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The Principal of Change Stories of learning and leading

4 Ways to “Jolt” Yourself Toward Meaningful Change

About Me I am a learner, educator,

December 14, 2017 by George — 1 Comment

and Innovative

Educators (and people) are creatures of habit.

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Teaching, Learning, consultant. I am also the

Sometimes we do things because we have done those things in the past. No other

author of "The Innovator's Mindset". I

reason.

believe we need to inspire our kids to follow their passions, while letting them

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inspire us to do the same.

I have watched so many teachers sit through dull, bullet-point slide presentations,

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wanting to be anywhere else but in that room. Then, many of those same educators

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work with their students to create the same type of “read off the slide” presentations in schools. If we hate sitting through it, why would we teach it?

The Innovator’s Mindset As teachers, we sat through monotonous admin days, wasting time on excruciatingly long conversations such as whether students should wear hats or not in school. We swear we would never do this if we were the principal, but then that same process is recreated, time and time again. And then we wonder why things look the same in the classroom. Now do these things happen in every school, all of the time? Nope. But they do happen way too much. One of the things that I truly appreciate is all of the amazing educators on Twitter sharing glimpses into their classrooms and professional learning days, making great things happen as the norm in their schools, not the exception. How did they become that way? No one pushed them to that; they pushed themselves. They inspired themselves to try different things, ask challenging questions, and make new habits and norms. They asked “why wouldn’t I try it this way?”, instead of being worried about what could go wrong. Four hints on being that “jolt” you need for yourself:

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1. Walk into your schools any day and every day and look at everything you see and do and ask, “Why do we do it this way?” If “it is best for our students” doesn’t come into the conversation, change what you are

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doing, 2. Ask questions and encourage having your ideas challenged. Iron

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sharpens iron. 3. Support others in their journey, but also help them move forward. We don’t just need “pats on the back”; a “push” now and then helps us to

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grow. People will leave if they do not feel they are being challenged and developed. 4. Model what you seek. Don’t hope that others will change while you are

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the same. A good friend of mine talked about how wonderful it was to be inspired, but also stated that she knew it wouldn’t last long. It is like smelling sniffing salt. It can wake

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you up momentarily, but the hard work and struggle have to come from you, not somewhere else. Be that “jolt” to yourself. It is the only way things get better and grow.

Tweets by @gcouros George Couros Retweeted Bryan Belanger @LRESPrincipal #12daysoftwitter favorite quote @gcouros I think I've said it to myself enough that I'm starting to live by it... it's a pretty powerful feeling

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Posted in: Leading a Learning Community, Personal Learning | Tagged: creatures of habit, Educational Leadership, finding inspiration in education, innovative teaching and learning, push yourself

3 Ideas For Taking Care of Yourself Before the Break December 12, 2017 by George — 4 Comments

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Recent Posts 4 Ways to “Jolt” Yourself Toward Meaningful Change 3 Ideas For Taking Care of Yourself Before the Break Moving From Obstacle to Advantage Learning Everywhere, Anywhere, and From Anyone 3 Ideas To Help You Blog

Recent Comments Paul on 4 Ways to “Jolt” Yourself Toward As many educators across North America are about to go on Winter break, I know

Meaningful Change

that the holidays do not necessarily mean “no stress,” but for some, could be a

Marsha on 3 Ideas For Taking Care of

different kind of stress.

Yourself Before the Break Lisa Edinger on 3 Ideas For Taking Care

The week before the break can be exhausting and John Spencer, recently wrote, “Ten Creative Alternatives to Showing Movies Before the Break,” that may give you some ideas before the end of the calendar year. Not only does he provide excellent ideas to stoke the wonder of your students before the break, but this little reminder:

of Yourself Before the Break David Ferrell on 3 Ideas For Taking Care of Yourself Before the Break Gigi on Nobody Wants to Be “Fixed”



Let’s just put it out there. December is exhausting for teachers. The days are shorter. The weather grows colder and (at least here in Oregon) wetter. Students are anxious — whether it’s a buzzing excitement for

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vacation or a sense of dread that some kids feel in homes that are unsafe

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during the holidays.

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And teachers are tired. They’re tired of redirecting behaviors and tired of the mid-year pressure of the test and simply tired of the sheer energy it takes to be a teacher.

