Dip Your School’s Toe in the Water: 7 Baby Steps to Virtual Course Offerings

This post was originally posted in February. It was edited for content and grammatical corrections on April 12, 2015.

“Dip Your School’s Toe in the Water: 7 Baby Steps to Virtual Course Offerings at Your Independent School.” #edchat @saisnews

Critical hallmarks of independent school education are leaning tenuously on precipices from the Puget Sound to the Florida Keys; from the Island of Oahu to snowy Bangor, ME.  Some at our schools fear the traditional prep school model of small classrooms with traditional learning modes may be swept aside in favor of virtual learning.  Some are shaking in their boots (up North) or in their flip flops (in the islands).  But really, we should not be fearing this change.   Rather  we should embrace it as a critical adjustment to maintain our college preparatory identity.

If you are one of the ones fearing the prospect of online courses at your school, you shouldn’t be.  Online or virtual Learning may well solve a lot of the conflicts at your school, but certainly will not put your school out of business.  Rather than limiting your school or your students online learning will open things up and “expand your backyard.”

I have been studying this type of learning for my school for about a year.  I have known about it over fifteen years ago since I lived in West Virginia.  If you have ever been to West Virginia, you know it is hard to get around.  Folks get stuck in the hallows (pronounce like “hollers”) and no critical mass of population seems close to another in the state.  People in WV like elbow room.  So  it made sense for school systems to find ways to bring people together to learn without physically bringing them together.  In the mid to late 1990’s, West Virginia’s secondary schools and colleges invested in infrastructure that made e-learning possible.  Websites modules and e-mail between students and instructors replaced traditional face to face modes.  Once in a while, learners would converge for a presentation or a face to face with a professor, but generally one could do most of her learning in the comfort of home.

imagesFast forward 15 years and we now have schools across the country that offer no brick and mortar facilities for learning.  Will such schools put independent school education out of business?  I think not.  However, if our independent schools are to truly be college preparatory, our schools need to seriously consider providing online/virtual modes of instruction to our students.  According to recent scholarship, about 80% of all college courses now include some online components.  Furthermore, as of 2012, upwards of 32% of all higher education students took at least one course completely through online means according to “Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the US.” That figure is likely much higher in undergraduate courses.

What will that look like at your school?  Well if you are already following on Twitter, you probably already have assembled a plan for what online courses would look like at your school.  What I hope to do with this post is give you and your leadership team some considerations as you venture in or some reflections if you already have jumped into the pool. Thus, here are Baby Steps Toward Providing Virtual Learning Opportunities at Your School and the thought process behind them.

1. Step One, Credit Recovery: This is easiest place to dip your toe into the water.  Since many our institutions do not have summer school, or at least offer remediation for every course offering, our students turn other places for credit recovery.  Wouldn’t it be better to partner with a veritable online course provider your school.  The family of the student picks up the cost and your school is not left trying to figure out whether the make-up course the student took should count toward graduation.  It also may open up a more sincere conversation about whether students at your school should have access to credit recovery if they fail a course.  Several SAIS schools have a zero failure policy, forcing otherwise worthy students out of their prep school because of a single ding on the resume.  Summer online courses offer a better solution.

Step Two, Schedule Conflict Resolution: Most independent schools take advantage of economies of scale.  However, when we begin to diversify our course offerings with AP, Honors or IB classes, scheduling can get messy.  Conflicts often abound, meaning a less than ideal schedule for some of our students.  Virtual learning offers these students an opportunity to schedule as they normally would by flexing a course so that it does not have to be taken during a set period of the day.  Offering virtual courses in this situation can be a win-win for both the school and the student.

Step Three, Building a Critical Mass of Top Students: Unless your school is extraordinarily large, there is a strong likelihood that some of the courses you would like to offer cannot be offered to your best students because they are not economically feasible. Only have 3 for BC Calc, sorry.  Only a couple want to take AP Stats or AP Psychology, I’m sorry but I cannot allocate a teacher to teach 2-3 students for a full period.  I also think that a class of less than ten really has diminishing returns.  Virtual learning offers a solution to this situation.  An online course provider can assemble the critical mass of students necessary to offer both an economically feasible and learning-rich course.

Step Four, More Diverse Course Offerings: The best educators at the best schools are constantly seeking relevance for our students.  We know the industrial model of education where one size fits all does not develop the best students.  However, sometimes staffing and the dreaded prospect of economies of scale limits us from offering unique courses.  Courses like Law, BioTech, Design Thinking, Organic Chemistry, very specific literature studies, and a myriad of others are the types of classes we should offer, but do not.  However, online providers can offer these to our students when we cannot.  Opening our schools to competent and creative providers gives our students the opportunities we want them to have.

