Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Less is More

When studying acting at the University of Michigan, this was the phrase our directors would use to encourage us to keep it simple, keep it real: Less is More.

I remembered this when considering Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's "data-driven" incentive to lengthen the academic day and year. This strategy is based on an analysis/comparison of U.S. education to international education, particuarly in a world where U.S. students will be "competing" for college admission and jobs with students from around the world,. However, I fully understand why this idea is met with opposition without deep and meaningful change in the way we do the business of education.

Merely lengthening the academic day won't solve the problem. That could just produce more of the same with shorter vacations. I would also question the merit of universally lengthening the school day in those districts or schools where students are achieving well above the expected "average"? Or why lengthen it in states that make Kindergarten optional?

If workers can earn vacation time for hours completed at work, why can't successful students earn time off for successfully completing academic expectations? Isn't that what many of us called Senior Year?

Dare we consider, as Richard DuFour said in his 1994 book, Professional Learning Communities at Work that
Teachers and principals will know a district is serious about transforming schools into professional learning communities only when they are given the time they need to handle the complexity of that task. (pg.111)
DuFour's perspective of school days includes embedded learning for teachers and administrators rather than paltry add-ons to fulfill external expectations.

If Secretary Duncan embraces President Obama's goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020, it would make sense that the targeted efforts would focus on early childhood and primary education programs, those first graders and early graduates of the year 2020. It brings to mind the words of Rogers and Hammerstein to "start at the very beginning".

However, to effectively impact their education, a stronger focus needs to be placed on the learning of those who teach them. Seth Godin, in his book, Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us would seem to proffer that we can start (continue?) movements to reform education by

  • Transforming the shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change;
  • Providing tools to allow members to tighten their communications; and
  • Leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members

The question then is, who will lead this tribe? Do we wait for the Secretary of Education to tell us what to do? Or do we support those impassioned educators with whom I've had the privilege of working, removing the gatekeepers of traditional unionism that enable rather than reform the feeble? What about voting in those Board of Director members who seek to reward innovation rather than worry about who's in charge?

I think NCLB has proven that changes from on high will not reform education. It has to be a grassroots, teacher and principal level of passion to do something wonderful in education, and it has to be now, because, as Godin says,

Life's way too short to make mediocre stuff. . .defending mediocrity is exhausting (pg 32).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Second Fiddle to Dave Warlick?


Encouraged, demanded, rewarded, and necessary.

In final preparations for the Near East South Asia's Educator's Conference, I knew I wanted to do something I've never done before. I am so over PowerPoint, even on an interactive white board.

I remembered Amanda's "sexy" presentation courtesy of twitter-buddy DearLibrariAnn. I knew a good deal of the final touches could be done on the 21 hour flight to Cairo, and was quite pumped to see that offered a downloadable version. I know Delta offers inflight WiFi, but I want everything ready to go when I hit the ground and reconnect with my husband.

Interestingly enough, my twitter world was abuzz as colleagues attended the EARCOS Teachers' Conference in Borneo AND Dave Warlick was presenting in his normal integrated, multi-techno function. I wasn't streamed in, but everyone was raving about his prezi presentation at the same time I was working with this startup to get my access code.

It's in beta testing, but I've worked with an internet-based software company long enough to know that a good thing is a good thing! Period!

I let Prezi know that they were getting a lot of love in twitter.

Encouraged a twitter search of "dwarlick" to see the PR he was giving their "startup".

Suddenly, the line went quiet, the call had an urgency to end, and my log-in seemed to be an issue of the distant past. To Patrick's credit, everything was launched and good to go, but I could see that their philosophy of accepting those with lots of cash or lots of influence was right on.

So all those rankings in social media mean something afterall, as my tech mentor Jeff Utecht shared over three years ago! It was a passing moment, but made me vastly aware of how interconnected everything is - the fact that I could simultaneously work, follow conference chatter in Borneo, and be whelmed by Dave Warlick in Saskatoon at an IT Summit just made me feel infintiely finite.

And connected.
screenshots from Tweetdeck and
Photo from takuya miyamoto's flickr

Friday, March 6, 2009

17 is an Odd Number

I think of Seven (8) Habits of Highly Effective Leaders, the top 10 List of David Letterman, the eight Beatitudes, even the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by the same author and wonder why does 17 in numbering the essential qualities of a team player strike me as an odd number?

It is an odd number.
It's the first prime number after lucky 13.
A team can be five on the court or 9 on the field.

But Seventeen?

And then I thought of leadership from within - being a part of a team while being the one, de facto or de jure, who leads the team. While integral to the teams success, culture, image, and effectiveness, to leaders sometimes have to stand alone, a separate number apart from that perfect square, that 2- squared-squared?

And what if the challenge is to lead great leaders? John Maxwell advises that essential team players are:

  1. Adaptabile
  2. Collaborative
  3. Committed
  4. Communicative
  5. Competent
  6. Dependable
  7. Disciplined
  8. Enlarging
  9. Enthusiastic
  10. Intentional
  11. Mission Conscious
  12. Prepared
  13. Relational
  14. Self-Improving
  15. Selfless
  16. Solution Oriented
  17. Tenacious
That's a long laundry list of desirable characteristics. Number 11 stands in the forefront of my mind, the need not only to know and embrace the organization's mission, but one's personal mission with many opportunities for reflection.

So how does one adapt to the high demand for competency in a solution-oriented, tenacious field?

By counting on insights from friends and family around the world who inspire and challenge.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Teaching is the greatest profession in the world!

That's what my husband told me one of the million times he tried (successfully) to lure me from the ego-centric performing arts to education. Even when longing for center stage, I still found a certain fulfillment in knowing I was playing a part in preparing the next generation for this game called Life.
Before I go on, I must fully disclose that I'm a consultant with Rubicon Atlas. We found each other when, in my 12 year of teaching, my school adopted Atlas as a curriculum management software.
I was excited to see Will Richardson's post about expanding the concept of what constitutes a teacher. Further inspiration came when reading One School of Thought which celebrates bringing the excellence in teaching outside of the classroom. After the privilege of reading my CEO's marginal notes in Rick DuFours Professional Learning Communities at Work. With the establishment of our online Professional Learning Communities (surprisingly, at no additional cost) and the Rubicon Exemplar System (again, at no additional cost), I couldn't help but feel that the mission was to connect educators, eliminate the silos, and

encourage and support the best and brightest teachers to come out of the closet and gain from the experience of teaching to a wide audience.

What an inspiring thought.