In Education: Technology Needs to Start with a Simple Question…..


In life, you come across numerous questions “Who are you?”,  “What is the meaning of life?” Of these thousands/millions of questions, which ones are truly life changing? To bring about change, small or big, we must stop asking so many questions, but rather ask the right one(s).

Working in a field where my interactions have the opportunity to touch and influence thousands upon millions of lives, it is imperative that the right questions are asked, and that the right answers are available. How many of you are positioned in the same boat? In Education, you need open-ended questions to have a a proper discussion about how any educational based product/ program will support the users of the district. Any discussion asking or answering questions that are close-ended will lead you down a path that will ultimately not support you and your district. The simplest yet most impactful questions need to start with the ‘WHY?’.

The classroom is a parallel entity to a home. It is but another room until it is occupied and becomes a safe environment for its occupants to learn and grow in. Introducing technology into the classroom must be done with a purpose, one that does not interrupt or cause conflict. This is the biggest issue with today’s flooded educational application market. Where ever you turn, someone has an app that will solve a Math, ELA, Social Studies, or Science issue. With so many solutions available, WHY are there so many struggles with implementing technology into our classrooms?

The answer is simple- the end solutions have not considered the impact on the classroom and teachers. Even the greatest ideas will fail to be implemented into a classroom if we fail to recognize the lives and processes of teachers and complicate their modalities. One such example was a fantastic application to be used with math programs. It was an adaptive program that used an algorithm to identify the best learning path for each individual student as questions were answered. Imagine having a classroom of 25 students all participating in the lesson being taught, and each student working at their particular level with unique problems being delivered to them in a systematic approach for their learning! AWESOME, right? So why did this program die out as the years went by?

The design of the product did not focus on the ‘use-case’ of the classroom. Any teacher would agree that the overall concept of the product fits a true need of the classroom- however, there were major flaws that did not support the ‘use-case’ of teachers and students. In order to utilize the adaptive program, a teacher needed to make and select several choices for each lesson or assessment each day:

  1. Did they want to make the lesson or assessment adaptive?
  2. Did they want intervention or enrichment?
  3. Did they want this for individual students? Groups? or Class?
  4. Did they want a special Personal Plan in addition?

The teacher would need to make these choices every day for every lesson or assessment they wished to assign. The achilles heal- making a teacher run through hoops to simply make a lesson or assessment adaptive for their students everyday. WHY? because someone didn’t ask the right questions.

By asking the right questions, the proper solutions and teacher workflow could have been developed. Someone should have understood that teachers are craving for simplicity with technology.  How about a simple checkbox?Want to assign Lesson 3 for homework and make it adaptive? Check! and your student will get enrichment or remediation work depending on their abilities! Leave the box unchecked to assign non-adaptive work if you choose. Why? Because a teacher wants to simply make a choice of assigning adaptive work or not. Done.

For the student who needed remedial support- the Personal Plan provided a 10 to 15 minute warm up, followed by the adaptive lesson or assessment, followed by another possible remedial adaptive lesson for an extra 10 or 15 minutes of additional work. Achilles heal- Take a struggling student and ask them to sit for an hour or more with work they struggle with? Again- a great concept with unlimited potential- derailed because the designers and engineers did not ask the right questions. They clearly focused on the ‘How’ rather than first determining the ‘Why’!

From devices to infrastructure on the district end, to the feature and functionality that educational programs are offering- It needs to start with WHY. The choices that districts are confronted with are multiple and confusing. The environment to which they will be used is massive and ever-changing. There is one constant that must stay in focus….the Classroom. While we talk about how the classroom must change, fundamentally it will always stay the same. The structure of a house does not make it a home. A house becomes a home once it is occupied and becomes a safe environment for its occupants to learn and grow in. Any outside influence allowed into any home must fit and provide value without disruption, or it will not be welcomed! The same can be seen for most educational apps in classrooms as they come and go through the revolving door!

