The Innovator’s Mindset Book Study – Week 3 (Chapter 3: Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset)

In week 3 of our book study, I’m exploring the 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. (Psst! It’s not too late to catch up on the first two weeks of our book study – Week 1 and Week 2)

One of my favorite things about this chapter is that it starts out with a short story about a teacher who left the classroom for a few years and upon her return was surprised at how much had changed. Not wanting to be left behind, she began reaching out and pushing herself out of her comfort zone to create new and meaningful opportunities for her students. Throughout the chapter, George returns to that teacher in applying one of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset.

The eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset are: Empathetic, Problem Finders (love this!), Risk-Takers, Networked, Observant, Creators, Resilient, and Reflective. The characteristic that stands out most to me is that of being a risk-taker. While for a lot of people standing in front of a group of kids and talking can be very risky, most teachers do not have a fear of public speaking. Rather, it is much riskier to open yourself up to something you’re not comfortable with. For me this involves asking for feedback from teachers and staff on my professional development offerings and training sessions. It can be challenging and a bit scary to ask for feedback, especially from teachers with whom you don’t have much of a relationship. Being split among several buildings makes it hard to really build a meaningful rapport with teachers and it can be scary to ask for feedback. Of course, this constructive feedback is crucial for our own personal growth and can push us to improve and change – to innovate. George asks at the end of the chapter: “What risk might you take to change learning experiences?” For me this includes asking for feedback at every session, not just a few select meetings. Beyond that, it’s important to evaluate the feedback with an objective eye and take it as a way to grow. It can be hard to listen to feedback without immediately getting defensive or trying to explain our decisions. While some of that is a natural response, it doesn’t do much to push me to grow or improve.

The other characteristic of the Innovator’s Mindset that really resonated with me was that of Resiliency. No one needs to tell teachers that their job is difficult. We know it better than anyone. And it can get really hard to continue to feel positive and excited about your work when you are pulled so thin and stretched in so many different directions. The focus on testing and data has made creativity and innovation feel more and more challenging and out of reach. Teachers must be resilient in the face of these difficulties. By embracing the amazing things are kids are doing and seeking out meaningful learning opportunities for our students, teachers can practice this characteristic.

What about you? Which characteristic(s) of The Innovator’s Mindset resonates with you? 

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What risk might you take to change learning experiences?
  2. How might you create an environment that fosters risk-taking?
  3. How do you exhibit the innovator’s mindset in the learning and work that you do currently?

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?

The Innovator’s Mindset Book Study – Week 1 Reflections (Intro & Chapter 1)

As I read the introduction to this book, I had a hard time not underlining the entire section as George laid out the reasons behind creating this book. I think many educators can relate to feeling frustrated in a lot of ways by the state of schooling today. Overwhelmed by mandates that sometimes don’t make sense, standardized testing, and data collection, I felt so frustrated. From the very beginning of my formal teacher education program, I understood the importance of relationships with students. Creating a culture of caring, creativity, risk-taking, and safety was always at the fore of what I did as a teacher. As the years passed, I began to feel frustrated by the emphasis on the student as a set of data points instead of a person with ideas, fears, wonders, dreams, and interests beyond what tests could measure.

While I am not working with my own classroom of students any more, I now get to see entire buildings of students and see a bigger picture of what a school is – and what it could be. This quote in particular stuck out to me:

Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s students. Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later so we can ‘get through’ the curriculum.[…] We forget that if students leave school less curious than when they started, then we have failed them. (emphasis mine)

Just adding a bunch of technology isn’t going to magically change the way students are being taught. It’s crucial for teachers to embrace technology as a way to connect students to the world “out there.” We always talk about when students get “in the real world” as if schools are a  little bubble and the real world never impinges on our students’ lives. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our students are facing some very difficult realities, many that I – as a middle-class white woman – could never truly relate to. Our kids are connected to others in many parts of their daily lives – their cell phones, social media accounts, etc. It’s unrealistic to expect that our students won’t want to use technology in a way the fundamentally changes the way they learn. Technology has fundamentally changed the way almost all of US learn. How many of you memorize phone numbers? I don’t, because my phone does it for me! If I can’t remember a particular detail or fact, I can quickly Google when an event happened. Our students do these things too, and we should foster a culture of innovation – where the focus is not on the facts but on evaluating, analyzing, and sharing how those things have influenced or impacted our world.

In my current role as a tech integration specialist, something I hear from teachers all the time is “what if _______?” I totally understand not being comfortable with something, and, as the “expert” in the room, teachers want to feel like they have the answers before they introduce something to their students. However, I push back with asking, “What do you do when a student asks a question you don’t know?” I think it’s important to model for our students how adults solve problems and figure things out. Besides, students love to be the experts and if they can show a teacher how to do something, it makes that kid feel very empowered. Instead of trying to control everything and preparing for all of the “what ifs”, what if we let go a bit and let our students lead, puzzle, tinker, struggle, and figure things out on their own?

