07 Aug

Instructional Technology Assumptions

Smartboard

This post is going to be a bit more academic than business related, so I hope you will forgive me!

I had a meeting recently where technology training for teachers came up.  I’ve been involved with training teachers to use technology directly and indirectly for the better part of the last two decades and I’m going to highlight some key issues that make Instructional technology a difficult field to operate within.  Why is it difficult?  It’s simple really: we make assumptions that are not necessarily true. I will discuss three of the biggest here.

1) Veteran Teachers

Lets first address the elephant in today’s classrooms: veteran teachers.  Veteran teachers were not raised from birth with an intuitive sense for how to learn and apply technology, personally or professionally.  School systems (K-12 and higher ed.) fluctuate between providing the latest and greatest technology that they hope the teachers will use, and focusing on pedagogy with what is present in the classroom.  Neither path has worked well for many of the districts I have worked with.  Why is this?  Veteran teachers do not know what they do not know.  They often do not know how to learn about new technology and how to use it.  There is often an invisible barrier between them (for example, having an interest in a new tool) and the act of looking up how to do something online.  They lack the technology critical thinking and searching skills needed to thrive and arrive at a comfortable place, wherein they can integrate technology thoughtfully into what they are doing with students.

It is our responsibility as educators to help and empower them.  There are many layers to this particular onion that I could go on and on about, but the key take away for you is this: veteran teachers need opportunities to learn how to search for technology and how-to’s on their own and with one another, taking ownership of the learning process.  This remains true, regardless of whether we are talking about clickers, smart boards, 3D printers, an Apple TV, or the latest Android app.  Teaching a veteran teacher how to put a fancy ruler graphic on a smart board is meaningless if they do not have the desire to do so and choose to take the initiative to seek that feature out, apply it, and then share with peer groups.  Technology integration with veteran teachers has very little to do with technology and everything to do with critical thinking, understanding, genuine appreciation and application, active sharing and teaching it to peers; problem solving, and problem finding are also important.  There is certainly more, but those are the big areas I see again and again.

2) New Teachers.  

Veteran teachers and school administrators often think that student teachers and new hires know how to think critically with technology.  Unfortunately, this is almost never the case.  I spend the first day of my education classes each semester at Longwood–in my role as an adjunct–explaining to 18 year olds that just because they have grown up with the technology, it doesn’t mean they know how to use it thoughtfully.  Critical thinking is a big problem for the millennial generation, as Siri, Google, etc., encourage them to accept the first result, or response, as the authoritative solution.

This is true of our Senior Seminar students as well, whom I also speak to before they embark on their first professional endeavors as teachers.  I caution them to take the time to understand what it means to think critically about what their needs are, and those of the students.  This goes far beyond technology, but technology without thought, is just the typical smart board or touchscreen TV that is an expensive projection screen.

Younger teachers, like veteran teachers, may get excited at a training about a new app, the next Poll Everywhere, etc., but it matters little if they haven’t taken ownership of the discovery process and why that technology is relevant to their instruction and students, aligned to a specific curricular context/objective.  In discovering the technology, learning how to use what they have found for a specific purpose and then teaching it to their peers, young and veteran teachers alike can develop and convey the excitement necessary to engage with those tools in the classroom with students.  

3) The Students.

I recall teaching an instructional technology workshop to teachers in 2001.  I spent an entire week with a wonderful group of teachers, each of whom were thrilled to be paid a larger than usual stipend to attend.  On the very first day, one of the teachers shared that she had never used a computer in the classroom.  She was afraid of the computer and not afraid to admit it.  She moved it to the back of her class, after unplugging the large projector from it (which was a rare benefit in a classroom then), so the students could play with it during free time.  That first day, the librarian and I (the class was held in a high school library and the librarian was a participant), convinced her to allow the students to help her to complete a Web quest in class.  She did so the next day and excitedly reported back how wonderful it was for all.

That’s the heart of this message: allow students to teach.

Empower them to take ownership of as much of the discovery, construction of learning experiences and integration as you possibly can.  This is a scary proposition for teachers because it introduces chaos, or a lot of unpredictable, potential interactions in a closed system.  Many teachers want to pre-construct something exacting.  It does make things easier, but is it the best way for the students to learn?  I would posit it is not.

