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.


Images

Tips:

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.

Resource:

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!

Sample:

Icons

Tips:

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.

Resource:

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.

Sample:

Quotes

Tips:

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.

Resource:

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

Sample:

Colors

Tips:

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!

Resources:

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

Sample:


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.

Know your audience

A speaker addressed a group of educators in Florida and the analogies in her tale involved ice hockey and going over a mountain on a horse. The entire talk had less impact because no one could relate.

A speaker addressed a group of educators in Florida and he spoke of passion and exhaustion, teaching and learning, and personal and professional loss. The audience (literally) laughed and cried and all remember the talk to this day.

Both were great educators and leaders. Both had important messages to share. Both had high levels of knowledge and expertise in their fields. Both deserved to be in the room.

One was forgotten.

Know. Your. Audience.


I won’t share the name of the first person, but the second was Thomas C. Murray. He’s an incredible educator, leader, and friend. Check him out.

12 Keys: Leading for Remote Learning

SUPPORT THE WORK

1: LET GO

  • This is EMERGENCY remote learning, it will not look like the school/district/culture you had in place before you moved to remote.
  • You are rebuilding the plane while it is already in the air. Embrace that fact and continue to build.

2: FILL IN THE BLANKS

  • We will be using ___ to communicate 1:1.
  • We will be using ___ in our small groups and PLCs.
  • We will be doing our weekly ‘water cooler’ check ins on ___.
  • If you have burning questions, ask ___, using ___.
  • My accountability partner is ___.

3: TIPS FOR VIRTUAL MEETINGS

  • Establish routines and schedules – always send invites.
  • Be consistent with tools and norms.
  • You will have visitors who wander in. It’s okay, they live there too.
  • If you have young children – keep toys, crayons, paper, or other distractors nearby so you can redirect them without totally interrupting the flow.
  • Embrace the mute.

4: SMALL GROUPS/ 1:1s

  • You don’t have a cafeteria or media center to meet all as one group.
  • Large virtual meetings are very difficult, or are best delivered as an ‘information push’ without much interaction.
  • Break your staff, existing departments, and grade levels into groups of 4 or 5. This allows some new people to shine as leaders, while also allowing maximum interaction in their groups.

5: MAKE LEARNING VISIBLE

  • Remember your first few years of teaching when you were trying to learn the content the day before the students (or right before they walked in) each day?
  • We need to share the things we are learning with our staff and make our learning visible so that they understand we are all in this together.
  • We talk about making learning visible for your students, so walk your talk!

6: OVERCOMMUNICATE SUCCESS

  • During this time, overcommunicate to your staff, students, and parents the successes that your school is seeing/experiencing each day.
  • Social media
    • If you don’t have a school Twitter account, this is the time to start one.
    • If you don’t know how to use Twitter, this is the perfect time to learn (or embrace a staff member who does).
    • Check in with district staff for policies surrounding posting.

EMBRACE CULTURE

7: MANAGE EXPECTATIONS

  • Working remotely is a big shift.
  • Leading remotely is a huge shift.
  • Doing these during uncertain times is a monumental shift.
  • Expectations are not the same as when we are all on campus.

8: FAMILY TIME

  • Many people are working from home with spouses, children, and other loved ones in their ‘work’ space.
  • Recognize and empathize; talk about things that are different in your house now that everyone is at home.
  • Emphasize and support their split focus, but suggest methods to schedule or plan for ‘work’ and ‘home’ focus times.

9: (WORK) FAMILY TIME

  • People lose the unplanned watercooler or planning room conversations with colleagues in remote work.
  • Working remotely can be very lonely. People will seek out interaction.
  • Click here for some ideas for ‘family time’ check-ins. Don’t worry, that link opens in a new tab- you won’t lose your spot!

10: ACKNOWLEDGE DISCOMFORT

  • Try not to pretend that everything is normal and ignoring the obvious difficulty with your staff. They see it, they feel it, so do you. Say something!
  • “Wow, this is tough, right?”
  • “How have you been coping with the difficulties that come with this new challenge we are working through?”
  • “What can I do to help?”

11: TALK ABOUT BURNOUT, IT’S REAL

  • You are one person. You might be a father or mother, caregiver, spouse, partner, etc. If not, members of your team are all of those things.
  • Hours worked does not equal success.
  • There’s no commercially available and ethically accepted rapid cloning process, so if you burn yourself out, you’re not useful to your school family or your personal family.
  • Make sure you know what mental health/wellness resources are available in your district/organization.

SELF

12: TREAT YOURSELF WELL

  • Although it is difficult, find ways to continue your self-care.
  • Physically: Exercise using video. Many gyms are posting daily workouts or even doing them live online. Involve the whole family! For meals, try to make sure you are eating well. You need quality fuel when you are aren’t able to move through your hallways and classrooms all day. Try a sit-stand solution if you can. If not, pick two work surfaces of different levels to alternate between around your house.
  • Socially: Connect with friends, family, and colleagues using ‘virtual happy hour’. Decide on a time and a medium to connect on and stick to it.
  • Mentally/psychologically: Plan time to unwind at night and protect it. If you are a reader, watcher, gamer, or knitter- this time is more vital than ever when under the additional stresses. Prioritize your sleep. You need it to recharge and give your best to your family, staff, and kids each day.

I originally posted this as a presentation back in March on Twitter for a district that asked for something to present to their school and district leaders. This was done as part of my role as an Education Strategist with CDW. Feel free to use/remix in any way you’d like.

Observation and Evaluation

Reflecting on my time in the classroom, as a school administrator, as a district administrator, and now on the corporate side of education; this little note I wrote myself about 6 years ago serves as a great reminder.


It’s difficult to evaluate someone on techniques you’ve seen, but never done.

It’s equally difficult to judge techniques you’ve done, but never seen.

It’s difficult to do either of these if you’ve never read the protocol, studied, or done the research.

Keep all of these things in mind the next time you are planning, collaborating, teaching, observing, giving feedback, or reflecting. Without all three facets complete by both parties, neither has come to the table fully prepared for the endeavor and it is likely that neither will leave satisfied.

Honest Feedback

Want to know what someone thinks of your work? Ask them and let them know you need total honesty.

But here’s the most important thing about honest feedback: if you want to continue to get it, learn how to accept it. Here are a few reminders when receiving honest feedback that might be more constructive criticism, less praise.

  1. Take a deep breath and avoid that first emotional reaction.
  2. Remember why you asked for it in the first place: to drive improvement.
  3. Say thank you. Feedback is a gift, and we appreciate gifts.
  4. Listen to understand, don’t listen to respond.
  5. Ask questions only if you truly don’t understand the feedback. Don’t ask questions to prove a point.
  6. Avoid justifications. Avoid clarifications unless totally necessary.
  7. USE THE FEEDBACK (or stop asking for it).

Up Your Image

Pro Tip for looking more organized, professional, and consistent at work:

  • Create one personal and brand-consistent (if you belong to an organization with brand standards) template each for documents, presentations, and spreadsheets.
  • Get a lot of feedback and work to perfect it.
  • Start with that template EVERY TIME you create something, even if it is just a notes page.

If you follow those steps, than everything you create is camera-ready. It can be shared out with colleagues and leadership as soon as you finish without having to revisit it. While it takes time to get the original templates prepped, it pays for itself tenfold in time saved from worrying about the formatting and style down the road.

Family Time (at work)

A previous leader of mine liked to kick off meetings with ‘family time’ as a few minutes to check in and connect. Here are some suggested family time or icebreaker prompts that keep things professional and positive.

  • Email (incoming or outgoing) that you’re most proud of from the past week
  • Picture of your workspace
  • Personal win for the week
  • Professional win for the week
  • One question driving you nuts this week
  • Best article/tweet/post/book/passage that you’ve read in the past week
  • Any books you’ve read multiple times/movies you’ve watched multiple times
  • If you could only bring one album with you to a desert island?
  • Invited to a potluck tomorrow, what do you bring?
  • You can have a lifetime supply of one day of meals, but it’s the only thing you can eat everyday.
  • Your favorite thing about working for [School/District/Organization].
  • Your favorite thing about being a [job role].
  • Your favorite thing about working in [education].
  • One thing you wish you were better at or could improve on.

Using something like this every time you connect with a group will go a long way in promoting a positive culture.

On ‘Should Have’…

I’ve spent a decade in public education as a teacher, department head, administrative intern, assistant principal, and district administrator. One aspect of those roles were teacher observation and inter-rater reliability (IRR) walks. The basic tenet of IRR was for all administrators to be closely calibrated so that a walkthrough from DeShawn was not different than an observation from Garret. During IRR, we walked through teachers’ classrooms in a groups of 5, practicing the observation process- taking notes vigorously while we observed what kind of work students we engaged in, listened for key words in conversations, and watched the movements and interactions within the room.

Once we were finished in the classroom, we went back to a conferencing space and scored the session based on our notes. At this time, there would be a discussion and debrief to help us as administrators ‘get on the same page’. Without fail, someone who was in a leader role would say some version of this while debriefing: “What you SHOULD have noticed while you were in the room was…”

That always struck me as odd. I may have been deeply involved observing an interaction between the teacher and a student in a small group, or having a conversation with one of the students about the work they were doing, or jotting down some notes about the task I had just witnessed and maybe I missed the specific item that the leader was reciting at that point. Why should I have noticed that?

Here’s why: It’s easy to tell people what they should have seen. It’s easy to assume that we are seeing things from the same angle at the same times, paying attention to the same words. I’ve found that managers tend to engage with ‘should haves’. Leaders tend to engage with questions. Empathy is difficult. It’s difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes because you have a different lens that you are looking through. Vulnerability is difficult. It’s difficult as a leader to recognize that someone else in the room may have a valuable experience to share.

The most impactful leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with recognize that it’s not always their voice that needs to be heard for them to lead. The most impactful leaders recognize when it’s time to step up and when it’s time to step back. The most impactful leaders recognize that you can get much further with a question than a ‘should have’.

Tech or No Tech

Now more than ever, as we navigate the pandemic lives of remote work and emergency distance learning, the conversation about technology in education is relevant and evident.

In education, the question is not whether to use technology at all.

The question is, “How and when do we bring technology into the education experience to drive impact and create the most meaningful lessons for students?”

The question is, “How can we leverage the awesome creative power of technology to move our students away from being consumers of information towards the role of content and idea creators?”

The question is, “Which administrative, time-consuming tasks can be replaced utilizing technology so that the teacher can teach, instead of counting heads?”

The question is, “When do we employ technology to enhance collaboration and enable our students to reach a worldwide audience to share their passion?”

The question is, “Where and when do we bring subject-matter experts in virtually to teach, so that we are freed up to do the authentic work- guide the learning and how to apply the new knowledge to real situations?”

The question is, “At what age is it appropriate to introduce technology for different outcomes and specific tasks?” Pro tip on this one: 5 years old is not a good time to introduce emergency online distance learning.

BUT the question also is, “When do we put the technology away and focus on face-to-face interaction, social norms and behavior, hands-on play, healthy lifestyle choices, conflict resolution, and so many other things that we need to foster in our students and citizens?”

A little more truth: we need to ask the same questions about our work and personal lives.

Questions and Answers

Historically, success in education has been about producing students that have the right answers. Increasingly, we want people who know how and when to ask the right questions. Now we just need to change the system to match our desired outcome.

A Game of Telephone

An oversimplified version of legislating change in education:


Special interests, public, political pressure, and current events are interpreted by experts and other stakeholders to build legislation.

Legislation interpreted by State DOE for how it impacts districts.

Board interprets State DOE messaging to impact policy.

Superintendent/C Level interpret Board/DOE messaging to implement that policy.

District staff interprets leadership plan and passes messaging to Principals.

Principals interpret and pass plan to teachers.

Teachers interpret and implement with students.*

Students interpret and execute.*

Teachers hold students accountable.*

Principals hold teachers accountable.

Staff holds principals accountable.

Leadership holds staff accountable.

Board holds leadership accountable.

State DOE holds board/district leadership accountable.

Legislators hold State DOE accountable.

Public and legislators hold legislators accountable.


* – where the magic happens

Legislating change in education can be difficult and convoluted.

