Tradigital Independent School: 5 Must Do’s for Potent Professional Development on a Shoestring

Today I was reminded by a colleague of the great opportunity to go to the SAIS Annual Conference in Atlanta going on currently.  The Southern Association of Independent Schools serves many fine members from Virginia through the South on to Texas.  I have had the great opportunity to attend in the past and was privileged to present during a session four years ago.   This year, it was not in the cards.  I had busted my PD budget with ISM’s (Independent School Management) wonderful summer training conference for Division Heads in Salt Lake City.   Like many other schools, mine has been keeping a watchful eye on enrollment amid demographic shifts in school ready populations.  Prudence with resources has necessitated resourcefulness.  Innovation in PD is no longer a luxury; it’s essential to bring big value at smaller expense.  With all of that in mind, Independent School Leaders should be aware of the best means by which educators can cultivate their craft.  Looking at three key elements of PD: Cost, Convenience and Capacity, I have ranked 5 PD options for Independent School Educators.

1. Use Twitter. This one tops the charts in 2/3 categories and isn’t far off in the third (Capacity): Cost (It’s Free), Convenience (any educator can do it as soon as the kids are asleep), Capacity (I can instantly network and learn from eminent leaders in my educational field with a few clicks).  If you are not on Twitter, you really do owe it to yourself.  You could never post a tweet and still view blogs, journals, opinion pieces, data, and vibrant debate with colleagues from all over the world in rich 20-30 minute sessions.

A Twitter PLN ranked as the #2 form of PD for an Independent Educator

A Twitter PLN ranked as the #2 form of PD for an Independent Educator

2. Join a Twitter Professional Learning Network.  At any given time in any timezone, educators are conversing on Twitter about engaging topics in Ed.  Click the google docs link to the right and you can find a group of educators meeting on Twitter on a given day at a given time (thanks @thomascmurray , @cevans5095 and @cybraryman1 for compiling).  Early birds can get on #satchat, 21st Century Educators meet at 8 EST on Sunday nights (a very popular night incidentally).  You can double dip Sunday nights if you are also an Algebra teacher at #alg1chat.  My favorite meets Wednesday nights at 9 EST.  It is the #DK12Chat for educators into Design Thinking pedagogy.  Back in the day, I would have loved #apuschat when I was teaching that course.  Almost every state including my home state (#ALedchat) has one.  If you have an area of interest, there is probably a group that meets at a set time on Twitter to converse.  Again, it’s free and it’s powerful with many of the moderators having great insights.  It is, however, a little less convenient because you have to sync up with the times for your group to participate.

3.  Present at a Local, State, Regional or National Conference.  When I became principal of my school last year, one of the chief challenges I made to my faculty was that 20% of them would present at one of the aforementioned by the fall of 2015.   So far we are up to about 16%.  This summer, I expect us to blow past the 20%.  I had four teachers present at i-Summit Atlanta which ties in nicely since our school is an Apple Distinguished School.  This one ranks third because it ranks highest in the capacity or raw power of the professional development, but is more expensive than 1 or 2.  There is nothing like prepping to teach fellow adults to sharpen one’s insights.  I also find that those who are becoming a little bored in their craft become inspired when aiming to teach their colleagues from other schools.   I worked for weeks prior to my presentation at SAIS, checking my facts, bouncing ideas of others, and practicing the routines for the presentation.   Another cost benefit is that most conferences give some discount to presenters.  Obviously, the most sought presenters get paid to go.  It sure would be great to have folks like that on your faculty.  Do note that the deadlines to present proposals for most regional and national conferences are usually at least 3 months in advance of the conference.  The ability to take rejection is also a “failing up” skill your faculty may learn along the way.  I have been rejected at least 4-5 times and have presented about the same amount.

