Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Ascent to Growth

I genuinely believe that most people want to get better in their professional role and they find comfort in growth. Who doesn’t want to make a difference while moving up the career ladder?  However, I say most because complacency, lack of motivation, or not being passionate about the work or the job can inhibit a drive to seek ways to improve.  Since the minority falls in this category, let’s focus on the majority.  For many of us, we are continually seeking out ways to grow and improve professional practice.  Even though the desire is there, and efforts are made, challenges arise.  These come in two primary forms: excuses and people. Let me elaborate on both.

People are our greatest asset, and when we invest in them, success likely follows.  There is no “I” in team, and to achieve goals as a system, the support of many is crucial.  Sometimes though people can play a role that works counter to what we set out to accomplish either at the individual or organizational level.  As much as they are essential in any culture, there are times when they can also impede growth. For reasons that vary, some people are not happy where they are or with the success of others.  What results are concerted efforts to undermine and derail the pursuit of improvement.  

It is essential to recognize both subtle and not so subtle behaviors exhibited by others as you strive to grow. These might be masked by platitudes that get you to rethink putting in the needed time and effort to improve your craft or to move a culture forward. Be confident in who you are and where you want to go. Don’t fall victim to the insecurities, fears, and unhappiness that other people might be grappling with as you work to get better. Even as you strive to learn and improve, a true leader also helps others do the same.  It is okay to focus on yourself when the situation calls, but in the end, helping the people we work with grow is just as important as what we do for ourselves. The process of achieving goals is much more fulfilling when it is a collaborative effort. 

In the words of Jim Rohn, “Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure.” Now this quote might seem a bit harsh at first read, but if you view it with an open mind, you will see that it is quite accurate. In many cases, we believe we can’t accomplish a task or implement an idea because of the perception that a challenge is too difficult to overcome, or the idea might have failed in the past.  In either case, our mind starts to develop a myriad of excuses as to why something won’t or can’t work.  Common impediments include not enough time, lack of money, or too many mandates and directives. Guess what…these are never going away. Growth will never occur if the will to tackle these, and many other impediments aren’t there. If it’s important to you, then you will find a way. If not, then you will make an excuse. The key here is to focus on solutions, even in the face of some difficult challenges.  

Change is hard at both the individual and organizational level. The ascent to growth will not always be easy.  Maybe it’s not people or excuses that get in your way. Perhaps it is your own mind, which can be the fiercest adversary you face on the path to getting better. Confidence and belief are two of the most powerful forces that help to keep us focused on achieving goals.  Just remember this.  You are only limited by the barriers you develop for yourself. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Path to Efficacy

Organizations, schools, and districts that are successful all lead with efficacy in mind.  The same can be said for teachers and administrators who can effectively implement ideas and strategies in ways that result in improved learner outcomes. To put it simply, efficacy can best be defined as the degree to which set goals are achieved.  The path to achieving it begins with a belief in oneself.  Albert Bandura is one of the most famous researchers in the area of self-efficacy, which can best be described as an individual's belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments.  To put it bluntly, if people don't believe in themselves, then achieving goals will be near impossible.  Thriving cultures focus on empowerment, support, feedback, and autonomy to take risks to build self-efficacy.

The next logical step is to move from an individual belief to one that is embraced by the majority.  This is referred to as collective efficacy, which Bandura defined as "a group's shared belief in its conjoint capability to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given levels of attainment" (Bandura, 1997). It cannot be overstated how much this element contributes to student achievement. Below is a summary from an article by Jenni Donohoo, John Hattie, and Rachel Eells. 
Rachel Eells's (2011) meta-analysis of studies related to collective efficacy and achievement in education demonstrated that the beliefs teachers hold about the ability of the school as a whole are "strongly and positively associated with student achievement across subject areas and in multiple locations" (p. 110). Based on Eells's research, John Hattie positioned collective efficacy at the top of the list of factors that influence student achievement (Hattie, 2016). According to his Visible Learning research, based on a synthesis of more than 1,500 meta-analyses, collective teacher efficacy is three times more powerful and predictive of student achievement than socioeconomic status. It is more than double the effect of prior achievement and more than triple the effect of home environment and parental involvement. It is also greater than three times more predictive of student achievement than student motivation and concentration, persistence, and engagement.
Understanding the critical role self and collective efficacy play in determining the successful attainment of goals lays out a path for achieving efficacy as a whole, something that I expand greatly on in my book Digital Leadership.  Achievement is important, but there are many other facets of school culture that can be improved.  The process can be best articulated through the strategic planning cycle pictured below.