When the intent of legislation is to impact the classroom, it is like a game of telephone being played by people who are worlds apart and don’t speak the same language with multiple layers and filters and lenses for the information to pass through along the way. This is not a political argument or notion, just an observation based on years within the system. At every step, there is an opportunity for the message to be changed. At the end of the day, the impact is in that moment of connection between the principal or teacher and the student.

On Driving Change…

So what can you do TODAY to start driving change?

  • Prioritize: Of the changes you seek, know which one will have the most positive impact for the organization. This should be your lead dog and main focus to start out. Once you get there, you will have some credits in the bank that you can cash in for other, more personal or targeted change.
  • Clarify: Make sure that your vision for change is clear, concise, and easily digested.
  • Plan: Any time you are seeking to drive change, spend time thinking about how you might get there. Think of as many different departments and divisions as you can and how they would have to contribute. Maybe the change you seek requires more human capital than the organization can afford for the outcome. Your supervisor or project sponsor will appreciate and consider your change much more often if you bring it forward with a well thought out plan toward the goal.
  • Collaborate: Figure out what problems are already being solved (or that the organization is trying to solve) and find a way to get involved. This will allow you to see what the process looks like and build up some change experience.
  • Network: Find people of influence internally that you can make connections with. When you are driving change, you need people with clout in your corner.
  • Stay Positive: While this seems obvious, staying positive can be one of the more difficult aspects of driving change. Throughout the process, you may be rejected many times. Your ideas might fall on deaf ears. It’s easy to get negative. If you can maintain your focus and stay positive, your chances of success greatly improve.

On Echo Chambers…

What is an echo chamber?

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, an echo chamber is, “an environment in which somebody encounters only opinions and beliefs similar to their own, and does not have to consider alternatives.” The term is most often used to describe our social media bubbles where we’ve carefully curated the people we follow and therefore only see opinions that conform to our own, further confirming our existing beliefs. It seems that ‘the whole world’ agrees with us. But that is only true because we have limited our ‘whole world’ to be those who see the world through our same lens.

This has implications beyond social media into our personal lives, the workplace, and education. Look at the people who are closest to you at home and at work- many times they have similar backgrounds, levels of education, and shared experiences. When I started teaching high school science in a large, urban school district, ~80% of the 2,700 students at our school were from minority racial or ethnic groups and over 60% were economically disadvantaged. Without doing a deep dive, I would say that 90+% of our teaching staff (including 14 of 16 science teachers) were middle-class and white. When there were discussions about what was going on in our classrooms, there was no one to push back on our lines of thinking about our students. We were in an echo chamber.

What can we do?

  • When engaging on social media, seek out and follow dissenting views to help broaden your exposure.
  • Read articles on the same topics from a variety of sources and political leanings (I used this chart from Pew as a guide).
  • Deliberately seek out those from different backgrounds and cultures in your personal and professional life.
  • When building teams or planning panel discussions, be intentional in your selection of a diverse group of voices.
  • If you’re not building the team but are part of it, speak up about diversity and the echo chamber if it has been overlooked.
  • Just recognizing and being cognizant of the fact you are living in an echo chamber often helps you reach out more broadly, but make no mistake- it needs to be a deliberate and intentional change.
  • Read non-fiction AND fiction books from authors outside your race, ethnic background, and views.

On a personal note: Part of my learning journey as an educator that has had strong impact beyond just my world of education has been to read race-related non-fiction and fiction. Two books I highly recommend:

  • For White Folks Who Teach in the ‘Hood by Chris Emdin
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.

I’ve got a few more currently on the shelf that I will tackle soon:

  • Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit,
  • Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, and
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire

I’ve also included some YA Fiction by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) authors that the students we serve are reading: Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo comes to mind.

On (Workplace) Firefighters…

If you haven’t heard anyone say they are ‘putting out fires’ this week, you probably haven’t been in a single meeting. The firefighter analogy is often used to exemplify a team or person that is reactive as opposed to proactive, and it’s generally used in a negative light. But here’s what I’ll tell you about firefighters: in a reactive role, there is no one better.

They are the gold standard of preparedness- everything they do is to maximize efficiency and minimize response time. Their equipment is sparkling clean and inspected regularly. They have specific roles planned ahead of time for them to enact during their response. They are also brave and mission-driven, which are two other traits we need in our ranks. We should strive to be so prepared and ready to serve our organizations to be lucky enough to be described as a firefighter.

Your bandwidth…

Only questions today:

How do you determine your personal/professional bandwidth?

How do you attempt to balance new ideas with current work?

What type of work, personal, and family activities do you prioritize?

How do you determine what ideas/projects/work to take on? Do you have the ability or decision-making power?

How do you treat ideas and projects that are outside your area of expertise or area of responsibility?

EDU/X: Strategy

In melding my passion for education and design, I kept coming back to the idea of User Experience (U/X), how something performs or behaves in the real world when its being used. Many times in education, we make decisions based on research or ideas that we’ve heard other districts using that sound great in theory with perfect implementation and follow-through, but we are leaving out a key aspect of the process: considering how this decision will play out in the real world with our actual students, educators, and staff. We’ll call this the Education Experience (EDU/X). After all, we’re lucky in that we’ve know exactly who we are serving. It is a known variable.

Diving into this idea, we start with one of the foremost guideposts in U/X, Jesse James Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience. Widely seen as one of the most integral texts in the field of U/X, Garrett lays out a conceptual framework for addressing U/X. Without going too in depth, it’s primary organizational structure is layers organized from most abstract to most concrete: Strategy, Scope, Structure, Skeleton, and Surface. If you want to dive in deeper, go to his website or even better, buy the book! The basic diagram and description is below, but let’s start analyzing how this could impact education.

Strategy: anyone who has been in a school district within the past decade is acutely familiar with the idea of putting together a strategic plan. Garrett shares that there are two aspects to consider when working on the Strategy plane.

  1. What do we (the leadership) want to get out of our educational system? This is pretty straightforward and generally built with leaders, by leaders, and for leaders. We can and should involve more stakeholders in this part of the process, but more importantly we need to include the second aspect of the Strategy plane.
  2. What do our users (the students and staff) want to get out of our educational system? This is where we need to take a page from Garrett’s model to dive deep. While we may have a representative on a strategic committee, that’s not enough. After all, EDU/X is the idea that we must be intentional in our decision-making in education to keep the full experience of our students, teachers, and staff at heart. Decisions cannot be made in a vacuum. They don’t happen to ‘some people’- we know exactly who we must consider in our work. How does this vision/mission frame the decisions we make for James, a homeless student who attends East West High School? How can we use this strategy to chart a course that actually works for Liv, a student at North South Middle School with a documented history of depression? Once again, intentionally repeated, education in our district or our school doesn’t just happen to ‘some people’- we know exactly who we must consider in our work and have a duty to do so. To steal a phrase from Pete Gorman, an educational leadership consultant who I have the privilege of calling a friend, to not consider these ideas in our work “is educational malpractice.”

This is the first post in a series about education experience (EDU/X) addressing the layers from Jesse James Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience, a seminal work on User Experience (U/X), through the lens of an educator.

Blue house…

Paint the house blue.

Seems simple enough, seems clear enough. Look at the picture below. All the houses are blue. They all listened to the directions. Be clear with your words so that you don’t leave your outcomes up to chance.

architectural photography of concrete houses
📷: Sam Beasley on unsplash.com

Slow Speed, Minimum Wake: Signs 4

This is the fourth installment in the totally random ‘The Ten Signs that Will Reshape Your Work (or Edu) Life’ series which shows how we can take a hint from signs we see out in the world to help us guide our professional life. This is a little longer than my usual posts, so if you’re in the mood for a short post, go HERE.


Vessel Control and Water Safety | SWFL Waterways

Okay, 3 different acts in this play: Act 1 is a personal anecdote involving my then 3-year-old daughter, Act 2 is a little background on this sign for those who don’t live near the ocean, and Act 3 is our connection to leadership, work life, and education.

Act 1: The Tiny Troublemaker

My daughter has very little fear, is easily distracted, and has little to no consideration for where her body is in space (proprioception for the nerds out there). Normally this meant she walked into a lot of walls or fell out of chairs, not the end of the world. However, we live near the ocean in Florida. Being on and around docks, jetties, and boardwalks are a part of life. One day we were walking around on a boardwalk with railings toward a lower section of docks without railings. As she started to step down toward one of the lower docks, I told her to stop and then pointed to a sign out in the water. I said, “Oh, sorry baby. We can’t go down there. That sign says No Small Children on the Dock.” She looked at me confused and then pointed to the same sign and slowly sounded out, “Slow speed, something wake”, and confidently told me that I read the sign wrong. I realized 3 things at that moment: you really want your kids to learn to read early, but it’s a blessing and a curse; I wasn’t going to be able to pull one over on this kid anymore; and minimum is a tough and funny looking word if you ponder it long enough.

Act 2: For Those Without Their Sea Legs

This sign is posted all over the water throughout Florida and indicates that the boat owner needs to make sure that the boat is totally settled in the water (as you speed up, the front of a boat lifts out of the water) so the thought process is that if your boat is totally settled in the water, you are going slow enough. At this time your boat should also not be creating any significant wake, the waves that emanate out from behind a boat as it slices through the water.

The main reasons for these signs being posted are because: 1) fast moving boats pose a big threat to manatees that frequent that area, and 2) the waves from large wakes that reach the shore cause increased erosion and can damage boats that are docked nearby by slamming them into the dock.

Act 3: The Long Awaited Connection

Your brain is already churning and working out the connections on your own and I’m sure there are a lot of ways we could go with this. Here’s where I currently stand: the ‘Slow Speed – Minimum Wake’ sign reminds us that not all policies, procedures, and processes are in place specifically for us, for right now, or for our benefit. Sometimes our impact to a system is both apparent and immediate, as it is with the manatee and the boats. Sometimes our impact to the system is both subtle and imperceptibly slow, as it is with shoreline erosion. Just because we cannot see the immediate impact of the processes or policies that govern our practice does not mean that there is not an impact to worry about or that no impact has been considered. Sometimes we do things ‘that way’ because they are better for the professional ecosystem or for a population who cannot raise their own voice.

As we think about the application of this thought process to education, remember that we are fighting for ALL students, parents, and families within our system. If you happen to be teaching or running a school in an area that does not have families in poverty or with some other socioeconomic or social hardships, please know that these places do exist. And the impact of policies and procedures which (to you) seem to hamper forward progress or seem to not impact ‘your students’; they are there to address the shoreline erosion issues caused by the slow, but destructive processes that operate to wear them down over time.

On Abandoned Carts

We’ve all done it- finishing some online shopping and then life gets in the way or you get bored or frustrated and you close the window without finishing the transaction and you’ve left a few items in your cart. Some time later, you’ll usually get an email from the company saying something like “You left this tie-dye double-walled tumbler in your cart. Come back and check it out!”, or something to that end. Sometimes in the user experience (U/X) world, an abandoned cart is viewed as poor website or U/X design. Sometimes we just get distracted or just weren’t committed to the purchase. Either way, the abandoned cart email is a great tool built into the digital commerce experience.

From design to education: How can we re-engage our students with something that they’ve left in their learning shopping cart the day, week, or month before? How do we know they had the idea or question and left it there in the first place and how can we ease or automate the reminder/re-engagement process?

I’m usually ‘more questions, less answers’, but I thought I’d throw a few tools into this one. Quick note: remember there are plenty of no-tech and low-tech solutions as well, like jotting down into a notebook the questions that students ask but you don’t have time to dive deeper on or keeping a running parking lot in your classroom. Here are a few more technology-driven solutions as we navigate emergency remote learning hurdles today.

  • Backchannel tools (Mentimeter)
  • LMS or LMS-light (Canvas, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams)
  • Email
  • Digital bulletin board (Flipgrid, Padlet, Wakelet, Google Keep)

On Being More Creative…

After three nudges over the last few months, I dove deep back into writing after not feeling very ‘creative’.

Nudge #1: Freakonomics podcast about creativity where the discussion surrounded the basic premise that people we view as great creators and creative types generally put a LOT of failures out there into the world as well. There are scores of examples out there, but this was just nudge #1, so no movement yet.

