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.
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.
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.