4.  Go on a School Visit.   This option is really the wildcard.  Some school visits are virtually free if you are nearby.  However, in the independent school arena, one usually has to go at least 90 minutes away to visit a non-competing school.  And while we may have great friends at rival schools, learning a lot from them and bringing it back home isn’t exactly a recipe for the type of innovation that will set you apart in your market.  Certainly, one could go to visit public schools in the area.  These are good opportunities to see how others operate, but it is likely your environment is not similar enough to bring back significant changes.   So to use #4, we have to hit the road.  That drives up expenses a bit.  Since expenses are higher, you’ll want to get big bang for your buck.  My advice is to research schools with a similar mission, ask about their pet projects and connect with the a peer colleague at the school to plan the visit during a normal operating day.   Try to take several folks from your school who may have interest in the pet projects, those who are your pied pipers on the faculty and some you simply need to set on fire.  This one obviously scores high on capacity.  All of the earlier ones tend to be theoretical in nature, but this one you can see played out in a similar school.  Last year I loaded up two Suburbans with my History and Bible faculty to see the Dunham School in Baton Rouge and their wonderful Harkness Method pedagogy.  Later, I took Science faculty and many from my Middle School division to see Mount Vernon Presbyterian’s dynamic Design Thinking habits.  Both visits sparked wonderful conversations among my faculty and led to some distinctive innovations at our school.

5.  Make a Four Year Plan to Visit the Very Best Possible Conference and Keep that Network Alive.  We all know that conference that we would love to go to each year.  It brings the best and brightest thinkers in your specific field together.  Maybe it is so in-depth that it captures every nuance relevant to your field.  Maybe it is a week long and its in the summer so you don’t have any conflicts for your mind or your time.  These may score the highest on the capacity ledger, but they are extremely expensive.  They harken back to school budgets before 9/11 when travel was cheaper and when every independent school had a waiting list.  If you and your school have budget constraints, try to work a 3 or 4 year plan for your faculty to go to the best conference in their respective fields.  This should not be an exercise taken lightly.   If you are the school leader, ask to see the breakout sessions.  Ask to see the other schools attending.  Is the conference in a city with excellent schools?  Is a school visit ala #4 possible to maximize the school’s dime?  Finally, have your faculty do their very best to develop a PLN from the conference that has some staying power.  I am grateful to the folks I met at ISM conference I mentioned earlier for sticking together.  We wrote letters to each other, set up a Facebook page, read each others blogs, and e-mail frequently to ask questions.  Having spent 10 hours a day with colleagues for a week, makes them friends from whom to continually learn.  It was expensive to go, but the dividends hopefully will continue to pay out for years to come.

A few others that did not make the list but are rewarding are:  AP Reading/Grading, State Ed Conventions (public school oriented), Summer Fly-Bys while on Vacation, Grad School, MOC’s, Skype visits with other schools.

Until next time, may your PD be innovative, creative and on the cheap!


Review of #EdJourney by Grant Lichtman

#EdJourney by Grant Lichtman, a travelogue of educational practice across an innovating America

Lichtman, Grant.  #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education.  San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, 2014.

Sitting as a freshman in an upper level History of the Old South course at George Mason University in the early 1990’s, I had no idea that twenty years later I would be using a skill learned during that class for my professional work today as a principal for two divisions in an independent school.  I loved my undergraduate days as a History major.  I thought I would graduate and then get my Phd in History. A life in academia was in my future.  Little did I realize the days of ample job prospects in Academe were numbered.  The 2500 some-odd candidates that applied to LSU for Phd’s in History that year had about as much chance as landing a academic job as the 20 who actually earned acceptance.  Yet, I was prepared for my future by some visionary professors, ironically in the History department, who understood the main theme of Lichtman’s travelogue: schools and educators today cannot possibly know the content students will need in their working lives, but the best educational leaders today develop skills, or more accurately learning processes, that will inevitably be needed.

