Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

I spent quite some time this week at an Education Summit in NC.  The whole focus was on reconnecting the community to the school – an issue that I am very passionate about.  There were some really good sessions on how to increase the voice of business and industry in shaping curriculum as well as the integration of global education into the curriculum.  The charter school presentation was very interesting as they took an impressive approach to creating innovative learning environments – one of the featured schools was Roger Bacon Academy.  Just take a look at their mission:

Thus, the mission of The Roger Bacon Academy is, for the next generation,

•           to teach the rules and techniques for effective expression and communication in the arts and sciences,

•           to communicate, by these arts and sciences, our understandings of the universe and our role in it, and

•           to instill a love of learning and discovery, justifying a life-long dedication to health, truth, and virtue.

I highlighted a few words that jumped out at me as these words speak to the “creative economy” [more to come].

Another presentation featured 4 different perspectives on integration of global education into schools.  I was fairly impressed with the work of NC’s Global Schools Network as well as UNC’s World View to really help students connect with other cultures and gain a much broader awareness of how the global economy impacts them.  This is a great step that quite a few school districts in NC have taken, but there is still a glaring gap – – where is the “hands-on” application of this learning? Cultural immersion and international understanding are great foundations to a creative economy, but students need to be involved in solving problems and working with local and global communities to solve these problems.  That is where relevance in the curriculum becomes tangible.

So with all of this movement to try and change education and impact learning through innovation and global awareness, where do we stand in terms of our role [education] in fostering this creative economy?

In 2008 Mark McGuinness wrote that “Creativity is the new competitive advantage . . .” America’s ability to be creative in solving problems and communication continues to be one of the driving tenets of our competitiveness.  How are we fostering this in our K-12 schools? I came across this really cool Community Health Tool that allows you to look at counties in NC from a few different “health” indicators – one of which is the creative economy.  What most intrigued me were the 3 strategies to increase the creative economy in these counties.

  1. Foster partnerships among creative enterprises
  2. Infuse creative practices into schools’ core curricula
  3. Cultivate creative assets to raise awareness of creativity

In the era of high stakes testing and “data, data, data”, it seems much more difficult to integrate these strategies into our educational fabric.  After perusing the health tool, the percentage of creative economy jobs is still well below 10%.  The higher percentages are directly related to the presence of a major university also.  However, with technology and the ability to telecommute and telework, why aren’t we continuing to develop this creative economy through the state (and nation)? I believe the answer lies in the fact that we haven’t infused the 3 strategies above more deliberately into our K12 system.  We have pushed standards and testing so hard that we have literally killed creativity.

While standardization is a necessary evil, the methods in which formative and summative assessment are utilized should allow students more diversity [and creativity] in proving learning has occurred.  Paper and pencil testing is archaic and does not mirror a knowledge economy in which information is gathered, processed and refined into solutions and new products.  I have always envisioned a learning ecosystem that allows students to connect, create, innovate and shape their learning with the tools of the Knowledge Age. Thus, I would champion loudly for the #2 strategy of “infusing creative practices into schools’ core curricula”.  Such strategies can be seen in places like the Carpe Diem schools where blended, innovative learning allows a creative culture to thrive.

When a culture of creativity thrives, a creative economy can begin to blossom.  Manufacturing and government jobs may continue to dominate our economy, but in order to hold our competitive advantage, educators need to seriously look at how we are building the next generation of workers to compete – – are we fostering the creative economy? In our classrooms are we allowing discovery to happen? Are we connecting the arts and sciences and demonstrating through hands-on application where students better understand their role in the universe? Awareness is just one step – – let’s move to action and change!



While you may not subscribe to my taste in music, I thought that the stories of three of my fave rock bands really lent themselves to educational leadership parables that we could learn from as we move forward. You may have other musical references to add, so please do!


Let’s start with probably my favorite musically, . . Bon Jovi.  They hit the scene around 1983 as the “hairbands” were getting significant airplay and promotion.  They have had great success in their 30+ career and to this day remain one of the most popular bands with a huge fan base.  The band stuck to “the music” and making sure the fans got what they wanted.  In the past years, they have written songs that bordered on different genres in order to reach diverse populations.  The leadership of the band is driven by the vision of lead singer, Jon Bon Jovi.  He strongly feels that there are 3 things that the band must do in order to be effective.

