Mike Rowe: “What if I am completely wrong?”

After a long hiatus from this blog, I have decided, once again, to reinvigorate my efforts and bring the musings generally confined to my brain to life in form of words. I find this activity very helpful in framing my perspectives and how I want to proceed in my professional activities. I hope you find my thoughts engaging and helpful in your development not only as a professional, but also as a human. I do realize the enormity of what I just tasked myself in the last statement. Well…who cares…reach for the stars…why not!

I am ashamed that the 2008 TED video above has just come to my attention. As a long time follower of the TED series and Mike Rowe, I find this talk one of the seminal pieces of thought that I have stumbled upon. After I watched this video, I found myself saying time and time again, “What if I got it wrong? What if my perceptions of the current situation are completely misinformed? What if I am more wrong now than I ever have been? What if I am a living example of peripeteia? What if I am supposed to travel down the road that no one else is going?”

The underlying message to be internalized is that anyone and I mean anyone can enlighten you at any point and any day of your life to another peripeteia. More importantly, it doesn’t have to be individuals riddled with advanced degrees, letters of all varieties after their name, or an organizationally important title on their business card. It literally can be the man or woman picking up your trash, pouring your coffee, fertilizing you lawn, building the interstate, or even one of your parents who may have never earned a single day’s pay check at any point in their life. It doesn’t matter the source, it is all about the opportunity to learn from an experience.

As a person who regularly travels across the country meeting people from all walks of life, dropped into different situations daily, and is consistently confronted with opposing viewpoints, I need to reframe my assumptions, stereotypes, and conclusions as the norm and not the exception. I have found myself valuing the stranger on the plane telling a story sitting in the seat next to me, the custodian who greats me at the door of my next school, or the random, but so inspiring story of the tradesperson who enters my house to fix a broken appliance. In the spirit of Rowe’s story, I ask myself do I welcome these stories like I should? Do I truly internalize and bring meaning to them like I should?

I am not suggesting that my or even your day be about engaging in random conversations that keep all productivity from existing. Teachers are often confronted with this exact paradigm in the form of the “teachable moment”. If you are unaware of that term, it is the moment where the lesson plan gets tossed and the curiosity of the students to take a specific learning direction is prioritized. This is a resulting activity that happens in only highly functioning classrooms. I say this because the teachable moment happens only when students are intrigued enough to ask a leading question and when the teacher is aware enough to let the learning happen at all costs regardless of the intended “plan”. It is the confidence to know that deviations from the intended plan can be the best moments ever for a student. It is the confidence to know that what we know to be correct at this very second should live just that long…one second. It is the confidence that we should never consider the moments presented to us in life as finite or closed to an opportunity to grow in thought. It is the confidence to prioritize the desire to learn over the content or source.

Steve Jobs said that good artists borrow and that great artists steal without guilt. Mike Rowe stated in his above talk that “innovation without imitation is a complete waste of time”. How can we as professionals afford to limit our potential inputs? How can we if we limit where information or inspiration may originate? Do we seek out the conversation or the person? Do we travel by many in our life who could be the most authentic source simply because we have stereotyped or been misinformed?

I am committing to asking these questions to myself at every point I can and at any point I feel my mind closing and my stubbornness taking precedence. I will assume I am getting it wrong until I have been proven correct. I will seek value out of all interactions until proven differently.

Thank you, Mike Rowe for the reinvigoration of what ALL people can provide our society…a new, more informed perspective.

Knowing When To Look To The Past

Lehigh Valley Italian American BandThis past weekend I had the good fortune of participating in a long held tradition, the Big Time Festival, in a small, predominantly Italian borough called Roseto located in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains in Northeast Pennsylvania. No one would argue that this borough is a slice of yesteryear with the residents holding onto their strong cultural values many of which come from what is passionately termed the “old country”. In fact, the procession filled with music and staunch Catholics that I participated in was one of those exact examples brought over from Italy. There is no mistaken the origins of this group or the values that they prioritize. It radiates from their every action.

This event also reminds me of my grandfather’s advice. He would say that we are first Americans and second Italians. He would elaborate on that statement indicating that we should respect, honor, treasure, and understand our ancestors’ values, but ultimately recognize that our focus should constantly be on becoming the best Americans possible. In other words, know your roots and core influences while keeping a clear perspective regarding what is best for our society moving forward as Americans.