As I began to read Grant Lichtman’s rich travelogue on education, #EdJourney, I unexplainably felt the need write the one page book review taught by the late Dr. Robert Hawkes in the History of the Old South.  He taught with equal parts nurturer and taskmaster and was widely beloved by his students.  However, the best thing an older history professor with a slow Southern drawl and a tremendously conservative, traditional background taught was that change is inevitable and the students in his classes should be preparing now for the unseeable changes that lie ahead.

The one page book review was one of the ways Dr. Hawkes prepared us.  Most in the Historical Establishment at the time thought brevity was for cowards or the laggards.  Yet, Dr. Hawkes realized brevity would have value.  I can remember the day he returned our first efforts.  Many had not taken to heart his clear directions to limit the assignment to one page double spaced.  They were rife with red ink and temporary failure in the same way Twitter smites those who extend beyond 140 characters.  Hawkes was my precursor to Twitter.  I also thought it was a brave step for Dr. Hawkes to prepare his students for a world where he/she with the cogent and concise point beat the belabored one.

Lichtman’s book pays homage to those across America brave enough to educate for the unseen and who are not beholden to the way things have been.  The book is so powerful because he understands even more clearly what Peter Schwartz, writer of Inevitable Surprises  told us a decade ago.  The world is changing so fast;  we cannot possibly know what the future holds.  The best we can do is prepare with skills that are transcendent.  Lichtman interviewed more than six hundred folks on his journey across the country in his Prius.  Each time he asked folks how innovating schools are and should be teaching kids today what they will need tomorrow.  Again, with brevity and a “Twitter mindset” being our guide, here are the key takeaways he found from my vantage point:

  • We are at a precipice of education.  Some teachers, students, administrators and schools have jumped across a chasm of uncertainty and created new learning worlds for themselves that have completely broken from the industrial model (Lichtman refers to the assembly line model in chapter 12) that still pervades today with its schedule-driven, supervision-manic emphasis.  Those that have made the jump have found freedom in redesign.  They have found freedom in “failing fast and falling up” (154). Those schools who have not had the courage or the mandate to jump have wasted time trying to build bridges from the past to the future that don’t translate well.  These schools are less messy and most of the teachers and students at schools like that are more comfortable, but they are not adaptable and what most students will need is a high adaptability quotient.  Lichtman witnessed first hand what schools that are adaptable look and shared this in his 7th chapter.  
  • While the assembly line educational format of the past should not still control any longer in education, we should still look to an older model, that of the farmer, for our best practice in education.  Farming is hard work, like teaching.   Farmers ask great questions that when answered will make them successful with their future crops.  Lichtman writes: “Asking the right questions at the right time is critical to creating an effective process… it does no good to add more fertilizer if the problem is a plague of locusts” (198).  So to in our schools, it does no good to pile on more content if the students do not know how to make meaning of it for their future.
  • The center of schools of the future should be the students, not the adults.  Bo Adams of Mount Vernon Presbyterian is quoted often by Lichtman.  He says it is important to “narrow the authority gap in the classroom” (152) Likewise, the central process of schools should not be content delivery.  Rather it should problem creation/ideation through to a produced solution.  Since the fall of man in the garden, we have been tasked by our Creator to troubleshoot, solve and produce.  When Eve and Adam bit into the fruit of knowledge that they desired, the result was that they and their progeny would be destined to generations of untenable knowledge, unknowable content.  Man’s duty then did not become to know.  It became to solve. This continue true, though our nature tends to want to get us back to the original garden where no work need take place or where we feel we can narrowly define the content to manage it.  No more free fruit in the garden?  God tasked us with producing.  What is the best way for us to produce to avoid starvation, like Lichtman’s farmer analogy that he traces throughout the book?  We have to discover the problem, empathize with others on the path, experiment for the next new right process and then produce it.  In many ways, this is much more messy than acquiring knowledge, but a lot more fulfilling.
As you can see, I have fallen a bit out of practice in my attempts at brevity.  Lichtman’s book is so rich that I have merely scratched the surface and focused on a few areas that jump out to me in my practice.  Likewise, I have purposely not read all of #EdJourney yet, though I know traditionally one should have before writing a review.  Again, the emphasis is not to conquer a set content.  The emphasis is to acquire and practice life time skills, little by little each day.  So instead, I have teased parts out of it that intrigued me and used them for jumping off points in my reflective quiet time to use throughout future weeks and months.  I challenge you to do similarly.  The book is so full of great illustrations from school leaders in different settings, that you are likely to find a peer with whom to relate each time you pick up the book and go to a new sections.  I also challenge you to find those folks and follow them on twitter so that you get a regular dosage of wisdom and shared vision to keep you on track.  
until next time, read #EdJourney by Grant Lichtman and keep innovating


