The Innovator’s Mindset – Week 5 (Chapters 8 &9)

So much from Chapter 8 (Strengths-Based Leadership) resonated with me!

What if we stopped operating on a deficit model that focuses on a leaner’s weaknesses and started operating on a strengths-based model that builds on the learner’s strengths?

When I think about my own learning experiences as a student and later as a teacher, I was alway most comfortable when I was working in areas where I felt like I had something to contribute. English and Social Studies classes, discussing how I build relationships with students, utilizing technology to transform learning – those were spaces where I felt comfortable sharing and leading conversations. Too often we are focused on what we need to improve, we’re forced to sit on committees or teams that are designed to help us grow in areas we struggle. This creates a feeling of discomfort and can sometimes make us feel like we’re not good enough or not doing enough. Most of the teachers I know are some of the hardest working people I know, so to feel like all the energy and time you’re exerting isn’t enough is insulting and demoralizing.

Focusing on the strengths of the people in our buildings is a pretty different idea than the one we currently employ. Part of that is a symptom of our culture’s obsession with data and testing. We are always measuring and analyzing, trying to improve upon our baseline. And while all of those things are important, it’s not always the most empowering to constantly focus on where you need to improve.

George discusses the story about his own school district and how they created powerful professional development opportunities for their district by creating teams focused on specific initiatives. These teams were chosen by teachers so they could work in areas they were comfortable, and they worked on creating experiences that would allow teachers to learn and observe how to utilize new technologies in their classrooms.

My own experience has been similar in many ways to what happens in a lot of districts – a huge amount of money becomes available through a bond or a grant – and a TON of “stuff” is suddenly in school buildings. Sometimes these purchases are done without any thought or conversation about how these technologies will transform learning or even logistical ideas like how apps will get pushed, what filters will be in place, if students will keep the devices with them all day, etc.

In the world of education – where resources are often scarce – not understanding the potential of a device leaves us continuing with traditional learning but at a higher cost. Let’s take the time to understand what is possible from a learner-centered point of view, instead of blindly buying technology and then asking ‘Now what?’

It’s been my experience that many teachers are not comfortable with using a new technology until they have figured out all the ins and outs of it. While I understand this desire to try to eliminate any challenging situations, sometimes that’s where our best learning comes from. Students love being able to share what they know and look like the experts. So rather than stressing when a technology isn’t working, tapping into the students’ collective knowledge can be a powerful learning experience for both the teacher and the student.

Teachers often ask me “What else is out there?” And while I appreciate their enthusiasm for new technologies, I worry that sometimes it’s more like being at a circus and pulling out all kinds of stuff from a “hat.” Rather than deepening our exploration of how one or two tools can create even more richer learning, teachers are wanting to dip their toes into every single new app or website. It’s natural to be lured by fun and engaging sites and apps, but are they (the apps and sites) really doing anything new or transformative? Are they engaging students or empowering them? 

Questions for Discussion (Chapter 8)

  1. What are the current strengths of your organization and how do you continue to move them forward?
  2. What are the strengths of the individuals you serve and how have you put them into situations where these strengths will flourish?
  3. How do you find the balance between “mentoring” and “micro-managing” to ensure people feel supported and comfortable taking risks?

Questions for Discussion (Chapter 9)

  1. How do you model and explore new opportunities for learning in your own practice?
  2. What opportunities are you providing for informal learning, exploration, and “play” with new technologies in your organization? 
  3. How do you move from “standardized” to “personalized learning opportunities for your students and staff?
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