What Makes Leaders Innovative? New Study Identifies The 10 Keys Beware of the ‘silent killer’ at your company - The Globe and Mail

So to build on that, I want to give a few ideas of things to remind yourself before the

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break, that I have been working on personally.

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1. It’s okay to need a break. There is often a lot of “teacher guilt” that goes into the breaks. Many of the students that we serve in education see school as not just a place of learning, but one of the safest places in their lives. What you may be looking forward to, students may be dreading. That being said, students need their teachers at their best, and many people are like elastic bands; if you stretch them too much, eventually they could break. As teaching has become more complex, the mental health of educators has seemingly suffered (read this great piece from Dean Shareski, “When Will We Get Serious about Teacher Stress?“). Of course, you shouldn’t cheer daily in front of your students that you are finally getting some time for yourself, but I also don’t think that looking

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forward to recuperating is negative. Give it your all until the break, but then try to take a break, whatever that looks like to you.

2. Learn to say no. This is a hard one for not just educators, but anyone. It is great to be helpful, but there are limits to what any person can do. I have found that if I say “yes” too often, that I am often saying “no” to myself and my family. You can’t be all things to all people, and having someone disappointed is much better than pushing yourself past a limit that you can’t come back from. 3. Take care of yourself. This is something that I have struggled with tremendously. You work so hard and put your head down, and then all of a sudden, you seem like you have lost yourself. Lately, I have focused on scheduling time daily to workout hard and just have some time for myself to read. While people feel that it is hard to find that time as it takes away from other things, I have learned that taking this time not only gives me more energy, but the time spent with those I care about I am in a much better mood. I wouldn’t want to spend MORE time with someone that is miserable, but in some cases, that is what was happening to me. Find time to read, write, exercise, watch a series that you have missed, surround yourself with people that lift you up (this is an important one…see quote below as a nice reminder), or whatever fills your cup. Taking care of yourself will lead to better moments with others for an extended period of time.

If you look at the three ideas listed above, basically they can be summarized by “take care of yourself.” Although I know it is easier said than done, I think that educators are extremely giving of themselves, while also being their harshest critics. This will take a toll. We can quickly lose ourselves while helping others, which is good for no one. (Please share any ideas or tips for people to help take care of themselves over the break in the comments. Thanks!)

Posted in: Fostering Effective Relationships, Personal Learning | Tagged: Dean Shareski, education, Educational Leadership, john spencer, oprah winfrey, personal health, take care of yourself

Moving From Obstacle to Advantage December 10, 2017 by George — 4 Comments

In the same week, I heard the following obstacles shared by two different organizations that were significantly different in the number of students they served: School District 1 – We are so small that we don’t have the resources that we need to do the things that we want. School District 2 – We are so large that there are so many obstacles to get things done across our district. So the thinking is that if the first organization had the size of the second one, they would be successful, and vice versa. So let’s switch the thinking around. School District 1 – We are so small that we can move very quickly to change our culture. School District 2 – We are so large that we have access to so many resources that we can take advantage of to move our district forward. You can wish you had something else, or you can take advantage of where you are. This is not about moving from a pessimist to an optimist, but finding strengths where you may have seen weakness. Instead of thinking about whether you are a “glass-half-full” or “glass-half-empty” person, why not ask, “what’s in the glass?” Figure that out, work from there, and use it to your advantage.

Posted in: Embodying Visionary Leadership, Leading a Learning Community | Tagged: change agent, Educational Leadership, innovation in education, innovators mindset, leadership, Malcolm Gladwell, taking advantage of where you see weakness

Learning Everywhere, Anywhere, and From Anyone December 8, 2017 by George — 2 Comments

