Pelham City Schools faculty hears from George Couros ahead of new school year

Published 1:52 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2023

By BARTON PERKINS | Staff Writer

PELHAM –  As part of Pelham City Schools’ preparation for the new school year, a back-to-school employee meeting was held on Aug. 7.

Pelham City Schools’ employee institute meeting included a keynote address led by writer, educator and innovative education leader George Couros. In his talk to the faculty of PCS, Couros discussed what it means to be an innovative learner and how teachers can get students excited about going to school.

“The first thing we should be saying is, ‘Look, is this person excited,’” Couros said. “You know, how do you tap into your passions? It’s not about ignoring weakness; it’s about starting with strengths.”

Couros noted that students are often reminded of what they are not good at, as opposed to being celebrated for their strengths as individuals. He said this, in part, factors into the “teach to the test” mentality much of the American education system has been built around the past few decades.

Couros said that instead of teaching to the test, teachers should instead teach their students to find problems in the world and think about how to solve them.

“Nobody’s saying don’t worry about the test,” Couros said. “That’s a really easy thing for me to say to you to make you lose your jobs and have to move to Florida. We don’t want that. And so, how do we look at learning, right? And so, here are two ways that we can look at this. If you can develop kids as really great test takers, that doesn’t mean they’re great learners. But if you make the kids great learners, then they’ll be fine on the test.”

Much of Couros ’ mentality about learning comes from the idea that people should never really stop learning and growing. He uses his own mother, an immigrant from Greece, as an example. Couros’ mother had a fifth-grade education and did not have the chance to learn how to read English until well into her 80s. But she was driven to learn how to read and write English because she wanted to be able to use Facebook.

“She debunks the myth that I’ve always heard about adults and new technology,” Couros  said. “‘Oh, these kids are so much better at technology than we’ll ever be.’ The thing that really separates adults and kids, though, is that kids are still willing to push buttons and see what happens. And a lot of adults have lost that and have lost the willingness to learn through trial and error.”

This introduces the other major idea Couros spoke on, the idea that social media and technology can be used in a positive and constructive way for students to learn how to identify and solve problems.

“We say to your kids, ‘You can’t make an impact on the world until you leave school,’ and that is misleading,” Couros said. “Because anyone can make an impact on our world right now. It doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be something really simple.”

Couros discussed several students he has known over the years who have seen problems and tried to help solve them with creative solutions. 

“A great example is Amariyanna ‘Mari’ Copeny, you might not know her name, but I guarantee you know what she’s helped with—the Flint water crisis in Michigan,” Couros said. “She’s become one of the biggest advocates in the community, but she’s not just posting on social media. Every year, she’s raising money to find backpacks full of supplies to help kids and their community. This is what empowerment looks like and should be the goal for our work in education.”

After his keynote address, Couros took a moment to stress the importance of student and teacher connection and how willing teachers must be to continue growing and developing.

“But most importantly for me, because we have to help those kids that we serve,” Couros said. “Finding a compelling reason so that every single school we work with actually has to find that pathway to success that is meaningful to them.”