Interview with Lamplighters Honoree Bob Coughlan of Capstone and Coughlan Companies, Inc.
The Lamplighter Honors celebrate individuals in various stages of their careers who have made extraordinary contributions to the advancement of learning resources and the community that creates them. This year, the Honors will be celebrated along with the PreK-12 Learning Group REVERE Awards during the annual Content in Context (CIC) conference. Registration is still open.
Bob Coughlan, Co-Owner and Principal, Capstone and Coughlan Companies, Inc, will be inducted into the Educational Publishing Hall of Fame for his exemplary leadership through changing industry times and his instrumental guidance moving Capstone from a small publisher to a company that has thrived in the digital transition.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career and why?
There are two individuals who stand out as incredibly influential. My father and my wife have each served a huge role in shaping me in different ways, which has in turn helped to shape the company. I like to say my dad was a serial entrepreneur; his ability to pursue new opportunities and take risks set a standard for me and has served as a model for professional success. And my wife, Michelle, whose inherent goodness impacts everyone around her; her passion for bettering the lives of others is nothing short of inspirational.
Can you remember a specific teacher or learning resource that influenced your education experience?
My education was by no means extraordinary. But in a way, that’s been a big blessing. It’s given me a real heart for the student who’s struggling or unengaged. Passionate teachers are an amazing boon to our education system. But a wonderful teacher is only part of the equation. You need to be able to motivate the student in some way or another. And that starts with meeting that student right where he or she is at.
What most excites you about working in education?
Currently, we’re really considering the concept of self-directed education and working on figuring out how to facilitate it with our resources. It’s especially inspiring to consider how this free-choice, self-inspired learning actually mirrors the concept of a modern day library. This thought process ties in really well with our continual pursuit of creating woohoo learning—we want to provide products that make learning fun, that lead students to the spark, that point of motivation where they want to learn. We also love to meet with educators and get their feedback, both on how our products are serving them and on what needs are not yet being met. Innovating to meet those needs is a fantastically satisfying use of creative expression. And it continues to drive our products forward.
What advice would you give someone new to the education industry?
Admitting that you don’t know everything yet gives you the opportunity to consciously take time to grow. Outliers author Malcolm Gladwell says it takes about 10,000 hours of intentional focus before your performance [in your field] becomes intuitive. During that time—and even well after—don’t be afraid of failure. You learn from your mistakes. And be open to learning from others. Identifying thought leaders and getting input from influential relationships can illuminate your path forward.
How do you like to continue learning in your everyday life?
Through genuine experiences. If you have a passion for learning you can figure out a problem and solve it. When you experience that process, you learn from it. I also like to identify people I admire and build connections. Respecting their experiences creates opportunities I can learn from as well.
What trend or issue do you think will have the greatest impact on education in the next 5-10 years?
We’ve been conversing about technology and the digital revolution for years now already. And that’s certainly an important conversation. But what interests me more is, how do we retain the firsthand experience of reading and learning, within a digital context? In other words, how do we ensure digital is used as a tool rather than as the entire experience? There are so many pitfalls relating to questions of screen time, social isolation, access, etc. We need to focus on empowering the educator to serve as a guide who can facilitate the tool but still create a loving & respectful learning environment.
What accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
I’m a risk taker. That being said, surviving start up, and the exhilaration of start up, was huge. But the work is never done. We’re constantly renewing that passion and sense of excitement, so it often feels like start up, energy wise. A constant pursuit of improvement is really necessary. Otherwise, you’re just sitting still. And there’s so much to be done. We’re after big ideas: persisting with this idea of free choice learning and how to achieve that; cultivating relationships that enrich our ability to make an impact. Knowing that, at the end of the day, it’s not simply about selling books; it’s about improving lives.