Nine Lies About Work (and maybe school)

I’ve been using this quote fairly often in presentations because it’s a good reminder to myself and educators that embracing ideas, even ones that seem to contradict our beliefs or thinking can be joyful. As educators, modelling this might be one of the essential gifts we can share with students

I’ve been a fan of Marcus Buckingham and his work around strengths and the title of this book intrigued me. I’ve been told on a few occasions that I”m a bit of a s*&T disturber. Depending on the person or the context it’s unclear whether this is a compliment or not but under the guise of “strengths” that’s what I take it as. This book aligns well with that character trait.

The chapter titles alone might intrigue you:

The book is based on a large research sample of thousands of employees in hundreds of companies. Lie #1 hits you pretty hard. Swap out “company” for “school district” and you have a very interesting conversation. The message is pretty simple. People’s experience at work is not based on a companies values or mission but on the individual teams they work on. The role of a company’s culture is much less impactful that I previously would have thought. I’m currently rethinking some things.

Without going into a full on review, I’ll just say it’s making me think about many potential lies that have become fairly commonplace in schools and education. Over the next while, I plan to explore these both in writing and in presentations.

Lie # 8 was particularly telling. Work-Life Balance Matters Most.

…we humans appear to have had a thing for balance for a long, long while. To us, it has always seemed like the right, the noble, the wise, and the healthy state for which we should all strive. And we can speculate that the difficulty of achieving it has added in some way to its allure—it’s another of those things, like working to remedy our faults, that’s always a work in progress, that’s fantastically hard to achieve in practice.

Buckingham, Marcus. Nine Lies About Work . Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

I kind of hate the word “balance”, adding it to the growing list of words I think are poorly used in education (rigor, accountability, busy, et al). It’s overused, simplistic and often used as a cop-out. When talking about food, “it’s all about balance”. No, it isn’t. Eating better, more nutritious food more often is better. You don’t balance it with sugar or fat. When talking about how we spend our time, “it’s all about balance” I don’t think it is. Balance is sometimes used to justify bad habits or behaviour. I’m not saying I always make the right choices but defaulting to balance as a response to complex issues is often dissatisfying. Saying the answer is both, also doesn’t cut it for me. I like what Buckingham says:

Neither you nor your life are in balance, nor will you ever be. Instead you are a unique creature who takes inputs from the world, metabolizes them in some way, produces something useful, and does so in such a way that you can keep doing it. At least, you are when you’re healthy, when you’re at your best, when you are contributing all that your talents allow you to. When you’re flourishing you are acting on the world and it on you. Your world offers up to you raw material—activities, situations, outcomes—in all parts of your life, and some of this raw material invigorates you and gives you energy. You are at your healthiest when you find this particular kind of raw material, draw it in, allow it to feed you, and use it to contribute something—and when that contribution actually seems to leave you with more energy, not less.

Buckingham, Marcus. Nine Lies About Work . Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

The problem with these lies and others is that they become so pervasive it’s really hard to see past them. No question, it takes some confidence to be able to question your own biases and beliefs, particularly if you’ve advocated for them publicly. Changing our minds or perspective is not a sign of weakness but rather a signal of a thinking, free-thinking human being. We need more of these kind humans.

Sometimes I’m not Very Bright

Depending on who you ask “Sometimes” is a very loaded word.

As someone who has been pretty vocal about the limitations of Twitter, I should know better.

I’ve railed against the use of pithy tweets and so only moments after I send this baby out did I realize that:

  1. I was guilty of breaking my own rule.
  2. I had started a small fire storm.

Immediately the retweets and likes started flooding in. I hopped on a plane and landed to see the error of my ways. This tweet, in particular, reminded me of what I had done.

They’re right. It was a rather insulting tone and that was the moment of regret. I wanted to start a conversation but the awkward tone, lack of nuance, and labelling teachers  with such a volatile topic polarized the tweet rather than give an opportunity for civil discourse. I considered deleting the tweet but felt I needed to own my mistake and do what I should have done in the first place: write a blog post which could add nuance and context and invite a civil conversation. Some of the replies got pretty nasty and while my instinct is to fight back, I decided to back off and try and resolve things here.

So with that confession out of the way, let me better state my belief about assessment, deadlines and grades.

