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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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

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Road Work Signs

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).

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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.

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2019 Books

Finished Reading


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


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

Waiting on the Shelf


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


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)

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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?“.

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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!

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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.


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:


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

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Approaching EdTech: 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 to 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.

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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?

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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:

  • Alarm Clock

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This Sign Has Sharp Edges: Signs2

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.

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Accuracy and precision in education…

Somewhere in the science standards for your state, it probably addresses the idea 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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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

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Speed Limit 17: Signs1

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 carts 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.

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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?

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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 to drive.
  • You show them the different features and controls.
  • They have studied and passed a test of basic driving knowledge.
  • You limit the amount of time or distance 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.

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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.

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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!

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