  1. Give the fans what they want and make it ‘real’ to them through different media and feedback opportunities.
  2. Retain high ethical standards. Don’t do things that keep you in the tabloids and give you “negative” impact.
  3. Never lose sight of why they do what they do. It’s about impacting someone with their music.

Jon’s leadership has also been seen with the launch of the Jon BonJovi Soul Foundation. It “exists to combat issues that force families and individuals into economic despair. Through the funding and creation of programs and partnerships, we support innovative community efforts to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.”


  • Strong ethics in leadership can help propel you forward and have lasting impact on your “fans” (students).
  • Connect with your “fans” (students). Get on FB, Twitter and give them real feedback mechanisms in order to impact how you continue to deliver the”music” (curriculum) to them.
  • Never lose sight of why you do what you do. It’s about the students and making a difference.
  • Sometimes a broader purpose (JBJ Soul Foundation) can provide you with credibility as to your commitment to your “fans” (students).

Though Bon Jovi may not be truly unconventional, they have had incredible sustainability and impact.


Guns and Roses blasted onto the LA music scene in 1985 with an “in your face” new sound that got tons of attention. Their approach to music was to break the mold and just have fun in the process.  The fan base grew and the music garnered them tons of success in the first few years of their existence.  After the release of their second album and a world tour that was fairly successful, they quickly fell apart.  Their “leader”, lead singer Axl Rose began to take the band in a totally different direction, believing that he knew what the fans wanted and he became so self absorbed that the band went in totally separate directions.  While some of their music still has impact today and continues to get airplay, the band as a whole has had very little success and impact in music.  Axl Rose continues to try and capitalize on the brand of “Guns and Roses”, but constantly tries new things, new band members, new approaches with not very much impact.


  • Leadership must have vision that is connected to the “fan base” (students, teachers, etc.) and doesn’t try to prescribe the change based upon selfish goals.
  • Band-aid (no pun intended) approaches to education (new programs, new people, etc.) aren’t always good without an understanding of the outcome (student results).
  • Being unconventional (different) may garner you some initial successes, but you have to sustain the innovation and more importantly you have to make the “music” that your fans (students) want to hear.


You knew I was going to mention them, didn’t you? KISS is a rock icon. They truly disrupted the music scene with their makeup, firebreathing, blood-spitting, light shows, and fire/smoke antics.  Kiss become one of the most popular bands in the world and as bassist, Gene Simmons states, “people don’t know who the Prime Minister of Sweden is, but everyone in Sweden knows who Kiss is!”.  They have more gold albums than any other American rock band.  Kiss did experience a huge lull in their success after they took their makeup off and began to try and “fit in” with other music of the 80’s.  However, they went back to what made them successful – “the brand of Kiss”.  They have put the make up back on and at the age of 60+ are still filling arenas all over the world.  Lead singer, Paul Stanley stated in an interview with CNN, “Kiss is a brand and our success is based upon the brand”.  They have truly been unconventional both in their live performances and in their marketing.  Kiss comic books, Kiss coffins, Kiss condoms, etc. are just part of the “branding” of Kiss that has helped them be tremendously successful financially.  While one may not truly like their music, you can’t go anywhere without someone knowing who they are and what they’ve done. Their story really epitomizes the focus on “brand” and how building a strong brand is important and connecting with fans through many different branding strategies is imperative to success.


  • How are you “branding” your school/district/curriculum? Are you making it relevant and something that people want?
  • Unconventional ways of getting your “brand”/”music” across are ok to explore if they get you the impact and results that you want.  NOTE: Don’t spit blood or breathe fire, but it’s ok to be different.
  • You must connect with “fans” where they are (FB, blogs, etc.), but more importantly, you have to be disruptive in how you teach and allow them to be disruptive in how they learn.

Three bands with some similarities, but with some really good lessons to be learned about how we lead education reform.  Being unconventional like Kiss and building a brand around whatever you create seems to be one of the keys to success.  We can also learn the leadership lessons from Bon Jovi and Guns and Roses (what not to do) and embed those tenets into our leadership fabric.

If you didn’t get the parables, so be it, at least you now know my taste in music and if/when you see me speak you’ll know I believe in music and unconventional approaches to education.

You Matter!

Leaders Have To P.O.P.

Posted: September 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

We are in a dire need of meaningful opportunities for students to participate and take on responsibility of decision-making, planning and evaluating their learning environments.  Agree?

