“If we are going to empower our students, we must help them find what they love and create learning experiences that encourage them to develop their strengths.” ~ George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset
When I was a kid, I loved watching The Wizard of Oz. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Dorothy lands in Oz and the screen magically transforms from black and white to a sea of vivid colors. Over the course of Dorothy’s journey she encounters many characters who feel they are lacking or missing something in their lives. They all seek the Wizard’s great help to further develop their “weaknesses.” After many wild and challenging experiences the main characters had the those strengths all along.
I have an amazing mentor who has challenged me to “play to my strengths” and do what I do best. I have found that while I may be doing what I do well, I am also developing other areas that I might have considered a weakness. For example, I have never been challenged to use technology to share my ideas or developed my own website/digital portfolio.
I have background experience in journalism and layout from when I was in college, so the tech piece was a “next step.” After launching my website, I have shared my knowledge with colleagues and now feel that the opportunity to advance my journalism and layout knowledge has empowered me to add digital portfolios as a new strength. WooHoo!
Not only do I want to challenge my own thinking, but also the thinking of colleagues and my students. If a person is successful in a certain area and wants to explore more, why not? Isn’t that the point of learning and growing? “Bringing people’s strengths to life” challenges us all to engage in a conversation. Throughout The Wizard of Oz Dorothy asks questions of her friends to not only find out “what” makes them tick, but also “why” they want to grow. When the main characters discovered their true strengths, they are filled with confidence. So start with asking yourself what are your strengths and do your colleagues and students a favor, ask them too.
“What if everyone in our organization, not just our students, was encouraged to pursue his or her dreams?” ~ George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset
This quotation could not come at a more perfect time in my educational career and personal life. Rockin’ my mid-thirties has been an exciting journey to say the least. I have been prompted by my circle of trust peeps, including fellow #IMMOOCer, Tara Martin, and I have been asking myself a version of that question: What are my dreams?
I love writing, so I enrolled in a screenwriting class offered at our local arts center. I am so glad I did. I absolutely love the experience and will continue to work on my original screenplay. I want to learn an instrument, so I bought a ukulele and called up a colleague to schedule music lessons. P.S. I CAN’T wait to start next week! I want to continue to learn and fine-tune my craft and continue to inspire kids and fellow teachers, so I am learning as much as I can from my Twitter PLN and sharing, sharing, sharing!
It has taken me a long time to find these dreams and interests but I am glad someone asked me, “What are your dreams?” So often we focus on our students, their dreams, and exposing them to new and amazing things so they can form their own “what ifs,” that we then forget about what makes us tick. It is imperative to inspire students BUT we get to also get to be the recipient of inspiration and shoot for the stars.
So what are your dreams?
I love the song Going the Distance by Cake. Just the first few riffs of the base and guitar and my competitive juices are pumping. MO-TI-VATION! I want to start my workout, project, lesson plans, blog etc. I am ready to be a “do-er.” It’s time to dig deep.
How do we get students to dig deep and find their motivation?
Just this week, with the guidance of our school counselor, my students were asked to think about their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and hobbies. I prompted the kids into a discussion about what their weakness are and how they can turn those into a strength. They were encouraged to come up with an action plan to turn those grows into glows. They were then asked how all of those strengths can then be funneled into their passion and be released into the world. I watched as students began to take ownership of their ideas, their actions, and themselves -- AMAZING!
Their talent, like the giant kraken, is unleashed! Students’ talents grow through relationships. Fostering those relationships further builds a trusting environment that allows students to make mistakes and learn from them. It sparks innovation. Those ideas can and will “blow” minds. This not only goes for students but for us as well! Once talents, ideas, passions are tapped into, the world is theirs and ours for the taking. So will you go the distance? Will you unleash your inner kraken? Do it.
My very first experience as a classroom teacher, was filled with so many different emotions and thoughts. I remember walking into my classroom of twenty-eight first graders, looking into their sweet little faces, and my head began to whirl. I was SO pumped to be their teacher, but terrified of the responsibilities I had for each student, for their academic and social-emotional growth.