Just like with the teachers, students need to discover, apply, share and teach what they are learning to others; this increases the likelihood of retention, promotes ownership of one’s own learning, draws out the passion from within, and much more. 

The teachers I teach, to note it again, do not know what they do not know.  Teachers often default to how they were taught (don’t we all?).  With a great volume of incredible learning resources online, the increasing ease and speed of use of technology, we have never been so fortunate and able to empower and engage our students as we can today.  Instructional technology can be a fantastic and empowering aid to the entire culture of learning, and it can be done well once we transparently address these three assumptions.

There are many other avenues I could explore, but to keep this message succinct, I will conclude by stating that deconstructing and going beyond our assumptions empowers us all.  By doing so, we can create learning environments where students can create and nurture a passion for lifelong learning, health and wellness, and personal and professional happiness and success.

Educator rant concluded 😉

SmartBoardCat

11 Jul

1500 Readers a Month!

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 2.28.38 PM

So it has been a couple of weeks since I last posted.  Work and life have been busy and I’m happy to say that I took some time off to work on a graphic novel.  If I ever finish it, I will be happy to tell you about it.  Until then, just know that I’m back to regularly scheduled programing.

Same Bat-time, Same Bat-Station.

First things first: We hit a milestone last month of 1500 visitors!  Crazy, given that I was convinced that there were only a few people (immediate family) who read my blog.  So thank you all for putting up with me, and thank you Google Analytics for giving me some great info.  I waited longer than I should have to start collecting data about visitors, so I was really thrilled to learn that you are here!

I need to speak about BizTrait Characteristic 6: Internal locus of control and persistence.  This is an odd one for me to discuss today, as I recently finished the book “Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less,” written by Joseph McCormack.  It was impactful and has me thinking I should spend more time saying more with fewer words.  This is difficult because I want to connect with people, provide real, personal examples, and get a point across.  I have a hard time doing that with few words.  

I value persistence in people, especially if you have a great idea and are passionate about it. So, while I aspire to exercise brevity, I want to encourage you to take the time you need to share your passions thoughtfully, enough so that you can convey your point and you at the same time.  There is nothing wrong with taking the time to express what you mean, but fluff is fluff, and we can each use a reminder now and again to get to the point.

Calls To Action

Get to the point.  BUT, be sure to communicate passion and persistence at the same time.

Use Google Analytics on your blog or website.  

13 Jun

For the Hope of a Waitress in a Small Town

Waitress in a Small Town

I met a young woman in her early 20’s this week, and she was waiting tables at a bar in rural, southwestern Virginia.

I was in town to speak to local superintendents and county officials about introducing entrepreneurship classes into area high schools; we’ve had a lot of success with them in recent years, and are eager to give students experience they need to find a wonderful value proposition and customer segment willing to pay for it.  

I started asking probing questions and—once she realized that I wasn’t trying to pick her up—she gave me some illuminating insights into the needs of her community that tie nicely to the importance of BizTraits Characteristic 5: Need for Autonomy.

We live in a world where people can’t just get by on how things have always been, or by being complacent.  This young woman said she wished high school kids could have a sense of hope. It was powerfully succinct and she proceeded to share that young people work part-time jobs or at farms and that’s about it in her area; they don’t aspire to much of anything, and clearly don’t know what they don’t know.  This was her perspective, but not the first time I’ve heard this in small town, rural Virginia.  I am from upstate New York, and things were similar there as well, at least when I left 5 years ago.

So how do you begin to address something like this?  

Empower your young people.  Teach kids in elementary school the basics of what it means to be entrepreneurial.  Give middle school students real project-based learning opportunities to execute business ideas in a safe way that has legitimate impact.  Give them a bigger picture view of what it takes to take ownership of their personal, professional and financial futures.  In high school, give them opportunities to test, revise, and implement their businesses with real money.  You cannot expect young people to go all the way if you are not willing to invest the time, effort, and money in them.  

