Teacher Foundation

In Oliver Sacks’ The Mind’s Eye, the author explains that in medicine, doctor’s spend years learning the basics of medicine, but don’t spend a lot of time diving into many specific maladies until they present themselves. The truth is that they simply cannot learn about every condition under the sun, especially those that are rare. So, doctors must spend time doing research after they’ve met the patient, after they’ve had time to consider the symptoms, the medical history, and the story they tell when they walk into the office, clinic, or hospital. What doctors learn in medical school is just enough to get them started, not the final destination.

And so it is in education. A foundation is laid in schools of education, teacher prep programs, and alternative certification paths around the world. Future educators build up a background knowledge of general theories of cognition, gain familiarity with the general technology and tools, research their specific content area, and study past pedagogical practices. But then, the teacher is hired and the students arrive- each presenting with a different educational history, different cognitive habits and routines, different stories in their past and their present. The teacher must lean on their foundation, but also consider the student in front of them each and every time. They must consider the lessons that their work and their experience have taught them. Again, their education is just enough to get them started on their journey, not the final destination.

Evaluating EdTech and Other Tools

Knowing how to assess educational content is a foundational skill, especially because the technical aspects often change in our fast-paced world. 

As an educational technology leader, I was often asked to evaluate educational content to help principals, teachers and other educators fill out district software request forms or decide on purchases. This involved talking to them about compliance, data privacy, interoperability, standards alignment, and, of course, costs.

While these factors are certainly important to making smart district-wide decisions around ed tech adoption, integration and use, I realized that they mostly hit on the logistics — the what and how aspects of educational content. By simply focusing on these factors, educators and administrators fail to address the basics: the purpose of a specific product, the expected outcomes from using it, and the educational experience they’re trying to create for their students.

Educators should be intentional about what content or product they introduce in their classrooms. Before they suggest or implement a new tool, they should ensure that it aligns with their instructional practices and consider how it might play out in a real classroom scenario with their actual students, staff, or lesson plans.

To better assist teachers and administrators going through this process, I came up with a strategy for evaluating educational content. Assessing Content in Education Systems, or ACES, is a great jumping-off point for discussing content and the role it plays in the curriculum. It helps educators look at content as if it were on a spectrum — not a diametrically opposed world of good and evil, but one that is flexible and focused on the student experience.

ACES is based on four key spectrums: active or anchored, creation or consumption, educational or entertainment, and social or solo. I’ve outlined them as questions below for educators to reflect on and use to drive conversations around a specific piece of content.


This question is all about the physical aspect of the experience you’re trying to build. As you’re planning your lesson and thinking about learning objectives, consider whether it would make the most sense to have a motion-packed or stationery activity. Which one would enhance the learning experience for your students? Which would best help them grasp the concepts you’re teaching?


Think about the different ways a tool might encourage students to create something from scratch or passively absorb knowledge. There are plenty of educational tools that are flexible enough for students to do both. For instance, Nearpod is a great online tool that enables teachers to present information to students in an engaging way. However, Nearpod can also be used to foster creativity; some educators have had students produce and present their own Nearpod lessons, allowing for a completely different learning experience.

It’s also important to remember that even though helping students become active creators is a crucial goal, especially with creativity being a 21st-century skill, consuming content is still necessary. Being a smart consumer of information is critical to developing a deep understanding of a specific subject and taking that understanding to the next level: innovation.


This question will get you thinking about the primary purpose behind the content or product you’re evaluating. However, the answers aren’t always so clear. As educators continue to look for ways to motivate students and keep them engaged, the line between education and entertainment gets blurrier. Today, there’s content that’s clearly based around education with entertainment as an add-on and vice versa. Take educational apps that gamify learning, such as Kahoot, which can really bring learning to life. Again, there is no right or wrong when it comes to this spectrum; it all depends on what kind of experience you’re trying to create for your students.


Last but not least, ask yourself whether there’s an aspect of the content or product you’re evaluating that will require students to work by themselves or with others. Some classes or lessons may benefit more from one tactic than the other. It’s also important to think about learning objectives here; for example, if the goal is to get students to gain independence in problem-solving and practice self-reflection, basing an activity on a Zoom breakout room may not be the way to go. Introducing the use of a digital notebook may be the better option.

Knowing how to evaluate educational content is a foundational skill, especially because the technical side changes often in our fast-paced world. Before getting down into the nitty-gritty of data sharing or platform access, it’s crucial for educators to prioritize and reflect on the learning experience they want their students to have — from what kind of interactions they want their students to have to how they should feel when using that content or product in the classroom.

