Category Archives: Education

The Rhythms of Learning at SXSWedu

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“Much like the best in any field, the best learners and teachers stress-test assumptions. The profound often hides with absurd, even heretical, experiments.” Tim Ferriss

AUSTIN, TEXAS — Ever since childhood, my need to learn has been unquenchable. Then, a few years ago, I discovered that “learner” is one of my top five strengths, per the Gallup StrengthsFinder talent assessment tool. This means I exhibit “a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites” me.

In my third visit to the SXSWedu Conference & Festival in early March, I sought to leverage this strength by exploring how the learning process is evolving in the digital age. Joining more than 7,500 educators, thought leaders, educational technology entrepreneurs, policy thinkers, media professionals, and other attendees at the Austin Convention Center and hotel meeting rooms, I found that learning is accelerating, deepening, and sharpening amid the information onslaught. These trends open possibilities for educators to get creative in and beyond their classrooms.


In the keynote Q&A “The Secrets of Accelerated Learning & Mastery,” Tim Ferriss, author of Tools of Titans and The 4-Hour Workweek; and Charles Best, founder and CEO of, chatted about Ferriss’ “DSSS” framework to ease learning. Here is the methodology:

  1. Deconstruction. Know your outcome and work backwards to achieve it. Identify and separate the necessary skills in the most nonthreatening way. Ferriss learned to swim in his early 30s by separating kicking from breathing from upper body movement. Within a few months, he could swim a mile in open water.
  2. Selection. Adhere to the 80/20 principle (i.e., 20 percent of the Legos will bring you 80 percent of the results). Ferriss thought he was bad at learning languages until he started taking Japanese and focused on the language’s 1,900 common use characters to be functionally conversational.
  3. Sequencing. Once you figure out the 20 percent, consider a logical progression to lay out the Lego blocks. What if you did the opposite for 48 hours? Ferriss used this approach to learn to dance the tango in Argentina. He learned the female role first, and said it was the key reason he could compete in the Tango World Championship. As another example, in the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” Ferriss noted that the teacher began one lesson by clearing the pieces off the board, leaving the king vs. king and pawn. The idea was to reduce the complexity by focusing on the principles, not tactics.
  4. Stakes. Build in incentives and institute accountability measures. He pointed to one enticing incentive: Set yourself up to donate to an anti-charity (read: hate group) if you don’t lose the 20 pounds you vowed you would. In an example of accountability, Ferriss and his friend gave each other New Year’s resolutions one year and, for Ferriss, that meant he had to learn to swim for himself and his family.

Ferriss told the audience that meta-learning is the No. 1 skill students need to succeed.

Another modern learning technique turns to the Hollywood playbook. In the session “Mashing Up Hollywood with Education,” Allan Staker, CEO of Brain Chase Productions, described how to structure a lesson as a concise, cogent Hollywood plot to engage students. Staker, whose roots are in the TV and film industry, outlined the Aristotelian Plot Structure:

Exposition –> Rising action –> Climax –> Falling action –> Resolution

In a Hollywood movie, the learning happens at the climax, Staker said, and suggested that educators build a lesson around that point. Send students on a quest or initiate a mystery to arrive there. Also, provide daily wins to excite kids about what they’re learning.

To see this in practice, we participated in the lesson “Storified Exercise: Geometry” about angles.

We began by watching a three-minute video, emotionally connecting us to the topic and characters. We quickly moved to the inciting incident, which sent us on a story-based quest. Next, we met the rising action of obstacles to advance the narrative arc. Then, we came to the climax and solved the problems by making difficult choices. In our case, it was figuring out how to draw the right angles to lead us to the treasure’s location. Finally, we reached a resolution — a.k.a. the location — and tied up loose ends.


The Paramount Academy for the Arts’ Literacy to Life/Story Wrangler Program leaders described teaching Texas third-graders the foundations of creative writing by taking what students put on the page and translating it to the stage. Students take ownership of the stories they’ve written, and the whole school goes wild when professionals act out their stories live, according to presenters Brian Fahey, associate director of education and outreach; Jessica Evans, community and school program manager; and Mitch Harris, literacy to life program manager.

In drama-based pedagogy, students learn to imagine, collaborate, and retain information more readily because of the immersive aspect. By using juicer words (like gobble instead of eat), then embodying them in the process, students expand their vocabularies. They also make connections to larger ideas, in part because their work is no longer private between them and their teacher.

In the program, the students must agree that every idea is a good idea, that they need to respect each other, and that they will generate lots of new and fun ideas. This instills in students that they are enough and that their ideas are enough, the presenters said.

Students first write as a full class, then break up into smaller groups. Their writing process follows the familiar flow: brainstorm, craft a first draft, revise it, and publish. Revision focuses first on organization, then word choice, and finally the main idea, which becomes the title.

As a session group, we took these steps to write a short story, then the wranglers acted it out for us with dramatic flair. Revisions are in red and green:

Once upon a time, Jasper found himself in a dark closet in the middle of the afternoon when he saw was captivated by something gleaming in the darkness. He wanted to relive the glory days of being a tap-dancing cowboy when he had a regular paycheck. But in 20 years, he only received second place so he had developed a lot   plethora of negative self-talk. Then he decided to dust off his shoes and not give up and get back out there. The door locked behind him. He decided to tap anyway because he heard his grandmother say, “Jazzy, never stop tapping.” And ever since that day you can hear a tapping coming emanating from inside that dark closet.

In the session wrap-up, we learned that the Journal of Literacy Research is publishing an article about the Paramount Story Wranglers work later this month.

That storytelling is ubiquitous and deepens our engagement and empathy came across loud and clear in another session, “New Media Literacy: Storytelling as Change Agent,” given by Billy Corcorana learner experience designer at Design39Campus; Sabba Quidwaidirector of innovative learning at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine; and Michael Hernandez, a media arts teacher at Mira Costa High School.

The presenters then discussed integrating digital storytelling into atypical areas, including medicine. Quidwai pointed to our mobile devices as powerful storytelling tools because they’re equipped with cameras.

She described how changing a 40-page paper to a short documentary bridges the gap in experiential learning. Her medical students who were working in underserved communities went out to give a voice to those without one. As they conducted interviews on the streets of L.A., they began to put themselves in their patients’ shoes. Biases were exposed. One student believed residents were scared because of their surroundings, but found the opposite in her survey work. Later, all the students’ videos were curated into an interactive ebook.

From their research, students began to find problems, then set out to tackle them. After realizing that homeless people couldn’t take advantage of resources because they risked losing their spot, or home, the students decided to implement a street medicine program in Venice County that would become part of their rotation.



“Today’s young Americans are immersed in a news environment that is mobile and social by default. At a time of widespread eroding trust in traditional media institutions, they are on the front lines of navigating an increasingly complex and polarized digital media environment.”

—How Youth Navigate the News Landscape, Knight’s Data & Society Research Institute, March 2017

The quotation above launched the session “Secrets Revealed! How to Break the Fake News Cycle.” Local Student Reporting Lab journalists, educators, and a representative from the “PBS NewsHour” talked about how kids experienced news in the 2016 election, their information consumption habits, and how learning to produce news videos has made them better able to discern what is and isn’t true in the information landscape.

Asked to define fake news, one student responded: “Anything that’s put out to intentionally mislead people.”

Student reporters said their generation must deal with this problem because of the fear it stirs up and how fast things snowball on social media. Being on the front lines has made these student journalists realize that people don’t know how easy it is to manipulate a photo — or even what Photoshop is. One student admitted she is more skeptical about stories she sees online because she knows it takes her a lot of time to find and tell a good story. The students also learn to be unbiased in their reporting — the opposite quality of fake news, they said.

Discerning fact from fiction surfaced again when English Education PhD student Jason Griffith kicked off his session “Examining Truth: Teaching the New Nonfiction” with an existential question, “How many truths are there?”

To demonstrate this concept, Griffith, author of the book From Me to We: Using Narrative Nonfiction to Broaden Student Perspectives, gave us 10 minutes to write a true story of what we were doing at 1:15 that afternoon, March 8. He directed us to use a scene format with characters, dialogue, action, and active verbs. As we circled the room, we heard about people’s lunches, bathroom excursions, and session nuggets. The point was to show that at a certain point in time many different stories were unfolding in downtown Austin. Even two friends had two different accounts of their lunch together.

In the classroom, Griffith uses the perspective walk activity, he said. To paraphrase from his book, here’s how it works: Take students on a 10-minute walk around campus, perhaps outside, without explaining why. When you come back to class, ask students to write about the walk, including any significant conversations or events. The story should be as active as possible. Let them share with a classmate, then ask for volunteers to read their scenes to the whole class. This activity jump-starts a conversation about ultimate vs. relative truth and how relative truth guides narrative nonfiction writing. (See page 66 for details.)

Narrative nonfiction also acts as an inquiry portal to learn about historic and current issues, lives, and ambitions through various media. Recent examples of books-turned-movie-or-TV-show abound, including “Hidden Figures,” “Sully,” “Unbroken,” “Wild,” “Lincoln,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Orange Is the New Black,” and “Friday Night Lights,” he noted.

