#160 – An Innovator’s Mindset: Empowering Students and Educators, with George Couros

Unpacking Education February 22, 2023 54 min

How do we react when we encounter change? Do we fear it, do we embrace it, or do we merely tolerate it? Because change is often inevitable, the answer to these questions can determine how much we continue to grow as educators as well as how successful and happy we are in our careers.

Our guest this week is George Couros, an educational thought leader and author. He suggests that the key is “not just accepting change, but initiating it.” He explains that by initiating it, we can take control of the situation and better influence the result. Throughout the change process, it’s important to embrace an innovator’s mindset—a perspective that drives us to grow and change for the betterment of ourselves, our students, and the educational system.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.

George Couros, learner, speaker, and author

Creating Something Better

The key to effective innovation is not to simply initiate change for the sake of change; rather, it’s to initiate change that will result in something better than where you started. It’s innovation with a purpose, and this is true both whether we intentionally initiate a change or if change is forced upon us.

Throughout our podcast conversation, George Couros emphasizes the positive innovations we can make in our school systems if we approach change in the right way. Together, we discuss the topics of innovation, change, and the importance of empowerment throughout this process. We talk about current topics, such as ChatGPT, and we also reflect on past successes and challenges and what those experiences can teach us. The following are some of the highlights from our conversation:

  • About George Couros: George is a former K–12 teacher and administrator who is currently working as an Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Consultant. He is a well-known speaker and the author of several books, including The Innovator’s Mindset and Innovate Inside the Box.
  • Growth Mindset: “Growth mindset is something that’s really crucial, but I also think, especially in our world today, it’s not really enough.” It’s a starting point upon which we can build.
  • ChatGPT: This artificial intelligence site has been a hot topic since its release, and it is an excellent example of change that is thrust upon us. George uses this as an example, as we discuss the various reactions to it in our schools.
  • Innovation: George points out, “A lot of people just make the term [innovation] synonymous with technology.” He defines innovation as finding “a new and better way of doing things. So it can be with technology, or it can be without.”
  • A Negative Impact: Sometimes, technology is the wrong answer and may make a problem worse. He recalls, “When I taught high school, the second we got a Scantron in our building, I made every single assessment multiple-choice, and it had nothing to do with, ‘Does this improve student learning?’ It was all about, ‘How can this make my life easier?’ because I hated marking.” While this technology made his assessments easier to correct, those assessments also became less authentic and meaningful.
  • Must Make Things Better: Positive innovation can come as a result of either “iteration or invention.” It doesn’t matter if it’s something we’ve never done before or if it’s an interaction of a current practice; it just has to be better than before.
  • Innovating Inside the Box: Like it or not, we operate inside boxes. George explains, “It’s a reality that we’re always going to work, for example, within financial constraints. We’re always going to work within time constraints.” The key, he says, is to learn how to innovate within these constraints—inside the box. He also adds a note of encouragement, saying, “There is a framework that we typically work within, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t still do incredible things within that framework.”
  • Student Empowerment: “When you look at empowerment, it’s really getting to help the kid understand, how do they figure out and find interest in this, in themselves?” George adds, “How do we get kids to figure out their own pathway forward? What happens when we’re not there? That’s what you’re trying to instill in our students.”
  • Engagement and Empowerment: “If you’re engaged, it does not mean you’re empowered, but if you’re empowered, I guarantee you’re engaged.”
  • Empowering Staff: To empower kids, we need to empower staff. We need to model empowering practices with staff, so they can pass that experience along to their students. George provides an example of empowering teachers during a goal-setting process at one of his schools. He reflects, “Staff felt empowered because they were leading the professional learning. They were deciding the targets of where we needed to go, and a lot of times, they were going much higher than anything the district or myself would have actually chosen, and they were more likely to reach those goals because they were delivering it. They don’t care when an outsider comes in and says you should reach these goals.”
  • Passing Empowerment on to Students: George recalls the impact of empowering his staff. “So they started seeing, how do we tap into the expertise of our kids? How do we tap into the expertise in this room?” He adds, “If you really want to empower the kids, it always starts with how we actually work with our staff and utilize them to develop their gifts and to develop their strengths and talents, and I think that’s where that empowerment leads to at all levels.”
  • Creativity vs. Innovation: “When we talk about creativity, I think it’s a lot about our thinking, and innovation is a lot more about our actions,” says George. He continues, “I think creativity is really those compelling ideas, but innovation is where the ideas come to life.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • How do you define innovation?
  • What is an example of an innovation that has improved education?
  • What is an example of an innovation that has had a negative impact?
  • What does it mean to innovate inside the box?
  • What is an example that you have seen or experienced of innovating inside the box?
  • Why is it important to empower teachers, and how can this be achieved?
  • Why is it important to empower students, and how can this be achieved?
  • How can we move from creativity to innovation?
  • What is an area of your school system or classroom that could benefit from thoughtful innovation?

Extend Your Learning