New AND Different #IMMOOC

I am participating in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) with hundreds of other educators across the globe, about The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. 

The blog prompts for Week 2 are:

  • In Ch. 1, innovation is defined as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. What are some examples that you consider innovative? How is it new and better than what previously existed?
  • Review the “Critical Questions for Educators” in Ch. 2. Why are these important to understand those we serve in education? What other questions would you ask?
  • How do you embody the characteristics of an Innovator’s Mindset?

I want to address each of these prompts, so this might be LONG!

When I think of innovation, one local idea that comes to mind is an idea innovated by a colleague, Mari Venturino, and her friend Justin Birckbichler. They loved the idea of Breakout EDU games. After trying them with their students, they took the idea and innovated a new version: Breakout EDU Digital. In the original Breakout EDU game, players need to have lock boxes with clues to solve to unlock various locks in order to find the “prize” inside. These games are fun and interactive and being used in PD and classrooms all over. Mari and Justin made the idea new and better by digitizing the concept. Now players don’t need the physical materials, as the “locks” are online. You still solve clues but you can open the lock when you type in the correct answer. Not only is this a lower cost option, but players can also play virtually, instead of being in the same room at the same time.  In fact, they even hosted a live Breakout EDU Digital event with players from all over working to solve puzzles virtually. I have broken out of a Breakout and a Digital Breakout and they are both fun learning opportunities!

As a principal, I often had to innovate inside the box, as George addresses in Chapter 2. I was constrained by the hours of the school day and the budget I was given, and was told that most schools did PD at their monthly staff meetings.  I knew that my teachers needed and deserved more professional learning that that, so I made a change. First, I called staff meetings “staff learning time” and I emailed out any information that didn’t need to be discussed face-to-face.  I then began to use my budget to provide release time for teachers from a grade level team to come together for Lesson Study. This took the idea of collaborative planning and turned it around- the collaborative planning happened as a team, first thing in the morning. Then, as a team, we went into one classroom and co-taught the planned lesson. After the teaching, we debriefed about the students’ learning and made adjustments before going into another classroom and co-teaching the revised lesson to a new group of students. Not only was this different (new) than the traditional planning the teachers had done in afternoon meetings, but it was better (according to them and student results!) because:

  • we all owned the planning, the students’ learning, and our reflections
  • we began to create a common language about our pedagogy and our students’ learning
  • it highlighted the different strengths that each team member brought to the process

When I became a Director at the district level, I wanted to do something similar with the site-based instructional coaches I supported. But our work was less around designing lessons and more about observing practice and providing feedback and support to teachers. I took the idea of Instructional Rounds (from the book by City, Elmore, and re-purposed it for instructional coaches. We formed small groups and visited various site’s together, focusing on site-based problems of practice and how coaching could address the strengths and needs we saw as patterns within our observations.  This was new and different from the traditional model of peer observations or coaches working in isolation.

This collaborative learning was powerful for the entire group of educators and reminds me of the points that Shawn and Brady made in the Week 2 podcast. It is so important for district staff to be out in classrooms, seeing the teaching and learning in action. How can we make decisions that impact curriculum and instruction if we never see those things in the hands of students and teachers? I love the idea of #500C (visiting 500 classrooms a year) and I am proud that I have visited 82 classrooms in my own district and 16 outside of my district so far this year.

The Critical Questions for Educators in The Innovator’s Mindset make me reflect on adult learning and the educators who are in staff meetings, PLCs, and other professional learning opportunities. Here are my versions of George’s questions with a few more of my own.

  • Would I want to be a learner in my own professional development workshop?
  • What is best for this teacher/leader?
  • What is this educator’s passion?
  • What are some ways we can create a true community of practice?
  • How did this work for our teachers/ leaders?
  • What strengths do our teachers/leaders bring that we can highlight and support?
  • How can we learn from our colleagues?
  • How can we share best practices across our system?

Created by @sylviaduckworth based on  The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

The 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset are a great place for educators to reflect on their own journey towards innovation.  I agree with Katie Martin in that reflection becomes more important the longer I am in this work. Reflection is a key element in adult learning theory and a step we would be wise to build into all professional learning opportunities.

In the first semester of my doctoral program, a professor advised us to start a “leadership journal” and to write in it every day. We spoke a lot about how leadership can be isolating and how important it is for leaders to reflect on their work. I started that journal on September 29, 2012 and I’ve kept it going for four years (though not every day). In addition to that internal reflection, I use my blog as a way to reflect and create as well.

