[Disclaimer: Kim Cofino is a friend of mine and I highly respect her work!]
Over the past months I have had the incredible privilege of spending a lot of time with Kim Cofino and her instructional coaching team at Eduro Learning. Not in person – Kim is in Bangkok, Thailand, and her team is all over the globe – but online. Lately I have been leaning into the task of enhancing my instructional coaching knowledge and skillsets, so I signed up for Eduro Learning’s yearlong online course, The Coach.
The Coach has more than a dozen modules. Each module typically has multiple units, and each unit has several different tabs within it. All in all, there are many dozens of activities, videos, challenges, and reflections, and hundreds of accompanying resources. A unit usually starts with a Big Idea such as Coaches have the responsibility to ensure equity in their work – for all community stakeholders. That big idea typically is accompanied by one to five videos (sometimes with guests like Ken Shelton or Alysa Perreras!). Other tabs in the unit may include an Introduction with more info (e.g., expected learning outcomes, essential questions, enduring understandings, and essential vocabulary), Key Resources, and the always-important Action tab. Every unit also is aligned to relevant standards from the Coaching Competency Practice Profile (CCPP) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for Coaches.
Kim and her team have identified and curated a fantastic set of resources. The Coach is designed to be a 12-month experience, so there’s plenty of time to dig deep into all that they have provided. I know that I will be returning often to the various readings, tools, and protocols as I continue to try and strengthen my own coaching skills. Because Kim and her team have tapped into multiple different coaching frameworks, I was exposed to ideas and resources from Jim Knight, Diane Sweeney, ISTE, and others throughout the course.
One of the core components of The Coach is a personal project. Participants identify a current instructional coaching goal and then work to implement it throughout the course. Along the way, they connect it to what they’re learning and have multiple opportunities to reflect, share, and get feedback. Kim and her team have done a wonderful job of scaffolding this work so that it doesn’t seem overwhelming.
One of the things that I appreciated the most about The Coach was its differentiation when it came to action steps and reflections. Kim and her team have been very thoughtful about creating prompts and action tasks that are different for aspiring, new, or experienced instructional coaches. Each of those groups has different needs, and participants in The Coach can easily choose which reflections and actions best fit their current role.
I signed up for the self-paced option, but there’s also a cohort option that includes regular, ongoing meetings and mentorship. Kim and her team are fantastic instructional coaches and I would encourage folks to choose that option if you can make it work with your schedule.
The Coach is a lot (in a good way). It’s a bit pricey but also extremely comprehensive and well worth the expense. I never once questioned the money I spent because I was getting a lot of value out of the learning experience. I didn’t pursue the certification option because I’m not in a current coaching role and don’t really need it, but the opportunities to reflect along the way and get feedback from Kim and her team are invaluable and worth the time spent in the cohort and on the accompanying participant workbook.
I learned a great deal from The Coach. The course was both wide-ranging and deep, and gave me many things to work on and think about. Thanks, Kim and team!
I finally had a chance to read Annotation by Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia. Although I’ve never met Antero, Remi is my faculty colleague here at the University of Colorado Denver. Remi tells fascinating stories about annotation (no, really!), so I was excited to read his thoughts in print.
The book highlights five key functions of annotation: providing information, sharing commentary, sparking conversation, expressing power, and aiding learning. Chapter 5 on expressing power probably was my favorite, particularly the sections on the #MeToo poetry of Isobel O’Hare and Alexandra Bell’s use of posters to challenge racial stereotypes in The New York Times. The book has numerous interesting examples of annotation in action (hint: it’s not just people writing notes in the margins of printed books) and is at its best when it is discussing these real world exemplars.
Although I am an active reader, I’m not much of an annotator other than highlighting passages or quotes for later. Until I met Remi, I hadn’t really given much thought to the practice of annotation. The book gave me some new lenses through which to think about this practice.
Whether you’re a reading geek or not, Annotation is a quick read that should spark your thinking in some new directions. If you want to get a taste beforehand, here are a couple of podcasts with Remi to get you started:
Be sure to also check out the #SharpieActivism hashtag for another fascinating story of annotation. And, as always, I hope that you’re reading something fun and interesting too!
Image credit: Annotation, Remi Kalir
This post is a review of Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today by Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray. Disclaimer: both are friends of mine so keep that in mind as you read below. My short recommendation? There is lots of value in this book and a great deal of information that validates what we know about good leadership and strong school organizations.
What I liked about the book
Eric and Tom list eight ‘keys’ to intentionally designing tomorrow’s schools. They are:
- Leadership and school culture lay the foundation
- The learning experience must be redesigned and made personal
- Decisions must be grounded in evidence and driven by a Return on Instruction (ROI)
- Learning spaces must become learner-centered
- Professional learning must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and made personal
- Technology must be leveraged and used as an accelerant for student learning
- Community collaboration and engagement must be woven into the fabric of a school’s culture
- Schools that transform learning are built to last as financial, political, and pedagogical sustainability ensure long-term success
It’s hard to argue with any of these. All are critically-important components of robust, future-ready schools and each gets substantial coverage in their respective book chapters. Tom and Eric back these up with a variety of research studies to support the importance of each one. And they write in an engaging way that keeps readers rolling along. All of this is good.
