Building Relationships and a Culture of Innovation

Students with smartphones at school aren't a problem. Not teaching them how to use that phone to learn is a problem, said a leading educator during the opening session of FETC 2016 in Orlando.

"Not only do we have access to all the information in the world, we have access to each other," George Couros, division principal of innovative teaching and learning of Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada, said Tuesday at the FETC convention at the Orange County Convention Center.

For today's students, a smartphone is like a pencil was to students in the past.

"This is not technology to these kids," he said. "They call it normal."

Couros recommended embracing Twitter and other social media as useful innovations, rather than trying to limit them in schools.

"They are a conduit to knowledge," he said, "A lot of our educators have no idea what is going on right now. This is something that could really push our learning."

Couros delivered the keynote address at Tuesday's executive summit a day before the main convention. The gathering, which runs through January 14, brings together thousands of educators with the creators of the latest in technology and educational materials.

Couros showed dozens of examples of students using social media to raise money for worthy causes and to organize their lives in positive ways. Their efforts required that they learn to communicate, plan and execute complex projects — something that often is the goal of education.

With the astronomical advances in technology, teachers often struggle to bring those digital resources into the classroom. But it's not all about brainpower. Couros said he believes "meaningful change happens when you first connect to people's hearts."

He urged the teachers to adapt the technology already in students' hands to good uses.

"The biggest gamechanger will never be a technology," said the Canadian. "It will be an educator who looks at themselves as an innovator."

He warned teacher not to focus on standardized tests, which are now used to gauge students' progress often to award raises for school employees.

"No teacher has ever had a kid say a standardized test changed their life," Couros said.

In his view, changing a student's focus means changing what is taught.

"How do we develop this in the course of our lives," he asked. "You can't change people. You have to create the environments in which they can embrace these things. Does your school facilitate learning or does it promote compliance? Every single kid you teach walked into school curious. We stifle this."

Couros said teachers have many opportunities to be creative and to help students learn in new ways with digital technologies, such as smartphones and laptop computers.

"Isolation is a choice educators make," he said. "We really want to put our kids in the space where they're creating stuff."

He said he believes students should have a professional social network, a digital portfolio and an aboutme.me page when they graduate from high school.

"Technology will never replace great teachers," he said. "Don't think about what you can do (in the classroom) on Monday. Think about your legacy."

Read more about Couros at ConnectedPrincipals.com or follow him on Twitter at @gcouros, or read his blog at georgecouros.ca.

About the Author

Patrick Peterson worked for Florida Today, a Gannett daily newspaper in Brevard County, Fla., from 2005 through 2013, and earlier was embedded with U.S. Marines as a reporter during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In Biloxi, Miss., he was a reporter for The Sun Herald newspaper and also founded and ran a charter boat company. He is a journalism graduate of Louisiana State University.

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