Happiness and Engagement

Almost everything begins and ends with our staff. If we keep them happy and engaged, they will keep our students happy and engaged.  This will then reward the organization with growth, loyalty, and renewal. And it is this that helps fuel our conditions for agency, agility, innovation, joy, and learning that creates the ultimate value for our community.

It is the human factor and it is the greatest goal of leadership: create the best conditions for people to thrive individually and collectively.

Not easy to create and perhaps even more difficult to sustain. Yet essential!

Honestly, show me a school without this and you’ll see the failures of leadership.  Programs, projects, plans, and protocols are the unwavering focus. Compliance and fear are the themes. “They” (over we) is the language. Buy-in (over believe in) is the strategy. Mandates are the norm.

In other words, it is the difference between leadership that grows and rejuvenates versus one that rules and governs.

As a colleague of mine often quotes from :

“A leader is best when people barely knows he exists. Not so good when people obey or acclaim him. Worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled they will say, ‘ we did it ourselves'(Lao-Tsu).”

I can think of no greater accomplishment in leadership: living up to that last line, protecting happiness and engagement, and creating conditions for agency, agility, innovation, joy, and learning.

What If These Are Lacking

Scott Glass, another terrific colleague, recently expressed the irony that as , “an institution focused on people, education can be quite dehumanizing.” One of our greatest leadership imperatives is to fight against this reality and to keep the human-centric focus that is at the foundation of meaningful and relevant organizations.

So that answer to the question of what to do if the climate is a mess: stop everything you are doing, stand in front of your faculty, and say, “let’s pause and regain our focus on what matters: Us! Our happiness and engagement”. Is it admitting failure? Is it admitting wasted time? Yes. Will people not believe you? Probably. End by telling them that you’ll spend as much time as it takes proving that your actions align with your stated beliefs.

Then, live and walk those very words in each action you take. If you can’t, be open about why.


Losing the Glow of a Child

I’m not sure why it bothered me so much. I’ve seen in time and time before. But this past trip to Disney World at Thanksgiving shed the greatest light on the societal obsession with mobile devices.  But I’m not talking about children. I’m talking about adults.

Line after line was full of illuminated adult faces as children danced around the mysteries that emerged around each corner. And the adults were missing it. They were missing out on the moment just to do what: pass the time, to connect to those not near, to disconnect from… Disney World?

It is hard to imagine how we’ve gotten here. It is hard to imagine the impact all of this will have on this generation of kids whose parents are often more concerned with the glow of a screen than the glow of their child.

I disconnected from my device more on this trip than I’ve ever done in the past. The glow of my children was simply more important than the glow of a screen.

Great Reads for Creating the Conditions for Innovation

It was an honor to share insights on “Creating the Conditions for School Innovation” with the Google Team. Without question, the genesis of these ideas emerge from the great mentorship that I’ve been blessed to receive. With that said, I’ve received a plethora of requests seeking pragmatic ways of bringing these conditions to life. In coming weeks, I’ll post these in a series of writings knowing that so much of it is

  1. about shifting mindset not completing specific tasks
  2. about removing the obstacles so that others can innovate not owning innovation
  3. about embracing the discomfort of the messiness that is ethnographic leadership not striving for order and predictability
  4. about reimagining change management not holding to what has always been

As a starting point, here are my top ten recommended books for you to read in the area of organizational innovation.

