The Power of Real

photoEvery morning, I stand in a circle with members of my team. These are statisticians, engineers, content folks, and researchers. Together, we participate in a standup, a time when we each share what we’ve done since yesterday, what we plan to do today, and where we’re stuck.

As we share how we’re stuck – maybe it’s a difficult analysis, engineering problem, platform content challenge, or research method – we speak up if we can offer a concrete, next step solution. Otherwise, we remain silent.

There is no ego, there are no wasted words, and there is no judgment. There is no shame in saying, “I don’t know.” Instead, it’s a common occurrence. If you’re solving difficult and interesting problems, it’s likely that you’re not going to know what to do every step of the way. If you always knew, the problem probably wouldn’t be all that interesting.

When we offer solutions, they may take the form of online content – a video, a website, a code base – an expert someone knows, a promise to check a social networking site for more information, and a video, to name a few. The goal is to get unstuck, so we support one another in doing that in any way possible. No one waits around for permission to take action or to offer advice.

When I look around the circle, I see people of all shapes, sizes, colors, appearances, and skill sets. I see novices and experts standing side by side, all respecting one another through the power of the standup.

My first standup was over a year ago. I kept waiting for the smart remark, the ego check, the gossip, the cynicism, or the lack of agency.

I have to admit – I saw and felt those things quite often in schools and non-profits.

I never see them here. It’s incredible how real work with real deadlines and real interdependencies breeds a different level of interaction. All the crap fades away. It’s more fun. It’s more challenging.

It’s more real.

The Student Side of #MakerEd

lightstock_man jumping athleticI continue to be inspired by the work students are capable of doing – if we only ask them to do it and give them a chance to discover what they want to do.

These are incredible skills for lifelong learning – trying something, struggling with it, failing, sticking with it.

Lisa Yokana and I co-authored an article on The Student Side of Making (Edutopia). We hope you find it helpful in thinking about all the ways making can inform student learning for life, no matter the subject or the grade.


Why Today’s ‘Portrait of a Graduate’ Must Change

talking_with_booksI’d often work with colleagues in schools to outline a “portrait of a graduate.” The goal of this exercise is to lay out what students should know and be able to do by the time they graduate. Ideally, schools work backwards from these outcomes to map the curriculum and shape teaching and learning initiatives.

A lot has changed since I engaged in this exercise. The concept of students as lifelong learners is no longer just a concept. It’s a reality. Technology’s impact on the job market – eliminating jobs high school and college graduates once took for granted – means the notion of a student as someone who engages in formal learning in traditional learning organizations (aka colleges and universities) for a finite period of time is also extinct.

Our young people are learners. In addition to subject-specific skills and concepts, our learners must be self-directed. We need to teach them how to gain these skills by helping them practice.

Of all the ways self-directed learning is defined, I choose Malcolm Knowles‘ definition from his book, Self-Directed Learning: A Guide for Learners and Teachers (1975). He asserts that self-directed learning (p. 18)

describes the process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.

To achieve these goals, the authors of How Learning Works (2010) and the authors of Helping Students Learn in a Learner-Centered Environment (2008) emphasize the importance of helping students develop metacognitive skills, like thinking about thinking, knowing what we know and what we don’t know, and self-monitoring their learning.

When we talk about self-directed learning, we’re still discussing it as an if or a when. I disagree. It’s a now.

What do you think?




Want More Happiness in Your Life? Play.

I’m sitting in the San Francisco airport. Our flight’s been delayed three times. There are lots of different ways to react to these delays, and I’m watching all of them play out.

The one that’s going to stay with me, though, is the image of a guy with a baseball cap leading a group of kids (not his own) in play.

People & Play

He’s just an ordinary guy with a “let’s play” attitude, someone who’s clearly got camp or similar experience working with kids. Like a pied piper, he asked a group of kids if they wanted to play and then led them through a series of games, taking advantage of the physical features specific to the space.

From where I sat, it looked like a lot of fun.