Begin with the end in mind (i.e., goals) while aligning to a shared vision and collective mission. It is then essential to determine specific outcomes, strategies, and measures & targets.  Professional learning, funding, and an array of other supports are crucial to not only stay on the path but also to arrive at the intended destination. The final piece to the puzzle is the results, which can be determined through both qualitative and quantitative means. It cannot be overstated that in the end, it's the degree to which goals have been achieved that ultimately leads to efficacy.

The strategic planning process provides a logical path forward, but there are also many other elements that come into play. In a previous post, I highlighted items in terms of digital initiatives, but upon further reflection, I feel they are worth revisiting as each is important whether or not technology is involved. For anyone that has led change efforts from the trenches, you will more than likely be able to relate to the following.

Questions should lead to more questions

Questions provide context for where we want to go, how we'll get there, and whether or not success is achieved.  Having more questions than answers is a natural part of the initial change process. Consider the following in this order:
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How will we get there?
  • How do we measure success?
  • How did we do?
  • How can we improve?
Research fuels the "why"

Having a foundation and a compelling reason to change is where research plays a pivotal role. It provides a baseline as to what has been found to really work when it comes to student learning and improving culture. We can look to the past in order to inform current practice. If efficacy is the goal, embracing a scholarly mindset to inform and influence our work, not drive it, is critical.

Practicality leads to embracement

It is hard to move any initiative or idea forward if people can't see how it seamlessly aligns with what they already do. The key here is embracement as opposed to buy-in.  If it's not practical, the drive to implement new ideas and practices wanes or never materializes.  

Evidence provides validation

The only way to determine if goals have been met is through evidence. To discount this shows a lack of understanding as to what real change looks and feels like in education.  Evidence can come in many forms, but in the end, it should clearly paint a picture that the ideas and strategies implemented have resulted in a better, more improved outcome.  A combination of data and artifacts will tell you and anyone else whether or not goals were met. 

Accountability ensures success

What's measured gets done, plain and simple. Accountability is prevalent in every profession and is not something that should be feared or loathed in education.  The key is to establish protocols (checkpoints, check-ins, walk-throughs, observations, evaluations, portfolios) that ensure everyone is doing their part and is provided feedback on the way leading to accountability for growth.

Reflection propels growth

I love the last question that comes at the end of the strategic planning cycle, and that is how can we improve.  Since there is no perfection in education, this is a question we should always be asking and reflecting on. 

The path to efficacy can be an arduous and frustrating journey.  No one likes to spend time coming up with goals, and associated action plans only to have them not come to fruition.  Developing a strategic plan and following through based on the elements described above will help get you there, but staying on the path also requires teamwork, communication, patience, and professional learning.  In the end, when success is achieved, the journey and time spent are well worth it. 

For more on the topic of efficacy check out the short video below.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Eells, R. (2011). Meta-analysis of the relationship between collective efficacy and student achievement. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Loyola University of Chicago.

Hattie, J. (2016, July). Mindframes and Maximizers. 3rd Annual Visible Learning Conference held in Washington, DC.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Learning Never Stops

Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” – Abigail Adams

How do you make, not find, the time to learn and get better? Often the number one impediment in this area is fitting it into our busy schedules.  Trust me; I get it.  There never seems to be enough time in the day to do what needs to be done both personally and professionally.  The only piece of advice I can give you that has worked for me is to take a critical lens to how you currently use your time and try to carve out at least fifteen minutes a day. Easier said than done, right? The best course of action is the focus on the “what if” instead of the “yeah but” aspect when it comes to time.  If it’s important to you, then you will find a way. If not, then you will make an excuse. 