I read a comment regarding how many educators often look at business for ideas on education and how we shouldn’t because they are two separate entities. Although the second part is correct, I believe that looking at what happens in the business world is beneficial to educators if they are open to learning from the ideas, not implementing as is in your classrooms. In reality, sports are not education, but some lessons can make a difference in the context of schools, as do our personal experiences. There is a difference between making a school like a business versus learning from business practices to benefit schools. Imagine if we took this approach of “you have never taught, so you don’t understand education” in our everyday context? Would you disregard what a custodian or a secretary in your school would say about working with students because they have never studied education? As a principal, I learned so much about my role from students from staff members who were not teachers, and I valued their contributions immensely to the growth of our school. My parents, both immigrants from Greece with a limited education, have taught me as much explicitly and inadvertently about schools through running a restaurant than any class or workshop that I have taken. The importance of hard work, dealing with adversity, building relationships, servant leadership, amongst many other lessons, were all things that I have implemented in my career as an educator that I learned from watching my parents run a business. One of my hopes though is that we create schools that are so great, that businesses will look to learn from them, not only the other way around. Ideas and actions (both good and bad) are everywhere, and although they may not fit perfectly into what you do daily, it doesn’t mean you are unable to use them to make a positive impact on what we do every day.

Posted in: Leading a Learning Community, Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context | Tagged: bill nye, Educational Leadership, learning from business, my dad, my parents, teaching and learning

3 Ideas To Help You Blog December 5, 2017 by George — 16 Comments

Writing can be a great way to release ideas stuck in your head, but it can also be overwhelming when you feel you have nothing to share at the moment. Personally, I try to blog three times a week because if I didn’t force myself to do it unless I had to, I probably would not do it at all. Pushing myself to write often and consistently has opened up ideas in my head that I didn’t necessarily know were there until I used writing as a medium to not only express my thoughts but as a tool for learning. But what has helped me keep up a consistent practice of blogging over the last seven years? Here are a few things that I do to keep up my inspiration and idea levels from shifting to “empty.” 1. Read other blogs and books. Daily, I make time to check out blogs I subscribe to through the app InoReader, as well as looking at articles on my phone through Flipboard. This gives me access to current ideas but also sparks something in my thinking, and I use my blog to dig deeper. I also have a ton of books that I have on my Kindle app that I read and use the highlighter function to capture quotes that I can go to later. This process reminds me of the importance of content curation in the process of creation. If I only look to myself for ideas, I will run out soon. I would also encourage you to read books and articles that challenge your views. It can not only push your thinking, but it can help you solidify an argument that you have toward an idea and give you what I refer to as a “360 Degree View” of an idea. 2. Use your notes app. I have my phone with me at all times, but I have turned off all notifications. This has been better for my mental health and reminds me that I go to my phone when I am interested, not when my phone pulls me toward it. One of the benefits for blogging when carrying your phone around constantly is access to some type of notes app. It is like taking pen and paper with you at all times. When an idea pops in my head, or I get into a conversation that I would like to dig deeper into, I write the title “Blog” into a note, and then share a few ideas or quotes that I will explore when it is a good time to do so. Sometimes my ideas are written in the middle of the night and are incoherent, but most of them I can make some sense out of 3. Fight through your drafts. A lot of people tell me that they have so many posts that are sitting in their draft posts that they started but just can’t seem to finish. Here is the thing; a blog post doesn’t have to have a final grand idea, but can be an exploration of thoughts and can be posted as a rough idea. When that happens, ask questions of the people reading your posts and see if the comments help you to finish the concept, or even sometimes, spark a new path to explore. Don’t let your drafts sit there…push through. A few reasons I blog (in no particular order and not necessarily separated from one another): 1. To share my thinking. 2. To develop my thinking. 3. To archive my thinking. If I would have known the impact blogging would have had on my life, personally and professionally, when I first started, it would have been a no-brainer to start. It has helped me work through ideas and pushed my thinking through the art of openreflection. Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. Find a routine and work your way through the writing process. The effort now will lead to tremendous rewards later. PS. Any bloggers out there that are reading this, I would love to know what your tips are that help you push through and blog?

Posted in: Leading a Learning Community | Tagged: Blogging, clive thompson, educational blogging, ideas to help you blog, innovative teaching and learning

Catch them doing something wrong or lead them to do something amazing? December 3, 2017 by George — 1 Comment

Many educators and schools have reached out to me regarding what their students are doing online. Unfortunately, it is often in reaction to an issue that they are trying to fix, not a plan to be proactive in leading their students. I have even heard of schools that do some extra monitoring of students online so that they can find out when students are doing something wrong online, and that has raised some concerns. My contention for years has been on the idea of “Digital Leadership.” Trying to put my thoughts together, I defined the term in January 2013 as the following:



“Using the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others.”

