Innovator’s Mindset Week 2 Reflection

Networking has been crucial to my growth as an educator,  and I’ve been exceptionally blessed by the people I’ve met and learned from.  Twitter, blogs, and conferences have provided important ways to connect to lead learners and extend my PLN in ways that weren’t possible just a few years ago.  For me, the innovation that is new and better than what previously existed is the power of collaboration through a connected learning community.  It is no longer just my team — it consists of educators and administrators from around the world.

It was through a conference that I first met George Couros.  In 2014 he was a keynote speaker at UCET (part of an all-Canadian duo with Dean Shareski), and in 2015 my team was at the FETC Executive Summit with George, Eric Sheninger, and Tom Murray.  Besides conference notes, George has pushed my thinking through his blog, “The Principal of Change” and his book, The Innovator’s Mindset.  

As part of my reflection on this first part of the book study, I went back to my notes for some of his guiding thoughts.  Here were some highlights:

UCET 2014

  • The biggest shift for educators using tech is not skill set; it’s mindset.
  • Are schools teaching for yesterday or tomorrow?
  • Tech should empower us to do something differently.

FETC Executive Summit 2015

  • “Often the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking. It is not the policies, it is not the curriculum, it is us. I hear things like, ‘Well we can’t possibly do that because of our (parents, students, teachers, principal, lack of resources, government, etc.)’ yet someone somewhere has done whatever you might be trying to do facing the same adversity you face.”
  • Tech will never replace great teachers, but tech in the hands of a great teacher is transformational.
  • To be a master teacher, you must be a master learner.

Being a master learner is my goal, and through my collaboration as a connected educator, I will continue to grow and be challenged every day.

The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC – Intro

My learning journey has taken me to many places, but for me, the best parts have been the connections with people and the questions and ideas that won’t let my brain rest.  My goal with this post will be to summarize several hours of learning.  Common themes are the need for a change in vision and culture.  If we truly want to create a mindset for innovation, what must be included? What are the big questions?

Questions drive learning, and what I’ve discovered is that great leaders and visionaries are willing to ask hard questions.  Through conferences, Twitter, and my PLN, I’ve connected with some amazing influencers, one of whom is George Couros.  As a current participant in The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC, I think back to meeting George Couros when he was a keynote speaker at UCET 2014 (Utah Council for Educational Technology).  His keynote was titled “Innovate. Create. Vision.”  

Then in 2016, our team was fortunate to attend the FETC Executive Summit where George talked about “Building a Culture for Innovation.”  My key takeaways and big questions follow:

  • 8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset:  empathetic, problem finders, risk-takers, networked, observant, creators, resilient, reflective.  Does this describe our students and the work they are doing in schools?
  • School vs. Learning: Are we creating consumers or creators? Are we emphasizing answers over questions? Are we asking for surface learning or deep exploration?
  • “Often the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking. It is not the policies, it is not the curriculum, it is us. I hear things like, ‘Well we can’t possibly do that because of our (parents, students, teachers, principal, lack of resources, government, etc.)’ yet someone somewhere has done whatever you might be trying to do facing the same adversity you face.

In the introduction to his book, The Innovator’s Mindset, George encourages us to “share what you’re learning and what’s working for you” (9), so I’m going to stick with simple.  Here’s what stood out to me and what will become foundational pieces for action steps and reflection:

  • Embrace a commitment to continuous learning.
  • Create the conditions where change is more likely to happen.
  • Take a strengths-based approach in creating those conditions for change.
  • Model the kind of innovation we want to see.

And the learning journey of this MOOC has begun . . .  Here’s the challenge:  What amazing things can we do as a result of embracing change and asking hard questions?

Relentless Collaboration on Ideas

It isn’t often that a phrase sticks in my mind from the “Acknowledgements” page, but this one did.  For me, it captures the essence of the work that is ahead of us.  What can we accomplish if we focus on a “relentless collaboration on ideas”?  This was the foundation for Michael Fullan and Maria Langworthy’s newest work, A Rich New Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learningas they collected stories, interviewed people, and made observations.