Signal to Noise Ratio

In 2015, as the new head of instructional technology for a school district of 19,000 students, 1,300 teachers and classrooms, and 2,500 staff, part of my role was to plan, implement, and support the audio-visual equipment over our approximately three dozen campuses and ancillary sites. We were transitioning from projectors and interactive whiteboards, to interactive flat panels. Think of the new solution as a flat-panel TV, but with touchscreen, embedded instructional software, and rugged to withstand a classroom environment. We were transitioning from DVDs to digital video. But one thing that was a constant was the audio enhancement systems we had been installing for seven or eight years already.

Purchasing big-ticket items in a school district comes with a lot of responsibility, a lot of time speaking at board meetings, and a lot of planning and budgeting. Another thing that the role has in great abundance is the opinions of others on how to best do your work and accomplish district goals.

Our audio enhancement systems, at the time, are something that we did universally in all of our classrooms. It was one of our district standards. While many folks loved the systems, used them every day, relied on them, and praised our standardization, others felt that they were a waste of district resources and many people were not taking advantage of them. I constantly heard the, “my voice is loud enough, so I don’t need to use it,” argument.

I’ve never been someone to just take what I’m handed and continue to “do what we’ve always done”, so I decided to dive into the research because I couldn’t imagine that we invested in this significant instructional infrastructure just to ease the voices of our teachers. Each system cost roughly $1,000 including installation. At 1,300 classrooms, that is an initial $1.3M investment with ongoing support costs and a refresh/replacement cycle for the equipment. These systems are not some casual add-on to a classroom- they require installation, ceiling mounted speakers, a tie-in to the computer system, microphones, etc.

What I learned about the importance of these systems in the classroom is something that served me well in my role and in sustaining this important equipment for our students (because it is for them and not the teachers), but also in my life.

Enter the concept of the “signal-to-noise ratio”. If you already know what it is, please don’t blurt it out and spoil it for the kids who didn’t read that issue of Modern Acoustics or get their degree in audiology.


At it’s most basic, signal-to-noise ratio is the proportion of how much sound you want to focus on (signal) is present compared to the background noise. Now, let’s step into the classroom.

Aimee sits in the front row. She has students to her sides and behind her, but no one in between her and the front of the room. Assuming that the teacher spends most of their time in the front of the room, she is much closer to the signal (teacher’s voice) than many other students in the room. Because of the lack of other students in the vicinity and he proximity to the teacher, the signal-to-noise ratio plays in her favor.

Tyrie sits in the dead center of the classroom. He has students in front, on the sides, and behind him. He also sits under the ceiling mounted projector which has a fan running throughout class. With the students and projector creating an increase in background noise, and his distance from the teacher decreasing the level of signal, the signal-to-noise ratio starts to impact his learning.

Finally, we have Lia, who is sitting in the back row and has students to the sides and in front of her, with every conversation impacting her in some way. Every sneeze and every sniffle lie between her and the teacher. In addition to the student noise, the projector fan, the speaker for announcements, every shift in a chair, and every dropped item in the classroom increases the background noise, for a signal (that regardless of teacher volume) is still lower for her than for her counterparts.

If you include the fact that our students are interacting with more and more multimedia in class as well and most of that signal comes from the front of the room if you don’t have a dedicated system, you start to understand what a pivotal role signal-to-noise ratio can play in the classroom and in our lives.

Once we had a conversation about the research and signal-to-noise ratio with the board and district executive leadership, the hesitation to continue the project ceased. We then turned our efforts to making sure that our teachers understood that regardless of their vocal volume, their students’ learning experiences were vastly different depending on where they sat.

Now let’s take this a step farther and layer on top of this the fact that the idea of signal-to-noise ratio doesn’t only apply to sound. If I’m in the front of the room, I also see everything that the teacher intends for me to see, and nothing that my classmates are doing behind me. If I’m sitting in the back of the room, I see every student, every movement, every door opening; every possible distraction is between me and the intended experience.


Think of your own work now. Think of how many tabs you have open on your computer while you are working on a presentation or researching for a project or preparing for the big meeting. Think of how many notifications you get on your phone, your tablet, your computer, and even your watch. Think of how many disruptions exist from folks walking in or through your work area. Think of how often you are reading emails or checking on social media accounts when you’ve got a looming deadline.

This is all a signal-to-noise problem. In the classroom, we can design and implement a system that serves to push the signal-to-noise ratio back in favor of the learner, but this can be much more difficult in our daily lives. I’ve taken two tips from one of my favorite TED Talks (5 ways to listen better by Julian Treasure) and adapted them to help me right my ship when I feel I’m moving too far into the background noise of my work.