In my second part of a 6-part blog series focused on the pieces of the Resiliency Wheel, I struggled with whether to build up to this dire need or just go ahead and jump right into it.  I viewed quite a few of the New York Schools of Tomorrow webcast and throughout the day I just had to scratch my head over the fact that we are still talking about reformation/transformation and what we should be doing, BUT, we’ve yet to really listen to our students.  We may ask them, but we (ed leaders) have not really sought to implement a radical transformation (aka unconventional) solution.  It really hit home when Jonathan Hefter, founder of Neverware, began to talk about his “schooling” experience.  He spoke of “checking out” when he was in school.  He told a story about he and his friends seeking to build proxy servers to get around the school filters.  Here is the quote that nailed it for me, “I wasn’t learning WHAT I wanted to learn and HOW I wanted to learn”.

Well, that told me that we need to rethink how we “Provide Opportunities for meaningful Participation” (POP – this is my acronym).  This is one of the step in the Resiliency Wheel for building resiliency in the learning environment.  Many schools and districts have surveyed students to find out quite a bit of data, but are they using the data to make the change necessary and providing students with meaningful participation? Students want to learn but they want to be a part of the learning process, and more specifically as Jonathan stated; they want to learn meaningful (WHAT) info and in a way that provides them active participation (HOW).

An excerpt from the 2009 Project Tomorrow Speak Up Report, “Creating Our Future . . . ” shows exactly what students want.

  • Social-based learning – students want to leverage emerging communications and collaboration
    tools to create and personalize networks of experts to inform their education process.
  • Un-tethered learning – students envision technology-enabled learning experiences that
    transcend the classroom walls and are not limited by resource constraints, traditional funding
    streams, geography, community assets or even teacher knowledge or skills.
  • Digitally-rich learning – students see the use of relevancy-based digital tools, content and
    resources as a key to driving learning productivity, not just about engaging students in learning.

They want something that is meaningful to them, period!  So why aren’t we allowing them to sit at the table in our conversations on changing the way we educate them? Do they not matter? Yes, they matter!  The POP strategy views students as a resource and involves them.  If we don’t give them responsibilities in the planning and decision-making process, how can we truly know if we’re being effective?  Justin Tarte’s clip here lists some educational leaders who are making a difference.  They are learning to POP. (follow them on Twitter and learn!)

A handful of leaders are breaking the tradition and are becoming unconventional in their approach to involving students in the conversations around school improvement.  More importantly, they are cultivating the ability to POP in their schools and districts.  Not only do students want to feel like they matter, but they want a relevant and meaningful learning experience.  Take Project Still I Rise for example.  Just one look at their core values you can see they are “POPing”.  Here are a couple more links to projects and leaders that you can learn how to POP from.

John Carver’s Think.Lead.Serve blog –
Projects from EduTopia –

In closing, I have to thank Lisa Nielsen for providing this blog about the 20 Things Students Want Us To Know. So, leaders, are you POPing??

Leadership Response to Resiliency

Posted: September 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

What role does leadership play in assuring resiliency in the learning environment? This is a question I am going to pose as a backdrop to a series of blogs that I am writing over the next few months around the “Resiliency Wheel” that was adopted from Nan Henderson and Mike Milstein’s book, Resiliency in Schools: Making It Happen, (1996). Some may immediately state that 1996 theory and philosophy doesn’t convey as well in the 21st century, but I beg to differ and will try to demonstrate some sort of Web 2.0/21st century leadership “link” to these very important components in building resiliency.

This post will focus on the topic, “Increasing Bonding or Connectedness“. The goal of this action step is to mitigate risk factors in the environment that may hinder a student’s progress or ability to learn effectively.

Research shows that when students have parental/family involvement and feel “connected” to their learning and/or to someone in the learning process, that they perform better. What is the challenge to educational leaders in regards to helping assure that schools are fostering a culture that increases bonding and connectedness for students? The challenge is how to do this effectively in an age where the family structure is eroding and parental involvement is waning, especially in low socio-economic impacted schools. However, nationally the trend may be more related to the lack of a comprehensive parental involvement initiative in schools.
The answers lie in the ability of educational leaders to build a strong and comprehensive vision for parental/community involvement. As an educational leader, you have the responsibility to each and every child to help equip them to be resilient and successful in their learning experience(s). A non-negotiable goal should be to help increase the bond and/or connection between students/community/parent/pro-social persons or activities. This starts with a belief that people matter, most importantly the student.