Their goal was also noteworthy.  What they’ve discovered are students and teachers teaming up “to make learning irresistibly engaging, and steeped in real-life problem-solving”  (i).  As we look to redefine learning in order to prepare our students for lifelong learning, careers, and citizenship, a collective effort is essential.






(Image Source:  Changing Education Paradigms by Sir Ken Robinson)

Collective Wisdom & a Culture of Innovation

“Unlocking the power of the ‘collective genius‘ is the common denominator of all great leaders.”      — Alan J. Fuerstman, founder and CEO, Montage Hotels & Resorts in praise of Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation 

I’m not sure where I first heard that phrase “the power of the collective genius,” but putting it into practice has become one of the greatest influences on my professional growth as an educator.   The book, mentioned above, was published in 2014 by the Harvard Business Review Press, and it was written by a group of four experts who came from Harvard, MIT, the business world, and Pixar.  When this kind of collaborative work is done,  experience and wisdom are shared and synthesized. By talking and creating solutions or a product together, teams achieve perspective, insights, and a depth of understanding that is impossible to achieve alone.

In education, this same principle can be applied.  Connecting and sharing with others creates coherence through a collaborative culture, clarity of focus, accountability, and deeper learning (Fullan)  By putting this powerful practice to work, here’s a quick summary of the ways I benefited from the collective wisdom of others this week:

  • Classroom observations:  Not only do I learn from watching teachers and students, but I get smarter by questioning, reflecting upon, and discussing what was seen.  Since we try to observe in pairs, that debrief provides a way to solidify best practices and understand what makes these teachers so effective in getting high growth and proficiency scores from their students.  Two consistent themes were the clarity of expectations for students and the teachers’ use of reflection to constantly improve their instruction.
  • A visit to NUVI, a local business:  This fairly new social media marketing company brought their president and CTO, a vice-president, and a manager to talk for over an hour with 0ur state-wide group of ed tech specialists. During that question/answer session, we learned about what our students will need in order to succeed in a business like theirs.  The answer?  Students must be thinkers, have self-awareness, be able to work independently, be able to build relationships and maintain a sense of curiosity.  The CTO also recommended a book that had influenced his leadership called The Art of Learning:  An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance.  A key idea he shared was “investing in loss.”  He said that when kids always “win,” they don’t learn.  They need to recognize the importance of going back, reworking solutions and sticking with something until it’s done well.
  • C-Forum:  This monthly meeting brings together ed tech directors, coaches, and specialists to learn together.  Part of this meeting was devoted to an EdCamp style discussion about issues that were chosen by the group.  In an hour, I was able to learn much more than I could have on my own.  Through that rich sharing of ideas, I learned about the changing face of professional learning, how to use technology like Voxer, a school YouTube channel, and Sway to build a stronger culture, and some new tech tools that people were using in their classrooms like Qball, PocketLab, and Bloxels.

I’m grateful to my PLN and to Kathy, Karen, Brenda, NUVI executives, and my C-Forum colleagues for pushing my thinking this week.  As you reflect on your own role, how have you benefited from the “collective genius” of others.  What have you learned that could help others?

P.S.  As I was reviewing and doing some additional research for this post, I realized that as we participate in making meaning by harnessing the “collective genius” of our peers,  what we’re really doing is building leadership capacity.  This shift to “collaboration, decision-based learning, and integrative decision-making”(Slocum) is crucial to innovative leadership, and the authors of Collective Genius reference companies like Google and Pixar to make their point.  “What is consistent in Collective Genius is that traditional formal authority gives way to nimble orchestration, informal facilitation, and contributions to community-building”  (Slocum).  There’s much to ponder, but that will be the catalyst for a future post.

Additional Reading:

Hill, Linda A., Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, and Kent Lineback. “Collective Genius.” Harvard Business Review, 1 June 2014. Web 15 Jan. 2017.

