Striving to Come Up Short

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

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

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

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


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

Conversion Rate in EDU

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

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

Image

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

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

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

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

On ‘Lazy’ Students

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

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

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


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

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

Process and Product

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

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

Jesse James Garrett – The Elements of User Experience, 2003

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

The Whole Employee

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

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

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

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

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

#UpsellEducation

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

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

Being Reactive

Reactive has a bad reputation.

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

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

On Being Helpless

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

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

Should

Should is the enemy of progress.

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

Start.

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

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

Digital Trail

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

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


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

Three types…

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

Paint Around the Edges

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

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


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

Stockpiling Great Ideas

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

How do you record and revisit:

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

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

Just a tube…

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

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

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

Don’t Vilify the Device

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

If it weren’t for…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design Tips for Edu/Work – Part 1

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


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.