Sometimes a book can be much more than what rests upon its pages. It can be a catalyst. A meeting place. An invitation to engage in reflective learning. And the center of a community that forms when each of us, through our own reactions and interactions with the book and other readers, end up producing our own individual, highly-personalized versions of that book—which is exactly the sort of multilevel, potentially transformative experience that George Couros and Katie Novak have produced through Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL [Universal Design for Learning]and the Innovator’s Mindset.
The book itself is a paeon to the idea that innovation can be fostered as much by and within the limitations we face as trainer-teacher-learners as by thinking outside the box: “…the system, with its rules and limitations, is never a reason not to innovate. To the contrary, the system or ‘box’ you work within may be the very reason you need to innovate,” Couros writes in the opening pages of the introduction to the book. And, as has happened both times I have read books he has produced, I find myself taking an innovative approach to the act of reading itself: slowing down rather than racing through the text; stopping to follow links to sources (e.g., blog posts, short articles, or videos) he has cited in his text so that they become part of my personal version of the book; reflecting, through blog posts, on the content he (and, in this case, in collaboration with Novak) provides as a way of more deeply and rewardingly absorbing what he offers; and engaging in online interactions with others who are also reading—or have read—the book.
The special “reading” twist this time has been involvement in a three-week book study group using Instagram as the platform for the conversations—an innovation for me because this has been the first time I have engaged with others via Instagram for any reason, and it’s the first time I have, through the creation of a series of book-related posts, explored the potential Instagram offers as a tool for training-teaching-learning—then carried those posts into my Tumblr account as a way of collecting those thoughts into a cohesive, easy-to-follow online record of my own learning. The results, from a learning point of view, have been spectacular for me, and the content of the book has become far more meaningful and useable than it otherwise would have been.
Starting with the first of three sections—“The Core of Innovative Teaching and Learning”—Couros, as a co-conspirator in our learning process, walks with us through chapters exploring the importance of relationships in learning; learning that is learner-drive and evidence-informed; creating (and engaging in) empowered learning experiences; and being both a master learner and a master educator—recognizing, at all times, that the word “master” does not mean that we are perfect. By inviting us to explore these themes through the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group, he and Novak extend the “book” into cyberspace for (and with) all of us in ways that have us creating a record of our own learning and a set of experiences that—because Instagram is obviously, at its core, a visual medium with opportunities to interweave imagery and text—create learning anchors (in this case, the visual reminders we create in the form of posts on Instagram) to make the learning more memorable—and, of course, playful.
The second section fully carries us into chapter-by-chapter explorations of the “characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset”: empathetic, problem finders-solvers, risk-takers, networked, observant, creators, resilient, and reflective. And again, our starting point is through the reading of the textual conversation in which Couros and Novak bounce back and forth with observations about and guidance on how to incorporate those attributes into our own efforts to develop the Innovator’s Mindset for ourselves in ways to benefit those we serve. But, we realize as we reflect upon what we are reading, that is only the beginning. The real innovation comes through application of the work, and that’s where the formation of the community of teacher-trainer-learners within the online, (mostly) asynchronous book study group produces results worth noting. In creating posts about empathy in learning, we reflect upon—and begin to further hone—our own empathy toward our learners. In creating posts about risk-taking, we are inspired to take—and learn from the process of taking—risks by exploring resources and tools that allow us to produce better, more engaging and meaningful posts, on Instagram than we otherwise might have produced. The process of participating in the book study group becomes integral to the process of reading, absorbing, and applying what Couros and Novak offer us. And those of us willing to put the extra time into this level of “reading” the book (encountering the text, reflecting upon it, creating something from it that we can use in other venues, interacting with others as part of that reading-as-creative-process experience, and providing positive, inspirational learning experiences for others as a result) walk away with a reading experience that is every bit as innovative as anything the words upon the pages of the book can offer.
A short, very sweet concluding section suggesting “You Are the Change You Seek” serves as a reminder that “finishing” the book does not mean we are about to place it on a shelf where it becomes covered under an ever-growing shroud of dust, for this is not the kind of book you finish—or that is ever finished with you. As long as we remember what we have gained and apply it to the work we do, we will continue innovating within the box—and far beyond it, too.–N.B.: This is the fourth in a set of reflections inspired by #IITB, the Innovate Inside the Box Instagram Book Study group.