There are strong emphases throughout the book on building trust, fostering relationships, empowering others, the intentionality of the work, the importance of communication, and recognizing our power as change agents. This is all good too!
I thought Chapters 4 (learning spaces) and 5 (professional learning) were especially strong. Chapter 4 gave me a lot to think about and there are numerous ideas in Chapter 5 for taking educators’ learning in some new directions, particularly pages 152-155 where Eric and Tom describe some ways to move from hours- to outcomes-based ‘accountability’ for educator learning.
Finally, Tom and Eric have chosen to profile some great leaders and organizations throughout the book and also have selected some resonant quotes. My favorite is probably the quote from Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis: ‘In the absence of knowledge, people make up their own.’
Some minor quibbles
There are some things that I wish were framed a little differently in the book. For instance, in Chapter 1, Eric and Tom say that ‘great leaders help others see the value of change by clearly articulating a compelling why and working to build support throughout consensus’ (p. 34). I wish they spent more time here talking about a visioning process that was less leader-centric and focused more on educators, students, and parents figuring out together what their why is instead of simply being sold their why by the leader. If we want shared understandings and commitments within organizations, I believe that process needs to be more communal rather than leader-driven. I’ve seen too many schools where the leader has a robust vision but never can ‘build support’ with the staff because she’s the only one that really owns it and is trying to then sell it to everyone else. Tom and Eric do talk a bit more about shared visioning on page 36 when they quote Kouzes & Posner, but that section doesn’t articulate what a ground-up process could look like.
In Chapter 2, Eric and Tom do a nice job of articulating ways that technology can enhance student learning. But the chapter sometimes feels a little technology-centric. There are numerous ways to give students access to deeper learning, greater student agency, and more authentic work opportunities that don’t involve learning technologies. Even though I’m an educational technology advocate, I would have liked some more discussion of project- and inquiry-based learning, performance assessments, community-based service learning, Harkness circles, and the wide variety of other non-technological possibilities that still result in robust learning. There is mention of a few of these things but I think in general these could have been fleshed out more. I did greatly appreciate the emphasis on equity in this chapter. Chapter 3 is similar. Tom and Eric discuss the concept of return on instruction but the chapter is framed dominantly within a lens of technology infusion. We need classrooms to move beyond factual recall and procedural regurgitation, and I know that Eric and Tom agree with that notion. But I think that non-technological learning and pedagogy could get some more attention in this chapter too. Although Tom and Eric state directly in Chapter 5 that ‘professional learning must focus on student outcomes through improved pedagogy – not on tools’ (p. 146), I think that idea gets lost in Chapter 3 amidst all of the technology discussions.
The book closes on the idea of sustainable change. That’s an incredibly important topic and also is incredibly difficult to accomplish. There is a great deal of discussion in the chapter about what needs to be done, and I think Eric and Tom rightly identify numerous issues and tasks. They also do a nice job in this chapter of staying positive and encouraging people to recognize that great leadership is within their grasp. However, there is barely a mention in this chapter of one of the biggest barriers to organizational sustainability of change initiatives, which is leadership turnover. When superintendents, principals, and/or school boards turn over fairly frequently, teachers and communities get whipsawed by new innovations and new directions because those new leaders rarely continue the innovation pathways of their predecessors. Some discussion in this chapter of how to actually navigate that concern would have been helpful beyond the couple of sentences on political sustainability that merely acknowledge the issue.
Finally, there are large chunks of several chapters that feel like long lists of leadership ideas that have been thrown together (see, e.g., Chapters 1 and 7). It’s not that the ideas or items are wrong or incorrect, it’s just hard to see how they all fit together. Tom and Eric do a great job of citing research in their book, but it would be helpful to have some research-based frameworks and mental models that tie the list items together. For instance, if there’s a three-page list of ten leadership ideas, why these specific ten and not others and how do they interact together to create a coherent whole? If there are two solid pages of bullet points, maybe those could be tied together into some kind of model that illustrates the connectivity of the disparate parts. Otherwise, we’re left to question where all of these ideas came from and how they’re supposed to work together.
All of these are minor quibbles and choices have to be made in any book about what to focus on and what to leave out. It’s Eric and Tom’s book, not mine, and they’ve done a nice job of presenting their arguments, their reasoning, a variety of resources, and numerous action steps that can be taken.
Questions I have after reading this book
- How do we flesh out in more concrete detail – and with specific action steps – some of the ideas articulated in this book?