 Slocum, David. “Review Of ‘Collective Genius: The Art And Practice Of Leading Innovation’.”Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 31 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Jan. 2017. <>.

The Challenge of a Single Word

connect-collage-iiAt the start of a new year, many people are selecting their “one word” – a word that will add focus and intentionality to their thinking.  Until I did some early morning writing, I wasn’t going to do it.  But a word kept returning to my thoughts, and that word was CONNECT.  There was so much relevance for both my personal life as well as my professional life that I could not ignore it.

With family and friends, connections are so important, whether it’s keeping in touch through phone conversations, Facebook, or texts for those in distant places, or face-to-face talks with those who are near.  With age and wisdom, those minutes become treasured moments because, with the uncertainties of life, there are no guarantees that you’ll get them again.  All of us remember lost loved ones whose memory will influence us forever.  What time spent with family and friends will become your most cherished memories this year?

On a professional level, the word connect is relevant in so many aspects of education.  On a daily basis, we work to create connections with students and colleagues, building relationships and a safe culture so that learning can take place.  We connect with mistakes as we model what it looks like to be lifelong learners.  We connect what research and experience say about our instructional practices, always striving for continued professional growth because it’s students’ futures at stake.  This year we’ll look at how to ensure that surface learning leads to crucial connections with deeper learning and transfer of skills.  We’ll work together to build effective learning targets to ensure clarity and the connection of ideas.  We will connect with teammates through collaboration as ideas are shared and reflected upon in order to build something even better.  Think of the powerful connections in an effective professional learning network — the synergy and insights that are created when like-minded people are working together toward a common goal.  We connect through shared passions, truth, and humor, and we will build with trust, love, communication, and commitment.

What new colleagues will I connect with this year?  What ideas will each of you bring into my life?  How will you strengthen and build connections this year?

What Competitive Person Can Resist a Challenge?

Those who know me understand that one of the things that drives me is that I’m competitive.  Sometimes that trait draws me into wonderful opportunities, and other times it can cause some serious consternation. After accepting A.J. Juliani’s 30 Day Blogging Challenge, I’m about to discover just what kind of adventure my competitive nature has gotten me into.  To seal the deal, I’m putting it in print — my goal and commitment is to write 300 words a day and post at least once a week.  Let the learning begin . . .

There were two thoughts that stayed with me today after an early morning perusal of email and Twitter.  One was Bill Ferriter’s post on New Year’s resolutions, and the second came at the end of Seth Godin’s post “The Candy Diet.”   In Ferriter’s blog, he talked about an important shift – from one in which you learn from people to one in which you learn WITH people.  He went on to talk about the importance of asking questions, making connections, and starting conversations.  I like this phrase — to “spend time wrestling with and responding to those ideas.”  Reflection and conversation are such powerful ways to continue to grow as a professional, and I’m constantly learning from my secondary teammates as well as from masters like Penny Kittle, Cris Tovani, George Couros, Doug Fisher, Suzie Boss, Linda Darling-Hammond, and A.J. Juliani, to name just a few.  I’m grateful to each of them for the questions they pose, the conversations their words ignite, and the insights they offer.  As I write, my goal will be to summarize those ideas and put them in the context of possibility for teachers.  To stay true to Bill Ferriter’s challenge, those ideas now must become an integral part of conversations with colleagues and not merely words in a blog post.

Seth Godin adds another layer to the challenge of thoughtful writing and influencing by asking people to use “precise words, employ thoughtful reasoning and ask difficult questions.”  The outcome of that is to hopefully “lead our way back to curiosity, inquiry, and discovery.”  These are lofty goals, but they’re certainly worth striving for.

To colleagues who are only a cubby away to the people in my PLN, I’m looking forward to future conversations and opportunities to collaborate.  This new year, what difficult questions will we answer together?  And how are you using your words?

Deeper Learning

Much is said about the need for rigor and deeper learning in today’s classrooms, but what steps must be taken to ensure that all students have this opportunity?  In recent conversations, one common theme is the need for clarity — a clear vision based on an agreed upon definition.