The idea of redoing work and penalizing late work has long been studied and explained brilliantly through the work of Ken O’Connor and Rick Wormeli.  If these are new names for you, I suggest you explore their ideas. In essence, my statement about redo’s being more work for teachers is true. I think there are teachers who don’t allow students to redo work because it’s more work for them. While it’s understandable in some cases, I don’t believe it should carry much weight in your decision to allow redos. My second statement is more complex in that it points to what I believe is a dividing line of teacher beliefs. It starts with what you believe about education and what you teach. In every course, I teach the first thing I say to my students is that it’s not my course or class, it’s theirs. They are welcome to do as much or little as they please. My job is to facilitate learning and by making it relevant and by supporting their efforts in whatever way I can. The fact that deadlines exist is to create what I feel is the best experience. That said, since it is there education, they can choose to ignore them. In rare occasions, I’ve had students do nothing for the entire course and then submit work at the last possible moment. That doesn’t bother me. In these cases, the work is not usually the greatest and reflects a lack of interest and effort but that’s the student’s choice. Along the way, I ask questions and remind them of my role and availability. But in the end, they own the learning, not me.

I think part of the issue here is that teachers take these things personally. They also feel an obligation to “teach them about the real world”. I’m not so interested in that lesson as I am about the learning. To me, the “real world” does offer second chances in some cases so a blanket statement that suggests you’ll get fired if you submit things late is debatable and to me, not the point of the course unless you’re teaching a course in time management.

I recognize this is a hot-button issue and I have an opinion that is shared by many but not all. I’m also sympathetic to teacher load and but also believe our first priority is to evoke learning. My tweet in retrospect did not offer a chance for the right conversation. I shouldn’t have sent it. That said, if you’re interested in discussing this topic with civility and respect, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I don’t mind disagreement, in fact I welcome it. But as I’ve said before, Twitter is a lousy space for it. I apologize for offending anyone, that wasn’t my intent. I screwed up.

Yesterday, I Wasn’t My Best

First of all, I’m fully aware I have one of, if not the, best job in the world.  Most days I acknowledge this fact and work passionately to fulfill our goal to build and foster community. But occasionally, like all of us, I have a day or moment when I don’t give my best.

As part of Discovery Education’s Summer Institute, we host a unique event for principals. What a great group of enthusiastic leaders who are give up 3 days of their summer to further their learning. Yesterday I gave a presentation I had done once before called “No More Boring Presentations”. While I don’t think it was boring, I also don’t think it was very good. It certainly wasn’t my best. The first time I gave it, it was for a different audience. Instead of taking the time to rework the content for a different audience, I tried to adapt on the fly. I ended up with a disjointed session with hopefully a few takeaways but a largely unsatisfying experience. In short, I sucked.

People are too kind. This image was created during my session and I’m guessing many walked away with an idea or two that was useful. Still, this wasn’t my best.

As someone who presents a lot, I’m most often happy and pleased with my presentations. I always reflect and make tweaks but in this particular case, it required more than a few tweaks. As soon as the presentation was over, I asked a colleague who was sitting in on the session, to provide me with honest feedback. Generally, we’re not very good at finding and using critical friends to help us improve our craft. I asked him to share a few ideas of how to improve my session. He told me a number of things that could be better. He asked questions about what I was trying to accomplish, about how the ideas flowed and what my goals were. After our discussion, it was clear I needed to make some big changes. Without going into specifics here are a few things I need to change:

  • Make it more applicable to the specific audience.  Sometimes this is difficult in my job because I don’t always know the audience and in many cases, it is a very general group. In this case, they were all principals. I should have taken time to gear things to that specific group
  • Provide clear expectations. Duh. This is basic teaching. When I’m presenting on something I’ve done a few times, this becomes obvious and intuitive and isn’t always necessary to be made explicit.  If I do a good job, participants will be able to determine the outcomes. In this case, I needed to be explicit as much for me as the participants.

I’m not going to use the word failure here because it’s getting cliche. But I will say yesterday was a good reminder that acknowledging your missteps and reflecting on them is healthy. In addition, while individual reflection is essential, finding those who can provide feedback and new perspectives is invaluable.



“I Couldn’t Agree More” is Meh.

