Monday, December 16, 2013

A need for an uncommon standard

What exactly is a standard? Often defined as any norm, convention, or requirement...but who defines the norm, convention, or requirement? or decides which standard in which field is most important?Society? Government? Need? How much thought actually gets put into it or do we do what we've done just at a higher level?

Recently I attended a few Holiday events (socially) and couldn't help but relate these experiences with my passion - learning a.k.a. "education". In my profession, there is an enormous amount of pressure and energy being applied to raise the "standards" and ensure that all children achieve this standard, as defined by the Common Core - and State Assessments (only currently in Language Arts and Mathematics, and sometimes Science)...

Back to my event epiphany, how dull would the events (or life for that matter) have been (and they weren't because the people there have a wide variety of ideas, skills, and proficiencies), if all of those attending were exactly the same? Same level of proficiency in writing, mathematics, everything - all standard. My feeling is it wouldn't have been interesting at all. Nor is it possible. We can't be all things to everything. Example, in my own life, I LOVE to play the guitar and sing - my wife and kids would tell you they wish I didn't...if I was told I had to be at the same level as the Avett Brothers (a great band in my opinion) I would not measure up...ever...despite the many remedial classes I would forced to attend. And while trying to be something I'm not, I would fall behind in the areas I excel. The truth is, there are people who are better than you at certain things. My belief is you are better at other things than they are. The point, what if instead of standardizing everything, we just let children and people develop their passions to the point of exceptional? Expose them to all subjects imaginable, provide them with resources and support and just see what happens...poof your mind just exploded right? I know, it is hard for me too - to imagine a system that is different than the one I was "educated" in...but I think we owe it to our students to try.

In life, and my little social life events, there are people who have a trade and work with their own hands everyday to make something - or make something better, those who are medical doctors, those who are in charge of leading others to accomplish a single mission, those who create the soundtracks to our lives, writers, and my favorite - those that spend their day helping children realize they are wonderful even if they haven't quite hit the standard (YET) - they help them learn about themselves and what they are exceptional in. Perhaps it is ok to have a standard for each discipline but maybe a bit silly to expect every child to achieve the same standard at the exact same time in their learning life. Learning is not linear.

Final thought, what if those who make the standards all decided to measure you - not based on what you have decided is your life's work, but instead in some other thing that they feel is in your best interest. Would you (or I) measure up? Not if we all had to be world class guitar vocalists!

Happy Holidays-

Food for thought!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Teacher Leaders!

Well done. Teacher led, building lead! So much more powerful than Top Down - I can feel the ownership..(Essentially, this is one of the elementary schools in MPS (RMBACON) going out and getting free materials for a year to try out - after a year of implementation, they obviously love it as evidenced by their putting together this video for a briefing (that was snowed out). 

Our challenge and opportunity is to make the budget work- Good job RM

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Lets Rethink School Together!


Wisconsin Connection Student Podcast RM Bacon/MPS

Here is the recorded podcast from Joe Sanfelippo's NJ visit to our District. Kids are awesome!!!! They researched the guests background via our digital footprints prior to our arrival - the questions they chose to ask still leave me impressed (and laughing).

So glad for my connection with great people like Joe-

Thank you,

Humbly - One Connected Educator

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wisconsin & New Jersey ; Connected Supers

In preparation for a visitor to MPS - Joe Sanfelippo from Wisconsin - I thought I'd post some fun facts about Wisconsin. I have listed my top 22 facts below. But before reading them, I want to share my excitement for meeting Joe Sanfelippo. I met him through my professional learning network of connected educators. He and I have Tweeted, Blogged, Hung out through GOOGLE, spoken on the phone and messaged each other - and at last, our bodies will meet our brains. That is the cool part of this new age of connectedness, we can learn from and with people across the world, and if lucky, eventually introduce the rest of ourselves to each other in person. Joe is a superintendent in Wisconsin and a cool guy. I am certain MPS will give him a warm welcome. Check him out at:

  1. Wisconsin visitors and residents enjoy the state's 7,446 streams and rivers. End-to-end they'd stretch 26,767 miles. That is more than enough to circle the globe at the equator.
  2. Devil's Lake was established in 1911. The facility has become one of Wisconsin's oldest and most famous state parks. It leads the state parks in attendance.
  3. The House on the Rock was designed and built in the early 1940s. It is considered an architectural marvel and is perched on a 60-foot chimney of rock. The 14-room house is now a complex of rooms, streets, buildings, and gardens covering over 200 acres. The Infinity Room contains 3,264 windows.
  4. The state is nicknamed the Badger State.
  5. The first practical typewriter was designed in Milwaukee in 1867.
  6. Wausau is the Ginseng Capital of the World.
  7. Noah's Ark in Wisconsin Dells is the nation's largest water-themed park.
  8. Potosi is the Catfish Capital of the state.
  9. The nation's first kindergarten was established in Watertown in 1856. Its first students were local German-speaking youngsters.
  10. Wisconsin is the dairy capital of the United States.
  11. The original Barbie is from Willows. Barbie's full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts.
  12. Bloomer is the Jump Rope Capital of the World.
  13. Milwaukee is home of Harley Davidson Motorcycles.
  14. The first Ringling Brothers Circus was staged in Baraboo in 1884.
  15. Green Bay is Wisconsin's oldest city.
  16. Two Rivers is the home of the ice cream sundae.
  17. The Hamburger hall of fame is located in Seymour.
  18. Monroe is the Swiss Cheese Capital of the World.
  19. Mercer is the Loon Capital of the World.
  20. Mount Horeb's internationally known Mustard Museum holds the world's largest mustard collection. The museum contains more than 2,300 varieties of mustard. The museum celebrates National Mustard Day each August.
  21. Joe Sanfelippo is a school superintendent 
  22. Green Bay is the Toilet Paper Capital of the World.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

SGO's Explained by our MPS "Local Expert"

Looking for SGO's explained simply and concise? Check out MPS's Steve Price/District Supervisor

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Leadership Lessons from Gettysburg

During this year's NJSBA Conference in Atlantic City, one presentation stood out for me. Dr. McGough presented "Leadership Under Fire; Lessons from the Battle of Gettysburg". Aside from being a great presenter with the right balance of visuals to support his presentation, he is a natural storyteller. It was clear he knows his history - and leadership. If you ever see his name on a list of presenters go listen, I will not do his lecture justice here but I will try.