For years, many educators like Jason Shaffer and Jennifer Casa-Todd, have been promoting and creating opportunities for students to be proactive and build opportunities for themselves to use the advantages of social media. This goes beyond citizenship, but into leadership. As I work with students on their use of social media, they have communicated that they are tired of the “cyberbullying” talk, and I don’t blame them. Being constantly told what not to do is not very inspiring. Although it is an important message, what are the best results because of the focus on cyberbullying by schools? That our students won’t be horrible online? As Shelley Wright stated, “students often defy expectations if you give them the opportunity.” Schools should focus on empowering students to do something amazing with the opportunities that lie in front of them. There are lots of complexities with social media that adults are still figuring out, let alone students. It is messy, but we need to be in on the conversation. We can fear the worst and react after the fact, or we can be proactive in leading students in doing something that we couldn’t do when we were the same age. Yes, there are negatives, but we need to focus on the powerful opportunities that lie in front of our students and take advantage.

Posted in: Embodying Visionary Leadership, Leading a Learning Community | Tagged: #DigitalLeadership, Jason Shaffer, jennifer casa-todd, social media, social media and students

High, Mid, and Low December 1, 2017 by George — 3 Comments

In a workshop day with a fantastic group of educators, there was a comment on how to differentiate for our “high, mid, and low students.” This language is something that I have used before because when looking at what we teach, it is easy to fall into this trap. If we look at who we teach, what we should realize that ALL of our students (as well as adults) are high, mid, and low, in different areas of life. If we look to find the “high” areas in all of our students, the “lows” have a stronger potential of becoming better. If you were to come to work each day and were categorized as either “high, mid, or low,” it might not be a place where you would feel comfortable being on a regular basis. On the other hand, if you worked in a place that went looking and building on your areas of strength, and felt valued, and supported in growing your areas of weakness, you would probably be more eager to be present, daily. A little rule that I try to follow when thinking about education. If we wouldn’t want something done to us as adults, we probably shouldn’t do it to our students.

Posted in: Developing and Facilitating Leadership, Fostering Effective Relationships, Leading a Learning Community | Tagged: Educational Leadership, finding strengths in others, inclusion, Peter Drucker, strengths finder

3 Articles for Student Discussion on “Success” November 29, 2017 by George — 3 Comments

The word “success” evokes a lot of emotion and ideas. Too often, when the word success is talked about in education regarding students, the people that are most impacted by the discussion are left out of the conversation. I believe that whether someone is truly successful or not is up to them, not anyone else. If someone deems success as being “rich and famous,” or someone views success as merely being happy, that is their choice. Since I think it is crucial for students to think about the idea of “success” in their own terms, I wanted to provide three articles that may be good for discussion. 1. There is not only one road to success. This blog post is one of mine, but I share a powerful quote from a student, shared by an article in the Chicago Tribune:



At Naperville North there is one path to success,” the petition said. “This path is made clear from the day high school anticipation begins, and is reiterated until graduation. From the age of 13 every prospective Naperville North student understands that this path makes no exceptions, and those who wander off or fall behind are left for failure. Everyone here understands that there is no worse fate than failure.” The petition calls on administrators to, “Start defining success as any path that leads to a happy and healthy life. Start teaching us to make our own paths, and start guiding us along the way.”

This article is powerful because it pushes back on the pressures adults put on students in seeing that being good in academics is what would make someone successful in school. As I have stated before, some of your smartest students in your school are terrible at academics. It is essential to help students learn about the world, and themselves, through the process of education. 2.Why valedictorians rarely become rich and famous — and the average millionaire’s college GPA was 2.9 Based on the comments on this tweet alone, the title on its own could be viewed as bothersome. Here is a snippet from the piece:



2. “Schools reward being a generalist” and the real world rewards passion and expertise. Barker says that even if you’re fascinated by history in high school, you can’t spend all your time studying the European Renaissance. At some point, you have to stop and move on to your math homework. But once you’re in the working world, you’ll need to excel in a particular domain, and other knowledge or skills won’t matter so much. And here’s the real shocker: Arnold found that intellectual students who genuinely enjoy learning tend to struggle in high school — they find the education system “stifling” because it doesn’t allow them to pursue their passions deeply. Barker summed up all the research nicely in the interview with Business Insider: “Valedictorians often go on to be the people who support the system — they become a part of the system — but they don’t change the system or overthrow the system.”

