Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Relationship Between Failure and Success

In life, there are certain truths. One of these is that to succeed, many times, you must first fail. Obviously, this is not always the case, but if you are like me and many others, success doesn’t come easily or on the first try.  Learning to ride a bike is one of many great examples that proves my point.  The process begins with training wheels to build up confidence, get a feel for pedaling, and learning how to brake.  Watching a child zip around on his or her bike at this stage is exhilarating, yet an anxious experience because of what comes next. Then the real challenge and test of resolve begin when the training wheels are removed.  Anxiety on the part of the adult sets in while fear and self-doubt creep into the mind of the child.  I can vividly remember falling numerous times. In the end, though, each failure became a building block for eventual success.

The point of the bike story and countless others is that failure should not weigh us down and in turn, prevent or obscure a pathway to success.  To this day, my personal and professional lives are fraught with varying degrees of failure.  However, I know full well that I would be in a much different place today in both regards if I looked on these experiences as negative and constantly dwelled on them.  This is not to say that I never did both. Sometimes it is hard to get over the hump when we don’t believe in our abilities and ideas. In the end, though, it all comes down to mindset and learning from mistakes.

There is a distinct relationship between failure and success. William Arunda sums it up nicely:
“Failure is not a step backward; it’s an excellent stepping stone to success. We never learn to move out of our comfort zone if we don’t overcome our fear of failure. The most progressive companies deliberately seek employees with track records reflecting both failure and success. That’s because someone who survives failure has gained invaluable knowledge and the unstoppable perseverance born from overcoming hardship.”
To succeed, you must accept that the chances are you are going to fail first. We have seen this lesson time and time again from famous failures throughout history.  The relationship between the two imparts some valuable lessons, which can influence our behavior now and well into the future.  Below are some essential learnings from failure and success:
  1. Determination is the fuel. You will get knocked down. The question is, will you get back up? Try and try again until you achieve the result you and others want.
  2. Use failure as a valuable form of feedback, which can lead to improvement and ultimate success.
  3. An agreement with ourselves to face fear head-on to tackle obstacles and challenges that are always part of the equation. Ignoring or shying away will always result in outcomes that are not favorable or acceptable in the long term.
  4. Mistakes are opportunities to learn. The key is not to make the same mistake twice.
  5. Consistent effort makes all the difference. 
There is a lot more that can be learned from this relationship.  After focusing at the individual level, it is essential to look beyond ourselves and towards the bigger picture.  System-wide success hinges on viewing change as a process, not an event. As the adage goes, there is no “I” in team.  Failure and success then become a shared responsibility where the “downs” are worked through, and the “ups” are collectively celebrated. In the end, we either sink or swim together in schools and organizations.  The choice is yours.  

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Zoning in on Change

The comfort zone is the great enemy to creativity; moving beyond it necessitates intuition, which in turn configures new perspectives and conquers fears. - Dan Stevens

There are many impediments to the change process. One of the biggest culprits is fear.  Many times, this either clouds our judgment or inhibits our motivation to take needed risks to both challenge and upend the status quo.  In other cases, we might be afraid of failure.  I often reflect upon how, throughout the course of history, many of society’s most celebrated success stories went through the heartache and letdown of not succeeding at first.  To put it bluntly, these famous failures have influenced our current lives in countless ways.  In their eyes, the act of failing was a catalyst to learn from mistakes and eventually implement ideas or create solutions that have fundamentally changed the world. Henry Ford said it best, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” 

Another factor that has a negative impact on change is contentment.  An aspect of human nature is that when we are in a state of comfort, there is no real urgency to do something differently or better.  These mental habits lead to the creation of comfort zones that we rarely step outside of. Why should we if everything is great, right?  Or so our mind has us believe in a false dichotomy. The result is that we often then reside in a zone that is most comfortable, resulting in risk-averse behavior that impedes personal and professional progress.  What typically morphs are fallbacks on some of the most dangerous phrases in any profession such as that’s the way we have always done it, or it’s always worked this way. 

Comfort and fear are intimately connected. Whether separate or together they represent zones that many of us fall into and have trouble at times finding a way out of no matter how hard we try.  They work as powerful forces to keep us in respective lanes that are perceived to provide benefits, either individually or at the organizational level.  The reality though is that these zones hold us, and those who we serve, back.  For change to become business as usual and something that is pursued when needed, it is crucial that we identify where we are currently. The image below provides not only a great visual but also some critical context as to how we can put more energy into zones that lead to changes in practice. 

The main idea here is to find comfort in growth. As you look at the elements depicted in the image above, where do you see yourself dedicating the most time and energy? Be careful not to look at this as black or white.  There is a great deal of gray in each of the zones above.  I for one have added many additional elements through reflection to help move the majority of my efforts to learning and growth.  Consider developing questions aligned to each, using stems such as why, how, when, and what.  Improvement and ultimate success in the endeavors we are engaged in rely on acknowledging the zone where we spend the most time and making consistent efforts to invest more in learning and growth. 