In Deeper Learning: Beyond 21st Century Skills, Rick and Becky DuFour state it clearly. Deeper learning is defined as “the skills and knowledge students will need to succeed in a world that is changing at an unprecedented pace.  Deeper learning prepares students to master core academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and learn how to learn” (25).

Unpacking that to see how it applies in practice is far more complex than merely offering a definition, but Doug Fifisher-frey-hatties-infographicsher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie have provided a great starting point in their work Visible Learning for Literacy, Grades K-12.  In it, they talk about the crucial need for skills to be developed before moving to deeper learning and that the ultimate goal is the ability of students to transfer or apply what they have learned to new situations.  (For more on the book and the strategies, watch Corwin’s webinar.)

Doing things differently will require effort by all stakeholders.  A reflective practice will help determine if what’s happening in the classroom is giving students the opportunities to dive more deeply into the learning and then to be able to do something with what they know.  As teachers and administrators work together with a coherent vision, change is possible.


Pickleball — My New Teacher

elevate-your-gamePlaying pickleball has become a new addiction, and I’m learning that the truths I find in the game provide significant parallels to my desire for professional growth as a teacher.  Picking up a new sport, like any new skill, can be exhilarating, frustrating, and demanding.  Patience is a necessity, and unfortunately, there are many reminders that this is an area that requires more work in order for me to be successful at a higher level.  Persistence is also required, but since it’s a choice and something that I enjoy, I keep at it.  There are small wins and moments when the instruction I’ve received from others at a higher level let me know I’m improving — I’m advancing toward my goals.  Then there are the other times when instant feedback, like a smash coming back at you because your return shot is too high, are not so enjoyable.  But that feedback pushes me forward, demanding another try.  In the pickleball community, you find incredible support and you meet amazing people.  Much like my teaching journey, those relationships and connections provide motivation.  It’s in the collective wisdom of players from all skill levels that you get encouragement, insights, and feedback.  We’re all united in that desire to learn and improve.

As teachers, we have that same team around us, whether that’s our PLC or our PLN.  Finding colleagues you trust to provide valuable, use-it-today feedback is what inspires growth and what challenges us.   I feel fortunate to be part of a team with incredible experience who question and explain, who cheer and challenge, and who do everything they can to ensure that learning is at the center of all we do.  Feedback and discussions lead to improved skills, and the value of those relationships cannot be adequately expressed.

Learning journeys are continuous adventures whether they’re taking place on the pickleball court or in our work.  Patience is a tough instructor, but it’s well worth the time and effort when you’re focusing on growth.

Taking Risks

A It’s been over a year since I wrote my “Just Start” post, and, in full        disclosure, only one other post followed.  Writing is a risk for me, but it’s past time to put fears aside and write on a consistent basis — a commitment to one published post a week.  I knew it when I looked at a group of committed teachers and asked them for their action steps — one thing each would do in the following week.  Avoiding it was out of the question because how could I ask them to be bold and try new things if I wasn’t willing to do the same?

Writing is about taking a risk.  It’s putting a voice to your thinking even when you’re afraid it won’t be as good as you want it to be.  It’s about reflection and introspection.  It’s about hard work that can lead to amazing insights and professional growth.  So . . .  I’m writing.

What risk are you willing to take?  What’s one thing that you know you need to try even if it scares you just a bit?

8 Things for a Learner-Focused Classroom

8Things for Today's Classroom - Couros


One of the most influential blog posts I’ve read was this one by George Couros, “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom.”  Sylvia Duckworth’s use of SketchNote, adds a powerful visual to support the elements explained in the post.  As classrooms become more learner-focused, these eight characteristics should be evident to any observer.  With these elements come motivation, engagement, and those crucial 4 C’s — communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.  Could notes like these be an option for students who may not think and write in traditional formats?  How many of these crucial elements could someone observe in your classroom?