The Power of Non-Core Academics*

Education speaks often about the whole-child, passions, and the adjacent possible. We talk about creativity and critical thinking as the core.

But actions don’t often align with beliefs especially today where the arts, activities, and “non-core academics”/elective cores are forgotten or worse dropped.

Education pushes college readiness as a set of skills and courses that will get our students there.

But then the story of Kwasi Ewin emerges and should give every school pause. I’m not talking about the fact he was accepted to all eight IVY League Universities.

I’m talking about what he attributes his sense of wonder and thinking:

Music has become the spark of my intellectual curiosity. I directly developed my capacity to think creatively around problems due to the infinite possibilities in music. There are millions of combinations of key signatures, chords, melodies, and rhythms … As I began to explore a minute fraction of these combinations from the third grade onwards, my mind began to formulate roundabout methods to solve any mathematical problem, address any literature prompt, and discover any exit in an undesirable situation. … Lastly, music has become the educator that has taught me the importance of leadership, teamwork and friendship.

And yet education as a whole places their emphasis everywhere but here (and equivalent/similar outlets) despite our rhetoric.

But his quote about where he finds peace emerges as so key:

My haven for solace in and away from home is in the world of composers, harmonies and possibilities. My musical haven has shaped my character and without it, my life would not be half as wonderful as it is today.

First, this speaks to his ability to understand flow. Second, this speaks to his ability to pause and self-regulate. Third, this speaks to his ability the disconnect and address stress. Finally, this speaks to his ability to move from interest to passion to purpose.

I’m not sure there is a more important mission, so I’m wondering what can education learn from this story. Share Kwasi Ewin’s Essay with your team and ask what does this mean for us

*I cringed when I hear noncore academics but it describes common language for disciplines outside of Science, Math, English, and Social Studies (though many are even sadly question this one) along with electives within these disciplines.

Why the Chromebook Institute Excites Me

This past weekend, we announced the inaugural Chromebook Institute for June 17-18 preceded by Google’s Leadership Summit on June 16.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be part of an experience that is designed with Chromebooks and the Google ecosystem as the main theme. There are so many educators and districts on similar paths that we can all benefit from greater opportunities to connect. However, we are also at different stages on that journey so the opportunities to learn from practitioners and to deepen existing knowledge with great expertise makes this an experience for everyone.

And it also provides that opportunity for schools to connect with members of the Google Education Team. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the concern about Google not having a store or a briefing center that is open to schools to better understand Google’s vision. Events like these provide those opportunities in a setting that is academic, is schools, not business. It is exciting!

There are so many more reasons I’m excited about this…

  1. Chromebook and Google Ecosystem Focused
  2. Personalized Pathways via SAMR, Project Red, and Google Strands
  3. 10x Thinking Talks by educators, for educators
  4. Network Building
  5. Implementation Driven
  6. Creation Centered Workshops
  7. Expedition of Discovery
  8. What If Manifesto Design Closing
  9. Time for connecting, playing, sharing, and celebrating
  10. Opening Keynote that will have people thinking about the moon!

I hope you’ll accept this invitation to join us on a wondrous expedition!

Registration Here
Call for Proposals Here
More Information Here



Empathy in Signage Design

Signage intrigues me in the sense that it says a lot about the organization. For example, this sign greeted me this morning at the gym.


While I’m glad they took the time to at least place the out of order sign, it is cold. It is stock. It lacks commitment, empathy, and warmth. It reeks of process not thought: “oops… this isn’t working. Open our Out of Order folder and hang it up.

What else could be done with this sign? What would should they really are sorry? What could brighten the moment and create a greater sense of brand loyalty?

A lot!

What about your classroom? Your hallways? Your offices? Your school as a whole?

What does your signage say to students, teachers, parents, and visitors?

Stock, cold, and process and template driven or creative, empathetic, and human centeredness?

Never discount the little things. They are in fact big!