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Recognizing the Digital Assets You Have at Your Disposal

We live in amazing times where readily accessible research and connectivity converge to not only transform practices but also provide the means to share them for the benefit of others.  However, there is a big difference between talk or desire to innovate and an evidence base that illustrates an actual improvement grounded in better outcomes.  Now, I am not saying that real results don’t exist.  On the contrary, I have seen this firsthand from some fantastic educators whose schools I have been blessed to work with on a long-term basis in the role of job-embedded coach.  I have also been blessed to observe great examples that members of my Personal Learning Network (PLN) make available on social media. My point though is that there is definitely room for growth in terms of validating all the talk with substance.

We should all want to do better in this area as the field of education needs more practical strategies that are weaved into the rhetoric.  I am all for a great story that pulls at different emotions. When it is all said and done though, the teacher and principal in me wants a good dose of reality that clearly moves from the “why” to the “how” and “what” of the implementation process. The talk will only take us to a certain point.  The same goes for other avenues that are more popular than ever. Fancy images, catchy videos, and verbal hyperbole don’t go nearly far enough in articulating how change is being successfully implemented in ways that align to curriculum, standards, evaluation systems, varying socio-demographics, and budget constraints.  Together, educators can change this and help move the profession where it needs to go.

The digital world provides each and every one of us the means to show in detail how change and innovative practices are being implemented successfully despite the many challenges faced in classrooms, schools, and districts across the world. Talking about what has been done and the act of telling others what they should do has to be followed by showing what the strategy or practice actually looks like when successfully implemented.  Here is where educators can collectively show, not tell, how innovation and change have or are improving outcomes.  It begins with a focus on improving teaching, learning, and leadership followed by utilizing an array of digital assets at every educator’s disposal to share and amplify.  

Image credit: CATSY

Below I go into each in detail and how you might better leverage one or all. 


There is nothing easier than whipping up a tweet or update to be posted on Facebook or LinkedIn.  Text represents a great way to get ideas and strategies out there quickly and easily. The one downside with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn is that posts are relatively brief and often short on needed context vital to help educators deeply understand how to implement a strategy or concept. Blog posts are a great option to get into the nitty-gritty of change. More on this later.


A simple strategy to add more context to tweets and social media updates is to add a hyperlink to supporting research, mainstream media pieces, blog posts, or other resource sites. Artifacts such as assessments, lesson plans, unit plans, projects, and examples of student work can easily be converted to a sharable link using Google Docs. Links to your resources and work can be archived and annotated using a social bookmarking tool such as Diigo


Here is where you can really begin to leverage digital assets. Many of the shortcomings associated with just sharing through text can be overcome using images.  The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text.  Instagram by far is my favorite tool for bringing more clarity, detail, and context to what I share online, but Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn all support embedded visuals in any update.  When I coach, I love taking pictures of how educators are scaffolding (questions and tasks) and improving assessments as well as examples of innovative student work that aligns to standards. For curation purposes, you might want to consider either creating a Pinterest account or regularly updating the one you currently have. 


It is hard to imagine a more robust digital asset than images, but video definitely takes the cake. A one-minute video equates to well over one million written words. Think about how any educator can seamlessly film learners working together on a project, how changes to classroom design are being appropriately supported with needed shifts in pedagogy, and ways in which technology is being used in a purposeful fashion to elicit higher-order thinking. It is also a great way to openly reflect on your ideas and successful strategies being implemented in your classroom, school, or district.  I have begun to do this regularly using a combination of Periscope, IGTV, and YouTube. Once my live video is shared on Twitter using Periscope, I then upload the archive to both IGTV and YouTube. The link is then shared across LinkedIn and Facebook. Check out my YouTube channel for all of my reflective videos to date. 


One of the best professional decisions I ever made many years ago was to start a blog.  I consider this my most potent and practical digital asset.  Everything previously discussed can be meticulously woven into a post that moves well beyond the why to also emphasize the how and what.  If you are not blogging, it’s time to get over the hurdle.

In my books Digital Leadership (2nd Edition) and BrandED I go into each of these in great detail as well as provide specific strategies that can be immediately integrated into professional practice. I hope that more educators will take advantage of the digital assets they have available to share their amazing work in ways that are substantive in nature. Together we can show what indeed works, celebrate excellence in innovation,  and change the narrative in the process. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Digital Leadership: Leading Change from Where You Are | #DigiLead

A great deal has changed over the past few years not just in society, but also in education. Many of these changes are a result of the exponential advances in technology and the role these tools play in shaping both our personal and professional lives.  As a result, innovative practices emerged in many shapes and sizes. To answer the call of disruption, new thinking had to emerge. Back in 2009, I began calling for an evolved construct of leadership that would better serve schools in meeting the diverse needs of learners and stakeholders alike.  Below is my thinking on the topic that has resulted in the following iteration:
As times change, so must the practice of leaders to establish a culture of learning that is relevant, research-based, and rooted in relationships.  Digital leadership is all about people and how their collective actions aligned with new thinking, ideas, and tools can help to build cultures primed for success.  It represents a strategic mindset and set of behaviors that leverage resources to create a meaningful, transparent, and engaging school culture to prepare learners now and well into the future.
Over time I realized that the digital aspect was a supporting element and amplifier of what leaders in classrooms, schools, organizations, and districts do every day. Sure, there are some unique behaviors and characteristics, but for the most part, it is about identifying intended outcomes, applying an innovative lens, and arriving at them in better, more effective ways. What resulted was the formation of the Pillars of Digital Leadership, a framework for all educators to initiate and sustain innovative change that aligns to the core work that already serves as the foundation for every school or district learning culture. The premise is to do what we already do better by working smarter, not harder. 