In summary:

For those of us who aren't history buffs, Gettysburg was the critical battle in the Civil War. It lasted approximately three days and in those three days, more than 50,000 men lost their lives. The battle took place in the middle of the civil war and was the result of the second attempted invasion by he confederate army. It was the only major battle on Union soil. Dr. McGough used a McDonald's reference to put into context just how many men were involved in this three day conflict - if you took both sides to McDonalds for lunch, there would be 165,000 of them to feed. 10 tons of hamburger and a whopping cost of $525,000 in today's terms. The spent artillery shells could be melted down to create 46 school buses or 3 Boeing 747's.

One day 1- the confederate army gained the upper hand but even in their day defeat the Union army made the most of their loss by gaining the high ground. Day 2 was a draw, and Day 3 the Union army had the confederates. Dr. McGough was able to use reference to the Generals and Commanders to highlight the list below. How they used these 10 or failed to, and the outcome. Abraham Lincoln, and the Union leaders were example of the 10 and therefore victorious.

Also, as Dr. McGough was quick to point out, I (he) am not picking sides as to who was right or wrong in this War but rather attempting to learn from their commitment to what they believed was right at the time and were willing to die for.

Ten Lessons from the Battle of Gettysburg:

1. Great leaders know the end goal and at all costs pursue it. They disregard personal gain or personal pain. They stick to the end goal.

2. Great leaders attract other strong leaders and they have the power of influence (personal magnetism)- and yes, there are always exceptions to this one.

3. Great leaders make the most of the resources available and never focus on what they don't have.

4. Great leaders demonstrate a force of character and are guided by a strong moral compass - they do what is right because it is right.

5. Great leaders determine and prioritize actions based on data, probability, and organizational risk-reward calculations.

6. Great leaders see the 'Big Picture' and understand their role in it and everyone else's role in it.

7. Great leaders can offer and accept the truth without regard to their power.

8. Great leaders know that rank and title may afford opportunities but it takes effort and performance to produce desired outcomes.

9. Great leaders know what comes next and they are prepared to act accordingly. Never thinking of the checker piece in their hand but the move to come.

10. The best leaders understand and appreciate and use the power of their words carefully.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cultivating Dreams Together

Cultivating Dreams Together

First, welcome everyone! And I do mean everyone!!
1. Custodial, grounds, and maintenance staff
2. Secretarial and administrative assistants
3. Administration
4. Instructional staff, assistants, security guards, cafeteria staff...
5. Board Members, civic leaders...

Give yourselves a round of applause! I believe strongly that this symbolic gathering is a great new tradition. Starting the School Year off together – with everyone – serves as an important reminder that we are in the business of Dream Cultivation together. Every single one of you plays a role in our children’s lives. A smile here, a high five there, regardless of whether you are a classroom teacher or the building custodian – you have an impact on the lives of our kids! Your personal attitude contributes to the climate of our District. Whether your contribution is positive or negative is entirely up to you.

Why did I want each and every single one of you here again this morning? Its quite simple- MPS is on a journey, our journey is to be the very best school district we can be. You have heard our Vision, which is to create a world-class school district involving all stakeholders where every child can learn. Well, we can’t accomplish that with involving all stakeholders- and that is you. Whatever your role, you are of critical importance to our being world-class or not. If you are not successful, we are not going to be successful. When you come into contact with our customers, our students and/or parents, or they visit one of our facilities they leave with an impression. That impression shapes their belief as to what kind of school district we are. You are here, because you are too important to leave out. You will never be left out again! I get questioned, “you really want me there?” to which I answer “yes, I really want you there”. For a few hours, we are all putting the important work aside, stopping the paper work, stopping every function of the District – to come together here, to remind ourselves that we only are employed because of the students that depend on us. From the Accounting and business offices to registration and transportation, to curriculum and instruction, to special services, to maintenance and custodial, to security and cafeteria workers, child study team members and to anyone I neglected to mention – we are all here for kids. And we can’t ever forget it.

As we begin a New School Year, I want each of you to continue to search within yourself to define “what does world class performance look like for me? Am I truly a world class employee?” I want you take responsibility for what you do and anywhere you feel you may fall short, think of it as “an opportunity for excellence” I know I can’t do this alone, frankly, there is nothing special about me (except in the eyes of my family) – but together with all of you – I have faith…we will become world class.