Far too often, we inundate our students with becoming mediocre, and then are upset that they graduate high school with no sense of hope, skills to thrive or innovate as professionals, and few opportunities for meaningful work, if there is work at all.  I talk to school district and county leadership people a lot, and they all sing the same song about their talented young people leaving as soon as they can.  They are referring, I imagine, to those folks who clearly have some specific and recognizable advantage over peers.  

But what about the rest of the young people in these communities?  If they are graduating high school with no sense of what to do next, no motivation, no job prospects, what do you think they are going to do?  They are going to “just get by,” or, if they’re lucky, they might take ownership of their futures and do something about it.  A problem is that there are cultural influences that promote keeping people and circumstances the way they have always been.  Often, if given the opportunity, people will shoot themselves in the feet, and have no idea that they are doing it.  

I chatted with one county administrator this week who was adamant about needing to make a cultural change in his community, in order to create a meaningful impact that would create financial, personal and professional influence for his community.  He apologized for getting on a soapbox about his point, but he is right.  Our communities need to teach young people to not be automatons.  There was a time when people could find a safe job working for the State, or some other safe occupation that might not require that much initiative, effort or thought, in general.  Those days are over.  If a machine can do it, you are unnecessary.  As a result, we need to teach critical thinking, creative thinking, foresight, and the list goes on and on.  

Employers don’t care what you have memorized.  They expect you to come into any situation and be able to adapt, listen, synthesize and creatively act on their behalf, proactively and to their benefit.  

This is at the heart of autonomy: thinking for yourself!  You cannot do that if you feel like a disenfranchised, discouraged automaton.  Our young folks need to be empowered to make anything, make a difference, make a future, make a friend, make a mural, make a fortune, make a career, make a family, and make wonderful lives.  When I was a kid, a friend had a Metallica T-Shirt promoting their wonderful album “Ride the Lightning” and it had a disturbing image and tagline that said this: “Metal up your ass!”  I secretly wanted that shirt and love reminiscing about this, but in addition to teaching what is at the heart of entrepreneurship, we need to speak loud and proud to convey the following message to education influencers and political leaders: “Autonomy up your ass!”

How about that for autonomy?  

I know it’s crude, but our educational policy leaders focus so much on mediocrity in a way that is far more offensive to me.  Throughout much of the United States, we talk about Common Core, and I find the name offensive.  We don’t want our kids to be common!  We should empower them to be distinct contributors with proactive and meaningful senses of purpose, self, and an appreciation for the lives they can lead.  

It is incredibly sad to meet a nice young person at a restaurant with so much insight, and yet so little hope for the future.  It is absolutely a cultural issue, so what are you doing about it?

I will get off of my soapbox now too 😉

Calls To Action

Invest in the young people you know.
Think about how you can promote entrepreneurship in your schools and community.
Promote financial and professional autonomy with everyone you know.
It’s not about what you know, it’s about being able to think critically and take action in the moment.
In a post-knowledge and information economy, who you know is more important than it has ever been, so cultivate as many authentic relationships as you can, and develop a thoughtful reputation online that shows that you have depth and breadth.
Figure out who you are, be you, and contribute to the world around you with others who value what you do and can support you.

25 May

What’s Intolerable? Wearing Sunglasses Inside

5221383816_04b845f71d_b

Everyone feels stress at work.  A little bit is good for you, to help keep you motivated and pushing forward.  Too much though, and everything can feel out of control, and people may act in ways they wouldn’t normally.   Lets talk about BizTraits Characteristic 4: Stress tolerance. 

I have a professional colleague who has spent a lot of time recently feeling like he has too much to do and cannot keep up with all of it.  It has lead to him being a bit unpredictable in his interactions with me and others he works with.  He even said something disparaging about a project we were working on to a potential customer.  It was then that I realized what was going on.  We met about the project and he had only positive things to say.  He was responding to his overall feeling of stress, not about the situation in front of him at the time.

He’s not a bad person and I don’t fault him.  I was certainly annoyed at the time (and said so to confidants), but empathy kicks in once you can see what the real issues are.  I don’t let that kind of thing linger.  What I’ve learned is that you must express your range of feelings from joy to anger in the moment, so things don’t linger, so you can move forward thoughtfully and proactively.