Order your copy HERE.

The time has come for a new edition of Digital Leadership.  I can’t begin to explain how excited I am about the finished product as I have woven in what I have learned in the field helping schools apply the concepts to bring about evidence-based results.  Practical and realistic, this version compels all educators to lead from where they are as actions - not title, position, or power – are the key to sustainable changes that lead to actual improvements validated by both qualitative and quantitative measures. Below are some specific highlights embedded in the new edition:
  • A focus on efficacy: In the real-world of education results matter as well as how we arrive at them. Naturally then, this updated edition has research-based, evidence-driven, and learner-focused ideas and strategies that are innovative in nature that lead to observable improvements.  The last chapter of the book weaves all the concepts together while emphasizing the importance of efficacy in any change initiative. 
  • Practical and realistic: Ideas are great, but they have to consider the realities and challenges that schools and educators face across the world.  They also need to align with the core work that educators engage in daily.  The key with this update throughout is for readers to either grasp new ideas and strategies to readily implement or look to improve what they might already be doing. 
  • Evergreen: Many technology books are D.O.A (dead on arrival) once published.  The reason being is that technology changes so fast and tools come and go regularly. To account for this fact, I removed the majority of references to specific tools except for some of the most prolific ones such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. The point here is simple. Tools and products will change. However, the means to implement them to transform teaching, learning, and leadership will remain relatively stable.  This edition is written in a way to withstand the test of time. 
  • Re-organized chapters and updated content: You will see not only new chapters but also revised headings and subheadings that are more reflective of the innovative practices that can be scaled in education.  I also re-organized some of the chapters by moving the ones focused on learning to the beginning of the book.  Based on the feedback I received on the first edition, I also beefed up content related to pedagogy. All in all, the new version has approximately 50% new content. 
  • Built-in study guide: Each Chapter ends with 4-5 discussion and reflective questions that are meant to move readers more readily to actions. Be sure to share your reflections, questions, ideas, and successes by engaging on social media using #digilead.
  • Fewer tools, more on leadership dispositions: As mentioned previously, tools will continue to change. That’s why you will see more of a focus on the dispositions of classroom, school, and district leaders that are necessary to initiate and sustain change. 
  • Anyone and everyone can be a digital leader: It is important to understand that everyone has the capacity to lead from where they are. Some of the most impactful leaders I have worked with, or for, have been teachers. The new edition speaks to all educators and empowers them to leverage their specific role to usher in needed change regardless of title. 
  • Updated and expanded research base – It is tough to deny how important this is. Research and evidence in support of ideas and strategies go a long way in building cultures of excellence that are defined by results.  What I hope has resulted is a scholarly piece of work that supports a practical and realistic pursuit of innovative change.
  • Forward by Sugata Mitra: He is a luminary as far as I am concerned, and his research validates many of the ideas presented in chapters 5 and 6, which focus squarely on learning.  His “Hole in the Wall” experiments, begun in 1999, revealed that groups of children could learn almost anything by themselves given Internet access and the ability to work collaboratively. Imagine the possibilities when this learning is facilitated by amazing educators, something the new edition fleshes out.
  • Pick and choose structure: Even though there is a sequential order to the book, it is written in a way that each chapter can serve as a standalone resource.  I wrote it this way so that readers can pick the most pressing, important concepts that they want to focus on to bring about needed change now.  
  • Full color – I will be the first one to admit that this is not that important, but it does add a nice touch.  If you have the first edition, you will see a substantial increase in the number of images throughout the book. My hope is that these add much greater context to the ideas and strategies presented. 
  • Digital resources – To add more substance and stay within a broad wordcount range, I scrapped the appendix from the previous edition.  At the end of the book, you will now see a section that has links to an array of digital resources such as downloadables, sample rubrics, standards alignment, and supporting frameworks. Since I control all of these links each will remain current.
If you enjoyed the first edition, I think you will like the updated version even better. I took to heart feedback I received over the years from readers as well as reflected deeply on my own writing to develop a resource for all, no matter where one is at with their educational career, whether it be in or outside of a school. Thank you for all that you do to support students, teachers, administrators, and other educational stakeholders around the world. My hope is that this new edition can serve as a resource to help you continue to meet and exceed the goals you set. 

Join the movement on social media using #digilead.