Treasure mentions that three minutes of silence a day helps to recalibrate your hearing so that you can better hear quiet noises again. I echo this, but add that you should try to pull away from the work, from the screens, from everything for a few minutes a day, not only to recalibrate our listening, but to recalibrate our sight and one of our most important and very limited resources, our attention.


When you are in a noisy environment (noisy with sound or with distractions), take a few moments to try to identify each individual sound, each person’s voice, each item that is pulling our attention away from the work that we should be focusing on.

Identify them, so that you can address them. I once took this inventory of the number of notification and status lights that exist in my room at night compared to what would have been in my parent’s room 25 years ago. Since I spent the time to identify, it became easier to address them and limit the distractions, to improve my signal-to-noise ratio.

Once you become more aware of the items that are pulling you away from your work, that are impacting your signal-to-noise ratio, you can set yourself on a path to sharpened focus, increased productivity, heightened listening, and improved learning.

On Version Numbers…

While we are living in this world of social, political, and educational uncertainty, it is a great time to do some reflecting and assess a few things. I’m brought back to a section of Jesse James Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience where he addresses the idea of Scope Identification. While his work focused on user experience, it is an incredibly useful tool to help guide our work, either as a teacher, leader, or in whatever role we currently play. For example, if your life as a teacher was turned upside down by a pandemic and you had to reassess how you were going to deliver instruction, scope identification is very handy.

Scope is the sum total of work to be completed. Hence, scope identification is the process by which we determine what work is actually going to occur as part of a project or program. Scope identification allows us to accomplish three (maybe four) very important goals. Allows us to identify what we are building. Allows us to identify what we are NOT building. Allows us to identify what we are NOT building YET. That final piece can be broken down a littler further into things we are NOT building YET that are a modification of the current system and things we are NOT building YET that are a total remodel of the system.

Think of this as the process you can use to divide your work on a project into buckets.

  • Version 1.0 – The first bucket is the ideas that are most critical to creating a working product and being able to minimally complete the work. Equally, or even more important for the sake of focus are the next few buckets.
  • Version 1.1 – The second bucket is the ideas that are not mission critical, but will improve version 1.0 through slight modifications or feature enhancements.
  • Version 2.0 – The third bucket is the ideas that only come to pass if you are building a new system to address the work or the idea. They are the ideas that are part of re-imagining the work.
  • The Garbage Can – The fourth bucket is the garbage can. These are the ideas that you are not using. Not now. Not ever. Or at least you don’t think you’ll use them for now, so they aren’t part of your work.

While you don’t have to set up actual buckets, use this method in whatever way you like to organize the next time you tackle a project. If you use the example from the first paragraph of a teacher in the pandemic, version 1.0 is the teaching you did immediately after we moved to remote learning back in the spring. It was keeping the ideas that are most critical to continue to deliver instruction, connect with kids, and embrace the change.

As you iterate forward and create modifications for version 1.1 or 1.2 and re-imagine your work for version 2.0, formalize this process by documenting what ideas go into each bucket. Keeping an actual record of the work allows you to stop losing your good ideas to the ether and saves you time by not wasting a lot of brain power or precious minutes rehashing an idea that you’ve already determined is ready for the trash bin.

This post is part of a series on EDU/X, an idea that applies the elements of user experience (U/X) design to the world of education. For the first post in this series, head to http://www.designededu.com/strategy/.

The need for recognition…

If there were ever any question that all people, regardless of demographics and circumstances, all share a need for some kind of recognition of a job well done or task completed, the posts we’ve seen online lately solidify the answer. When people spend time together, either in a work setting or personally, they are generally aware of large milestones in each other’s lives. It is hard to hide from everyone you know that you are getting ready to sit for the bar exam, earn a new certification, get a new job, or complete your doctorate as you defend your dissertation. There is a natural recognition that arises from that proximity.

Enter COVID-19, remote work, and distance learning…

As many of us are removed from our previously normal interactions- even those who are back at an office or in a more formal work setting talk about how differently the day unfolds- we continue with our accomplishments. There seems to have been a remarkable uptick in the number of people I have seen posting on social media about matriculating through a doctoral program, defending their dissertation, or earning a new type of certification. For many, these milestones are normally recognized through formal ceremonies or face-to-face events which cannot currently be held. Many of these accomplishments are part of a long-term cycle of work or are multi-year commitments, so they had clearly begun long before the pandemic hit.