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Life being unemployed…(Week 3)


Family! Option #1 in Life!

At what point is it time to panic?

I have a reputation of staying calm under pressure. My years playing quarterback in high school and college were key in developing this mindset. The ever changing atmosphere occurring throughout a football game demands a QB that will remain calm and lead his team no matter the situation. Yet, here I am only 3 weeks into this unique situation of being unemployed, with a feeling of uneasiness knowing that he has a family to support.

The messages and conversations with colleagues and friends continue to happen with all of them ending with the same encouraging message of ‘You will be a huge asset to the next opportunity that comes your way. You will land on your feet quickly.’ It is great to hear, but yet, there is a part of me that wonders about the unknown- when and where will the next opportunity come about?

So what is one to do about the negative mindset that is always lurking in the shadows? For me- it is to focus on the positive facts that are present all around me. I have had some great conversations with recruiters and past colleagues with some opportunities that may be promising. I also had one of my blogs 10 Thoughts a Teacher Hopes All Parents Know featured in the writing of Joey Helleny here where he discusses how to Make Your Employees Proud! Where he supports that ask of your employees “Are you proud of where you work?”

“Are you Proud…” is a simple question that I continue to ask of myself and my team as I lead them. It started as a personal philosophy in the classroom with my students that allowed me to judge their work individually rather than my preconceived notions of what I believe was great work. It is a simple question that people are honest about. While I tended to keep a very high bar of success for my students and my team- it is only fair that the end judgement is based on their individual gains, improvements, and successes. If individuals are proud of their work, proud of their team, and proud of their company- success is inevitable, and customer success is manageable.

So every day- I have incorporated the same philosophy into my current situation. My current situation just happens to focus on pursuing opportunities and taking care of the family chores. I have focused on doing my best to create and find opportunities towards the next chapter in my life, but also to help complete the necessary chores around the house when time is available. It allows me to accomplish tasks rather than sit around and lose myself in negative thoughts. It keeps me fresh with my habits of creating task lists, and following up when necessary.

I am also taking the opportunity to focus on my time with my family. To enjoy the little things that make memories. Without the hustle and bustle of everyday demands of work- I have enjoyed watching my son play HS football- as his team is now ranked #1 in New Jersey! I have enjoyed my time driving my daughter to her dance classes, even though sometimes it means a 45 minute drive to drop off, then pick up- both ways! Work/Life balance has always been important to me, and I appreciated the balance given to me by HMH- as I rarely missed anything of significance! But in times like these- I have more appreciation for it!

So as week 3 ended, and week 4 begins- Is it time to panic? Not at all…… I have some great conversations and possible opportunities to look forward to. This will be a marathon, and not a sprint, and I understand this. There are thousands of others who are in the same boat as I am- and there are many people who are great candidates just like me (Heck, I have a short list of great colleagues, also laid off, whom I would build a team with today if given the opportunity!) I just need to continue to wake up everyday, look into the mirror and ask:

Am I Proud? You bet I am!

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Life being unemployed for the first time…


I have been lucky.  I have been paid (worked)- to do something that I have loved for basically all of my working life.  At 15, I was a camp counselor at Brookdale Community College Sports Camps and worked there every summer until I was 30. I played sports throughout high school and college- thus playing and coaching were the mainstays of my life!

After college, I did have a couple of months where I did not know what I was going to do but needed money, so I picked up a nighttime job at a local pub called The Parker House. It’s a great place to grab a drink, and a hotbed for summer visitors down at the Jersey Shore.  With my luck- it was also filled with football coaches and teachers working the bar to supplement their income.  This led to me being connected with a young football coach, who at that time, needed a coach immediately to start.  Thus began a 15 year saga of teaching elementary school, at the absolutely best level of 4th and 5th grade, while coaching state championship football and softball at the varsity level.  I was living the best life…….