Whenever studying a narrative nonfiction work with students, Griffith conducts “empathy check-ins,” he said. This requires stepping back from the text and analyzing how the author’s character renderings can influence readers. He asks key questions:

  • Do you like the narrator? Why or why not?
  • Is the narrator fair? Why or why not?
  • Whether you like the narrator, do you trust the narrator?

The issue of truth vs. fiction comes up often in this genre, as Griffith can attest. He relayed a former student’s sentiment from one of his lessons: “There’s one truth. lt exists independently of us, and we may or may not be aware of it.”

Share with Us

Educators, how are you employing experiential learning in your classroom? Share your ideas in the comments or email me at


Read My Coverage of Previous Conferences

SXSWedu 2015

At SXSWedu, a Creative Process Outlined by Constraint and Collaboration


SXSWedu 2014

SXSWedu Epilogue: On the Quest to Redesign School and Learning for Lifelong Success

SXSWedu Day 2: In the Trenches of the Creative Process

SXSWedu Day 1: Design Thinking & 21st Century Learning 101

In Silicon Valley, A Closer Look at Innovation Within and Beyond Independent Schools

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MENLO PARK and PORTOLA VALLEY, CALIF. – Innovation is a learning journey — one we’re constantly co-creating and recreating to meet the needs of a world in flux. NAIS’s Innovation Task Force is at the forefront of the journey’s unfoldment in independent schools.

In late June, I joined members of the task force — 10 independent school leaders, NAIS Vice President of Education Technology and Learning Services Kawai Lai, and NAIS Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Education Innovation Jefferson Burnett — in Silicon Valley for a capstone experience marking the group’s progress.

Day 1:  We Gather Examples of Innovation in the Field

On the first day, we explored innovation happening outside of independent schools to understand its use more broadly. First up was a tour of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, where we observed the tech company’s culture. Perhaps the most poignant sign hangs on one of the entrance walls: “Nothing at Facebook is someone else’s problem.”

Here are other noteworthy aspects of Facebook’s culture:

  • The Menlo Park campus is sprawling— and growing all the time. (I counted 16 buildings.)
  • The large courtyard, with a blacktop road running through the middle, is reminiscent of Disneyland. That’s no coincidence — Facebook hired Disney imagineers to design it.
  • Offices have open floor plans.
  • In War Rooms, groups of employees come together to work on projects.
  • Hackathons, a long-running company tradition, are all-night coding workshops where employees assemble to generate new product concepts and create prototypes in an open, fun environment. Facebook’s “Like” button was conceived in a hackathon.
  • Employees can pursue creative disciplines, such as woodworking and art, right on campus. They just pay for materials.
  • There’s tons of free food (we stopped at the sweet shop for free ice cream cones and other treats) and an arcade.
  • A health center sits in the center of the courtyard.
  • An employee in upper management welcomes newbies on a regular basis. In fact, a new cohort joins Facebook every week. (Facebook expects to hire 3,000 employees this year.)
  • Wednesday is a teleworking day; meetings are typically not held on this day.

Later that day, we gathered for an outdoor fireside chat at an Airbnb home where some group members were staying.


John Kao, an expert in innovation and organizational transformation, shared the keys to innovation as he sees them. Kao defines innovation as a portfolio of capabilities at the individual, institutional, and societal levels that enable you to continuously realize a desired future.

He unpacked the definition thus:

Capabilities – These are skills you develop over time with considerable practice.

Continuous – Innovation is a journey so you must keep working on it. He compared this with companies that treat innovation as a campaign.

Desired future – Innovation needs a purpose. “Otherwise, it’s just good hygiene,” he said. Figure out the problem you’re trying to solve. Innovation is the means to do so.

Here he addressed the concept of a wicked problem, a term coined by Horst Rittel, a design theorist and professor. Rittel sought to understand why certain issues are insoluble. Fundamentally, they are hard to define and multidimensional. They’re wicked not because they’re evil but because they’re resistant to resolution. Today, gun control and climate change are two examples. For independent schools, equity is a wicked problem, a group member said.

Enter Generation Z, which is ethically inclined and seeks to improve the world’s condition. (Demographers say Gen Z begins anywhere from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s.) Kao decided he wanted to help these youths achieve their desire.

He founded an organization, EdgeMakers, whose mission is to empower young people worldwide to change the world ahead of schedule. The organization follows a cycle of plant (germinating new ideas), grow (creating optimal conditions for ideas to thrive), harvest (converting fruits of other stages to value), according to Kao’s EdgeMakers Manifesto.

Kao, an accomplished pianist, ended the chat at the living room piano where he played some jazz tunes for us. An enchanting performance — with a deeper purpose. He was demonstrating how improvisation infuses the innovation process. As he described it, with deliberate practice, a person is able to respond with what’s right for the moment.

This day laid the groundwork to talk about innovation related to independent schools. As the weekend progressed, we referenced the Facebook sign and the company’s all-inclusive culture as well as the wicked problem concept that John Kao introduced to us.

Day 2: Confabs with Independent School Stakeholders Yield Connections and Tensions

The following day, we discussed takeaways from the task force’s interviews this past spring with independent school board members, administrators, and teachers. The constituents described innovation from their vantage points. Our group drew connections among these stakeholder groups, crystallized insights, and exposed tensions.

We shared and brainstormed at Woodside Priory School, a 6–12 grade day and boarding school of 370 students. The school was founded in 1957 by a group of seven Hungarian Benedictine monks. Nestled in Portola Valley, the 51-acre campus is a true mix of old and new. Monks still reside here; towering redwood trees, warm outdoor plazas, an array of solar panels, state-of-the-art facilities, a large garden, and a meditative Labyrinth all dot the picturesque landscape. I discovered how easy it was to lose and find myself while looking out at the sweeping mountain vistas.

Currently, The Priory is embarking on its own innovative project, focusing on how students can achieve balance in their lives and assessing the degree to which they’re living a balanced life. The school recently received a $50,000 grant from the E.E. Ford Foundation for this work. In these many ways, Woodside Priory School was an ideal place to gather to discuss innovation in independent education.

Here are some of the group’s conclusions from interviews with school constituents:


  • All stakeholder groups cited trust as vital for innovation.
  • All stakeholders crave education.
  • Innovation is connected to mission.
  • Modeling behavior is crucial for everyone.
  • A school ought to develop an innovation narrative that all can understand and share.


  • IQ + EQ = innovation
  • Innovation is a social activity.
  • Innovation requires moving from being shown the way to being part of creating the way.
  • Innovation = learning
  • Innovation is exhausting if you’re pushing against resistance.


  • Breaking down silos v. facing the independent school culture of teacher autonomy
  • Balancing stability and adaptability
  • Relying on evidence of success v. creating the evidence yourself
  • Clarifying roles v. taking on and integrating multiple roles
  • Balancing innovation and tradition
  • Doing what’s best for all kids v. doing what’s best for MY kid
  • Emanating from the top down v. the bottom up
  • Independent schools v. an interdependent world

What Schools Need for Innovation to Thrive

The task force’s work makes clear that innovation can only flourish when school constituents take certain steps in three areas:

  • Purpose and Vision – Leaders must outline innovation’s purpose and how it fits their vision for a brighter, sustainable future.
  • Life Skills – Everyone must hone key skills: collaborating, communicating, thinking creatively, solving problems, being adaptable, expressing empathy, and pushing beyond comfort zones.
  • Trust – Everyone must work to build trusting relationships across stakeholder groups: students, faculty, administrators, board members, parents, and alumni. (Operating in a trusting environment means having constituents’ backs, displaying vulnerability and empathy, being less fearful, and being more aware of oneself and others.)

Day 3: How Might We … Move Forward on a Firm Foundation?

At the capstone’s conclusion, Innovation Task Force members created a charge for their work going forward. The group’s seminal question: How might we build future-wise school communities?

Join us as we continue to shape this journey. You can share stories of innovation at your school in the comments or via email at Let’s learn together and build on others’ good ideas.

Indeed, that is what brought this blog post together. To close, I send special thanks to Innovation Task Force members who attended the capstone in California: Chris Bigenho, Liz Davis, Laura Deisley, Sally Garza, Sophie Halliday, Larry Kahn, Howard Levin, Alex Ragone, Linda Swarlis, Task Force Chair Jenni Swanson Voorhees, Kawai Lai, and Jefferson Burnett as well as facilitator Andrea Saveri and graphic recorder Leslie Salmon-Zhu. I also want to recognize task force members Alex Inman and Jill Brown and advisory members Wendy Drexler, Shabbi Luthra, Demetri Orlando, and Jason Ramsden who have contributed a great deal but could not be in California.

For more coverage of innovation in education, visit my blog on NAIS Connect.

12 Life Lessons from Improv 101

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Inspired by Shonda Rhimes’s book Year of Yes, I decided to do something radical to celebrate my birthday this year: I signed up to learn improv at DC IMPROV in downtown Washington. Yes, theater — because it isn’t how I typically put myself out there.