  • Orbiting the Giant Hairball: There are few books that I read annually. This is one of them. It focuses on how to navigate the paralyzing conditions that all organizations inherently foster that stifle creativity and growth.
  • The Power to Transform: This is one of those books that you need to read five pages and then chew on for a few hours. However, it is one of the most impactful and thoughtful looks at the conditions for sustained transformation. It is a head of its times.
  • Mindset: I’m not sure there is a better book that tackles agency and agility more than this one. It is simply a must read. Two things to do while reading: 1. evaluate yourself 2. evaluate the things you do in your role asking, “do I promote a fixed or growth mindset”.
  • Coaches of Chicago: This is written by one of my mentors and dives deeply into this topic from a leadership lens. It is a tremendous read for those working to understand the conditions that foster ongoing growth but not at the expense of a joyful environment.
  • Disney U: How does a huge organization rooted in a picture of perfection develop and sustain a culture of performance? This book tells the tale of Disney University and the approaches they take to ensure personal and professional growth for all employees.
  • Where Good Ideas Come From: This is one of those must reads. I encourage you to write down how you generate ideas currently both as an individual and as an organization (or team). As you read it, compare and contrast.  For me, this book opened doors on idea generation that I never fully understood and was doing a terrific job on facilitating (you’ll get the problem with that very word upon reading it).
  • Creativity, Flow and Psychology of Discovery: Creating the conditions for organizational Flow is my goal and ultimately how my worth should be  judged.
  • Switch: Change management. It is not easy. There is no script. It is at the heart of the work to get an organization rooted in innovation.
  • Better, A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance: While on the surface designed for those facing the challenges of the medical profession, it provides indispensable lessons for anyone in a complex profession where risk are frowned upon but needed to evolve.
  • The Dip and Tribes: These quick reads written by the same author tackle two aspects you are bound to face when shifting: “I want to give up” and “How do I start”. Dip helps you understand the change management cycle and the inevitable doubt stage. Tribes resonated with me from how do I move even the smallest of groups and then empower them to create their own tribes.

Bonus Reads (new pieces that I’ve just finished that are now foundational)

  • How Google Works: I actually just finished this book in the past couple of days, but it felt like everything I’ve written, shared, done and presented was captured on those pages. The difference is that it comes with much greater depth, experience, and success than what I offer in my writings :-)
  • Creativity, INC.: A recent book that I initially struggled to read. However, I went into it wanting to know specifics about Pixar and didn’t let the book have its own approach. The real value of this book is in the specifics on addressing roadblocks facing organizational innovation. As you read, focus on the roadblocks that resonates as something you face.
  • Creative Confidence and The Art of Innovation: Both by the same author, these dive into specific strategies that foster mindsets that believe in agency, agility, and innovation. While vignette based like many business books, you can draw the lessons from the stories told.



Photoshop on Chrome OS: First Impressions

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an Adobe Photoshop expert nor was I an avid user of the product when I was primarily using a Mac. That said, I was excited when Adobe and Google announced this partnership that brought Photoshop to Chrome OS.

For one thing, it attacks directly some of the misnomer that continue to run rampant in regards to Chrome OS. Second, it brings a productivity suite from an industry standard software company. Finally, it puts a great foot forward in terms of modeling what can be done with cloud-based software.

First Impressions

I turned to three experts within our organization to look at Photoshop on Chrome OS. Independently, each expressed “wow” in the fact that it is quick and fully functional. They each went to their typical flow and found it works flawlessly.

For me, I wanted to understand how the file system would operate and how well it would hold up on a Chromebook.

  1. Zero crashes
  2. Quick and precise
  3. Pulls directly from Drive so easy, easy, easy

Screenshot 2014-12-08 at 7.15.20 AM

Again, I imagine Photoshop experts having much more to say in terms of the software itself. However, I am blown away by the functionality and ease of the software on the Chrome OS. It opens the door for other heavy, complex softwares to see exactly what is possible on a Chromebook.

Innovative or Innovative Things

I’m always amazed by the creative and innovative ideas that translate into practice throughout education. It is what I enjoy most about networking whether face to face or digitally because I get a chance to hear all about these.

But like the old man on the front porch yelling at kids to stay off the lawn, I often feel like the mood killer. That is because I’m reminded when I hear about these ideas brought to life that too often they are just another thing.

Don’t get me wrong; we need innovative things! However, innovative things in a non-innovative organization can often be viewed with a skeptical eye and seen as “just another thing we have to do”.  Unfair? Yes.

As leaders, I would caution you to not look for innovative things to bring to your organization. Instead, I challenge you to start asking how do we become an innovative organization that fosters and brings to life your own unique ideas.

Because that is where the real magic lives. When the organization is creating and remixing instead of imitating and redoing.


No magic formula exist that I know. Perhaps someone has that and can offer it up (I’d love it!). However, here is what I believe is true knowing full well it is a long, messy process.

First, mindsets and conditions are the bedrock to an innovative organization. Second, it is a matter of analyzing current practices to decide whether it is a roadblock or an amplifier. Third, it is the confidence and will to replace roadblocks with new practices that better align with the desired mindset and conditions. Fourth, it is protecting with all you have those practices that amplify the desired organizational mindsets and conditions.