Step Five, Summer Courses, Lighter Semester Loads: When I lived in Honolulu and taught at Punahou, I marveled at the number of students who eagerly signed up to take summer classes in academic core subjects.  In retrospect, it made sense.  After all, we lived on an island that was expensive to leave.  Moreover, if a student took a course or two in the summer, it really lightened her load during the school year when AP classes, sports and arts really made for busy days. Now with online courses, a student can still go away for the summer and pick up a course or two.  Again, this is a win-win for the student and the school. Though the mostly affluent students who attend our schools are not subject to summer learning loss like others, continual scholarship through the summer will likely mean a better academic environment through the regular school year.

Step Six, Opening your Virtual Campus for Revenue Generation: Many of our schools are facing lighter enrollment due to the demographics of lower school eligible enrollees.  Additionally, with healthcare costs skyrocketing, some schools seek creative revenue streams instead of raising tuition.  Revenue generation is key and setting up an online course provider at your school is a viable answer.  The key here is to find populations who would not attend your school, but who might need a class your own teachers could offer through an online module.  Some online providers are now setting up school storefronts where the school can offer their courses and even serve as the conduit to the online provider, generating revenue with very little institutional effort.

Step Seven, Online Consortium of Schools: A critical element in the offering of a robust college prep education is also offering a diverse student body so that each of our students is surrounded by a myriad perspectives.  In some places like Miami and Honolulu this is easily done in our brick and mortar schools.  In others, it is more difficult.  By joining or forming a consortium of schools from across the country and across the globe, a school can widen the idea pool within which its students swim.  Online consortiums like Global Online Academy are doing that now with the biggest independent schools in the country.  However, the $30,000 initial buy-in, steep individual course price, and necessity of having 25-30 students participate per semester, likely means most of our schools cannot jump into GOA.  Instead, we can form our own consortiums of small and mid-sized schools and even generate caucus-style online frameworks.

I spoke in detail about this topic at the AAIS-AISA Biennial Conference on March 16, 2015 at Randolph School with Christin Skidmore, Virtual Learning Director at UMS-Wright of Mobile, AL.  Christin is perhaps the foremost school expert in the area of starting up virtual learning at brick and mortar schools. You might reach out to her as I did to get some great insights into this venture.

In the meantime, if the notion of dipping your toe into the water scarestps band at sunset you to death and if you fear that opening up virtual courses is akin to opening a pandora’s box of gloom and doom at your independent school, look at this picture at my school and know that what we do each day in the brick and mortar cannot be replaced, it can only be accentuated by online learning.

Mike Zavada is the Middle and Upper School Principal at Trinity Presbyterian School in Montgomery, AL.  He formerly held the roles of History Instructor, Coach, Athletic Director, College Counselor and Dean of Students at fine independent schools: Punahou (HI), Randolph (AL), and Palmer Trinity (FL).

Change Forces Re-Visited: Twitter for Ed. Envisioned Over Decades Ago

image taken from leaders lyceum.com, an organization dedicated to creating unique learning environments and 1 to 1 leadership coaching

image taken from leaderslyceum.com, an organization dedicated to creating unique learning environments and 1 to 1 leadership coaching

If there is anything that is underdeveloped in educational reform, it is the operational knowledge base that should be possessed and continually updated and refined by organizational members.  Leonard (1995) confirms that effective organizations couple their internal problem-solving capacities with constant access to and consideration of external knowledge.” Michael Fullan, Change Forces: The Sequel, 1999.  

Ever the forward-thinking educational provocateur, Fullan started writing over two decades ago about educational reform in an aggressive style.  It is a style that most would take for granted now in education.  Part of his focus for change intended to turn schools inside-out.

“If I had just invented Facebook, Twitter, …. fill in the social media outlet of your choice, I would have struck it big.”  For educators, the time to seek external knowledge is now and there is no better engine to use than Twitter.  Fullan himself could not have envisioned the power of Twitter to capture the vision he had in Chapter 4 of his Sequel: The Deep Meaning of Outside Collaboration.  In the chapter, Fullan expressed zeal for schools with a “absorptive capacity.”  In other words, they could steal great ideas and use them for the benefit of their students.  On page 43, there were four things he said these schools of the future would do would be to:

1.  create porous boundaries

2.  scan broadly

3. provide for continuous interaction

4.  nurture technological gatekeepers

Sounds a lot like educational use of Twitter by our best educators, doesn’t it? Let’s look at how great educators and schools could use these four elements for the betterment of their schools.

1.  create porous boundaries.  Why limit our search for great ideas to education?  Why limit the venues from which we gather creative opportunities?  Fullan, using research from Harvard Business School’s Dorothy Leonard-Barton, suggested bombarding our educators with ideas.  The “new normal” of education today should not be driven by ensuring content retainment.  Fullan’s idea of porous boundaries envisions learners with the skills to filter information through many layers.  If we wanted students who could regurgitate info back to us, then yes a non-porous, sticky surface makes sense.  Three days of instruction and the testing cloud of dust each week would make sense.  Instead Fullan and forward thinking educators would throw hundreds of ideas at learners, have them process, and then act.  In the porous process, ideas would get lost, certainly and temporarily.  However, a few ideas would captivate and the learner would have the opportunity to make new meaning, and more importantly, make progress with the idea.  Twitter allows for that rapid bombardment of ideas to come streaming at us.  We simply take and use what we need and filter through that which we do not.