Good friend, Angela Maiers is leading the charge in helping students understand that they matter by simply using the phrase “you matter“. So why not integrate this concept into leadership principles and actions? Educational leaders need to internalize this same philosophy across all the stakeholder spectra that they influence and/or interact with on a daily basis. Helping people believe that they matter, and that as leaders, we want them to be connected to the learning process and to people because they matter, is imperative in helping to increase bonding and connectedness. When people know that they matter, they get involved.

STUDENTS matter.
PARENTS matter.
TEACHERS matter.
PEOPLE matter.

So where is the 21st century/Web 2.0 connection? The North Carolina PTA is developing a program for parents online to become “leaders” in parental involvement.  The goal of the program is to create a PTA 2.0 concept that will connect busy parents electronically.  You can visit the blog at I also invite you to share links, stories, etc. related to effective parental involvement programs that you have seen or implemented with me at Let’s start this crucial conversation and help build resilient students, schools & leaders!

I presented at the NCTIES Conference on March 3, 2011 in Raleigh about building new leadership paradigms in education.  The focus of the presentation was on how to embed leadership at all levels (student – teacher – principal – etc.) and move education into the paradigm of learning being constant and time being the variable.  I have posted the slide deck below for those who wish to view it.

I wanted to point out just a few highlights from the presentation as well as one prevailing theme of comments from participants that have really resonated with me.

1. Teachers spend too much time “managing” classrooms (i.e. discipline problems, paperwork, etc.) and too less time “leading” learning in the classrooms.  This is due in part to the culture that the school and district leadership has fostered.  A focus on the test vs. relevance and rigorous learning is present in most classrooms today.

2. Students’ voices are rarely heard in the scope of education transformation at the local level.  National student panels and data from surveys such as Speak Up provide great insight, but rarely does this translate into action at the local school level. Why aren’t we allowing students to take leadership roles in their learning? Why aren’t we embedding leadership principles into our teaching and learning?

3. The school environment should be reflective of the workforce environment.  You see, in order for us to do our jobs right, we need resources, support, relevance (why we do what we do) and rewards.  The classroom should be the same.  There is a huge gap between classrooms and the “real world workforce” – thus students “check out” when they get to school it seems.  The learn digitally and we still deliver school pretty much in an analog fashion.

4. Schools should foster a “risk/reward” culture in which failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Sir Ken Robinson talks about how schools are killing innovation and creativity.  I believe this is because we don’t foster a risk/reward culture in which students, teachers, principals, etc. are allowed to be innovative and try new things – – even if some result in less than desirable outcomes.

Quite a few participants agreed with the 4 main points, but a few instantly saw the disconnect between what universities are doing to prepare teachers, principals, etc. and what the school culture truly looks like today.  One attendee commented, “Project-based learning and innovation are all great in philosophy and application, but the public school culture doesn’t foster it.  What I was prepared for in the classroom was no where close to what I encountered.”   They also went on to say that some universities didn’t even model what the research says we need to be doing in public schools. So it seems to be a systemic issue with preparedness and relevance, right?  We say we need to prepare our students for the workforce, but we don’t model it or allow the learning process to connect to the “real world”.

As a testimony to “non-relevance”, I asked 8 elementary and middle school students over the past 3 weeks if they were discussing the top national/international news stories in their classes.  NOT A SINGLE ONE knew of the issues in the Middle East, the controversy in Wisconsin or even Charlie Sheen! A principal asked me how I thought this was relevant to the information students needed to know on the test.  Hmmm, well look at Goal 5 of the NC Standard Course of Study for Grade 7 Social Studies:

The learner will evaluate the varied ways people of Africa, Asia, and Australia make decisions about the allocation and use of economic resources. (Direct relevance to Libya??)

Look at Goal 5 from Grade 5 Healthful Living course of study:

The learner will choose not to participate in substance abuse. (Why not show Charlie Sheen clips and discuss the glorification by the media of his abuse?)

We have to foster innovation and the risk/reward culture that has a relevant curriculum and allows leadership at all levels.  So, don’t you think leadership and learning need to collide?

Leaders Have to be R.E.A.L.