So my less than magical formula is something like this:

Mindset > Conditions > Inhibitors | Amplifiers > New Practice | Maintain/Enhance Practice

A simple example is this:

  1. ANALYSIS: Agency/Ownership (mindset) > Rapid Release Professional Development (condition) > Delayed Release for Google, 10 hours of PD prior to tool access, cohort release model, mandatory tool use, one tool per use mandate, etc (Inhibiting Practices) | choice-based PD, unconference model institute
  2. ACTION: The new practices to emerge that remove those that inhibit are a) shift to rapid release for Google apps b) immediate access to tools with no mandatory PD, cohort model option with ability to start without it, recommended tool with freedom to choose something better for particular needs, identified commonalities with flexibility in achieving those pieces (everyone has a digital space but…)
  3. ACTION: The practices to be protected that amplify are a) choice-based PD but with the greater openness to technologies there should be a cross-pollination of ideas. Thus, we need more opportunities for discussions of what is/isn’t working b) unconference model now will create even greater benefits because the freedom of time is coupled with the flexibility in technologies. Can we expand it to more than one day a year?

Again, this isn’t as “cool” as just adding new ideas that are no doubt innovative. Yet, I can promise you the reflection and action on current practices will lead to greater innovation than only adding the cool idea heard on social media, at a conference, or in a magazine. That is, unless you already are an Innovative Organization. If that is the case, you probably never reached this point in the post ;-)

Keep Shooting for the Moon!




Measuring for Success

At the Midwest Google Summit this past week, I featured a presentation on Measuring for Success with this as the focus: In this session, we will explore a possible pathway for measuring success using an ethnographic and engagement lens. Together, we will review the functionality of various tools for capturing data and using this to drive your movement forward. Leaving this session, you’ll have a framework for advancement in learning and teaching while never losing sight that happiness, joy, and passions trump policies, procedures, and standardization.

As a qualitative researcher, I’m often looked at oddly when I speak about this being one of my favorite presentations. The word “measuring” is packed with baggage. But the key message is that anything can be measured but we must trust the measurement if we are going to use it. And that is key, right? If we are measuring, we better be using it as one piece to guide us in the creation of our story.

Here is the slidedeck to read more about some of the options for measurement keeping this in mind:

  1. the story needs to be told within any data
  2. there are three unique focuses: the learner experience, instruction, and engagement (your three could be different or maybe it is just one, but what are those items you wish to measure)
  3. each focus is triangulated
  4. field notes trump all (my inherent bias)

Keep shooting for the moon!


Conditions for 10x Thinking

At the Midwest Google Summit this past week, I had the pleasure of presenting “Reimagining Leadership for 10x Thinking” with this as the focus: with many decisions facing schools, one thing should remain at the core: a future minded focus on learning and the learner experience. Growing that future minded environment requires us to reimagine leadership as co-designers of a organization that thinks big, never lands, and empowers. Come explore shifts that create conditions for agility and agency which foster 10x thinking.

The key message is that there are many paths one could take to foster 10x thinking organizationally but it is the development of organizational mindsets and conditions that will best lead to 10x Thinking. For example, you can “do” 20% time. However, if there isn’t a belief in freedom and time plus a climate that fosters risk-taking, then this is just another thing people must do. It doesn’t become a part of the fabric that leads to 10x thinking and acting.

Here is the slidedeck to read more about the conditions I feel help reimagine leadership for 10x Thinking and key practices that grow those conditions.

Keep shooting for the moon!



Breadcrumbs for My Children

As the darkness gives way to light, I find myself reflecting upon who I am as a father but also what I want to share with my children as they grow.

Unknowingly, I started tweeting once a morning that wisdom  or at least what I feel is a life lived. But I soon realized that I was leaving breadcrumbs for my children should something happen to me.

Morbid? Maybe.

But this digital footprint has more value to me than anything I’ve done online. It stares at me. It reminds me. My greatest mission in life is my children.


Mortality is cruel so these vignettes and what they help instill are my only way to combat it if only slightly.