That is until the perfect storm began to form and blew into my life- giving me the opportunity to advance myself and expand my learning! The storm included my 3 kids growing up, a jealous and vindictive union president, the bleak teacher financial outlook, and one special offer.  Coming out of the storm, I found myself building a new home at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt under some of the best leadership and colleagues I have known.

While it hurt me (and still does to this day) to leave the classroom and ability to positively impact my students- I made the move for the betterment of my family over the asks of my extended family of students. The opportunity to change the classroom by being a Solutions Architect brought new goals and adventure. By listening and collaborating with school districts nationwide- I was able to help position technology being used properly in the classroom with the proper form of content from HMH. I never felt like a salesman for HMH- but rather shined as an advocate for the district. By making sure their purchases were going to fit their need for today and vision for year to come- I was able to position solutions for many important districts like Frederick MD., Ceres CA., Sapulpa OK., Asbury Park NJ. to name a few- along with a great trip/meeting with the Minister of Education for Trinidad Tobago! These solutions led to great Partnerships and relationships which led to great student outcomes. Simply by taking the time to listen and understand the use case for the classroom, administrators from across the nation would trust in me and eventually my team!

And then came Oct. 17, 2019…..A call, that while not a surprise- totally hit us from left field. I will never forget the phrase used “HMH has decided to NOT pursue being in the business of Tech Services. HMH has chosen to partner with a 3rd party to provide your services……Your services are no longer needed.”  After the initial shock began to fade, I remember thinking that this is some kind of a joke.  Should I unmute myself and laugh out loud? We all knew that a 3rd party would not be able to ‘provide’ what we actually did. There was no way they overlooked the positioning/partnership with Google I initiated, or the creation of the internal access to our new ED Platform. Yet- the shock must have been felt by everyone else also- as no one said anything. How did we get to this point? How did executive leadership believe that all we did was roster districts to our platform? Yet here we were waiting for our leader to speak up- but all we heard was nothing…..a sound I will get to later…..

In the blink of an eye- I, no we, were now unemployed.  We were part of a massive layoff impacting 8% of the HMH workforce, but we were the only division to be let go as a whole group. Did I have questions? You bet! Was I angry? Yes! Was I confused? Without a doubt! Our group was told over and over how important we were to the success of the company, and more importantly, to the success of sales and relationships. So who could I/we turn to at this point in time for answers? Our direct boss? Well- hindsight is 20/20. Our trusted leader had gone radio silent for a week, and missed our manager’s meeting the night prior. There would be no outreach there……

So there I was- after several phone calls with colleagues who were also impacted- all alone.  My wife, who worked night shifts as a manager at the hospital, was still sleeping upstairs. Waking her wasn’t going to change anything, and she needed her sleep. She was now the bread winner of the family and it is important for her to get her sleep in as her job could be impacted negatively for lack of sleep- Who wants that?  My kids were going to be coming home soon….What will I tell them and how will they react?  I was able to make the best use of the time given me to put my own life beliefs into play. This was not a situation where I did not do my job. As I have always believed- the efforts I put into the work given me was done to bring respect to my name. By taking care of my name, I would always be representing the company name with respect. My reputation was undeniably in good light- as this was a business decision. I didn’t have to agree with it, and I certainly didn’t have to let it soil my name and the work my team and I were able to accomplish. While the company may not have seen the value, I looked at my team and the trusted relationships we had built with PRIDE! The more I thought about our accomplishments over the last 3-4 years, and the accomplishments I have had over the last 8-9 years- the PRIDE built up and my smile returned to my face and my decision to post my feelings on LinkedIn. The feedback has been tremendous and uplifting from simply putting my feelings around a bad situation into writing. The power of the printed word and the internet is incredible. Thus my decision to write about this journey on my blog. I hope that my thoughts and feelings are able to provide some peace and comfort to those in need, but hopefully just inspire you to look at your situations in a positive light to learn and progress from!