2. Scan broadly.  How big is your PLN (Professional Learning Network)? Twitter allows us to be on a first name basis with folks from the four corners of the world.  My regular feed shares the thoughts of those in Atlanta, Scotland, LA, the Hawaiian Islands and on to Australia.  I have business moguls and 9th grade English teachers in my feed.  I have middle school girls basketball coaches and NBA coaches in my feed.  I have a slew of entrepreneurs along side classical liberal scholars.  I have creative artists in my feed and I also have concrete bean counters in my feed.  I can expand or cull as I see fit and as my learning dictates.

3. Provide continuous interaction.  One of the foremost educational practitioners on Twitter is @GrantLichtman, author of #EdJourney, a daring action research which features Lichtman getting in his Prius and traveling cross country to interview more than 600 people connected to education in 64 schools over 98 days.  It was a ambitious undertaking.  It was a continuous interaction.  Few of us can take on that kind of enterprise.  However, with Twitter, I can have short interviews each and every evening or even in the early morning with #BFC530, a daring group of educators around the globe who check in every day at 5:30 EST.  Gone are the days of the once a year national or state conference as the only PD an educator can get outside of their school.

4. Nurture technological gatekeepers.  Fullan thought it wise to take care of those who stretched themselves outside the boundaries and who were cutting-edge in their learning.  Much like we give additional support to families and soldiers on the front lines, we need to be mindful to encourage those that go to the edge to bring the ideas back.  My Head of School at Trinity does an excellent job of this and makes it a pleasure to work at my school.  Speaking from Fullan’s vantage point, if I may be so bold, I’m thinking that schools should be exceptionally safe for the tech gatekeepers today.  Instead, those trying to hold on to the past and who blow up mission appropriate ideas that come from the outside should be the ones that should be in jeopardy.  Fullan referred to these folks as the NIH crowd, those who disdain anything that was “Not Invented Here.”

Now would be a great time to reach back and refer to Fallen.  You can find him @MichaelFullan1 or you can go old school and dive deeply into his myriad of change-oriented education books.  A fine synopsis of them can be found at http://www.michaelfullan.ca/books/.

until next time, what is your rate of change over time as you drive change at your schools…

image taken from allaboutcircuits.com

image taken from allaboutcircuits.com

John Dewey’s Dimes: Should Your School be More Like a Start-up? 4 Ways it Should be

Is your school corporate- traditional or start-up snappy? Picture Public Domain on Wikipedia

Is your school corporate- traditional or start-up snappy?
Picture Public Domain on Wikipedia

Schools are institutions.  Schools have traditions.  Schools have standards.  Those that go to a school, especially and private, independent school, like to see it look exactly the way they left it when they return for Homecoming.  Schools also have 5 year strategic plans and accreditation seasons to make sure they are a lot less like a start-up and much more like IBM:  corporate, structured, thoroughly planned, hierarchical. Start-up?  That kind of talk at an independent school is heresy; but should it be?

Start-ups are nimble.  Start-ups have leadership from the middle.  Start-ups know the marketplace and situate themselves accordingly.  Start-ups make great relationships with their tribes and deliver what the tribes need.  Most importantly, start-ups incubate the products and services the market does not yet know it needs years before it needs it.

Is your school nimble like a start-up?  Image taken from  www.walterborneman.com

Is your school nimble like a start-up?
Image taken from

These two seemingly unrelated concepts (the accreditation process and the characteristics of a start-up) came together for me at 5 o’clock this morning to crystalize two important truths about schools in the age we live in today.  The 5 year school accreditation process (we use SACS-SAIS) and yesterday’s American Public Media, Aug 15 “When Does a Start-Up Stop Being a Start-Up” on Marketplace (raise your hands if you think Kai Ryssdal is as cool as I do) connected these dots for me.  You might be wondering what I had to eat last night that put my mind into such a frenzy to put those things together?  But, we all know that the start of the new school year can make us all a bit crazy; second year principals especially.  So read this blog at your own peril.

Anyway, here are the two important truths for schools brought to life from accreditation and Marketplace:

  • On paper and at the top, a school must be corporate IBM with a Mission, a Vision, Traditions, and strong institutional control.  This is how we know if we are doing what we say we do.  We should have a Board of Trustees structure that gives the grand plan representative of the stakeholders to the Head of School.  The Head of School then wisely positions her people to to carry out the plan for the long-term well being of the students.
  • On the ground and in the middle of a school characteristics of  start-up are highly valuable.  Our teachers need to be able to make decisions to drive the school forward.  Our teachers have to branch out and make new relationships seemingly every day. Our teachers have to feel as empowered in a 900 student, 100 faculty member, K4-12 school as the employee/part-owner of a ten person start-up in Silicon Valley, Soho, or Montgomery, AL.