In a perfect world, your organization, school, or district provides not only the time but also relevant options of which you want to be a part.  Even though this is a great start, there have to be other associated elements to make it a valuable and worthwhile endeavor.  One-and-done events might get everyone pumped up and excited, but what comes next?  The same can be said about drive-by professional development. Like change, learning is a process, not an event. There should always be a long-term plan following any keynote or workshop. When it is all said and done, the best experiences are ongoing and job-embedded so that the needed support, application into practice, feedback, and accountability for growth lead to actual changes to teaching, learning, and leadership. These elements also go a long way to scaling both practices and initiatives. 

So, what does meaningful professional learning look like? Take a look at the image below from Sylvia Duckworth to see what educators really value and think about what needs to change in your school or district. 

Let me now get back to the time issue that kicked off this post. I really dig the quote from Abigail Adams as it applies to both formal and informal pathways. It is essential to acknowledge that learning can happen by chance, but when it comes to professional improvement, seeking out opportunities to grow is what actually results in changes to practice.  Making the time is only one piece of the puzzle.  The other is ensuring what has been learned leads to improvements in teaching, learning, and leadership.  

For the purposes of this post, let’s put aside more traditional pathways that are either provided to educators or ones that are sought out, such as conferences and workshops. The digital world now provides all of us access to some fantastic opportunities. Here are some no-cost (or relatively low-cost) options.


Improved bandwidth and increased access to technology have helped learning through webinars gain in popularity.  Many publishers and professional organizations offer these free of charge to their membership.  While every webinar is broadcast live at a set time, what makes them very appealing is that they are archived for convenient viewing.  The ability to stop and restart compensates for many of the challenges educators face when it comes to making the time to learn.  Some providers even make certificates of completion available.  I highly suggest you take a look at edWeb as they have been a leader in this space for many years. 

Personal Learning Network (PLN)

Social media allows any educator to learn anytime, anywhere, with anyone they want. Access to resources, ideas, strategies, feedback, and conversation as well as the ability to ask and answer questions is readily accessible with an array of devices.  Herein lies the power of a PLN. It is like a human-generated search engine on steroids that is at your beck and call. You select how much time to dedicate, who to connect with, and what tools to use. It’s all about YOU! To learn more about creating or improving a PLN, click HERE.

Book Studies 

Reading is such a critical aspect of one’s personal and professional growth.  I have yet to meet an educator who does not see the value in reading to improve his or her craft. Whereas the other two options are no-cost, engaging in a book study means you have to front some cash for the book.  Many organizations, schools, and districts will participate in a book study throughout a period of time, typically focusing on a chapter or two a week. Technology tools such as Voxer, Twitter, Instagram, and live video platforms have now afforded people from all over the world to read and learn together. 

Nowadays, many books come with study guides to assist both individuals and groups reflect upon the ideas and strategies presented as well as to develop action plans for implementation. In the updated edition of Digital Leadership, I included the book study right into the text to better serve educators.  At the end of each chapter, you will find a series of discussion and reflection questions to not only push one’s thinking but also to be cognizant of applying what has been learned. If you or your group uses Digital Leadership for a book study, let me know, and I will participate digitally as best I can. You can either share the hashtag (#) or invite me into the Voxer group for asynchronous participation. I am also willing to video conference at the end of the study to answer any questions. Just let me know!