- How do we navigate the twin challenges of leadership turnover and initiative fatigue due to successive leaders wanting to ‘put their stamp on’ the organization?
- Much of the book is based on the research about good leadership. We’ve known for a long time much of what’s in the book, but those research-based leadership practices aren’t showing up in administrators’ actual practices. How can we as educational leadership researchers do a better job of translating our scholarship into actionable ideas and behaviors in the field?
- How can schools do a better job of treating parents as authentic partners and co-designers in the learning of their children, not just passive recipients of whatever narrow boxes we educators try to put them into?
- How can we foster the creation of ground-up visions for student learning and educational experiences rather than individual or oligarchic visions that then get sold to the rest of the community? And how can we involve students as substantive partners in that work?
I liked this book a lot, and I’m glad I have friends who make me smarter. I marked it up all over the place. I give it 5 highlighters (out of 5).
As the day continued, they started matches. If you were watching on the live stream, you would have seen us in action! If not: You will see photos at the bottom and I will start to explain. The pit area is set up and ready to go! We will take some video tomorrow of what will be happening and why. It will you guys a more “behinds the scene” look of how much work it actually takes!(in the photo to the left, we are talking to Dark Matter…one the three teams from our Iowa Trio at the North Super Regionals. The three teams together were Finalist Alliance Award)
Our Qualification Matches are: 9, 25, 47, 57, 78, 91, 101, 122, and 132. Tune in tomorrow to the live stream. #Support Lets do this!
We only got to play the first two with the time allotted and we are currently in 8th place! We are 2-0 and extremely excited for tomorrow. Tomorrow will consist of many more matches, scouting, and going to the big dome (we are currently at Union Station)! At the Edwards Jones Dome we will have opening ceremonies, a college/scholarship row, and we will be able to see the FRC (First Robotics Competition) and the FLL (First Lego League)… We will also be able to see the companies who helped sponsor this event and get a lot of one on one information from them.
I don’t really have a lot of information except for good news. The robot is still working great as well as the team members. Just remember: Gracious Professionalism and Continuous Improvement!
Thank you so much to the community/business’s who helped get us here! You guys mean SO much to us! #MonkeySwag #WorldChampionship #International #SUPERCOOL
It’s 2011. If you’re invisible to the world, aren’t you also irrelevant to the world?
I use the Rapportive plugin for Gmail. It’s a pretty powerful little add-on that gives me enhanced profile information for the people that send me e-mail by tapping into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, Flickr, my Google contacts, and more. For example, if you used Rapportive, here’s what you’d see on the right side of your screen if I e-mailed you.
You can see from my profile that I am richly connected and using a variety of social media tools. There are many ways to intersect with me, professionally and/or personally.
Although it’s happening less frequently every day, I still receive a great number of e-mails from people whose Rapportive profile looks like this:
This doesn’t mean that they lack a Rapportive profile. It means that they have no presence on any social networks. No Facebook, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, no Flickr, no etc. Nothing.
I wonder about these people. They’re not just missing out. They’re missing out. In a world that’s hyperconnected and hypernetworked, these people are off the grid. Whatever ideas they have, whatever service they’re offering, whatever charity for which they’re trying to raise money, whatever product they’re selling – whatever they’re doing is invisible to anyone outside their local geography.
In 2011, it seems to me that these people are largely irrelevant to anyone other than their local community. And though it might be fine for many to make that individual choice, that decision should stem from intention rather than ignorance. I also believe that we should be doing better by our schoolchildren. They may decide to go off the grid when they’re older, but in the meantime we should be doing our damnedest as educators to teach them how to be networked and connected in positive, productive ways because in the future almost all of them will want their products or services or charities or ideas to have some traction.
If this were a review, I’d give Rapportive 4 highlighters for being a solid bit of software that does what it intends quite well.
But I’d give the person above 0 highlighters because I don’t know about her. And neither do you.
Image credit: Invisible man sculpture, Harlem, NY
This post is a review of The New Cool: A Visionary Teacher, His FIRST Robotics Team, and the Ultimate Battle of Smarts by Neal Bascomb. My short recommendation? This book is a super-fun read that will get you into the hearts and minds of some of the most promising youth in our country.
What I liked about the book
Bascomb is a bestselling author, known for his books The Perfect Mile, Higher, and Hunting Eichmann. In this story, he profiles a California teacher and the students he is mentoring for Dean Kamen’s FIRST Robotics Competition. Bascomb hooked me as a reader early on; I was very quickly empathetic to and interested in what happened to these adolescents and their mentors.
The story is about a group of high school students who are trying to create a robot that will succeed in the national robotics competition. While that might not sound too exciting on its face, Bascomb does a superb job of conveying the thrill and agony of competitive robotics [Note: these are not battle bots; they’re more like a ‘Mars rover’]. From the very beginning, the odds are stacked against these students. Not only do they not get along with each other very well, the technical challenges that they have to overcome are quite daunting and their competitors across the country are more experienced and have a long history of success.