Finding Friction-Free Technology

  • the resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another.
    “a lubrication system that reduces friction”
  • the action of one surface or object rubbing against another.
    “the friction of braking”
  • conflict or animosity caused by a clash of wills, temperaments, or opinions.
    “a considerable amount of friction between father and son”

Throughout my years in education, friction remains a constant with technology in the classroom. The consequences of this are negativity, loss of interest, lack of use, resentment, and frustration. It creates organizational structures that preach standardized, one-size-fits-all beliefs in order to reduce it. It creates stagnation.

This is especially true with laptops for students and teachers: crashes, login issues, speed, operating system problems, blue screens of death, spinning beach balls, hard drive failures, hours of untimely updates, reimage focused, technical teams to fix/troubleshoot, and the list goes on.

Within an environment of great friction. a world is created where those that can tolerate will keep going and trying while those that can’t just say “not for me”.  Friction than grows between those two groups and ridiculous labels are put in place like early adopters and laggards.

What is needed is friction-free technology in the hands of students and teachers. When this occurs, the entire focus of the environment is learning and teaching. And isn’t that exactly what we wish for when bringing technology into the mix?

Despite claims that people only see Chromebooks because of cost, I’d argue one of the greatest strengths of it rests right here: it is a virtually friction-free device.


Standardized Testing Hypocrisy?

My feelings about standardization and standardized testing are well known. I’m simply not a fan and feel these cause more damage than good.

But I’m more distressed these days by the hypocrisy of leaders that claim to detest the big standardized tests without looking at the very assessment practices in their own building.

What are you defining as success?
Is the definition a one-size fits all?
How are you measuring for that success organizationally?
What assessment practices are in play within classrooms?
How does success get communicated to students and families?

I’m just wondering to what degree current local practices are that much different than the big bad standardized assessments many claim to despise.

Own Your Mentorship and the Giants I Stand Upon

As I completed my self-assessment this year, I started thinking about the giants I stood upon throughout my career. And what I realized most is that emerging leaders need to own their mentoring. There is really need for formal mentorship. It is simply a matter of whether you want to learn from all those around you and whether you’ll take that time to listen, observe, and discuss with folks.

Mentorship is people watching and listening.

With that, I’d like to pay homage to those Giants that have and continue to mentor me along the way.

To Dr. Littlefield: I learned the importance of trust and leadership identification. In everything you did, trusting people was at your core. Because of that, your eyes were always on identifying leaders that could be grown. I carry these with me always.

To Dr. Amburgey and Dr. Carey: I learned the importance of a sense of agency. The two of empowered and believed in your teachers as well as students. You both empowered and encouraged risk-taking. You both created the greatest safety net a leader can provide: assurance and permission. I carry these with me always.

To Dr. Riggle: I learned the importance of being human, agile, innovative, and broad as well as deep in my thinking. You taught me humility and to care about each and every person. You encouraged  seeing beyond black and white. You showed the importance of never landing. Your belief in moonshot thinking and day-to-day growth continues to inspire all. Your depth and breadth of practical as well as visionary leadership set you apart from all others. I carry these with me always and will never forget where I came from in life.

To Dr. Williamson: I learned the importance of curiosity, openness, patience, thoughtfulness, and thoroughness. Your depth of understanding yet constant curiosity emerge over and over. You bring a stability to all situation that puts people at ease but creates momentum to growth. Your understanding of learning, teaching, and living are the standard for all. I carry these with me always.

To Dr. Pryma: I learned the importance of joy, happiness, and standing for what you believe. In a world governed by following, you set a course that focused on good people and ensuring they remained happy and joyful. You stood firm on the lost art of the teacher as leader and never waffled on seeing hyper-standardization as the antithesis of education.

To Ms. Frandson: I learned the importance of being and finding oneself. Your thirst for life and energy for something higher radiates. You embodied relaxed purposefulness and encourage reflection in all you do. I carry these with me always.

To Dr. Finan: I learned the power of reflection, pause, and laughter. Your strength of listening and reflecting bring a quite sense of progress. You show that laughter is the great equalizer regardless of situation. I carry these with me always.

To Ms. Geddeis: I learned about life and living with a constant sail pointed north. Your thirst for life and belief in the power of a smile lights up a room. You bring an energy that makes any moment worth being part of regardless of the situation. You encourage being oneself and value the island of misfit toys to a point where it leads to the greatest confluence of actionable ideas. I carry these with me always.