So fast forward to today- a full 2 weeks since we were let go.  I have put together my resume, and began the search online with LinkedIn, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter.  I have reached out to friends, and old colleagues who moved on years ago.  I found it sad that I had let so many friendships fade simply because we did not work within the same company, but yet- isn’t that just how life works? I worked with folks who did not live next door- but yet- we developed a great work environment virtually. Out of sight/out of mind- right? For the first week- I was surprisingly relaxed. I felt no pressure to run out and find a job. It was an eerie calm that I succumbed to as the week went on as the voice in my head kept repeating: Something will come to you. Your work ethic and reputation precedes you! And yet, I could faintly hear another voice trying to be heard- something about not sitting around and just waiting for an opportunity?

Week 2 was filled with optimism and disappointment. As applications are being filled online- it is obvious that an employer doesn’t get to know the real me by just submitting a resume. So when the replies come back that ‘after review and consideration’, I am not what they consider a match- it is a punch to the gut. I would not have applied if I didn’t feel as if I would bring something to the table….how do I get to the table to showcase me at a face to face interview? Remember how I stated ‘I have been lucky’? Tell me I don’t need to be lucky just to qualify for an interview……and then there’s the email to set up an interview- and the return of optimism!  So here I am heading into week 3 with some hope of landing the new role that will bring the new adventure.  I have begun to expand my view outside of education with the knowledge that teaching and coaching is my passion. I can lead, teach, coach, and inspire a team of individuals to be successful without it being focused on education. I’ve done it in the classroom, on the football field, on the softball field, and in the business environment- all with success. Someone saw it in me then, and someone will take a chance on me again! I can’t wait for the silence of waiting to end. It is the sound that brings me my only disappointment and learning moment of this whole situation. I do not hate my former boss for remaining silent during the call, but I have lost all respect for the choice of remaining silent since that call. A simple phone call to simply talk and break the silence would have meant the world to me and the other managers. Your silence to this day speaks volumes about your integrity and character.  Leadership is about being vocal and personal in good times and bad (especially in bad times).

Well- I will check in at the end of week 3 or 4!  I know some of the people have already found a landing spot elsewhere- and congrats to those companies for scooping up those great individuals. As for me- the search is still on……..stay tuned and stay positive!

Dare to Dream? The Scariest Part of Being a Kid Today


“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Such a simple question to be followed up with a conversation with a child that could last for hours if you wanted it to. My mother tells me that I wanted to be a garbage man (maybe because she used to always tease me that Grouch from Sesame Street was my true father), an astronaut, an inventor, and a race car driver, but most of all, I wanted to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Personally, I remember having the dreams to be many different things, and the encouragement to become all of them……That is until around 8th Grade.

dream-1

It is clear to me that from 8th grade on, the thoughts and dreams about my future was systematically redirected by the adults around me. My dream world that allowed me to believe I could achieve anything had slowly transformed into a reality that told me I could only accomplish what others would limit me to. However, I was born with, or developed, a stubborn personality as a young child. It may have been from moving around so much as an Air Force Brat, or just simply a trait passed on from my parents. Either way, I have been called obnoxious, thick-headed, opinionated, and many other names, but it is a trait that has allowed me to accomplish many goals that adults told me I would never do. Dreaming to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed me to overcome my size and weight disadvantage to not only play in High School, but also to play and excel in two sports in College. When I look back, I was driven to succeed by these “Dream Killers”.

Being a kid today, I don’t know if I would have been as successful with adults telling me “You can’t”, more than “You can!”  It starts with teachers wanting to know “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, and replying “Well, that’s a great dream to have, but the chances are slim, so what job do you want to do?” Even the coaches talk negatively about anyone’s future in athletics, “There are thousands of kids out there who are bigger, faster, and stronger than you.” Today, the difference is that these talks happen much earlier when these kids have no option but to believe the adults! We have become a society of dream killers, or fantasy supporters, for kids as young as 6, 5, or even 4- and both are extremely dangerous to the future of our youth.