This isn’t a post to talk about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or rather its “generous borrowing” (appropriation) from the Blackfoot people (thanks Ken Shelton for pointing this out). This is a post to say that people wouldn’t be posting if they weren’t proud of their accomplishments and in need of some recognition. Here is the ask: rather than clicking a quick ‘like’ and moving on, take a few moments to comment and re-share to help provide the recognition that these folks deserve.

During this tough and confusing time, we could all use a little more love from our community.

A bullseye on the wrong dartboard…

It’s great when something you design elicits an unsolicited “Oh, I totally get it now.” This design did that for a few people in my former school district and for that I am excited. It is so important to remember that most design- and even most art, has function. It can be something that might seem insignificant, like a quick presentation to your colleagues, or something enormous like the rebranding of a major corporation.

Both are important and the work you do will reflect who you are and make connections between you and your audience whether large or small. Second, they both have function. Two vital thinking points for your design: 1) Do you have a clear idea of the function? 2) Does your design, as simply and clearly as possible, reflect that function? However, what isn’t addressed here is whether or not we are hitting the bullseye on the wrong target when we create something like this.

Confusion abounds surrounding testing in education and which assessments are formal and informal, formative or summative, competency-based or standards-based, where and how each is administered, and what purpose each type of assessment serves. When asked to create a model to help explain this and clear up the confusion as we launched a new set of assessments to fill a perceived gap in accountability, the question I should have been asking wasn’t how do I best represent the system. The right question is whether or not this is the right system at all.

Outside of certifications (here’s my most recent opinion on those), there are very few practical, authentic activities as adults that mirror the multiple-choice test we were subjected to as students and that we continue to subject our students to. The idea brings me back to an amazing podcast episode about creativity with Mitch Resnick from the MIT Media Lab, where he asks if we are measuring what is most important or simply what is easiest to measure. In other words, are we throwing darts at the board in our eye line because it is the closest and most obvious target or are we taking the time to find out which board the competition is actually being held on and hitting the bullseye on the correct target? Are we even playing the right game? Are we holding darts and everyone else is playing chess?

In the case of the assessment graphic, I can confidently say that we weren’t asking the right questions to make sure we getting to the purpose of the assessments and asking the questions surrounding the authentic role assessments play in our district. Writing a quick post and recognizing we could have done better doesn’t absolve me from the responsibility I have in perpetuating that system, but I believe in the idea that when you know better, you do better. Let’s all strive to ask the right questions and make sure that when we hit that bullseye, it’s both accurate and precise.

Striving to Come Up Short

As time has gone on, we’ve seen and read countless headlines and articles about education and the impact of the current pandemic on the underlying systems of support our students and their families have come to rely on.

The emerging popular narrative is summed up by this heading from a large hardware manufacturer’s website: “eLearning and Remote Teaching: Recreating the Experience of the Classroom Online”. While this is one microcosmic example, other evidence abounds that as a society, many people are looking to return to or recreate the way things were before the pandemic and hold that as the gold standard of what education could be.

For many, the idea of ‘it worked for us’ or ‘was good enough for us’ is taking over as the dominant storyline. The problem with ‘it worked for us’, is that it only works if you are an ‘us’. If you are a ‘them’, by definition, it doesn’t work. If you are a member of the BIPOC community, LGBTQ+ community, an economically disadvantaged family, or part of any other population or community that has been historically marginalized or underserved, then you are likely to be much less excited about returning to that same system.

Before we rush back to a system that worked for ‘us’, let’s consider how we can make everyone an ‘us’ through meaningful dialogue, process and policy changes, thoughtful decision-making using the idea of education experience (EDU/X) and day-in-the-life simulations, and a growth mindset about our system. More than anything, let’s focus on what education could be instead of what it was.

Quick note: This commentary is on the overall conversation surrounding education right now. There are absolutely some school systems that have endeavored to take the road less traveled- seeking to innovate and create a system that better serves their students. They are working toward building out new structures where previous structures have been failing to align with the rigorous brain-based education research that has proven we know a better way. More on that in the future…

Conversion Rate in EDU

In e-commerce and marketing, conversion rate is the percentage of visitors to a web page or online store who become paying customers.

In the classroom, think of the conversion rate as the percentage of present students who actively engage in the learning process. I want to stress that this is for students who are ACTIVELY engaged, not just compliant (if you want to dive deeper into engagement and compliance, check out the visual below about Schlechty‘s model, visual by Sylvia Duckworth).


When looking to increase conversion rate on the web, there are a lot of changes you can make to your site, but the most important is to focus on the user experience (U/X), or how something performs or behaves in the real world when its being used. Thinking about your site as an experience helps frame issues that are causing people to browse instead of purchase.