Learning should never stop, and the ideal way to grow is choosing a pathway(s) that works best for you. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Future of Work

The future of work should be on the top of everyone’s mind as it is smacking us right now in the face.  As I have previously written, we are in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution, where rampant innovation and exponential advances in technology are changing the societal landscape.  We are seeing professions being redefined or outright eradicated.  Here is a fact.  Millions of jobs are and will continue to be, lost as a result of artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, and automation.  So, what does this all mean? Below is a synopsis from the World Economic Forum (WEF):
As technological breakthroughs rapidly shift the frontier between the work tasks performed by humans and those performed by machines and algorithms, global labor markets are likely to undergo significant transformations. These transformations, if managed wisely, could lead to a new age of good work, good jobs and improved quality of life for all, but if managed poorly, pose the risk of widening skills gaps, greater inequality, and broader polarization. In many ways, the time to shape the future of work is now. 
The WEF goes on to summarize five trends that everyone needs to know about to be ready for this paradigm shift.
  1. Automation, robotization, and digitization look different across different industries
  2. There is a net positive outlook for jobs – amid significant job disruption
  3. The division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms is shifting fast
  4. New tasks at work are driving demand for new skills
  5. We will all need to become lifelong learners
There is a great deal to unpack here.  To begin, let’s focus on the most critical overreaching element. Change is not only on our doorstep, but it is about to kick the darn door in.  As a parent, this terrifies me as both my children will be thrust into this world very soon. There is some good news, however.  In the midst of the 4th and eventually the 5th Industrial Revolution, there will be millions of new jobs.  Will our learners be ready?

The question above is meant as a catalyst for reflection.  The future of work requires new skills, and it is up to K-12 education to lead the charge in this area.  Skills are not enough, in my opinion.  Yes, we want learners to have the requisite skills to meet the needs and demands inherent in the 4th Industrial Revolution. More importantly, it is our duty and the role of education to ensure that they are competent. Here are some of the thoughts I shared on this in a previous post:
Competencies outline "how" the goals and objectives will be accomplished. They are more detailed and define the requirements for success in broader, more inclusive terms than skills do. There is also an increased level of depth that considers skills, knowledge, and abilities. To succeed in the new world of work, students will need to demonstrate the right mix of skills, knowledge, and on-the-job ability. A skill is a practical or cognitive demonstration of what a student can do. Competency is the proven use of skills, knowledge, and abilities to illustrate mastery of learning by solving problems. 
The image below outlines the critical competencies (left side) that students will need in the future of work and how educators can make sure they develop them (right side).

Empowering our learners to think critically and solve real-world problems is paramount. However, as the WEF notes, lifelong learning is a must for all of us, not just the kids we serve. To meet the demands and expectations for work now and in the future, we must commit to professional growth. It is vital to make the time to learn and grow as opposed to finding the time. If we rely on the latter, chances are it will never happen.  Lifelong learning can come in many forms, but in my opinion, the most practical and time-friendly option is the creation and use of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). Using social media allows all of us real-time access to the most relevant ideas and knowledge that can be immediately implemented into practice to prepare learners for their future better.

The time is now to move the needle on needed change. The longer we wait, the greater the risk for those we serve – our kids. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Education for the 4th Industrial Revolution

Don’t prepare kids for something. Prepare them for anything!”

I remember a world without the Internet, smart devices, mobile phones, 3D printers, and 4K televisions sets. After all, this was the world that many of us grew up in. There was an abundance of playing outside, reading, walking around the mall, going to the movies, and talking on the phone. Sure, we had our technology at the time, which now seems quite archaic compared to even the most rudimentary devices of today.  However, we were not connected even in the slightest bit when compared to the present. Rotary phones and face-to-face were the main, and really only viable, options available. Little did we know that we were in the midst of the 3rd Industrial Revolution and the dawn of the computer age was upon us. Disruptive change was upon us; we just didn’t know it back then.