In connecting the dots from the APM article/broadcast with my independent school experience, I’m thinking that schools should be like start-ups in these ways:

1.  Schools should be set up in such a manner that the teachers lead from the middle.  Any great start-up is built on a equalitarian model where ideas are generated and executed from every part of the small business.  Tyranny rarely works in a start-up. A start-up won’t amount to much if it doesn’t put all its people in position to innovate and execute.  Schools are the same way.  Great teachers are more apt to come up with innovative ways to build capacity in students, especially those struggling, than anything that could come from the top.  Great schools recognize this and give teachers the room and the license to do so.

2.  Start-ups incubate ideas that will eventually coalesce into the products and services people need in the future, but these people do not yet know they need them.  As the educational establishment is quickly realizing through folks like Tony Wagner, schools are preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist (see Tony Wagner, Seven Survival Skills).  Start-ups produce the items we don’t yet know we need but will.  Schools produce the vibrant thinkers who will ideate these products and services.  Which begs the question: can your school’s 5 year strategic plan account for how you will systematically prepare your students to thrive in this type of pace?  Thus, the bi-polar balance schools need to be able to both stay the course of mission and be nimble enough to extrapolate where our students will need to be in a dramatically changing landscape.

3.  Start-ups generate revenue based on present and future market realities.  Schools have trouble with this.  When the low Kindergarten-age demographics and slow economy of the past couple of years nationwide meant lower enrollments at K-6, K-8, K-12 schools, was your school ahead of the curve?  If not, it probably meant A) Your School went into debt B) You had to let teachers/staff go or C) Your team members lost valuable benefits and your school became one somewhat less desirable within which to work.  If your school was ready with alternative revenue streams to meet the bottom line, it probably meant A) You had developed strong non-tuition revenue from things like summer programs, on-line courses, or creative facility use B) You have an unshakeable endowment that makes you the envy of every other school/you have the best Annual Fund Director in the Free World or C) You added pre-school programs/ had built in capacity at other grade divisions and flexible teachers to make some innovative transitions.

4.  Start-ups are innovative, creative places and, no matter what, schools should be also.  The missing link of education the past 20-30 years during higher stakes testing has been the creative process.  After all, why should teachers spend time helping students develop ideas when students only are tested on the things the test says they need to know? Why have programs in the Arts, when that takes time away from teaching to the test?

If you think your school is immune to the aforementioned lapses in judgement because independent schools aren’t beholden to standardized testing, you haven’t spent much time in your college counselor’s office.  For better or worse, ACT’s and SAT’s matter in today’s independent schools.  Either students are striving for the highest standardized testing scores to get into highly selective colleges or they are trying to get that 30 ACT to get an automatic scholarship to a large public university.  Either way, such situations can cloud the judgements schools make on what is important to develop.  Companies go through the same dilemma.  As the Sally Hership’s article  “When Does a Start-Up Stop Being a Start-Up” suggests, a start-up ceases being a start-up when finds its bread n butter and goes all in on that product or service.  When it does so, it sells its start-up soul.  It becomes corporate as the wonks make policy to ensure the bread n butter gets made the same way each and every time.  Schools become like this when testing drives the learning discussion.

The good news is that there are several schools out there who recognize the value of staying the course with a Mission and Vision developed through dedicated and disciplined strategic planning over time who also allow leadership from the middle and are nimble enough to answers questions like these as these serve students:

  • Do we offer our students on-line courses so they get the hang of a learning mode they will likely encounter?  UMS-Wright in Mobile is one such school that does this.
  • Do we develop pedagogy capacity in our teachers that models the ways students will need to operate in their future careers?  Mount Vernon Presbyterian near Atlanta has incorporated Design Thinking as its main mode of learning.  They also don’t have an Academic Dean, but they do have a Chief Innovation Officer.
  • Do we generate revenue from sources beside tuition and endowment?  Punahou School in Honolulu has been doing so for years mainly through summer programs.  In fact, more students attend Punahou during the summer than during the normal school year.  Its revenue generation in summer programs is in the several millions.  Best of all, it brings teachers from all over the world to its campus in the summer to share ideas and develop new ones.

If your school is already operating and innovating like a start-up, I’d love to hear about it on Twitter @MikeZavada.  If not find schools like the ones above and look at characteristics that make a good school like a start-up.

Until next time, let’s get started…

The New Moneyball: How Historical Analysis Might Be Used by Teams to Get Ahead

This post has been updated with new content on July 1, 2014

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana

“It’s like deja vu all over again.” Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra

In some ways, I wish I had been born a decade or two later. If I had been, I think I could have been the General Manager for my beloved Philadelphia Phillies (or at least the assistant general manager). About thirteen years ago, Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) in the movie Moneyball based on the book written by Michael Lewis, started to think a different way about the game of baseball. Instead of thinking the same way the game had been thought for the past century, Beane began instituting advanced analytics in measuring how best to put a team on the field that would produce wins with a limited payroll. The success of the A’s, Beane’s team who are leading the American League this year incidentally, and the extraoridinarily well written book Moneyball by Michael Lewis, pushed many leaders of sports teams to think similarly.