Nudge #2: Reading the book Originals by Adam Grant where the author quotes psychologist Dean Simonton, “The odds of producing an influential or successful idea are a positive function of the total number of ideas generated.” Noted, Dr. Grant and Dr. Simonton, noted.

Nudge #3: While still reading Originals, I was also thumbing through Tribe of Mentors or Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss and the idea came at me for a third time (and second time within three days) and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. While I can’t find the original quote now, the punchline was the same as the first two.

And now, I’m back to writing. Publishing at least one post a day, but probably writing 4 or 5. Thirty or so drafts in various stages of completion and varying quality. Must… keep… writing.

P/PG, YT, & the ZPD

Personal/Professional Growth, YouTube, and the Zone of Proximal Development

Anyone who has been through an education prep program or studied cognitive psychology has most likely heard of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), thanks to Lev Vygotsky. It is most often seen when applied to students and their education. The basic premise is that there are things you don’t know or can’t do even with guidance and support, there are things you know or can do alone, and there are things that you can’t do alone, but can do with guidance and support. The latter is your ZPD. It’s one of my favorite nuggets from cognitive psych.

Here’s the twist: it’s most often used for students in school, but this certainly applies to those of us who have long since matriculated.

When beginning a new project at the house, there are things that I already know how to do effectively (e.g., hang a picture, replace a light fixture); things that I cannot do at this time even with guidance and support (e.g., install a pool, find a leak in a pipe below the slab); and things that I cannot do alone, but can do with guidance and support (e.g., hang a fan, complete moderate woodworking projects). Those last few items are within my home repair ZPD. If you back up more than a decade, you would have needed someone there to guide you through those projects, had a repair/project manual, or at least had someone on the phone trying to walk you through. To complete the final group of examples today, I’m usually leveraging a tool that many of us have access to in our home- YouTube. In essence, we’ve been able to remove the need to have a more knowledgeable party within our social group to lean on. YouTube has become the facilitator of our ZPD activities.

For our own personal and professional growth, we regularly leverage tools like YouTube or Lynda.com or Instructables to drive our learning and bridge our knowledge gaps through our ZPD without needing to find a more knowledgeable party waiting in the wings.

Coming full circle to education: instead of only teaching students by being the ‘more knowledgeable party’ and creating a social and cognitive dependence, let’s teach our students how to effectively navigate and curate the world of resources that they have at their fingertips as well as those in the world around them.

On Credit Recovery Courses

When a student fails a required course, they are placed into credit recovery. The fact that we call it credit recovery shows what we truly value about a course. It’s not about the learning, it’s about the credit.


This was a short one, but if you want to dive deeper into assessing what’s important through the lens of accuracy and precision, hop over to THIS POST. It’s one of my favorites in the archive.

My Top 2 Edu Quotes

This quote by Mitch Resnick so perfectly sums up my current views on education in general.

“What we need to do is focus more on trying to assess the things we value, rather than value the things that are most easily assessed.” – Mitch Resnick (as heard on Freakonomics podcast) – MIT Media Lab

This quote by Kentaro Toyama is my go-to when kicking off a conversation about technology in the classroom.

“Technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces, so in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there.” – Kentaro Toyama (as read in The Atlantic) – University of Michigan

On having time to…

Many people talk about not having enough time to write a book, go to the gym, or complete a project…the list goes on.

It would be better phrased to say, “I don’t have the drive to prioritize [aspirational idea] right now.”

Let’s stop confusing ‘time’ with ‘priorities and drive’.


While writing, I was reminded of a great article that was a catalyst into me prioritizing reading this year. Check out this beauty in the Harvard Business Review by Neil Pasricha on having ‘enough time’ to read more.

Board of Directors

Beyond mentorship or a strong leader, who is on your personal board of directors (PBoD)?

Just as a board of directors acts to advise a corporation, your PBoD should act as your advisory council. Since you want unbiased advice, it’s probably best to leave your mom (and other direct family members) off your board. They are too heavily invested and supportive of your path and ideas to give you the straight talk you need. This is a group designed to be advisers to you as you journey through your career, so while some of them need to have knowledge of your field, it’s not vital that they all do. Your PBoD should be available to you when you need them, so make sure you have access to the members if they are truly going to be on your board. Diversify your PBoD as well, try to make sure you have members from different companies, fields, areas of your life, and roles within their organization. Here are a few roles you may want to include as you build out your personal board of directors:

  • Role Model: Someone whom you admire and leads by example. Given the opportunity, you would want to follow in their footsteps. You value the role they play and the steps they took to get there.
  • The Yin to your Yang: If opposing forces counterbalance, than you need to figure out your strengths and find someone who has opposite strengths (but is still in your corner!) to help you see a side of things invisible to you.
  • Accountability Partner: Here is someone who is willing (and maybe a little TOO enthusiastic) about holding you accountable for the projects and career goals you set your mind to.
  • The Wise Owl: This is someone preferably from a generation above you that has had significant experiences which they can pull from to advise you.
  • The Young Gun: Experience isn’t the only valuable trait on your board. Also seek someone who is newer in their career who may not have been as heavily influenced by the industry and can provide a fresh, new perspective.
  • The Sponsor: When you need someone in your corner who has some clout, this is who you turn to. This may also be the most intimidating person to approach to be on your board.

This is not an exhaustive list, but a starting point. Ideally you’ll have a handful of people who you can go to when you need guidance, so you’re not a burden on any one of them. Anywhere between 4 and 8 is a great ‘sweet spot’ for your board. Remember that this doesn’t need to be a formal structure and you certainly don’t need to hold board meetings, but just know who you can go to when you need specific kinds of support.

If you want to dive deeper into research about PBoDs, just search “Personal Board of Directors” and have at it, there’s plenty of reading material out there to keep you busy!

On Ingress and Egress…

I read an interesting article this morning in The Atlantic about the two different uses for masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and it got me thinking about communication and interpretation. The two main uses of masks are to protect the wearer from particles present in the air (ingress) and to prevent particles being put into the air by the wearer (egress). Ingress protection requires medical-grade masks and are most appropriate for those in occupations and areas most heavily impacted like medical workers. Egress protection is a much smaller lift, as a simple cotton cloth mask can reduce egress by up to 99%. The masks are filters designed to operate for different uses and in different directions.

Turning this to communication: it’s much easier for us to be careful and deliberate about what we put out into the world (egress), than to control what happens when people start to interpret what we’ve shared (ingress). So you may have the ability and the right to share whatever message you’d like, but when it comes to interpretation and ingestion of your message you are at the mercy of the other person’s lived experiences and their lens of understanding. It’s much easier for us to filter our message at the source than to expect others to have the same medical-grade filters for interpretation.

On ‘Backslides’ in Edu

This is a message for teachers, parents, and students about ‘summer slide’, ‘COVID slide’, or whatever we will call the next version of learning loss over periods of time. Let’s tell it like it is and deliver two important messages to our students:

  1. It’s normal for us to forget things over time while we are not using them. That is literally how the brain works, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not a slide or a backslide.
  2. You’ve worked hard and need time to recharge your batteries and reset. Just because you struggle to learn or retain does not mean you have to go to school all year while others are able to connect with friends and family. We can pick it back up when you return to school. No pressure. Unless we all have a year-round school year, we have designed the system to work that way!

Building On-Ramps

I was driving down the turnpike and I noticed that there were two different areas where new exits were being built, which also means that there were new on-ramps being added to get onto the turnpike. The scale of that type of project is impressive. The number of workers and the amount of heavy equipment and the length of the projects are impressive. That made me think about accessibility and schools.

When do we decide to build a new on-ramp for our students? For roads, it may be through traffic analysis and the determination. Often times in education, we build new on-ramps when we have a special case that requires some new attention to detail or a method we haven’t used before, but if we are paying close enough attention to ALL of our students, we should be able to be dynamically building on ramps in the moments our students need them. The benefit of on-ramps in education for building skills and gaining knowledge is that the costs are low and the timeframe is short.

On prepping to build…

There are three main ways to prep a piece of land before you build a house. You can try to get the property as barren and flat as possible by clearing and leveling the land- wiping out most of the natural features and beauty in the process. Think of this as that new suburban development going in where the goal is consistency, speed, and keeping costs low.

You can fully embrace the natural landscape, keeping all the trees, water, hills, and boulders where they are- incorporating all the features into the design. Think of this as one of those unreal tree houses that you’ve seen on Discovery Channel or Animal Planet. The goal here is customization, so consistency, speed, and low costs are out the window.

Finally, you can work somewhere in between- keep some of the distinguishing features of the property while clearing/leveling enough to provide a strong foundation on which build the house.

In education, our students don’t come to us as a clear, flat piece of property on which to build. While that might be the most efficient place to start, we cannot strip away all that makes them unique before laying the foundation. The goal of education should not be consistency, speed, and keeping costs low. On the other hand, some teachers address 200 students per day so they can’t provide the full ‘Treehouse Masters’ experience for everyone. Instead they’ve got to take some time to assess the natural landscape, keep those important distinguishing features in place, clear out a few areas or misconceptions, and then use that knowledge to find the best location to lay the foundation before they start to build. This takes time, but is worth the effort. Let’s think of this before we push teachers to dive into content and building before they’ve had the time to assess the property.

What are you?

Do people come to you as their sounding board?

Do they bring you their plan with no intent for input, just using you as their rubber stamp?

Do they come to you with a fully formed plan looking for your support because you’re their sponsor or cheerleader?

Do they bring you in at the onset of an idea because of your ability to brainstorm as their divergent thinking partner?

Do people bring you a mess with the hopes that you can be their organizer and taskmaster?


The point at which people engage you in the problem-solving, idea-generating, or general work processes should tell you a lot about how you are perceived and ‘what you are’ to those that surround you. Sometimes we are seeking feedback or input, but if we really analyze what we are being asked to do, when, and by whom, we can get a really good idea of the person we are.

Interventions in K-12

Elementary Strategies, Secondary Programs

From my experience before the pandemic and the shift to distance learning; elementary level teachers tend to look for new STRATEGIES and TECHNIQUES to use as an intervention. At secondary, the first ask is for a new PROGRAM or TOOL to address shortcomings and gaps.

One thing that works at all levels and in all situations is to dive deeper into RELATIONSHIPS and HOME LIFE as an academic or behavioral intervention. When my teachers wrote repeat referrals on the same students, I asked them to tell me something about that student’s life outside of school or about their life at home. If there was no deeper knowledge, I knew that’s where we needed to put in some work before we would really find any success.

On Doing MORE

Being able to cover MORE standards and complete MORE assignments and learn MORE in class is only positive if the standards are authentic and useful, the assignments drive inquiry and spark curiosity, and the learning is meaningful to the learner. More is not always better.

What do you think we should be doing MORE of in education? Tag me on Twitter @dkonopelko.

Book List 2020

I set a goal to read more books and do more writing in 2020.

Here is what I’ve read so far… it’s definitely been much more fiction heavy than I originally thought it would be, but I’ve really been getting lost in a good story lately. Must reads are tagged with **.

White Fragility – Robin DiAngelo
The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo
Draft No. 4 – John McPhee
Every Tool’s a Hammer – Adam Savage ** (if you’re into making stuff)
Teach Boldly – Jen Williams **
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline **
Thinking in Bets – Annie Duke
The Martian – Andy Weir
Move your Bus – Ron Clark
The Elements of User Experience – Jesse James Garrett
The Long Walk to Water – Linda Sue Park **
1984 – George Orwell

On CS and Coding

In what ways did we teach the soft skills that computer science and coding is lauded for teaching before using computer science and coding?

If learning computer programming isn’t really about the language, but about problem-solving, critical thinking, recognizing and interpreting patterns, and building algorithmic processes, then what else can we do that elicits that same skill building with a lower bar and less of a hesitation from teachers?

Paper airplanes as a child is one example that comes to mind. Building 20 different paper airplanes is a great low-stakes, low barrier for entry into this world:

1. You can start with the process for building a plane. (creativity)
2. If the plane flies well, you can still make gradual changes to the features and shapes. (iteration)
3. You may research some successful designs and see how they vary from yours and make appropriate changes. (research)
4. If your plane doesn’t fly, you check the basic folds to see if you made a mistake along the way. (debugging)

What other low- or no-tech ways can you engage in the thought processes of computer science and coding?