This year, we are asked to implement a Common Core, our students our assessed by the State mandated assessments. In the eyes of too many, our students’ value, as well as ours, is yet again going to be measured by this one measuring stick. The machine continues to label school districts like ours as FAILURES, when we don’t quite measure up. They say, look at their school report card, they must have terrible teachers – administrators – others may say no it isn’t the staff it is those kids. It is my opinion that neither of those statements is correct. I believe that the value of a child cannot be measured simply in one nice neat week of testing. Furthermore, I don’t believe the full value of any educator can be summed up by the results of one week of standardized testing. I believe that someday the department of education and policy makers will catch up with my way of thinking…that our students are all gifted and talented…that a high stakes test is nothing more than one piece of a very complex puzzle…that all of our students’ dreams important…that a better measure of an educator is the number of tears shed by the students leaving their classroom for the last time before the summer break…and in the impact they have day in and day out on cultivating the dreams of their students. Someday, our system will realize that you can’t measure dream development in any easy multiple-choice test. Our system will change and reflect the world we currently live in…and value how well we cultivate dreams…how well we support students’ natural curiosity instead of telling them what they have to learn, when they have to learn it, and how they must show they’ve done so. While we wait for the world to catch up, there is nothing stopping us from action today. You and I know that our students value is so much more than a grade – or an assessment score…see, I believe if we focus on cultivating dreams, inspiring critical thinking, embrace technology as a tool, free our students to learn how to love curiosity and discovery, the standardized assessment scores will take care of themselves. The NJASK and HSPA are minimums in my opinion. Here is what we know about them – they measure how well the students can demonstrate proficiency on a narrow set of standards and skills. Ok, lets focus on them, plan our lessons with hyper-focus on them, make sure our students know them – but here is the fun part, you create how to have your students discover them. You create exciting and fun methods and ways to explore them. Encourage your students to be innovative. While we will master the Common Core, there will be nothing Common about us! We will be unique – uncommon – and different. Our students and teachers will prove the critics wrong…and while we will raise our standardized test scores (slow and steady) we will NOT be defined by our results. We will control our story, our journey and our destiny. We will be so much more than our school report card. Together, we will be world class.

This year, we will be asked to work harder, be even more accountable, implement the various mandates, but we and will not lose sight of our real mission – to cultivate the dreams and dreamers in our schools.

I am going to end with my favorite poem from WB Yeats “He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven”

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Inwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Very soon, our students are going to come into your schools and lay their dreams beneath your feet – please tread softly!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Innovate Like Walt Disney

Walt Disney utilized a simple, but, obviously effective 3 step method to innovating! In any project, he would establish three distinct team roles: the Dreamer, the Realist, and the Critic.

The role of the Dreamer was to, well, dream BIG! Dream the impossible, come up with outrageously big ideas without any concern at all for reality. Example, there is the annual staff picnic and you are charged with creating the theme and celebration because it has been a great year. You decide you want everyone to fly high with wings so they get a bird's eye view and see the big picture that all of their individual efforts came together for the organization's success.

The role of the Realist, must then make plans - create timelines and calendars to make the Dreamers vision a reality. The Realist must work and act as if the vision is completely possible. They can't simply dismiss the Dreamer's idea as absurd. Example, perhaps everyone in the company will go sky diving or parasailing. (The realist doesn't concern themselves with the reality that it would cost too much to make that happen).

Next, the Critic works with the Realists action plan to completely destroy it- find every possible problem and reason why the vision simply can't work. Their role is to simply look for ways to make the plan fail. 

Next, the Critic sends the failed plan - with reasons why it won't work - back to the Realist. The Realist makes adjustments, ex. bring a rock climbing wall so everyone can still get the perspective and stay within the Dreamer's Vision. They send the revised plan to the Critic, and the Critic destroys it again by pointing out the many reasons it still doesn't work - ex. what about the physically challenged or people who simply won't feel comfortable climbing a rock wall. 

The Critic sends the failed plan and reasons back to Realist - the Cycle of Innovation continues until the Critic can no longer find faults and concedes that the plan is solid and fits the Dreamer's Vision. 

Next time you and your colleagues need to create a new idea, try this out!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"Ya Mon, No Problem" A State of Being

Recently, I had the opportunity to take a trip with my wife to Jamaica ( *left the children with grandparents and aunt Stef and Uncle Jim). For us, this was the first time we vacationed without the children and truth be told, this was the first time we had been away in 13 years. Overdue is an understatement. For many, you know exactly what I am talking about. The demands of parenthood and career often exhaust even the mightiest among us.

During this last school year, I calculated that I attended nearly 100 night &/or evening/weekend school events in addition to the normal demands of the work week. For me, this last year was especially challenging. I can't put my finger on exactly why it was so challenging, but I think it was partly because it was the third year of my first three year contract in MPS. The first year was awesome, hometown kid returns - spirits and expectations were high. When I made mistakes, they were  more easily forgiven because most were happy to have a "Millville Guy" running the district. I listened a lot and tried to determine what the most critical areas for improvement were. Developed a strategic plan in collaboration with my board - and we were all on the same page! The second year was spent working diligently to put the systems in place that would allow for real change and improvement. While this was tough work, it was also extremely exciting and rewarding to see the staff engaged in striving for the district vision to be "world class". In this last year, I was personally frustrated that the desired changes did not seem to come fast enough. I was also bogged down in state/federal mandates and trying to stay ahead of the never ending paper work. Communications with the board and staff could certainly have been better on my part as well. Ultimately, the honey moon ended in year two and the overwhelming enormity of driving authentic school improvement in a district our size consumed me. Standing on the stage for our commencement 2013, I was likely more relieved that the year was ending than the graduates so I could regroup.

Being a school superintendent is like being a major league free agent, minus ESPN, Fame, Fortune, and the cool uniforms. You live your life in 3 or 5 year cycles. If you are lucky, your board of education is stable - and they like you. But every 3 years, in my case, the prospect of becoming unemployed is a reality. There is little job security in being the chief. I am happy to share that my board and I came to an agreement for a new three year contract. With that out of the way, I am committed to continuing what I've started with a renewed positive energy - new momentum - and excited to pursue the district vision to be world class like my hair was literally on fire!