Today it is not uncommon for GM’s like Sam Hinkie of my woeful Sixers franchise to take Beane’s ideas for baseball and apply them to basketball. Hinkie was the darling of last Thursday’s NBA draft process because he has used a disciplined and patient approach to acquiring assets (affordable and potentially talented players, along with future high draft picks). For Hinkie, and folks like his mentor Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey, the surest way to a championship is a few years of futility and a lot of painful losses. Such a process, while excruciating for fans, ensures salary cap space, roster flexibility and those valuable assets: high draft picks, foreign player rights, and tradeable expiring contracts. Simulateously, these highly criticized “gurus” are analyzing player statistical data with new algorithms, derivatives, and hokus pokus that only the valedictorians of our classes understood or cared about to create meaning and a way forward.

Which gets me back to my generational disappointment. You see, I did not see myself as being good at Math. I did not have the benefit of Carol Dweck’s Mindset. I didn’t realize that though I struggled in Math it was because “I wasn’t good at it ‘yet.'” I did, however, love sports and I imagine if I was born twenty years later, I might have been going to college with Moneyball on my mind. It may have helped me relate to Math more. Maybe I would have loved Economics more and would not have been scared away by all the Math in Econ if I knew that it could be applied to Sports Management.

I did, however, love History. I majored in History during my undergraduate work and even had a graduate fellowship in History before making a career change to coach College Basketball. (Man, I wish I had Beane’s cronies’ metrics when I was trying to recruit good players to Montgomery, WV with 3.5 total scholarships to offer for the whole team). Incidently, one “academic discipline” used to lure talented players to my school West Virginia Tech before I got there there was allegedly “Geography.” Well, really, the supposition that school systems were so bad at teaching Geography that high schoolers couldn’t tell the difference between West Virginia (Tech) and Virginia (Tech). One of the lores commonly held at WVU Tech was that the best player ever to play there, Sedale Threatt (Sixers, Bulls Lakers, Rockets) thought he was signing his letter of intent for the Virginia Tech Hokies of the Metro Conference in Division I, not the Golden Bears of WVU Tech of the West Virginia Conference in the lowly NAIA at that time. Once he had signed, no one had the heart to tell him his mistake until he was on campus for classes in 1979.

I bring up my love for History because I am wondering when the use of Beane’s Moneyball style of analytics will run its course in sports and give way to some other discipline’s dominance. As the movie Moneyball suggested, during the past ten years there has been a tension between traditional scouting that used relationships at the local level, live viewing of games, and “gut instincts” of seasoned scouts versus the unemotional statistics-based biases of Beane’s boys. These boys were typically young, newly graduated Economics and Math Majors from the Ivys.

I bring it up because I’m wondering what the next generation of sports analysts might look like and pondering if educational institutions like ours might be able to get ahead of the curve in training young men and women to be the next generation of decision makers in sports. Is it possible the the next strand of sports analytics will be looking for excellent historians?

One could make the case that using data like OPS (On Base Percentage and Slugging statistic widely used by sabermetrics to value batting prowess) might give way to historians looking at similarly situated teams from earlier eras. Could my Phillies find historical cause and effect elements in the Big Red Machine’s foundation in the 1970’s and build a dynasty similarly? Could the woeful Astros of today take the history of the Cardinals’ storied franchise and practice the same empire building? (Ben Reiter recently wrote an excellent piece in SI about them doing such at Astro-Matic It certainly seems possible. Afterall, franchise decisions catalogued over long periods of time offer glimpses to the future in the same way one might look at the successes and failures of peace processes in the Middle East. As 20th Century Pragmatist Philosopher George Santayana famously penned: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” so should teams remember the history of the game to avoid going down a woeful road.

After about 5 wonderful years and World Series Championship in 2008, my Phillies appear to be at the crossroads many teams face. Aging stars with hefty contracts no longer produce like they did 5 years ago when they were on cost efficient salaries. They appear to be like the millions of our citizens on FDR’s Social Security doll, paid for past services rendered though not capable or desiring to work at the levels they previously worked. Historians can debate the equity and fairness of offering a nationwide pension plan like SS (though it was never really intended as such). However, there is no getting around the fact that SS and other entitlements make the United States as ineffective and stuck for the long term as my current Phillies.

Once could make the case the Phillies situation may be even worse. At least China has been willing to swoop in and buy American debt obligations. China doesn’t play in the MLB. So they won’t be buying up what amounts to long-term disability payments to dear players like Ryan Howard who gave up his Achilles heel to previous playoff battles but who is now the metaphorical Achilles heel of the Phillies future plans. They can’t trade him and they can’t develop a talented Darin Ruf behind him.