Where’s Your Think Tank? Incorporating a Positive Learning Space into your Habit Loop

The Think Tank in Lynn Haven, FL

The Think Tank in Lynn Haven, FL

I’m writing to you from mine. It is nothing special to the casual observer, but to me it is where all of my great thinking (which also may be nothing special to the casual observer) occurs.  It’s a wide L-shaped porch on a ranch home in Lynn Haven, Florida.  It’s one of those places that craves a glass of sweet tea,  some good music (usually predictable classics from my demographic DMB, REM, U2) and a rocking chair.  It’s also a great place to think and to write.  It’s a safe place where there is no silly idea even if it gets to paper and where the brain waves flow.  I have written about 10 blog pieces there since last summer and I do much of the professional development planning for my faculty there.  I started a novel here and managed to write the first seven chapters in the friendly confines of this space. I have the good fortune to be a this place about 12-15 weekends a year despite the fact it is 3 hours from my home.

As I started my normal routine while here, I contemplated just how important this space is to my learning habits and then reflected on how important a Think Tank is for a student.  I also began making connections to my new favorite read, Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.  Duhigg, citing significant psychological evidence from prominent researchers, suggests a three pronged habit feedback loop to all activity.

Cues lead to Routines that lead to Rewards which develop cravings to restart the loop.   When I’m in Lynn Haven, my  brain gets cues that it is a good time to write and reflect.  It helps me settle into the aforementioned routine on the porch: tea, music, reading material, and WordPress.  The Think Tank becomes routine.  Eventually, the process leads to resulting rewards.  Chapters get completed.  Connections to other thinkers, learners, and writers are made.  Self-satisfaction levels become raised.

If I think back to my best learning situations, each had these elements.  At boarding school, the CUE came from my beloved Religion Through Literature Instructor Rev. John Bensinger ( CUE:  Read this book this week and grapple with the spiritual elements of the text.  You will write a 3 page essay making connections.  ROUTINE: Go to the Ryan Library at 7:00 PM after dinner and one, maybe two episodes of Cheers.   Reading, Reflection, Research from the Encyclopedia of Christian Religion.  Stay until 9:00 PM.  Next morning awake at 6:00 AM.  1st Draft writing until breakfast.  Return to complete the assignment and hand it.  REWARD: The look on Rev. Bensinger’s face as he twitches his mustache with a deep look of satisfaction on his face while reviewing your paper.  Also, the reward was the opportunity to present at the next chapel based on said paper.  It was a lifetime opportunity that shaped my future.

You might reflect back on your most satisfying long term successes.  I imagine if you did you would find a similar pattern.  For athletes, it look like 6 AM wakeup with a protein shake (CUE).  Significant time and effort spent in the weight room and the practice field/court (ROUTINE) came next.  It was probably was followed by the (REWARDS) of enthusiastic applause and recognition on Friday nights or the satisfaction of belonging to a team united for a greater good.  This loop inevitably led to a craving that did not diminish after graduation, but the routine perhaps was replaced by late night parties rewarded by hangovers.  Unfortunately, getting up and starting with the same protein shake would not replace the fact that many in college replace the critical routine link in this loop with a negative activity.

