THE FWSU STORY: Lead Learners and Luminaries: Notes On A Day with George Couros

In the bio section of his Twitter account, one of my colleagues, also a school principal, identifies himself as the “lead learner” in his building. As I thought about his carefully chosen words, I was struck by how such a simple phrase could so completely embody our work as educational leaders, designating the principal as both teacher and perpetual student.  

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Former President John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Nowhere is that more evident than in Franklin West. FWSU prioritizes professional learning for all staff, including the cohort of FWSU teachers, principals and central office administrators who spent last Wednesday together.

And so began our day with George Couros, former teacher and principal turned author, educational consultant and public speaker. His book, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, outlines the attitudes and behaviors – the mindset – necessary for teachers and school administrators to inspire students and colleagues, and to nurture their natural curiosity to learn. 

The day was inspiring, filled with learning about the attitudes needed to maintain students’ innate curiosities. But, it wasn’t until I returned to my office later that day that I realized my notes from the session looked very different than they usually do after professional development. Rather than a tally of “do’s” and “don’ts” (with very few exceptions), my notes were substantially a running list of quotations, statements made by George that was intended to be thought-provoking, challenging and inspirational. Of course, there were some specific tools that we could go back to our schools and immediately put into place, but more than that, what I took away was, in many ways, a different way of thinking. The Innovator’s Mindset.

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In his book, and during our professional development, George spoke about the importance of making a connection of the heart before trying to teach anyone anything. He did just that, including photographs of his stories of his immigrant family and childhood. While the day was about teaching us, it was mostly done through modeling, igniting our own desires to learn, and making connections.

At first, I didn’t think much about the difference in my note taking that day. But, as I began to write about the day, I connected all of this with something that had happened that morning. George was using technology as part of his presentation. As he efficiently navigated the creation and use of documents, many of us the begin exploring the same. Throughout the day, George reminded us that he had not told us that we had to do anything, or couldn’t do something. Instead, he had shown us the value in what he was doing and that led most of us to want to do the same thing.

My thoughts reverted back to my colleague’s “lead learner” designation on Twitter. Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus has more than 30 synonyms for the word “leader,” but my favorite by far is “luminary,” which is defined as “a person who inspires or influences others.” It struck me that the reason my notes from the day were vastly quotes, rather than a to-do-list, was because ideas had been illuminated rather than dictated, inspired rather than directed.

These quotes were particularly thought-provoking for me:

“What was once terrifying, is now the norm.”

“Relationships are by far the most important thing in education.”

“You’ve never had to teach a child curiosity.”

“Would you want to spend the whole day learning in your own classroom?”

“Hope is not a strategy.”

“Do kids create because of – or in spite of – school?”

“When you have a compelling reason, you can learn anything.”

“We need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.”

“Showing someone the value of learning motivates them to do it.”

Thinking about my mindset – my attitude – was a very different experience than simply learning new “things to do.” It challenged my “being” as much as my practice. It caused me to think about the experiences that have led me to certain beliefs and values and challenged me to want to be an even more inspiring person and practitioner. And maybe someday, a luminary.

Chris and Jackson


Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

THE FWSU STORY: FWSU Hosts National School Innovation Leader

A focus on the future and the important role our students have in that future has been a driving force across FWSU for many years. I’ve always believed that our district’s goal is to have students prepared to change the world for the better. It is a big goal; it is an essential goal. To reach that goal our schools are built on opportunity for our students. 

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Opportunity is driven by the FWSU Action Plan’s four targets. The four target areas for our action plan: proficiency-based personalized learning, leadership, engaged community partners and flexible learning environments. The targets are meaningful and over the years have made our schools feel more human and less industrial.

Students learn using helpful technologies

Students interact in a classroom

1:1 devices used by students for personalized learning

A concentration on innovation, creativity, and opportunity have opened doors for our students and our schools. FWSU schools have been recognized as Apple Distinguished Programs, we have been awarded Exemplar status by P21, we have been recognized by IVECA as a Distinguished Global District and we are one of one hundred districts in the United States selected to the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.



In the last few years, each of our schools launched Innovation Labs to enhance our STEM opportunities for every student. Students in our schools regularly reach out and work with students across the globe. Teachers and students are consistently engaged in real-world research, they present locally and nationally. Last year FWSU students presented at conferences in New Orleans and San Francisco. BFA Fairfax High School had three students in three years selected as Vermont Presidential Scholars. This year students are traveling to China. Throughout our system, students are taking their learning to new levels.





Earlier this week FWSU hosted a visit from Devin Vodicka, Chief Impact Office of the AltSchool. Devin visits schools all over the country to learn about best learning practices and learning opportunities. He then shares those best practices to the AltSchool and the AltSchool network. We were honored that Devin traveled from San Francisco to see FWSU students and teachers in action. After the visit was finished, Devin remarked to me how impressed he was with our focus on innovation and how we have created student-centered learning environments.  Great feedback for our continued growth as a system.




Ned Kirsch Superintendent

Ned Kirsch is the Superintendent of Schools at Franklin West Supervisory Union. He is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter at @betavt.