Is Your School Like United Airlines?

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A sub-headline from the Wall Street Journal’s article about the recent viral incident aboard a United Airlines plane immediately had me thinking about some of the things we do in schools. The headline about the situation where a United passenger was forcibly removed from his seat for refusing to give it up was the following: 

“Airline’s rules-based culture in spotlight after man was dragged off flight by law enforcement.”

As I read through the article a few other lines had me thinking about what we sometimes do in schools. Feel free to substitute school for airlines and students for passengers wherever appropriate:

“Like most Airlines, United Continental Holdings Inc. follows strict rules on every aspect of handling its passengers… “

“Deviating from the rules is frowned upon…”

Employees followed the policy,” said a person familiar with United’s executive suite.

On Wednesday morning, in an interview with ABC, United CEO Oscar Munoz called the event a “system failure” and said United hasn’t provided its front-line managers and supervisors with “the proper tools, policies, procedures that allow them to use their common sense.”

These quotes and the entire sad situation that played out on the United Airlines flight reminded me of the theme of chapter 4 of The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. Chapter 4 is titled Relationships, Relationships, Relationships and the main point that George makes is the need to establish a culture of trusting relationships where employees feel empowered to make decisions that are in the best interest of the customer (students). 
He goes on to explain the fact that this is not the individual employee’s fault, but it is more of a leadership issue due to the establishment of a culture that does not trust employees to make common sense decisions.

Let’s face it, we see a number of embarrassing stories from schools each year that are caused due to rigid compliance to an outdated set of rules. If we are truly interested in having learning environments where staff and students are comfortable taking risks and thinking outside the box then we need to revise these ridiculous sets of rituals. The following quote from George in Chapter 4 sums up the rationale for this shift perfectly.

“As leaders in education, our job is not to control those whom we serve but to unleash their talent. If innovation is going to be a priority in education, we need to create a culture where trust is the norm. This must be modeled at the highest level of the organization if we expect teachers to create the same culture in their classrooms.”

An Interview With George Couros About The Innovator’s Mindset

This post originally appeared on my EdWeek Blog

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One of the hottest new education books is The Innovator’s Mindset by my friend George Couros a Division Principal of Teaching and Learning with Parkland School Division, located in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada, as well as a highly sought after innovative teaching, learning, and leadership consultant. I caught up with George recently and had the chance to ask him some questions about his first book. Check out the interview below and grab this must-read for you and others in your school community!

What was your motivation in writing The Innovator’s Mindset?
“Innovation” in education is in danger of becoming a buzzword because we use it without really thinking what it means and what it can look like in our schools today. The other trend that I have seen lately is that “innovation” is just used to replace the world “technology, and it can be so much more than that.  Ultimately what the word really means in education is about creating new and better ways of learning, which is something educators should all get behind.  I wanted this to be more than an “education” book though, but really something that made connections through telling stories, because that is what helps people move forward. If I can help more educators see themselves as “innovators”, and help them embrace this mindset, our students will not only have better opportunities in learning, but we as educators will find opportunities for ourselves that are more rewarding. This book is meant to empower people to embrace change and the opportunities that are in front of us.

Who do you see as the primary audience for the book?
What I am hoping is that this book really reaches leaders, but when I use that term, I am not reserving it for administrators, but any educator that sees the need for creating something new and better for our students.  It is meant to not only help see change as something we embrace and model ourselves, but help create the foundation where change is more likely to happen with others.  I try to weave in and out between ideas for leadership and things that can happen in the classroom because I truly believe that every educator has the potential to be a leader and make a difference on a larger scale, no matter their title.

Why do you think it is important for educators to focus on Innovation?
If you look at organizations around the world, if they do not innovate they die.  Blockbuster actually had the opportunity to buy Netflix but there thinking was that they were good with their current business model, and obviously ended up losing an opportunity to become a truly global organization.  Yet many people believe that “innovation” is for someone else, not our own organizations.  If school stays the same while the rest of the world changes, people are going to either find or create something better for our kids.  My parents saw education and school as a way to something better, because it was vastly different than what they experienced, so I want to continue to make sure that we support this idea and develop not only our students as innovators, but also our educators. We cannot expect our students to become innovative, if we do not create the opportunities for them to do this within the context of school.

Is this more of a mindset for upper grades or is this something that we need to do K-12?
This meant for any level of educator.  I share stories from kindergarten to high school, of educators who are really trying to challenge the traditional notion of school and develop something better.  What my hope is in this book is that we move from “pockets” of innovation, to a “culture” of innovation.  These stories should not be the “outliers” but become the norm, and if we don’t see this as a whole system emphasis, we will spend more time trying to catch up as opposed to moving forward.  Innovation has no age barrier, and as discussed in the book, it is about a way of thinking more than anything, that can be a part of what we do at all levels.

As a school and district leader, how would you recommend that educators use this book to engage their schools and communities in a constructive dialogue regarding change?
One of the things that I wanted to do is model innovation even in writing the book.  Often authors will provide some type of guide, but I wanted it to be a living and breathing opportunity for not only others to discuss this at their school, but to also be a part of the conversation as the author.  By using things like the hashtag #innovatorsmindsetand also creating a list of resources for each chapter on my blog to continue discussion, as well as a Facebook page for the book, I am hoping that I can learn alongside readers.  There is also questions at the end of each chapter that is meant to spark conversation and push the idea of innovation in teaching, learning, and leadership within each school.  I did not want to write a book that told people how to become an innovative school, because that is the exact opposite of the idea.  It is meant to push conversations forward, while also providing ideas and inspiration for schools to become places where creativity flourishes.  This will only happen if this book becomes the start to a conversation, not the end of it.

What was your biggest takeaway from writing this book?
One of the things that I talk about in the book is the ideas of “networks” being crucial to innovation, and as I was writing it, I realized how much I have learned from connecting with others and blogging about my learning over the last six years.  Stories can truly become the fuel for innovation, and my thinking has been pushed by so many across the world that share their experiences with others.  I know that this is not a book I could have written six years ago and that because my thinking was isolated, honestly, because I chose it to be that way.  One of my favourite quotes is from Linus Pauling who says, “the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas”, and this book would not have been possible without the connections to so many amazing educators to which I am truly grateful.