Whether you like it or not, we are in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution and have been so for many years.  It has and will continue to, fundamentally change the way we engage with each other, work, and go through life. It is exhilarating as it is terrifying.  Take this view from the World Economic Forum:
We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.
Tom Murray and I presented a call to action, highlighting the need to transform teaching, learning, and leadership in Learning Transformed to meet the demands and challenges inherent in the 4th Industrial Revolution.  In the updated edition of Digital Leadership, I took it a step further.  Improving upon and then building pedagogical capacity in ways that align to the competencies that our learners will need in a world that is almost impossible to predict is critical.   Rest assured, it is not as arduous an endeavor as you might think. The key to future-proofing education, and learning, for that matter, is to empower students to think and construct new knowledge while simultaneously having them apply what they have learned in relevant ways. More specifically, education has to prepare kids to be competent in the following areas:
  • Critical thinking and real-world problem solving
  • Relationship building (inter and intra-personal)
  • Digital awareness and use
  • Career and job-specific requirements
So where to begin?  For starters, it is vital to get everyone on the same page. The Rigor Relevance Framework provides the common vision, language, and expectations to help learners develop the competencies to succeed in the 4th Industrial Revolution. For more detailed information, you can view a series of posts on the framework HERE.

Now more than ever, the importance of education cannot be overstated. However, things do need to change at scale.  The status quo cannot be tolerated.  If schools continue down the same path as they have for decades, two things will happen. In one possible scenario, our students could begin to abandon them as they will find more relevant and applicable programs and information online.  The more likely outcome though is that they will not be adequately prepared for the new world of work.  In either case, both of these should be viewed as unacceptable.  Challenging the mantra of TTWWADI (that’s the way we’ve always done it) requires both a bold and fearless educator.  The good news is that we have many of these people in our schools. 

One thing I have learned from hundreds of classroom coaching visits each year is that innovative practices are present. I have been so inspired by teachers and administrators who have begun to embrace different and better pedagogical techniques aligned to the competencies listed above while also improving outcomes in the process.  The challenge is moving practices that prepare kids to succeed in the 4th Industrial Revolution from obscurity to more mainstream.  We must not be satisfied with isolated pockets of excellence. Even though they represent a great starting point and should be celebrated, it is essential to remember that every learner deserves excellence. 

Will the learners in your school be ready?

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Lead in the Now

When you finally let go of the past, something better comes along.” – Anonymous

There are many reasons why we tend to fall back on what we are either comfortable with or have always done.  For one, comfort tends to be the enemy of growth.  In other cases, the fear of failure of the unknown can derail us from taking the needed risks to implement new and better ideas.  Then there is the most dangerous view in education that the way we have always done it is the best way.  One last factor has to do with our experiences.  We tend to teach the way we were taught and lead the way we were led and, in a sense, become victims of our past. My point here is that change can be hard, confusing, scary, and unpredictable.  None of these reasons should stop anyone from doing what’s best for kids.

With changing times, continuous reflection and learning are needed in order to move schools forward now.  As I have said over and over again, the world is changing. Jobs are changing. Expectations are changing.  As such, teaching, learning, and leadership must change if growth and improvement are the goals.  It requires all leaders, regardless of title, to seek out answers to crucial questions that can pave the way for innovative ideas aimed at improving outcomes for all learners while fostering better relationships with stakeholders.  The image below can help you get started with this process.

I am not implying that we throw out the baby with the bathwater, but instead work to do what we already do, better. Here is where the Pillars of Digital Leadership come into play.  

Each of the seven outlined below are either embedded components of school culture or an element of professional practice that leaders already focus on (or should be). Innovation in education is, in many cases, not an entirely new idea, but instead doing what we already do better. Let’s look at these Pillars and ways that we can lead in the now:

Student engagement, learning, and outcomes: We cannot expect to see increases in achievement if students are not learning. Students who are not engaged are not likely to be learning. Engagement is not a silver bullet, though. Students need to be empowered to think at the higher levels of cognition while applying what has been learned in relevant contexts. Leaders need to understand that schools should reflect real life and allow learners the opportunity to use real-world tools to do real-world work. As technology changes, so must pedagogy, especially assessment and feedback. Leaders should always be looking to improve instructional design and establishing accountability protocols to ensure efficacy in digital learning. 

Innovative learning spaces and environments: Would you want to learn under the same conditions as your students do, or in similar spaces? More often than not, the answer is no. Research has shown the positive impact that innovative spaces can have on learning outcomes. Leaders must begin to establish a vision and strategic plan to create classrooms and buildings that are more reflective of the real world while empowering learners to use technology in powerful ways through either personalized or blended strategies and increased access in the form of BYOD or 1:1. 