A few days following graduation, I left for my Jamaican adventure with my wife. I am so happy that we made the time and saved up for this trip as it was amazing. If you have never been to Jamaica, I highly recommend you go. The Jamaican culture offers many great lessons. First, every person you come in contact with (minus one woman who worked for customs) had a smile on their face and greeted you warmly. To almost every question, you heard the reply "Ya mon, no problem". To them, there is no request or issue that can't be solved to your satisfaction. And while yes, they are paid to be friendly, we met countless locals who were not employed or looking for money with the same positive outlook. Additionally, how many people do you know (or work with) who are being paid but aren't friendly or happy?!? The national motto in Jamaica is, "Out of Many, One People". This 'vision' is evident in the culture. Regardless of how diverse they each may be, they are much stronger if they work as one. For us in the States, we are brought up to celebrate individual accomplishments - to compete - "survival of the fittest" but perhaps there is more to be gained, if instead, we worked together - if we adopted the attitude of "yes we can - and there is no problem or challenge that we can't overcome together".

I know many outside of education think that we all have the summers off - but we know better, I am so  excited about this summer. I feel refreshed, positive, and determined to achieve the district's vision to be world class. Our kids deserve nothing less.

Later Mon!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Commencement 2013

Good evening parents, distinguished guests, faculty, and students.

Ok, students, the good news is I am the last person standing between you and your diploma; the bad news is I am going to give a [long] speech. Here we go…

Graduation is often said to be the end of a chapter and the start of a new. When preparing for tonight, I sat down at the keyboard knowing that I had a tough task ahead considering the amazing students speaking before me. I knew they would set the standard fairly high [and you did not disappoint]. I will offer my first tip – know yourself well, so no one else will ever be able to define you! With that said, I knew I could not compete with Marquis’s million-dollar smile, nor could I compete with Jesse’s locks of thick-dark hair or his smooth ‘Barry White’ delivery, nor could I come close to Ms. Sockwell’s elegance, and well lets face it, JJ is just cool, so with these realities staring at me, I thought what could I possibly offer this group, how might I leave an impression on them as this chapter ends? What could I possibly say that might help them as they begin the next chapter?

After realizing [“I had nothing”], I turned to today’s Wizard of Oz, “Twitter” and I entered the search “#commencementspeeches” in hopes of finding someone out there who could help me deliver some sound advice to you today. [Tip two – collaborate with others] Thank goodness for Twitter, there are lots of people who have advice, so here’s the best of what I found:

Richard Branson (CEO Virgin Empire) says spend your time doing whatever you are passionate about in life! Be ambitious as there probably won’t be another time in your life when you have such freedom of opportunity.

Spencer Rascoff (CEO of Zillow) offers this “work really hard, seriously hard, as there is no substitute for hard work especially at the start of your adult life. He says, ‘don’t be the [punk] who plays Angry Birds’ all day long’ instead he says work hard. He also encourages all of you to find a mentor – someone who has been successful in pursuing their passions and latch onto them for advice and guidance.

Maria Shriver says “don’t be afraid to be afraid” courageous people are often afraid – and since I am not necessarily a big Maria Shriver fan I offer this from the Game of Thrones, Lord Edark Stark said “the only way you can be brave is to be afraid otherwise you wouldn’t need to be brave” [Tip 3 get out of your comfort zone – if you aren’t afraid once in awhile you are probably playing it too safe]

Since I used Twitter to help write this speech, let me offer this advice regarding social media…use it wisely! [When your parents and I were young – and yes we were once young- we could make our mistakes boldly and without fear that someone would put it on Facebook, Flicker, Twitter… yes there actually was a time without the Internet] Since we now live in the A.I era, [after internet] please, pay close attention to your activity so that you will be “Googled well” or “Binged” well [depending on your choice of search engine], because your future employers will “Google” you! Take advantage of social media to make smart connections – this is a brave new world where you can have access to almost anyone – even the Pope “Tweets” after all. So start a blog, use your voice, and share your big ideas with others!

[Tip 4] Fail often and with your head held high! You will fail from time to time, and that is ok, actually, I strongly recommend it. It is in your failures that you will learn the greatest lessons, you will learn how to handle adversity, and you will test your limits. Likely, you will learn that you are much stronger than you thought.

President Barack Obama recently offered this to graduates, He said, “We’ve got no time for excuses. In today’s hyper-connected, hyper competitive world, with millions of young people from China – India –Brazil – and around the globe, many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did, all of them now entering the global workforce alongside you, the President warns that nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned. Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was, nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination”.

While his words feel a bit harsh and out of place for today’s celebration, I feel his message is important to hear – this new world, the ‘real world’ as many of you have called it tonight, it is now flat and connected in ways that previous generations never imagined. Therefore, you must work for what you want! There are no free passes- so if you had a tough upbringing – use it to motivate you, if you have struggled - use the lessons learned during your struggle to be exceptional – to be distinct!

I urge all of you, to do, whatever you do, for no reason other than you love it, and believe in its significance! Starting right now, promise yourself that you are going to pursue your passion – define the things you love to do, and work at them – perfect them- put in your 10,000 hours of practice [which is what the experts say it takes to truly master something]

Be grateful that you can read! – Thank your teachers for that little gift. Read- Read – Read and then read some more, read for enjoyment, read to learn something new, READ simply because you can

Develop a strong moral character – Seize the day as if your pants were literally on fire because none of you – none of us – are promised any more time than we have right at this very moment.
Do not wait for inspiration to find you – get off the couch, get out there, explore the world and find it yourself – and once you find it - hold onto it like Frodo & the ring of power!