On Learning and Languages

When traveling, we often notice the changes in pronunciation, inflection, use of idioms and colloquialisms, as well as body language and other non-verbal communication. This is very evident in natural or spoken/written language, but does it exist in math or artificial languages like those in computer programming? Is there a way to tell who wrote a computer program just based on the syntax and patterns and ideas in the code? Are there colloquialisms? What is the non-verbal equivalent within C++ or Python? What is the body language equivalent in math?

In practice, these variations exist not just from region to region, but person to person. They are built into the experience of living in an area and learning language as we grow.

The experience in school tends to be so much different. I loved languages in middle/high school. However, in 6 years of French, 3 of Spanish, and 1 semester of Russian (Cyrillic alphabet blew my mind), I don’t remember spending any time on this. Reflecting back, >90% of the time in these classes, we were hearing one natural English speaker who was fluent in another language teach us that other language. But it was mostly vocabulary and phrases of limited practicality.

Whether we are learning a language for practicality and utility, or for empathy, how do we draw on these nuances without living in an area?

On Values

What do you value?

Stop reading. Don’t go to the next sentence until you’ve really answered this. If that means you don’t read the rest of this for a week, that’s fine. I’ll wait. And don’t respond with the “I work with kids, so I better say it’s all about the kids” line.

What do you think your values are?
What do your WORDS indicate about your values?
What do your ACTIONS indicate about your values?
What do you value in the long-term?
What do you value in the short-term?
If asked, what would others think that your values are?
What do you wish that you valued, but you just don’t?

Are your answers aligned?

If you can’t be brutally honest with yourself about your values, how can you make long-term plans that support them?

On Preparing Students for the Workforce

Seven-year-old students should NOT be getting prepared for the workforce. They SHOULD be playing and building relationships and getting dirty and occasionally getting hurt. These activities build a great foundation on which to build character. Solutions and activities that are sometimes discredited from education because they ‘don’t exist in the real world’ are still important in learning and development. Additionally, some ideas and work that students engage in is not developmentally appropriate from a cognitive and social-emotional standpoint. Just because the standard has been spiraled down to its purest form doesn’t address the idea of whether or not a 6-year old is able to think at an abstract level pursuant to the expected work. Get outside and get messy! Tomorrow, we can teach you how to sit in and contribute to a meeting.

On Digital Citizenship – Teaching v. Presenting

Let’s increase the impact of our teaching about digital citizenship by teaching rather than presenting.

Teach students how to protect themselves online- walk them through the process of reporting and blocking someone who is harassing them online on the actual platforms they have access to.

Teach students the difference in style and tone when writing private messages and public posts- allow them to publish work online, comment appropriately, use teachable moments to drive discussion, create and send actual emails, and practice the skills we want them to possess.

Only use simulations, models, presentations, and modules when absolutely necessary.

If you don’t know how to teach that particular topic, be honest with yourself and the students, learn alongside the group, or research and learn it a few days before the kids like you did the first year you were assigned four sections of physical science.

Titles often seen and self-proclaimed that must be earned

It’s easy to label yourself as one of these and we see them thrown around a LOT these days, but it’s difficult to truly earn them. Are any missing from the list?

Change-maker
Innovator
Disruptor
Mover and Shaker
Influencer
Thought Leader
Transformation Specialists
Accelerator
Change Agent

On Sentence Stems

I’ve got a love-hate relationship with sentence stems in the classroom. I understand their role with cognitively complex ideas and activities like socratic seminars, meta-cognition, and reflective tasks. I also think they are used as a crutch rather thank making thinking visible. We can discus that these tasks or ideas are difficult for anyone to put into words and require deep thought. They can’t really be boiled down to a few words put at the beginning or end of each sentence you say. No discussion or conversation ever sounded natural or professional or authentic when everyone in the room was speaking using sentence stems. I’ve yet to work on a project at the college leveled or any job where sentence stems were effectively employed.

What are some other ways to guide people into deeper conversations and more metacognitive thought without using sentence stems?

Tag me @dkonopelko in a response on Twitter!

On Misinterpretation

Someone will always misinterpret what you type or write regardless of how thoughtfully and carefully you craft your message and construct your sentences. It is viewed through their lens and experiences, and you miss being able to deliver the verbal and non-verbal clues to your meaning. Maybe it’s time that we introduce some new rules or punctuation usage to indicate sarcasm as opposed to genuine thought, different degrees of excitement, and of course bring back the interrobang (‽).

::Sure, just what we need- more punctuation to misuse and misinterpret!::

Pandemic Impact

What are some long term educational changes you envision occurring, or would like to see occur, due to this pandemic?

#1: A forced focus (by districts) on the inequitable distribution of resources among students and families.

This crisis is shining a light on some equity issues that have been talked about for a while but haven’t been acted upon on such a broad scale. One of the most prominent examples is the focus on equitable access, which is a tough area to tackle. This includes the devices, but also includes the ability to access the internet. While many companies are offering items or services at a reduced cost or even free, that cannot sustain itself forever. So, this crisis will hopefully provide some insight into effective ways to scale up access that is sustainable for our most vulnerable areas of the population and also the providers. This has also helped to show the public all the needs and social services currently being fulfilled by our education system (more on that in #8). It is also absolutely vital to note that while some districts which are well-equipped to help bridge this gap are doing so, there are also areas of the country (and probably near you as well) which cannot support this deeper push for equity and the crisis is widening the gap in those spaces. Crisis can pull people together, but it can also amplify the trauma many are already living through. Think carefully about both ends.

#2: A forced focus (by schools) on family communication and involvement.

Schools and districts MUST be communicative to their families during this time. There are many different tools and platforms being used to accomplish this and each one has its benefits and drawbacks, as well as a specific subset of its stakeholders who consume it. Each one also has an area of communication in which it shines. While we see schools posting more exemplars and stellar teachers/staff members than ever on Twitter, we’ve also seen a huge uptick in calls coming home by both schools and districts. There are well-thought out plans to enable education to continue that were put together in a matter of weeks that more closely address family communication than any previous initiatives. These plans include specific ways families can help and be involved, while also understanding the limits of what can be accomplished by a family that is also in crisis. Hopefully once the crisis begins to slow, this renewed urge to communicate and involve families in the learning process remains.

#3: A forced focus (at home) on children as students and learners.

Families who were previously less involved in their child’s education now feel pressure to be involved in the teaching and learning process. Turning a walk around the block into a science lesson, digging into conversations about what students were learning so they can continue the push, diving deep into conversations about what their children/students WANT to learn about to keep engagement up, and thinking deeply about what it takes to teach. Even as an educator married to an educator, this is a huge shift in our at-home dynamic and is driving some huge growth in our connections as a family. There are many stories and posts by people claiming that all teachers should be paid twelve gazillion dollars per hour because of the work they do. While I love that this is shining light on a profession that can be grueling and take a LOT out the people responsible for our children, what I love even more is that it tells me these families are building new bridges based on learning and growth.

#4: A forced focus (by teachers and staff) on shifting mindsets about digital transformation.

We are now outside the world of ‘what ifs’ and hypothetical situations. If a district had not prepared a robust plan for digital learning and the processes and procedures to support a digital curriculum over the past decade, they are RAPIDLY getting there. The benefit to students will be that these structures are now in place in many districts around the country where they didn’t exist before. This has also shown a unique use case for the need to be ready to shift online. Teachers who weren’t ready yet or didn’t want to switch things up are being forced out of their comfort zone. People all over the world are seeing that there is a different skill set needed to teach online compared to in-person. It’s not just a shift of curriculum and tools. This also poses some important questions moving forward. What do snow days look like moving forward when e-learning resources and plans are firmly in place? Indiana already utilizes e-learning days to bridge the times when students are prevented from getting to the school sites. What does the overall school year look like when the learning can span distance and time?

#5: A forced focus (by states) on the insignificance of high-stakes testing in the learning process.

At this point, quite a few states have abandoned their high-stakes tests for this year and some have even moved away from a hard focus on the standards and instead are just trying to get families to keep the focus on learning. Find things the students are passionate about and guide them through the exploration process. Read more books, not only those that align with specific ideas and work, just read more books. It seems like when you peel back some of the layers of accountability and legislation, what remains at the core is what many of us think are the most vital parts of education. Feeding curiosity, exploring the world around us, developing a love of learning, diving deep into books and reading, and connecting with those who are most important in our lives. Sounds like a great foundation to build on!

#6: A forced focus (by all) on adopting more fluid and dynamic systems, processes, and procedures.

‘Because we’ve always done it that way’ is out the window at this point. Doing most things in person is no longer a reality for many people. Beyond the education system, corporations and businesses have adopted and adapted processes that allow them to continue to function in this climate. From remote work to new delivery procedures to digital-first releases of blockbuster films, the whole world is changing around us. Those who are focused on putting systems in place that allow them to respond with agility to the changing world around them are able to flourish and grow. We can all learn from this experience that no matter what we’ve ‘always done’, there comes a time to change and adapt. 

#7: A forced focus (by all) on the realization that there is another school calendar that might make sense.

Our current school calendar was built for a different type of society. With everyone being forced into providing a more flexible type of education to our students, it may also provide some insight into ways that our current calendar for education responds in times of crisis. We’ve already seen states say that they will extend the school year into the summer to ‘make up for lost instruction time’, but we’ll also see many that continue with social distancing strategies through the end of this school year and then focus on re-opening in the fall. From this point forward, when the school board or calendar committee come together to determine a schedule for a district or when the state legislatures are determining the appropriate number of instructional minutes or days, we will have an entirely differently lived experience to pull from.  

#8: A forced focus (by the public) on the impact of the educational system.

School closures were previously thought of as a short and relatively minor inconvenience for many, but the situation we are currently in of extended closures has pulled back the curtain on just how heavily we rely on the system of education for much more than education. Parents are having to figure out how to function when they’ve got a full house and no day cares or camps to rely on. The public is seeing how heavily many families rely on the school districts for meals, specialized services for students who require physical accommodations, individual education plans, social-emotional services, and so much more. All of these are facets of the school system and are provided as part of or in addition to the school day for our students. While school districts continue to work hard to adapt these additional systems beyond teaching and learning into a new model of work, families and communities are able to see just how impactful their local district is, now more than ever. 

#9: A forced focus (by all) on the importance of working together.

This one could go on for a while, but I’ll be brief and avoid hot topics. Paywalls are down, companies are stepping up to provide resources, districts are sharing openly with other districts, and states with other states. Companies that normally produce all different goods are halting or slowing production to shift focus to making face masks and ventilators. Now, imagine a world where we responded with a front this united to all challenges we are facing. We’ve heard a lot of mention (which I despise) of a broken education system or schools that are failing- who is ready to step up and do what’s necessary to drive change? The catalyst has already arrived.

This post was based on a thought provoking question posted by @themodestteacher on Twitter this week. This is my (WAY) too long for Twitter response. Please share yours as well!

What Leading is About

Leading is about relationships.
Leading is about understanding influence.
Leading is about making mistakes.
Leading is about owning mistakes.
Leading is about lifting up others.
Leading is about modeling.
Leading is about positivity.
Leading is about vision.
Leading is about tough decision-making.
Leading is about communication.
Leading is about driving change.
Leading is about problem-solving.
Leading is about learning and growing.
Leading is about relationships.

On Physical Education 2020

As we move into an increasingly digital age, it’s still important for physical education to take place in its true form, teaching students about staying active. Not just walking laps and completing packets about organized sports, or studying the physical education standards. Not just participating in the sports that you enjoy. There are the implications of playing team sports that help teach communication, collaboration, problem solving, collective goals, and persistence that are taught through the work of PE teachers. There are also vital social lessons to be learned through the experience.

