[BFTP] The one question I’m asking at ISTE 2013

[ISTELive 2024 starts this week so I am resurrecting three blog posts from previous years. Below is Blast From the Past (BFTP) #3 from 2013!]

Here’s my guiding question for the ISTE conference this year (for both presenters and vendors). If you’re at ISTE right now, I encourage you to ask this question too!


Image credit: Because I’ve never told him he can’t fly, Lotus Carroll

Why a random motivational speaker won’t help your staff remember their ‘why’

Why a random motivational speaker won’t help your staff remember their ‘why’

This post from a school administrator came across my feeds this weekend:

Looking for suggestions of a great speaker for the first week of PD– motivational– reconnecting with your “Why” for staff. Thank you in advance for your suggestions!

I posted it to Facebook with the comment, “Does anyone think this is going to have any long-term impact whatsoever?”

Some folks thought that I was criticizing the speaker side of this dynamic. Just to clarify, I don’t actually have an issue with that side of things. If you’re offering something as a speaker or facilitator that others find value in and are willing to pay for, more power to you. That doesn’t mean that everyone will, but that’s okay. Find your niche. Try to do good work. Ignore the critics (or use their feedback to improve what you do).

Instead, I am greatly challenged by the request. There’s nothing in this generic call for a random ‘great … motivational’ speaker that says:

  • We are working on school culture and I need a carefully-targeted outside person who can build our capacity to do the following things, or
  • My teachers are really struggling. Who might be able to help me and my leadership team build better systems of support?, or
  • Based on robust feedback from my staff, we really need assistance with these key structures.

Instead, the request just feels like “Hey, I’d like to find some random person who hopefully can help us feel good and ignore our disengaging workspace for an hour and I’m willing to pay big money for it.” Um, maybe a standup comedian can do that for you? The long-term impact for your staff and school feels like it will be about the same…

There are at least three large concerns here:

  1. The belief that teachers who are disconnected from their ‘why’ will somehow derive significant benefit from a one-off ‘motivational’ speaker,
  2. The utter lack of follow-up or overall strategy that is built into this request, and
  3. The apparent lack of awareness that what is in need of fixing is local systems (which are primarily the leaders’ responsibility), not teachers.

Brad Weinstein aptly saidAsking teachers to remember their ‘why’ can be viewed as blaming teachers for losing their passion for teaching instead of working on improving the conditions that actually burn them out. Similarly, Mandy Froehlich said in a comment to my Facebook post, Most teachers know their why. They don’t know how to do their why in their current situation or the state of education.

School culture is critically important for organizational success, and the best facilitators that I know on this topic work with schools long-term from a coaching stance to help build both better systems and individual capacity. That is a whole different ballgame than “The culture and systems that I am responsible for are broken and I am hoping that a high energy, one-hour talk will paper over it.” Teaching is really hard, and it’s particularly difficult right now. As school leaders who are supposed to serve those in our care and also have limited professional learning funds, we owe our educators better than this.

See also

BREAKING NEWS: Students are still bored

BREAKING NEWS: Students are still bored

Breaking news! A nationally-representative poll of more than 1,000 teenagers finds that… students are still bored. Here are some key findings:

  • 64% of teenagers think that school is boring
  • 70% of teenagers say that all or most of their classmates are bored in class
  • Only 41% of teenagers like going to school
  • Only 40% of teenagers think that their homework helps them learn
  • 30% of teenagers say that school is a waste of time
  • Only 19% of teenagers say that most of their classmates want to be in school

64% of teens think school is boring


These results just confirm earlier findings. This is a system that is fundamentally BROKEN. Everyone is expressing concern about students’ chronic absenteeism. But we’re just offering them the same old boring stuff. That’s not a successful sales pitch for a student who doesn’t want to come to school, is it?

What will we do about these recent findings? Probably the same thing that we’ve done in the past: nothing. As I said in an earlier post:

The biggest indictment of our schools is not their failure to raise test scores above some politically-determined line of ‘proficiency.’ It’s that – day in and day out – they routinely ignore the fact that our children are bored, disengaged, and disempowered. We’ve known this forever, but we have yet to really care about it in a way that would drive substantive changes in practice. The disenfranchisement of our youth continues to happen in the very institutions that are allegedly preparing them to be ‘life long learners.’

Shame on us.

Featured interview in K-12 EdTech Magazine

Featured interview in K-12 EdTech Magazine

I had the honor of being the featured interview in the Winter 2024 issue of K-12 EdTech Magazine. Here are a couple of quotes from the article:

Keep asking the question, technology for the purpose of what? How you answer that question depends on your learning model. If your learning model is about teachers transmitting low-level knowledge with students regurgitating back factual recall, then your technology adoption and decision-making will revolve around that learning model.