As the book progresses, the tension mounts: Could anything more go wrong with their robot? Will they get it built by the deadline? Will it succeed in competition? Will they all keel over and die from exhaustion? I sighed in relief multiple times as the high school robotics team overcame many of its obstacles. The challenges of building a working team, the critical importance of the coaches, the win-or-go-home competitions – all of the elements are there, just as they are for competitive athletes or musicians.
One of the best parts of this book for me was learning more about the FIRST competitions. I am chagrined to say that I knew virtually nothing about FIRST beforehand other than that some kids in our middle school are involved in Lego League; now I’m a big fan. The hands-on engineering challenges that students across the country are working on are first-rate. If, like me, you know nothing about FIRST, I encourage you to learn more and to support one or more of its competitions: Lego League, Junior Lego League, Tech Challenge, and Robotics Competition.
Why do we do FIRST? Because the world’s a mess. Read the news. Look around you. We got lights, clean water, ways to get around. We have hospitals, schools, safe malls. But two-thirds of all people alive today, 4 billion people, live on less than $2 a day. Half of them live on $1 a day. That’s their whole life. We’re the richest in the world, by far. And the world’s a mess. Somebody’s got to fix it. Do you think the people living on a buck a day, who don’t have clean water, schools, technology, education, do you think those people can fix it? No. You have to fix it. (Kamen, p. 21)
The robot is just a vehicle, just a tool. The skill sets you walk away with will give you careers for a lifetime. FIRST is a genuine card-carrying microcosm of the real world of engineering. We give you a little time, never as much as you need. We give you a little bit of material, never what you’d really want. You never know what the competitors are doing. FIRST really is a way to show you what the world of science, technology, inventing, and problem solving is. It’s all hard, and if this frustrates you, tough, it’s important. (Kamen, p. 22)
The academy’s about analytical thinking, problem solving, and working with the team. . . . I think that we, as a country, need to improve our science and engineering, but I’m more of an advocate for all of our education to be structured like this – be it a business academy, engineering academy, et cetera. . . . Students are on the Internet these days, and information’s free. If we teachers don’t move beyond just being fountains of information, and instead focus on experiences, we’re losing touch with what students need. And the students know it. They’re sitting in class thinking ‘I can look up this stuff on Wikipedia right now.’ They can’t look up this experience on Wikipedia. (Amir, p. 73)
Learning with always trumps learning from (p. 19)
this is what distinguished the FIRST competition from a science fair where students took what they already knew and put together a project on their own. By intention, Dean Kamen had no rules about the level of mentor involvement, allowing the kids to get real experience working hand in hand with engineers.
Luke was now about to learn how to take a conceptual sketch, break it down to its individual working parts, design them to precise measurements for machining, and see how they meshed to form a functioning, efficiently designed mechanism. As Chase said, it was the difference between figuring out how to put together a go-cart on one’s own versus learning how to build a Maserati with help. (pp. 99–100)
. . . . He stopped, restarted, changed his sequence, asked Chase and his programmers questions, and listened to their input until he know how to fix the PenguinBot before the first qualifying match. In that moment, it was clear that the boundaries between teacher and students had broken down. They were equals. (p. 254)
Before the first matches of the day, students and their coaches scrambled for the quick fix. They relinked broken chains, riveted loose frames, soldered wires, debugged code, and straightened bent aluminum rods with their bare hands. The smell of burnt metal, adrenaline, and sawdust saturated the air.
“ROBOT!” a kid shouted.
“Coming through! ROBOT!” echoed another. (p. 3)
Questions I have after reading the book
- What percentage of school districts across the country are involved in one or more of the FIRST competitions? Heck, what percentage even know about the FIRST competitions?
- What’s happening here locally in my school district? I need to find out more…
- Can I talk my wife into letting me (and maybe my kids) go see the national finals?
There’s a quote that is repeated several times in the book: Societies get the best of what they celebrate. There’s also a part where one of the students on the team says the word ‘nerds’ as he’s walking out the door. Another teammate takes offense. The first one then says:
What? I didn’t say ‘nerds’ and point at you. I said ‘nerds’ and you flipped your head. If I said ‘badasses,’ then you should look up, but not ‘nerds.’ (p. 61)
I concur. We’ve got some serious problems to solve. We need to do a better job of celebrating our scientists and programmers and inventors. We need a whole lot more graduates who think of themselves as ‘badass’ engineers.
Is this a life-changing book? Nope. Is it a great read and a fascinating story? Absolutely. A pageturner that I stayed up late to finish because I just had to know how it ended, I give The New Cool a solid 4 highlighters (out of 5).
[See my other reviews and recommended reading]
[FYI, this post also has been translated into Croatian by the WHGeeks Science section!]
[Warning: this is a long post. Cross-posted at LeaderTalk.]