I say this a lot and yet, it remains true…

I am only sure of one thing: I don’t know anything for sure!  

Perhaps my academic background doing research set a foundation for this, but I view everyone I work with as curiosities, no more, no less.  

How does this help?  

I’m able to be impartial and open to learning from and with others, because there are no expectations other than to want to listen, a hope to learn and a desire to help.  It’s freeing and allows me to read others quickly, and usually quite accurately.  If you have predetermined expectations of others, you will never really see those people for who and what they are.  This is just as true in personal relationships, as it is with professional ones.  

In other words, you will never know how bright the world is, if you are always wearing sunglasses. Finally, and this is a pet peeve, don’t wear sunglasses inside and/or when you talk to others.  It’s just rude. So there, I said it and feel much better now; thanks for reading.

Calls To Action

Clear your mind before meeting with people for the first time, or when you are feeling stressed out.
If you are really stressed out, try transcendental meditation.  I heard about it for the first time on the radio as a teen from Howard Stern.  I’ve been doing it off and on since and it’s a great way to force yourself to focus on nothing, in a calming, structured way.
If you have too much on your plate professionally, focus on those activities that bring you the most money and/or joy.  If you still have extreme stress after that, do not take on new projects without completing or removing existing ones.

Take back the ownership of you, so you can feel like this cat:

Today I feel stressed...cat

22 May

Beat Your Children . . . at Chess!

ChessMaster

I beat my son at chess this morning.  Lately – he’s 8 at the time I write this – we have been playing chess every morning before he goes to school.  This ties nicely into BizTraits Characteristic 3: General self-efficacy, discipline, determination, and work ethic.

I never let him win and never will.  “Whoa, kinda harsh,” you might think?  The reality is this: 

  • Life is hard. 
  • I don’t want him to ever expect that things will be handed to him.
  • I want him to appreciate and own, every victory and defeat without question.
  • I want him to appreciate when people help him, even when they don’t need to.  It is important to accept the help of others and do so without hesitance, and with genuine appreciation.

My father, his “Papa,” always lets him win.  Mind you, my dad could hand me my butt at chess if he wanted to, but he has a loving, doting grandfather’s right to let my son win.  I think it’s really nice for their bonding and enjoy their banter.  

I cannot do that as the parent, a key disciplinarian.  When I think of discipline, I don’t picture being harsh or anything like that.  What I envision is teaching my son to commit to what he is passionate about, and empowering him to revel in his successes and failures.

So no, I will never let him win.  After every match, we high-five and celebrate a fun experience together; I make a point of it, regardless of who wins, to ensure that he understands that we are sharing in our experiences as compatriots.

Two days ago, he beat me for the 3rd or 4th time ever.  

My son was beaming!  

I knew why.  You know why.  He was so proud of himself, proud to impress his dad, and generally, just proud of his dad, all at the same time.  

I live for these moments, for that knowing smile and the high-five that was a little bit stronger, a little bit wiser, a little bit more empowered and self-aware.  

Calls To Action

What can you do to empower the people you socialize and work with, beyond the typical social platitudes one might expect?

For your family and professional colleagues, jot down ways that you can assist them with action and empathy.

18 May

Leaning Butterfly, Leaping Largesse

Butterfly

So there are a lot of trends out there that each of us have fallen prey too.  For me, I look at Ray-Ban sunglasses as a perfect example of this.  When I was a kid, I wore them and hoped I might be perceived as cool for doing so (in reality, I knew I wasn’t, but wanted to avoid attracting negative attention).  Just like everybody else, I wanted to be Tom Cruise in Risky Business!

Ray-Bans are popular again and it reminds me of my youth, and a mature understanding of how we all get so easily swept up in what is trending right now. Lets focus on the future-leaning side of BizTraits Characteristic 2: Innovativeness, Creativity and a Future-leaning mindset.

If you want to thrive as a professional, you need to start looking beyond what is going on right now.  For example, I know that wearables are all the rage in the tech field today, primarily because of the marketing efforts supporting the Apple Watch.  Samsung and others have been existing in this space for years, and I still don’t get the appeal.  Personal feelings aside (I will be testing the Apple Watch soon, am not optimistic, and yet I still love Apple products), people are paying a lot of attention to watches and wrist-based devices tied to interacting with your phone or measuring fitness.  I don’t see this as worthy of my (or your) attention.  

