The Innovator’s Mindset Book Study – Week 2 (Chapter 2: The Innovator’s Mindset)

This week I’m focusing on a single chapter because there was SO MUCH that resonated with me and I didn’t want to have a post that was 1,000 words long! You’re welcome.

In this chapter, George defines what The Innovator’s Mindset is and provides some examples of this at work in schools. Borrowing from Carol Dweck’s work on the growth mindset, the Innovator’s Mindset “can be defined as the belief the that the abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas” (p. 33). It’s not enough to just believe that through practice and hard work one can get better, but that we use those increased skills to make something that is better than what existed before.

While I feel like this concept has been somewhat embraced in schools, I think its implementation has suffered. For too long, schools have been searching for “the next big thing” in education, the tool or resource that will be the magic bullet, raise test scores, increase student engagement, reduce behavior issues, etc. While there are certain tools that will resonate with students – for awhile at least – the “big thing” that will really change education is already in our schools. Teachers, support staff, and administration that believe our students have the abilities to succeed, to create, and to share with the world. These teachers and schools have cultivated an environment where creativity is encouraged, where students know they are loved and respected for who they are, where connections with the world are made as part of normal curriculum.

I’m not naive enough to think that this is an easy task. As a former classroom teacher, I remember how challenging it was to differentiate based on each student’s strengths and needs, how difficult it could be to maintain positivity in the face of political backlash and budget cuts, how the temptation to “get through” the curriculum instead of deepen discussions and learning opportunities was ever present. One of the most critical things I learned early on in my student teaching was that if I didn’t have a relationship with a student, it would be very challenging to get him or her to do anything. For some, this is a difficult understanding to reach. For me, it was second nature because that’s how I operate. While I will follow rules because that’s also who I am, I won’t be happy about it and I certainly won’t go the extra mile for someone whom I think doesn’t care about me or like me. Building – and maintaining – those relationships with students is key to cultivating the Innovator’s Mindset in our classroom.

The Innovator’s Mindset starts with empathy for our students. Equally important is the desire to create something better. If we are going to help our students thrive, we have to move past ‘the way we have always done it’ and create better learning experiences for our students than we had ourselves” (pp. 41-42).

Having seen George speak at a few conferences, a question he often asks is: “Would you want to be a student in your own classroom?” Such a simple inquiry, yet also incredibly powerful. If we are honest with ourselves and examine the types of learning experiences we are providing for our students, answering this question can be a bit of an eye-opener. I’ll end with a quotation that resonated with me:

Innovating in our schools requires a different type of thinking, one that doesn’t focus on ideas that are ‘outside the box’ but those that allow us to be innovative despite budgetary constraints. In other words, we need to learn to innovate inside the box” (p. 36).

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are some examples of innovation that you have seen within constraints, both inside and outside of schools?
  2. What questions do you think are vital to understanding those whom we serve in education?
  3. If you were to start a school from scratch, what would it look like? (See my answer to this question).
  4. How do we take what we currently have to create a better education system for our entire community?


Reading through the #InnovatorsMindset hashtag on Twitter, I came across this post – If I Could Build a School. Created as part of the Ontario School and System Leaders Edtech MOOC, the post really got me thinking. It’s pretty easy to complain about the things that are wrong with schools, bemoan the many challenges facing teachers and schools, be frustrated with all the things that are seemingly out of our control, etc. However, when thinking about how to change schools, it can be a much more challenging conversation.

If you could design a school from scratch, what would it look like?

My school would be open and welcoming from the very moment you enter – bright colors, soft flooring, lots of seating options and areas for collaboration. There would be student work throughout the school, highlighting the unique learning and various student cultures present in our building.

Our building would not have specific areas for learning specific things – i.e., “technology lab”, “classroom”, etc. Rather, students and teachers would have many areas to take their students to immerse them in learning. When you walked into my school, you would see students working in collaborative spaces throughout the building. iPads and other technologies would be integrated seamlessly into instruction. Students would be documenting and sharing their learning on their personal blogs. There would be many opportunities for formalized sharing – Google Hangouts, Skype with other classrooms, presentations, small group discussion. Makerspaces and “studio” space would be available for students to create and share their learning in myriad ways.

Our focus would be on building relationships and fostering a culture of support and collaboration. Students would feel safe, welcomed, loved, and supported. They would be inspired to learn, to ask questions, to create, and to build. Our school would not have bells and our schedule would not be a strict structure. Inspiration doesn’t happen in neat, hour-long chunks, so why would we force our students to learn and create that way?

Your Turn: If you could design a school from scratch, what would it look like?