Professional learning:  Research has shown, and continues to show, that job-embedded, ongoing professional learning results in improved learning outcomes.  This needs to be prioritized. Additionally, leaders need and should want access to the latest trends, research, and ideas in the field. With the continual evolution of digital tools and increasing connectivity, schools can no longer be silos of information. All educators can now form their own Personal Learning Network (PLN) to meet their diverse learning needs; acquire resources; access knowledge; receive feedback; connect with experts in the field of education as well as practitioners; and discuss proven strategies to improve teaching, learning, and leadership. Digital leadership also compels educators to create more personalized learning pathways for adults during the school day and year. 

Communication: You will not find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator. Leaders can now provide stakeholders with relevant information in real time through a variety of devices by meeting them where they are. No longer do static, one-way methods such as newsletters and websites suffice.  A variety of types of information can be communicated through various tools and simple implementation strategies to create a more transparent culture. 

Public relations: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and more often than not, another’s version will not be the one you want to be told. Leaders need to become the storyteller-in-chief. Leaders can use free social media tools to form a positive public relations platform and become the de facto news source for their school or district. It is time to change the narrative by sharing all of the positives that happen in schools every day to create a much-needed level of transparency in an age of negative rhetoric toward education. 

Branding: This is how your school or district is defined. It is not something that you want to leave up to others. Businesses have long understood the value of the brand and its impact on current and potential consumers. Leaders can leverage social media to create a positive brand presence that emphasizes the positive aspects of school culture, increases community pride, and helps to attract/retain families looking for a place to send their children to school. Tell your story, build powerful relationships in the process, and empower learning with a brandED mindset

Opportunity: It is vital for leaders to consistently seek out ways to improve existing programs, resources, and professional learning opportunities.  It requires a commitment to leverage connections made through technology to take advantage of increased opportunities to make improvements across multiple areas of school culture. The other six pillars connect and work together to bring about unprecedented opportunities that would otherwise be impossible, such as securing donations, resources, authentic learning experiences for students, and mutually beneficial partnerships. As Milton Berle says, "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door."

In the updated edition of Digital Leadership, I take readers on a deep dive into each pillar while providing pertinent research and evidence to better lead in the now as opposed to the past. Be sure to check out the video below that adds additional context on each as well as practical implementation strategies.

For even more insight, ideas, and strategies, you can take a listen to one (or all) of the following podcasts read an interview transcript that emphasizes how to lead in the now effectively. 
If the goal is a relevant culture of learning, then leaders must begin by modeling that at the individual level. Only then can the arduous, yet gratifying, process of systematic change can occur. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Problem With Zeros

The dreaded zero. For many students, this number elicits a certain amount of fear and anxiety that all assignments are turned in on time. I, for one, felt this way and made sure that everything was turned in when it was due.  Compliance and following rules, even if I didn’t agree with them, were just natural parts of my view of school.  Unfortunately, the effect does not transcend to every kid. Sometimes they forget. Other times they just don’t care. Regardless of the reasons, I think it is essential to critically examine the message and lesson that we are imparting to our youth through this outdated and, quite frankly, insensitive practice. 

The policy for giving zeros to students who do not turn in assignments when they are due has pretty much been entrenched in schools across the world. It is one of many examples that fall into what I call the “death trap” in education – that’s the way we have always done it.  Just because something has been done in the past, or is a traditional component of school culture, does not mean it is an effective practice.  In my opinion, it is well beyond the time to revisit this practice and determine if it truly is in the best interests of our learners.  Take the scenario below shared by Powers Thaddeus “Teddy” Norrell.
Emily is an engaged student who always pays attention in class, has a high class rank, and has never made a grade lower than an A. Emily’s first four grades in physics are 100, 99, 99, and 98. Emily is set to have a 99 average for the term. However, she has had an unusually busy week, and when she arrives at school on the morning the final assignment is due, she realizes that she has completely forgotten to do it. She explains her situation to the teacher and begs to be allowed to turn it in the next day. The teacher is unsympathetic and assigns Emily a grade of zero for the final assignment, telling her that this will prepare her for the “real world.”
Let’s examine the last statement regarding preparation for the real world. Correct me if I am wrong, but in education, teachers and administrators don’t receive zeros if they:

  • Don’t arrive to work on time.
  • Fail to meet a determined deadline (i.e., turn in lesson plans, complete all observations/evaluations by a set date, etc.)
  • Don’t read or respond to email and as a result, are unprepared for meetings or don’t get needed information to colleagues when required.
  • Forget to call parents back

Now other professions might have stricter accountability, but more often than not, there is leeway.  The question then becomes what message or lesson are we really teaching students by giving zeros? If learning and growth is the goal, then it is our responsibility to tackle this issue as the negative impacts on our learners far outweigh the need to make an example or fall back on the “preparation for the real-world” rationale. 

As a principal, I worked with my staff to tackle this issue as well as the overall practice of grading. I’m not going to lie; it was one of the hardest change initiatives I ever engaged in during my tenure as principal. Now I am not saying our solution was perfect or the best by any means. However, it did represent a step in a better direction in that we focused more on learning as opposed to grades and marks. You can see the specific changes and associated rationale for our revamped grading philosophy HERE. Below is what the committee came to a consensus on in regard to zeros:
No zeros: Students are not to be assigned a grade of zero (0).  This not only reflects grading as punishment but also creates a hole that students cannot dig out of (Guskey, 2000; Reeves, 2004; Reeves, 2008; O'Conner and Wormeli, 2011).  This includes HW, quizzes, tests, projects, etc.  An exception to this would be cases that involved cheating, plagiarism, or a midterm/final exam no show without a justifiable excuse (i.e., doctor’s note, death in the family, etc.).
For some practical alternatives to dishing out zeros check out the latter portion of the article by Norrell titled Less Than Zero. It is important to determine why students don’t turn in specific assignments such as homework and projects as a way to mitigate even having to consider doling out zeros.  Consider the following questions:

  • Is the assignment meaningful and relevant? 
  • Does the learner see the purpose in it?
  • Will feedback be given?

Reflecting on these questions can help lead to the creation of better assignments that are more relevant, and kids actually want to complete.  Punishing learners with zeros destroys both morale and a love of learning by digging a hole that many cannot recover from (nor do they have any aspirations to do so).  They also create a mirage in terms of what was actually learned.  If a grade does not reflect learning than what’s the point? We owe it to our students to pave a better path forward. 

Guskey, T. R. (2000). Grading policies that work against standards … and how to fix them. NASSP Bulletin, 84(620), 20–29.

O'Connor, K. (2007). A repair kit for grading: 15 fixes for broken grades. Portland, OR: Educational Testing Service.

O’Connor, K., & Wormeli, R. (2011). Reporting student learning. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 40-44.

Reeves, D. B. (2004). The case against zero. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(4), 324–325.

Reeves, D. B. (2008). Effective grading practices. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 85–87. 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Challenges Educators Face

We live in amazing times.  Technology, most specifically social media, has flattened the world. Remember when we had to get all of our professional literature and information from journals, books, conferences, over the phone, or people that we came in direct contact with? Educators now have access anytime from anywhere to people, ideas, resources, strategies, and feedback.  As much as this has been a game-changer for so many, we now have better access to research and evidence of improved student outcomes to really hone in on the types of changes that are needed in classrooms, schools, and districts across the world. 

Even with all the positives associated with what I listed above, the truth of the matter is that much of it doesn’t matter when the realities educators face are not given the attention that they deserve.  Just because something sounds good on Twitter and during a keynote or looks good on Pinterest and Instagram does not mean whatever is being promoted will work. Context matters. Finances matter. Facilities matter. Staffing and community support matter.  I have been blessed to not only deliver keynotes and workshops but also to facilitate job-embedded coaching on a long-term basis. It is the latter component of my work where I see firsthand the challenges educators are facing regardless of zip code.  This work has provided me with a more empathetic lens and has allowed me to tailor and personalize the coaching process as well as the feedback that is delivered.  