I was intrigued to try improv after reading Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration, Lessons from The Second City. Authors Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton, executives at The Second City comedy theater in Chicago, describe how they have used improv principles to tap into employees’ creativity and collaborative spirit — and helped businesses create happier, more productive cultures as a result.

To understand what all the buzz was about, I joined more than a dozen other improv novices in a six-week intro course. When it concluded, we all received certificates of laughter from our seasoned improv instructor. No joke. Here’s mine.

Now that I’ve passed Improv 101, I’m sharing 12 things I’ve learned that I’ll carry beyond the stage.

  1. Participate — and speak up. Acting and speaking are vital in improv. From the very beginning, our teacher made it clear that all of us were going to participate in every activity, and all of our contributions mattered equally. Failure wasn’t possible — as long as we participated. 
  2. Be patient. The ideas you need will ebb and flow. And… pauses create drama and impact in a scene. 
  3. Trade your worry for trust. This can take some time, but trust is an essential part of improv. This means trusting yourself to conjure up a thought or action that meets the situation and trusting your scene partners to work with you to execute a well-played scene. Accept that you won’t always know exactly what’s going to come out of your mouth or how you will gesticulate on stage at any given moment. But remember that the most effective, unforgettable scenes are born when you quit worrying about what you’re going to say or do — and just act like you. Words to live by every day. 
  4. Be fully present in the moment. We hear this a lot these days when it comes to achieving total wellness. But it’s true in improv, too. In fact, the only way to be successful in improv is to be 100 percent present in the scene. This level of focus allows you to pick up subtle and not-so-subtle cues about topic, tone of voice, emotion, body movement, etc. A common refrain from improv novices: “I’m learning how to get out of my head and into the moment.” 
  5. Express a range of emotions. With a spare stage and little direction, you rely on many shades of expression to convey exactly what you’re feeling and thinking. In an exercise, we had to demonstrate classic emotions: anger, happiness, sadness, etc. on a 1-10 graduated scale. I was surprised to discover how narrow my range has been and am motivated to explore new variations. 
  6. Navigate the balance between awareness of self and awareness of others. Improv requires you to pay attention and listen to what’s coming to you from your scene partners, yet you also have to be in touch with and in control of your own emotions and thoughts. This is the heart of executing a strong scene — and demonstrating emotional intelligence in everyday life. 
  7. Move when you’re in a “gray-out.” Translation: When you can’t think of what to say or do next, just move yourself around. Often, movement sparks an idea. We learned this cool exercise, Crazy Eights, designed to loosen up our bodies. It works like this: Quickly shake one hand in the air eight times, do the same with the other hand, then shake one foot, then shake the other foot. Repeat shaking your hands and feet seven times, then six times, then five times… until you count down to one. 
  8. Summon the courage to be vulnerable. Improv is a safe space to be silly, and try new things without feeling judged. Not only did I gain newfound freedom but I also found myself and my classmates more entertaining and more compassionate when expressing vulnerability. In one of our warm-up activities, we stood in a circle, took turns jumping into the center, a.k.a. the hotspot, and sang the first song that popped into our heads. The goal wasn’t to train to become the final American Idol — one of our improv buddies was supposed to dart in and tap the one in the middle and start singing. Sure enough, we didn’t let our new friends drown in song. Many of us picked up on the words in our friends’ songs to belt out a new tune… which brings me to the next point. 
  9. Build on the ideas of others. Yes, And the No. 1 rule in improv — for good reason. Your job is validating what the person before you said and then going a step or two further. In this way, all partners are building a scene — together. It creates a very positive, yet playful experience for all involved. We did this in a myriad of ways: creating a story one word at a time, taking on the personalities and mannerisms of our fellow passengers in a pretend taxicab, introducing our classmates to a new character that our partner then had to embody, among other exercises. 
  10. Understand that the whole truly is greater than the sum of the parts. Improv is about the ensemble and each individual has an important role to play in a scene. As my teacher said, by yourself, you’re a brick; together, you’re a cathedral. 
  11. Practice thinking outside the box wherever you are. Outside-the-box thinking is much sought after in the age of flux. We got a chance to think this way in every class. In one instance, our teacher paired us off and directed one partner to point to objects in the room; the other was tasked with calling these objects anything other than what we know them as in everyday life. In this make-believe world, a phone could be a horseshoe. The idea was to be creative in our naming and defy standard convention. 
  12. Give and receive helpful feedback often. Feedback and reflection were important aspects of the beginning improv class and structured our time together. We applauded each other after individual classmates’ successes and after every activity we completed as a group. When we stumbled in an activity, our teacher asked us to try again until we got the hang of it. At the end of every class, each of us shared one thing we were grateful for and one thing we learned during our two hours together. On Graduation Day, we individually summarized what we would take away from the class. I learned how to better express emotion and spontaneity. One person noted how his work presentations were flowing much better, and attributed this to the skills he was sharpening in class. The overall experience underscored how constructive feedback and thoughtful reflection can work together for personal growth.

In essence, improv hones and stretches the skills we declare to be important for school, the workplace, and everyday life: communication, collaboration, creativity, EQ, problem solving, and reflection.

But don’t take my word for it; get out there and improv! Yes, and… you write what’s next.

2016 AC Day 2: With Gripping Life Stories, Bryan Stevenson Inspires Us to Change the World

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Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer and social justice activist, gave one of the most heartrending, inspiring speeches I have ever heard. Period. Everyone I spoke to afterward felt exactly the same way. Here’s why.

“I don’t want to put the bar too low. I want to talk about what we need to do to change the world,” said Bryan Stevenson as he kicked off Day 2 of the Annual Conference, known as Teacher Day. Bryan is the author of Just Mercy, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and a professor at New York University.

The Justice System’s Sobering Statistics

Bryan began by painting a bleak picture of the judicial landscape. In 1972, the U.S. had 370,000 people in prison. Today, 3.2 million are in prison. If ex-prisoners try to get a loan or job, they’re disfavored. An increasing number of women are going to prison, 70 percent of whom are single mothers. Many children don’t expect to be free at age 21; they think they’ll be in prison, Bryan said. In fact, 1 in 3 black males are expected to go to jail or prison.

How to Change Our Relationship to Vulnerable Children

To change this picture, we need to create a different relationship to those children living at the margins, Bryan said. Here are four things we must do to get there:

1. Be proximate.

First, he said, we’ve got to get proximate to the people who are poor, disabled, and vulnerable. “When you try to make policy from a distance, you get it wrong. You don’t see nuances. Proximity empowers to you to do things,” Bryan said.

He pointed to his own past of growing up when black kids couldn’t go to same school as white kids. Because people choose to be proximate, he was able to go to high school and then college. Being proximate eventually led him to finding his life’s work — and worth. 

A philosophy major and an active musician, he loved college and remembered telling his mother that he wanted to stay there for the rest of his life.

When he was a senior trying to figure out what to pursue after graduation, he realized that to do graduate work in history, English, or political science, he needed to know something about those subjects. “If I’m honest, that’s what led me to law school. It was very clear to me that you don’t need to know anything to go to law school,” he said as the audience roared. So it was that, and his concern about issues of race and social injustice that propelled him onward to law school.

He described classes that taught him how to maximize benefits and minimize costs. “I was trying to rationalize a career in the law that I knew was not going to be satisfying,” Bryan said.

All of that changed when he took a human rights course that involved helping inmates who were on death row in Georgia. He was sent to tell a man that he wasn’t at risk of execution any time in the next year. “I didn’t think the man would just want to talk to law student.” But Bryan found the man so happy to see him. It was because Bryan was the first person the man had seen in a year that wasn’t associated with his prison experience. He hadn’t wanted his wife and kids to see him if he was going to die imminently. “Now because of you, I’m going to see my wife and kids,” the man told Bryan.

Bryan then realized: “Even in my ignorance, just being proximate could make a difference.”

One hour together turned into two, and then three. In their conversation, the two men learned that they were born the same day. The guard, who was growing impatient while they were talking, came back and re-shackled the man. “This condemned man said don’t worry; you just come back,” Bryan remembered.

As the guard shoved him toward the door so hard that he almost fell down, the man did something so unexpected. Bryan watched in awe as the man closed his eyes, threw his head back, and started to sing: “I’m pressing on the upward way, new heights I’m gaining every day… Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

For Bryan, it was a defining moment. “I knew that my journey to higher ground was tied to his journey,” Bryan said. “You couldn’t get me out of the law school library. I wanted to help condemned people get to higher ground,” he said.

Bryan’s experience is also a vivid example of how much proximity matters. “Proximity will change you…. We need to get closer to the parts of our community that are filled with despair and fear,” Bryan said. “We can’t change the world from a distance.”

2. Change the narratives that underlie the problems.

Bryan delved into the two main narratives we need to change: the way we view children and the way we see race.

Years ago, he explained, criminologists said some children weren’t children, but super-predators. This nefarious label spurred the zero-tolerance movement in schools and the push to lower the age at which a person could be tried as an adult in American courts.

Bryan shared the example of a man who had punched a little boy’s mother in the face. She was lying unconscious and after 10 minutes, her young son thought she was dead. He went into the bedroom where the man was sleeping, and opened the drawer where a gun was stashed. Pointing the gun at the man’s head, the boy tragically shot the man. “He was very small for his age and a decent kid,” Bryan said.