Aside from the technological know how, many teachers are worried that their students will use technology inappropriately – looking up things that are not appropriate, communicating with others instead of working on an assignment, etc. While these are legitimate fears, I don’t think they are really any different than normal classroom management challenges. How do you ensure students are staying on task and are engaged in a lesson. Obviously rules and procedures are important, but more so is the relationship piece. If students feel valued and loved, respected and inspired, they are far more likely to behave the way they are supposed to. While safety online is important, it can’t be the only thing we talk about. I loved this quote from page 7 of the book:

We are spending so much time telling our students what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do. Imagine that if every time you talked about the ability to write with a pencil, you only focused on telling kids not to stab one another with the tool. What would you really inspire in your students? Creativity? Unlikely. Fear? Almost certainly.

In thinking about practices that I consider innovative, I think about the fashion service Stitch Fix. Obviously this example is not education related, but it is a service that seems very innovative to me. Here’s how it works:

  • Create an account and fill out a style profile
  • Schedule your first “Fix”
  • In a few weeks, a package of five hand-picked items arrives at your doorstep. Your stylist chooses items based on your style profile as well as personal requests like a pair of skinny jeans or a handbag.
  • You try everything on, keep what you want, and send back the pieces you don’t. You check out online, providing feedback for both the pieces you keep and the ones you send back. The more fixes you get, the better they become as your stylist really becomes able to understand your personal style.

I consider this practice innovative because, as a busy professional, I don’t always have time to shop and look for things that are fashion-forward. This service makes shopping more fun because the items come to me! My stylist chooses items that are within my style, but sometimes pushes me outside of my fashion comfort zone.

The big question at the end of the Introduction is: Why do you believe schools need to change and what are the opportunities that lay in front of us? 
I believe schools need to change because our world has changed. The types of skills our students will need to be successful – nay they ALREADY need – cannot be taught through compliance and completing worksheets. Researching, analyzing, collaborating – those are the skills our kids need. Creating their own meaning through the guidance of curricular experts (i.e., the teacher, guest speakers, etc.) will create far more nuanced and thoughtful students. The ability to connect to the world around them is so powerful for students. We, the leaders of our classrooms and our schools, need to provide those opportunities for our students and guide them so they learn how to communicate in a digital environment.


What are your thoughts? Feel free to add them in the comments here. Questions to guide your thinking:

  1. Why do you believe schools need to change and what are the opportunities that lay in front of us?
  2. What is an example of a practice that you would consider to be innovative? How is it new or better than what you had before?
  3. How do you create opportunities for innovation in your leadership? In your teaching? In your learning? 
  4. What has changed in our world today that not only makes innovation easier to do, but necessary for our students?




The Innovator’s Mindset Book Study

Perhaps you’ve heard of George Couros. Maybe you heard him speak at ISTE. My Michigan friends had the pleasure of hearing George as the Keynote speaker at MACUL 2015. If you haven’t heard George speak, you’re missing out! Check out what people say about him here. 

As a teacher, building relationships with my students was always a key part of how I built community in my classroom. Providing students a safe space to share, learn, grow, challenge, and engage with the world is crucial to developing students who are thoughtful and prepared to solve problems in our world. George refers to this set of skills as The Innovator’s Mindset – a way to “empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity.” By reading his book, teachers and administrators can begin a discussion about how to create this culture in their classrooms and buildings.

I finally purchased a copy of the book and am so excited to start reading and sharing my thoughts. Would you like to join me? You can purchase The Innovator’s Mindset on Amazon. This will be a very informal “book club”, but each week I will post my thoughts and reflections on a few chapters and invite you to add to the conversation – in the blog comments and on Twitter using #InnovatorsMindset. Want to join? Sign up here.

I hope you will consider joining me! I’m planning to start posting my thoughts on the first couple of chapters next week.

P.S. I have a FREE copy of the book to giveaway to one lucky winner!

Changing the Education Narrative

Recently I read an article from The Huffington Post titled – “5 Ways Educators Can Take Back Their Professional Narrative” – that really got me thinking about the public perception of teachers and education. Several things stood out to me about this article, and the one thing I really liked was the author, Dr. Chester Goad, provided solutions and ideas rather than just complaining. He suggests:

  1. Don’t hate. Educate
  2. Engage in academic research and discourse.
  3. Change classrooms
  4. Protect the reputation of the profession
  5. Love it or leave it

While I don’t agree with all of Dr. Goad’s suggestions and opinions, it’s a good starting point to begin the conversation about how educators have to take some ownership over the state of education and how we can work together to raise it up to the level it deserves.

As an educator, it’s very easy to get frustrated when you hear comments like, “Yeah, but you only work 9 months out of the year!” Anyone who has ever taught knows that we work all year round updating curriculum and assessments, attending workshops and training, shopping for new classroom supplies, setting up our classroom, etc. But what we know and what the public knows are often worlds apart. It’s the reality that folks think they know about education because they have all gone through the process of schooling. And while it’s true that everyone has an experience with school, they are not all experts. After all, I have had an experience with the dentist, but I don’t claim to tell the dentist how to do his job.

Regardless, utilizing the voices we have to change the narrative and eventually the perception is a huge part of helping educators feel more empowered. It’s important that we’re not just “complaining” because it’s too easy for people to dismiss us when we do that. This year I am focusing on listening more and finding the positive. Beyond that, I also want to be results-oriented. Who better to have the best ideas on how to improve education than those who are doing the work? I want to share my thoughts and listen to other teachers’ ideas. Bringing these ideas  – and sharing what we’re already doing that works – to policy makers and stakeholders is the only way we can change the narrative.