As we begin a new school year, I am not sure there may be a more important discussion to have with your students about the necessity of finding a Think Tank.  A Think Tank allows one to step into a positive habit loop of learning.  With all of the distractions our students face particularly due to technology, there are a lot of negative cues that can make learning less rewarding.  For example, CUE: a text message while studying.  ROUTINE:  answer the text and check said text’s reference to Instagram, followed by inevitable reaction/counter via text and maybe a Facebook post with picture.  REWARD: distracted mind renderings through study about the content, reduced skill, and lots of stimuli based arousal sending chemicals through the body.  Those chemicals become a short term satisfaction reward that inevitably sets up future cravings.

Some quick thoughts about creating a positive Think Tank:

1.  It is an inviting place.  A dirty bedroom or an office with uncomfortable chairs doesn’t give off the Think Tank vibe.

2.  It is an often available space, but not one that can be taken for granted.

3.  Nature helps.  Man’s connection to nature creates powerful thought processes.  Think Henry David Thoreau and Walden. 

4.  Have everything at your fingertips, but not too much.  I would suggest you have no more than a computer, a book, a notepad, and a beverage.  Too much more leads to distractions.  Too little will lead to making one get up and move from the space, defeating the purpose.

5.  Block out at least an hour and a half.  30 minutes to settle in and reflect on the task at hand. 30 minutes deeply thinking and writing. 30 minutes to edit, reflect and finalize the product.  It is unsatisfying (NO REWARD) if there is not something completed, published, checked off.

I hope that you will help your students develop this Think Tank.  It would be a wise thing for you to do professionally as well.

Until next time, happy thinking…



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

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…

Dewey’s Dimes: The Teacher As Real Estate Agent, the Best Occupy Locations in Their Students’ Brains

Maybe deep inside I fancy that I could become a real estate agent.  Or maybe, its because we currently have a rental home on the market to be sold in our old hometown.  Yet, wherever I turn, I see similarities in the work of teachers and real estate agents.  

The comparison resonated again with me last Wednesday when Dr. Bill Davis, Philosophy Professor and Faculty Development Director for Covenant College spoke to our faculty during in-service.  He suggested “the best teachers take up real estate in their students’ brains.”  If you think about it, it is so true.  How many times have you thought back to a teacher from your past and reuse something that they formatted into the fiber of your gray matter?  Whether the teacher was stern or easy; relational or robotic, something from the very best teachers holes up in the walls of your brain and stays there like a New York City tenant in a nice rent controlled building.  

Here are few other ways Teachers are like Real Estate Agents:

The best teachers take up real estate in students’ brains

Open Houses: Last week I watched our lower school teachers prepare for their open house.  They did so amidst the second day of deeply involved in-service training.  The anxiety level was high and the detail of the preparations were minute.  Ultimately, the teachers were preparing to demonstrate that the real estate within which their precious students would spend seven hours a day for the next 178 days would be worth the investment the students’ parents had made.  I had the privilege of going to two sessions, kindergarten and 2nd grade for my own children.  I certainly was impressed and would have been a buyer.  

DOM/T&LD: There is a statistic that every real estate agent follows very closely.  It is DOM, or Days On Market.  They use it to track the relative desirability of a listing.  If the DOM is short, then the listing was likely highly desireable.  If the DOM stretches on for many months into years, then it is likely a real estate loser.  DOM can also tell a perspective listing what it can expect going into the process and help it make an informed decision on price.  If the sellers want to get every dollar out of their investment, then they are likely wait out until at least the average DOM for that area to get their price.  If they are a motivated seller and cannot wait the average DOM, then they know they have to drop the price to motivate buyers. 

In education, a huge number for teachers is Teaching and Learning Days (T&LD).  Though teachers love their summer vacation and holiday breaks, they know each day off is a lost day of teaching and learning.  They also know that every assembly, every special program, every early dismissal, every homecoming spirit day, and every student illness is a lost T&LD.  As a principal, this is the number that becomes a tension between me and my teachers in the same way DOM is a tension between the agent and her client.  As principal, I may see a need for more enrichments and wayside teaching moments outside the classroom.  I also look at the morale of the student body and may need special days to help improve it.   At a Christian school with a biblical worldview, I need to incorporate things like chapel and community service days that invariably take away from T&LD’s in the teachers mind.  On the other hand, teachers see their curriculum slipping through their fingers with each lost T&LD.  AP teachers in particular grapple with this with a set AP Exam date.  