I’ve been playing around with digital document annotation on various portable computing devices. Here is an overview of where I am right now…
The old way!
First of all, just as a reminder, the image below is the way that we’ve traditionally annotated ink on paper. Some of you like to use pencils or pens to underline, write notes in the margins, etc. In my life I’ve spent a small fortune on yellow highlighters.
Kindle App for the iPad
Will Richardson got me thinking with his post on using the Kindle app, his iPhone, and Evernote together for document annotation and sharing. So I decided to try it myself with the Kindle app. I don’t have an iPhone, but I do have an iPad and two iPod Touches.
Here is what it looks like when you press and hold on a word to begin your highlight (or note) in the Kindle app for the iPad:
Once the word is selected, you can push and drag on either of the dots to resize the selection and cover more text. Note that the magnifying box helps you see where you are.
Once you’ve got your text selected, you click on Highlight or Note and it gets saved with your document. Repeat as desired.
Kindle App for the iPod Touch (or iPhone)
The process is the same for the Kindle App for the iPod Touch (or iPhone). Here are two images that show you what it looks like on the smaller screen. Again, note the draggable dots as well as the magnifying box.
Kindle App for the PC
The Kindle App for the PC essentially works the same way. Use your mouse to click and drag, selecting the text you want in a highlight or note. When you’re done, select the option you want from the popup box. The gray text background then turns to yellow. See in the image below that the Notes & Marks button is selected at the top right, allowing me to see all of my notes and highlights in a scrollable list on the right.
Note: The text you select in the Kindle App for the PC is NOT copyable for future pasting into another document.
Your notes online: Why this is better than marking up ink on paper
So far, so good. The process basically works like a traditional highlighter. Every time I sync the Kindle app with Amazon’s server, my notes and highlights show up on all of my other devices too. I don’t have to lug multiple, heavy books around. I can just carry my ultralight laptop, my svelte iPad, or my pocket-size iPod Touch and have access to my reading and the accompanying highlights / notes.
As Will noted in his post, the beauty of all of this, however, is that Amazon also makes available a web site where you can see all of your Kindle notes and highlights. I can even see an aggregation of others’ highlights if I wish (which is pretty cool).
The text on the web site is selectable, which means you can copy and paste it into other applications. For example, you could put all of your highlights into a Word document, a blog post, or a note in Evernote. Will did the latter, and I’ll walk you through that process…
Using Evernote to publicly share your notes
Here’s what it looks like in Evernote if you just copy-and-paste directly into a new note:
If you clean it up first – using some judicious search-and-replace – then it can look more like this:
You can share your notes and highlights with others by making a public notebook (or tag) in Evernote. In the image below, I’ve right-clicked on the notebook I want to share and then selected Properties.
A popup box appears. Click on Sharing and collaboration options:
The Web version of Evernote launches and you get to choose if you want to share with individuals or the world at large:
If you start sharing with the world, you get a personalized URL to which you can send others (e.g., www.evernote.com/pub/scottmcleod/shared). They can click on the appropriate note and see everything you’ve put in the now-public notebook. Pretty nifty!
Another alternative: iAnnotate PDF
In addition to doing what Will did, I’ve also been experimenting with the iAnnotate PDF app for the iPad. I wanted a way to edit dissertation drafts, online reports and white papers, and other documents in PDF format. Although the GoodReader app (and, maybe soon, the iBooks app?) works great for viewing PDF files, you can’t edit them within the app. I read good things about iAnnotate and decided to try it.
I had some initial trouble getting documents into iAnnotate. I finally figured out, however, that the best way to do it is to synchronize it with a DropBox folder. That works pretty well (for GoodReader too!). Once you open a PDF file within iAnnotate, you have a number of tools at your disposal, including the ability to highlight, underline, strike out text, draw freehand, and leave yourself a pop-up note:
Although iAnnotate doesn’t give you the option of synchronizing to a web page like the Kindle app does, it does let you e-mail your annotations (with or without the document). When the annotation summary is received as an e-mail, it looks like this:
That text is then selectable, which means you can cut and paste it into other applications. Managing documents within iAnnotate is very easy, just as it is for the Kindle apps.
Reflections and implications
Here are a few thoughts:
- The possibilities of all of this for academic work are endless. I will use the Kindle app to read nonfiction books like Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus and capture the quotes and notes that I think are important. I’ll use iAnnotate PDF to do the same for those documents and research reports that I’m always digging up online. When my students send me their writing, I’ll quickly convert those documents to PDF and then be able to comfortably annotate anywhere on my iPad, without being tethered to my laptop or desktop computers. And so on…
- I love having all of the text from a book or report that I think is important – and ONLY that text – in one place. It’s searchable, it’s editable, it’s MINE. No more flipping through pages trying to find something. No more using multiple bookmarks and Post-It flags. A quick search and the text I want is there.