But the man the boy shot was a deputy sheriff so the boy was certified to be tried as an adult. Bryan was heartbroken when he saw the little boy in jail. When they met, the boy could not speak. Bryan was flummoxed, thinking, “You’ve got to talk to me. I can’t help you unless you talk to me.”  Then, Bryan just leaned on the boy. “I felt the boy lean back.”

The boy began to cry and talk about what happened — not the shooting but what happened to him in prison. He had been raped by several people. For almost an hour, the boy sobbed hysterically, and then said to Bryan, “Please, please, please don’t go.”

“Who is responsible for this?” Bryan asked the audience to consider. “We are,” he answered. “We have allowed a narrative to emerge that some children are not children.” It’s false. We must look after the ones that fall down, that commit crimes. There are 10,000 children unprotected and at risk, Bryan noted.

We must also change the narrative about race in America. “Racial history haunts us, shadows us. We are a post-genocidal society; we haven’t acknowledged that,” he said as he noted the indigenous people in America who were slaughtered.

America’s demographics grew around racial terror, Bryan said. “The legacy of slavery is burdening us. The great evil of American slavery is the great evil of American society…. I don’t think slavery ended in 1865; it just evolved. “

To underscore the point, Bryan believes that the civil rights era is viewed through a lens too celebratory and without all the shades of struggle. As a nation, we focus on three events:

  1. Rosa Parks didn’t give up her seat on the bus.
  2. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
  3. We changed all the laws.

This simple arc ignores the fact that our nation humiliated people of color for decades, injuring, assaulting, and hurting them deeply, he said. “We haven’t done anything to address these injuries. We will not get there until we change the narrative,” Bryan added.

3.   Commit to staying hopeful to change the world.

“Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. I see hopeless teachers, principals, and kids. Protect your hope. That will get you to stand up when others say sit down. It will get you to speak when others say shut up…. Children need to see [hope] in you to see it for themselves,” Bryan said.

Then, he shared a time when one guard would not let him into an Alabama prison to see a client until Bryan showed him his bar card, underwent a strip search, and signed the prison book.

The young man Bryan was scheduled to see had been in and out of 29 foster homes by age 10. At 15, he started using heroin. He was having psychotic episodes, and was sentenced to death after stabbing a man he thought was a demon. The first question the client asked when he saw Bryan: “Did you bring me a chocolate milkshake?” Bryan promised he would.

After three days of testimony, Bryan felt the case was headed in the right direction.

A month later, when Byran returned to the prison, the guard informed him that he didn’t need to be strip searched and that he signed him in when he saw him coming. The man’s face was beet red, his hands shaking, as he said to Bryan, “I was in the courtroom and I was listening. I came up in the foster care system. I’m a really angry person, but I learned some things in that courtroom. I hope you keep fighting for justice. Can I shake your hand? … I was listening and I hope you keep fighting. Wait, I got to tell you something else….I took your client to a Wendy’s and bought him a milkshake.”

Embedded in this story is the transformative effect of hope. “We’ve got to have hope. We cannot save our children without believing things we cannot see,” Bryan said.

4.  Do uncomfortable things so justice can prevail.

 “The story of education is when teachers and administrators pick up the children who are struggling and comfort families and intervene in the places where there’s despair…. It’s our obligation if we’re going to change the world,” Bryan said.

Bryan relayed to us the time he represented a man who was on death row for 30 years, and his final motion for a stay had been denied. When Bryan delivered the news, this man was devastated. “Mr. Stevenson, there’s something I want to say to you,” Bryan recalled. “But he couldn’t get his words out.” (When this man was overwhelmed, he would begin to stutter, Bryan said.) “The harder he tried to talk, the more he was ripping my heart apart.”

Suddenly, Bryan flashed back to his own boyhood when his mom took him to church. Bryan had asked a boy a question and the boy started to stutter. “I did something ignorant and I laughed,” Bryan said. His mother pulled him aside and scolded him for laughing. She told Bryan to tell the little boy you’re sorry, then hug the boy, and then tell him you love him.

Bryan said, “I lunged at him and gave him a man hug. Then I said insincerely ‘I love you.’”

The boy said sincerely, “I love you, too.”

At this point, the man on death row regained his composure and thanked Bryan for representing him. “I love you for trying to save me,” he finished as the guards led him away.

Bryan was heartbroken and considered giving up the work.

The Power of Being Broken

Then he asked the educators in the audience: “Why do we want to kill all the broken people in this country?”

“I represent the broken…. I work in a broken system….” he said.

Bryan said he had the kind of conversation with himself that you typically have when you have an important decision to make. As he wrestled with himself, he realized why he does the work he does: “I don’t do what I do because of human rights … or justice, or to talk to wonderful people like you, or because no one else will. I do what I do because I’m broken, too,” he said.

Wedged within brokenness is hope. “I’m not worried about brokenness. In brokenness we understand the power of mercy, forgiveness. It is the broken that will teach us how to get to justice,” Bryan said.

Justice is the true opposite of poverty, he said. To that end, we must look at how we treat the disabled, the poor, and children. We need a different metric for people trying to change the world — not applause or money.

Bryan then spoke of a man who was staring at him in church one day. “Do you know what you’re doing?” the man asked pointedly. Bryan was bewildered and a little worried.

“I’m going to tell you what you’re doing. You’re beating the drum for justice. Keep beating the drum for justice,” Bryan recalled the man in church saying to him. Bryan was so moved and relieved.

“There is enough talent and passion in this room that we can change the world,” Bryan said, and ended by sharing how privileged he felt to speak to our group.

He earned a long standing ovation from the audience. I left empowered and transformed by his message, his faith, and his life’s work.

2016 AC Day 2: Google’s Chief Education Evangelist Outlines Our Calling to Reimagine Education

To read the original, click here.

Google’s Chief Education Evangelist Jaime Casap pushed educators to throw out the old norms and models of education and embrace the new digital, iterative normal. Today’s technology is a catalyst for creating real student-centric education that’s grounded in 100+ years of research about how we learn best.

How the Pace of Technological Change Has Changed Our Expectations

Technology has advanced at warp speed and expectations have changed as a result. Jaime reflected on buying his first iPhone in San Francisco nine years ago, and asked us to consider how we managed with older technology. For instance, remember when we had to call the Internet at home, and the Internet was busy, and you were OK with that? You used to go on the World Wide Web and find words of links and click to find more words, he said.

“Every once in a while someone would post a picture, and someone would say look at this,” he added.

Today, we expect much more from our technology. “I’ve seen teachers turn into a mob at conferences when the Wi-Fi was too slow,” Jaime said.

What do these expectations mean to a generation of kids that doesn’t know the world before Google, before Wi-Fi? A 10-year-old thinks you’re going camping if there’s no Wi-Fi. He would say “I must take pictures and post to Instagram,” Jaime said.

But these advancements in technology do not mean new generations are humanly different than we are, or that they are delivered from the womb knowing how to use an iPad, Jaime cautioned. They can multitask about as well as adults can, which is not all that well.

Your Students Think About Learning Differently Than You Do

What is different is how younger generations think about learning. Jaime referred to his daughter as an example. When she was terrified of flying, Jaime bribed her with a ukulele. “When we were walking out of the store, I saw instruction books about how to play the instrument. I asked her whether she wanted to pick up a book. She looked at me with a distained teenage look that says you’re irrelevant… I realized that she was going to find someone on YouTube and learn enough to be able to play.”

In another example, he described how his 14-year-old son showed him lines of code he created in Java. His son’s friend and his son were playing casino and wanted to figure out how to win so his son worked to build the modifications he needed. “I want him to learn to code in Python, but I’ll take what I can get,” Jaime said.

The takeaway from these examples: While older generations wait for certified materials, younger ones figure things out without them, he said.

Don’t Ask Today’s Students What They Want to Be When They Grow Up

Jaime challenged us to consider whether we’re asking old or new questions when we think about learning and careers. An old question we asked students: What do you want to be when you grow up?

“How does he know? Most adults can’t even answer that question,” Jaime said. Besides, 60 percent of the jobs of the future don’t exist today, he pointed out.

When you ask what you want to be, what you’re really asking is: Who do you want to work for? Well, for 62 percent of Generation Z members, the answer is themselves, Jaime said.

Ask Students What Problem They Want to Solve — and Some Follow-Ups, Too

According to Jaime, the better questions to ask are: What problem do you want to solve? What spins in your head?

The problem doesn’t need to be some enormous, intractable global issue. It could be making vacuum cleaners quieter or making cars go faster — anything that leverages one’s autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Then, the follow-up questions become:

  • What do you need to learn to solve that problem?
  • How do you build the skills and knowledge to solve it?
  • Who can you collaborate with? (Generation Z has friends all over the world, while we were stuck with the five kids on our block, Jaime noted.)
  • What research, blogs, documentaries, and other resources are out there to help?

People are developing solutions at younger ages, too. Jaime mentioned a 16-year-old who made bioplastics from banana peels.