Personally, I would challenge the heading of this point. What does “reward” mean? There are many “generalists” who are rewarded in different ways in their own life but not necessarily in the idea of becoming rich and famous. “Rich and famous” doesn’t mean happy either. Perhaps the goal for many is to contribute to the lives of others in meaningful ways, and the way that they lift others up does not necessarily get widespread attention but makes a significant impact. On the other hand, one of the reasons I enjoyed the article is that it helps to challenge the ideas that only our top academic students can go on to become successful. Do we look at the strengths of those that do not fit into a regular box of school, or do we as educators see strengths where traditionally, we have seen weakness? If this article challenges you, that is a good thing for both you and your students. What are their thoughts on what success is to them? What does their own experience lend to their viewpoints? 3. Be More Successful: New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Do It I loved this part of the article:

“ 1) Success Brings Happiness? No. Happiness Brings Success. We all chase success hoping it will make us happy: 1. I’ll be happy once I get that promotion. 2. I’ll be happy once I get that raise. 3. I’ll be happy once I lose 15 pounds. But the research shows that isn’t true. You achieve a goal and you’re briefly happier… but then you’re looking toward the next big thing. What Shawn’s research showed was when you flip the formula and focus on increasing happiness, you end up increasing success. Here’s Shawn:



If we can get somebody to raise their levels of optimism or deepen their social connection or raise happiness, turns out every single business and educational outcome we know how to test for improves dramatically. You can increase your success rates for the rest of your life and your happiness levels will flatline, but if you raise your level of happiness and deepen optimism it turns out every single one of your success rates rises dramatically compared to what it would have been at negative, neutral, or stressed.

In my opinion, this is a great article to help understand the importance of mental health in helping achieve our own goals. That we too often look outward for success, instead of on how we can make a difference focusing inward.

No matter your opinions on any of these articles or ideas, I still contend that the discussion of “success” for our students, should be with and in more cases, led by our students. Simply asking, “What does success at the end of the year look like to you?“, could help our students find out who they are, not necessarily what we want them to be.

Posted in: Leading a Learning Community, Providing Instructional Leadership | Tagged: discussions on success, Educational Leadership, innovative teaching and learning, lily tomlin

2 Ways to Brighten Your Day November 26, 2017 by George — Leave a Comment

I love finding new blogs to add to my RSS feed or subscribe by email, and “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” has a ton of interesting little pieces on life, leadership, and learning, in a fun way. One of the first posts I read on the blog was “How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails.” Here is one of the gems of advice on sending an email to improve your happiness:



HAPPINESS Every morning send a friend, family member or co-worker an email to say thanks for something. Might sound silly but it’s actually excellent advice on how to make your life better. There’s tons and tons and tons of research showing that over time, this alone – one silly email a day – can make you happier. Via Harvard professor Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage:



This is why I often ask managers to write an e-mail of praise or thanks to a friend, family member, or colleague each morning before they start their day’s work—not just because it contributes to their own happiness, but because it very literally cements a relationship.

I love this information and want to add it in some way to what I do in at least some form on a consistent basis. But if you take the above advice to heart and want to try brightening someone else’s day, don’t forget to brighten your own. We are often our own harshest critics, and it can be disheartening when the voice in your head is the one criticizing you. In the post, “15 Ways To Show Yourself Gratitude (And Why It Matters),” it provides (obviously) 15 ideas for practicing self-gratitude, but the first line of the paragraphs below reminded me of how giving educators are to others, and what the possible consequences are if you don’t pay attention, and a suggestion on how to be grateful to yourself:



I spent all my time taking care of others, filled my hours with charitable distractions, so I wouldn’t have to focus on myself. It was an excuse not to address my own problems. My health deteriorated. I fell into depression. I was always exhausted. The only thing that finally allowed me to get out of that pattern was starting a gratitude practice. I made a concerted effort to consistently focus on what I appreciated about my life. I would write down five things I was grateful for every day, no matter how ungrateful I felt. The extent to which this increased my sense of balance in life cannot be overestimated.