I know what many reading this are thinking. How does this relate to the integration of technology into the instruction process?…the core subject matter of this blog? I believe it has everything to do with how we should approach the educational process and more importantly how we should move forward with new initiatives including technological integrations. Too often as teachers, administrators, and influential stakeholders, we forget about our core values or responsibilities relying on the newest and most trendy “fix” to inspire productive movement. We become complacent with remembering that being a great educator transcends a tool, new idea, or revolution.

Not that I am that old, but I do remember days in classrooms when the most exciting piece of technology was the film strip projector that advanced automatically (well most of the time at best) after the accompanying soundtrack let out a loud “beeeep”. It was overtly obvious that this tool was not going to spawn some magical education for us as students. Today, it is not that easy to separate all the contributing components of the instructional process or design. The piece that truly brings instructional to a new level of potential. What is most important is to constantly recognize that the nucleus and most differentiating component is the teacher. Great teachers existed before modern technology using the same concepts, methodologies, and techniques that still apply today. The theories and methodologies may carry different names, spins, or perspectives, but semantically, the basic reasons for instructional success are the same. How and what we do each day may look different dressed up with an iPad, Chromebook, or the like, but at the very center of our activity should be that historical respect for the iconic “teacher” and their most effective attributes.

I challenge you to think of three teachers that you found to be inspirational in your educational path. List the characteristics that you found to be the reason for the inspiration. It’s my prediction that you will not only find many commonalities, but also that those teachers were the ones that remained true to the core philosophies of their successful predecessors.

With this perspective in hand,

  • tools remain tools and not substitutes for appropriate instructional practice or design
  • instructional effectiveness remains the ultimate focus and metric of achievement
  • teaching remains an art form that relies on creativity versus a suggested formula for success

…and most importantly, a great modern teacher will most likely share more similarities than differences when compared to a great teacher from the turn of the century. Effective teaching transcends the test of time and then newest trend.

Spend the remaining weeks of summer focused on improving your great teaching and not locating the best promise of instructional bliss. Focus on your core philosophies, methodologies, and techniques and see if every effort you make in your classroom alines. You may be surprised as to the results and how effective you will become at moving students into the success column.

Finally, Someone Agrees With Me!

CheatingWhy Schools Should Relax About Cheating

Finally, someone publicly reframes what has been typically labeled cheating. I have been making the contention for years that empowering your resources is a higher level skill set and therefore more impressive than being able vomit an answer from memory. This is a great complimentary article to my earlier post regarding what employers want from employees. They want someone who can find solutions, answers, and be autonomous within their environment! Great point to start a discussion about antiquated education practice.

What Employers Want From Employees: Value

nytLast week I read the New York Times article, How to Get a Job. My first reaction was that it was “spot on.” My second reaction was “do I add value?” My third reaction was “what is really broken in our society?”

Two important statements sum up the entire thought process.

“It is best summed up by the mantra from the Harvard education expert Tony Wagner that the world doesn’t care anymore what you know; all it cares “is what you can do with what you know.””

and

They [employers] just want to know one thing: Can you add value?

I can remember exactly where I was when I took the “list all 50 states and their capitols” test in second grade. It was at Tracey Elementary School outside of Tatamy, PA in the afternoon on a very hot day. I sweat for hours before that test hoping that I would remember at least a fair amount of them. I also remember memorizing geography map after map labeling countries, states, and the like. I would spend hours memorizing formulas in algebra, chemistry, and biology. When I was able to remember these facts…I was deemed smart. If not, my grade would reflect my perceived efforts.

Is vomiting facts what we consider intelligence today? Is that what 21st century skill sets are all about? Is that what the Common Core State Standards initiative identifies as its goal? Is any job today successfully accomplished by simply memorizing a series of facts? Every sentence can be answered with “NO”. Today’s knowledge workers need to be able to effectively communicate, think creatively, collaborate, and think critically with no exceptions in order to be successful now and in the future. Employers are speaking out and this time they are spot on! They need employees who, on a daily basis, add value to knowledge pool. They also need people who can take that knowledge and apply it on actionable items.

These questions remain. Are we giving our students employable skill sets? Are students getting a return on their bloated college debt? Is education resting on long held traditions that do not meet the needs of the modern job market? Could the educational institutions currently in place be that broken?

As always…my perspectives and mine alone.