I think there’s a huge difference between viewing the student computer as a curriculum and content delivery device versus a student empowerment device. That shapes how we think about not only technologies but also professional development for teachers.

And I think what we see is that we spend most of that time focusing on the old traditional model of learning and teaching instead of how we do what we really need to do for the kids of today and beyond, and we seem to be fighting really hard to use today’s technology to replicate 1970s education.

Happy reading!

Real problems versus test problems

Real problems versus test problems

Robert Sternberg said:

The characteristics of real-world problems are entirely different from the characteristics of problems on standardized tests. Standardized test problems are mostly multiple choice or short answer and have a right or wrong answer. Real problems require extended answers; there is no perfect answer, and sometimes, not even a very good one. Standardized test problems are decontextualized, emotionally bland and have no real-life stakes. Real-world problems are highly contextualized, emotionally arousing and may have high stakes. Standardized test problems are solved quickly and then you are done; real-life ones often take a long time and, after you think you have solved them, often come back.


Most important, real-world problems require you actively to deploy your intelligence — to decide seriously to use it. Standardized tests measure an inert form of intelligence — one that may exist in your head somewhere but is rarely actually put into real-world use. Intelligence is not just about an inert ability to take tests; it is about the active deployment of that ability to solve problems of life.



Is adaptive intelligence really important? Well, you be the judge. Which skill is more important for the great majority of students in college once they have graduated: the ability to solve artificial verbal and math problems or, alternatively, to address and try to solve problems of global climate change, air and water pollution, global pandemics, bacterial resistance to antibiotics, gun violence against schoolchildren (other than the usual pathetic “our thoughts and prayers are with them”), and the return of would-be autocrats to declining democracies?

There’s usually a difference between academic work and authentic work, and that difference is important when schools talk about the ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ opportunities that they offer students. Looking at you, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, “advanced classes,” “honors courses,” etc…

Your thoughts?

How about a Social Impact elective? (part 2)

How about a Social Impact elective? (part 2)

Back in August I proposed the idea of a Social Impact elective course, a student-driven learning experience that leaned heavily into the Contribution item in Section B of the 4 Shifts Protocol. Since then I’ve heard from a couple of schools that are doing this…

Junipero Serra High School

Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California has a Creative Solutions for the Global Good class. Students become acquainted with a variety of creative solutions to global issues and then engage in their own self-designed projects to make an impact in their community. In the first video below, Rushton Hurley explains why the class was created and what happens in the class, including its emphasis on the design thinking process. The second video also describes the partnership between Junipero Serra and Parklands College, a PK-12th grade school in Cape Town, South Africa, and includes project examples from both schools.

Hillbrook School

Hillbrook School has two campuses in Los Gatos and San Jose, California. I had a phenomenal chat with Bill Selak, the Director of Technology there. Hillbrook launched its Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship in 2017. Students engage in a variety of social entrepreneurship activities in grades K through 8, with culminating student-driven projects in 8th grade. You can visit the Social Impact + Leadership website to see example student projects, and below is a video from the Class of 2027’s Social Impact and Leadership Summit. Hillbrook is adding a high school campus and is beginning to engage in this work with the new 9th graders this year.

Students in both of these independent schools are doing amazing and impactful work! It feels like there is an easy but powerful opportunity here for others too, including public schools. Is anyone ready to try this?

How about a Social Impact elective?

How about a Social Impact elective?

One class that I always thought would be meaningful, impactful, and highly visible to the community would be a Social Impact elective course. This would basically be a student-driven genius hour but focused heavily on the Contribution item in Section B of the 4 Shifts Protocol to include a community impact focus.

We could integrate some design thinking concepts at the beginning such as identifying a problem or challenge in the community, conducting empathy interviews, and beginning to prototype solutions. We probably would require a partnership with an external expert or organization. And there should be a highly-publicized exhibition at the end of the semester. I think that schools would see students do some PHENOMENAL work as they lean into areas of interest or concern in their local community as positive change-makers.

Such a course could occur at any grade level, but might be particularly valuable in middle or high school as students begin to search for more relevance in their school experience. I know a number of deeper learning schools that are doing similar work through teacher-created projects. These projects would be more student-initiated and -driven, and the elective course format might be a relatively easy on ramp for more traditional schools that aren’t well-versed in deeper learning but would like to start creating some different opportunities for students. In addition to building students’ efficacy as real world difference-makers, these experiences also would be fantastic additions to students’ job or college applications.

Your thoughts? Know anyone currently doing this?

Image credit: RTCA NPS, CASP Urban Trails workshop