Could the Phillies have seen what was coming? Could they have sold off the likes of Howard and Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels in 2009 before the crash? They only needed to look at American Economic History two years before when both the stock market and the housing bubble buried Americans in the Great Recession. It is safe to say we are out of the recession now seven years later with the Dow at 17,000 and homes in FL, CA, NV and others flying through the market, but what a “long, strange trip its been.” Here’s to hoping it won’t take seven years for the Phillies to rebuild their market share. FDR said “all we have to fear, is fear itself.” I’m fearful of much more like 20,000 fans or less in the stands, 60 win seasons, and futility rivaling an Post WWII Eastern European Economy.

In the meantime, I’ll be studying ways to help students look at these trends and design a better future. While technology and mathematical algorithms might be the current trend, it would be wise for us not to forget history as a means of finding meaning and preparing for the future. Training our students as historians may also prepare them for careers in lucrative endeavors like sports entities.

If you still believe that sports are not one of the most important industries in America and the world, you may have your head buried in the sand. Perhaps you still have some quaint notion of college sports as the attractive amateurism of the 1950’s. The O’Bannon, et al case versus the NCAA that is currently going on in Oakland, California is likely to be as much a landmark case in postsecondary education as Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (affirmative action). If the verdict goes as most believe it will, there will be untold economic implications. Historians may be needed to create meaning in what will be a Wild West of athlete freedoms. They will be needed to liken the current scenario to previous scenarios and build a framework for how to move forward. As they create meaning, they will create a new paradigm. As they do this, they will also create immense career value for themselves. 20140701-091054-33054588.jpg

I’ll Trade You for Your Pudding (but if you won’t, my Pringles are still a solid B.A.T.N.A)

It recently occurred to me that something at first so natural to kids at the cafe lunch table in elementary school tends to be so absent from our school curricula. For over two hundred years in American education there has a been a “N” word that has been prohibited at schools and it has nothing to do with race. “Negotiation.” There, I said it. It has a nice ring to it. Yet, it is a skill schools feel uncomfortable teaching their students. Maybe it is because many teachers themselves are so uncomfortable with the process. One can picture the early 1800’s schoolmarm or master abhorring the prospects of negotiating a fair salary with the townspeople. Room, board and some travel expenses will suffice but what if I am no longer able to teach? Outside of public school district collective bargaining, teachers in general have been reluctant wheelers and dealers. Is this why educators tend to be paid less on average than most professions requiring as much education.

Educators also tend to scare at the notion of students having a negotiating voice in school proceedings. One does not have to be around long to hear from a fellow teacher that “the inmates are running the asylum” when the notion of the value of student input into the curriculum and discipline code are broached by students or the “radical” colleague.

Well, I want to assert the case for negotiation as one of the primary skill sets we teach American students. Why do we kick the proverbial can down the road toward Business school or MBA programs when it comes to negotiation? Shouldn’t the abilities to empathize, strategize, barter, problem solve, create and close be central to the 21st Century Education? Pat Bassett, past President of the National Association of Independent Schools cited six “Demonstrations of Learning” in 2009. Many independent schools ran with the list and incorporated it with slight variations into their strategic plans and their portraits of learners in their communities. The splendid six were:

1. Character (self-discipline, empathy, integrity, resilience, and courage);
2. Creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit;
3. Real-world problem-solving (filtering, analysis, and synthesis);
4. Public speaking/communications;
5. Teaming
6. Leadership

Among the researchers Bassett cited in his 2009 article espousing these six was Tony Wagner and his impressive work The Global Achievement Gap which bemoaned the ways students were learning (or not) in schools and how we were not preparing them with skills they would need to compete in a world that had shifted. The world had shifted mostly because it is now flat as Thomas Friedman eloquently stated in his critical text. But even Wagner and Bassett don’t specifically say we need to teach negotiation. Respecting both of them, I would tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. In doing so, I would point to the six skills and illustrate just how implicit negotiation is to each.