Did Google Propose Marriage To Education?

googleioGoogle has not been a stranger to the education sector. Google Apps for Education has been around for years and many educational organizations, K12 and high ed alike, have drank the Kool-Aid. As one who has worked in the field of public education for almost 15 years, Google’s way of live was always a strong contender, but never a complete solution. There was always the…apps are limited in functionality…files are stored where?…how does this fit with FERPA regulations?…how do we transfer all our files?…what do you do fo a video solution?…you mean I have to create an account for all my students AND teachers?… The questions were seemingly endless and as with many of Google’s solutions, where not all that elegant.

The result was that many avoided Google’s attempt at fully penetrating the education market. You could liken it to a dating couple. IT administrators and power users within schools many times used Google’s tools, but only as an add-on. They were never the goto solution or backbone suite of applications. Schools were willing to “hang out at a movie” with Google, but were never willing to make a full commitment. Marriage was just too much of a risk.

Google’s I/O 2013 keynote flirted with a marriage proposal to education. They touted statistics for Google Apps like

  • 25 million users in over 200 countries
  • 74 out of 100 of the top universities are using Google Apps For Education
  • 7 out of the 8 Ivy League universities are using GAFE

My reaction to every company that throws out usage numbers is so what. Convince me that I should care. Are really trying to peer pressure me into your world. I am not in middle school where “Come on…everyone else is doing it” is an aceptable argument. Unfortunately, the world of public education is highly peer influence and does care immensely about the school down the street. We also have been conditioned to read research and on a minutes notice quote seminal studies like an evangelist quoting lines from the Bible. We have been made to believe that if the district with large amounts of success is using “X” then we should use “X” and all bliss will follow for us as well. The ultimate truth with educational technology is exactly what Chris Yerga said during his presentation.

“…When I go visit my kid’s classroom, it looks pretty much exactly like it did when I went to school…”

Yerga also quoted teachers who said:

“…Teachers told us that in education there is a huge gap between what’s possible with technology and what’s practical, especially with mobile technology…”

Semantically, education has changed. At its core, it has not. Google definitely wants a role in evolving educational practice. They have put the proposal on the table not only in words, but also in product. What did they reveal? For starters, Google Play for Education. This will be a game changer in app acquisition and deployment. Anyone who has completed a VPP purchase from Apple and the App Store will identify with this much more palatable process. They have also indicated a serious attempt to merge both Chrome and Android Apps. Because Google has invested in software and not hardware, the hardware options are plentiful and most importantly economical. The management piece has always been a feature, but Yerga emphasized a true “out-of-the-box”, plug-n-play scenario for tech directors. What no Summer re-imaging?

There are so many other smaller facets to Google’s proposal to education. I may have begun to sip the Kool-Aid. I may even feel a little pressured. That said, logic is a strong influence on me and Google is making very good sense now. Will they ultimately deliver? I and many IT directors hope so.`

Adobe Captivate

Screen Shot 2013-04-13 at 9.35.30 PMI will start this post by saying that I am not generally a fan of Adobe. They DO make great industry standard products, but in a wrapper of annoyances. Their software updater is absolutely that door to door salesman that will not quit, the interfaces are less than productive, the applications are resource intense and hog all power out of any system…the list goes on and on. I just find the modern trends of “less is more” a very positive move in the software space. Adobe seems to find ways to simply create software that everyone needs, but hates to use.

That all said, I had the opportunity to explore Adobe’s Captivate 6 software this weekend. I must say WOW! This is a product that I have been wanting to look at for some time and never had the need or time to really engage. I am very sorry that I did not do this earlier and would suggest anyone in the eLearning space to look seriously at its potential applications. It is a capable tool that truly makes the chore of tutorial development more efficient.

Common Core State Standards Initiative and Social Media

Say what you would like about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative…It’s the Federal government messing with decisions that should be made at the state/local level…or…What does everyone else know about MY students?…or…Another unfunded mandate that will have very little effect on students….or on the other side…Is it awesome that the Nation is finally working together on a consistent set of educational expectations…etc. This post was not intended to stir emotions or perspectives on the movement. What I intend to conjure up in your mind how this commonality between 46 states will be influenced by social media.

If you have not dove into the world of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, edmodo, or [insert the newest member here], then you may be missing some of the most collaborative environments available to educational professionals. Yes, believe it or not, many people are using these services for more than sharing pictures of their dinner, showing a friend getting kicked in a very sensitive area, or wishing a friend they haven’t actually seen in 30 years a happy birthday. Teachers, administrators, educational professionals in general, and stakeholders from all surrounding entities within school communities are engaging in conversations intended to foster innovation, the development of the community brain, and a sense of professional commitment to improvement. If you have not experienced this information overload, then go ahead now and see what you have been missing. It’s a virtual world worth exposing your brain to. I would not be the professional today without social media and the free flow of information that it provides.