When Katie talked about risk-taking, I was reminded of so many teachers in the era of NCLB. Many teachers were forced into the box of “teach the curriculum with fidelity” which often meant “read from the Teacher’s Edition and do not deviate”. This time period took away creativity from teachers.  Now that we’ve moved past that time, many teachers are scared to take risks.  Some will say things like Katie mentioned (“They won’t let me!”). These teachers put themselves in the boxes they complain about out of fear; they’ve lost confidence in their own creativity and innovation because they were told that was wrong just a few years ago.

Leaders can facilitate an innovator’s mindset for teachers by modeling the way, by opening the doors, and by letting teachers know they don’t need permission to take a risk! This would be both new AND different for so many teachers and leaders.  It’s time, don’t you think?



CCC licensed work by aitoff on


About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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10 Responses to New AND Different #IMMOOC

  1. Hi Amy,
    I’ve randomly picked your blog from George’s #IMMOOC list as one of my ‘ 3 to comment on’…perhaps as a warm-up to getting my own week 2 blog written!
    I love where you talk about having your grade level teachers co-plan lessons and then even better, co- teaching them from class to class, improving them as they go. Our high school has tried to encourage teachers to just visit each other’s classes to observe and learn as a first step toward creating a collaborative environment. Unfortunately, other than about a handful of teachers, it was like pulling teeth! We couldn’t seem to create a culture where our colleagues saw value in learning from each other in that way. Your model just might be a way to take another run at that, as I still think it is something that our staff would greatly benefit from.
    Part of the reason our staff struggles to value learn from each other is that our leadership doesn’t have a 500C mindset! So without the modeling, the culture of collaboration doesn’t flourish. Your post has encouraged me to press on in helping to create a collaborative environment and our school which I think is a necessary precursor to innovation.
    #IMMOOC on!

    • HI Cammie! Thank you for your comments. I love that I was your randomly selected blog! Your positive approach towards contributing to a learning culture at your site, despite the challenges. Lesson Study is a great structure for collaborative learning!

  2. Amy,
    Thank you so much for being a “hands-on” and visible member of your district! This is SO important for teachers and students to see. If you’re modeling and taking risks, they will too. Supporting their efforts by visiting their classrooms is so great. Hopefully more school administrators and decision-makers will follow your lead!

    • Thank you Katie! Being hands-on and visible is non-negotiable for me, and is something I expect of others as well. As I support new leaders, I make that expectation clear. I hope others continue to follow that idea as well. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. dogtrax says:

    Hi Amy
    I used your post as part of my IMOOOC blog tour. Thanks for inspiring my thinking.

  4. mondor says:

    “It is so important for district staff to be out in classrooms, seeing the teaching and learning in action. How can we make decisions that impact curriculum and instruction if we never see those things in the hands of students and teachers? ”

    I wish more district leaders had your mindset. Thanks for your post, lots of food for thought.

  5. romenendez70 says:

    Dear Amy:

    It warms my heart to think that somewhere out there an educational leader is reflecting on how educators feel at the PDs they are offering their teachers. I dream of a day when teachers will be treated with differentiation when it comes to PD. I am a teacher librarian in an elementary school, I work 12 hour days on average, so I am overly zealous of my time and how I use it and even more, how others decide to invest my professional learning time. I have sat with an open mind through many mandated PD where I have already watched the TED Talk they are so excited to share, read the research they have just discovered, played with the App they are presenting, and it is frustrating and a waste of my time. I would appreciate choice when it comes to PD, I believe I have a right to be offered engaging PD that will help me become a better educator, I would like to think that my time is valued. Hopefully, more and more administrators and PD developers will start thinking like you do, start reflecting and innovating, and there will come a day when I will walk confidently into a district mandated PD knowing that I will be engaged and enriched. Keep up the important work you are doing and sharing your struggles and triumphs.


  6. Glendaile says:

    Hi Amy,

    I certainly agree with you and with our mentors that awareness and implementation of the 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset is so important towards innovation. When I saw this illustration, it shows me how powerful we can be to anyone. These multiple responsibilities mold us into being extraordinary individuals. It reaffirmed where we are in this profession and guides us which one needs to be strengthened. When you consider that reflection is a key element in adult learning theory and a step we would be wise to build into all professional learning opportunities, I think that I need to start my personal professional journal for my own record, and one day I can refer back to see how far have I been through. Thank you for sharing your great message.


  7. Pingback: A Year of Blogging – 2016 | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

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