Growing from What We Know During Times of Uncertainty

From my memories as a child, my older sister would listen to ABBA non-stop. I am not sure I liked it, but as I grew up and watched movies like Mamma Mia, I was amazed at how many of the songs that I not only knew but were seemingly burnt into my brain.

For many parts of my life, I associate music and movies with moments. For example, during my first break-up, I was obsessed with the song “How Can I Fall” by Breathe (so, so, so 80s). My high school basketball playing days are connected to “Motownphilly” by Boyz II Men. I love that song to this day.

But I know years from now, the year 2020 will be connected to a song from the movie “Eurovision” called Ja Ja Ding Dong. I can NEVER get enough of this song.


Jaja Ding Dong GIF

I have watched “Eurovision,” probably twenty times in 2020. It provides me smiles and laughter when I need it most.

The movie is connected to the Eurovision Song Contest, which I will admit, I knew nothing about until I saw the movie. This event was totally new to me when I saw the movie, but what got me interested in the movie? At the beginning of the movie, they play “Waterloo” by ABBA, which was actually one of the Eurovision winners. It hooked me! What I already knew exposed me to something new that I eventually explored and dived into deeper.

(By the way, this is such a fun post to write googling and listening to all of these songs. SO GOOD!)

So, what in the world does this have to do with teaching during the pandemic?

Well, moving to totally different spaces and routines, instead of just jumping to new ideas, I started with what I knew worked in old spaces. For example, I know that greeting students in the hallway is a great way to start class and set the tone for time spent together. I also did a similar practice as a school administrator by greeting our school community in the morning outside the building doors. But there are no “hallways” or “front doors” in a zoom room. So, what is the equivalent?

I started using this simple “meme check-in” as people entered virtual spaces:

What it did was gave people a smile as they entered the room, a chance to hear from them and see how they are doing, before we even thought about getting into content. I have used both with adults and students, which has really helped set the tone for the learning time. But I started with what I knew and asked myself, what could this look like in a remote-learning environment?

In my course on “Developing the Innovator’s Mindset” in any learning space, I discuss the importance of figuring out high leverage relationship-building activities you use in one space and asking what their equivalent is in the new space? Here is a screenshot below, but please feel free to copy this document to use with your colleagues.

As we continuously focus on new and better ideas, it is important to bridge from what we know works and build upon that to develop confidence and build competence in times of uncertainty. Of course, we continue to move forward, but we can do that in a way that builds upon what we already know.

This post was inspired by a conversation I recently had with Naomi Toland and Stephanie Rothstein on the question, “How do you build collaborative innovation during times of high stress?”

You can watch the clip of this conversation here!



Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Consultant. I also like dogs.

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George Couros

Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Consultant. I also like dogs.