This week I’m focusing on a single chapter because there was SO MUCH that resonated with me and I didn’t want to have a post that was 1,000 words long! You’re welcome.
In this chapter, George defines what The Innovator’s Mindset is and provides some examples of this at work in schools. Borrowing from Carol Dweck’s work on the growth mindset, the Innovator’s Mindset “can be defined as the belief the that the abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas” (p. 33). It’s not enough to just believe that through practice and hard work one can get better, but that we use those increased skills to make something that is better than what existed before.
While I feel like this concept has been somewhat embraced in schools, I think its implementation has suffered. For too long, schools have been searching for “the next big thing” in education, the tool or resource that will be the magic bullet, raise test scores, increase student engagement, reduce behavior issues, etc. While there are certain tools that will resonate with students – for awhile at least – the “big thing” that will really change education is already in our schools. Teachers, support staff, and administration that believe our students have the abilities to succeed, to create, and to share with the world. These teachers and schools have cultivated an environment where creativity is encouraged, where students know they are loved and respected for who they are, where connections with the world are made as part of normal curriculum.
I’m not naive enough to think that this is an easy task. As a former classroom teacher, I remember how challenging it was to differentiate based on each student’s strengths and needs, how difficult it could be to maintain positivity in the face of political backlash and budget cuts, how the temptation to “get through” the curriculum instead of deepen discussions and learning opportunities was ever present. One of the most critical things I learned early on in my student teaching was that if I didn’t have a relationship with a student, it would be very challenging to get him or her to do anything. For some, this is a difficult understanding to reach. For me, it was second nature because that’s how I operate. While I will follow rules because that’s also who I am, I won’t be happy about it and I certainly won’t go the extra mile for someone whom I think doesn’t care about me or like me. Building – and maintaining – those relationships with students is key to cultivating the Innovator’s Mindset in our classroom.
The Innovator’s Mindset starts with empathy for our students. Equally important is the desire to create something better. If we are going to help our students thrive, we have to move past ‘the way we have always done it’ and create better learning experiences for our students than we had ourselves” (pp. 41-42).
Having seen George speak at a few conferences, a question he often asks is: “Would you want to be a student in your own classroom?” Such a simple inquiry, yet also incredibly powerful. If we are honest with ourselves and examine the types of learning experiences we are providing for our students, answering this question can be a bit of an eye-opener. I’ll end with a quotation that resonated with me:
Innovating in our schools requires a different type of thinking, one that doesn’t focus on ideas that are ‘outside the box’ but those that allow us to be innovative despite budgetary constraints. In other words, we need to learn to innovate inside the box” (p. 36).
Questions for Discussion:
- What are some examples of innovation that you have seen within constraints, both inside and outside of schools?
- What questions do you think are vital to understanding those whom we serve in education?
- If you were to start a school from scratch, what would it look like? (See my answer to this question).
- How do we take what we currently have to create a better education system for our entire community?