Remember, a rewarding life is the gratifying consequence of living for your passions. It happens while you are doing the things you love just because you love them. Despite whether you are graduating at the top or the bottom of the class, whether you received awards Monday night or not, regardless of the journey you have taken so far, take comfort that you can decide today – RIGHT NOW - to be whatever you want!

So here you sit, all wearing the same uniform and are about to receive a high school diploma – which aside from your name is exactly the same as the person sitting next to you. Think of this as a new starting point and this wonderful celebration a breather along your pursuit of happiness. For those award winners Monday night - Well done! But do not rest on the feeling of self-satisfaction as your journey continues!

Congratulations – make your own good luck, and live the life you were destined to live!

Now it is my pleasure to certify that each and every student assembled here this evening has fulfilled the requirements for graduation that were instituted by the Millville Board of Education and the State of New Jersey.

Therefore, I am honored to recommend this Class of 2013 for the awarding of diplomas!

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Juggler, Some Knives, and My Shoulders; The things I do for kids!

Today, the Millville Seniors got a treat as the Renaissance Fair came to visit. Last year teacher of the year, Ms. Tara Cotton, organized the entire event through an innovation grant. I wanted to support the event, so when I was asked to be in 'one small little act' I agreed. I don't think I realized the knives were real and she was actually going to juggle them over my head until it was too late to turn back. I enjoyed watching our Seniors eyes light up with enthusiasm during the performance. It was a great way to bring the curriculum to life. At the end of the day, when my family asks "so how was work today" I am sure they will be blown away when I put this video on to show them. The greatest job in the world, and the greatest profession ever - we get to hang out with kids all day long. Enjoy the video!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Most Irritating Book Ever; 40 Alternatives to College by James Altucher

For all of James Altucher's fans, slow down before you begin to chastise me for the title of this post. While I absolutely found this book to be annoying, infuriating, and down right irritating I had a tough time arguing with the author's overall point - which I believe is, we need to seriously reconsider our belief system around education in the 21st century instead of simply repeating what we've always done.

If you have not heard of this book, I highly recommend that you download it (99 cents) so that you can also be irritated, and perhaps in the process of being annoyed you will be enlightened as well. Enlightened enough to at least consider some of the author's difficult questions. For instance, is college a scam? According to the author, college is one big scam. He asserts there are a multitude of agendas at work to convince young people that if they do not attend college they are worthless. [I told you up front it is an annoying book, but stay with me]. According to Altucher, kids convince each other to go because they are going, parents convince their children to go because they went, colleges want you to go up for the all mighty dollar (FACT - tuition has gone up 10 times since 1977 as compared to inflation which has gone up only 3 times), the Government wants kids to go to college because they own the debt in Government backed loans. Whether or not he is correct, it should make us think a bit...we encourage students to go on to college despite the growing number of unemployed college graduates. Debt is skyrocketing to all time new highs, perhaps we need to reconsider.

Early on in the book, Altucher answers a few questions that you may be thinking right now:
1. James, you went to college, so how can you tell your kids not to? His answer is: It's precisely because I went to college that I am most qualified. None of my jobs afterwards made use of anything I learned in college. My professors were boring and none of them were people I wanted to look up to or mentor me. And I saw exactly what was going on in college while thousands of kids parents were paying up to $40k [now $70k] a year when you include room, board, books, travel etc...

2. James, what about the statistic that was PROVEN in study after study that kids who went to college make more money 20 years later than their counterparts that did not go to college? His answer is: First off, the study is completely fake and anyone who took statistics 101 in college knows that but I'll get to that in a second. Think about 20 years ago, college was cheaper, there weren't as many reasons NOT to go. And there weren't as many alternatives as there are now. So what did smart, ambitious kids do? They went to college. What did kids who did not feel as ambitious do? They didn't go to college. So the study has what is called selection bias. They assumed they had one audience in their group that they were testing (people who went to college) but, in fact, they really had a completely different group (smart, ambitious kids versus not-as-ambitious kids). A true test would be to take 2000 kids accepted by a wide variety of colleges. Then say to half the kids "you can NEVER go to college". And then 20 years see who made more income. My guess is the group that did not go to college. How come? Because they would have a five year head start. They would not be required to take a bunch of classes they didn't want to take in the first place and would never remember, and they would have the enormous gift of not having hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. 

So again, is James Altucher correct? Up to each of us to reflect upon his point of view. I found myself annoyed for the duration of the book, and I initially told myself that was because he is so clearly wrong - and college is a great path for young people. But the more I read, the more annoyed I got, I had to admit that perhaps I was annoyed because some of what he wrote had merit. Please understand that this blog is my way of making sense of the world in real time and I am NOT saying college is bad. I am merely allowing myself to consider an alternative point of view.

