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Coaching Leadership

Normalizing the Paradigm Shift

February 3, 2017
This post is meant primarily for school leaders, ed tech coaches, support providers,  and other individuals working in schools to establish innovative programs which are sustainable beyond your tenure. All of us in leadership positions know this is the truest measure of a leader and something many of us grapple with every day. Great professional development is like a really fine concert or event – it’s thrilling when we’re in the moment, and it may even feel life changing. The reality is, once the moment has passed, most of us go right back into our life the way it was before. I’ve attended events and classes where I learned new things – things I wanted to come back and use. Achieving success with this, however, lies in whether or not the larger system and culture are poised to support and sustain new ways of doing things. Coaching is another place where this challenging dynamic exists.  Although a longer lasting event, it’s still just an event – unless steps are taken to normalize the changes into the larger system. As someone who is deeply committed to normalizing a paradigm shift toward engaging and joyful learning which incorporates hands-on learning and technology in our schools, I’ve learned some things along this journey which are worthy of sharing. Although these types of challenges exist in every organization, they are especially prevalent in education, and even more so in educational technology. It’s important to note this because the very nature of education with it’s rapid and repeated shifts over decades make normalizing a massive paradigm shift even more challenging due to the fact that getting buy-in is ever more difficult here. Teachers have seen change upon change upon change, and many have said to me over the years that they hesitate to dive into something new, no matter how enticing, as it will likely be gone in no time, to be replaced by something new they must learn. In the realm of educational technology, we add insult to injury with the fact that ed tech companies rapidly come and go, tools switch from free to paid, and the focus of the overall school system itself seems to be stuck in a never-ending loop of shedding it’s skin to become the “latest and greatest” thing. In my work with teachers to create engaging, joyful learning experiences, we face these challenges together every day.  From day one, I have maintained an unwavering dedication to the notion that I will never push or pull or “leverage” teachers into using a tool or learning something new. Instead, I take the “take my hand and we’ll do this together” approach, which has never failed. Examples of the aforementioned approaches always land flat. While that grassroots work is very exciting, for me, personal fulfillment can only be enjoyed if the programs and initiatives I launch have the ability to last beyond me.  Sustainability makes starting the journey worthwhile. As I ponder and experience these challenges firsthand, some thoughts surface which I believe will help others doing similar work – launching programs and initiatives which
Education Education reform Leadership

The Education Treadmill

January 27, 2017
Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to see, participate in, and experience our education system on a very deep level; spending much of my time in classrooms, admin offices, with children and their parents and I think the best way we can describe it is this: Everyone in education – teachers, kids, administrators, staff at every level – have been on a treadmill with no exit for a very long time. In the last several years, the speed of that machine has been slowly increasing via new mandates, tests, tests to support tests, etc. Those who suffer the greatest effects of the never-ending sprint are teachers and kids, because they have no real down time, and they have very little control over any of it. Teachers have no office to escape to for five minutes of peace, no ability to say, “I just need 5 minutes to gather myself” and no real power in the decision-making process which, has resulted in the way this profession is taking shape. The more time I spend really “seeing” things, the more I see so many educators who are doing their very best to keep going, to keep adding, to keep growing, to keep teaching, to keep doing it all…and getting to the end of their rope. So many people think teachers have it easy, that they have short work days, lots of breaks, and long summers. And you know, much to my own embarrassment, I once thought that too. Now that I’ve spent years working in education, I know that it is simply not the case. Here’s what it really looks like: teachers are on stage all day, with classrooms full of kids who are challenging. Kids who are brilliant, kids who are abused, kids who are struggling with learning disabilities. When they are at recess, they are keeping track of all these kids, and then they go back into the classroom and work to support them all. Then they have a short lunch with their colleagues, use the restroom, take a breath, and keep going. They are running. They rarely get sick during school, because getting subs is a challenge, and when they do get sick, they feel guilty for staying home. When they have a break like the one we had a Christmas time, they get sick. Instead of spending their break refreshing and feeling like they’re on vacation, they deal with having a fever, feeling crummy, and eating soup. Some work during their breaks to learn new things and plan engaging activities that take more time so when they get back to school, they can do amazing things with their kids. The treadmill continues to quicken. People don’t want to talk about these things because they are not sunshine and rainbows. They are reality, and that reality is reflected in data showing extraordinary rates of attrition in the teaching profession, along with many other measurable factors illustrating that we have a problem. It’s hard to talk about a problem which has