I have been teaching for almost ten years. Over the course of those years there have been ups and downs, highs and lows, joys and sorrows. These moments are often shared with colleagues who become close confidants, whose relationships evolve into a friendship that spans time and even continents. Relationships are the key to surviving the teacher’s life. Often those close friends are the ones we run to when sharing the human experience through the eyes of a teacher.
According to George Couros, relationships are the foundation of learning and innovation. That is one serious truth nugget! That goes for ALL relationships. Without relationships, we would be up a creek and in trouble. Those relationships help us to process strange and new ideas. They help us find encouragement and build self-confidence that will help us when we are taking a risk and venturing out into uncharted waters. Relationships are key because when facing problems, successes, or innovative thinking that takes your breath away, your person is right beside you rooting you on! That friendly face is what we need in the human and teaching experience and it’s what our students need too in order to open the door, heart and mind to innovation.
If my life were a musical it would be some variation of Into the Woods. The characters face some pretty challenging situations and have to sing and dance their way through life to find their solutions. That takes musicality and the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. As a spectator, I just LOVE it! Plus, I have no problem breaking into song at the drop of a hat, just ask my kids or husband, “You’ve changed! You’re daring, you’re different in the woods….”🎶🎶
“Never mind anyway,” 🎶 we follow the characters from famous fairy tales through the ups and downs of the “Once upon a time…” kingdom. Cinderella falls in love and loses her glass slipper. The Big Bad Wolf, hustles Red Riding Hood and her crazy Granny. Two princes fight over who has it worse. A witch steals a baby. Jack promptly gets in trouble with a giant. The Baker and his Wife must break the curse… You know how the stories go. I can totally imagine my friends, family, colleagues, and students cast in these roles.
Which of these eight characteristics do you rock on a daily basis?
I feel I relate to being a Problem Finder the most. I am always looking to see what I could have done more effectively; what could have been taught or said with a different approach. I truly benefit from having conversations with students and teachers, brainstorming ideas, getting feedback, or even being inspired to pull out a tool that has long since been forgotten. These conversations could not and do not happen without a strong relationship foundation. Any problem that students, teachers, you name it, face can be solved individually or collectively through the cultivation of relationships.
Just recently, I was speaking with a colleague about a student who has been struggling behaviorally. She shared with me that this kiddo was doing everything in his power to get in trouble and stay in trouble. I asked a few questions about the student’s background and what interventions had been done previously and with what success. In this instance, I supported my colleague by listening, offering some advice and possible tools to use, and also asked some questions to see what she felt in her opinion was the best “next step.” My colleague came up with a great plan for tomorrow. This problem finding/solving moment could not have happened without a strong relationship and without two different skillsets rockin’ it together.
Every single character from Sondheim and Lapine's amazing work displays one of the eight characteristics from the Innovator’s Mindset. The Baker’s Wife is resilient for she never gives up on her dream to become a mother. Jack starts with problems and quickly finds a solution, and another problem. The Baker is a risk-taker, venturing off into the woods to break the Witch's spell. BUT they all need each other to be successful. Each person brings a different set of skills to the table that makes the whole team able to work together, solve multiple problems, and find their happy ending.
That’s what’s so great about those amazing characteristics. You don’t have to worry. Someone will bring balance to the team. That camaraderie is so important because through that teamwork and effort, our students will experience the Innovator’s Mindset. Teachers and students are enlightened and ideas just pour out from within developing leaders, friends, and cheerleaders. Who wouldn’t want to cultivate just one of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset? And why not sing about it?
It is the beginning of March and in balmy Kansas it is starting to feel like spring is upon us. The days are getting longer, there is definitely more sun, and I am loving the opportunity to enjoy more porch time to just soak it all in. I don’t know about you, but I love the fact that I can start whipping out my favorite spring wardrobe and feel as if I have an extra hop in my step.
These changes that happen every year are a welcomed change from the monotony of winter; the constant cold, blustery days filled with clouds, rain, sleet, and snow are almost a distant memory. People come out in force on those beautiful days. Bike riders line the streets. All of the sudden running clubs emerge from their winter slumber. We humans need the change. In this case the changing of the seasons is something we either look forward to or merely adapt to every year. But, I ask you, what is stopping fellow educators from pulling our bikes out of the garage and going on adventure?