When looking to increase the conversion rate in education, educators need to think about the education experience (EDU/X) that we have in place for our students. EDU/X is based on the keeping the full experience of our students and teachers at heart as we make decisions in our schools and classrooms. For engagement, that means thinking about each activity as part of the whole instruction and keeping the flow and overall impact of each piece in mind as you build. Keeping the full breadth of EDU/X at the heart of our decision-making in our classrooms (albeit virtual or in-person), will help us transform students from simply being present to actively engaged.

While some people believe that engagement strategies are more ‘fluff’, there are two things that I’ve noticed in the last decade.

  1. Students need to be present (digitally or in-person) to be engaged, so we need to drive attendance. Students show up when they feel valued, loved, and safe.
  2. Students need to be engaged to be learning, so we need to drive engagement. People engage with content and strategies that are authentic, relevant, and thought-provoking.

On ‘Lazy’ Students

In education, some adults talk about students who simply ‘don’t care’ or are ‘totally against learning’ or are the ‘laziest group I’ve ever had’.

Hard truth time: that’s a reflection of the teacher in front of them at that time. Their laziness is boredom and disengagement with the work and it is feedback to the teacher. We know that feedback can sometimes be hard to take and this situation is no different.

So for all the educators talking about their lazy (but actually bored, or disengaged, or marginalized, or traumatized) students, what steps are you taking to improve what you do? How can you reach your students where they are and engage them? How can you improve your practice and ignite curiosity and creativity in your students?

I know that this is a hotly contested point of view and I’m positive that there were times I was one of those teachers. But it holds true as I look back and reflect on my years of experience as a student, teacher, administrator, consultant, and strategist.

The group most heavily impacted by this is our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community. They do not find themselves reflected in their teachers or their schools, their culture is not displayed in textbooks or on classroom walls, and they regularly encounter resources and assessments written with incredible bias and they are then labeled as disengaged. This is a reflection of the system and our practices. If you want to start to understand the problem as it impacts the Black community in particular, please read For White Folks Who Teach in the ‘Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too, by Dr. Chris Emdin.

Process and Product

In The Elements of User Experience, by Jesse James Garrett, he introduces this idea:

We do some things because there is value in the process, like jogging or practicing scales on the piano. We do other things because there is value in the product, like making a cheesecake or fixing a car.

Jesse James Garrett – The Elements of User Experience, 2003

When thinking about education experience (edu/x) and the impact of our work, where do you find value in the process and where do you find value in the product?

The Whole Employee

In educational institutions, a lot of time is spent talking about the whole child. While this is absolutely vital to the success of the student, school, and district, it is also important that people remember the whole employee.

In Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last, he discusses the impact of trust and valuing all members of the team, regardless of where they sit. When CEO Bob Chapman came in as the new leader at Hayssen-Sandiacre, he worked to increase trust and break down barriers by removing time clocks, and allowing access to equipment that was previously locked to employees on the manufacturing floor. Over time, the culture improved greatly, employees helped each other more often, and were able to more efficiently take care of their machines- oh, and the companies revenue grew from $55 million to $95 million. While this wasn’t only due to the shift of priorities and increase in trust, they definitely played a part in the success.

Beyond trust, another way to develop the whole employee is to invest in the development of your people. Remembering to build the employee’s professional AND personal skills will go a long way to strengthening the relationship between the employee and the organization. Strengthen this relationship and employee retention and satisfaction will grow.

In one example, it may seem counter-intuitive to teach an employee how to build a LinkedIn page or improve their resumé if you lead with the assumption that they are looking for employment elsewhere; however, that employee is viewed by others as part of the larger organization. The improved profile will better represent both the employee and the organization as a whole and signify a layer of trust, thus strengthening the relationship once again between the employee and their organization.

In education, this strengthening of the relationship between the organization and the teachers will then trickle down to the student, leading to more support for the whole child. After all, people who have their needs taken care of can better focus on the needs of others.


Upselling is a sales technique whereby a seller induces the customer to purchase more expensive items, upgrades, or other add-ons in an attempt to make a more profitable sale.

How can we as educators upsell our students, so they are induced to ‘buy more’: to dive deeper into exploration, extend their own learning, and upgrade their creativiry or critical thinking skills? What does upselling look like from a teacher’s standpoint? An administrator’s?

Being Reactive

Reactive has a bad reputation.

While it is important to have vision and be proactive, that is only one piece of the puzzle. You must effectively and deliberately react to a wide variety of situations on a daily basis to be a strong leader. Part of your strength is born from your ability to consider options and react decisively when facing adversity and difficult decisions.