A Month of Giving

November 30, 2016
In the early days of my work bringing maker education to North State schools, I received a huge boost of support and encouragement from the folks at Maker Education Initiative.  That support played a wonderful role in helping me to drive forward here.  Maker Ed’s passion and dedication to their mission of creating more opportunities for all young people to develop confidence, creativity, and interest in science, technology, engineering, math, arts and learning as a whole through making continues to support and inspire people like me all over the globe. We need incredible organizations like this and when we find them, I believe it’s important to not only ask what they can provide us, but also how we can support them. Support comes in many forms, from sending a note of thanks, to sharing messages on social media, to donations. I’m excited to announce that FDG is donating all of the proceeds from our t-shirt and mug sales to Maker Ed this December, in support of the outstanding work they do! So, shop your hearts out this December, give a gift to a friend or a teacher, and smile because you are also giving a gift to our friends at Maker Ed.  They’ve been hard at work adding new resources to their website, along with some other pretty cool stuff, so check them out today to see what you’re supporting when you buy a shirt. We’ll update this post at the end of the year so you can come back and see exactly how much you helped us to donate to this very worthwhile cause. Until then, may your holidays be extra special and filled with joy! P.S. there’s a sale starting tomorrow: 10% off everything Promotion (Dec 1st – Dec 5th // Code: CHRISTMAS16)

Guest Post – Kate Murray: To make, to fix, to tinker, is to actively resist and preserve

November 22, 2016
It is an honor to share with you a post written by a friend and maker movement champion, Kate Murray.  Kate is on a multi-continent trek with husband Alex, which began in Austin, Texas in August, 2o16.  Her journey has allowed her to take in and learn about makers all over the world, and from that perspective, she shares her thoughts here on diversity, cultural history, equity, and how, ultimately, we are all connected as one people who make things.   I am absolutely in love with her ability to tell rich and inspiring stories about the people she meets and hope this post is but one of many that we get to share with you here. On a tiny island off the eastern coast of Panama, an old woman named Oti sits fused into a couch. She is small and frail by all accounts, and disappears among the folds of fabric that are so accustomed to her presence. In front of her stands a TV whose display crackles with grey, behind her an array of colorful goods, and between her hands a creation she has been working on for eight months. In the detailed movements of her fingers, amidst needle and thread, all thoughts of feebleness dissipate – they are expert, skillful movements. My Spanish was poor as I asked her questions about her life and craft – the two of which are intimately intertwined. Despite my simple words, Oti communicated clearly about her process and her motivations for creating. Layers of fabric and intricate stitching take on various forms – headbands, patches, wall hangings, hot mittens, molas (blouses) – all depicting her various interpretations of the life that surrounds her. A bird represents the spirit of the human heart, an octopus the plenty of the sea and ability to provide. The intricate and colorful designs are all based on the patterns which the indigenous Guna Yala women used to paint on their bodies, before textiles arrived with the Spanish conquistadors in the early 1500s. That’s right – these beautiful, geometric designs sewn together in reverse application have been a part of the Guna traditions for over 500 years. Oti learned her craft and style from her grandmother – and her grandmother did the same. At 77, Oti is now teaching the very same techniques to her own grandchildren. The creations of all the Guna women and “algunos hombres” – some men – carry the stories, perspectives, and traditions of a people that have persevered through numerous attempts at subjugation… but who have prevailed independent time and time again. Oti is a maker, though she’s never heard the term. And she’s not the first or last to say so. Oftentimes the mindset around “making” as a culture seems unfamiliar to many true makers that I meet. “Maker” is a word strongly associated with high-tech gadgets and surrounded by proprietary information and limited access. The “maker culture” itself is, in fact, commonly considered a technology-focused branch of the DIY movement.
Leadership People


November 18, 2016
Grateful for moments where reflection and unfolding future collide in harmony! Hope this inspires and brings peace on this Friday before Thanksgiving break. Much love to you all out there! In our most passionate moments fighting for what we believe, it’s just as important to show compassion for those around us.  MLK knew this and it served him and the millions he served well. In looking to build a better tomorrow, remember that we are still living in today.  
Education Student voice