Ultimately, the good real estate agents know that a strong property given the average DOM will fetch a fair price.  Likewise, a good teacher knows that most of her students will achieve the longed for student outcomes if given enough T&LD.  

Showings/Assessments: A great agent will prepare the seller for showings.  Showings are when prospective buyers will come to look at the listing and decide if the home is right for them.  Great teachers will prepare a student for assessments in the same way.  In a sense, the teacher goes through a formative assessment checklist with the students in preparation for a bigger summative assessment like a test.  In the same manner, the real estate agent will go through a punch list with the seller to make sure the home is ready for the buyers assessment.  Did you clean the floors?, did you have the roof inspected?, did you rid areas of clutter?, has the yard been manicured?, etc.  

Relationships Built on Trust:  Sellers have to be very trusting of their agents in the same manner students need to trust their teachers to succeed.  My wife and I have now been through the home selling process now five times.  I am not sure there is anything as stressful to a married couple.  However, a great agent can relieve a lot of the stress through the truth, hard work, constant communication/feedback and a positive optimism that is supported by an excellent track record.  In the same way, students need to know their teacher is working for them.  A great teacher is honest about expectations.  A great teacher gives regular and persistent feedback about student work.  Most of all, a great teacher encourages the student with positive optimism about outcomes through the learning process so that the student can see the finish line.  

I imagine there are more analogies that could be tied in between Real Estate Agents and Teachers.  If you have one, send it to me @MikeZavada.  Until next time, happy learning….

The Case For Case Studies: 4 Reasons Every Teacher Should Incorporate Them in Lesson Plans


image taken with permission from Wikimedia Commons, copyright expired

“‘No, no! The adventures first,’ said the Gryphon…’explanations take such a dreadful time.'” from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The above line that goes with the caption to the left, features a dialogue between the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle in Carroll’s novel for children. I think our students often have the attitude of the Gryphon when talking to Alice.  Our students crave Relevance in their learning.  Sitting through a lecture or working through a lab, I’m sure they often wonder: “How am I going to use this?”  They pine for situations when they can see the profit that the
7 hours they sit in desks will give them someday. Can I use this for a lifetime?  Or at least when they are in the “Real World.”  Often, we as teachers, struggle to give it them.  There is content to master, skills to develop, and continuous bureaucracy to sort through during the school day.  They are like the Lobster in the dialogue.  Teachers want to get through all of the foundational details. Yet, if we dig deep, I think we can give students the kind of adventures they desire in ways that support our content and skill objectives.  

I think one of the best ways to give it to them is through Case Study Methodology.  By this I mean, we take a situation that is likely to come up in the “Real World” that relates to the content we are studying and put the students in the center of it to use what they are learning and deal with the issues of the situation.  Situations can be tied to ethical studies (Bible/Government/History).  They can center around a diagnosis (Science/Anatomy/Biology).  They can be used in financial analysis (Math/Economics).  They can be used in Athletics (Time/Score Management).  

Here are 4 Reasons why Case Studies should be incorporated into your lesson plans regardless of the grade level you are teaching.  Do it now this summer while you have time to think and explore:

1.  Case Studies are good educational practice.  Those of you who have gone through Master’s level education courses know that you used case studies and they worked.  In my Educational Leadership Courses For Private Schools through the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools in conjunction with the University of Hawaii (HAIS MEd Programs), we read and wrote a bunch.  Yet, the best part of our courses put us in the situations of a Head of School, Business Officer, Principal, or other positions.  The classes were so rich and the level of engagement prior, during, and after the Case Studies opened my eyes to the potential of this method.  I did wonder, however, why I hadn’t gotten many of these learning opportunities prior to graduate school.  Now, one might say our students aren’t ready for such situational analysis because they don’t yet have the context.  I disagree.  I think by expecting your students to work through these situations they will be motivated to do the back study required to have context.  Ultimately, because there is more meaning to them to solve issues in the case study, they will do on their own the kinds of things with regard to research that we normally have to prod them to do. 

