Douglas Konopelko

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.