As a teacher I have seen first hand how many handle change in education. There are a couple options when it comes to change: “Oh, no you didn’t!” or “Go on and get it!” mentalities. Change can be a scary thing. Educators are often get set in their ways. They like things they way they are. Students are doing well, so why change it, right? Those with that mindset are not ready to embrace a new challenge and often fight the process. They will stick to what they know and not venture outside of the box.
Meanwhile, there are those educators who just love to meet the challenge head on. They hear or see something that sounds like it could be great for kids and give it a whirl. Often times those new ideas don’t work well the first time. But those teachers pick up their bootstraps, strap on their big boy belts and try it again.
We can all have that Innovator’s Mindset. Sometimes those who resist change just need to see it in action. They need a brave soul to go out there, try it, and like we heard in last night’s podcast, have that teacher invite others into the classroom of innovation to say, “Hey, what do you think?”
Innovation is having the freedom to do something incredible. George Couros describes innovation “as a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” I don’t know about you, but I want it. I just gotta have it! An Innovator’s Mindset is what has been missing from my teaching career. By embracing the mindset, I feel as though I have a new fire burning in my belly. This fire that just can’t be contained. I have a need to learn, try, and share, repeat.
So, why not embrace the Innovator’s Mindset? Innovation starts with one spark. Be the spark.
After a particularly rough day in the classroom, I came home feeling defeated and questioning my ability to make a difference in the lives of my students. I picked up my copy of The Innovator’s Mindset, by George Couros, which states one important characteristic of being innovative is the process of reflection. George asks his readers, “Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?” Gah! Would I? After this day I figured that I had to be honest and really mull this one over. Can I even begin to examine myself as a teacher with complete transparency?
Taking an honest look at the classroom environment, how the content is being taught, and relationships with students, is rough. I want to believe that I am “rockin” this teaching thing. But there sure are ups and downs … I can honestly say that my answer to the question changes with the tide, the lesson, the student interactions, the day. What a tough pill to swallow.
When reflecting upon moments that are filled with accomplishment, innovation, and pure joy of learning, I am pumped. Students are excited about learning. They are so focused and engaged, I have them eating out of the palm of my hand. During those times, I happily pat myself on the back. I walk about with a little hop in my step. Yes, today was the day!
But… there are those days that just don’t go the way I planned. Students are not engaged. They are discontent with something -- or someone, maybe even me -- throughout the day. There may be something happening at home that is impacting their time in the classroom. And let’s be honest, sometimes we just rub each other the wrong way. I get it, my kids don’t want to be in my room and if I were in their shoes, I probably wouldn’t either. What a terrible feeling. It is hard not to take those days personally. I have invested so much of myself into the classroom, lessons, and students, that when things go to pot I assume the blame. The messiah complex of teaching: “All of my students’ shortcomings happen because I failed!” I dropped the ball in some lesson. I didn’t thoroughly read through my curriculum. I … fill in the blank.
Ok, so what do I do? Reflect. As teachers, we have to look into the mirror. Our job is to remember who we are and what we look like, so that when we walk away we can remember. I am a teacher. I am teacher who is growing her craft. I am a teacher who has magnificent days and rough ones too. I am a teacher who cares. I am a teacher who will not give up the good fight to do what is best for students. I am a teacher who is human and makes mistakes; mistakes to learn and grow from. I am a teacher who is innovative, creative, and inspiring. I am a teacher who will not forget where I came from or where I am going. I am a teacher.
In The Innovator’s Mindset, George reminds us that, “Looking back is crucial to moving forward … to make connections, and again deepen our learning.” Reflection helps us look at our classroom, lesson plans, student progress, and professional growth with a critical eye that will only help make tomorrow better. Sometimes solutions come with a quick fix. Other times, we have to look to colleagues and collaborate to find an answer. Change cannot happen without going through the honest process of reflection.
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native