1. Empathy is a critical skill in negotiation. Knowing the cards the other side holds as well as the emotional leanings they have can help one get to the heart of a deal that will work. Resiliency and courage are critical to making the right deals and being patient to hold out for what matters most. Cultural negotiations also lend themselves to wonderful learning opportunities in empathy. We all can envision the 1980’s power business deals with the Japanese with the awkwardness of the handshake versus the bow. It would be great to put our students in situations such as these. And with the technical ease of something like Skype, we can now do this without traveling abroad.
2. Creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit are critical to the negotiation process. Placing students in negotiation scenarios is the best way for them to practice these skills. We can’t just talk about creativity or have them design an art project and say we are teaching creativity. Furthermore, the entrepreneurial student is traditionally looked upon with a weary eye by educators. Formal negotiation training built into curricula can correct this failing.
3. When we can’t agree at the lunch table on a one for one deal Pringles for Pudding, we need to see other possible outcomes. What about a 3 way deal? What about future considerations? Our students can see this in NBA transactions, but why can’t we bring this to life for them in the curriculum? Bassett mentioned filtering, analysis and synthesis. Ostensibly this means DATA. Why can’t STEM courses incorporate negotiation data analysis into their skills development?
4. The ability to communicate ones needs in a transaction is critical practice. Having taught Speech and Debate for several years at an independent school, I was frustrated by the typically uninspired persuasive speech on a less relevant topic foisted upon the student. Lincoln-Douglass debates also lacked pizzaz. So, I added a third component to my course: negotiation. We negotiated salary packages for first jobs out of college. We negotiated collective bargaining agreements. We negotiated Nick Saban’s contract at Bama (the boys, in particular, loved that one).
5. Teaming to get a deal done is also one of the wonderful processes in negotiation. Whether I work together with those on my side to see the whole picture or I team with my chief rival for the common good, I learn that only by working in unison can the greater good be served. In the Negotiation classes, we practiced a wonderful game/simulation lent to us by Harvard’s Program on Negotiation. In the game, two teams are created. Each team has a chief negotiator. The rest of the seven members of each team are responsible for certain parts of the deal creation. The teams are situated in opposite rooms, and at designated times, only the counterparts of negotiation (Chief with Chief, #2 with opponent #2, etc) meet at the negotiating table. When they go back to the team room, they invariably try to sway their team to make the concessions needed by their counterpart. The counterparts become invested in each other. Points are given when there is agreement on certain issues. When there are breakdowns, points are deducted. This is a tremendous exercise in a greater framework for teamwork. It also relates closely with Skill #1, empathy. Educators can see how important this is at an adult level in schools when a proposal needs endorsement. For more simulations from Harvard’s PON go to www.pon.harvard.edu/teaching-materials-publications
6. Negotiating for one’s side means standing up for the things that matter and conceding the things that don’t really matter. Isn’t that what leadership is?

I encourage educators to take a second look at your perceptions of negotiation. Is it a dirty word? Do you feel dirty doing it? Why do we let students hit the “real world” without this critical skill? Do they have to get ripped off on their first used car purchase as a “rite of passage” to learn negotiation skills? We can do better.

Until next time, here’s my best offer: Your pudding and peanut butter sandwich, along with Jimmy’s peach for my Pringles, Jimmy’s apple and another snack to be named later. What do you say?

B.A.T.N.A.= best alternative to negotiated agreement, i.e. if we don’t make a deal what will I have? Is that better than the deal they are offerin


Distracted, Dazed and Confused: How Much Tech is Too Much for Our Students?

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the annual Paideia/CESA Conference in Dallas, Texas.  Each year the conference focuses school leaders on three essential elements: stronger biblical worldview integration in our curriculums, financial sustainability of our schools, and intentional focus on our pedagogy.  The last of these reflected on “Technology for Human Flourishing.”  Are our students using technology for the higher purposes of learning: reflection, deeper understanding, nuance, more engaged collaboration, and to create more leisure time for family with efficiency?  These questions were asked along the way.

Especially thought provoking was the CESA keynote from Maggie Jackson, author of  Distracted: the Erosion of  Attention and the Coming Dark Age.  Jackson posits that there are some distrubing side effects of 24/7 tethered world.  Most notably, Jackson is concerned that the daily living conditions of our students tied to a smart phone and a computer may mean the loss of creativity and focus.  Jackson shared some alarming statistics about depression, detachment from peers, loss of attention, inability to have meaningful conversations and other points that gave one pause.

These were cautionary tales from someone who was heavily engaged in the 24/7 news cycle and accustomed to being tethered to technology to get the next story having worked previously at the Boston Globe. I questioned Jackson on that point because for every cautionary tale about those too immersed in the tech edges there are equally saddening stories about adults who did not keep up with the times and lost lifetime careers in industries.

In the summer of 2012, I recall a sad Friday in Huntsville when three friends from church all lost their jobs at the Huntsville Times.  The newspaper consortium was going to 3 papers a week and concentrating all content to their mobile web based publication.  To become more nimble, they were going to layoff 60% of the staff. On that fateful Friday, every staff member of the Times was asked to report to work and labor at their desks until their name was called in alphabetical order.  The powers that were would share each individual’s fate over the course of the day.  Adams, Bowers, Catzanza… One of my friends had worked at the paper 30 years.  His name started with a W.  It was a long day.  Eventually, he gave up when they were around the S’s.   Ultimately, enough was enough.   He didn’t want to work in a business that treated people this way.

He later shared with me that there were just two considerations the employers made for layoffs:

  • who was making too much money
  • who was not capable of creating digital content.

The senior long thinkers treasured by those like Jackson were left with about two months severance and no idea what to do next.