Educator First

Education is so unique in that people in ALL levels and areas of education still consider themselves educators first. In just beginning my journey in the private sector, I still first identify myself as an educator. I’ve met teachers, principals, custodians, superintendents, CAOs, CTOs, consultants, salespeople, strategists, and a myriad of others involved on both the private and public side of education who above all else consider themselves educators and take that responsibility seriously. They spend time talking about students, teaching, and learning- even when the jobs are far removed from the classroom. It’s rare that people continue to identify with their initial role in a field long after they’ve left that role.

I feel very blessed (and in good company) to be able to continue to work with amazing folks to impact the lives of students each day.

Reflection Time – #ISTE19 – #EduFamily

ISTE 2019 – Philadelphia, PA – Pennsylvania Convention Center

Another conference is in the books, but it was far from ordinary- not ‘just another conference’. This was a conference of firsts and a conference of EduFamily. Appropriately, let’s first talk about the firsts:

  • First time creating and delivering an ignite talk. This consists of 20 slides, timed at 15 seconds each for a very dense 5-minute talk. If you mess up or forget to make a point, just keep going! My notes/slides here. I’ll post the video when it’s available.
  • First out-of-state conference representing Martin County Schools and the Florida Council of Instructional Technology Leaders. I was proud to represent the great work going on in both of these fantastic organizations.
  • First time winning an international/national award for my work as a leader in instructional technology. The ISTE Making IT Happen award, more info here.
  • First time saying ‘no’ to all invitations/events and staying in my hotel and just reading/relaxing/recovering from the long days of a conference. This might be the best decision I made all week. Felt fresh and ready to go each morning.
  • First time taking off the day before and after a conference to better prepare and better recover from the travel. This is an absolute must if you have the days available.
  • First time seeing quotes from my own presentation on Twitter. Very cool, thank you to those of you who were present and posted quotes/videos/pictures.
  • First time having someone recognize and approach me the day after a presentation to talk to me about it. Thanks, you made me feel like an education pseudo-celebrity for a brief moment in time!

It was also a conference for EduFamily.

On Saturday evening, there was the ISTE Affiliate reception for leaders from ISTE Affiliate groups from around the world. While I met people from many different states and countries, it was the first or second group that sat down at my table which made a mark. The three team members (Shane and CC and then met Janet at the awards luncheon Sunday) from the Hawai’i Society for Technology in Education (HSTE) were very warm and welcoming and turned out to be great new members of my EduFamily for the rest of the conference. We shared a few meals and some ideas about the differences between how our states run our groups, etc.

In prepping my ignite talk (based on this article), I noticed that a member of my PLN (Jennifer Casa-Todd) was also presenting and we were able to sit backstage and be nervous together as we waited for our opportunity to share our work with the audience. It was great knowing that there was support waiting when you wrapped up the talk and went back behind the curtains.

After I finished my ignite talk on Sunday, one person asked if I had ever considered writing a book. I definitely had not, but I knew who to ask about it! Jen Williams, who I met 4 years ago at an edCamp event in Melbourne, FL, was at the conference speaking and promoting her book that she had just finished writing and it is being released in the next few months. Despite not having seen each other in 4 years and only staying connected on Twitter, she took the time to sit down with me to discuss the process she had gone through and also talked about some of the other people she knew who had gone through the process recently with different publishers. A mutual connection of ours, Bryan Miller (who I had presented at FETC with in 2016 and now works at Wonder Workshop) was also there and has a book coming out in November. We talked for about 30 minutes as if three and a half years hadn’t passed between our last two conversations and he shared a lot of information on the process that he and Katrina Keene went through in publishing their upcoming books. I was also able to reach out to another few people who are members of my PLN that either publish books themselves or have gotten books published in the past. I was able to draw on the valuable experiences of them digitally, so another thank you to Dave Burgess, Sarah Thomas, Dene Gainey, Tom Murray, and Susan Bearden.

Show your insurance card when you sign in. Or don’t.

I walked into a new dentist’s office last week and a sign posted on the check-in desk read, “All patients must show insurance card when you sign in.”

I don’t carry the card anymore but keep a scanned image on my phone, so I pulled it up. No one asked to see my insurance card, nor did anyone that checked in while I was sitting there show their insurance card.

Think about it: does your organization ever behave like this? 

  1. What policies do you have in place that don’t actually translate to a process or procedure OR are never implemented even though those all exist?
  2. What are you willing to police?

If you don’t really have a process or procedure for getting it done, get rid of the policy. If people aren’t going to do it, get rid of the policy. If you think people should do it, but you aren’t willing to police it, get rid of the policy. 

Read: Make a difference for kids

All of these phrases ultimately have the same meaning- making a difference for kids- so it’s important to discuss and agree upon EXACTLY what difference you seek to make and what success looks like:

Guide school improvement efforts

Increase student achievement

Create a more dynamic learning environment

Provide enrichment opportunities

Educate students for success

Differentiate to reach all learners

Road Work: Signs 3

We can learn a lot from road work signs. On a recent road trip, I saw this succession of signage as I went down the highway:

  • Road Work Ahead
  • Road Work 1000 ft.
  • Road Work Next 5 Miles
  • Uneven Lanes
  • Road Work Next 2 Miles
  • End Road Work

More people should operate with this sort of mentality. When working on a project or new assignment, tell people what they should expect (Road Work Ahead). Then tell them when to expect it (Road Work 1000 ft.). Then let them know how long it is going to last (Road Work Next 5 Miles). If their work is going to change to accommodate the project, let them know (Uneven Lanes) and provide updates along the way (Road Work Next 2 Miles). Finally, let them know when the project is over and they can resume their normal responsibilities (End Road Work).


This is the third installment of a seemingly random string of posts on signs and other meanings they could pose for our lives.

Social Media, Professional Support, and Education

The world of social media takes many forms. As do the people who access and use it. As one example, Twitter is used heavily by educators to connect to other educators and thought leaders from around the world. Some call this eduTwitter. Increasingly on eduTwitter, it seems people are posting negative reactions and comments to each other’s work. Instead, let’s push people to post more positive than negative. We all understand that hindsight is 20/20, but we choose to act like that rule is only acceptable for our own work.

Today, I challenge you on three fronts:

  1. Find ten posts that you like and rather than just ‘liking’ them, comment what specifically resonated with you from the work.
  2. Before you comment on someone’s post, ask yourself if you know anything about this person outside of their Twitter handle. If not, don’t post. Instead, ask them a question and learn.
  3. If you’re an educator: When you get back to school this year, apply the same concept to your students or staff. When you are tempted to tell a student ‘good job’, specifically mention what you were impressed with in their work. If you’re a leader, call out teachers for the work they do that focuses on providing students with impactful learning experiences.

Feel free to steal these questions that I asked my teachers to answer about any student we identified as being ‘at-risk’ for not graduating based on attendance, GPA, grades, or state test scores.

  1. What can you tell me about this student’s life outside your classroom?
  2. What are some things this student enjoys? Teams they support? Activities they participate in?
  3. Make one positive phone call home for this student, no matter how minute the positive behavior that was exhibited. Document the parent response here.

2019 Books

Finished Reading

Professional

The Art of Gathering – Priya Parker

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education – Chris Emdin

Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams – Roger Schwarz

Collaborative Leadership – Peter DeWitt

Lead Like a Pirate – Shelley Burgess and Beth Houk

Wildflowers – Jonathan P. Raymond

Schools that Succeed – Karin Chenoweth

Personal

Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton (for the fifth or sixth time)

The Lost World – Michael Crichton

Origin – Dan Brown

Waiting on the Shelf

Professional

White Fragility – Robin DiAngelo

Other People’s Children – Lisa Delpit

Choosing Civility – P.M. Forni

Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek

Graphic Design Thinking – Ellen Lupton

Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni

Personal

Originals – Adam Grant

Sphere – Michael Crichton (rereading this…loved it 20 years ago)

The Wizard and the Prophet – Charles C .Mann

Congo – Michael Crichton (rereading this…loved it 20 years ago)

The Intended Entrance

Using the front door to enter my house is a great experience. It was designed and intended to be the place that people use to enter. It’s decorated nicely inside the front door. It’s welcoming. It’s warm and inviting. It provides a well-defined threshold between the outside world and our home. However, most times we enter through the garage. Through the garage door you walk into the laundry room, then into the back corner of the kitchen. The garage blurs that threshold between house and outdoors.

In Florida today, most schools have exterior hallways, large fences or gates surrounding the property, and common areas outside where students wait before school starts. Very often, parent drop-off and the bus loop have students entering through a side entrance or gate, blurring the lines between getting to school and arriving at school. Students might be at school for a half hour or more before they actually step inside their classroom. Many students never use the intended entrance to the school.

In this way, we rely heavily on the teacher to be greeting students at the door once class begins so that there is a well-defined start to school. For some students (and staff), getting to school each day is already a struggle and having a well-defined start or an intended entrance allows there to be a threshold between the outside world and the school. This doesn’t mean that people shed their identities at the door. This doesn’t mean that who you are outside the walls is different than who you are inside the walls. All schools have an underlying culture. In a school where the school leaders and staff have worked hard to foster a caring and learning culture, it is important for people to feel welcome. Their life outside may have a lot of unknowns and may not be safe. Feeling the threshold between outside and the school becomes vital to these students. If you are thinking, we don’t have any students like that- you are wrong. Every school in every part of the world has students who struggle, who have a painful life outside of school. Make sure you are setting a threshold; make sure you have a welcoming, intended entrance for your students, even if they are entering through the garage.

Choose your words

In working on my ISTE Ignite talk with specific requirements: 5 minutes for 20 slides timed out at 15 seconds each, I’m reminded that it is important to choose our words wisely. This isn’t only true for 5-minute talks on a topic that we could discuss for hours but in our day to day work as well. We’ve only got two things to hang our hat on, actions and words. They aren’t both appropriate at all times. We know that actions speak louder than words, but in some venues, people don’t get a chance to see our actions. It’s here that our words take over. So we must be precise and accurate in choosing words to properly represent our viewpoint or represents the actions that we’ve taken.

To make the connection to my previous post on accuracy and precision: accuracy is how closely your words represent your viewpoint and actions, and precision is how consistently you describe these viewpoints and actions. 

On Classroom Design and Support

If we design a classroom based on what the teacher and students are currently doing instead of what they could be doing, we are missing the mark and limiting their ability to learn and grow. If we want flexible learning spaces, provide desks, chairs, and tables that allow for that shift. If we want engaged, digitally-literate teachers and students, provide the tools that allow for that work. And it’s not just about providing the stuff. While there will always be teachers and leaders who ‘outperform’ their space, we’ve got to provide the instructional strategies, structures, and tools to be able to deliver the type of engaging learning experiences we want all of our students to have. This isn’t limited to dropping off some devices and leaving the room. Structured, job-embedded professional development and leadership development is a must.

If we are the ‘UPS guy’, dropping off a package of new tools and toys, ringing the doorbell, and leaving, we are missing the mark as educational leaders and instructional designers.

Two types of speakers

There are two types of speakers (or writers) that I appreciate and aspire to one day be:

1) the type that are so knowledgeable that they can speak for hours about their area of expertise or their passion, and

2) those that don’t have to because they are so clear and concise in their message.

If you are ever looking for the latter, check out Seth Godin at https://seths.blog/ – he has so many insightful and thought-provoking posts. One of my all-time favorites is “What’s high school for?“.

Mind the (Opportunity) Gap: Learning About Modern Tech

The world today is inundated with a deluge of modern technology. The world of education, as a microcosm of the system as a whole, is no different. You can’t read a blog, or a trade magazine, or a newspaper, or go to a conference without risking being washed away by words like augmented reality, 3D printing, drones, artificial intelligence, robotics, coding, programming, and ‘smart’ devices.

The craziest part is that in our classrooms these high-level options are available as a field to study and explore to almost all levels of learners, or at least they should be. Instead, what we see in too many cases is that these courses are reserved for students who excel and don’t need remediation. Students who struggle are often not exposed, widening the opportunity gap. We need to lower the threshold of entry into programs that learn about these advances to prepare ALL of our students for their future. High performing students, students with transportation, and students with money shouldn’t be the only ones who are able to enter this exciting world.

How can you help? Here are a few ideas!