Five easy ways to increase engagement in your classroom

October 29, 2016
This post is one of many in an effort to make our work and our thinking more visible and accessible, so a larger more diverse group of teachers, kids and communities may benefit from our sharing. Hope you enjoy! In reflecting with some amazing teachers on what we did last year at one of the schools I support, we realized that something really remarkable happened – we sent an entire grade level of kids on with such a different set of skills that even the substitutes have noticed, saying things like, “I’ve never seen a group of kids like this before.” So how are they different? These students are more able to participate in discussions and group work; they are extremely confident and imaginative learners, able to tackle unfamiliar topics with ease, and they have great listening skills, which makes this group of children a joy to work with. As an added bonus, this group of kids also showed marked improvement in both English and math, so we’ve got hard numbers to back up what the teachers, school leaders and I suspected was going to be a very successful year. Looking ahead, we believe the skills they’ve cultivated with our support will also help them to achieve a higher level of satisfaction and success as adults, because this is exactly what the most innovative employers are looking for – people who are capable, creative and passionate. So what did the teachers and I do that generated such a positive outcome? We intentionally and consistently infused hands-on minds-on learning into their classrooms all year with rich, student centered activities (both high and low tech).  Activities like those offered in the Google Apps Edu suite, and no-tech activities like creating shadow puppet theatre productions.  After sitting down with the teachers to reflect on last year and plan for this year, here are five strategies we identified, which we all agree made magic happen for everyone: 1. Ask the kids. How many times have you encountered a situation where someone – a boss or teammate – suggested a plan for the whole team without including the ideas of the group? Or worse yet, they ask for your ideas and then choose to do something totally different that doesn’t resonate with you at all.  Chances are, if you’re a teacher, you’ve got some experience with this. The number one frustration I hear from teachers is that planning is done to them rather than with them. Planning with your students before you head into the next unit or lesson is a surefire way to get them fired up and ready to learn, because you are giving them opportunities to share their thoughts and feelings and including them in the decision making process. Implementing their ideas guarantees engagement from students, because it offers a way for them to approach learning with genuine interest and excitement. You’re also developing their skills in critical thinking, innovation, leadership and decision making as they are given opportunities to participate in the process that’s normally left to the adults. You’re helping your kids build maturity

New friends supporting the work

September 24, 2016
This post is a continuation of the one I wrote a while ago about my crazy big dream to fund epic volunteering efforts through the sale of fun t-shirts, mugs and other swag.  I have an overflowing bucket of ideas, but very little in the way of graphic design skills.  Luckily, I have amazing friends who are also very talented artistically, and with the support of true heroes for kids (Michelle Hickok and Heather Vine), we were able to launch this idea and it’s been going great!  People all over the country are rocking Michelle and Heather’s amazing designs, and because of that, I am able to grow our FDG Gives Back initiative.  Thus far, this initiative has brought custom furniture into makerspaces, and has made it possible for me to volunteer every Monday with the youth and staff in our local juvenile justice center. Today, I am excited to welcome another amazing human – and talented designer – onto the team of people seeking to change the world for kids: Michael Stone (@CoachStone12).  Michael is an experienced educator with a passion for teacher and leadership development. He currently serves as the Director of Innovative Learning for the Public Education Foundation in Chattanooga, TN, and is the Cofounder of devX PD, a national teacher and educational leadership professional development organization. Blending his technology prowess with a passion and talent for effectively educating students and adults, he has become a leader in instructional technology integration and innovative professional development. In July 2016, he concluded a one-year appointment as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, DC. Michael has taught an array of courses including calculus, graphic design, fablab integration, and computer science. In addition to being a hero for kids, and a superstar human, Michael has generously donated his time to design some shirts for our collection.  The quote for the design I’m writing about today came to me during a super fun conversation that took place on Twitter after I posted a photo of the Make robot (@Makemagazine) that one of the juvenile hall kids designed for printing on the Pancakebot (@thePancakeBot).  I posted this photo on Twitter in the hope that it would inspire people to see the kids differently, and also to share with the folks at Make about how their iconic robot logo had become a symbol of freedom for our community’s incarcerated youth.  Here’s a little snapshot of some of that conversation: Notice the second piece from the top: “Change hearts, change lives, change the world!”  Thanks Caleb Kraft (@calebkraft) , for the conversation that brought this to life! The power of that statement can be seen in what’s happening here in our community.  We are showing everyone what it looks like to see people in a different way – to bring more humanity to our work, and to ultimately change the world for some of our most vulnerable youth.  All too often, these kids believe they have no other choice but to live the life they have grown up in.