Posted: July 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

Welcome to my new blog site! I am revamping my website and getting purposeful about my consulting and speaking engagements. My inaugural post on this new site is one from the old blog, but I thought it would be right on target as I begin to look at how leadership and learning collide.  Let the fun begin . . . .

Recently, I took on the task in one of my graduate program studies, to find out what types of leaders are influencing people and what it was about these leaders that stuck out in the minds of those I interviewed.  I polled educational and management professionals in my Twitter and FB networks, so the response was national in scope, but had a lot of common elements.  Responses were primarily personal in nature as many of these leaders directly influenced those who responded.  There was one anomaly that I have to report though.  Five respondents mentioned one of my favorite artists, Jon Bon Jovi, as a leader who is very influential.  I wouldn’t have initially picked him, but after reading their “characteristics of a good leader”, I would agree that he is truly a good leader.  His work with the JBJ Soul Foundation to fight poverty truly sets him apart as a good leader.

So, what makes a good leader? Leaders have to be R.E.A.L.Relational, Ethical, and Action-oriented Listeners.  For your reading pleasure (LOL), I have included a chart with the adjectives that respondents used and placed them into one of the 4 REAL categories.















UnderstandingKnowledge gatherer


Team player

Good leaders build relationships with their people. Trust comes from this relationship, thus people follow leaders that they trust.  Positional leaders can get some things done, but over time, if there is no relationship and trust, results will fade.  Relational also means that leaders can relate to those that they are serving.  A good leader needs to know his/her people, customers, etc. in order to understand what motivates them, scares them, influences them and empowers them to achieve results.  I spend a great deal of time communicating with employees in order to gain a better of understanding of “who” they are as a person.  You don’t necessarily have to be best friends with them, but I strongly believe that a genuine interest in them will lead to better productivity.

Good leaders can be empathetic by focusing on the people in their organization. Listening is key.

Good leaders practice strong morals and ethics.  If you witness a leader doing something that compromises your beliefs, or the company’s mission, you are very likely not to want to follow him/her.  Wavering on decisions and making decisions that benefit the leader first and the client second are signs of unethical leadership.  Good leaders should have a core set of values and live by them daily.  Some core values that I have seen from good leaders are family first, accountable to all stakeholders, customer-service first, people are our biggest asset – and the list goes on.  Be a leader that consistently holds to your values and even more importantly, to your employee’s values.  If you compromise, you lose trust and eventually you lose value as a leader.

Good leaders “get things done”.  They don’t fill employees full of rhetoric and empty promises.  Many leaders may be good planners, but if they fail to implement and get results, they lose credibility as a leader.  Risk is definitely a key word in the REAL leaders vernacular. Leaders take risks in order to get things done.  NPR ran a story on the CEO of and the risk he took by investing 2/3 of the company’s bank account to launch new markets.  He saw the need and did something about it!  He didn’t sit around and talk about it.

Leaders who fall short of customer and/or employee expectations will find themselves leading nobody in a few years.  Don’t promise a raise unless you give one, don’t paint a picture of what might be without taking the risk and rolling your sleeves up and showing “action” towards the vision.  “Plan your work, and work your plan”.

Have you ever worked for someone who never listened to you or his/her employees? They just sit there and text, read or type something while mumbling, “yeah, uh huh” and actually think they are listening?  Good leaders truly listen to their constituents.  They make eye contact and have a conversation with you about your ideas, thoughts, concerns, etc.  Good leaders also employ or incorporate your ideas into the organization when they listen well.  I have worked for poor leaders in the past who would solicit feedback but only to say they had done it.  Employees were presented with a already crafted idea and plan and the leader was seeking “affirmation” and not “input”.  This will quickly alienate employees!

Great leaders also listen to their peers and outside experts.  Great leaders don’t have all the knowledge and must listen to discern competition, client needs, etc.  How many of your tweeps just push information out as if they have all the answers? They choose not to listen to others and join in the conversation but to push personal agendas and make themselves the expert by default.  I recently finished the book Decision Points by former President George W. Bush, Jr. He was a listener. He surrounded himself with experts and sought out input from all around the world before he made a decision.  He states in his book, that he didn’t have the answers, but would listen to those he respected and trusted in order to gain the knowledge to make decisions.  In education, we don’t do a good job of listening – we teach, we impart, but we forget to listen.  I think if we listen to our students, we’ll hear some answers to solving the education crisis.

So, are you a R.E.A.L leader?