The Key to Education by George Couros

Part of the Couros Family (from left to right): Alec, Mary, Mario and George
I am very happy that a great educator from Canada, George Couros, has written a beautiful post for my blog. George is a principal in a K-6 school in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada. Thank you so much, George!

My name is George and I am a principal. Just writing this statement is almost hilarious, and if you ever talked to any of my former principals, they would probably be pulling their hair out knowing at who is at the source of this statement. The funny thing is, what I thought was once a horrible job, I now know is one that is absolutely amazing. I know that I have the opportunity to not only influence children within my school, but I also have the opportunity to influence the people that have the greatest impact on the lives of these children; their teachers.

Teachers absolutely have the biggest impact on the lives of a child, whether it is positive or negative. A child will have the opportunity to either excel in life directly because of a teacher, but sometimes in spite of a teacher. My job is to ensure that I work with my staff to create an environment that does not become the latter.

A little about me, I am the baby in a family of 2 brothers and 1 sister who have very powerful and energetic personalities. When I share with people that I am the shy one in the family, I do not know if they are in shock or fear, as I must say I do have a very outgoing personality as well. My parents, both Greek immigrants, are the major influence that I am in the position I am in today. Looking at their impact, it is very different than a traditional route that many educators may have faced.

As children in Greece, education was something that was not out of necessity for my parents, but was a luxury that was afforded to only some families. My father was only able to attend grade 2 as a student since he had lived in a country that was torn by political ideologies and was embroiled in a civil war. My mother had far surpassed many women of her generation and actually was able to attend grade 6 before she was pulled out of school. Eventually, they both immigrated to Canada and met in the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where they married.

As I grew up and saw many of my Greek friends persuaded to continue the family business, the importance of education was continuously reinforced by my parents. They did not want us working long hours in a restaurant, and wanted to ensure that, although they loved their jobs, we would be in professions that would afford us a little more time to spend with family. Between my 3 siblings and myself, there are 9 degrees, 2 of which are masters degrees, and one a doctorate by my brother Alec. It was an expectation from our parents that we would all go to university, and they worked extremely hard to ensure that we all had that opportunity. My brother and I both work in the field of education and are extremely passionate about our jobs, and hope that we can inspire a spark in others as well.

What my parents do not realize though is that with all of our formal education, they taught my brother and I (along with my siblings outside the world of education) something that was much more beneficial to our profession than any book or Web 2.0 site. They taught us the importance of caring and respect. You see, my parents owned a restaurant in the small town we grew up in that was very popular. When I was younger, it was ALWAYS extremely busy and my parents never seemed to have a quiet moment to themselves. What I had always assumed when I was younger was that because of the quality of food that my parents had made, people continuously would return. As I grew older, I know that this was only part of it.

Looking back on how my parents treated every single person as if they were the most important person in the world, was something that I see was unique. My dad would often come out of the kitchen and talk to customers, sit with them, and learn so much about them. My mom, who was the hostess for my entire life, always had something wonderful to say about the people that came in, and I never forget how engaged she was in their stories that they would share about their families. What my parents had created was not only a successful restaurant, but an atmosphere where people felt warm and welcomed. They would continuously come back to visit my parents, not for the food, but because they felt they were a part of the Greek family. Although my mom and dad had worked many long hours, they always treated people with kindness, caring and respect. Eventually my parents sold the restaurant, and although all of the recipes and meals were the same, it quickly closed after they had left the business. This tells me it was more than the food that had lured people to sit in this little Greek restaurant in the middle of Humboldt, Saskatchewan.

As a principal now, what do I want to help to create? Do I want a literary factory where students can spew out amazing information, but have no heart or soul? Or do I want a school where people are valued and cared about? Not only students, but staff and parents as well. I know that when you came to see my parents at the restaurant, they didn’t just make you feel like you were the most important person in the world, but you WERE the most important person in their world. There was nothing forged or fake in their treatment of you, they just loved people and they cared about you. If I can help to build an environment where people are happy to see each other, and feel that no matter where they come from, then I will be successful. The funny thing is that my parents have come out to the school and cooked for my staff this year. They are two people that you are forced to hug as you feel that you have known them your whole lives and now you are in their home (no matter where the location is). They welcome you and love you no matter who you are, and how could you not love that back?

Before formal education can occur, there has to be a trust that the individual is cared for and appreciated. Building that relationship is the key to the success of all that take part in schools, and I did not learn that from a professor in a classroom in an education class, but from my mom and dad a long time prior. If I could help create the same magically caring environment in my school that my parents did in their little restaurant, I will have been a great success.

Vicky’s Note: Shortly after, George started his own blog called The Principal of Change, where he still writes great posts on education.


17 thoughts on “The Key to Education by George Couros

  1. George, thank you so much for this post.

    Thank you first of all for sharing the story of your family (in which I find a lot in common with my family!). It is wonderful how you tie the way your family treated the people who came to your restaurant with the way you would like teachers and students to be treated in your school.

    I will use a quote from your post that I really liked: “As a principal now, what do I want to help to create? Do I want a literary factory where students can spew out amazing information, but have no heart or soul? Or do I want a school where people are valued and cared about? Not only students, but staff and parents as well.” That is what education should be like first of all – to give humanitarian values to students and then teach them everything else. If all educators take your words into consideration, then education will be a great place for students, teachers and parents alike.

    Thank you and I wish all the best for you and your school!

    Kindest regards and thank you,

  2. Thank you for this George. As someone who enjoyed many great meals at your families restaurant I totally agree that you absolutely felt like the most important person in the world each time you stepped through the door. To tie that enthusiasm for others into education is wonderful. Imagine a school where every student was greeted and treated the way customers were in your families restaurant … wait a minute … I bet that’s the way the students in Stony Plain feel. I’ll further wager that when they leave they feel as they can hardly wait to come back for their next visit. I know I always looked forward to my next visit to visit with your mom or find out what your dad would cook up ‘just especially for me’.

  3. Thanks Dave 🙂 That is definitely what we strive for every day at our school, and I know that although my parents were my inspiration, I also picked up a few great skills from the teachers that did the same thing for me when I was in school.

  4. Thanks George for your touching anecdote on family, especially that relate to your loving parents, on how they have brought up your family in Canada, on the pride you felt about them, and how they have treated the customers – with kindness, caring and respect. That’s the education and learning that could cut across borders, and we won’t need “higher education” in order to achieve all these. It’s how we treat and care about others that would attract people back to be connected, and be engaged.

    I am linked to your blog through your brother Alec, who is a wonderful professor. You are also welcomed to visit my blog.
    Cheers. John

  5. Thank you for sharing your blog with me, George. I totally agree that positive relationships with principals, teachers and fellow students are a key component to student success. It was great to read how your family has influenced your view of the role of a principal. Hmm… and I thought you were all about technology!

  6. What an awesome testament to the importance of family and the strong link between what we learn from our families and the person we eventually become. It speaks to me as both a parent and as a teacher. Thank you, George (and Vicky), for sharing this. 🙂

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