  • Offer intro to modern tech/CS courses to lower performers, remove some of the prerequisite barriers
  • Replace remedial classes that don’t work with engaging, modern offerings that create a desire to attend school
  • Offer before/after school clubs/activity groups WITH transportation
  • Find meaningful ways to integrate into the core curriculum and then provide deep support for the teachers
  • Celebrate pockets of greatness where it is already happening in your school or community
  • Bring it to the masses through summer programs and/or nights/weekends out in the community instead of being tied to the school building

If you’ve got any other great ideas, tag me @dkonopelko on Twitter!

Turnkey Digital Citizenship: No Work Required

This was the title of a recent email I received from an edtech company looking to break into the education market.

TURNKEY DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP: NO WORK REQUIRED

And the be honest, I’m sure it worked for some people. Their marketing materials were great, the website was pristine. It all appeals to a group I’ll call the ‘no work required crowd’ (NWRC).

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the last decade or so:

  • If there’s no work required, there’s probably not much to be gained from the product or program.
  • If there’s no work required, it will not be a successful implementation.
  • If there’s no work required, it means that there isn’t buy-in for the outcome.
  • If there’s no work required, it means someone is probably purchasing this without input from the stakeholders.
  • If there’s no work required, it means that the people who are going to be delivering this to their staff and then to the students- they don’t need to learn the material and can’t support the work. They can’t speak with authority to the concepts and ideas contained therein.

There is always an appetite for this type of program, the ‘get rich quick’ scheme for transformation appeals deeply to the NWRC. And this, of course, isn’t only true of digital citizenship programs. This is true of any project worth implementing at any type of organization. At this point, I would prefer to see this as a headline:

EDUCATIONAL TRANSFORMATION: REALLY HARD WORK REQUIRED, BUT IT’S WORTH THE EFFORT

It’s won’t appeal to the NWRC, but it’s worth it for our kids.

Talking About Screen Time

This post will be appearing in an upcoming issue of District Administration magazine. Once it is released, I will update this post with a link.

How do I navigate conversations surrounding screen time in an ever-changing world?

Screen time is one of those topics that is often discussed, sometimes understood, and rarely agreed upon. As leaders in instructional technology, one of the most common conversations we have is the debate surrounding time on devices. When the American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in last year and provided some updated guidelines (link), it reignited much of the conversation.

Here are 7 thoughts surrounding screen time that can help you navigate these difficult, but important conversations.

There isn’t one answer.
Screen time is almost exclusively grey area. There is no black and white. Be open to the conversations and take in as much information as you can through actively listening to those with concerns. An empathetic ear goes a long way to understanding the point-of-view of people who are on either end of a divisive issue.

The digital world is an ecosystem.
Just like the physical world around us, the digital realm is constantly growing and evolving. It is full of life and involves ever-increasing amounts of interaction. The culture of the digital world is as complex as that of the culture of your neighborhood, city, state, country, and the world because it is truly global in nature.

The device is a vessel.
Consider the fact that a hollow hypodermic needle and syringe have been used to a) deliver the vaccine which eradicated the deadly smallpox virus, and b) to deliver heroin to those addicted to the narcotic. The problem with heroin isn’t the hypodermic needle and syringe. In the same way, the smartphone itself is not what we need to be concerned with- instead let’s consider the content.

Not all content is created equal.
Content doesn’t live in the diametrically opposed world of good and evil- there are many different facets to consider when evaluating the content that is contained within the digital ecosystem. Is the content for entertainment or education? Does the content allow for passive engagement or require active involvement? Is the user consuming the content or using a tool and creating content? Are you monitoring the content or hoping they monitor their own use?

Not all children are created equal.
Parents and teachers both know their children. They might know different versions of the same child and receive different outputs with the same inputs, but there is one thing they can agree on- no two children are alike. They react in different ways to the same content and same scenarios. While some may be able to handle more time on a device, some may not. While some may come alive with a video series about photosynthesis, others simply cannot follow along. Knowing what is appropriate and effective for each individual is vital.

We are living in a connected world.
Whether or not you are in favor of digital devices, digital content, and their place in the classroom, you cannot deny their ubiquity in our daily lives. From the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment our head hits the pillow at night, we are engulfed in a more global, connected world. This means that more information than we could ever study or endeavor to know is literally at our fingertips, but we also are tasked with being able to filter and understand that world through the lens of our perspective and experience.

Good habits are learned.
The idea of a digital native is a myth. Just as we wouldn’t hand the keys of a car to our child without a lot of conversations, demonstrations, and guided sessions surrounding safe driving, the same should be true for screens. The fact that they grew up in a car doesn’t mean they understand it’s place in their lives and the importance of careful operation and maintenance. The same can be said of our digital habits and screen time behaviors. Good digital habits must be explicitly taught and modeled if we are to shape modern, self-directed, and self-monitoring learners.

The Worker

There are different types of people who show up to the job each day and are a positive influence on the organization. We’ve got leaders, managers, dreamers, hype men, and the list goes on. One of those positive influences is the worker. The worker completes the items that are in the job description. The worker works the correct number of hours. You can rely on the worker to check all the boxes, cross the t’s, dot the i’s, and show up to work on time. They will read and respond to all the emails and show up for every meeting. They get great reviews of their work and have high evaluation scores. Some of you are probably thinking, “I wish I had more workers on my staff,” and that may be true. For many roles, the worker is the most appropriate and efficient choice.

Here’s one more thing that the worker has: a blind spot for changing the systems that exist. Especially if those systems fall outside their job description. However, the worker can end up in leadership roles because of their strong track record of getting the job done, but they don’t examine the world around them for inefficiencies and inequity. They don’t push back on questionable decisions by a superior. They keep the system moving without thinking about whether or not this system accomplishes what it seeks to accomplish. The worker isn’t a leader, yet.

One idea that I want to make clear: this is not a deficiency or a problem created or perpetuated by the worker. This is a problem of human capital management. This is a problem based on putting the wrong people in the wrong positions within an organization. This is a problem of promoting based on longevity or good reviews, but not based on the needs of the position. This is a problem of evaluation systems that promote and reward checking the boxes. This is a problem of not training people to examine systems. This is a problem of not guiding strong workers through a leadership development program before giving them the responsibilities and expectations that come with being a leader. This is a problem of hoping someone becomes a leader rather than developing them.

It is the job of the organization to develop workers into managers and leaders so that their influence is not confined or limited and they can impact the next generation of workers and doers. How is your organization doing this?

Light up my room…

Other than being a great song by Barenaked Ladies, let the title of this post serve as an example of how much times have changed.

The other night in the almost pitch black, I noticed two things: 1) that something in our room must not be functioning correctly because a light that is usually solid was blinking and driving me crazy, and 2) that it isn’t pitch black at all because there are a lot of little indicator lights on in our room.

Because it has happened gradually over the years, I barely noticed until the other night. Tonight, I challenge you to take stock of the lights that stay on when your lights go out. And then ask your parents how many lights were in their room when they were your age. For us, there are 14 items with lights on them at night in our room, for my parents: 1. Full list is at the end of the post for us, just an alarm clock for my parents.

Why does this matter and why am I writing about it?

These lights all serve some kind of purpose, to let us know that something is on or connected or charging. Blinking tells us something different than steady light. Amber light tells us something different than red. But in addition to helping us know what is going on in the machines (notifications), these lights serve as distractions.

Take stock of the things that distract you from daily life. Notice how you have become numb to some of these things over time and how they may prevent you from your goals.

I was shocked when I took stock of the little indicator lights in our bedroom and even more shocked when I took stock of the distractions and notifications that are all part of my daily life. Now, onto the real work of figuring what stays and what goes!

Want to know what is lighting up our room? Here’s the list.

  • TV – has a small red light that’s on all the time.
  • Router – I guess it’s technically called a mesh wi-fi node now
  • Modem – four or five lights on this guy
  • FOUR Surge protectors/power strips – one near TV, one near desk, one near each nightstand
  • Second TV on desk – being used as a monitor – small red light that’s always on
  • Baby monitor
  • Computer charging cord – LED indicator that’s on while charging (which is every night)
  • Smoke detector
  • Wireless headphones charging station
  • Philips Hue Smart Hub – for making light bulbs smarter I suppose, three lights on this one
  • Air purifier with HEPA filter and UV light.

In my parent’s room when they were my age:

  • Clock

This Sign Has Sharp Edges: Signs 2

Image result for this sign has sharp edges

This sign warns you not to touch it. Its only purpose is to dictate how you should handle (or not handle) it. The sign has no function outside of letting you know it exists. The only ‘work’ it does is self-created and has no benefits beyond that.

Don’t be this sign.

  • Create value for others.
  • Exist with purpose.
  • Let others recognize your work.

This might be the second in a non-consecutive series about signs and what they can teach us about education, leadership, and life.

Accuracy and precision in education…

Somewhere in the science standards for your state, it probably addresses the ideas of accuracy and precision. If you Google these terms, you’ll see countless articles, videos, examples, lesson plans, etc. Let me give you a really basic summary.

Accuracy is how close a measurement is to the accepted/desired/expected value. Precision is how close together each measurement is to the other measurements.

Assume for the following example that my car’s speedometer is properly calibrated. If my speedometer reads 65 mph and I pass a speed limit sign that measures my car’s speed and it says 65 mph, the measurement seems accurate. If I pass that same sign while going 65 mph five days in a row and it reads 65 mph all five days, I assume that the sign is both precise and accurate.

If I were to pass that sign at 65 mph and everyday it read 83 mph, it would be precise, but not accurate. If for five days I passed that sign at 65 mph and it read 43, 60, 11, 99, and 3 mph, it would be neither accurate nor precise.

Now to education.

An assessment might be a precise measurement tool: a student with a specific ability level might score the same over and over.

An assessment might be an accurate measurement tool: a student who has an expected ability level might receive a score that matches that level.

But neither of these really captures the most important aspect of the assessment: is it measuring something we actually value or just something that is easily measured? A cursory knowledge of photosynthesis or an understanding of our place and impact on this planet? Solving for congruent parts of triangles or financial literacy and the long term consequences of mismanaging credit? Understanding the mood of an epic poem or being able to evaluate the legitimacy of a source of information? How to sit still and quiet in a room for hours on end or how to properly manage your attention in a world full of distractions?

This post was based on a quote from an episode of the podcast Freakonomics, where Dr. Mitchel Resnick (a professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab) stated the following, “Schools end up focusing on the things that are most easily assessed, rather than focusing on the things that are most valuable for kids and valuable for thriving in today’s society. So what we need to do is to focus more on trying to assess the things we value rather than valuing the things that are most easily assessed.” Thanks to @mres (a fellow ISTE Making It Happen Award Winner) for the inspiration. 

Break it down…

The next time you are starting a large project (or unit plan or scheduling a year of activities) and feel overwhelmed, do the following before you over-react: break it down. Don’t take a huge leap and try to figure out what the exact first step in the process would be. Don’t go from the idea for a new type of transportation infrastructure to trying to figure out what the first step is to make it happen. It’s just too big of a leap and I guarantee that where you think you need to start and where you actually need to start are worlds apart.

Break the project into four general sections or areas of responsibility, and then throw away the three least important or least pressing. Okay, don’t throw them away. Just push them to the side and don’t look at them again right now.

Then break down that one section into three or four pieces. Get rid of the least important or least pressing. I think you see where this is going.

Continue this process until you’ve arrived at the core principle of the project; the lever that will help propel your project in the right direction.

Now, think of the steps to achieve only this one deliverable or one idea. That’s where you start, start with your lever.

At the end of this exercise, you’ll have two things: a reasonably precise and accurate vision of where to begin, and (if you choose to put all of the ‘thrown away’ ideas back together) an outline of the overall arc the project will take.

I’m tired of hearing education hasn’t changed or it’s broken…

I’m tired of hearing that education hasn’t changed in the last hundred years or that education is broken. If you search the phrase ‘education hasn’t changed’, you’ll see articles from reputable educational institutions and publications that assert that education is the same now as it was 50, 100, or 400 years ago. Or that the system is broken. Or they show an image of a classroom from the 1800s next to a picture of a classroom from today to show they are ‘the same’.