Talk About Failure and Success Is Obsolete

Educators must also end talk of success and failure with students. Jaime said we shouldn’t focus on teaching kids how to fail because failure is merely the flipside of success. Neither word applies when we live in a world of constant iteration.

Drawing on an immediate example, Jaime said the chances are good that attendees used a different Google yesterday than today because we update Google more than 600 times a year; we update Chromebooks every six weeks. “You can’t rest on successes just like you can’t [rest] on failures,” Jaime said.

Education’s Single-Player Sport Has to Yield to a Team Sport Dynamic

Education must mirror the real world of team-based workplaces. Unfortunately, education is set up as a single-player sport. He described how his 14-year-old son is alone responsible for his performance on tests, homework, etc. What would happen if a few students came to the teacher to turn in a test, and said we decided to combine our skill sets and work on this together?

Jaime then asked us to imagine what would happen if he told his colleagues at Google that he didn’t talk to any other team or receive input from other stakeholders before launching a new program. The implication was that everyone would be aghast.

Collaboration is key in today’s economy, he underscored. Being a good collaborator means asking good questions, listening, changing your mind, and building consensus. “There’s something comforting in knowing that you’re part of a greater sum,” Jaime said.

We Must Teach Students to Be Secure Digital Leaders

In the new model, it’s imperative to teach young people how to be secure digital leaders. We do this by helping them build portfolios and create digital footprints that represent who they are. Since information is ubiquitous, we must move beyond reciting facts and figures.

He used the example of testing knowledge of U.S. presidents’ names. Just 7 percent of Americans can name the first four presidents. People might make fun of you if you didn’t know the answer off the top of your head, but if we were given 30 seconds, everyone would have the answer. The information on its own has no value, Jaime said. “What is valuable is what we do with that information and converting it into intelligence,” he added.

To drill down on the superfluous presidential question, you might ask: Tell me what the U.S. would look like if John Adams were the first president? What things do the first four presidents agree about and why? What do they disagree about and why? How is this country different because of their unique views?

Technology Is Not a Silver Bullet

We must be clear about the role of technology in schools  it is to support new models of learning. If we take current technology and put it on top of the current system, we’re only making old models faster and more efficient, Jaime said.

Learning outcomes must come from teachers and students, and technology should support these goals. That means technology should be manageable, scalable, invisible, and out of your way as quickly as possible.

Jaime emphasized the need to work on its reliability, and compared the difficulties of using modern technology to the ease of using electricity. We don’t say, “Thank god, the lights are working.” Or I have to call someone to come with a ladder to turn on the light bulb for me.

If you did have to take such an onerous step every time the lights didn’t work when you flipped the switch, how long would it be before you stopped flicking the lights on?

The Maker Movement and Competency-Based Education Empower Teachers

Educators ought to embrace the maker movement and engage students so makers can thrive in school. We must be sure students are actually building something. He also noted the rise of competency-based education.

At this point, Jaime was clear that technology will not replace teachers. Both models begin with great teachers in our classrooms — to push students to understand concepts at a deeper level.

Some Bad News: There’s No Future Classroom

Many educators say, “Show me an education model that’s working and I’ll just copy it. What they’re really saying is, ‘My life has been stable and now it’s uncertain. I want to get back to stable,’ ” Jaime said.

Forget that. What we need instead is a culture of iteration and innovation — both aspects drive transformation. And transformation has no end point, Jaime said.

Some Good News: We Are Just Getting Started

“You are creating what the future of education is going to look like,” Jaime said.

He is part of this effort by helping to build the Phoenix Coding Academy in Arizona, where Computer Science will be just another language students study. The school will graduate 120 Latino students. After four years in school, they’ll be prepared to work as computer scientists, Jaime said.

A Full Circle: As Digital Technology Rapidly Expands, We Must Adopt New Learning Models

In 1995, just 1 percent of the world was online. It took 10 years to get the first billion people online. Today, 40 percent of the world is online, Jaime rattled off. And that number is growing.

He asked us to picture a 5-year-old and your favorite technology tool, whether it’s the iPhone, iPad, iPad Pro, etc. Just imagine: This is the worst technology the 5-year-old will ever see in his life, Jaime said.

The child will find your device in a thrift store, and put it on a shelf like a museum knickknack, saying, “My dad used to have one of these. He used to have to plug this into the wall. Seriously, like every day,” Jaime said, as the audience erupted in thunderous laughter.

“Those kids are coming. Do we have the right systems, policies, and learning models in place to help them develop the skills, abilities, and knowledge to solve the important problems of the future?” Jaime exhorted. “That is our calling — best of luck. Have fun. Enjoy the most exciting time in education.”

22016 AC Day 2: Kindra Hall On Why Storytelling Matters – And How We Can Tell Compelling Stories

To read the original, click here.

Kindra Hall’s love of storytelling began in the fifth grade. She wasn’t having a particularly pleasant year while her best friend was super popular. Then, her teacher assigned her class to choose a story and tell it to classmates. From the time she shared her chosen story, Good Giants Big Toe, she got hooked on storytelling — and her world started opening up.

During her school days, Kindra continued to grab and keep people’s attention with her stories. She kept telling stories beyond childhood. In her graduate school program in organizational socialization, she would start long research reports with a story, provide a ton of information, and wrap in a story at the end, she said.

When Kindra became VP of sales for a multinational corporation, she was still telling stories. “I thought I would leave it behind because it’s kind of fluffy. Then I realized I was at my best when I was telling my story,” Kindra said. She studied under the world’s best storytellers, including Donald Davis, whom her son is named after. And in 2014, she won a Storytelling World Award. She released her first book, Otherwise Untold: A Collection of Stories Most People Would Keep to Themselves.

In her presentation to the packed room of educators, Kindra answered three questions:

  1. Why is storytelling so effective?
  2. What is and isn’t a story? (Some companies think they’re telling stories, but they really aren’t.)
  3. What tools do you need to put your story to work?

How a Good Story Raises Value

Storytelling makes price irrelevant, Kindra said, as she relayed a study on significant objects. Researchers put 200 little knickknacks on eBay and paired them with a compelling story to see how much they would sell for. As an example they put a No. 4 tile on the auction site, which is available for $6 from The Home Depot. They paired that tile with a story of a couple moving into their first home. The tile sold for $88. In another example, they posted a cute little pony, which they purchased for $1. They paired it with a story of a woman whose daughter’s favorite toy was that pony. She said she hoped that someone would enjoy it as much as her daughter did. The selling price: $104.54.

“If you’re facing the challenge of value, you’re not telling the right stories. People will pay a lot of money for a good story,” Kindra said. “I’m not telling you to lie; I think the truth is much more interesting.” You can raise the value of something by 3,200 percent with a story, she added.

In Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, he notes the way stories place facts in context and deliver emotional impact.

Stories can also affect cortisol and oxytocin levels, studies show. Cortisol is responsible for increased focus and attention while oxytocin helps in building trusting relationships. “If you want to fast track relationships, share one story about yourself. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable because the brain will respond,” Kindra said.

Making an emotional connection is a vital element for a story. Think about your school’s print brochure. Does it tell the stories of the girls or give the statistics of the graduates? Remember that your story will outperform statistics and information any day — even when the stakes are high.

Why Are Stories So Powerful?

Stories are memorable because we co-create them. In fact, this is the unique advantage of storytelling that no other strategy can match. As someone tells you a story, you are creating images of your own. For example, when Kindra was describing her fifth grade experience, we were imagining the hallways we walked through in school. We could see them, and smell them, she said. “Because we participated in that experience together and because we created it together, it will stay with you longer.”

As Rudyard Kipling said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

What Isn’t a Story

A story is not a

  • tagline,
  • slogan,
  • mission statement,
  • history lesson,
  • date on a calendar (If the first line on your website is the year you were founded, you’re missing the point, she said.)
  • statistics,
  • impressive results,
  • vague high-level principled talk, or
  • theory.

Kindra worked with a construction builder who would only talk about integrity so she asked him to share a story that illustrated the value.

He found his story: He was sitting across the table from a really big client. And the client said that $1 million in cash was in his briefcase under the table. The client then asked the builder if that changes anything. The builder replied, “I’m sorry; that’s not how we work here.”

Later, the client called and said, “ ‘You’re exactly the builder we want to work with.’ They’ve been working together for 30 years. That’s a story about integrity,” Kindra said. That’s principle grounded in real life.

A story happens in a moment, in a single interaction, in the classroom, she said. It happens in a particular place and time. Story requires talking about emotions. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In a story, there are characters to care about and something at stake.

Many times organizations allude to their story but don’t actually tell it. It’s the biggest mistake they make, Kindra said.

The Art and Science of Storytelling

Kindra’s three key steps to storytelling:

  • Finding the story (not easy)
  • Crafting the story (not easy)
  • Telling the story (easiest part)

On Finding the Story

Keep in mind that stories attach themselves to the nouns in our life: people, places, things, and events.

She directed us to make a list of every place we’ve ever lived. “Even as you think of the name of the house, don’t stories start coming back to you about the things that happened in that house?” she said.

