Sunday, December 20, 2015


I just read a fabulous (and short) post from George Couros - The Culture You Create.   I typically read posts, but rarely reply - this one I had no choice but to respond, and it read:

Thank you for this post. I have seen signs throughout my district and they are similar to the image you posted. I agree with your statements regarding trust and perception. I think the bigger question is how do we educate the “ignorant?” How does the culture shift if many are not taking the time to realize the power of mobile / personal devices have and how the devices can level the playing field? I have found that it is often the leadership that is resistant to the change more than the teaching staff. The fixed mindsets kill me! I once saw a quote that read, “The biggest risk is the one you don’t take.” We learn by doing – by succeeding AND by FAILING. There is no perfect lesson. But technology is a game changer and helps level the playing field – used correctly, it transforms teaching and learning in ways once inconceivable.

Why are educators (generally) so afraid to take risks?  I do understand that the thresholds of NCLB are challenging to reach, but if what is taking place at schools is so effective, why are we still in Program Improvement?  Why have we not met and exceeded federal (and our own) expectations?

I remember attending a California League of Schools conference a few years ago.  The keynote speaker cited how the gaming company Nintendo spends more money on Research and Development than the entire US Department of Education.  Crazy.  Where is the money going?  (I know, we can all answer that one.)

We have the ability to create a culture that is receptive of device use, yet doesn't lose the space for collaboration and communication.  The concepts behind the 4 C's of the common core make sense - I fear that the implementation doesn't.  Remember the "Don't smile until Christmas" concept?  I have never agreed with it, but think about the power an effective teacher has to create an environment of trust and respect, where new ideas are shared, learning is reciprocal, and everybody (students and teacher) is engaged.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Not Sure If I Agree...

I just read this article from NPR Education titled Mark Zuckerberg is Betting Tech Can Address Educational Equity.  Is it that Simple?  

The author asserts that "Personalized learning is a buzzword for software programs that act like automatic tutors:  giving feedback, allowing students to go at their own pace, and recommending lessons based on student's previous work."   What a terribly incorrect statement.  Personalized learning can (and should) point students to resources that spark their interest based on their past work, but aren't necessarily automated or self-paced.

What the author is missing, as well as the folks her contributed comments based on their own studies, is that it is NOT about the technology.  It is about how the tool is used to enhance the teaching and learning environment.  Technology can break down walls and open opportunities that were not possible before.  Take a look at Google's app "Street View" or Google Earth.  Students can virtually go to places they are studying about - almost equivalent to a primary source.

Within the article I do agree with Michael Feldstein who argues that "successfully pulling off personalized learning in schools requires major changes, like grouping students by ability and making class schedules more flexible."

So what is the key ingredient?  Thinking outside the box!  Is the status quo really working?  With the resources now available in most schools, the sky is truly the limit.  School boards and leadership teams need to understand the power that can be leveraged now, be willing to take risks, model best practices, and provide sound and meaningful (and ongoing) professional development.  It is not easy, but some schools have been successful.  There are still a lot of humps to get over.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

I Like John's Viewpoint

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the death of John Lennon.  I was only nine when he was murdered and at the time, did not understand the impact his music, his views, and his overall character had on our world.

I remember my mom was really upset.  I also remember thinking to myself, "Who is John Lennon?  A beatle?  Insect?  What?"

The more I've learned about John Lennon, the more I realize that he just "got it."  Yeah, plenty of people thought he was a weird hippy, but he had a down to earth point of view; he was a pacifist who truly wanted to "Give Peace a Chance."

John knew what it meant to express yourself without regret; live each day to its fullest and impact the world through positive action and contributions to the arts.  I think back to Apple's "Think Different" campaign and the individuals that Steve Jobs chose as "the crazy ones, the misfits, the outcasts."  John was one of them - his ideas were big enough to change the world and he did just that.

There will never be another John Lennon.  There will never be another band (in my opinion) that has an impact on the world like the Beatles.  But in our attempt to understand life, we have to take peace in knowing that John died a happy man, he made an impact, and above all, he understood life.  In the crazy madness of our everyday lives, we need to take the time to find happiness and our own understandings.

