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!

Why the 2016 Election will prove America is a Great Country to be a Citizen of!


Image result for 2016 election

There is no doubt that the 2016 Presidential Election has been polarizing. There is no doubt that feelings and opinions about racism and sexism amongst many other issues have been brought into the mainstream conversation. There is no doubt that every individual has wrestled with the question of ‘What is wrong with them? or Can they possibly think like that?’ There is however one doubt that I would like to address, and that is the doubt about how great America is.

The 2016 Presidential Election proved just how great the our country is, and more importantly, just how great the country will continue to be. While many may not like the outcome of the elections, it is a process that allowed the citizens of this nation to voice their opinions and thoughts. The voting process does not allow this to become a simple popularity contest, and thus allowed Donald Trump to win the election. Many will see this as a fault in our system, but like many other aspects built-in, I see this as a solid asset within our electoral system. Again, allowing the people of the United States to have elected the president by what is right for the entire country, not by who is the most popular. It allows the voice of the rural farmer to be just as (loud) important and the voice of the city dweller. One must listen to the needs of the person living in Michigan, just the same as to the person living by the beach in California.

Our system of ‘Checks and Balances’ allows us to be able to accept the election of a Donald Trump, and allow him the opportunity to ‘Make America Great Again’, without giving him the control that a dictator would have. You see, the voice of the people have spoken, and they stated that they wish to give Mr. Trump a chance to drive the car. The keys have been handed to him, BUT there are hurdles that prevent him from simply driving off and wrecking the beautiful automobile he has been given. He will need to work with the House and the Senate to implement changes. With both in Republican favor, this is advantageous for him, but this does not guarantee anything. Mr. Trump actually made things more difficult for himself by bashing all of the republican politicians. He will need to truly reach out and build relationships from scratch on both sides of the floor. This is good, as we need more bi-partisan discussions to make sure that policies put in place are well-balanced. He is restricted in his ability to customize this beautiful car called America. He will have to produce a budget that needs approval, with every single penny spent to be scrutinized. If he is able to find funds and misappropriations of prior budgets and use them for the benefit of his plans to better the lives of the people, then he will be revered for it! However, he doesn’t get to just spend whatever he wants on whatever he wants. The look and feel of this car will stay within the bounds set forth by Congress.

As for how he drives once the customized car has been approved, he will have to follow the laws of the land as dictated by the Supreme Court. Just as President Obama’s vision of Healthcare needed, anything that Mr. Trump would like to implement over the American people will need to be judged as Constitutional by the highest court in the land. He doesn’t get to drive off at 100 mph even if he wanted to. He will not be able to run Red Lights, simply because he wants to continue on his way. It is the supreme power of the Judicial Branch to protect the rights and privileges of the people of the United States! Even if the Republican Party banded together to support Mr. Trump in an unconstitutional bid, it would have to pass through the ruling of the Supreme Court to be implemented into Law.

You see, there are several factors that make our government the best in the world. Our right to vote is one of them. If ‘we the people’ do not like the direction the country is going, then we get to elect someone in place of those in office. Where the election of 2016 will make us stronger is in the fact that it has awoken the American people in holding our government officials responsible. This election was about the presidential race, but I believe that with a Republican sweep of House, Senate, and Presidential Office – the people will be closely watching how each of their elected officials conduct themselves.

While it was evident the Republican party did everything it could to keep President Obama from implementing anything they did not agree with to a fault, it is also evident that there will be no excuses should the well-being of the people and this country begin to falter under Mr. Trump. It will be those Republicans in office who will need to be voted out should falter, and it will be those same Republicans who will benefit with a re-election should the country blossom. This is why we need to give Mr. Trump and all the elected officials the chance they earned to ‘Make America Great Again’, even if you feel that America was already on that path under President Obama.

Whether you believe that Mr. Trump is the worst person to lead this country, or the best person to lead this country, only time will tell. What we have learned is that our electoral system has spoken for the American citizens loud and clear. So, if you are not happy with the results of the election, or more importantly, from the resulting situation years from now- it is clear that you will need to let YOUR VOICE be heard in the elections to be held in 2 years, and again in 4 years!  See you then and remember that we will once again be able to continue on a path chosen, or choose another path not yet travelled down!

The Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave!!

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Technology in the Classroom: Bridging or Widening the Gap?


Bridge
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The ability to engage our students with technology, devices and apps, in the classroom is undeniable. Witnessing students who are engaged in activities that are only available in a technology environment can be inspiring. Students who are collaborating on a group essay, in real-time, with a student that is presently sick at home- was once thought to be impossible. So what could possibly be “Dangerous” about the current and future environments of our classrooms?

America’s development of our educational system has been one that continually adapts to deliver the vision that everyone is entitled to an equal education. From urban to rural educational systems, and everything in between, there are legal battles to ensure that our youth is grounded on equal footings to make the most out of themselves- no matter what their background and where they grow up. While we have succeeded in many areas to level the playing field, it is common knowledge that there continues to exist a gap in education when it comes to wealth.

As we look to technology and the World Wide Web to provide content and information to anyone, anyplace- we must be conscious that while the claims of opening the playing field and bringing global competition may be true, this playing field is only open to those who can afford the equipment to play. Comparing the sporting world to the educational classrooms, one can clearly see the danger I am referring to.

When you look at the sporting events that are truly open- Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Soccer- one can clearly see (just drive by your local fields/parks) that any child can afford to participate in these sports by simply getting equipment, make shift equipment if needed, and a group of kids. in comparison, select sports are still exclusive and not truly open to all- Golf, Tennis, Gymnastics, and Hockey. Whether a need of wealth for equipment, access to playing surface, or both: these sports are predominantly participated by players who have access to the funds to do so.

The same can be said when we compare technology in the classroom. Walk into the classroom of an affluent neighborhood, and you are almost guaranteed to see some form of a 1:1 environment. Can we say the same if we are to tour our urban area schools? Where are we likely to experience a Google Expeditions lesson taking place? While the message being sent is to open up experiences for those who normally couldn’t afford it, is this the experience being delivered? Which environment can afford the iPhones necessary for 25-30 students in just one classroom to go on this Expedition?

While I applaud the creation of Google Expeditions, iPads, Chromebooks, GAFE, Office365, and the countless Apps that are beneficial to teachers and the classroom- I will continue to advocate for the use case where by all students are able to take advantage of these advances in technology to better themselves and the world around them! There are advantages that wealth provides, however, we must limit this divide in our classrooms. We must be attentive to providing every student the opportunity to an equal education with technology.

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Thank You!