Kindra described working with a magazine that was covering the big theme of innovation when the publisher wanted to start a publisher’s letter. To go beyond merely talking about innovation, she instructed him to make a list of all the pieces of innovation that he had seen over his lifetime. He relayed the first time he used his dad’s cellphone that came in a big suitcase. He used it to make a call at the gas station that ended up costing $300. That’s a great story that conveys the significance of innovation, Kindra said.

To ferret out your own story:

  1. Make a list of values (What story involves people and values?)
  2. Make a list of objections (Why don’t people choose you?)
  3. Make a list of proudest moments (These usually involve challenges and students.)
  4. Happiest students/parents
  5. Describe when your why was born (Why do you do this? It’s not for the fame and fortune; tell the story to your students so they know that they are loved.)

On Crafting the Story

A story has a beginning, middle, and end. Think of the three parts this way: normal (beginning), explosion (middle), and new normal (end).

Typically, we only hear about the explosion, or the happening, not what came before it. In other words, people haven’t started with the normal, Kindra said.

Begin your story by describing one of your students before he or she began attending your school. Then, move to how he or she met you. Finally, talk about the graduation or transformation to the new normal. Remember that the family is in the normal part, and they’re looking for opportunities for  transformation.

When crafting the story, set the scene, use emotions, and be strategic about the details. “I’m not asking you to write the great American novel here,” she said. Don’t be afraid to offer a directive in your story, she added.

On Telling the Story

Finally, adhere to the No. 1 rule of storytelling: “What do I want them to think, feel, know, or do as a result of hearing this story?”

Places to tell your school’s stories:

  • School walls
  • Online via blogs, video, social media
  • Campus tours
  • Printed material – brochures, pamphlets
  • PR pieces, have stories ready
  • In your classroom

A Good Story Lives On

In Kindra’s case, her school woes have a happy ending. Kindra’s fifth grade teacher gifted her the story she loved at her graduation. As Kindra noted, the present was both a celebration of her achievement and the continuation of her teacher’s legacy – and a reminder that a good story lives on in our hearts.

Now, it’s time for us to get out there and tell our own stories!

2016 AC Day 1: Why College Will End … As We Know It

To read the original, click here.

Kevin Carey, author of The End of College, made a strong case for why college will end … as we know it right now.

He focused on three interrelated areas:

  • how America came to this pivotal moment in higher education,
  • the rise of information technology, and what it means for the future of learning, and
  • what these two things mean for attendees preparing the next generation of students to succeed and lead in the future.

Kevin’s Background

Kevin has long been interested in matters of equality and price in education. He directs the education policy program at New America, conducting research on topics including high education reform, college graduation rates, online education, and the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Kevin began to identify with these issues more intimately when he had a child several years ago. “One of our primary obligations is to get children into a good college and help them pay for it. If we do that we’re successful, if we don’t, we’re not,” he said. “Parents are asking: ‘Am I going to be able to fulfill that goal?’ ”

For many years, higher education has been a great comfort to the middle and upper classes of society, he said. “We knew how the system worked because we went through it.”

Where America’s Higher Education System Stands Today

The ground has been shifting as the cost of college has doubled and tripled. Student loan debt in America has hit $1.3 trillion, and the default rate on student loans has never been higher even though the recession ended about seven years ago.

Politicians and college presidents often boast that America has the greatest higher education system in the world. But the picture is less clear. For universities like Stanford, which accepts 5 percent of applicants and has a $22 billion endowment and new donations rolling in, things are great. But the vast majority of students aren’t going to the elite colleges.

And the learning results in many of our colleges are not what they need to be, Kevin pointed out. Compared with the rest of the world, American college graduates are doing OK in reading but coming in below average in math.

For a long time, America led the world in college graduates. We passed the G.I. Bill after World War 2 and instituted the federal student loan system to make it easier for Americans to enroll in college. Today, many countries have passed the U.S. in getting more adults through college.

How We Reached This Pivotal Moment in Higher Education

In the past, the way we taught in college was through recitation. Students had to memorize long passages in Greek and Latin. The idea was to train your mind the way you would train your body to run a long race.

The job of a university then was not to train people for employment. The university was designed to allow people “to apprehend the lights and shades of knowledge,” said John Henry Newman. We still hold this liberal arts ideal in high regard when we say education should not just be about teaching facts but also teaching people how to think; teaching not just empirical knowledge but moral knowledge. Education should touch the wisdom of the past and propel us forward.

The needs changed during the Industrial Revolution. The country needed people to work on the farms and factories and expertise to grow the economy. The focus turned to practical education and Congress passed the Morrill Land Grant College Act to train people for the new industrial world. Many of our greatest colleges and universities are land-grant institutions.

In the late 19th century, many scholars thought universities should be citadels of research. This thinking came about after they spent time in Europe where they observed that professors had scholarly independence and were held in high esteem.

In a stroke of administrative genius, some decided that research, practical professions, and a liberal arts education should all be housed in the same place. Then, law and medical schools started requiring Bachelor’s degrees for admittance and the modern undergraduate institution was born.

This move came with a compromise – and at a cost, Kevin said. If you build your higher education system on a nonprofit basis and give colleges unlimited ability to compete with one another, there’s no end to what could happen, he said. What we see in the competitive higher education dynamic is that the real currency is prestige, not money. Schools compete for the highest U.S. News rankings, the largest endowments, the best faculty, the best football team, etc.

Meanwhile, parents and families began picking up more of the bill as states’ higher education institutions received less financial support from state governments. State populations started aging, and Medicaid became expensive to support. Across the nation, we started putting more people in prison and had to pay for prison construction and staff.

College students weren’t being particularly well served in the hybrid model, which combined liberal arts, practical professions, and research. The undergraduate teaching mission got left by the wayside, Kevin said. William James wrote an essay about this titled The PhD Octopus. He noted that getting a PhD doesn’t train you to be a teacher – it’s about being a good scholar.

Then, in the 1970s, the book The Overeducated American was published, sparking a debate about whether too many people were going to college. That was proven to be a bad prediction after the blue-collar economy began to collapse later that decade. We went from blue collar to white collar jobs, and the only way you could get those jobs was to go to college.

Soon, more and more students and families were footing the bills for college.

The Role of Information Technology in the Future of Higher Education

For the past 100 years, Kevin said that people like him have been saying that the latest technology is going to change college – and it hasn’t happened.

Thomas Edison thought that with the invention of film, people would just watch movies and wouldn’t go to school anymore. Later, people believed that radio and cable TV would change higher education. But these tech advancements cannot replicate a community of learners, Kevin noted.

For a long time, all information technology could do was move information from one place to the other. The postal service, in fact, was the first real game-changer in education, Kevin said, noting that The Boston Herald advertised a correspondence course in shorthand during the revolutionary period.

Today, we have an infinite capacity to move information around – and we can process it. As a result, the focus is on personalization. You as educators know this well since that’s what you do every day. Now, it’s possible to achieve “personalization on a mass scale. We can create educational experiences that overlap with what colleges and universities are actually providing,” he said.

Kevin himself went back to college by taking a freshman genetics class at MIT, which was taught by the head of the human genome project, Eric Lander. (Kevin describes this in his book.) When solving complex homework problems, he was buoyed by the fact that he wasn’t really alone. Thousands of students were taking the class at the same time and an interactive textbook was set up to help. The virtual community of learners could help him when he was stuck on a problem. Kevin said, “I passed; I didn’t get an A.”

The courses are provided at zero marginal cost, and hundreds of classes like Kevin’s are available through the edX platform. “It is not science fiction that we can replicate parts of the higher ed experience; we can say with confidence that these courses are going to get better,” Kevin said. Companies are spending millions on new approaches in higher education. Artificial intelligence will take things further by changing the learning environment based on how you perform.

The End of College as We Know It Today

“I don’t mean that we’re not going to be going to college,” Kevin clarified. There’s lots more to education than watching lectures and doing problem sets, he added. So much learning happens outside the classroom – with informal relationships, coming-of-age experiences, and heady debates late at night. All of that doesn’t need to cost $60,000 a year.

By driving down marginal costs of courses, it’s now possible to build higher education institutions at much a lower cost and personalize education at the same time. An example is the Minerva Project, founded by a University of Pennsylvania graduate. Tuition is $25,000 a year and the model is expandable. Compare that with Stanford, which currently enrolls 7,000 students and aims for 9,000.

What All of This Means for You in the Room

First, it’s going to be really important for students, including my daughter, to learn in a variety of different settings, Kevin said. The teachers and students will learn with those right near us and with those around the world. We’ll go beyond check boxes of semesters and credit hours.

It’s crucial to keep in mind the big picture. Millions will be moving into the middle class between now and 2030, according to the UN. What do people want most once they escape poverty? Education. “It’s the path to opportunity and will be in the future,” Kevin said.

Nonetheless, education will probably look different. People won’t build the infrastructure of current American universities. The competition for spots in elite universities will increase. New choices will be available, he said, noting the birth of the uncollege experience. Here, students learn for a year, like a gap-year program.

While we mix and match the modes of education, the interpersonal, communal, and value-based aspects of learning will remain constant, Kevin said. Promise and opportunity lie ahead, but fulfilling both will be more complicated than ever before.

