Douglas Konopelko

On Preparing Students for the Workforce

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

On Digital Citizenship – Teaching v. Presenting

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

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

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

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

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

Titles often seen and self-proclaimed that must be earned

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

Mover and Shaker
Thought Leader
Transformation Specialists
Change Agent

On Sentence Stems

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

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

Tag me @dkonopelko in a response on Twitter!

On Misinterpretation

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

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

Pandemic Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Leading is About

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

On Physical Education 2020

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

Educator First

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

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

Reflection Time – #ISTE19 – #EduFamily

ISTE 2019 – Philadelphia, PA – Pennsylvania Convention Center

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

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

It was also a conference for EduFamily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read: Make a difference for kids

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

Guide school improvement efforts

Increase student achievement

Create a more dynamic learning environment

Provide enrichment opportunities

Educate students for success

Differentiate to reach all learners

Road Work: Signs 3

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

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

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

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

Social Media, Professional Support, and Education

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

Today, I challenge you on three fronts:

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

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

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

2019 Books

Finished Reading


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)

The Lost World – Michael Crichton

Origin – Dan Brown

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)

The Intended Entrance

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

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

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

Choose your words

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

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

On Classroom Design and Support

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

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

Two types of speakers

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

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

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

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

Mind the (Opportunity) Gap: Learning About Modern Tech

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

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

How can you help? Here are a few ideas!

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

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

Turnkey Digital Citizenship: No Work Required

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


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.

Talking About Screen Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Worker

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

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

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

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

Light up my room…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Clock

This Sign Has Sharp Edges: Signs 2

Image result for this sign has sharp edges

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

Don’t be this sign.

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

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