The author addresses some common reasons people give when they say all kids should go to college. First, people say kids learn to be socialized at college. J.A. retorts, "are you kidding me? I'm going to spend $100-200k per year so my kids can learn how to make friends with other people their own age?
He then describes what he believes college socialization is really all about - sex and parties. Next, he says people will say you should go to college to learn how to think. He argues that college is a way to avoid learning how to think. If I want to learn how to play tennis, the best thing to do is go out on a tennis court and play tennis. If I want to learn how to live and how to think, then the best thing to do is begin living my life and thinking my thoughts instead of still having my parents pay for my life and my professors giving me my thoughts. (see his book for the full list)

So, after reading this book I am not convinced that a college education is the great evil the author describes. Maybe it is for everyone but not at 18 years old. Perhaps, our 18 year old graduates need to experience freedom that comes with adulthood for a few years, work a few different part-time jobs, volunteer at a hospital or food shelter, travel to strange places to see how different cultures live, start a business and in the process find out exactly what their passionate about - and then, pursue the course work that will give them the credentials to pursue their passion. Truth be told, my three degrees did only that - they gave me the certificates [permission] that made me elligible to apply for a teaching job, then an administrative position - I learned each of my jobs ON the job. There is little that can substitute for actually doing a job.

"Dear James Altucher, your book made me uncomfortable - I disliked it as a result, but I thank you anyway for sharing an alternative point of view. I am reflecting deeply on your thoughts."

Be open to a different point of view -

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Complete Freak'n Noise" Test Scores & Teacher Effectiveness

Hello all, some of you may know - i broke the 'radial head' in my elbow, on a skateboard - yes i realize i am too old to be on a skateboard - not the point right now. the point is i only have one hand for typing so let me get right to it. bruce baker video above is a must watch if you are a human being. now more than ever, everyone wants to condemn educators and their tool is a new teacher evaluation system that takes into account student learning (or so the rhetoric leads you to believe) listen here as bruce explains the problem with nj"s model. follow his blog for great insights into testing &evaluation. wish i hadnt broken my elbow, i have so much i want to say and share on the issue of teacher effectiveness and evaluation. 4-6 weeks of one handed typing ahead. great opportunity for me to "listen" to my PLN'S wisdom!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What if?

This interview with Finnish Education Guru, Pasi Sahlberg, is very enlightening and started me asking what if...

Imagine an education system that is not driven by 'high stakes assessment' yet scores at the top of any 'national assessment'...

In Finland, the word accountability does not exist - yet they are very accountable to their students, parents, and country. Instead, they use the word 'responsible' - he explains that each educator is responsible for giving all students equal access to a high quality education. They value discovery, play, and the arts.

I wonder what education in NJ would look like if we did not have the NJASK or HSPA...if we were free to determine what the truly important learning experiences are for our students, and we were free to determine how we will measure success...if we could focus on allowing students more freedom to study topics they find interesting within a given subject, if we focused on asking big questions, if instead of a multiple choice or open response test - students could connect their own passions and interests to efforts to change local and global communities for the better, students could do real work for real audiences for real purposes, if we allowed technology in (and gave all students access), if we valued the connections that can be made through social media outlets and actually taught students how to use these tools for good, what if we valued innovation more than memorization...

What if...we simply could begin a conversation that outlines what we feel is truly important for students to learn rather than simply accepting the Common Core as the answer. Our students' needs and values are changing whether we want to admit it or not. In order to meet these needs, we need to ask big questions like "What is the purpose of schools in an era of abundance?"

I speak with teachers all the time and they would love to explore questions about the future but the overwhelming mandates from the DOE - new evaluation systems, new assessments, common core...extinguishes their excitement. What if we didn't let that happen? What if parents, students, and educators joined together to voice our concerns to the policy making machine? What if we were so loud they had to listen? I read today, that the Texas Legislature voted 145-2 to reduce high stakes testing. TEXAS

Below is a link for a newsletter that my idle Will Richardson is spearheading. Please sign up for the free newsletter and join the conversation.
Join the Conversation

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Implementation Woes

Seems like it should be simple right? Your wife asks you to get the kids ready for school and drop them off since she isn't feeling well. She handles this task every other day - how hard can it be, right? She made a checklist for me:

1. Breakfast
2. Wash their faces
3. Brush hair and teeth
4. Get them dressed (with the clothes I've laid out for you)
5. Put their bagged lunches from the refrigerator into their lunch-boxes (again, the lunches that I already prepared for you)
6. Get their backpacks (that I have searched, reviewed, signed papers for return for you)
7. Put both kids in their car seats
8. Deploy - take to school A (for David) and school B (for Grace)

All of which should take an hour from start to finish. "Do you think you can handle it, Daddy?" Of course I can, and I will shave off a few minutes from your routine to boot. The night before I was in charge was rough, my wife runs a fever, both kids have trouble sleeping as they both of terrible colds, not to mention my son is due to have his tonsils removed next week as he has chronic swollen glands. None of us slept. The alarm goes off, I drag myself up and begin the check list. Within 20 minutes, I realized I was in big - big trouble. Do I dare wake the Mrs. up and admit defeat, no-way, I plug along trying to pick up speed - I mean how difficult can it be - I know what to do...I know the consequences of being late...

The kids were late to school. My daughter had her pants on backwards (did not notice until I got home and picked her up) - my son was dressed properly, minus his socks (are they important). In the end, I realized something, simply knowing what to do isn't enough.

Implementation in our school improvement efforts is extremely similar. Recently, I was fortunate to travel to Chicago to attend ASCD2013. I presented with colleagues during the conference and got to attend several amazing presentations. One, conducted by Bryan Goodwin, spoke to the problems with implementation. Below I will share his insights:

Five Implementation Fallacies:

1, The truth shall set you free (when people know what to do they'll do it)
2.Talking slower and louder will do it (fear, facts & force will overcome resistance)
3.Shock and Awe (doing more does more)
4.Running before walking (ignore improvement progressions)
5.Focusing on what and not who (ignoring the culture is a huge mistake)

These five fallacies can cripple school improvement efforts. There is a process and method to address these fallacies to drive deep - significant change.

