Friday, December 29, 2017

School Systems for Improvement

Karin Chenoweth SCHOOLS that SUCCEED—How Educators Marshall the Power of Systems for Improvement

It’s another rainy day in Oregon and I continue to hear drops of water pelting at my window. I am lost in thought just after finishing the book School's that Succeed: How Educators Marshal the Power of Systems for Improvement. The rhythm of rain falling on the glass and the content of the book are not unfamiliar, but in combination have provided this reader time for much needed reflection.  As a principal of a school in improvement I know “the work” is never truly done, but determining our school’s next steps is always urgently compelling my thoughts forward.

I applaud the work of Karin Chenoweth. In her recent book she shares other leaders steps in their own school improvement journey. At times the work is isolating and to know what others have done that has ultimately changed their students (and staff) trajectory of learning is---well inspiring to this learner. I go back to one of my favorite quotes from UCLA’s head basketball coach John Wooden who said, “It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.” I firmly believe his thinking applies to all educators no matter their role.

What do unexpected schools do to provide equitable learning outcomes for all students no matter what they may or may not bring to start their own life’s story?


·      Have teachers who unconditionally believe in students and will do all things conceivable to build a foundation for their student’s future.
·      Have leaders who continually create, monitor, and evaluate their school systems that provide a learning culture for their story to take place.
·      Have schools that prioritize relationships first as a foundation for all of the above.
·      Provide access to rigorous and relevant content developed collaboratively that is student driven and evidence-based.

The rain never truly stops for long periods of time in an Oregon winter. It’s a good thing. The beat continues to remind me of Chenoweth’s closing comments.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

"Once you stop learning, you start dying." Albert Einstein

George Couros The INNOVATOR'S Mindset—Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity

Last spring I finished a 500-level course at a university. Class participants were required to purchase four books with an option for a fifth. The topic was relevant and meaningful, and I was eager to add new thinking to my practice as a learner and principal. The challenge was the extensive reading assignments felt more like an extensive to do list with an explosion of content, ideas, and theory. I sat in my row each week facing the speaker feeling “traditionalized.”

I continued to be frustrated throughout the coursework sessions. The delivery was passionate and relevant, but I was not coming away with different or new thinking. During our midterm break, I had the opportunity to read Innovators Mindset, sitting on a beach chair next to the Pacific Ocean. I was rested and relaxed, and author George Couros helped me see clearly why the learning for this educator was not happening. To make the most out of my coursework and apply my new knowledge my approach needed to change.   

Not to change just for the sake of change, but to enhance my learning with innovative thinking. Couros defines innovation, “as a way of thinking that creates something new and better” (p. 19). This means we can invent something entirely different, or make a change to something that already exists. Innovation as a way of thinking rather than a to do list, an undertaking, or an object to acquire and it starts by asking “What is best for the learner?”

At the heart of innovation in schools is to reflect about “why we do what we do” with students at the center (p. 21). Couros references Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset, but he takes it a step further with adding the thinking of globalization theorist and New York Times op-ed author Thomas Friedman. For our students to compete in the now outsourcing job market for an employment requires more than what you know. It is how our students will use what they know that will matter most. Since our future belongs to all of us, this reasoning also applies to all educators, including the principal.

As a former administrator, Couros understands building leaders are often faced with limited budget constraints. Practical application of new or outside the box thinking will also require us “to learn to innovate inside the box” (p. 36), and continue to ask, “Is there a better way?” (p. 42). An innovative principal is willing to model risk taking and creatively be a problem finder to find an enhanced approach to learning for each of their students. So rather than encouraging our students to look for answers, consideration for how to inspire our students to develop their questions and then find the answers should be a topic of collaborative conversation with building leaders and teachers.

And it starts with creating a culture where relationships are the priority. “In fact, relationships are critical for innovation . . . The three most important words in education are relationships, relationships, relationships” (p.69). If there is one big takeaway from Innovators Mindset is would be just this. The meaningful connections we make with our students and staff matter. Getting to know them is an investment, not expenditure and an opportunity to build up their strengths. Our role is to empower them to see themselves as innovators as they pursue new passions and interests.

Although, it is important to remember new is good if it’s better, not just because it’s new. The question becomes how do we make learning meaningful for our students and how do we empower our teachers in this process? Couros advocates for shared ownership of this responsibility. When teachers invite the students into the conversation of learning and get feedback on how we are supporting where they want to go as learners, everyone benefits. It opens the collaborative discussion with the opportunity to move forward in our practice as teachers and students rather than “fixing” a problem.

I did not get to choose my coursework assignments, but I can choose what practices I incorporate as a learner.  Rather than reading all the assigned content in my coursework and receive that coveted A, I could model learning that would enhance my innovative leadership practices. “Focusing on a few key things promotes innovation in teaching and learning. And this sharp focus allows you to do more—with less confusion” (p. 164-16).