To Mr. Doug Johnson: I learned the value of listening and never being too big. You took a kid and gave him 15 minutes of time as you headed off to a flight for which the theme of “listen” emerged. Your wisdom in that 15 minutes of face to face time has created years of “listening” to you virtually. I carry these with me always.

To Mr. David Jakes: I learned the value of relying on others, being yourself, and trusting in time. Your constant elegance is a sign of times gone by. You bring a professionalism and class to all you do. Your loyalty and friendship are something untouchable. I carry these with me always.

Who are you watching, listening to, talking to, and discussing with? Who are those folks that you’ve established as mentors and carry away from them those items of great value that shape your leadership?

Students Should Attend Not Be Tokens

At the IL Google Summit last year, I wanted to try something different with students. In the past, I’ve invited students to join events like this  volunteers and panel speakers. But it always felt like they were tokens no matter how unintentional.  It never sat well with me despite knowing there was value to them and to others in attendance.

Yet I was constantly reminded of why we established the IDEA as a place for all learners: by intentional collision as equal learners and teachers across ages, voices were empowered and organizational directions strengthened.

This year I wanted to honor what I preach about this seat at the table, so I asked students to join as conference attendees first and foremost. Obviously, there mere presence would foster questions of help and direction.

However, the goal was for them to take part in the event as a learner: attend sessions, network with teachers, engage the vendors, and challenge ideas.  I couldn’t be happier with the experience and the feedback from the students.

Take the experience with Hapara. Their attendance in that session was invaluable to me and they were excited to evaluate the tool. The student insights fostered tremendous feedback on the value of a teacher dashboard. It challenged administrators and teachers in the room who were focused on it as a monitoring tool instead of its real use: learning and teaching dashboard.

Take the experience with the vendors. Each of them spoke with vendors about their experience within a 1:1 learning environment and challenged the vendors to solve problems or create new opportunities. They then shared insights with me about possible connections as well as areas to monitor for future possibilities. Not to mention, two of them made impressions that opened potential summer internships.

Take the experience with Google Search Ninja and Drive Sessions. Their attendance in that session confirmed that students and teachers alike don’t understand the full scope of Google Search. They shared insights that illuminated that forced organizational structures in Drive would be intrusive and hindering; however, it would be most beneficial to share different strategies to help students discover what works best for each. Not only that, the various apps and extensions reinforced the idea of helping students design a learner interface in Chrome.

One student in attendance decided that he would join in the Demo Slam and he won it! This is what I mean… he became immersed in the conference experience as an attendee and made the easy transition into moments such as this. What could be better?


Next year, I want to expand this with greater numbers and I’d love to encourage students to attend other educational conferences not as volunteers, not as token panelist, but as learners and conference attendees. The early results are exactly what I would hope: voice at the table, cross-generational learning, and insights not otherwise possible.

Mindsets Not Initiatives

When I’m asked to look at organizational plans, one item that emerges as problematic is when it is initiative rich without clear connections to mindsets.

Initiatives get all the buzz. These get all the focus. But very, very little in terms of organizational growth is about initiatives. The key is collective and individual mindset growth.

How do you know if you are initiative implementation focused instead of mindset growth focused?

  1. People talk about organizational fatigue or too many initiatives instead of talk about organizational evolution and adjustments of initiatives
  2. People use negative, frustrated, and tense language such as “how long will this last?” instead of thoughtful, inquisitive language such as “what does this mean and how can I utilize this”
  3. Leadership uses language associated with getting buy-in instead of language associated with people coming to believe, grow, and lead
  4. Success is measured in terms of project completion instead of measured in terms of ongoing organizational influence and progress

Organizational fatigue is not a problem of perpetual motion. It is a problem of initiative buy-in focus instead of mindset belief growth. It is a problem of a short-term win focus.

Now don’t get me wrong. Initiatives are important. However, these need to be tied to the mindsets that organizations are trying to grow. If not, you’ll find people concerned about time, another initiative, etc.

