Sunday, August 24, 2014

An Alarming Realization About Innovation and Schools

As I type, I’m aboard a plane bound for the Boston area. Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend The Innovator’s Journey, a workshop on innovation held at one of my favorite places, Olin College. During the sessions a few weeks ago, I heard stories from several highly-successful innovators and I collaborated with many others about innovation. Specifically, as those of us in attendance listened to the stories shared by the innovators, we endeavored to identify the events from and characteristics of each innovator’s childhood that most likely contributed to him or her being an innovative adult. While we made some progress, we have more work to do. Thus the reason for my journey back to Boston.

In reviewing my notes from The Innovator’s Journey sessions and replaying innovators’ stories in my mind, I have come to an alarming realization about innovation and the innovators I met a few weeks ago. I have discovered a rather conspicuous absence of the influence of schools, schooling and schoolwork on innovators based on the testimonies given a few weeks ago. Save one twenty-something innovator who had a positive school experience and who attributed some of his innovative nature to the training he received at a STEM magnet school, all the other innovators cited instead examples from their childhoods of parental support, free play, unstructured time, exposure to varied cultures and more, as factors that likely contributed to their innovative approach to life as adults.

In other words, at least for the innovators gathered at Olin, school played little to no role in fostering innovation. Granted, most of the innovators matriculated ten, twenty or more years ago from school systems for whom innovation almost certainly did not appear on the radar. Nevertheless, how sad that so many innovators in their formative years had to find opportunities for innovation outside classroom walls.

With all the talk of including innovation and creativity in 21st century education, we have quite a challenge ahead of us to actually foster rather than hinder innovation in schools and promote the growth and development of innovators. What a tragedy it will be if, ten years from now, innovators gather in a room somewhere to discuss the factors that contributed to their journey toward becoming innovators and they generate a list from which school is missing.


How exactly do we foster innovation among today’s students? I have a few ideas based on my own reading, experience and the time I spent at Olin recently, but I hope to have a much clearer picture forty-eight hours from now after I reconvene with some brilliant innovators and educators who are determined to answer precisely that question.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

John Wooden's Wisdom Applied to Self-Improvement for Coaches, Teachers and School Leaders

In You Haven't Taught Until They've Learned, John Wooden talks quite a bit about how much he learned early in his career and about how important it is for a coach to continue to learn. The quote below provides a glimpse into Wooden's mind. The quote holds a great deal of relevance for educators today. In particular, the quote holds great significance for educational leaders. The best way to improve a faculty is for each teacher to improve himself or herself. A great educational leader, putting Wooden's wisdom into practice, does not lose sight of the fact that the same principle applies to school leadership. Simple but brilliant.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Variations on "A good course changes what you know. A great course changes who you are."

I recently had the privilege of attending The Innovator's Journey, a collaborative effort of a number of innovators gathered at Olin College to identify qualities and characteristics of innovators' childhoods that might be infused into 21st century education. Perhaps I'll say more soon about that incredible experience, but here I'd like to focus on something I heard while I was there. If I knew who said this, I certainly would credit that person. Unfortunately, I don't, so I won't. Nevertheless, I want to share this powerful idea. "A good course changes what you know. A great course changes who you are." Simple. Powerful. True.


Since hearing this several days ago, I haven't been able to shake the idea. Furthermore, I've spent some time thinking about other iterations of this same idea. These multiple other iterations I share with you here. I hope these will be food for thought for you in the coming school year.
  • "A good course changes what you know. A great course changes who you are."
  • "A good teacher changes what you know. A great teacher changes who you are."
  • "A good coach changes what you know. A great coach changes who you are."
  • "A good school changes what you know. A great school changes who you are."
  • "A good book changes what you know. A great book changes who you are."
  • "A good mentor changes what you know. A great mentor changes who you are."
  • "A good leader changes what you know. A great leader changes who you are."
  • "A good principal changes what teachers know. A great principal changes how teachers teach."
  • "A good principal changes what school does. A great principal changes what school is."
I could keep going. Instead, I challenge you to think about how you could adapt the idea of  "A good course changes what you know. A great course changes who you are." to make it meaningful for you and your teaching journey.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays on the Importance of Focusing on the Process

In my research for What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches, I heard from a number of incredible coaches a pretty clear message about the importance of the process in teaching and learning. Specifically, several of the coaches told me that a key element of their success over the years has been focusing more on the process and less on the results. By focusing on the process (individual and team growth and development) with their players, and by coaching the athletes and teams toward mastery rather than performance (stats, scores and wins), the coaches have been able to improve the quality of individual and team performances. Perhaps that sounds counter-intuitive, but the evidence lies in the national championships and Olympic medals these coaches have accumulated.