Image credit: NEA Today

How I see things is still limited and can be influenced by bias. Now don’t get me wrong. I see some significant obstacles and challenges thanks to the long-term work I am engaged in. However, I wanted to move beyond me and focus on the people who are in the trenches on a day to day basis.  This led me to pose a question on Twitter, asking educators to share their particular challenges.  You can see the tweet below. 

Here is a summary of the majority of the responses:
  • Fear of failure and willingness to fail forward
  • Helping educators understand and integrate maker-centered learning
  • Helping teachers and leaders break down silos and understand it is not a competition but a concerted push to provide students with learning experiences they need.
  • Effective strategies to remind adults we are preparing kids for the future not the adults for the future
  • The mental health of students. We don’t have the support needed for emotionally or mentally challenged students that are in the regular education class.
  • Dedicating time to fortify universal instruction and systematic procedures while continuing to attend to the intensive needs of the high volume of kids in crisis & experiencing trauma.
  • Inspiring high school students to choose teaching as a profession.
  • Attracting the best and brightest to the field
  • Boys’ achievement and engagement. There is a considerable disparity at present in our school across all years.
  • Finding the balance between "meet students where they are" and "getting them where they need to go." Many educators are clear on the former, then handhold & scaffold low expectations. Others are better at the latter then lose a good % of their class by not differentiating enough.
  • Lack of alignment of educational institutes knowledge with the practical world. Educational institutions are preparing the future leaders, and due to lack of such coordination they fail to groom themselves as per new emerging trends and increase their absorption level in industry.
  • Work-life balance 
  • Implementing Innovative student-centered learning that improves outcomes 
  • Matching sustainable grading practices that reflect learning
  • Empowering teachers and maintaining alignment to mission, vision, curriculum, etc.
  • Feeling genuinely supported in taking risks and being innovative in the classroom.
  • Students not taking responsibility. Even taking responsibility for picking trash up that they dropped.
  • Inclusion and REAL collaborative teaching... integration of universally designed practices to help all students (which covers social justice, restorative practices, SEL) and somehow helping more teachers embrace that accommodations are not cheating.
  • Screen time for students
  • Making technology purposeful, not just tech for the sake of it
  • Students don’t hold the information anymore as they can get it anywhere. There is a need to teach them not only to access safely and critically but also to apply and construct new knowledge.
  • Motivating digital immigrant teachers and administrators to have a growth mindset to try new strategies and tools.
  • Using interactive whiteboards like projectors
  • Teacher-student ratio
  • Principals seem to be regretting their decision to go into leadership as they have too much on their plate and not enough time. More supports are needed.
  • There is always a new program being purchased. It's used for a few years and then discarded, leading to a high level of initiative fatigue.
  • Real evaluation and accountability
  • School overcrowding, support of libraries by districts, and limited access to libraries
  • Principals with control issues
  • Antiquated buildings, facilities, and resources
  • Ideas that don’t align to consider the realities educators have to deal with
  • Drive-by, one and done professional development that is not on-going, job-embedded, aligned to research, have evidence to back up the investment and lacks accountability for growth.
There are a lot of challenges listed.  What would you add to the list above? 

By putting these and others front and center, efforts can be made to develop practical solutions. Before any new change or mandate, considerations have to be made as to the feasibility (and sustainability) of the idea, strategy, or investment.  Case in point. If you are asking teachers to differentiate instruction on a daily basis, class size and resources matter. Or if you are committed to blended learning, then a combination of pedagogical change as well as updated spaces is needed. It behooves all of us to consider reality when ideas are presented, whether through social media, workshops, professional development days, in books, or during keynotes and presentations.  The struggle for many is real, and they need our support.

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.