And although it seems counter-intuitive, sometimes the best reaction is deciding not to act.

On Being Helpless

We like being helpless. It may sound odd, but think about it. How many times have you heard, “I would like to do __ but we have this policy,” or, “I want to be able to __ but the people that work for me just aren’t performing.” If things are out of our hands, then we don’t feel responsible when nothing gets done and nothing changes. When everything is status quo, we get to be stagnant, blame others, and say that there was nothing we could do.

If there is a policy or process in your way, seek first to understand. Then research alternate policies that help address the fear that is part of the original policy. If you can help people move beyond the fear, than you will be able to make meaningful change. Don’t let yourself get caught up being helpless and in the blame game, instead become a part of the positive change for your organization.


Should is the enemy of progress.

Instead of “We should make this change,” replace it with, “We are making this change.”


We should be improving practices, but are we? Or are we just recognizing that there is a better way out there that we aren’t currently executing on?

The difference between the pioneers, leaders, early adopters, and everyone else is that they are already making changes that everyone else should.

Digital Trail

Our trail on the internet is sometimes called our digital footprint, but there are two distinct pieces that make up that trail which render the footprint analogy only half baked. For the work that is actively being completed and the accounts we continue to access and build, these are our digital footprint. New enough and still within our view so that we can take action to make changes if necessary and continue to actively shape their impression. But when it comes to accounts we no longer have access to or have long since forgotten, it is much more permanent than that. The definition of fossil (trimmed for dramatic effect) is: a remnant, impression, or trace of an organism of past geologic ages that has been preserved.

How many of your digital fossils will future digital archaeologists unearth?

During an otherwise great and impactful conversation with Mark Otter (CEO of Participate), we digressed to talking about Second Life and I found that my account still exists. Other than my original AOL Screen Name and a MySpace page, I’m trying to think of what other #DigitalFossils I’m leaving behind.There was that brief moment in time that I had a tumblr blog- time for a digital dig!

Three types…

Three types of great employees: those who do the work, those who love the work, and those who live the work. You will be happy with all of them, but there are huge differences in what they can do for your organization. As a leader, it is important you understand who they are and what they are capable of.  

Paint Around the Edges

When painting a house or a room in a house, we tend to want to get that roller in our hands and get the bulk of the square footage done with a few broad strokes. Completing the ‘cutting in’ and the trim work generally takes a lot of time, a lot of tape, a lot of patience, and a steady hand. When the job is done, it is rare to find imperfections in the broad strokes, they are easy and cover fast. However, it is the work around the edges that really shows the quality of the work and where we notice those imperfections. When we get a glob of blue paint on the white ceiling, our eye is drawn immediately to that spot every time we walk in the room. Being content with the work requires a strong focus on those outliers, on the work around the edges.

Moving now to education, we know that we can reach most of our students with the broad strokes of the roller, with our standard methods and curriculum. But the true measure of our effectiveness is how we address our high-flyers, low-performers, and other outliers- differentiation is our work around the edges and it is difficult. It takes time. It takes patience. It makes all the difference.

This is a post I wrote on LinkedIn about 4 years ago. As I consolidate my content here, I’ll breath new life into a few of the highlights from other platforms in the past.

Stockpiling Great Ideas

Personally I’ve got ideas and notes in the margins of books, in the Notes app on my phone, scribbled in notebooks, as audio recordings, emails to myself, as Google docs, and the list goes on. I’ve started consolidating and stockpiling them here, as drafts in a folder for my blog which I then revisit daily. But the real question is: how do your professional self and your organization as a whole stockpile great ideas?

How do you record and revisit:

  • When the team is working on a project and digresses into something that could make for an impactful project?
  • When someone asks a question during a meeting that sparks a great idea, but the timing isn’t right?
  • When you know that a feature or improvement isn’t in version 1.0, but might be appropriate for 1.4?

To dip your toe in the water, work with your team to build out a designated place/method for logging these ideas and set aside a time once a month to revisit them and decide where on your road map they will live. Maybe they are ready for a beta test right away, or they are moonshots that don’t have a place on the map yet. Ultimately, each one could still be important to the future version of your team and you can’t rely on remembering them when the time is right- you’ve got to plan for their eventual integration.