As a future-leaning person, I’m curious about where wearables are going. Beyond the wrist, where is the field heading?  What role does the “internet of things” play when it comes to our physical bodies?  I’m testing out LOTS of wearables lately, convinced that most people are asking the wrong questions about them.  

Apple wants us to get caught up in popular culture influences of a new trend, and maybe they want to keep the future thinking to themselves about the field.  I say, reject the fashion aspect and look beyond what’s trending.  We are in the midst of something interesting tied to mobile computing and wearables; if you are as smart as I want you to be, you will endeavor to look beyond present day hype.

For anything that whets the appetite of a society, there is something that resonates, either naturally/genuinely or artificially, which you can look beyond.  This is always an opportunity to consider:  

  • Where are things really going?  
  • Where do you want the marketplace to go?  
  • Are customers willing to pay for it?  
  • Can you see past the largesse bullshit and capitalize on where the market should go to make a profit?

Never forget that big companies, “caterpillars,” are hindered by their own minutia, their own politics, their own desire to protect one-time innovative solutions to keep them profitable and encapsulate them in a cocoon.  

Despite what the major players pontificate upon, a nimble and proactive entrant is always capable of instilling fear, acting quickly and effectively in real time, to reimagine and takeover the market.

Just be a butterfly and skip over the cocoon stage, before the major players beat you to it.  

Calls To Action

For all things trending in your industry, brainstorm about where the industry is heading.

Find organizations, universities and journals that cover your industry and note what they have to say about where things are heading.  Do this for where the current trends are heading, as well as where they foresee your industry heading.

Read about innovations in different industries, extensively.  The more you learn about other fields, the more likely you are to be able to come up with something new and amazing in your current field, and take it to the next level.

11 May

“You Know Nothing, John Snow!” Er, Honesty is Hard.

HonestyBlog

Honesty is hard work.  To be consistently genuine and straightforward with people is a chore.  It would be so easy to just tell people little white lies to make them feel better, get them to shut up, or so you can just “get by” without any drama.

My spouse and I bonded in college because neither of us were able to pretend.  She wears her heart on her sleeve and is the most honest person I know.  I actively choose to be honest with everyone, and run-not walk-from people I don’t trust.  It is hard.  It’s not hard to say what you mean and hope that others do the same.  What’s hard is dealing with the drama and repercussions of being and expressing your true, honest self to others, when they may not be comfortable enough with who they are to be able to deal with it.  Let’s talk about BizTraits Characteristic 1: Individuals’ need for achievement, honesty and persistence.

Many people expect others to subscribe to a herd mentality and go along with the crowd.   

But what if you don’t?  

What if you are constantly reflective and want to express a lived honesty that is evolving? 

What if you are brave enough to accept that you don’t know everything (or much, for sure) and want to participate in a dialogue with the world around you that might make people uncomfortable?

This is where honesty gets really hard, floating in the space between authenticity and convenience.  Be authentic, be honest; charge forth down the path of persistent openness to an evolving perspective and a frequently changing center of gravity.  

Be YOU and appreciate others who do the same.

Calls To Action

Do the hard work.
Remind your self everyday that very little is certain in this world.
Follow Rule #6 at all times (i.e., Don’t take yourself so BLEEPING seriously!).

08 May

It’s Hammer Time. . .If You Paid Cash for that Hammer!

bling4

I went to a party recently with an “over the top” number of pretentious people, most of whom were clamoring to be perceived as wealthy.  It was profound to me, because I have been reading the book, “The Millionaire Next Door,” which talks about how most millionaires who have accumulated wealth are not ostentatious, but are generally quite frugal.  They had many fine examples and statistics about how the wealthy actually don’t buy their cars new.  They often buy nice cars, but wait 2-3 years to purchase a great quality vehicle after the bulk of the value loss has occurred.  

So why I am telling you this?  It relates to BizTrait Characteristic 16: Personal financial management.