A few quick thoughts:

  • Education has changed.
    • Teachers aren’t physically disciplining students like they used to.
    • Everyone is allowed to attend school now.
    • Students aren’t leaving school at age 8 to go work in the mines.
    • Students in some of the worst areas of the country have the ability to get exposed to some truly innovative programs that they would never have had access to before.
    • While some classrooms might be set up the same, there are also welding programs, video game programming courses, entrepreneurial studies, graphic design labs, and so much more.
    • Teachers are learning more about cognitive psychology and leveraging these ‘brain science’ techniques to become more effective educators.
    • Teachers are analyzing data to help pinpoint weaknesses in their students learning and address them before they become permanent misconceptions.
    • Teachers are leveraging exciting new technologies to help differentiate instruction to vast numbers of students.
    • The list could go on, but I’ll stop here because I think you understand.
  • Showing that a room looks similar to a room from 100 years ago doesn’t mean that the field hasn’t changed.
    • Show a stadium or coliseum from 100 or 1000 years ago that shows seats in an oval around a central point of interest, this isn’t evidence that ‘sports and entertainment haven’t changed’.
    • Showing that an operating room was a table in the middle of a room 100 years ago and still is that way today doesn’t prove that ‘medicine hasn’t changed’.

Is education broken? Of course not.

Are there ways we can improve education? Of course. And we will.

The roller coaster problem…

A safe way to explore danger is generally fun. People don’t flock to roller coasters because they really love physics and mechanics being put on display. They’re not huge fans of larger than life examples of kinetic and potential energy.

People go on roller coasters because they are a safe way to explore high speeds, sharp turns, and flipping upside down. Because you are strapped in with an oversized foam mechanical arm in a machine that you’ve seen do the same loop 400 times while you waited on line, it takes most of the danger out of the equation and makes way for the thrills. If you were loosely buckled into a car taking turns at 70mph on a winding mountain road with a cliff on one side, you wouldn’t be so excited.

This also translates to other forms of entertainment- take TV as an example. To get more specific- crime dramas are wildly popular. For many people who watch them, this is the only way they will experience these dangerous, high octane situations. While it might be exciting to binge watch Criminal Minds and see a bevy of disturbing felonies unfold, it is from the comfort of your bed where you’re definitely NOT eating the entire sleeve of Chips Ahoy… it was only half-full when you opened it. The point being, it’s a safe way to explore danger.

This activation of your ‘fight or flight’ response from a safe place also has its drawbacks. People can become desensitized to the actual danger in the behavior. Think of violent video games or the news or videos of people falling- when you are exposed to the concepts over and over again, the actual danger and consequences which would happen in the real world start to lose their meaning.

Nowhere is this on display more plainly that in the digital worlds we all live within. Negative comments on a video or social media page that people wouldn’t dream of saying in person come flying out. Because someone is sitting safely in their chair, they think it’s funny to spew hatred online- where they think there are no consequences. Students casually comment about bringing guns to school or about bombs as if those words carry no weight. They wouldn’t dream of saying any of it aloud to an adult, but it’s safe online. Watch them be shocked as the police come to the door and charge them with a felony. They think because they are at home on their phone eating dinner with their family that those words don’t carry weight, that people will know that they aren’t serious, that it was ‘just for fun’.

The roller coaster problem is great for theme parks but can wreak havoc in our day-to-day lives. Recognizing dangerous behaviors that have become normalized through ‘safe’ means is a vital skill. Sometimes putting words to it is the first step… and analogies help. Next time you get ready to write a negative email or post online, think of the rollercoaster.

Details…

Sometimes a question requires a detailed answer. Research and data might need to be presented, justifications given, decisions supported, evidence cited.

Other times, a question requires a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

The most effective communicators know the difference and answer accordingly.

What would it look like?

What would it look like if we didn’t worry about comparing our data to the neighboring counties’ data?

What would it look like if we measured what we truly valued in our students instead of measuring what was easiest to measure?

What would it look like if we focused first on making schools and classes places that students wanted to be, then worried about the standards, scope and sequence, etc?

What would it look like if we valued student and family engagement as much as standardized test scores?

Speed Limit 17: Signs 1

Image result for speed limit 17
www.flickr.com – chromatophobe

The first time I saw one of these oddly specific speed limit signs, it was on my way into an interview at a country club for an Assistant Golf Professional job. The specificity of the number really made me think. For the rest of my drive in, I couldn’t figure it out.

Why 17 MPH? Why not 15 or 20? What does 17 MPH even feel like? Does the number 17 mean something specific to this country club? Was it founded in 1917? Was the founder born in 1917?

All of a sudden in dawned on me: the point of the sign is to specifically make you spend time thinking about and paying close attention to your speed. If you see 15, you ignore it and go 25. If you see 30, 40 is your chosen speed. If you see 17, you go 17 (at least for a little while). It stands out because it is so specific and unusual. A sign that people generally pay very little attention to becomes a talking point and all of a sudden everyone knows how fast you can go on that road.

We can take advantage of this same idea in education. When my students were working on a task and it was timed (as most of the activities in my class were), they had 78 seconds to write down their reflection. There was 32 seconds to find a partner and decide on a topic. We are taking an 109 second brain break, so take some deep breaths and relax before we get back into the review.

People pay no attention to a 1 minute or 3 minute timer because it’s predictable. You end up herding cats trying to get everyone back and on task. Tell them they need to be back in their group in exactly 67.6 seconds and odds grow exponentially that they’ll be back on time. Eyes stay glued on the timer.

Let’s learn from the Speed Limit 17 sign.

If you keep things unusual and specific in your classroom, interest and engagement go up. That content that you spent time planning and reworking to get it just right- it will be attended to because it isn’t just another worksheet with 20 questions on it. It’s a free response to summarize the last chapter of the book in 74 words; no more, no less. Does it really matter that it be 74 and not 75 or 73- no. But your students just summarized the main idea or central theme of a text, which also happens to be the standard that you are practicing that day.

This might be the first in a non-consecutive series about signs and what they can teach us about education, leadership, and life.

On the importance of differentiation and consistency…

If differentiating learning is so important, why do we put such an emphasis on students learning the same concepts in the same courses at the same time across teachers, schools, and districts? Which of these interests is most important? Which provides the most value to our kids?

The keys to the car…

When you give a teen the keys to a car:

  • You discuss responsibility.
  • You take the time to teach them.
  • You show them the different features and controls.
  • They have studied and passed a test of basic knowledge.
  • You limit the amount of time or how far they can go.
  • You discuss which types of roads to drive on or avoid.
  • You feel confident in their ability to handle the responsibility.

Should it be any different when you give them their first digital device?

This post was inspired by a conference session on Disruptive Leadership at FETC by Sylvia Martinez.

How many is ‘everyone’?

People tend to use terms like ‘everyone’, ‘most’, and ‘a lot’ to refer to almost any number of items. These words have been rendered almost useless because of the lack of specificity.

EVERYONE has a beard these days.

A LOT of people show up late to work.

MOST of the kids had the flu.

What is the tipping point that brings the number from SOME PEOPLE to everyone? Is it quantifiable? It all depends on context. If there are only two variables, beard or no beard, it should take a fairly significant percentage to get there. If there are a lot of variables, color of shirts, A LOT of yellow shirts might only be 10% because of the number of options. Next time, make people clarify when they make those broad generalizations.

MOST of my students are reading below grade level.

Really? How many?

A LOT of people that I talked to said that this 1 to 1 program isn’t working.

Do tell. How many? Using what criteria?

EVERYONE uses that shortcut to get it done.

Wow, everyone? So no one completes the process as written?

Don’t fall into this habit. Using actual numbers and percentages is much more meaningful. Data shouldn’t be summarized using such vague terms if you want it to be impactful.

Why I am writing…

I’m going to break the normal style for tonight to share why I’m writing.

Part of our job is to get better at our job- to continuously improve. In my role in education and my role in my business, communication is one of the most vital skills, but can be difficult to practice. One of the best ways I’ve found to practice and reflect on new learning is to write, to synthesize the ideas into a meaningful post. While we do it regularly in writing emails and memos and action plans, we rarely deliberately practice. Well… this is my deliberate practice, where I’ll be synthesizing my thoughts. I hope you follow along and enjoy it.

And if you find a little value along the way – even better!

Good, fast, or cheap: Signs 5

This sign was hanging in the local bagel shop:

The line that appeals most depends on the desired outcome and the variables surrounding your expectations. If the desired outcome is a bagel sandwich on the way to work, then slow speed is not an option- the choice is really between cheap or good (I’ll choose good and pay a little more). When creating the strategic plan for your organization, quality is top of the list, so the choice is between speed and cost (both financial and human capital). The choice is yours.

I’ve got another ten pages or so about this sign and the workplace, but I’ll spare you from that… for now!

Deliberate practice…

Practice is undeniably important. HOW people practice is even more impactful. When Tiger Woods hires a swing coach, that coach doesn’t just tell Tiger to hit more golf balls. The best swing coaches know body mechanics and the physics of a golf swing and can pinpoint the motions that cause issues with ball flight. They assign specific drills and workout regimens to address the shortcomings and nuances of each swing. Tiger can then work towards that one specific gain to help get the overall mechanics back on track. This is deliberate practice.

As with sports, an important aspect of many jobs is the embedded notion that people should be improving the necessary skill set for that work. For some roles, the practice needed to improve is well-known and clearly defined based on the details of the position. People generally understand sports examples of practice but struggle to relate it back to occupations. While just gaining more experience in a field can be helpful, it’s the deliberate practice that really makes a difference.

For educators, this means taking one skill, one pedagogical technique or tool, one research-based practice, one tip from your cognitive psychology class from two decades ago, and then making a plan to improve. Note: THIS WON’T ALWAYS ALIGN WITH YOUR ORGANIZATION’S IDEA OF IMPROVEMENT. In fact, it rarely does. You’re not doing this for your organization (although they benefit of course), you’re doing it for your students and for yourself. Don’t forget that Tiger Woods didn’t just take more swings to become the best, he took a targeted approach to improvement.

For a decision-maker in an organization, it becomes convoluted and more difficult to pinpoint. At the executive level, the most important skill to hone might be decision-making, managing people/projects, or collaboration. Prototyping and pilot programs are great ways to test the impact of a decision, but still come at a cost and pilot programs don’t always scale well. So what does deliberate practice look like for the executive? In some instances, there is just no substitute for experience. Making decisions, living with the outcomes, and embracing a growth mindset to learn from mistakes become some of the most valuable tools in the toolbox.

The first, the last, the wow, the connection…

There are two effects from my cognitive psychology class (WaHoo-Wa) that were triggered by a recent sentence in The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker (you MUSTread it). She states that people remember the first 5%, the last 5%, and the climactic moments in a story or conversation or talk. In cognitive psych, the first two are known as primacy and recency.

The primacy effect is that you remember things at the beginning of a list (or conversation or speech, etc) because they occurred first. It is the in this transition into the idea that you root that thought or memory. The recency effect is the idea that you also tend to remember the items that occurred last. What does this mean for a psych undergrad? It means before you know about this concept, you will do an experiment where someone reads you a list of 15 or 20 words and you will have to list all of the words you remember. When your list has only words from the beginning and the end of the list, then the professor will explain that this phenomenon is called primacy and recency. In the real world, this means that when someone watches a keynote speech at a conference, they will remember the opening and a few early points and the closing when they try to explain the speech later that week to their colleagues.

Priya Parker adds another layer to this onion in the idea that people also remember climactic moments of the event. If there is a moment in the middle of a story when the speaker suffers enormous hardship or a moment of great surprise, people are also likely to remember these sections of the story. Moments of great importance are considered such for a reason.

I look to take this one step further. In addition to primacy, recency, and climactic events, people will also remember those items that are most relatable for them regardless of position in the story or level of excitement/importance. If, in the middle of the keynote address at your college commencement speech, the speaker referenced his cousin’s cat DelRoy and you happen to have a cousin named DelRoy who looks just like a cat, you’ll remember that moment in the speech for the rest of your life. Now, there are parts of this idea you can plan for and manipulate and those you cannot. Mentioning your cousin’s cat DelRoy is not likely to trigger a memory for most people in your crowd or classroom, but rooting a story in a prevailing news story of the time or an idea from popular culture can help trigger this last effect. Are these ideas of connecting learning to prior knowledge or authentic experience starting to sound familiar?