Designing for the future

August 31, 2016
For a while now, FDG has been creating and selling fun t-shirts, which help fund various volunteer and community building efforts such as working with staff and kids at the local juvenile detention facility on Mondays, custom furniture donations to school makerspaces and a variety of other philanthropic endeavors that are close to my heart. The design of the shirts has been made possible by some very talented and amazing local graphic artists, who believe in these causes and have generously offered their expertise and time to make it happen, namely, Heather Vine and Michelle Hickok – two over-the-moon heroes for kids and community.  Being extremely talented means these fantastic women are also in high demand for their time and skill, and it has allowed them to have their dream job, stay in their community and do good in the world. What if we were able to take this whole concept, and make it bigger, to support the dreams of more young people who aspire to have careers in design?  Today, as I was processing through my mental idea factory (it can be a very busy place in there sometimes), I realized that, in addition to helping fund FDG’s volunteer efforts, these shirts could also be used to help others launch successful careers in design.  The idea came from an amalgam of several posts and articles I read this morning related to helping others, sharing joy, and building community, along with my terrible lack of graphic design skill.  I have the ideas, but not the chops to bring them to life beautifully like Heather and Michelle H. can. So, here we go!  If you’re an aspiring designer and you’d like to help bring designs to life that will be used to fund philanthropic efforts related to kids and community, I’d love to hear from you!  It is in the lifting up of others that we will raise the water level for all. If you’re interested in knowing more, drop me a line at [email protected]!

Willing Suspension of Disbelief…In Education

August 24, 2016
Interesting phrase, isn’t it?  Unless you’re a fiction writer or a movie producer, chances are you haven’t heard this phrase before.  Willing suspension of disbelief is defined as a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment. I hadn’t heard this phrase until a couple of years ago when I came across author and TED speaker, Mac Barnett’s TED Talk: Why a good book is a secret door.  It was this TED Talk which inspired me to think differently about places of learning.  Why couldn’t they, too, serve as a secret door; to one’s own self, and a wide open universe of possibility?  As it turns out, they can. I used this concept to imagine and create the first free access makerspace in our region…and this crazy thing happened: it became a secret door to amazing learning experiences and community growth.  Being in the space causes a certain shift to happen, and while you’re there, you feel like anything is possible.  Anything.  Learning is different…joyful, intriguing, and energizing.  In that room, there’s an entirely new and untapped world of possibility. Several weeks ago, Deputy Probation Chief Mike Coley and I presented at the reMAKE Education Summit, put on by our amazing friends at the Sonoma County Office of Education.  We shared the nuts and bolts of how we created a makerspace in the Tehama County Juvenile Justice Center and while we were sharing, Mike said something that, until that moment, I was unaware of.  He said, “There are only three inches of concrete separating the makerspace from the rest of juvenile hall, and I’m not sure exactly how to explain it, but when we cross that threshold, everything is different, in a really good way.”  He went on to explain it further saying, “Once we’re in the makerspace, everyone recognizes this is a place to be inspired, creative, and collaborative.”  The students who spend time in there tell us that they don’t normally speak to each other much in the other areas of the facility, but they do in the makerspace.  In working on projects, they get to observe others’ work, and in the process, they realize they have more in common than they ever knew before.  One student said, “I like to draw, and I never realized how many other kids in here liked the same things until we were all doing them in the makerspace, together.” Mike adds a few more observations about what happens when kids and adults cross the threshold: Non-judgmental: One of the basic expectations of the makerspace is to be respectful.  This is often a difficult task with juveniles who are incarcerated. Non biased: In a juvenile hall, the youth often feel they have something to prove to each other, or even themselves.  These things dissipate. Desire to learn or just make: The kids have time to experiment with what they are capable of doing in an environment they are comfortable in. Connection with peers or other adults: The makerspace provides an environment that fosters