- It would be nice if you could cut and paste from the Kindle App (particularly the one for the PC) into other applications.
- The Pogo Sketchup Stylus – a special stylus for the iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch – is worth every penny when it comes to annotation. Highlighting text – particularly on the iPad – is a breeze compared to using my (apparently too fat) finger because the stylus has a smaller surface area and thus is more precise.
- As digital annotation and sharing tools continue to become more robust, it becomes much more feasible to use iPads and other mobile computing devices as replacements for books and textbooks.
- Like Will, I may never buy a nonfiction book on paper again (unless I have to).
- I like Will’s idea of getting notes off of the Amazon web page and into Evernote. If iAnnote or the iBooks app or other e-book readers and annotation tools also make available online or e-mail versions of highlights and notes, I’ll do the same for those too. That way I won’t have to worry about particular proprietary formats becoming obsolete. Now, if Evernote ever goes out of style, I’m in big trouble!
So this is where I am right now with all of this. Although digital annotation using these tools is not yet as smooth as I would like, I’m deriving a lot of benefit from the new capabilities that I do have.
How about you? How are you annotating digital documents on portable computing devices? Got any tips or suggestions?
My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. This post is a review of The Future of Management by Gary Hamel (and Bill Breen). My short recommendation? This book was easily the best leadership book I read in 2009 and should be required reading for all practicing and preservice school administrators.
What I liked about the book
Hamel is one of the leading leadership and business scholars of our time; he has won numerous awards for his writing. As you read through this review, whenever you see the word company or business, substitute school organization. The essential premise of this book is stated early on:
What ultimately constrains the performance of [an] organization is not its operating model, nor its business model, but its management model (p. x). [Unfortunately,] the equipment of [current] management is now groaning under the strain of a load it was never meant to carry. Whiplash change, fleeting advantages, technological disruptions, seditious competitors, fractured markets, omnipotent customers, rebellious shareholders – these 21st-century challenges are testing the design limits of organizations around the world and are exposing the limitations of a management model that has failed to keep pace with the times (p. x).
In other words, as Charles Leadbeater says, “old groaning corporations are the wrong shape” for the fast-paced, ever-changing, innovation-driven, global economy in which we now live.
Hamel notes a number of new environmental factors that now exist for organizations, including reduced barriers to entry across a wide range of industries; a shift in bargaining power to consumers rather than producers; a world of near-perfect information; and the rise of more nimble, global competitors “eager to exploit legacy costs of the old guard” (pp. 9–10). He then goes on to describe why management, rather than other factors, is the key to resolving many of these dilemmas. He also outlines three formidable challenges that now confront organizations:
- Dramatically accelerating the pace of strategic renewal in organizations large and small;
- Making innovation everyone’s job, every day; and
- Creating a highly engaging work environment that inspires employees to give the very best of themselves. (p. 41)
These ring true for school systems as well as corporations.
Hamel states that “if we were to measure the relative contribution that each of these human capabilities makes to value creation, . . . the scale would look something like this“
- Passion 35%
- Creativity 25%
- Initiative 20%
- Intellect 15%
- Diligence 5%
- Obedience 0% (p. 59)
Guess which ones school systems reward, both for their students and their employees?
I liked Hamel’s emphasis on organizational learning. For example, he notes that “there is no surer way to undermine a new business venture than to measure it by the profits generated, rather than by the learning accumulated” (p. 225). Unfortunately, this happens all too often in the public schooling context when it comes to standardized testing results.
One section of the book profiles different companies that are management outliers and identifies some key management lessons to be learned from them. For example, a key idea from Whole Foods Market is that “the biggest obstacle to management innovation may be what you already believe about management” (p. 79). One of the key lessons from W.L. Gore is that “management innovation often redistributes power (so don’t expect everyone to be enthusiastic)” (p. 96). A key lesson from Google is that “experienced managers may not make the best management innovators” (p. 119).
The middle of the book had a statement that really resonated with me:
The people who have a stake in the old technology are never the ones to embrace the new technology. It’s always someone a bit on the periphery, who hasn’t got anything to gain by the status quo, who is interested in changing it” (pp. 127–128).
There are a small handful of us in educational leadership academe for whom this directly applies. We are trying to figure out how to publish or perish and become recognized as national experts in this new information landscape rather than the traditional one of peer-reviewed academic journals. We have little interest in burying our writing in places that educators in the field never read. We have little interest in writing that is disconnected from conversation and collaborative knowledge-building. We’re all in the first decade (or less) of our scholarly careers, however; we don’t have the legacy disability of having built our reputations in the world of ink on paper. Time will tell if we’re successful at challenging the old system or if we get beaten down and/or driven out by our collective peers.