Education is a tough profession, and the majority of teachers hear “thank you’s” way less than they deserve, and criticisms more often than they warrant. I have also seen as we get closer to winter holidays that educators are criticizing other educators for looking forward to a break because that would somehow insinuate you are mailing it in until the end of the calendar year. Where I live, in December, you often arrive at school while it is dark outside, and leave when it is dark outside. It can be a hard time of the year mentally and physically. Here’s the thing…you can look forward to a break AND work your butt off every day to serve students. Both things can be true. I doubt doctors are criticized looking forward to a break unless they are providing subpar treatment of their patients on their way out. We often talk about being our own worst enemy, but rarely think of ourselves as one of our own best friends. Simply put…find time to make someone’s day with a small gesture but don’t forget to make your own as well.

Posted in: Fostering Effective Relationships | Tagged: barking up the wrong tree, gratitude, send an email daily, showing kindness to yourself

So Much More Than Letters and Numbers November 24, 2017 by George — 2 Comments

I saw the title of this article, “Are Parent-Teacher Conferences Becoming Obsolete?“, and was surprised the direction. I was expecting the article to talk about moving away from the “traditional parent conference” (sitting around for 10-20 minutes talking about a child’s experience in school) to something more student-led. Instead, it shared how a parent portal was used in place of parent-teacher conferences:



A school district north of Denver is doing away with the traditional parentteacher conferences this year, instead urging parents to log in to a website to find out how their children are doing. …Frustrated parents and teachers, however, said in interviews with Chalkbeat—which produced this story in partnership with The Atlantic—that the new online system is either confusing or incomplete and can’t replace face-to-face interaction. “Teachers would tell me at conferences what I needed to help my son with, they would tell me how he was behaving and everything they did in class, like what they were studying,” said Carolina Rosales, a mother of two elementary-school kids. “The portal might tell me he failed an assignment, but what does that tell me?”

In no way am I criticizing the district because I know that education articles often are missing pieces of information, but if it is 100% true that an online portal is used in lieu of conferences, I am concerned that we are creating a culture that is more about numbers and letters, than it is about people. The article also reminded me of an article by Jessica Lahey, “The Downside of Checking Kids’ Grades Constantly.” One of her concerns (made obvious from the title) is the constant checking that can become a norm of these portals, where grades become more like following the stock market, but Lahey also shares her concern that these portals shift our focus on the wrong thing:



While there’s limited evidence on the benefit of grading portals on academic achievement, there is plenty of research to show that extrinsic motivators, such as grades, as well as parental surveillance and control, are detrimental to kids’ long-term motivation to learn and undermine their relationships with teachers. When we focus our attention on real-time, up-to-the-second reporting on the portal, we elevate the false idols of scores and grades and devalue what really has an impact on learning: positive student-teacher relationships, relevance and student engagement.

The opportunities that technology affords us in our world today are amazing, but I am concerned that too often we use it to replace face-to-face interaction, not enhance it. I shared the following in “The Innovator’s Mindset“:

There are so many things that we cannot communicate through an online portal that is focused mostly on delivering grades. The evidence of learning and growth as a human being goes beyond what any test score or academic assessment can provide. As an administrator, the school secretary gave me a piece of advice that I will never forget. “Any time you call home and you have a concern about a student, just remember that you could destroy a parent’s entire world. Make sure that every conversation you have with parents, they know that their child is valued.” I took this advice with me and went out of my way to share what I valued in the child and the positive stories before I got into some of the harder conversations. It was also why I spent so much time in classrooms and the hallways of schools to get to know kids. The worst way to start a conversation as a principal with a student who may have made a mistake was with the phrase, “What is your name again?” The time an educator spends to know students and parents (as well as colleagues) is an investment that will come back to them tenfold in the future. If the technology takes away our human connection that is crucial for the development of our students, it is not worth it. Using tools like this can help to add to a conversation, but it cannot be the conversation on its own. We cannot reduce our students to becoming letters and numbers. Posted in: Embodying Visionary Leadership, Leading a Learning Community, Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context | Tagged: infinite campus, innovative teaching and learning, innovators mindset, jess lahey, the importance of relationships in education

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