Education’s Three Forks in the Road

August 11, 2016
We are excited to announce that the book is just about to launch!  As we do our final polish over the next two days – yes, that’s right, TWO days away – we thought you’d enjoy the excerpt below, from the 180 days of lessons and activities chapter. There are three forks in the road… One is the fork you travel because you have to, because someone in charge tells you that is the fork you take. The second is the fork you take because someone in charge tells you it is good for you, and you want to do “what is good for you.” Most kids in school today travel on one of the first two forks in the road.  If they can’t find a way to fit in there, sadly, many leave the road all together, only to find more challenges and struggles.  Maker education offers all kids a third fork in the road.  A choice that brings the full glory of meaningful learning into focus for every single child, regardless of ability, social background, gender or ethnicity. The third is the fork you take because you are curious, or it is your passion, and you are personally and intrinsically motivated to travel that path, seeking out discovery.  Discovery of yourself.  Discovery of the world around you.  Discovery of your passions and talents and how to turn those things into a future. There is a huge difference between forcing students to show up to school, do their homework, learn the things they’ll be tested on, and creating an environment conducive of allowing students to find their own motivation for learning.  It’s time to make the third fork in the road available and accessible to all through maker education. Daniel Pink talks about this in his book DRIVE, Sir Ken Robinson touches on it in his book The Element, Simon Sinek talks about it in his book Start with Why as well as his TED Talk: How Great Leaders Inspire Action.  Seth Godin talks about it, in essence, in all of his work. The activities, structure, and processes in 180 Days of Making are all about allowing students to see their own personal third fork in the road and empowering them to walk it.

Innovative Volunteerism

August 7, 2016
Wow, I can’t believe it’s already been almost a year and a half since we founded Future Development Group!  Time really does fly when you love what you do.  I know it’s been a while since I’ve published a post here, as all of my writing energy has gone into finishing the book, which will be out this month – YAY! (More on that later)  I’ve missed writing on this platform and am excited to be back at it now. Today’s post is all about finding ways to defy the odds and do what you love, in spite of obstacles, reality and other pesky challenges.  This is one of those moments where I am especially fond of one of Adam Savage’s favorite things to say: “I reject your reality and replace it with my own.”  I recently listened to an interview with Simon Sinek on London Real which inspired me to think even deeper about my work and how I can create a model of service that, although dependent on having an income to continue, does not have to have profit as the focus.  One of the things Sinek mentions during the interview is the fact that over 90% of small businesses fail in the first three years.  That’s a scary thought.  But not one to keep folks like me from going head first into it, because my burning desire to create positive change for kids, community and the world around me far outweighs any fear of failure I have.  And, lucky for us, we are half way through that first three years now and the future is bright! One of the things that startups have to keep a keen eye on is: are we in the black?  Many times, that puts profit in sharp focus, because small businesses need to stay in the black to keep the doors open.  With FDG, much of the work is in consulting, so the old saying that time is money is very real here.  But what about making time to serve, to volunteer, and to be generous?  These things are very important to us, and as such, they are written right into the core values of our company, which are: Building synchronous connections between education and industry is critical. At the end of the day, it’s all about people.  Treat them well. We are passionate about community and believe in giving back (check it out). We are bold, socially minded and live to make the world a better place. We believe in being joyful, courageous and fun. There is a lot of work to be done out there to bring our vision to life, and much of it is done through volunteering and giving back.  To fund growth and expansion in our volunteer efforts, we’ve launched a shop on Spread Shirt, selling super fun t-shirts and accessories.  It’s a win-win-win kind of deal.  Selling these items allows us to: Volunteer, mentor struggling kids, and give back to the community Offer you cool swag (designed by famous graphic artists like Heather Vine, who recently created all of the
Education Education reform Leadership

What we do today directly relates to how our students will shape tomorrow

July 6, 2016
If someone were to ask you why you teach, or why you are in education, what would your answer be? A couple of years ago, I was sitting on a bus loaded with kids on our way to the Hands On Science Lab at CSU Chico. I found myself with a little time and the need to occupy my brain.  TED Talks seemed like a good place to start and so I browsed around for something engaging.  I found this segment, presented by Simon Sinek about inspiring action and it started a train of thought that is still churning away to this day.  Sinek’s model, the golden circle, all starts with the question “Why?”  His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers and he talks about what they did that allowed them to change the world.  It all started with their ability to express what they believed and why they believed it. So, why are we in education? For me, it means that I get to be a part of something much larger than myself.  Something that sits right smack at the top of the importance scale.  You’ve heard it many times… our kids are our future, they are our greatest resource.  They are the leaders, the innovators and the creators of tomorrow.  My work is all about giving them what they need today so that they canshape tomorrow. For those of us who serve in education, the work is deep and meaningful and so very important.  It’s about more than just proficiency, numbers and goals.  It’s about giving our young people the tools they need to make the world a better place.  We have the opportunity to help them learn and grow and become the leaders of tomorrow.  It starts with what we do today.