The dream killers have evolved into opportune predators on young dreams. These adults no longer wait to kill the dreams of children, but rather suffocate the dream before it has a chance to even breathe. They come in many forms, with many different messages to kill the dreams:  Anything less than straight A’s is not good enough; You have to go to college to be successful; You will be lucky to play in high school; You can’t raise a family doing that. The fantasy supporters can afflict even more damage with their message of support. These are the adults who will encourage and support a young mind blindly. There are no mixed messages here, just one of full support constantly: You are the best!; You are going to be the next _______; Nobody is even close to being as good as you. The danger either way is that we are limiting our children by focusing their minds into our reality. By doing so, we limit the thoughts of imagination and creativity to whatever our vision is, which denies each child the given right to explore and choose to live life as they see fit.

Why have we become so focused on the adult future of our children rather than living in the moment with them? Why do adults feel the need to plan a future for kids that are 10-20 years away? How many of you knew what your passion would be at age 6? 10? Heck, even at 18? The danger I see is that we will have a generation full of regret and second guessing, and this is a dangerous state of mind. Our country has been built on strong-minded individuals who believe that passion and determination teamed up with great working habits will equal success. When we look at our leaders and innovative thinkers, we do not have minds that regret or second guess their decisions of the past. They understand that decisions and choices are made with details available at that time with the resolve that it is what is best at that time. Hindsight is 20/20 but it does not mean that we should relive our decisions. A generation that regrets and second guesses their present, because surrounding adults limited them in the past, will limit the success and advancement of, not only, their lives but the lives of those around them.

We must be careful to make sure we balance our encouragement of our children with a dose of reality. However, we must never limit their imagination, creativity, and dreams. Children have the world at their fingers, and many different paths to choose from. No matter how our lives are in the present and no matter how our past helped to shape who we are today, our dedication needs to be focused on supporting our kids to explore on their individual journey. On the path of life, we should never be the leader making decision ahead of them or the advisor that guides them, but rather the supporter following behind them who can advise when needed. To raise fierce leaders and innovators, we must allow our children to dream, and make mistakes so they may learn that success is simply about getting up one more time than you fall!

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1 Simple Message for Success in the Classroom!


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So there have been requests as to how a teacher can develop a classroom with high expectations and hold students accountable.  Below is one of my handouts that would be delivered on the first day of school, and each student would be asked to read out loud and sign with the promise to do the best they can to achieve. There would always be one available for students to reread at a moments notice.  I would also cover this pledge with parents on Back to School Nights as I explained my expectations for the students in my class.  I believe it sets a high standard from the start and it is something that my students and parents appreciated. I do believe that if your students give you their best effort, success will follow!

SUCCESS

         To be successful in life, I must be disciplined.  I must be willing to give my best effort without being asked.  I must develop an ability to drive and push myself, especially when things are tough.  I must not be afraid to make mistakes.  Everyone will make them.  Winners are those people who learn from their mistakes and continue to strive toward their goals.  I must do what it takes to be a winner.  I must be willing to look past what others do because I understand that only I can control what I do.  With this knowledge, winners will never blame others for their mistakes.  Winners will assume responsibility for their actions, suffer the consequences, and resume the track of success.

I am the one who is responsible for the positive and negative praise that I receive for my work.  It is my decisions that will determine my reputation, and my fate.  Successful people are not born they are made.  I must strive to become successful no matter what path I choose, because I understand that if I don’t strive to be successful, someone else will.  I cannot blame others for my lack of success; I can only blame myself for my lack of effort.

“Am I proud…” Is a perfect way to start knowing if I am on the right track.  If I am not proud of my effort or work, then how can I expect others to respect my work or me?  Anything that has my name on it will reflect the type of person I am, and the type of person I will be remembered as.  I must understand that success is never easy.  Success is hard work and I must be willing to give a great effort in order to receive the rewards of success.

 AM I PROUD OF MY EFFORT TODAY?