Empower Q&A: George Couros on the Innovator’s Mindset

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As ASCD gears up for Empower20: The Conference for Learning, Teaching, and Leading Together March 13-16 in Los Angeles, Inservice is publishing a series of Q&As to preview the wide range of featured speakers presenting.

By Alexa Epitropoulos

Featured Session: The Innovator’s Mindset

Session time: Sunday, March 15, 2020 8:45–9:45 a.m.

Session description: Carol Dweck’s work has focused on the ideas of “fixed” and “growth” mindsets, yet educators will need to go a step further with these notions to create the learning opportunities and that our students and schools deserve. We need to focus not only what we know, but what we do with what we know. In this session, the presenter will discuss the idea and characteristics of “The Innovator’s Mindset” (as discussed in the book of the same title), and share powerful examples on why this is so crucial for all educators. His presentations are known to be emotional and humorous while pushing your thinking, and he will definitely connect to your heart first in a way that will last with you long after this session.

Lifelong educator George Couros believes that teachers should be exemplifying the kind of learning and growth they want to see in their students. His session at Empower20 will delve into the importance of not just what we know, but what we do and create with what we know. So, what is an Innovator’s Mindset and how can we cultivate it for ourselves? We caught up with George Couros to provide you with a sneak peak into this featured session.

Tell us a little bit about what to expect from your session.

George Couros: The hope from every session that I do is that not only will I give you ideas that you can actually do in your classroom, but I often tell stories and try to make an emotional connection to the audience. I think the reason why that’s so important to me and why I share stories in the work I do is because stories are what stick with people and what makes a difference. One of the things I say that I really believe in is the idea that you have to make a connection to the heart before you make a connection to the mind. That’s something I’m really striving to do in every session I do and at every conference I speak at, especially at ASCD. I’m really excited to be there.

Your session at Empower20 goes beyond just “fixed” and “growth” mindsets and goes on to discuss the concept of “The Innovator’s Mindset.” What does this mindset look like in practice and how can educators cultivate it in their students and, further, for themselves?

GC: One of the things I talk about often in my talks is going beyond “knowing.” In education it’s often about “What does our student know?” and not necessarily “What do we do with what we know?” The quote that has always resonated with me is from Thomas Freedman. He says “The world doesn’t care what you know. It only cares about what you can do with what you know. It doesn’t care how you learned it.” So, as educators, if we really want to instill this mindset in our students, we have to embody it ourselves and one of the things I constantly try to do is push myself in my own learning because too often what we do is we jump straight to the teaching without doing the learning. What am I creating? It’s not just about reading content – it’s about creating content from that knowledge that I’m obtaining, whether it’s through different types of media, different ways we can connect. When we actually instill that in ourselves, then it’s much easier to think about ‘well, how can I actually use this process of what I’m doing right now to get our students to be creating more?’ It’s not saying that consumption isn’t actually really important – it’s just that we’re trying to go beyond that and create something with the knowledge that we have and do that not only with our students, but ourselves first.

What do you believe is the most pressing issue facing educators today?

GC: Educators all over the world are constantly dealing with constraints. I cannot tell you specifically that there is one issue that is more pressing than another and the reason why is that every school and organization is different. What I’m trying to instill in people is that we’re always going to have constraints, we’re always going to have issues, so how do we, as educators, ensure that we give the best experience for kids right now? Katie Novak, my co-author of the book Innovative Inside the Box, she said something really powerful to me. She said ‘For your grade three students, this is their one year in grade three. We have to do everything to make that the most incredible, great experience for our students.’ That’s something I’m trying to focus on. There’s always going to be obstacles and constraints and while we continuously push to make schools better for our kids, we have to do everything we can to create the best opportunities for our kids today.

What is one book that has inspired you in your work (and why)?

GC: One of the books I really appreciated years ago was Drive by Dan Pink. It talked about motivation and why people do the things they do. That has made me rethink things like traditional grades, award ceremonies. Another book that has really made an impact on me is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The reason why I love it is that it’s a book written in the 1930s, way before I was born, but many of the ideas and lessons shared in it resonate today. That helps reminds me that there are always things that will be constants in our world of learning and us developing as people. What are those big ideas? What are those things we have to stay true to no matter what we do?

What speakers are you looking forward to hearing at Empower20?

GC: I have a couple speakers I’m really interested in learning from. Elena Aguilar’s books on cultivating emotional resilience in educators are something that I really appreciate. I’ve followed her work forever and I know she’s going to give a really compelling presentation. The other is Rosa Isaiah – I’ve seen a lot of her work online and I’ve seen how she supports educators. I know that both Elena and Rosa are going to give amazing presentations. Obviously, [I’m looking forward to hearing from] Henry Winkler – I grew up with the Fonz, so that’s cool, but I really appreciate educators like Elena and Rosa and the work that they do.

George Couros is a leading educator in the area of innovative leadership, teaching, and learning. He has worked with schools at all K–12 levels as a teacher, technology facilitator, and school and district administrator, and is the author of the books The Innovator’s Mindset; Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity and the upcoming Innovate Inside the Box. He is a sought-after speaker on the topic of innovative student learning and engagement and has worked with schools and organizations around the globe.

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