How is this a complementary piece to the CCSS? Let’s just say that with the mass adoption of these expectations across a huge audience, it begins conversations between professionals much more easily. Think about it. I’m making lesson plans for the following day, it’s late, and I’m drawing an instructional blank about how to accomplish a certain task. Enter social media and the power of the community brain. In a very short time, there will be thousands of people ready and waiting to lend a helping hand with advice and resources.This will be especially true for the thousands who are in remote locations that don’t always have the opportunities to attend conferences, collaborate with more than their inner circle of daily contacts, or find like minded individuals to express their thoughts. A common cause or task equals a large army of people ready to tackle cause.

It is really as simple as that. CCSS equals a common focus, task, and overwhelmingly large community brain to foster innovations and solutions that are challenging modern education. It may be that the negatives of a common set of standards truly do overshadow the positives, but this is definitely one positive to be identified and celebrated.

TED: Don Tapscott

Don Tapscott is a notable author and speaker on the influence of the Internet revolution. In other words, he discusses concepts like Web 2.0, Web 3.0 or the semantic web, and (this phrase just makes me cringe at the very thought of having to type it) digital natives and immigrants. I cannot believe how much those words have been abused and turned into excuses for ignorance. I will leave that rant for another day and post. That said, Tapscott has several published books on theses topics and has, at the very least, brought these ideas to the general masses. He has brought the Internet’s influence to center stage. I have to say that I am not overly fond or in agreement of his general assertions, but this TED video is absolutely spot on. In the wake of the Apple vs. Samsung calamity…you know the recent court case that will not ever help the consumer’s pocket or any company that even attempts to be innovative…, I cannot imagine a more appropriate attitude for our modern corporations to adopt. Tapscott explains the four principles of openness which are

  1. collaboration
  2. transparency
  3. sharing
  4. empowerment

A few phrases also stood out to me. I won’t comment on them specifically other than to note that they made me think. They where:

“Age of networked intelligence”

“There’s leadership, but no one leader”

“Humanity is building a machine”

“Understanding the new power of the commons”

What inspires you about his contentions? What got you thinking? Here’s the link to the Tapscott’s TED talk. Let’s start a conversation here!

iRecorder Update

A few months back, I referenced a great iOS app iRecorder Pro. I cannot say enough about this app. It records for hours without a hitch even when the device goes to sleep allowing for great battery life. I have had staff members record meetings for up to five hours and not have issues. It records in .m4a formats and does it economically with regards to both data size and quality.

The people at SimpleTouch Software made this app even better. The app will automatically “chunck” longer recordings for emailing so that it will meet the data caps imposed by most email servers. They added an audio meter during recording to ensure you are not peeking. The app will now employ integration into the stock media controls on the device…meaning that you can see transport controls in the lock screen. The developers have even improved the recording quality. Don’t forget the original features as well. The app has a simple interface, web server feature for easy transfer of files, will sync with iTunes if you want to, and great noise rejection.

The verdict: If you need an audio recording app that is a goto and does what it should time and time again, this is the one to get even at the price of $2.99. You may see nicer, more full featured apps that look like a pro audio solution, but why waste the effort or extra money.  For the classroom, it doesn’t get more reliable.

Improvisational Leadership? Yes!

20120901-084857.jpg

I recently read an article, If Miles Davis Taught Your Office To Improvise on Fast Company. This article was excerpted from the book Yes To The Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons From Jazz by Frank J. Barrett. Now that I have the attributions taken care of, I can move to why I found this article or general thought process interesting.

Anyone who has been around my life for more than a split second knows that a fair amount of what I do revolves around music. In fact, my undergraduate degree is from Temple University in music education and jazz performance. I have also spent fourteen years in public education as a teacher, technology coordinator, and until recently technology administrator leading the charge for not only great instructional practice, but, in addition, technological innovation. In other words, I can speak with some authority on the comparison between great organizational leadership (especially in education) and jazz. With that stated, Barrett does identify some key points of intersection between what great jazz musicians and great leaders accomplish on a daily basis.