Don't be afraid to think different.  More often than not, the status quo SUCKS.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Do We Ever Find Balance?

I often find myself struggling - struggling to find "balance" in my life.  How do I balance out my life?  I feel slammed - overwhelmed quite often.  Drilling down, I do my best to juggle married life, raising children, doing well at work, finding time for myself, etc.

The Balanced Man
When I was an undergraduate at San Francisco State University, I joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.  It was a tremendous experience - one of the best of my life.  In addition to promoting Virtue, Diligence, and Brotherly Love, Sig Ep focused on being "The Balanced Man."  We always bragged about this - "We are balanced men."  In retrospect, I was anything but balanced.  I didn't make the Dean's List until my final semester at SFSU and quite frankly, could have been a far better friend to many, son to my parents, and brother to my siblings.  Not trying to sound hard on myself, but I didn't live up to the motto of my fraternity.

Here I am now, 44 years old, engulfed in "real life," and still feel unbalanced.  How do I find time to go to the gym without feeling guilty that I am not spending time with my wife and kids?  How do I get all of the work done that I need to accomplish without cutting off friends and family?  How do I make sense of all of the immense information available to us and share with others as a way to move things forward?

I guess I will always struggle to find balance.  I am human.  Humans are creatures of habit.  I need to form better habits and be a better example for those around me.  New Year's resolution?  Yeah, right.  Mind over matter.  Stay consistent.  Stay focused.  I think I can do this.  Are you balanced?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Do We "Lose our Touch?"

Here's some food for thought:  Does it come a time in our careers, that if we enter the administration ranks or take a position outside of the classroom, we forget what it was like in the classroom?  Think about that for a moment.  I had this discussion with my wife, who I feel is one of the most solid teachers I have ever seen.  She has not lost her passion and does not compromise her standards or beliefs.

Our district had a staff development day October 12, whereas site administrators lead morning sessions for teachers.  I love that model!  Walk the walk, talk the talk.  However, in the session my wife attended the administrator recorded himself ahead of time and simply showed the film.  Was he trying to model a flipped classroom?  There wasn't any follow-up or checks for understanding. So, the question is, do we lose our touch?

I taught for 12 years before entering administration.  However, I have continued to teach at the college level and when I was a site administrator, did my best to get in classrooms as often as possible.  But is that the same thing as doing it every day?  Do administrators get so far removed from the classroom (as we get caught up in the day-to-day running of the school or district) that we forget what it was like managing a classroom and every possible thing that comes with it?

Some have suggested that administrators should have to teach one class every "x" years.  How would we be alleviated of our other duties?  What is the answer?  Attend conferences and professional development more often?  But is that really putting things to practice?  I don't know the answer here, but I do understand that the day-to-day dynamic of a classroom is meaningful and very hard work.  It is easy to lose sight of things if we don't keep everything in perspective, listen to others, stay focused, and above all, remember why we got into this profession.  It's about the students.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Gearing up for a Presentation

Tomorrow night at our Board of Trustees meeting, my colleague and I will be presenting the state of technology in our district.

We've come a long way.... and we know where we are going.  It's about being strategic and deliberate with our planning and implementation.  #bethechange

Please feel free to comment.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Going Digital... the mindshift

One of my missions this year has been to eliminate PAPER.  How many times have we seen a person print (yes, print) every email sent to them or documents that they never look at?  Far too often, right?

My district adopted DocuSign this year.  It started as a means to digitize our certificated evaluation process, but it is becoming once more.  The challenge is two-fold:

  1. Have administrators learn, use, and model the digital evaluation process (that means do NOT print!)
  2. Update ancient forms the district has been using since it's founding (1895 - okay, that's an exaggeration.)
The feedback I've received from administrators has been mostly positive. DocuSign has cool features, like anchored text and templates, so the actual "signing" part is simple.  Additionally, we are a Google Apps for Education district, so all of our evaluation templates were created in Google Docs.  Everything is living in Google Drive, even the "completed" DocuSign documents.  I've found that the few administrators struggling with this either 1) did not pay attention during the training, 2) neglect to view the help site I created, or 3) are new to evaluation and have the deer in the headlights going on.  (I remember that first year as a vice principal.  It's a hell of a way to lose weight!)