“I posit that we are raising the first generation of students that will be fundamentally different than ours. It’s going to take more from all of us to guide students there,” Kevin said.

2016 AC Day 1: Randi Zuckerberg Shares Her Career Highlights, Key Tech Trends, and Why They’re So Dot Complicated

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Randi Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media, gave an electrifying presentation about her background in the tech sector. She highlighted several key tech trends and the complications that ensue from their prevalence.

Randi’s Credentials

Randi is a multifaceted media professional with a bunch of credits to her name: author of the children’s book Dot and the book Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives, host of the radio show “Dot Complicated” on SiriusXM, and past performer in Rock of Ages on Broadway.

Randi, who is sister to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, said she will have failed in this presentation “if you leave thinking that you got sloppy seconds because I’m not Mark Zuckerberg.”

How Randi Started Out

She relayed how depressed she was when she started at Ogilvy & Mather in the digital and interactive marketing department while her friends were working with very cool celebrity clients. “I cried that I’m in a dead career.” But then she began leading a team in digital and interactive marketing while her friends were still getting coffee for celebrities, she said.

Mark called her to ask if she would come out to California to work with him. Her first thought: “I would never work for my little brother’s stupid company. I’m living in Manhattan. Why would I ever want to do that?” Then Mark said he would buy her a Jet Blue plane ticket, and she headed West.

When Randi arrived in “Silicone Valley” as she pronounced it then, she was amazed at the chaos and habits she found among the workers at her brother’s company. “I think they ate only Red Bull and Twinkies.” What motivated her was their belief that “they were changing the way all of us communicate and changing the world.”

Randi noted that she began her career at Facebook and held almost every position over six years. When she started, the company consisted of a dozen people working above a Chinese restaurant. When she left, Facebook was a public company with thousands of people working in 40 offices worldwide.

Why Facebook Has Thrived

What set Facebook apart from the other social networking sites, including MySpace and Friendster, in Randi’s words:

  • We launched with a bit of exclusivity. We rolled out to few schools, and waited until schools approached us. That way we knew there would be demand when we moved in.
  • We used real identities. In anonymity, people say terrible things about others. When they used their real names, suddenly they were a lot more thoughtful. Before long, there were millions of people on the site and over half posted their mobile phone number.
  • We focused on our company culture. Randi said that even if your company consists of just two people, it’s vital to think about this. It connotes the image that you’re projecting to the world, how you work with clients, etc.
  • We cultivated a hacker, entrepreneurial culture. It worked this way: Every month we pulled an all-nighter. The rule was you couldn’t work on something that you were working on in your day job. You presented to everyone in the company after the event was over.

People developed some offbeat ideas. One involved hooking up an iPhone to a trampoline and people needed to recreate the same jump to get back into their phone. People were jumping all night. At that point, no one feared failure because, whatever you were doing, you just remembered that the guy next to you was hooking up an iPhone to a trampoline.

These hackathons often turned up ideas that became features on Facebook. It was never the most senior people who came up with a good idea. It was the new intern, the entry-level employee, or the person who just returned from maternity leave and now saw the world in a new way.

The Humble Beginnings and Sudden Success of Facebook Live with Randi Zuckerberg

In that same entrepreneurial vein, Randi described starting Facebook Live with Randi Zuckerberg. “Two people watched: my parents,” she recalled in laughter.

Then she got a call from Katy Perry’s manager who wanted to launch Katy’s tour on her show. She was tempted to apologize and say that the show was not the best venue. Then she thought: What would my male colleagues do? She called the manager back and said launching the tour on the show was an excellent idea.

Although Randi was initially worried that no one would tune in, millions of people did. Soon politicians sought to be part of the new show. The prime minster of Tunisia wanted to talk to the people of Facebook during the Arab Spring. While she was dining with her husband, she got a call from the White House that President Obama wished to have a national town hall meeting on Facebook Live. This was just four months after the launch.

She summed up her experience, “You don’t have to be a coder to be a hacker.”

Top Tech Trends from Randi’s Vantage Point

Randi spent the remainder of her time describing key tech trends that are shaping and will continue to shape our world.

A New Workplace

The lines have been blurred between employee and entrepreneur. Even if you work for a company, having entrepreneurial qualities is very valuable. She flashed photos of people in various roles to convey this point. For example, a man kneeling next to a woman by the pool turned out to be an employee of And the audience was left to wonder whether the female senior citizen driving a car was retired or an Uber driver.

The new workplace is creative. You can have a hackathon in any industry. Some employers are asking for six-word resumes, as an example of thinking outside the box.

The new workplace is mobile and on demand. It’s not at the beach, but more like working in PJs at home.

The new workplace creates a dot complicated effect. Everyone is seen through the prism of being served or serving. We need to think about the costs that society is incurring as a result of that lens.

Important to Communicate like a Media Company

Because all of us can be content creators, every school, student, etc. has to think like a media company. We need to educate students about how to achieve that in a smart way.

STEM Education

Randi noted that she’s a big believer in starting STEM education at a young age and lamented the fact that women aren’t running tech companies. As she put it, “Eenie, meenie, minie, mode, teach your toddler how to code…Give them some tech but don’t go too wild.”

To that end, Randi wrote the children’s book Dot about a techy girl who finds balance in her life. She referenced the fear many have about employing tech in the classroom, but said there’s lots of ways to introduce tech creatively without being so fixated on screens.

The Maker Movement

In China, people are creating houses with 3D printers. And with Etsy, anyone can be a maker, she said.

Randi went to renaissance fairs with her parents; today she takes her children to maker faires where they fly drones and build robots.

Virtual Reality (VR)

What it is: An artificial world that consists of images and sounds created by a computer and that is affected by the actions of a person who is experiencing it.

VR has been used to teach CPR and cure PTSD phobias. A doctor performed open heart surgery on a fetus because he trained in virtual reality. Hollywood is making VR movies; you start out being kidnapped, and you have to find your way home.

But VR is dot complicated, Randi said. For years we’ve been talking about violent video games; VR will take that debate up 10 levels.

The Drone Phenomenon

Drones can deliver medical supplies; they can spy on people. The selfie drone will even follow you. Amazon Prime will allow you to order something under five pounds and be delivered right to your doorstop. The taco copter, invented by a group from MIT, orders tacos to be delivered by drone.

Drones have their own dot complicated effects. They have crashed into the U.S. Open and the Empire State Building and they could well get lost regularly.

Tech Lifestyle: Fitbits and FuelBands

Colleges are handing out Fitbits and FuelBands to students to track the steps and health of their student body.

The dot complicated effect: A ticker can count down the seconds left in your life.

Gamification for Motivation

More and more people are building tech tools to promote health and well-being.

When going for a run, you can pull up an app that when you hit like, you’ll hear applause in your ear. What’s dot complicated: the Gym Shamer that texts your friends if you don’t go to the gym… and the scale that tweets your weight.

Final Trend: Unplug to Refresh

Randi said she wants her children to grow up in a world where they have a healthy relationship with tech. Something for parents to be aware of: Just because your child Skypes regularly with grandpa does not mean grandpa lives in the computer. She noted that hotels now offer digital detox packages, which would have been unheard of not long ago. No Wi-Fi, pay extra, she commented.

She flashed a photo of a beer glass that won’t stand up straight unless a phone is docked under it.

Randi closed by singing her own lyrics to the song “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. “I love to live life more offline… I want to go where the people go… bookstores or somewhere that’s still existent…Somewhere where tinder means only wood. I wish I could be part of that world.”

2016 AC Day 1: Bridges Are a Gateway to Sharing Stories & NAIS Honors John Chubb’s Legacy

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NAIS Board Chair Katherine Dinh opened the morning session by describing one of the most iconic bridges located right here in San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge, spanning more than 6,700 feet and located a mere 12 miles from the San Andreas Fault, was carefully created and built by a team of architects and engineers. Now, it’s one of the world’s favorite architectural stories, she said, seguing into this year’s conference theme: “What’s Your Story?”

Katherine, an immigrant from Vietnam who has taught at four NAIS member schools and currently heads Prospect Sierra School (California), said she was humbled to speak before the 5,500 people gathered at the 2016 NAIS Annual Conference.

Katherine invited attendees to share their stories with colleagues throughout the conference. “May they inspire you to go back and build graceful, beautiful, and glorious bridges.”

Honoring Former NAIS President John Chubb

In a close-up, big-screen video, attendees watched John describe being the first person in his family to enroll in college. John noted that his 11th grade AP U.S. History teacher, Mr. Nickels, inspired him to pursue a career in education because he exuded passion about his work. “It was a model of what I wanted to do for myself.”

“A teacher is the most important part of the entire educational system,” John said. Education, he added, is the key to a good life. It enables you to have a good job and take care of yourself and family. You also learn how to contribute to your community and be a good citizen. You gain the ability to appreciate the finer things in life, and what is beautiful and practical.

“Education is a civil rights issue of our time,” he said, speaking from his multiple experiences in inner cities and rural areas. He noted that he was always attracted to the opportunities to innovate in education.