2. Case Study Methodology teaches empathy.  Most 21st Century curriculums demand that our students develop empathy in their studies.  It is one of the pillars of former NAIS President Pat Bassett’s Demonstrations of 21st Century Learning.  Putting Students into situations develops empathy that they can later use for themselves when they are confronted with a similar situation.  I thought about this the other day with regard to my parents and the financial dilemmas they, and many other Americans, faced in the late 1970’s and early 1990’s as I looked at the economic landscape of the last 6-8 years in America.  Who prepared me to analyze interest rates on mortgages?  Who prepared me to be a landlord and to weight the prospects of whether or not to sell a home or keep it on the rental market?  When there is a difficult decision to be made about a child’s schooling, how does a parent properly assess the situation?  Most are not put into these situations.  Most students look at their parents without any awareness and understanding when the parents inevitably go through situations like these.  All of these situations require empathy and unfortunately our students lack it.  Each asks us to use experience, an academic ability like math (in the case of the interest rates) and to tackle the emotional issues that may be gnawing at us as we try to make the decision.  These are processes that would often be well experienced for the first time when less was on the line, when students were in the classroom.  Doing so may also help students have empathy for their parents, not to mention how we might develop empathy and a more cosmopolitan outlook in students studying languages and geography of other nations.

3.  Case Study Methodology allows students to practice emotionally challenging subjects without real emotion.  In #2, I mentioned situations filled emotional potency.  Much has been written on the poor economic decisions individuals make when they are placed in an emotionally-charged situation.  A whole field of academia combining Economics and Behavioral Psychology has sprung up over the last quarter century studying just such an issue.  A key development of study in this area recognizes that if one knows about and practices situations that may eventually occur in advance, one is much more likely to make a wise decision.  The practice before hand takes the emotion out of the decision.  Why would we not want to give our students these opportunities early in their educations rather than allowing the “Real World” to test them first?  

4.  Case Studys simulate another discipline students love: sports.  If you ever watched a great coach prepare a team in a practice a day or two before a game, you probably noticed him/her leading the team through a scouting situation.  In basketball, a team might run through the upcoming opponent’s out of bounds plays, half court sets, full court press and defensive formations.  Similar items are found in a football practice.  This type of practice helps players visualize what they will encounter when the get into the “real situation.”  The power of knowing what is coming has been known to relieve players of nervousness and anxiety and enabled them to execute better.  Simulations in practice also develop creativity.  While the coach may have something in mind, players put into the actual situation may come up with something even better. I can remember the vivid imaginations of my 7th grade basketball players when I allowed them to design their own out of bounds plays and scrimmage using them during the last twenty minutes of practice.  The level of engagement they demonstrated in that section of practice was off the charts.  They also had immense “buy-in” to the plays since they had designed them.  Inevitably, we used some of the best plays in later games.  

I hope you will take the opportunity to develop several case studies or simulations into your pedogogy.  Regardless of the discipline within which you teach, I think you will find the learning process using case studies will be beneficial to your students.  I think you will also experience a recharge of your teaching when hear the ideas students develop.  As I started write this last week, I was heading to the ISM Middle School Heads Conference in Salt Lake City.  During the conference, we had significant opportunities to work on simulations with our cohort of 21 Middle School Heads.  It was the most stimulating and thoughtful learning opportunity I have had since the aforementioned graduate work.  Don’t our students deserve as much?


Photo taken from Mount Vernon Presbyterian School on school visit

Until next time, have fun pretending…

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