And the secret sauce to success, according to Bryan Goodwin (McRel COO)

Knowing how to embrace the culture, while influencing it to embrace change is key. Thinking back to my nightmare of trying to get my kids ready and off to school, you can ask yourself, "why is my wife so successful?" Mainly because she has done the what often, she has practiced, she has mastered it by putting in her 10,000 hours of work at getting the kids ready. You should see her, its like a magic show, school or organizational change is similar. We need to not only communicate the what, we need to show the how, and then we need to coach people until they have put in their hours and it becomes second nature. Lastly, for organizational change to really happen - we must connect people to the "why". Simon Sinek's book "Start with Why" is helpful in understanding how to connect people to the vision. Once connected to the why, people are able to go above and beyond.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pi Day Fun; Memorial High School

Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159.
Pi has been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond its decimal point. As an irrational and transcendental number, it will continue infinitely without repetition or pattern. While only a handful of digits are needed for typical calculations, Pi’s infinite nature makes it a fun challenge to memorize, and to computationally calculate more and more digits.

I am not sure what happened next, sometimes it is best to just let the pictures do the talking.

"You are going to adhere to the line on the floor? Right?"

"I guess that is a no on the line, huh?"

Thursday, February 28, 2013

AASA Blog Feature; March 2013

I was thrilled to learn that one of my previous posts is going to be included in the School Administrator Magazine March 2013 issue. I am humbled to be included with the other featured Bloggers. Blogging helps us grow as learners and improve education for our students! Sharing our experiences, thoughts, questions is a great way to grow education for the better. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

We Can Not Test Our Way to a Better Future!

If you follow the current educational trend, you will clearly see the National Standards Movement motoring along. That locomotive alone does not keep me up at night - the freight car attached, aka "High Stakes Assessment" does. I believe agreeing on a national set of standards of what we believe kids should 'know and be able to demonstrate  is a good place to start. The high stakes assessments used to measure progress is what is potentially frightening. Again, measuring progress is a good thing. Each district and board should review the data of their students. They should determine if the results align with their expectations. Instead, these high stakes assessments are used by the State as the only real factor that determines the performance of the district, school and now teacher. These assessments are not designed to be used that way. In order for us to become a future global leader and give our children a fighting chance, we must change this. Create a national set of standards, and then let the districts loose to pave their own path to excellence.

Diane Ravitch writes, "Over the past four years, I have learned what we need to do. First, we must end the pressure on teachers to teach to the test. I have said it before and I will say it again: We want teachers to teach with creativity and passion. I call on states not to pay bonuses to teachers to produce higher test scores and to stop evaluating teachers based on the test scores of their students. We now realize that this causes teaching to the test. That must stop now. Of course, teachers should be evaluated, but they should be evaluated by other professionals, not by their students’ test scores".

I could not agree with her more. Assessments are designed to be narrow in scope and only tell a partial story, therefore, they should not be used to determine the evaluation of a teacher - school - or district. Too much testing crushes creativity and innovation. Sir Kenneth Robinson shared in his now legendary Ted talk that students creativity declines steadily as students progress through schools. Sir Kenneth Robinson Why don't we assess students on creativity and innovation? Because it would simply cost our state's too much money to do so. It is much cheaper to ask a series of multiple choice questions that can be scored easily. I have seen some improvement in this area lately in NJ - but not enough.

Diane Ravitch writes, "We must strengthen and improve our public schools. We must end all efforts to privatize them. I am firmly opposed to vouchers. I will cancel federal subsidies to any charter school that does not seek out and enroll students with disabilities and students who have dropped out. I call on the states to prohibit for-profit schools and for-profit management of schools. Every dollar taken from taxpayers must go to classrooms, not to investors".

Personally, I am not opposed to choices for parents - which may include charter schools, there are some great examples of well run charters - but what I am against, is condemning public schools and having a privatization agenda. Those with such agendas use and manipulate the assessments in order to label and condem schools that are educating some of the most challenging populations - populations chalked full of poverty - some invested with violence and drug abuse. These schools should be celebrated for their efforts.

I also want to demand that a Charter School be held to the same measuring stick as its public school counterparts. Same enrollment policies, same set of standards - if you study Charter Schools you will see a pattern of low special education enrollment in most. Public Schools are our best hope, if we can work with our policy makers in changing how we evaluate and determine a schools' value. Each local board and district are best equipped to determine their destiny.

We will improve education by improving the lives of children. The United States leads the advanced nations of the world in child poverty. This nasty statistic must be center stage in the education debate. We must dedicate ourselves to reducing it. I feel that one of the biggest 'learning disabilities' holding children back is poverty. By learning disability, I mean that if a child is born into poverty they are automatically behind those who were not. We must invest in early childhood programs in order to give them a fighting chance. We are #24 in the world in providing early childhood education. We must extend early childhood education to all children, especially those who are poorest.

Diane Ravitch writes, "A study last year by the March of Dimes said we are #131 out of 184 nations in assuring prenatal care for pregnant women. Women who don’t get prenatal care are at risk of having children with developmental deficiencies. That is unacceptable."

When all our children start school healthy and ready to learn, we will be a better society with better schools. Let’s start now. Remember, more narrow assessments and labels will not pave the way to a better future for our students. By 2020, the number of college educated people will grow by 19 million while the number of predicted new jobs requiring a college education will grow by only 7 million. This calls for creativity and innovation - not more standardized tests.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

17 Ipad Tips & Tricks

Enjoy, 17 tips & tricks for your IPAD courtesy of my Personal Learning Network guru Tom Whitby.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Future of Learning

After reading Patrick Larkin's blog I was left with wanting to share this video with the world. We must pay attention to those who can see a different version of schooling - and change. As parents we must demand this from our policy makers and local schools.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why School? Great question Will Richardson!