Moving Human Resources and Accounting are different stories.  But we are getting there.  It's going to happen.  I'm waiting for the district leadership to get on board and just mandate it!  I'd love to do an analysis of the paper we are saving.  I can tell you that I have used my printer two times this week - once to print a test page and the other to print something I actually needed.  Not common for me - I usually scan everything into Evernote or Google Drive.  All of my documents in the cloud and accessible from wherever and whenever I am connected.
The beauty of DocuSign (and there are many) is that completed forms (envelopes as they are called) are pdf's - they can be copied and shared on network drives or in Google Drive.  Easier distribution, easier to find things.  I know file management has been a challenge since day one, but I am NOT giving up.

Let's stop killing trees.  Let's move forward.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Random Thoughts on Professional Development and Learning Management Systems...

CanvasI am probably not alone in feeling very challenged when it comes to meaningful, sustainable, and ready-to-use professional development.  Schools generally seem to be far behind the curve.  So much to do and learn, yet so little time.  I once had a supervisor who always said, "It's an educators professional obligation to continue to learn and develop professionally."  I do agree with this statement, but know there are obstacles in the way - most notably TIME. 
What should professional development look like?  Do we REALLY know what our staffs need?  Are the needs aligned to the goals of the school and the district?  Where do we find time for all of this?

There's a big push for online and blended learning.  I do believe that these models can work when well facilitated, when there is active participation, and when this model of learning is properly modeled.  The pedagogical shift is huge.  

Learning management systems (LMS) are really on the rise - a very hot market right now.  This was once dominated by Blackboard, but they seem to be losing traction in this changing market.  My wife is completing an online Master's program from National University.  The fact the program is online has really helped fit into her lifestyle, however, the overall experience could have been more positive.  For example, the few times when a synchronous meeting was to take place online, Blackboard did not "play" well with the Mac computers.  Not everybody engaged in the discussion boards.  And the list goes on.  

My district uses Canvas LMS for some professional development we offer.  I was introduced to Canvas through San Diego County Office of Education and was hooked.  It's scalability, interface with tools such a Google Apps, Twitter, and Facebook are awesome.  It has an online speed grader that really cuts down on paper and it's mobile app is awesome on a tablet.  Do I see this being the wave of the future?  Only time will tell.  I do think it's an amazing product and quite frankly, could work very well with credit recovery programs in order to have your "home grown" courses available, not third-party vendor curriculum that staff isn't necessarily familiar with.

Oh well, this blog post is all over the map.  What a brain dump.  Did it accomplish anything?  Probably not, but my head feels a bit more clear.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Why Study Churchill?

Winston ChurchillA mentor of mine just forwarded me a link to sign up for (and take) a distance course - the subject:  Winston Churchill.   Being a history major in college, I have always had a very high opinion of Churchill and more recently, after traveling to London and reading / learning more about Churchill, I feel that his actions as Prime Minister during World War II may have single handedly saved democracy.  (as a side note, his statue across from Westminster Abbey and his "War Rooms" is said to be electrified so pigeons and other birds cannot sit on it.  It was very clean when I was there.)

The course is being offered from Hillsdale College out of Michigan.  Now throw in the technology end - how effective can this distance learning course really be, especially when there isn't a grade involved and we all have busy lives?

I think this is an important question and a debate I've had recently with my wife.  Our district has been offering some professional development using a learning management system - we used the open source curriculum from Leading Edge Certification last spring for the Digital Educator series and are now using the Online and Blended Teacher curriculum.  This is an enormous culture shift for many teachers, not to mention an entire change in pedagogical practice and beliefs.  When we started the Digital Educator series last semester, we lost half of the class - due to time constraints and challenges with using many of the technology tools.  But as I look at this curriculum, which I believe is pretty solid, I do understand the challenge it becomes for the adult learner, many of who know no different than the way they were taught.