The kids got to move and giggle and take their minds off the delay. The adults around them got to lower their shoulders, soften their features, and lighten up a little bit.

Stuart Brown, Founder of the National Institute of Play, and author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, spoke to Krista Tippett recently about the power of play in an episode of her podcast, On Being.

Book & Play

Brown began to study play through his psychiatric work with violent criminals. In listening to their stories, he discovered a pattern: throughout their childhoods: they’d been denied the opportunity to play. This pattern led him to spend time with researchers like Jane Goodall, in order to learn everything he could about the science of play for animals and humans. What he recognized was the non-trivial need we all have for play.

Increasingly, researchers are realizing that we need opportunities for play every single day. Did you get that? Every. Single. Day.

Play is restorative. It sparks new insights, restores us, and opens us to new possibilities.

Have you played today?

5 Musts to Excel in a World of Self-Directed Learning

lightstock_121230_medium_user_2273690How badly do you want it? This is what it’s come down to.


Because . . .

If you want to learn it, you can go online. Whether you sign up for a free course, find a local in-person option, or pursue a blended approach, you’ll most likely find that you can learn what you want to learn in a way that meets your needs. Time and money are no longer obstacles.

The same holds true for creating something. Want to make a film? Build a device? Launch a new venture? Well, you can go online and pitch your project for crowd funding.

What if you’re passionate about your project but wonder if it’ll be useful to anyone else? A podcast? A book? A painting? An app? Once again, you can find a number of ways to get feedback by pitching and sharing your project with experts and novices online.

There are fewer gatekeepers. There are many more resources.

As self-direction becomes the norm, the most successful learners will exhibit five characteristics: courage, confidence, determination, passion, and a personal learning network. As the barriers to learning come down, these five attributes will determine success.

For the first time, the only thing holding you back might be . . . you.

Storylisteners and Empathy

photoWe’d been admiring extroverts for quite a while until Susan Cain came along and pointed out The Power of Introverts.

I’d like to make a similar case for storylisteners. We know the power of storytellers, but what strengths do storylisteners have?

Well, I think that storylisteners are curious. They’re eager to learn more about the person they’re talking to. Good storylisteners ask good questions, in order to do that. In the process of learning more, they forge connections.

They learn something about the other person that humanizes them, something that’s personal, maybe not often shared. I think they do that because they’re really listening.

Whether you’re a teacher or a school leader or someone who works with people or develops products for people or on and on and on, you need, at some point, to be a storylistener. I think it’s a requirement for empathy.

I wrote about empathy in a previous post, and I co-authored an article with Deborah that got posted today on MindShiftKQED, wherein we talked about empathy in relation to boys. 

Check it out and let me know what you think!


If Feedback is Plentiful, Why are Schools Starving?


Image courtesy of Pink/Blue

Companies are leaning in when it comes to feedback. They aren’t waiting for it. They’re compelling us to provide it.

Taking an Uber? Before you can schedule a driver, you have to rate your previous driver. Before a driver chooses to pick you up, she can check out how other drivers have rated you.

Choosing a restaurant? Want to know whether a certain hotel is right for you? A book? A product? You’ve got YelpTrip AdvisorAmazon, and Goodreads.

Need feedback to stay fit, find a parking space, keep the weight off? You’ve got FitbitParker, and Lose It!

In every instance, there’s an opportunity to give feedback, to get feedback, to search feedback, to track feedback over time, and to respond to feedback.

Feedback helps us learn, especially when it’s in real time. What’s interesting is that learning is typically associated with schools. And yet, that’s where the feedback seems to be the slowest.

Teachers get feedback when they’re on an evaluation cycle. Otherwise, they have to seek it out (check out Simple Feedback Tools for some ideas on how to do this).

Students get feedback when an assignment, test, quiz, or project is returned. They also get it when they answer a question in class. A lot of time can go by without feedback – without learning.

It doesn’t make sense. It seems like there should be just as much, if not more urgency, in students and teachers getting feedback than there is for companies to get it.

What do you think?