The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

For our contribution to the annual book issue, three members of the  P@nel.Edu team (Christian Altena, Gayle Monsma, and John Walcott) decided to read The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros and dialogue about the book and its value for Christian educators. Christian, Gayle, and John gathered via video conference to discuss the book.

John: Let’s start by talking about our overall impressions of the book. What would we like to highlight as key take-aways from the book?

Christian: This was an interesting book for me to read right now because our school is two weeks away from implementing a one-to-one program, after many years of debate and discussion. So, many of the ideas were matching up nicely with discussions we’ve been having in our staff meetings and as departments. “OK, we’re getting these devices. What are they used for? Are they going to be $1,000 pencils?” (as was referenced in the book). “What’s a way to use these things beyond another thing that the kids have to lug around and that cause us headaches because they get broken. How can we actually make all this fuss and bother worth it?”

Gayle: I think that often when people think about innovation, they think about technology. That’s certainly part of it, and I think the work you are doing at your school, Christian, fits in well. But I also appreciated Couros’s reminder that innovation is not necessarily about technology. I noticed how he talked about innovating “inside the box.” This is an interesting and important challenge because otherwise we have all these obstacles that we put up in front of ourselves or in front of others. We don’t have the time; we don’t have the money; we don’t have the resources; we don’t have the facility; we don’t have; we don’t have. And he pushes against that type of thinking. This gets back to his definition that innovation is a mindset; it’s a way of thinking. And then you can innovate in whatever situation you are in. We don’t need money and all those other things, but we can innovate “inside the box” because innovation is a change in our way of thinking. I appreciated that definition because it opens up into so many different realms and removes barricades from what we think we’re going to do.

Christian: Yes. Every time I have a discussion with either staff members or students about the uses of technology in classrooms, I tell them the boring stories of the old guy back in my day. And I have this distinct memory of sitting in the classroom at Simon Fraser University, part of my teacher training, and we were taught how to type in “http . . .” This was in 1996, and the internet was just becoming somewhat useful. Couros talks about technology being transformative; that’s the goal. But for us in the 1990s, when I was learning about the internet and how to use it, the simple fact of access to all this information—and by comparison there was nothing on the internet then—but it seemed liberating. That seemed almost transformative; whereas today, all these years later, that same ability to access information is completely overwhelming, frustrating, and even depressing sometimes. Now we’re being bombarded, and it seems like some people, maybe of my vintage but even some students I’ve heard from, are almost nostalgic for a time when information was limited. You just dealt with the textbook you had, and you didn’t want to have another thing to worry about. We can’t go back to that world fully; obviously technology is part of our lives, but I really like the idea that innovation is not about the technology itself but about our mindfulness of how it’s used. I also appreciated the information Couros gave about being literate, adaptive, and then able to transform. I’m literate with many things; I’m adaptive mostly; but I haven’t really figured out how to use technology in truly transformative ways. I’m thinking of ways, but I’m not there yet.

John: I also appreciated that it begins with the learner. Couros’s definition of innovation focuses on the mindset—it’s not just something we do. He speaks of innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. When we just casually talk about innovative teaching, we’re often talking about what’s outside the box rather than what’s “inside the box.” Or our goal is just to be new. We’re doing something new, so that must be good. Couros sets a higher bar, right? It’s got to be new and better. And it begins with the question, What is best for this learner?

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