Regardless of what many believe, I do think there is a place for online and blended learning.  It comes down to two things in my opinion:  1) a solid facilitator who truly encourages and stays on top of things and 2) a constant reminder to take what is being taught and put it into the context of what is going on in your class and how these tools and experiences can enhance the teaching and learning that takes place in your class.  How can learning be taken to the next level?  Personalized?

Now back to Winston Churchill.  Churchill was certainly a man ahead of his time who understood the times he lived in and learned from challenges and mistakes he had experienced .  He documented EVERYTHING; though I don't know this for certain, I would venture to say he is probably the one former politician who recorded, wrote, and published more than any other.   Imagine if he had a blog.  Imagine if he had Google Hangouts, Skype, Facetime, or other tools to deliver his messages throughout his career; perhaps his impact would have been felt even more.   There are three reasons principals of why Churchill should be studied, and I think the first is timely in relation to our changing world -  the study of Churchill teaches us lessons about prudence - the virtue that enables human beings to make good choices in changing circumstances for the sake of living well.  Digest that for awhile, as our world continues to evolve.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Tools That Enhance Learning

How many times do we see a tweet or blog post that focuses on tools that enhance learning. Don't get me wrong - I am thankful that my peers and colleagues share the tools that have been useful for them and make an impact on teaching and learning.  However, I am at a point in my career that I think to myself, "We can all make a huge list of tools and resources that make a difference.  But if technology in instruction does not become ubiquitous (or at least a priority of instructional leadership), how will technology and these tools / resources become a mainstay?"

I've always contended that we often teach the way we were taught. And one could argue, "it worked fine for me, so why not use the same techniques and methods?"  The generation of students we are working with now ARE different whether people are going to admit it or not.  Our students do not know a world without cell phones.  I would bet that most don't have a land line where they live.   They've probably never had to cross the room to change the channel or volume on the television.  A VHS tape is an antique artifact in their world.  And quite often, they are not taught proper digital citizenship because more often than not their parents aren't full in tune with all of the technological advances.

Where do we start?  Parent information evenings?  Staff development?  I don't know the full answer, but a comprehensive plan is a must.  I would urge all of my peers and colleagues, as well as parents, to familiarize themselves with resources such as Edutopia and Common Sense Media.  The materials on these sites are powerful.  We also really need to understand what student-centric education truly is.  Though this post is seven years old, it's a good read on Edutopia.

Think about how vehicles have evolved in our lifetime.   The evolvement of media, mail (snail mail versus FAX machines versus email.)  Sports - how athletes have evolved.   Now think about our schools?  Have they evolved?  It's more than the tools that enhance learning; it's the mindset of those leading districts and serving on a school board.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

To Ed.D or Not to Ed.D? That is thy question...

During my 21 year career in public education, there seems to be a recent increase in the number of peers striving for their doctoral degrees.  I've always been an advocate for higher (and lifelong) education.
I've met a lot of people in my day with the Ed.D after their title, but none like my mentor at Carlmont High School who truly put into practice the training, techniques, and methodologies learned in his Ed.D. program from the University of LaVerne.  His leadership was transformational; collaboration and staff morale was at an all-time high.  Students bought into the programs we were running.  Decisions were made based on site goals, not on the whim.  The leadership and guidance he modeled were inspirational.

Thinking back to the work I did for my Masters in Education from San Francisco State University, I am proud to say that much of what I learned was put to practice.  I think the challenge we have when pursuing higher degrees, certifications, or just advancing our education and expertise, is bringing it back to our department, school, and/or district, and attempting to change culture for the better.  Each district and school has its own culture.  Many leaders have vision while others have insecurities.  My mentor (mentioned above) was the most secure leader.  We worked cooperatively, not competitively, and that made all of the difference.

So, back to the title of my blog post.  To Ed.D or not to Ed.D?  Is it a financial decision?  Yes.  It is a life-changing decision?  Yes.  Will it make a difference?  If the person pursuing it is doing this for the right reason.  As public educators, we have the unique opportunity and ability to positively shape the lives of our peers and more importantly, our students.