What does this have to do with education?

In designing a curriculum, unit, lesson, or even segment of a lesson, it is vital to know and understand how the mind works to help manipulate the engagement level of the audience and the retention of those packets of learning. Brain science (aka cognitive psych) is becoming more and more prevalent in teaching and learning circles because of the profound impact these concepts have in the classroom. If a teacher layers climactic moments and connections to pop culture into the middle of a lesson, they may be able to facilitate the retention of more than just the primacy and recency effects. When you plan your next story or meeting agenda or keynote or nugget of instruction, think about ‘the first, the last, the wow, and the connection’.

The work changes because the WORLD changes…

In a recent Twitter chat called #FLEdChat on the topic of Lesson Planning, Curriculum Writing, and Instructional Design, Alaska educator Joe Robison (@joerobison907) tweeted, “My lessons differ each year because the world changes…”

Joe knows and embraces what often goes overlooked. Lessons can be rooted in the standards but still applicable to the ever-elusive real-world. A teacher who understands this concept knows that an idea in isolation will never really embed itself into a student’s understanding. Until that idea has something to grab hold of, a previous experience or something out in the real world, it is lost. Learning needs to be relevant and anchored to prior knowledge to truly be internalized.

While it seems like such a simple thought, it can be extrapolated out and is a key factor for many different decision-makers and stakeholders. A director in an organization can’t make the same decision on the same issues each time because the world that the decision is impacting has changed. There are always new factors to consider and an effective leader will know that each decision needs to be made independent of past decisions. While the past decisions are one factor to be considered, all of the other data points that guided that decision must be reconsidered because the world is dynamic.

A program or project conceived and implemented in one economic climate needs to be re-evaluated as time goes on and situations change for both the organization and the world around it. Laws change, the economy changes, the climate changes (or DOES it?), and organizations need to adapt.

The work changes because the world changes… thanks, Joe.

Goals for gathering…

There is always a goal for gathering. Inviting friends over for dinner can serve to build and continue relationships and ongoing dialogues. Attending a professional conference can serve to grow a knowledge base or collaborate/communicate with colleagues. These goals can be formal or informal, specific or general, short-term or long-term- the list goes on and on.

The most effective gatherings, the ones that people remember, have a clear and specific goal. The most effective gatherings make decisions based on the goal. The most effective gatherings stay true to the goal.

A meeting is just one type of gathering. It shouldn’t play by different rules.

If the goal is of a meeting is to brainstorm solutions to a recent software implementation failure, the meeting ends when the brainstorming is complete. If the goal of a meeting is to make a decision on the color palette for a logo, the meeting ends when the palette is chosen. Don’t hold your colleagues hostage as you try to fit multiple (newly identified) purposes into that time.

“I really wish we used the full four hours for that even though we got what we needed in the first ten minutes.” – No one ever

Goal met? End it.

One thing at a time…

“To get that project done, I decided to spread myself really thin and split my concentration between 15 tasks.” – No one ever

“To launch that successful company, we really just threw it all together and hoped for the best. None of us were really committed.” – No one ever

“I spent a lot of time just perusing the internet to help grow myself professionally and personally.” – No one ever

I think you see where this is going.

Focus on one thing at a time. One action step toward one point of growth. Toward one project. Toward one goal.

Creating or consuming…

Think about the amount of time people spend consuming content and media in all its forms and flavors- taking in the latest blockbuster about a future dystopian society, watching cat videos on YouTube, or binge-watching 7 seasons of Game of Thrones. Most people choose what they will consume and enjoy consuming that content (or they are totally and hopelessly addicted to it).

Now imagine being a student who, in addition to that time spent consuming engaging content and media at home, are then consuming additional content for 7.5 hours/day in areas that they aren’t passionate about or that they struggle in.

Now imagine that instead of consuming 70 hours of content per week, students were given more and more opportunities to CREATE and DISCOVER.

An engaged reader might ask how many hours the ideal split is for creating and consuming. A better writer and researcher might give you statistics on the amount of time spent consuming versus the time spent creating.

This much is true: we can do better. Create more, consume less. Give our students the chance to MAKE something today.

Ask yourself these questions before you hit send on that next email…

  1. Is it in black type in a normal size on a white background?
  2. Is there punctuation in this email?
  3. Is your contact information at the bottom?
  4. Who am I sending this to? Do they want it?
  5. Am I angry? (if so, save as a draft and come back in an hour)
  6. Would this work better as a phone call? *
  7. Is there anything in this email I don’t want to see on the news or on social media?
  8. Could this email be more concise?
  9. Are there any attached files that could be sent as PDF? *
  10. Is this email only going to people who need to read it?
  11. Am I forwarding someone else’s message without their knowledge?
  12. Am I forwarding something that I read in its entirety and is relevant to the recipients?
  13. Is this work-related?
  14. Did I hit ‘reply all’ on purpose?
  15. Is anyone blind-copied? Why? How would they feel if they found out?
  16. Do I know the difference between there, their, and they’re?
  17. Is the subject line a good indication of what is contained in the email?
  18. Did I include a read-receipt or label it as ‘high importance’? If so, why?
  19. Am I taking advantage of the asymmetrical nature of email–free to send, expensive investment of time to read or delete? *
  20. Am I proud of this email as a representation of my professional self?
  21. If this email wasn’t free to send, would you send it?

This list is based on a blog post from over 10 years ago by the incomparable Seth Godin on his AMAZING site. I’ve adapted and updated it based on my experiences.

* A few of these were just copied right from Seth’s list. Items with an asterisk are stolen goods. *

Take the time…

Decision-makers in an organization contribute to culture change every day. Each choice is an opportunity to shift mindsets. If the organization has an overarching culture of rash decision-making and skipping vital steps, each choice is an opportunity to turn that culture around. Take the time necessary to make an educated, data-driven decision. Take the time necessary to engage stakeholders. Take the time necessary to brainstorm, ideate, iterate, prototype, pilot, and otherwise put choices through their paces.

Every choice is an opportunity. Take it.

The Model – Intro

Public spaces, like anything else, are evaluated for their effectiveness. The Project for Public Spaces (pps.org) uses a toll called the Place Diagram. It’s a tool that allows for the evaluation and consideration not just of the measurable items in a space, but also those intangibles. It’s important to consider all facets of the space- not just how many benches, but is it a welcoming space? These items are considered in The Place Diagram.

The Place Diagram

So often in education, only the measurable items are considered in evaluating a space even though much more goes into the learning culture of a school. There might be 1:1 computers at the school, but is the gentleman sitting at the reception desk warm and inviting to people who walk through the door. Does he de-escalate parents who come in heated or is he essentially just a check-in system? Below is a model for education that takes (and will take) these into account as it is further fleshed out. For now, the biggest departure in this from other tools out there is that 1.) this doesn’t generate a score or rating (which some people hate and some people love), 2.) it takes intangibles into account like The Place Diagram, and 3.) it is meant to be used to generate conversation about schools/learning environments, not grade them. A model for continuous improvement that doesn’t require quantification is a rare thing.

The Education Wheel - Douglas Konopelko

One of the cornerstones of this model is the inclusion of relationships to the evaluation of the school. While there may not be a lot of measurable parts and pieces to relationships, they speak volumes about the quality of teacher and the quality of the school. What could you provide as an artifact of the quality of relationships in your classroom school?

I’m just getting focused…

Focus is a funny thing- you can force someone to focus by telling them not to with the classic, “Don’t think about pink elephants,” line. But focus is also like a muscle- you can strengthen it over time if you’re willing to put in the work. If you are trying to get more muscle definition, you can sit in the gym for hours day after day and move iron plates around OR you can enroll in a program or hire a personal trainer who can target the gains you want to make in specific areas. The same is true for focus- you can read about it online, watch others, and hope to improve over time OR you can seek out an expert in cognition or psychology and target specific gains.

The final option for improving focus is to ask your 5-year-old what it means to focus after they shush you and tell you “I’m just getting focused.” I was so intrigued, that I ironically interrupted his focus to ask him about focus. “How do you do that? What do you do to get focused?” I asked. After about a full fifteen seconds of silence and making ‘thinking faces’, he responded. “I think of the direction I want to go.”

Does it get any better than that?

You’re an adult, you don’t need to learn…

Nothing could be more wrong. Learning doesn’t have a stopping point or a finish line. Learning happens every day for everyone.

Learning happens deliberately: when you read a book or a blog or a tweet.

Learning happens accidentally: when you trip over an uneven spot in the sidewalk on your way to work.

Learning happens formally: when you enroll in a MOOC or a university.

Learning happens informally: through conversations with your daughter when she tells you, “You’re an adult- you don’t need to learn, Dad,” and you engage in a fifteen minute conversation about learning with your 6-year-old.

The big question is: are you ready and open to learning?

Designing Your Learning

Learning isn’t something that just happens to you. It’s something you set out to do. There is intention in learning. There is design.

I have embarked on a journey of intentional, deliberate practice this year in the field of project management to help increase my productivity and precision at work. Part of this course is a book that could seemingly put War and Peace to shame: The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Picture a full-sized paperback dictionary (unabridged), but with even more words you don’t know and then remove the definitions. This is the PMBOK. This is not a book you can simply crack open 10 years out of school and breeze through on a Saturday. To tackle this level of work- this level of learning- you need to layout your path and truly design your learning.

There is so much you need to know to effectively design your learning:

  • What learning styles are most beneficial to you?
  • What motivates you?
  • What time of day are you most focused?
  • What time of day are you most distracted?
  • Where is your ideal place to learn?
  • Do you prefer to sit or stand?
  • What method do you most like to ingest your content?
  • How often do you need to attend to the material to learn?
  • Are you a solo learner or collaborative?
  • Do you prefer to learn in a series of short sprints or one marathon session?

Honestly, this list doesn’t even scratch the surface of the qualities you must consider to optimally design your learning, but it’s a start. Back to the PMBOK- I was reading/taking notes on our big, heavy, wooden back table that is covered with butcher paper. We’ve got three kids, so it’s best to cover a table with butcher paper instead of trying to keep it safe from the kids. So when I say I was taking notes on the table, I mean writing directly on the paper covering the table, not in a notebook or anywhere else. I am writing it down to help me to interact with the text and help remember it, not to go back and reference it later. When two of my kids came out and saw this, they did what a 5- and 6-year-old do best, asked questions and joined in the fun. The conversation with my daughter really caught me off-guard. She asked me what I was doing and I told her I was learning.

My 6-year-old daughter then said, “You’re an adult, you don’t need to learn,” and it really struck me.

My 6-year-old daughter then said, “You’re an adult, you don’t need to learn,” and it really struck me. I immediately stopped what I was doing to jot it down and also really process her idea- her notion that because I am an adult, I already know a lot of different things and why would I want/need to know any more.

And then I was brought right back to this idea of designed learning when my kids wanted to join in and ‘take notes like me’. How they took notes says so much about them and about how they will eventually choose to design their own learning. I should also state that neither of them asked me how I was taking notes, what I wrote down, or anything else- they just started writing. First, my 5-year-old son, my lefty. Three things really jumped out about his natural style based on this seemingly simple act. Take a look at the picture of the notes below… what jumps out at you?

Here were my big three takeaways:

  1. He chose to write on an area of the table that already had a ton of paint and markers on it, he didn’t bother looking for a fresh, clean area to work on.
  2. While there was a lot of different information on the pages, he chose to focus on the headings and their numbering system rather than the lengthy paragraphs.
  3. There wasn’t much of a rhyme or reason to his margins, alignment, size, etc.

Now to my 6-year-old daughter’s work, my daredevil risk-taker. What are your big take-aways from this one?

So here’s what I saw:

  1. Clean area of the paper, no colors, no other writing.
  2. She picked one sentence and stuck with that, then stopped and just read the other pages as I read them.
  3. Almost perfect rectangular section of notes, consistent size, margins, etc.
  4. Didn’t miss a single letter, all copied correctly.

What do you think these very early, totally self-directed sections of notes tell you about the kids? P