In this ongoing series of conversations with gifted leaders I am exploring #LeadershipFlow in action. What is it? How does it help leaders navigate change and inspire others to reach for more?
Chances are that you have never heard of Jason Kornoely, but I want you to. He is my daughter Olivia’s 3rd grade teacher. Olivia would come home daily and just absolutely beam and boast of how much fun she was having in Mr. Kornoely’s class. She went on and on about the games they were playing, the stories they were telling, and the sheer joy she was having in learning (although she did not talk about it as if she is learning, rather she was playing). At first, I thought, does this teacher even teach or does he just let the kids play? As I’ve learned more, it became obvious to me that this was something special, and that Olivia’s teacher was someone who went beyond what was expected of him., That is why I wanted to interview him for the #LeadershipFlow in Action blog. Remember, leaders in flow can show up anywhere…
Croft: Why are you a teacher?
Jason: I had a very influential teacher in 4th grade, Mr. Schippers. I distinctly remember coming home, sitting with my mom at the kitchen table, talking about the amazing things I had learned that day, and how I wanted to be a teacher just like Mr. Schippers when I grew up.
Croft: So the passion drew you?
Jason: Yes, because the job I had in graphic design after college was fun, but it felt empty. What kind of impact am I making in the world? Teaching is something, if you are doing it right, where it fills you up and then it goes out into the classroom and into the world. Teaching is to me essentially a core, the heart and soul of who you are, if you’ve got the right mindset.
A common trait that I am noticing among leaders who seek flow is passion. When I see a leader who is creating great things and having profound influence on others I have always seen passion, a love for what they are doing, and with Jason I could see that passion right away.
Croft: You have had mentors that got you started and others that have inspired you?
Jason: A couple of years ago I started to really get involved in incorporating technology in the classroom. I would read as much as I could, blogs, technology, scholastic.com, and read what other teachers were doing. Currently it’s math and games. That’s how I discovered Gordon Hamilton. He’s a longtime mathematician turned educational enthusiast and his whole thing was to build puzzles. He’s created these brilliant puzzles and games, and he had the philosophy that I was trying to take on, which was how do I sneak learning in?* How do I create a need for kids to learn something? I can teach the class multiple ways to multiply two digits numbers but then they’re just sitting back and hopefully absorbing what I’m trying to teach them. But what if I could create a desire, a need for them to find out how to do this efficiently so that they can accomplish something? The puzzles that he created were doing exactly what I wanted to do in math. I sent an email to Dr. Hamilton and I said it was an epiphany in my class what these kids were doing and it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for and I thank you so much for what you are doing. He came back almost immediately with an email saying my timing on the email was unbelievable because he was going to give up, he said I didn’t think anybody was using it. So since then he’s been taking strides into getting it into more hands.
What a great example of a leader creating more leaders, in this case, Jason’s leadership and passion greatly influenced a man whom he considered a mentor. Leaders in flow create more leaders, and that is something Jason does with both his students and his mentors.
*In Flow, learning happens at a much higher level than traditional learning. If we look at Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s definition of flow: “..the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” We see that what Jason is talking about is taking his students into flow so they are not in school but having fun.
Croft: So what is your vision? Where do you see you taking this?
Jason: I see how math instruction can be has changed for the better, I can incorporate this. Right now I am thinking about role playing games in the classroom to introduce vocabulary to build math literacy for kids. This kind of creativity can make a solid difference in instruction so that kids get it. The ultimate goal is to find that that fusion of creativity, entertainment and curriculum – have it all just come together.
Croft: So how does that go over with your peers? Is there a culture that is open to trying something new?
Jason: When we have lunch together I’ll introduce some puzzles, but I have maybe two colleagues actually use them in the classroom. One was a second grade teacher and one was a first grade teacher, but most of the time I just get, “Oh, that’s really cool.” But they don’t really take the next step and actually incorporated it in their classroom. So Mike LaReau, my principal, and I are trying to figure out a way to approach getting the teachers involved and using Dr. Hamilton’s puzzles. Change is hard.
Croft: Do feel that most teachers feel the way you do about teaching?