Hamel notes that current management was built around some core principles: standardization, specialization, hierarchy, alignment, planning and control, and the use of extrinsic rewards to shape human behavior (p. 151). All of these are under assault in our new technology-suffused, hyperconnected, globally-interconnected society. Some of the new management principles that now are ascendant include variety, flexibility, activism, meaning, and organization for serendipity (p. 179).
Near the end of the book, Hamel postulates some key questions (and gives some potential answers):
- How do you build a democracy of ideas?,
- How do you amplify human imagination?,
- How do you dynamically reallocate resources?,
- How do you aggregate collective wisdom?,
- How do you minimize the drag of old mental models?, and
- How do you give everyone the chance to opt in? (pp. 189–190)
Those are great issues around which to invent the future of management.
The most critical question for every 21st-century company is this: Are we changing as fast as the world around us? (p. 42)
Regulatory barriers, patent protection, distribution monopolies, disempowered customers, proprietary standards, scale advantages, import protection, and capital hurdles were bulwarks that protected industry incumbents from the margin-crushing impact of Darwinian competition. Today, many of these fortifications are collapsing. (p. 48)
Does this sound like public schools to you? It does to me.
No one has a blueprint for building an innovators’ paradise. It isn’t just your company – every big organization is inhospitable to innovation. If you want to build an innovation-friendly management system, you’re going to have to invent it. (p. 84)
Some of your colleagues are likely to protest that while “it might work there, it will never work here.” When you’re up against a belief that seems set in concrete, it may be helpful to ask, whose interests does this belief serve? . . . It’s hardly surprising that most managers believe you can’t manage without managers. (p. 138)
Vociferous, honest dissent is not a hallmark of hierarchical organizations. . . . Adaptability requires alternatives. Alternatives require dissenters. (pp. 167–168) Does anyone suppose that pathbreaking innovation will come out of intellectually homogenous companies? (p. 175)
Questions I have after reading the book
- How many public school systems have a hope of ever pulling off even a fraction of this?
- What will it take for school leaders to recognize the organizational dangers that accompany
- How long will it be before policymakers and parents recognize the limitations of current management strategies and begin advocating for something different?
- Are ANY educational leadership preparation programs talking about this stuff?
In the first section of the book, Hamel notes that
When it comes to innovation, a company’s legacy beliefs are a much bigger liability than its legacy costs. . . . Few companies have a systematic process for challenging deeply held strategic assumptions. Few have taken bold steps to open up their strategy process to contrarian points of view. Few explicitly encourage disruptive innovation. (p. 54)
The challenge for all school leaders – and the university programs that prepare them – is how to initiate and sustain these kinds of changes. This is what I’m wrestling with as an educational leadership professor.
This is an excellent book. I have no hesitation giving it 5 highlighters (out of 5).
[See my other reviews and recommended reading]
My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. This post is a review of Education Unbound: The Promise and Practice of Greenfield Schooling by Rick Hess. My short recommendation? I believe that this is a book that will substantially stretch educators and policymakers and should be required reading for any university educational leadership program’s education policy course.
What I liked about the book
Hess’ essential premise is that we need more innovation and entrepreneurship in K-12 schooling. He believes that the “greatest challenge for teaching and learning is the creaky, rule-bound system in which they unfold” (p. 3) and that school organizations are “so hobbled [by various legacy characteristics] that even sensible efforts will fall short” (p. 3). He advocates for a greenfield approach to schooling, one that clears the ground for innovation and allows reform efforts to proceed unhindered by restrictive policies, mindsets, and other constraints.
This is not just a book about school choice. As Hess notes, greenfield approaches to schooling require “that choice be coupled with opportunities for entrepreneurs to enter the field, obtain resources, recruit talent, try new approaches, develop new products, compete fairly, and benefit from their successes. . . . [We] have paid little attention to the development of the infrastructure, quality control, and policy environment needed to turn school choice plans into greenfield” (p. 33).
In Chapter 2, Hess identifies four tasks that are crucial to greenfield educational reform: “removing obstacles, ensuring quality, and supplying both talent and financial resources” (p. 41). He then describes in detail in Chapters 3 through 6 the issues, the challenges, and some potential solutions in each of those four areas. Unfortunately, as Hess notes, “for all their virtues, [American] schools … are not noted for their embrace of creative problem solvers” (p. 1) and that “the vast majority of superintendents [and principals] have learned to regard precedent-breaking action as risky and conflict as something to be avoided” (p. 61).
I liked Hess’ recognition that we tolerate wide discrepancies in outcomes when it comes to public education but not when it comes to for-profit educational services. For example, he says that “in education, we … are much more squeamish about [for-profit] approaches that may yield uneven quality (even if we quietly tolerate massive mediocrity and unevenness among existing school districts)” (p. 85). I think that’s an important point worth emphasizing. We are so afraid that for-profit solutions will cause harm to students. Of course some will. They already do, and we should work to prevent those from happening as much as we can. But the same is true for public education. We shouldn’t stifle opportunities for innovation for some perceived notion of educational quality that, in reality, is also variable in the public sector. Instead, as he advocates, we need better oversight and better mechanisms for accountabilty, ones that go far beyond – and are more robust and complex than – the simplistic bubble-sheet accountability measures that we have now.
