teaching position, we talked about taking advantage of learning from peers in the same classroom.  I suggested it would be beneficial to ask each other specific focal points to get feedback on, such as are students actively engaged and empowered in their learning (not just on task).

What you would look for here is feedback that you can work on, not just to compliment (which is nice but not necessarily helpful).  Having these “points of emphasis,” allows a teacher to focus on something specific, but how do we know the feedback has helped?

I often bring up my time as a basketball referee and how feedback was not only given during the middle of games, how you implemented the feedback was looked at as well.  If I was given ideas of strategies that I could improve at halftime, my evaluators wanted to see that if their feedback was implemented in the second half.  They looked at “sponginess” as a quality in the best referees.

To ensure we close that feedback loop, it could easily be stated, “…because of your previous feedback, I did the following, and here is what I found.”  This doesn’t mean the feedback helped, but it does show a willingness to learn and try based on someone else’s input.  You could easily say, “I tried this, but I do not think it was beneficial because of…” What this does is ensure that when feedback is given, it is not only listened to but acted upon. The second part is often more important than the first.

Feedback is only as good as our willingness to implement and learn from it.


Categories: Planet

Does Spellcheck Make “Learners” More Intelligent?

12 January, 2018 - 07:48

The title of this post is not something I have ever really thought about until recently.  As I have blogged for almost eight years now, I do not know if I have become a better writer, or naturally more comfortable with writing often.  In the last few months, I paid for “Grammarly.” Before I purchased the program, I would have put the period after the quotation mark in the previous sentence.  Now, because I have been corrected so many times on that specific error, I know that is not right. It still looks wrong to me, but hey, I didn’t make the rules.

All though many of my grammar errors are highlighted real-time (not the best for my ego but it does help), at the end of each post I click on the little “Grammarly” button to see how many mistakes I have made.  It is like this weird game that I am now playing with myself to get that number to almost zero.  Hasn’t happened (it’s up to five by this paragraph, but you wouldn’t know that because I have already fixed them!).

When I first started using Grammarly, I thought,

“Me bad English, that’s unpossible!” Ralph Wiggum

Now I know.

Every time I click on that button, I learn more about my writing (ugh…I put a comma there, and I totally shouldn’t have…grrrrrr!) and writing in general. Before I wouldn’t proofread my work, but now I am forced to. That little number at the bottom of the screen lingers and just looks at me saying, “Fix me!”

So is this the same for a spellchecking program for our students?  Do our students just haphazardly spell things incoherently in hopes that a spellcheck program makes something of value?

In the 2012 Slate article, “You Autocomplete Me,” it states:

Still, autocomplete is no substitute for human spelling skill, for several reasons. For one, you need to get somewhat close to a word’s proper spelling in order for it to be helpful.

Grammarly suggests that the last sentence should be “for it to be helpful,” not “in order for it to be helpful.” It does seem kind of wordy when it is said that way now that I look at it. It is also identifying that I have ANOTHER error in my sentence because I recognized the mistake by the other author.  You can fix my grammar, Grammarly, but you can’t change my mind.

I thought about all of this when I saw this tweet from Alice Keeler:

The feedback that a “Grammarly” or a spellchecker is immediate. If I continuously see that I spell the same word wrong over and over again, do you think that I will just continue to do that and just let spellcheck do that for me, or will I start picking up how to spell the word correctly? The immediate feedback that I am receiving is helping both now and in the future.

I would love your thoughts and any links to articles on this topic, but from my experience, I know this has helped in my own growth as a writer. I appreciate you baring bearing with me as I continue to learn.

Categories: Planet

The Alignment of Vision and What is Valued

10 January, 2018 - 10:41

In the last few years, I have noticed districts and schools have made much more compelling visions of what school could become for students in our world today.  You will read words in vision statements like “empowered” and “inspired,” but you will never read “compliant” and “demotivated.”  Those words aren’t as catchy and compelling.

But how powerful is a new vision if the measures stay the same?  If you want to empower students, do you think compliance amongst your staff is going to make this happen? Of course, no matter how empowered one is, there will always be elements of compliance in a job, but are they the norm or the exception?  But if you say, “we are more than test scores!” to your public, but always highlight improvements or drops in those scores as your main measures, do you think people care about your vision?

I hear “We value collaboration!” while I see schools filled with individual awards for students and teachers.

In my career, I have seen more and more how assessment often drives teaching, not the other way around. Now, I am starting to see how that same evaluation drives the work we do, not necessarily the vision.

You can create a compelling new vision, but if what you show as measures of success (or lack thereof) stay the same and focus on the “old way,”  not much will change.

Categories: Planet
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