Just a tube…

You have the vaccine for a pandemic. The vaccine has the power to wipe the disease off the map and save or improve millions of lives. People all over the world would benefit from the use of this vaccine. After years of use and vast improvement across the globe, there is a growing concern over lives being claimed by narcotics. Many of these are delivered using the very same types of needles and syringes as we use to deliver vaccines. A war is waged on the vessel and delivery system. There are articles written about the harmful effects of needles and syringes, rather than about the narcotics. There are campaigns to stop their use. There are hospitals that ban all needles and syringes to help combat this problem. Doctors and medical researchers try to explain that the problem isn’t with the syringe or needle- it’s just a tube!

While this may seem far-fetched, imagine the vaccine represents modern educational content; the syringe, the internet; the needle, a mobile device; and the narcotics, trash content.

We’ve seen a push back against the power of mobile devices like laptops and smartphones in education; however, we are waging war with the wrong piece of the puzzle. Try to convince an adult that a smart phone isn’t an important part of their life, they might even agree. Then ask them to turn it off for a week. Or a day. We can’t continue to confuse the low-quality content with the device itself and ignore its power as an educational tool.

Don’t Vilify the Device

This post is my Ignite Talk from ISTE 2019. The video is linked here, or you can read it and check out the images below. I chose to stay true to the format and tell a story, no text on the slides except the title.

Look at that, another kid sitting on his device posting his instasnaptweets of his shoes. Can you believe that instead of doing his homework, he’s sitting around checking on the Kardashians and watching videos from the latest rapper with ‘Lil’ in his name? This screen time is out of control.

Now, what if you walked over and looked at this kid’s screen, and he was searching walking directions to MD Anderson Cancer Center? Or directions to the funeral home over on Canal St? Is this an extreme example? Maybe. Could he have been on social media? Sure, but… 

Would you really expect that this kid, born into this world, be standing there with an unfolded Rand McNally of the local area looking for landmarks to help guide his journey? No, the point is that we all use our devices for much more than social media, but…

For some reason, there is a reality distortion field that surrounds these magical boxes. They can take a perfectly innocuous situation and make it seem sinister. This is especially true when it comes to our children. 

Education seems to be at the forefront of this ‘great device debate’. There are entire industries built around ‘streamlined management’ and ‘effective integration’. There are a myriad of books, articles, blogs, white papers, and dissertations written on the subject.

And many times we hear this play out as diametrically opposed choices. Left or right. Black or white. All or nothing. Good or evil. Device or no device. Too much screen time or none at all.

But it’s just not that simple, especially when we are dealing with education and technology and human beings. Where everyone is trying to do their best for kids, but all kids are different. They come with different stories and skills and goals. Device or no device is the wrong question.

The questions we need to be asking are what is the CONTENT and what is the BEHAVIOR? There is a difference between someone passively ingesting social media and actively creating a video showcasing the programs at their school that are impacting the lives of kids.

A device without content and behavior is just an empty vessel. On its own, it doesn’t create or consume, browse or bully, innovate or create impact. It needs an operating system, apps, and a user. 

So how do we rewrite the story and change the conversation surrounding devices? How do we focus on usage and behavior and the quality of content? Let’s dive in.

Screen time and devices in the classroom are full of grey area, so be open to hearing out those with concerns. When people discuss devices or content in the classroom, ACTIVELY LISTEN. We’re all learning together.

The Digital World is an Ecosystem, constantly growing and evolving. Screen time is just ONE measure of that ecosystem. You wouldn’t measure the health of this forest based solely on the average circumference of its earthworms.

A hollow hypodermic needle and plastic tube aren’t inherently good or bad. They are used to deliver medicine and vaccines, but also for hard drugs that take lives every day. But the problem isn’t the vessel. What’s inside changes the outcome.

Remember that not all content is created equal. Rather than looking at screen time, look at whether the content is educating or entertaining, actively engaging or passively presenting, is the user consuming or creating? Is someone monitoring and regulating use?

Because parents and teachers know that each child is unique and reacts in different ways to different situations- knowing what is effective and appropriate for different kids is a vital and overlooked part of the discussion. Also, include children in conversations that impact them.

We are living in a connected world. More information than we could ever digest and understand is at our fingertips and we are tasked with being able to filter and understand that world through the lens of our perspective and experiences. 

Just as we wouldn’t hand the keys of a car to our child without conversations, demonstrations, coaching, and even classes surrounding safe and effective driving, we shouldn’t assume our children know how to properly navigate the digital world just because they were born into it.

And before we over-analyze the screen time of our students and children, let’s take a look in the mirror at our own usage. What are we modeling? What are our children seeing in us? After all, both our positive AND negative behaviors shape the development of young minds.

Finally, don’t leave it up to chance. We know that all screen time isn’t created equal, so  be intentional in teaching your students about the differences between the device and the behavior. With our guidance and support, our kids can be the catalyst in ending the great device debate.