We routinely look at new learning tools and ask only how they might be used to improve traditional classrooms rather than how they might revolutionize schooling. . . . Technology is not a way to augment yesterday’s classrooms but rather a tool with which to revolutionize schooling. (pp. 27–28)
The dysfunction that limns our school systems is like the air we breathe. It’s so familiar and accepted that, after a while, we take it for granted. We forget that things might be otherwise – that there’s no reason choosing to be an educator should mean accepting bureacracy, standardization, and inept management. (p. x)
It is hard to see how even souped-up versions of existing approaches will recruit or prepare the kind of talent needed to fundamentally improve K-12 education. (p. 87)
[An] often overlooked operational barrier is the tendency of district leaders to regard staff time and salaries as sunk costs. . . . Districts typically do not eliminate teaching or staff positions, even if an innovation allows nine employees to accomplish what used to take ten. The result is that school and district leaders have a hard time seeing labor-saving technologies or services as cost-effective. . . . A management style that ignores cost efficiencies in staff time and salaries constitutes an enormous obstacle . . . Rather than ask whether a tutoring program would allow a district to reduce the number of paraprofessionals or whether a more sophisticated diagnostic tool might allow talented elementary teachers to accommodate more students, . . . officials seemingly operate from the premise that technology and service providers must “supplement but not supplant” personnel. (p. 59)
The failure of most [best practices-oriented reform] efforts is due to barnacles that encumber today’s school systems, including inefficient human resource departments, intrusive collective bargaining agreements, outdated technology, poorly designed management information systems, and other structural impediments. Greenfielders do not reject the utility of sensible best practices, but they question the assumption that the best practice mind-set will be enough to overcome these obstacles. . . . If we are to deliver transformative improvement, it is not enough to wedge new practices into familiar schools and districts; we must re-imagine the system itself. (pp. 6–7)
Questions I have after reading this book
- What is the likelihood of us ever achieving even some of the greenfield approaches that Hess advocates?
- What are the best ways to address the “supplement but not supplant” mindsent of school leaders, teachers unions, and policymakers when it comes to technology and personnel?
- Can we get educators to recognize that digital technologies will supplant some of their work – and some of them – and that this will be a good thing for students?
I liked this book a LOT. I like any book that really stretches my own thinking and pushes me into new areas that I haven’t considered much. This is one of those books and I bet it will be for you too. I give it 5 highlighters (out of 5).
[See my other reviews and recommended reading]
This book was sent to me gratis by the publisher. I was not compensated in any way for this review and was not asked by the author or the publisher to write positively about this book.
My goal for June: 30 days, 30 book reviews. Today’s book is Teaching With Wikis, Blogs, Podcasts, & More: Dozens of Easy Ideas for Using Technology to Get Kids Excited About Learning, by Kathleen Fitzgibbon. My short recommendation? Stay away from this book.
What I liked about the book
The only redeeming aspect of this book is that the author gives some ideas for classroom lessons and projects that may be useful for educators who are new to social media.
What I didn’t like about the book
There’s not much in this book. It’s only 48 pages long and is intended for grades 3 and higher. We bought this book thinking that it would be an interesting end-of-year gift for our son’s 4th-grade teacher. When it arrived from Amazon and we saw what it was, we gave her Will Richardson’s book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcats, and Other Powerful Tools for Classrooms, instead.
The back cover of the book says “This book of quick tips and practical ideas shows how to fuse technology with everyday teaching. Readers will learn ways to use presentation software, e-portfolios, digital cameras, interactive whiteboards, and other teacher-tested tools to enhance learning and motivate students.” What you get, however, is simplistic and fairly unhelpful.
Here are a couple of examples of what’s in the book…
Have students go online and find a free software tool for creating blogs. They name their blogs and create a blog address or URL. Encourage students to make the title catchy. Have students choose a template, a tool that creates the page where they write and categorizes content. Have students write their first blog posting. (p. 16)
That’s it. That’s the kind of advice you get for setting up your students’ blogs. If you can navigate these instructions successfully, you don’t need the book in the first place because you already know enough about blogs to make this happen.
Here’s another one…
Publish the podcast. Go to any free online server that provides a server for uploading audio files. (p. 32)
Again, I’m thinking that any educator that can do this successfully with the given instructions has no need for the book. The book is full of stuff like this.
I give this book 1 highlighter (out of a possible 5). I was tempted to give it 0, but there are some redeeming ideas for future lessons scattered throughout the book. As far as I can tell, there isn’t much other reason for anyone to buy this book. Whatever’s in here can be better found on web sites and blogs.
[See my other reviews and recommended reading]