Personal financial management requires that you don’t focus on credit.  You need to pay cash and save for the things you want.  It’s terribly difficult for many of us to pull of, but if you can demonstrate the discipline and capacity to do so, you are going to be prepared for the often more risky world of business finance, particularly if you are an entrepreneur.  People say that entrepreneurs are risk takers and in so many ways we are, but when we invest/spend, there has been a lot of research and thought put into all decisions to minimize risk as much as possible.  Entrepreneurs who are worthy of the title don’t blindly invest in anything.  

So as I looked around the room–with caricatures of socialites and poster-child metrosexual men, flaunting their expensive Porsches (#insertnameofexpensivecarhere), smarmy self-centeredness, and a general lack of substance–I was scanning for people who were down to earth, hard workers, and didn’t take the flash to the next level.  Everyone wants to be perceived well, dress his or her best within their means and that’s a great thing.  There are just people who take it too far and send a message to me that they are in debt up to their eyeballs.  

I was so happy to find a few people to talk to who were not caricatures like in the “Mean Girls,” “American Psycho,” or “The Stepford Wives” movies.  These folks were successful without the simulated razzle dazzle.  I love to deliver the razzle dazzle as a presenter, to entertain, engage and make connections with my audience, but at a party where it is important to make connections, pretending you are something you are not just seems out of place, just as out of place as spending money on things you don’t need or cannot afford.  

Be discerning with your money and “over the top” with your research into great investments and opportunities, not in efforts at being perceived as something you are not.  If you are naturally pretentious, or caught up in a credit card race to poverty, I apologize for the harshness, and hope you can recover.

Calls To Action

Don’t use credit to buy things personally.
Use credit to your advantage professionally, but only after you have exhausted due diligence and can articulate a solid financial benefit.

bling3

01 May

Go Big or Go Home

shutterstock_238725151

BizTrait Characteristic 15: Time management and ability to delegate.

“Tiiiiiiiime is on my side, yes it isssss!”  Um, NO!  Great song…bad advice.  Time is not your friend.  

It reminds me of a terrible joke I tell entrepreneurs: “Do you like nachos?”  Wait for a response (it is usually “yes”) and reply: “That’s great, because I am nach-yo friend!”

I’m busy…super busy…and all the time.  You know what that does for me?  It empowers me.  It enables me to say to others:

  • “Don’t waste my time.”
  • “If you want something from me, tell me what I need to remove from my workload now that is less important than what you’re asking of me.”
  • “If people have time to complain or gossip, they just don’t have enough to do.”

I get to say each, quite regularly (I really enjoy it too…don’t judge me!).  I work hard and so should you.  It’s infinitely easier to be honest with others, when you just don’t have the time for excuses or gesticulation.  It frees you and equates to job security at the same time.  BIG WIN.

The best way to manage your time is to stay busy at what you are passionate about.  For me, that is work and family, and I subscribe to what my dear friend Justine often says: “Go big or go home!”  

Live it and love it.

Calls To Action

Write down the most important things you are working on right now.
Download and fill out the Vision/Traction Organizer.
Do not add something new, without articulating and replacing something else.  Rinse, wash, repeat.

28 Apr

Want to Scale?  Tell Yourself to Get Lost!

OneToMany

I have been reading a number of books lately on how to scale a business.  One theme that keeps popping up is to remove the owner from the equation of day-to-day operations.

I know it may seem odd at first, but this is totally what you need to do, if you ever want to sell or scale a business (solopreneurs can ignore me).  Critical thinking (BizTrait Characteristic 14) in this context is all about being able to separate yourself from existing circumstances (i.e., the heavy lifting of your business), and creating repeatable processes that others can execute on your behalf.

That’s it.  Typically, I need to expound in other ways to support my arguments, but the research and exemplars I have found narrow it down to those two things.

If you want to start a business with the intent to sell, you need both.  Otherwise, you might be wasting your time.

Calls To Action

Write down the steps to perform each task for your business.
Hire other people to perform those tasks.
If you are successful at removing yourself from the day-to-day operations and/or your business is scaling well, you can consider selling the business after you have been doing well for 2 or more years.