When the video concluded, Katherine said that John’s passionate voice for high-quality teaching and equity is how many of us will remember him. She noted that they spoke often when he was ill, and he always talked about how much he loved his job. “We’re moved that Angela Chubb and her family are here at our conference, and we hold them in our hearts,” she said.

Katherine concluded: “[John] spoke his deepest truth when he said that schools can save lives.”

2016 AC: Seeking 21st Century Talent: How to Disrupt the Campus Visit Experience

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I’m Ari Pinkus, digital editor and producer at NAIS, and I’ll be blogging during the 2016 NAIS Annual Conference in San Francisco. 

These days, how to recruit and hire teaching talent is top of mind for school leaders. In this “design thinking inspired” three-hour workshop, presenters Matt Glendinning of Moses Brown School (Rhode Island) and Carla Silver of Leadership + Design set attendees on a course to reimagine the campus visit for job candidates. Most of those in the room were stewards of their school’s hiring process.

Assuming Much in the Campus Visit 

Right away, we gathered at round tables in teams of five. The first step was to consider the assumptions we make about the campus visit. These assumptions fit into the buckets of space, time, role, and rituals.

So what are some of the specific aspects we assume about the visit?

  • the visit is a full day,
  • a candidate eats lunch with students,
  • a candidate does a demonstration lesson,
  • a candidate meets with the head of school,
  • a school in a less-than-desirable location needs to sell itself,
  • a candidate has some knowledge of technology,
  • only one candidate comes to campus on a given day,
  • a candidate meets with as many people as possible (described as the gauntlet),
  • one-on-one conversations are the best way to interview and assess candidates, and
  • candidates understand they have responsibilities in addition to being a teacher (must pass triple threat test: teacher, dorm head or extracurricular day school activity, such as yearbook, and coach).

Then, we were asked to consider: How might our hiring practices intentionally reflect and reveal the qualities of creativity, collaboration, and complex communication in candidates?

To guide us to consider this question, Carla put up a slide from the design firm IDEO with the elements of design thinking:

  1. Discovery -– understanding challenges and preparing research
  2. Interpretation – telling stories and searching for meaning
  3. Ideation – generating and refining ideas
  4. Experimentation – making prototypes and getting feedback
  5. Evolution – tracking key learnings and moving forward

Carla noted this process requires both diverging by considering a variety of choices and converging by making choices. Note that conflict tends to surface as you’re converging.

Exploring One Company’s Innovative Hiring Approach

To prepare us to think outside the box, Carla introduced us to Ryan Baum of the firm Jump, which approaches hiring in a unique way. To move beyond the silos (research, strategic planning, etc) in organizations in which everyone talks past one another, employees must possess a holistic set of skills. Or as Ryan described, “You need all things firing in the same brain.”

To that end, Jump looks for a hybrid thinker with three qualities:

  • Humanist – sees the needs beyond the obvious
  • Technologists – envisions what the future might look like
  • Capitalist – considers strategy. Can it make money? Do we need partners to execute?

At Jump, candidates must submit a resume and cover letter as well as a work sample. The work samples help Jump determine what candidates care about. After the initial screening, Jump does two one-hour interviews, and typically four people are involved in each one. The first assesses candidates’ skills based on a project the firm might undertake. Jump asks candidates how they would tackle a particular project.

If they say they need research to move forward, we would give them research, Ryan said. If they say they want to know the competition in the field, we would provide that info. It’s like choose your own adventure, Ryan said. This skills interview then winnows down the field.

The second interview is designed to determine whether the candidates fit into the firm’s culture. Jump tries to generate specific questions that guide candidates to discuss the values the firm espouses. For example, Jump interviewers might ask: Tell me about something you read recently with the purpose of ascertaining whether the person is curious, a key value of the firm. Interviewers can tell a lot about how people react to that prompt and whether they’re really engaged or just searching for what they think the interviewers want to hear, Ryan said. When asking questions about how people deal with conflict, interviewers can sense whether candidates respect the person with whom they disagree. Occasionally, the firm will give homework to candidates to tap their creativity.

Jump uses the same rubric for hiring as it does for reviewing an employee’s performance. (Note that the firm conducts a performance review after four months on the job.) Jump evaluates 20 skills, including: ideating, visualizing, passion, enthusiasm, curiosity, intention. They rate candidates on the scale of 1 to 5 to determine whether they’re at the level of novice, competent, or deficient.

Yet Jump does not rely heavily on reference checks. If they hear something negative in an interview, that’s when references may carry more weight. Jump decided to minimize reference checks because we assume that most candidates can find people to vouch for them, Ryan said.

Getting Out and About and Out of Committee

To look for creativity, we undertook field work outside the workshop room, whether in the larger conference center or on the streets of San Francisco. Carla noted how important it is to move beyond convening school committee meetings and referencing books and magazine articles. You can learn a lot about human beings’ needs by visiting other schools and companies, talking to students, and taking photos.

Jump notes seven ways to build empathy, which we used to guide our field work and study.

  1. Be open to seeing the world in new ways.
  2. Separate out what you see from what you interpret.
  3. Build rapport.
  4. Evoke stories by asking simple, open-ended questions.
  5. Listen 90%, talk 10%.
  6. Let participants set the agenda.
  7. Use participants’ own words. (Don’t correct people because you might inadvertently shut them down from talking.)

Seven starter questions Matt and Carla provided:

  1. What is the most unusual/exciting/surprising thing you’ve ever seen as a candidate or employer in a hiring process?
  2. Tell me about the best interview you’ve ever taken part in – either as the candidate or the interviewer? What questions got the best answers?
  3. Tell me about the worst moment you have ever experienced in a hiring process either as a candidate or as the employer?
  4. How do you welcome people to your school/organization?
  5. Tell me about a time when you asked a candidate to do an activity or exercise where they did something besides talking or writing.
  6. Tell me about the most creative thing you ever saw a candidate do or submit.
  7. What would you change in your hiring process?

Carla asked us to subdivide our team of five into groups of two and three. One person would take notes and the other would ask questions. A third could observe for telling body language.

What was most interesting to me about this assignment: When my team of three (two male educators and me) left the building and wandered the streets, we started realizing the biases that we carried around with us. For example, whom did we consider approaching, and why did we believe that they would or wouldn’t have valuable information for us on this topic?

After stumbling upon a few educators who weren’t too forthcoming about their hiring practices, we were motivated to think more broadly about our field interviews. When walking a few blocks, we came upon an Italian restaurant, dropped in, and asked to speak with the manager. We learned that the restaurant recently transitioned to use People Matters as a hiring tool because the software allows managers to drill down to help them fill specific needs. Principally, this helped the management determine whether candidates could multitask, a vital skill in the restaurant. The new tool also cut down on written paperwork as candidates could answer questions and complete nearly all forms online.

Training, too, is a crucial part of the hiring process, the restaurant manager said. It helps the manager assess whether the person can do the particular job he or she has been hired for. However, this window might reveal whether the person is better suited for another position in the restaurant.

Drawing Insights from Our Field Work

When we reconvened in the workshop room, Carla asked us to consider the three to five insights that our group found most interesting or surprising.

Our experience at the Italian restaurant prompted my team member to share this insight: How can we rethink our questions to really get to the heart of what we are looking for in candidates?(In the restaurant, it was about tailoring questions to probe candidates on whether they are good multitaskers.)

The two other members of our team relayed their experiences. They discovered a man sitting at the far end of a bench, reading, with his headphones on, essentially in his own cocoon. My team member realized that it’s crucial to give introverts a lot of physical and mental space so they feel comfortable. That sparked the insight: How can we have the interview process dance well with introverts?

When interviewing a Saudi Arabian woman wearing a hijab, the woman mentioned that her friend had asked her whether she would take off her hijab so that she wouldn’t face discrimination in hiring. She said no, because it’s a value she holds dear. People in the workshop room felt that that you want to hire people at your school who will stick to their principles.

Our combined interactions led us to this insight: Our process in schools can feel uncomfortable to the candidates and not really help them feel that they describe themselves well.

Flipping Assumptions on Their Head

At this point, we were asked to choose two to three assumptions and turn them around to assume the opposite.

First, we considered flipping the idea of the demonstration lesson.

  • What if the candidate evaluated a current teacher rather than the other way around?
  • What if the school leader asked the teacher to add in some less-than-ideal teaching practices and see whether the candidate would speak up about them?

Then, we thought of altering the interview process.

  • What if the candidate was asked to question the head of school before the head could ask questions of the candidate?
  • What if the candidate was asked about where on campus he or she would like to interview?
  • And how should the room be set up?

Finally, we considered the overall experience.

  • What if there were several candidates visiting campus on the same day?
  • What if the visit happened over two days so people could experience the area a bit?

We used this flipping to form the foundation for our prototype. Note that prototypes can take many forms: digital, visual, a skit, experiential with simulations.

See our prototype below.

Then, we got together with another team for feedback exchange. We noted the group had a very good initial screening device: Have the candidate answer on video the question about why he or she wants to work at their school.

All in all, the workshop was a creative, open-thinking experience about how to enrich and enliven the school hiring process.