Early Experience with Android Apps on Chromebooks

Early Experience with Android Apps on Chromebooks

Google made good on their I/O promise to begin sending Android apps over to the Chromebooks. From a school perspective, this is an important move for the Google Ecosystem especially with the outstanding potential with Google Play for Edu. And for schools that anticipated this and went with Chromebooks that have touch and tablet-lite experience like the Lenovo 11e Yoga, the energy is off the charts.

What is the experience?

Even with just four apps available now, Evernote jumps off the page given the great educational value. So let’s take a peak at just that one.

1. Install

Installing the app is quite simple. Whether in the Chrome Web Store or in Google Play for Edu, it is like installing any other app. One click and the install begins. The app is a bit over 100mb and comes across quickly. The web app for Evernote doesn’t go away so this can be a bit perplexing for students if they have two Evernote apps.

2. Launch of the App

The app resides within the app launcher. Given it is an Android app, it works entirely offline. This is important to note due the outdated criticism of Chromebooks requiring wifi to have any functionality.

3. App Experience

The app is exactly what you would find on your Android device. It is actually quite impressive to see and lives up to what you would expect from Evernote, Android, and Chromebook <– how cool is that? I was moving back and forth between the web and Evernote but also within various Yoga modes. In other words, I was getting uber excited by the cognitive and physical flow potential.

And then my excitement plummeted. For whatever reason, the handwriting piece does not function. This dropped the entire potential of the work flow that brought together these great worlds. If and when this is resolved, wow!



4. Screen Size of App 

I’ve read some criticism on the app not launching the full size of the screen. I get that and was also a bit perplexed by it. After a colleague gave me the “Wow Factor” of us getting the best of both worlds we wanted (Nexus 7 and Chromebooks), I wondered if the size was in any way similar to the Nexus 7.

The reality is that the Evernote app and the Nexus 7 screen are almost identical.




I’m excited. This is what we expected to see occur from Google and it is quite promising given we are 48 hours into it. Time will tell if this lives up to the expectation we have for it.

As the featured image of this post has in it from our pilot over two years ago, the Nexus 7 and the Chromebook brought with them many opportunities. It was hard to choose and hours of discussions went into it. All of us wished we could have the two in one. Google and Lenovo are making that possible!




The Value of Superintendents

Superintendents have little value when it comes to student achievement. This is, of course, if you value the the study done by Brown Center on Education Policy at Brooklings. For me, I have many questions and thoughts regarding the findings. Above anything else, I don’t see the value of the superintendent accurately measured and thus reflected in this study unless you are one that see state assessment results as the ultimate driver.

The Starting Point

It ultimately starts with two key questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the superintendent?
  2. How do we measure said purpose?

Is the purpose of the superintendent to raise student achievement? Perhaps I’ll be chastised for this but I would argue “no” at least in terms of directly. The purpose of the superintendent as I would argue for all central office administration is to create the conditions for the schools to be successful.

Thus, I would like a study to be conducted on the known conditions that need to be in place in order for schools to have the opportunity to be successful and whether superintendents are creating those conditions. What are those conditions? There are things such as financial stability, school agency and empowerment, policies and procedures, technology infrastructure and tools, vision and direction, and resource procurement.

And I would add Umbrella Management. The Superintendent and his or her cabinet work to place an umbrella over the schools so that they can focus on learning and teaching. This umbrella protects from the federal and state bureaucratic aspects that often distract from the real mission. By placing an umbrella over the schools and shielding them from this meaningless management work, the schools are able to focus on a meaningful climate and experience for students.

This is the study that makes sense to me. First, defined the purpose of the superintendent. Second, identify the research on successful schools such as Dr. Lezotte’s Effective Schools research. Third, measure the impact of the superintendent on those conditions.

The Student Achievement Problem

More than anything, I’ve grown tired of studies like these that emerge and become fodder for the media to use (see NPR) using the tired old “student achievement” framework. First, student achievement as measured my standardized test is a poor methodology fraught with problems. We know this. Yet, here we sit with a study framed around state assessment data.

If that is how we measure student achievement, we are all doomed in education because I fail to see much causation behind many of the correlations attempted to be made. Again, I’d love to see us really challenge ourselves to define student achievement differently. Can state assessments be one mechanism? Sure. It being the foundational bedrock though? Problematic to say the least.