I recently discovered a great quote by Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon (I did not obtain this personally for my book)  that summarizes this approach to process-focused coaching and teaching: "What I'm trying to convince them is, you're not trying to beat the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Blue Jays, you're trying to beat the game of baseball through execution." Maddon nailed it. This approach works equally well for baseball, hockey and soccer, as it does for writing, calculus and second languages. Just as Maddon has led his team into the playoffs and into the World Series by focusing on mastering baseball rather than focusing on beating particular teams, teachers, too, can lead their classes to success by focusing on mastering writing, calculus and language, rather than focusing on test scores.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Lesson for Educators: John Wooden on Why Joy and Frustration Should Not Come from Scores and Outcomes

"It is difficult for young players to learn - because of the great emphasis on records - but, ideally, the joy and frustration of sport should come from the performance itself, not the score. While he is playing, the worst thing a player can think about in terms of concentration - and therefore of success - is losing. The next worst is winning.”

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden sums up nicely a concept that has taken hold of me and won’t let go. In my research for What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches, I heard from a number of incredible coaches a theme similar to what Wooden emphasizes in this quote. (It is worth noting that Wooden uses the word performance in this quote to mean the game itself, not the final outcome of the game.) Indeed, in sports today, people have become obsessed with the scores, records and stats, and the joy involved in the performance, the process of mastering the game itself, often is forgotten. The message this sends to youth may be costly because it implies that the outcomes are more important than the processes involved in learning, improving and mastering the skills involved in a sport.

In my last post on this quote, I focused on the importance of the process. Here, I want to shift my focus to Wooden's idea that "the joy and frustration of sport should come from the performance itself, not the score." Wooden's wisdom shines here. The reason any young person should take up a sport is because he or she loves it, not to win games or accumulate stats. Winning is nice, an enjoyable by-product, but it should be neither the sole measure of success or joy nor the motivation for engaging in sports. For Wooden, true joy lies in mastery, or in progressing toward mastery. Through the process of learning and trying to master a given sport, a young person can learn myriad life lessons including but not limited to dedication, perseverance, grit, growth mindset, and how to deal with winning and losing with class. Of all these, I believe Wooden would have valued growth mindset the most, because it lines up so well with this quote. That the potential to grow and improve in an endeavor, i.e. mastery of the golf swing or the jump shot, lies within a player is a notion that lines up perfectly with Wooden's philosophy.

A great coach or coaching staff can instill in athletes a love of the process, or the "performance" as Wooden refers to it. When an athlete come to love and find joy in the performance, he or she will see the struggles involved in trying to master the sport as part of the growth process. USA Wrestling Coach Brandon Slay told me, "I have to get my guys to enjoy the process of going through the drills." He wants his athletes to be able to say, "At the end of practice when I’m totally drenched in sweat, and every muscle in my body is killing me, I love it. I’m a warrior and I got to do something I love to do." He went on to say, "The more that they love the process, the more meaningful those drills in practice are." Wooden would have loved this. This philosophy implies, then, that coaches should emphasize and praise growth and improvement and not just the score and winning. Otherwise, athletes receive mixed signals or the wrong message altogether.

Let's not forget the frustration Wooden mentions in this quote. For some this may be counter-intuitive, but Wooden means that the frustration of sport should come not from losing or from the score. Rather, frustration should come in the process, the growth and the development. For anyone who ever has attempted to master a golf swing, frustration abounds. This frustration, though, is both natural and healthy, especially in the context of a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, an athlete attempting to master a skill or sport can use the frustration as motivation to continue working toward mastery. After all, with a growth mindset, an athlete has control over his or her own growth and improvement. This philosophy implies that coaches should make sure, as much as possible, that an athlete's frustration centers not on the score and losing but rather on the growing pains of player development.

Simply put, the lesson for educators is this: as education leaders, we must help our students shift their thinking so their joy and frustration lies not with scores and grades but rather with the growth, the process of learning and their journey toward mastery. In the classroom as in sport, according to Wooden's philosophy, the driving force behind instruction and learning should be growth, mastery and the process rather than the grades, scores and outcomes. Grades and other quantification of learning should not be the source of either students' joy or frustration. Good grades and high test scores, like wins in sport, should be merely a byproduct of mastery, growth and the process, not the motivation behind what happens in classrooms. With the current landscape in education focused so much on tests and testing, and therefore on grades and scores, Wooden's approach appropriately applied in classrooms runs opposite that mindset. Thankfully, there appears to be a shift beginning with educators at the grassroots level that would have made Wooden proud.