I share this cautionary tale because as Christian educators we have a sacred duty to be mindful about three critical areas when developing out students.  We have to protect their hearts (certainly dangerous when evil content is more readily available).  We have to inspire them to be lifelong learners.  We do both so that they can ultimately carry out the third area:  be an instrument for the great works God has preordained for them to do according to Ephesians 2:10.  It should be no easier to live with ourselves if we bury our heads in the sand and say “no to tech” if it means we produce students unprepared for the 21st Century world they are supposed to create meaning within.


Maggie Jackson’s 2009 book offers cautionary tales about the life we lead immersed in technology.

Ultimately, I like Jackson’s approach with this work and her speech at CESA.   She uses technology and advocates for its wise use, just with significant limits. Though she claims no distinctly Christian worldview, she seems to live with technology much like John prays for Christ’s followers in his Gospel.   In John 17:15 it is written: “my prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”  We live in a technologically advanced world.  Nothing in the near term is going to change that.  As a matter of fact, it may be the way precisely God wants it.  What we can do as Christian educators is set up some boundaries or guardrails to technology so that it becomes a help for our students and not an idol.

Stay tuned to Dewey’s Dimes for Quick Tips in the Parent-School Partnership on setting up Tech Guardrails for our Students

6 Signs of an Outstanding Faculty

This weekend I began my weekly e-mail to the faculty while taking in some rays on the beach. Each week I challenge our faculty in a few areas collectively and then celebrate notable accomplishments of the individuals with whom I am blessed to work. While reclining and reading Dweck’s Mindset, I sighted a formation of 20 storks flying over me. Since they have been used in common culture as the deliverers of newborns, I will use them to bring you my new blog: Dewey’s Dimes and my post about what an Outstanding Faculty Looks Like.

Six Signs of an Outstanding Faculty
1. A Great Faculty consists of more storks than bats: As I saw on the beach, storks can fly toward a target collectively, but feel free enough to change directions slightly to experiment in the currents. They don’t just haphazardly fly here and there like bats seeking the next insect, nor sit isolated in their cave of a classroom. What I also like about storks is that they fly above the currents; they don’t get bogged down the winds of rumor. Great faculties soar above idle chatter and stay focused on the mission.  Storks also bring birth (at least in mythology). A wonderful faculty births new ideas and helps a school move forward by implementing them. Finally, while I’m no biologist, my primitive observations noticed there were no set leaders in the stork formation. Rather, each took turns leading when it made sense. Great schools have faculties that lead from the middle just like the stork formation I encountered.

2. Great faculties are experts in their respective fields, but see many connections to other fields. I love it when faculty members see their students and fellow teachers in other roles outside the classroom in areas like Football, Volleyball, Debate, Band, etc. They then bring those observations into their own classroom to add relevancy. They also go outside their field to find ideas. Likewise, they readily share their expertise and point out the expertise of others. Great Faculties do this today through things like PLN’s on Twitter. They also present at conferences. These are two of the challenges I have made to our faculty: to create a PLN on twitter and to have at least 20% of our faculty present at a state, regional or national conference within the next two years. Finally, I have noticed, as ironic as it may seem, some of the most excellent faculty members I have encountered at my four schools taught out of their original field or training. Trinity has an extraordinary 6th grade math teacher who has been at the school for over 3 decades. She was trained as a physical education teacher and as a coach. She brought her coaching toolbox to the math classroom and has been a master at the 3 R’s: Relationships, Rigor and Relevance with her students. I think these out of field teachers epitomize lifelong learning and thereby become excellent faculty members.

3. Great Faculty Members have a Growth Mindset. Per Carol Dweck at Mindset Online great learners always reassess what they have done, what they are doing, and what they will do. They don’t just automatically default to the file cabinet for what they will do next since they did it last year. They simply see themselves on a continuum growing forward and higher.image

4. They have a “Yes, And” attitude, not a “Yes, But” attitude. This comes from my friend James T. Richardson (@PrincipalJRich), a great practitioner of #2. When great faculties are tasked with a challenge that promotes the mission, they say “yes we can do it and this will help us to also… The alternative is wrought with turf protection and stagnation.

5. Great Faculties are highly competent and developing in the 6 skills for 21st Century Learning per Pat Bassett of NAIS.. They model critical thinking and problem solving. They are creative and entrepreneurial. They communicate well in both the written and spoken word including in their use of social media. They are cosmopolitan in that know about many areas and cultures, and are thereby empathetic. They are collaborative (huge for today’s faculty). Last, but not least, they are people of high character who display resilience and self-discipline.

6. Finally, from my perspective as a principal at a school charged with glorifying God, I think great faculties collectively take to heart a lesson from one of the best teachers of all-time, the Apostle Paul. Paul writes in his letter to the church at Ephesus in 2:10 “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 HCSB). Great teachers step into classrooms to work with students who they firmly believe are destined to do great things in a manner designed long in advance by our Creator. With that kind of mentality, it is easy to dig in and do one’s best.

I wish you the best that God has in store for you as you carry out the great works your students need from you.