Jason: I’d like to think so, but with any profession you’ve got some that don’t – it’s not their soul. It’s not their life. It’s not their passion.
Croft: When I was in your classroom I was really interested in the energy in the room. As somebody who studies organizational culture; where, why and what kids do each day in the classroom can be re-examined. So do see yourself really trying to make some changes into educational culture at large?
Jason: I would love for that to be the case. But, I’m not the kind of leader that stands up in front of a group and says this is what we’re going to do, this is how it’s going to be done. I am more of a lead by example kind of guy. And my hope is that using these tools in the classroom will cause kids, like Olivia, to go home and show that they are excited. My hope is that these ideas will start to spread – like a good virus.
Croft: You think it will eventually be more of an integration? I talk about Expanding Capacity when creating a vibrant culture.
Jason: Yes, that’s exactly what I want it to be. I want it to be an integration of everything and how to do that I am not sure. But we need to get away from, okay right now is math time and in an hour and a half it’s going to be science time. I want it to all be blended, all being together in a one big giant educational snowball. And, have it all work.
From my perspective, when I look at the ontological approach, so much of the mindset in organizational training is that the brain is seen as this all knowing, all powerful thing and it completely discounts the body, completely discounts moods and emotions. To hear Jason talk about getting kids passionate about what they are seeking, this is speaking to the whole child.
Croft: So from a leadership perspective what are your biggest challenges?
Jason: I guess one of the big challenges that I have is I’m kind of mercurial. I change a lot as far as what excites me. Right now, I’m on math and will I be as excited about math as I am right now in 5 years? I don’t know. My hope is that I will be able to perfect math instruction.
Croft: Are you becoming an advocate for it in the school district?
Jason: I’ve been dropping hints with different administration figures about this. I’ve got the superintendent of curriculum and instruction and the superintendent himself to look at it. The school board gave me a certificate of recognition for going to the Banff Research Center talking about the k-12 unsolved problems. So I think it’s out there a little bit. But I’ve got more work to do.
When I listened to Jason talk about the work he has yet to do what I heard was a leader who saw his passion, his mission and vision clearly in front of him. And that goes back to the biggest challenge we have to lead is ourselves. Because we have our comfort zones and man it would so much easier to just stay there.
Croft: It is my sense that you are creating other leaders. That is what I saw in Olivia that really sparked my interest. She was showing up different, more confident, that kind of thing.
Jason: Yes, as far as creating leaders out of kids, I focus the first two weeks of school on team building, me building relationships with each kid, and fostering the kids building relationships with each other. I continue this process using games throughout the whole year because it’s a continual process of building trust in each other. When that trust is there, then risk taking happens, and failure happens, and failure is wonderful as long as we learn from it.
Croft: It looks as if a teacher is a leader who is very much in the position of guiding students on their path toward self-mastery – being their authentic selves. Talk about the boy in your class, Tim.
Jason: I made a commitment to myself that when I teach I want to help kids find their element. I want to help them revel in their element. I don’t want to squash them.
Croft: Instead of having to lead with an authoritarian attitude – I’m in charge here….
Jason: Exactly! And so a kid like Tim (not his real name) is a natural entertainer, this is where his confidence comes, this is where he finds self worth, making people laugh. So I said, ”Tim we’ve got to carve out some time so you can do a show, you can do a bit.” Five minutes at the end of the day once a week he would get up there and he would do a bit. I mean the kid’s the next Johnny Carson; I’m very convinced of that.
Croft: And the class responded and he got to be himself and…
Jason: And you talk about the way you hold yourself physically. Tim, head high, I mean. He’s the kind of kid who’d say,” I’m dumb in math.” But when he was making kids roar with laughter…holy cow. I wish I had started it at the beginning of the year instead of the tail end. There are so many teachable moments in a five-minute bit. He would have gotten a lot out of it because he struggles as a writer too. It could have been a whole special project for him. To be able to structure a comedy bit and maybe email a real comic or interview one, if I’d had more time I definitely would have done it.
Croft: Imagine if you could do that for every student, that school was about finding out what their passion is and engaging that – all the while integrating the skills they are going to need. Thank you Jason, I wish every kid could have a teacher like you.