I believe in these mindsets: a sense of agency, agility, collaboration, freedom, innovation, joy and happiness. With each initiative that I lead, I ask the following:

  1. does this initiative support or go against those mindset
  2. how will these initiatives continue to grow those mindset
  3. how are these presented in order to show support for those mindsets
  4. if the initiative is against these mindsets, how is this shared and discussed so we have organizational and landscape awareness.

What are the mindsets you value? How are these being tied to and supported by initiatives?

School Challenge: Create Conditions for Students to Change the World

What if we took time in our classrooms to pose these three questions to students:

  1. What do you love?
  2. What are you good at?
  3. What do you want to change?

And then we challenged them with “It’s your turn to change world! What do you need to make it happen?

These are the starting point questions and challenge for Google Science Fair 2014. And I can think of nothing more important for students to explore if we believe in passion-based learning, personal and interest-based environments, and cross-disciplinary, connected learning experiences. If we believe in collaboration, critical thinking, and literacy.

One glimpse of Google’s Judging Criteria  and you see these elements:

  • Inspirational entry or idea – does it really stand out?
  • Capacity to make an impact - could the science demonstrated make a real difference to science or the world around us?
  • Passion for science – would you be a good role model for other young scientists?
  • Excellence of method – have you demonstrated real skill in their science/engineering planning and implementation of their experiment(s)?
  • Communication skills - enthusiasm, clarity, confidence, effective use of media, diagrams and Google tools.

This isn’t just for science. This isn’t just a challenge for students. This is a challenge for schools to align their stated beliefs with actions.

School Challenge

  1. Each class pose to students Google’s fill in the blank I love ____, I’m good at ____, and I want to _____
  2. Have a physical poster wall and Google spreadsheet that houses all number 1
  3. Help students develop their “I want t0 ____” into a project idea to change the world
  4. Create conditions school-wide, across disciplines for students to form teams around common ideas and begin changing the world
  5. Free up time in these classes and resource areas (libraries, learning centers, etc.) to bring their idea to life by breaking down barriers of schedules, isolated disciplines, and rigid curriculum demands
  6. Encourage mentoring both local (teacher-to-peer, peer-to-peer, peer-to-community) and global (teacher and peer-to-world)
  7. Create a TED Talk-like experience for teams to share their work prior to submission to Google
  8. Finalize and submit these impactful changes to the world to Google!!!

Would this be a meaningful, lasting experience for students? I think so…


Leaders Aren’t Grown from a Textbook

There are moments that I find myself reliving that scene in Good Will Hunting. You know the one where Will has the run in with the Harvard guy.

Clark: No, no, no, no! There’s no problem here. I was just hoping you might give me some insight into the evolution of the market economy in the southern colonies. My contention is that prior to the Revolutionary War, the economic modalities, especially in the southern colonies, could be most aptly described as agrarian pre-capitalist.

Will: Of course that’s your contention. You’re a first-year grad student; you just got finished reading some Marxian historian, Pete Garrison probably. You’re gonna be convinced of that ’till next month when you get to James Lemon. Then you’re going to be talking about how the economies of Virginia and Pennsylvania were entrepreneurial and capitalist way back in 1740. That’s gonna last until next year; you’re gonna be in here regurgitating Gordon Wood…

Leadership is not found in a textbook. Leadership isn’t about some graduate class box that paints systems thinking as some clear picture of leadership – quoting from what one is currently studying like Boleman and Deal. Yep… we’ve all read it and I’m glad you’re now thinking leadership is about systems and parts.

But sorry to break it to you: it isn’t that at all.

Leadership is a human endeavor: embracing the paradox of life, living in confusion and chaos with the awareness that listening is the way out, seeing people not systems, and believing in the power of joy, happiness, and smiles.

But we lost that somewhere along the way. We lost that at the core leadership is a human endeavor and everything else is a piece to a complex puzzle.

As my main man Indiana Jones proclaimed, “If you want to be a good archaeologist, you’ve got to get out of the library!”

If you want to be a good leader, get out of the graduate course textbook. They are full of dated beliefs dominating educational leadership.





Page 1 of 9212345»102030...Last »