I am reading one of the best books ever - for a whopping $2.99. The book's title is Why School? by Will Richardson. I am not sure if it is the fact that he is a fellow New Jersey native or that there are so many similarities I find in common with him, ie- children who are school age and feeling responsible for fixing the broken system that I am a superintendent in. Honestly, I can't imagine how I will ever lead significant changes that are absolutely necessary and outlined in Richard's book while having the federal and state government oversight - and micro-management interfere with real change. One area I am extremely interested in is assessment. If we are to use authentic assessments to determine what students can and can't do - we will need to invest in the fact that it will be like stapling jello to a wall. Assessment is easy when we reduce it to a 'test' of narrow skills. It becomes increasingly difficult when we attempt to measure things like if students have learned to manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information. Below is an example from Why School that highlights the bizarre nature of things we assess in public education:

In the NY State Regents global history and geography test from 2011:

Which geographical feature impacted the development of the Gupta Empire?

Huh? Do any of you know what the heck the Gupta Empire even is? Without Googling. Thoughts so, but an entire generation of high school students in NY were deemed 'worthy' or not based on questions like that. Richards and I agree, we may be able to learn something from the Gupta Empire and the history - but answering that question - monsoons by the way - leaves us empty. There is simply no value in answering a question that can be answered by a quick Google search and then forgotten seconds after the test is over.

Rethink public education policy- stop using standardize test scores (from poor students) as a rallying cry for school reform. Get real, we must rethink the access we provide to all of our students and how we vision our schools.

Friday, January 4, 2013

10 Secrets to Success

Investor's Business Daily published their 10 secrets to success based on years of analyzing leaders and successful people in all walks of life. Below, I share them with my own twist:

1-How you think is everything: Always be positive. Think success, not failure. Beware of a negative environment.

(Twist- how you think is everything, but it is impossible to always be 'positive'. For me, when I find that I am slumping into negative thinking I recognize it as a sign that I need to change my patterns. Embrace negative feelings and thoughts for what they are, your thoughts. If you understand that they are yours to control, moving them into a more positive position becomes easier. Whereas, feeling that you must 'always be positive' will lead to your own guilt, depression, and fear that if you are not being positive all the time you can't be successful. Instead, embrace - seek to understand why you are feeling negative - then do something about it)

2- Decide upon your true dreams and goals: Write down your specific goals and develop a plan to reach them.

(Twist- there is a difference between dreams and goals. As I see it, they are not the same. A dream, may be to play professional baseball, and despite how dedicated I am to this distant vision I could never create a plan and set of goals to make it happen. My age, my talent would make this impossible. Therefore, make sure you recognize the difference between and obtainable 'dream' and one too far out of reach. If you set toward a dream that could never be realized you will live a depressed existence. This does not mean stretch your goals to be something lofty, just out of reach, as with a proper plan and effort you can grasp the 'gold ring'.)

3- Take action: Goals are nothing without action. Don't be afraid to get started. Just do it.

(I have no twist on this...this is sound advice. You must move to advance.)

4- Never stop learning: Go back to school or read books. Get training and acquire skills.

(Once again, no long learning is a key to my own happiness and success)

5- Be persistent and work hard: Success is a marathon, not a sprint. Never give up.

(Twist- while this is overall sound advice, I must say giving up is sometimes necessary to finding success and happiness. Give up on things that simply aren't advancing your goals. Have the smarts to recognize behavior that is not producing results and don't be afraid of admitting you were wrong. Otherwise, you may continue doing something or pursuing something simply because you told others about it)

6- Learn to analyze details: Get all the facts, all the input. Learn from your mistakes.

(Twist- the only thing I would add here is that sometimes it isn't feasible to get all the facts or all the input. Don't paralyze yourself in over-analysis; sometimes you must just act and leap. If you miss the mark, learn from it. I love the line in Batman where Bruce's father finds his son in the bottom of a well. He asks, "Why do we fall down? So we can learn to get up".)

7- Focus your time and money: Don't let other people or things distract you.

(Twist- Recognize the difference between being distracted and being connected. There are times where I would initially like to shut people down when they seek my time as I see it as a distraction, only to realize later, that the interaction (albeit a bit distracting) was a benefit to my overall goals. We live and work with people - people need to be distracted sometimes as it renews their interest in the vision of the organization (if you are a leader, you must engage despite the time.)

8- Don't be afraid to innovate, be different: Following the herd is a sure way to mediocrity.

(Twist- be wise enough to resist change and innovation for the sake of simply being 'different'. There is often wisdom in the herd, as a leader you must appreciate the herd routine to understand how to inspire a new - better one.)

9- Deal and communicate with people effectively: No person is an island. Learn to understand and motivate others.

(No twist)

10- Be honest and dependable; take responsibility: otherwise 1-9 won't matter.

(Twist- be honest when it is appropriate. Too often I have met people who pride and boast "well you know me, I am honest" and the 'honest truth' is they are offensively honest. The old adage, when your spouse asks you if the dress makes them look fat recognize some truths are better left untold. There is no upside to that type of truth as it will only hurt your spouse. Instead, be supportive daily by getting them active - take up healthy cooking etc...In the work environment, there are similar crass truths being sprayed around in the name of honesty.)

As you are likely creating or implementing New Year's resolutions, keep this list in mind, or not, the choice is yours.