There's a fork in that road ahead.... where does each subsequent road lead?  Focus, determination, planning, and persistence = SUCCESS.  Bring it on.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My CUE Rockstar Transformation

As I stated in an earlier post, I had the privilege of being in the inaugural cohort for CUE Rockstar Administrators last weekend.  My transformation / Hero's Journey presentation is posted below.

It was a fun ride.  I look forward to putting to practice the many, many techniques I learned throughout the workshop.  I am also looking forward to more professional development opportunities via CUE and other quality organizations.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Tech Support

The featured article in the most recent CTA publication California Educator focuses on tech support.  The information in the article is interesting - I truly believe a lot of it is perception data.

While every district appears to be rolling out technology resources and devices in their own, unique way, one staple / constant remains:  Professional Development needs to be rebooted.

Teachers and other staff members need to be provided quick, ready-to-use staff development opportunities.  I remember when the read / write web emerged and we wanted to get up there and show teachers everything - and we usually lost them in the process.  After the professional development opportunities I have exposed myself to, I strongly feel that the very best are those where hands-on, real-classroom examples are used.

Some elements in the CTA article sadden me, but don't really surprise me.  A CTA survey asked "Does your staff offer quality professional development for staff to become tech savvy?" A member from Chatom Union answered, "The district probably thinks so, but the reality is NO.  I was given a cart with 36 ASUS T100 tablets at the end of last year and no training and expected to begin using them..  Luckily I am fairly tech-savvy."   This seems to be a trend.   I worked with a former assistant superintendent who called me in one day and said, "I want you to order 2,000 tablets - one for every freshman in the district."  I politely said, "Can we discuss this?  What is our end goal in providing this resource to students, what is our roll-out plan, and how can we provide meaningful professional development so they are used effectively in instruction?"  I also said, "Where is the data that suggests this is a demand?  Is our infrastructure ready?"  Note:  This was before our district migrated to Google Apps for Education.

Looking back and looking ahead.... while I enjoyed the CTA article, the same theme pattern exists - districts are STILL separating technology from instruction.  Let's look at our school and district goals, plan our professional development, and incorporate the technology resources we have available as we roll out the professional development.  Technology cannot be viewed as stand-alone or "the other thing you can do."

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Brain Dump.... Inclusive Leadership

CUE Rockstar Admin.... Day 3.  Eric Saibel's session on Inclusive Leadership.  What does it look like?  How do we involve all stakeholders?  How often do we send that email to inform yet realize shortly after that person "x" was left off the message?

As a leader, I know one of my jobs is to continue to push for continuous improvement and help everybody realize and meet their potential.  I HATE the status quo.  I think we are doing great things, but we can push the envelope and do things others didn't think were possible.

I truly believe that an enormous piece of inclusive leadership is to continually remind myself and others that we are here for students.  Our goals should be aligned to student success and every decision we make must be aligned to these goals.

To quote Richard Diebenkorn:
"Attempt what is not certain.  Certainty may or may not come later.  It may then be a valuable delusion."
"Mistakes can't be erased but they move you from your present position."
#bethechange / #leadwild

CUE Rockstar Admin - Gearing up for Day 3!

I'm fired up for the final day of CUE Rockstar Admin.  As always, CUE has provided timely, meaningful, and relevant professional development and networking.  The first two days were full of excitement, engagement, and energy.  All of our sessions went OVER 90 minutes because the engagement and learning was so high!  This inaugural class is rocking it!

Today we will create our Hero's Journey.  What was my call to adventure?  I will share when I am completed.

The next step is going back to work and putting these ideas, methodologies, and proven practices into action.  A very interesting, and somewhat discouraging thing I read yesterday was a summary of a BrightBytes survey from another district.  The narrative read, "District wide, 60% of teachers say that they spend no time in Non­-School Informal Professional Development."  How do we change this?  How do we provide resources, such as blogging and providing articles to read and engage educators, to explore and expand their horizons.  Please don't get me wrong, I realize time is valuable and the majority of teachers are working very hard around the clock..... but how do we provide them the outlets to make things more seamless and easier?  We have to remember that the only constant is change.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Staying the Same is Ultimately Falling Behind

I just read a great article by George Couros (@gcouros) on the Connected Principals website, titled Staying the Same is Ultimately Falling Behind.  Couros argues that consistency in organizations is important, but if we truly want to grow as educators, we need leadership to continue to push us to become better.