What are these accomplishments? Let’s start first with the general idea of improvisation. Improvisation in jazz is NOT the art of just making it up with whatever inspiration you have at the moment. It is NOT the ultimate freedom to put just any notes into the musical second. If that was the case, we would have, well, pretty poor music by anyone’s standards. It turns out that we as listeners are pretty particular about what we like to hear. Make no doubt about it, people want to hear certain very predictable tone colors, harmonies, and melodies. When it comes down to it, improvisation is the art of creativity within a complex framework. The key word here is complex. The framework was and will never be a random or haphazardly thrown together set of rules. It is a representation of a long tradition of great musicians and their innovative developments. Jazz just didn’t happen one day or from one source. It is the confluence of many, many greats such as Miles Davis as Barrett concludes. Musicians who practice the craft today do the same. They innovate within the accepted norms of the jazz framework. It is important to realize that there is a lineage here. It isn’t crazy diversions that are celebrated. Prominent jazz musicians of today respect the art form’s traditions and enhance with their own personalities and creativity. What is celebrated and honored is the creative integration of both innovation and tradition.

Here’s the first common characteristic. There is no doubt that the job of a leader happens within a very intricate organizational culture, series of expected “rules”/policies, and in a way that accounts for the entire system of activity…the framework. When great leaders improvise, they may reach for the wild innovations, but need to also massage them within the rules of the framework. The very art of improvising. When they forget the framework, leaders run the risk of disrespecting the organization and its cultural existence. Yes, some organizations may need reform, change, or even total makeovers, but that does not mean that the past activities and culture that have been created should be thrown away in one giant flush. It should be a gradual movement over time. Think about this with respect to music in general. The Beatles were at first rejected for their inappropriate sounds. Jazz was devils music. The list goes on and on. No one at first liked their music. We became to appreciate and enjoy over time. A leader can be absolutely correct in their innovative actions, but if it is too far away from what is accepted by the organizational culture, then it will be rejected at first as “noise.” Leadership ahead of its time. There must be a productive movement that first starts with the appreciation of change. This concept leads to Barrett’s central theme.

Barrett’s most basic claim is to break away from the groove of everyday decisions. He wants leaders to forge new grounds. Barrett wants leaders to consistently look to innovation and creative thought processes that will drive success. Barrett’s choice of Miles Davis was spot on. Miles was absolutely the epitome of “cracking the nut” of innovation both at the musical second during a performance and over his lifetime. It seems that every new decade he was alive, he sought and perfected a new musical genre drawn from the foundation traditions of jazz for all to follow. He did this not only because he was a superb musician himself, but because he surrounded himself with what Steve Jobs called “team A” players. People that were just as able to disrupt traditions in ways that were overtly respectful to the creators and yet amazingly visionary. Miles knew who would inspire himself, who would fit together, and who would be better together than apart. Great leaders do this as well. They understand the need to break out of the mundane norms of the moment and seek out individuals who can thrive in these environments.

This is all well and good on the surface. These are the obvious conclusions that can be drawn. Miles took this to new level because he placed an importance on the artform itself. The art of creativity, innovation, and composition was of utmost importance. Why do I say this? In your spare time, head to YouTube and search for any of Miles’ videos. Now tell me that you hear a great virtuoso trumpet performance in the traditions of such greats like Wynton Marsalis, Louie Armstrong, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, etc. Miles, although an awesome musician, has never been known because of his clean tone, fast fingers, or flawless execution. What? Is that possible? Then why was he so appreciated?

Miles understood how to take the good, the bad, and, yes, the ugly and sculpt it into something absolutely creative. He did it relentlessly. He did it instinctively. He knew what he had to work with and made everyone fall in love with it. Like Steve Jobs, he did not win over the hearts of his fans by his ultra smooth personality. Miles was at best rough and absurdly up front in his communications. He attracted the best musicians because he was the Apple of the jazz world. The force with a singular focus of producing the best and most innovative music. The most impressive element of his music was that he took what was considered by well trained musician (especially trumpet players) as poor performance techniques and made the audience fall in love with them. The audience seemed to not care that a note exploded, cracked, or splatted. In fact, they celebrated it as uniquely Miles’ style. Great leaders now why they exist. They know the purpose behind there daily actions. They make people wantto follow at all costs.

Jazz and leadership. Who would have thought?

There are so many more comparisons that can be drown between the complex art form of jazz and successful leaders…to many for this singular post. I guess that means more content to follow. Stay tuned!