My five-year-old took this picture and it’s one of my favorites because it helps me see things through the eyes of my kids. So if you remember one thing, don’t think about what you see in the products and programs that drive learning, think about what your kids will experience and remember that’s why we’re here. 

Thank you.

If it weren’t for…

There’s a phrase I’ve heard thrown around while working with school districts.

“If it weren’t for the students and teachers, education would be simple.”

Let’s phrase this is in a different light: “Planning is easy; implementing is hard.”

Or to take it one step farther still: “Humans really complicate things.”

When we plan for something that will impact and involve a large number of people, the level of uncertainty and complexity can seem insurmountable. Rather than try to build a solution based on every single person that we are serving, we have a tendency to get overwhelmed and plan it based on none of them. We plan it as a hypothetical. If we do plan with people in mind, we usually involve one point of view: our own.

Rather than take those approaches, build out a solution with actual people in mind. Put together as diverse a group of stakeholders as possible (they don’t actually need to meet, although that’s great if you can do it). Instead, use them to build a set of personas, and make decisions based on the impact that your decisions will have on those personas rather than working in generalizations.

Planning session 1: “How will the decision to cut funding to the arts at Xavier Middle School impact Alexis, an economically disadvantaged Hispanic 7th grade student that lives 15 miles away with average grades and strong ties to the school through the theater program? What are we saving, and what are the costs? Are there community programs that could supplement the work we are cutting? Can we get them involved at the school to help bridge that gap for Alexis since they don’t exist where she lives?” Then complete that line of questioning for your other four personas.

Planning session 2: “What are the pros and cons of cutting funding to the arts at Xavier Middle School?”

While the problem remains complex with either scenario and tough decisions will still need to be made, Session 1 yields a well-thought out plan of attack that considers the authentic impact of your work on real people. Session 2 produces a list of things that might happen to some people.

Design Tips for Edu/Work – Part 1

After writing ‘Up Your Image‘ about a week ago and getting a lot of comments asking for more specifics, I figured I’d deliver, so here we go! There is a much deeper process for presentations that involves honing your story and knowing your audience; this is not that post. This is just the aesthetics and design side. Also, here’s a SUPER simple presentation I gave a few years ago about improving your slide decks in a hurry! This is Part 1: Images, Icons, Quotes, and Colors.



Try to use images that play well together, support the message, and are professional. Images that reinforce an analogy, rather than literally represent the message will have a deeper connection with the audience. If you can find images from the same photographer or collection, than it adds to the consistency.


I use Unsplash for my presentation images, but there any many sites that allow for image use without attribution. But be nice to your artists and attribute their work even when it’s not required!




Keep the style and color of icons consistent throughout your presentation or document. If you are using line art, continue that throughout. If they are solid shapes, continue that throughout. Sizing should be consistent. They should follow your color palette.


I use The Noun Project for icons. This allows you to change the colors to keep consistency and branding as well. It’s one of the annual subscriptions I keep and find it well worth the money.




If you are creating a presentation, any quotes you use should follow the visual theme of your presentation. Don’t just do a search for the quote and use whatever image you find. Put in the work to look professional! Also, one quote per slide unless the function of that slide is to juxtapose two quotes.


I like Good Reads for quotes (and for tracking my reading, of course).




If you’ve got brand standards for your organization, that’s where you live. If you don’t (or you are straying for some specific purpose), than try to stick to a default color theme, they already take color theory into consideration. If you want to dive in further, than use a tool to help you determine an appropriate color group and grab the hex codes for the colors (#AA0031, #0133EE, etc). DON’T just pick three or four colors you like and mix them. This isn’t third grade art class!


To match a color from an image, use a color picker. To build a color palette from that color, use Adobe color.


Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned for part 2: fonts, alignment, spacing, logos, and videos!

On Reactions

Twelve years ago, I was an assistant golf professional at a local country club when the golf course had issues and went under construction. The work we did, the people normally playing each day, and the projects we were working on came to a screeching halt. Sitting in an empty pro shop day after day I didn’t realize that I was choosing to see this as an inconvenience and imposition rather than as an opportunity to learn, grow, and practice new skills. I soon left that job.

Eight weeks ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic made its way around the world and my travel-based position was grounded until further notice, I was able to reflect and choose to take this as an opportunity. An opportunity to work harder for our team, for our company, for our customers, and most important of all- for my family. Through it all, I feel more fulfilled in my work than ever.

The next time a situation presents itself that at first feels like a burden, take some time to find the opportunity that undoubtedly lies within. And choose wisely.