Couros quotes John C. Maxwell, "Change is inevitable.  Growth is optional."  How true.  It is important that we don't just throw money at challenges.  It is important that we use data and research as we plan and make crucial decisions and grow together.

One of my mentors always told me "The only thing constant is change."  It's time that we embrace change and collaborate to find best practices and procedures.  We have the ability to personalize instruction for all students in ways that were unthinkable 20 years ago.  If we do stay the same, we will fall behind.  And it's our students' futures who we are hurting.  Remember to ask your respective leader(s) the five important questions.

Off She Goes...

Last week I dropped my daughter off at college.  She is now a Banana Slug at University of California, Santa Cruz.  We spent a lot of time last year looking at many colleges - ranging from UC Irvine to Santa Barbara, to Davis, and more.  I remember having one thought:  why can't I hit the rewind button and do this again!  We live and learn.

Many people warned me of the emotions I would feel as I left the campus.  It was weird.  Moving her items in, all I felt was excitement - darn, this is cool!  This is going to be great.  What a beautiful campus, so many opportunities.

So, after a few hours, we walked to my Ford Explorer... hopped in, drove up to the student union, hugged, said our "I love you's," and off she went.  I watched her walk towards the campus bookstore and had flashbacks in my mind of the little girl being born, taking her first breath, getting those shots.... taking her first steps (on her knees), the first days of school, dance classes, performances.  Where did the time go?  Did I tear up?  Not really.  I was overcome with excitement - I want her to capitalize on every opportunity that comes her way.  Chances to study abroad, intern in Washington DC (she is a Politics major)... do it all while you can and don't look back with regrets.

Classes started yesterday and she already sounds like a different, grown-up, confident woman.  What else could I ask for in life?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Is Social Media Making Us Anti-Social?

Nearly all of us are guilty of it.... always being connected to our phones / personal devices.  They have become an extension of us.  I've been in a social setting and for some reason unknown to me I grab my iPhone 6 out of my pocket and check my e-mail, the SF Giants score, or respond to a text message.  Always connected.  Why the urgency?  What has it done to my ability to socialize?  To dry safely?  This is getting crazy!  And I am sure it's annoying the heck out of my wife.

I was watching the season premiere of The Big Bang Theory this past Monday with my youngest daughter who is almost 13.  As the show began, I realized she wasn't watching.  Instead, she was checking out Buzz Feed on her iPhone 5s.  I said, "Honey, don't you want to watch this with me?"  Her reply, "I am watching dad."  Yeah, right.  But I'm guilty of the same thing!

My mother-in-law recently got an iPhone 6+; then she got her own Facebook account.  Same theme.  So many of us are burying our faces in our mobile device and letting life pass us by.  Is all of this connectedness and social media making us anti-social?  Below is one of the best video's I've seen addressing this topic.

Celebrating 2014-2015

Celebrating 2014-2015

This is a sample post I worked on for the CUE Rockstar Admin workshop.

The 2014-2015 school year saw the emergence of Google Apps for Education in the Sequoia Union High School District.  After spending nearly 19 years with our legacy system, GroupWise, we did our homework and moved forward.
10 reasons for GAFE
Migrating to Google Apps for Education has provided far more opportunities for collaboration and creation without special software needing to be installed, without sending copies of files back and forth (and losing track of what is most recent); information can be updated in documents, sheets, and presentations and there is no need to email the most “recent” version.  Additionally, resources are available anywhere with an internet connection with the same look and feel (interface.)

The 2014-2015 school year also started off with the most successful professional learning opportunity our district has ever seen - we put on our very own Google Apps for Education Summit - given for SUHSD teachers BY SUHSD teachers.