First off, if you rarely read the comments in a blog, you ignore the fact that some of the best learning comes from those who respond and contribute additional ideas, perspectives and insights. Grant it, many spaces, like news sites and youtube are often places where civil discourse is difficult to find. But many blogs, particularly educational blogs offer some of the best places for conversation. Blogs are by nature conversational. Posts are meant to be reviewed, discusses and challenged in the same spaces.


Yet, perhaps it’s the overly kind nature of many educators or a fear to engage in meaningful debate, it’s amazing how often I read a blog with some interesting ideas and the comments are filled with replies beginning with “I couldn’t agree more.” Now certainly there are many times when that’s exactly how you feel and so you post with enthusiasm the joy of finding a kindred spirit, I’m not here to criticize you if you’ve ever began a comment like that. Well, maybe a little criticism. 😉

I’m here to suggest that if you only leave those kind of comments then maybe you aren’t putting yourself in a position to think critically or maybe you only read people that you “couldn’t agree more” with. If you own a blog where everyone tells you how awesome your ideas are, maybe you continue to share ideas that you know will get people telling you how awesome you are, I don’t know.

I should really change my blog title to include the phrase, “half-baked ideas and thoughts” since that’s essentially what I enjoy most. Even as I write this, I wonder how it will be taken. Case in point, my previous post on the Digital Divide create some nice discussion. I did feel like I had a point, I still do, but thanks to people like Darren Draper and Andrew Campbell, suggested I might not be thinking it through completely. Darren even wrote his own post pointing out a similar idea about half baked ideas. Sure, it was nice to have people agree with me but I learned more from those who suggest I may not have it entirely correct.

While this is certainly about trust and having known both Darren and Andrew for a few years and have met them both a few times, that helps. But even having strangers challenge my work is great. Recently a dude ironically named Dean found my blog and put me to task on one of my favorite pet peeves, “rigor”. He respectfully argues and makes a great point forcing me to clarify my own thinking.

Now to try and make a point. If you comment and only tell people how wonderful they are, challenge yourself and try to find people and ideas you don’t completely agree with. Not to be antagonistic but to practice and engage in meaningful discourse where ideas and perspectives can be fine tuned. Be kind but be candid. It’s not easy but it’s worthwhile. See Bud Hunt for more. If you write things and people can’t agree more, try writing things where they agree less. I think it will make you wiser in the long run. Thanks to all the people who agree and disagree with this post. Stay kind.

We’ve Got a Communication Problem

This week a story emerged out of British Columbia about a school that was banning students in Kindergarten from touching each other. Like many, I tweeted it

The usual banter online occurred where most people shook their heads in disgust about a school’s over reaction to a problem that might better handled without resorting to such extremes. After wanting to learn more about the fallout I did some searching today and found this video

After hearing the side of the school district I realized a few things:

-If it sounds absurd there’s probably more to the story. This is where I felt a little shameful for tweeting the story. While I did manage to keep my mouth shut for the most part on this one, I too assumed the district was nuts. In reality, they handled  the situation very well as their spokesman shares. They aren’t banning touching but rather teaching these students, beginning from scratch. I should know better.

-Some people take advantage of the media. In this case, the parents, instead of expressing their concerns to the school jumped to the media and created a fuss. I don’t know why they didn’t have conversations first with the school but they didn’t. We see this time and time again with some people’s desire to avoid conversation and immediately want to vilify or cast blame. It would seem to me that a candid conversation between the school and parents should have made this a non-story. Some want to immediately bypass discourse. This is an ongoing problem. Most teachers can tell stories of parents who went to the principal about an issue before they discussed it with their child’s teacher. In some cases, people are looking for someone to be punished, not for a problem to be solved. At times this is an isolated relationship issue but if this is happening often, there is a cultural problem that schools might need to address.

-Schools need to continue to manage and tell their story. The district shouldn’t have needed the media to ask them questions before they responded. They have a website but there’s no mention of this story. I’m guessing that as of last week, they had hundreds, if not thousands of people googling them and checking out their website looking for a policy or some reference to this ruling. It would have been a great opportunity to say exactly what was said in this interview and put it front and center of their website. They did, however, use their twitter account to link to a parent’s blog who eloquently defended the school. It’s great to show parents who do support schools, but they could have been more active.

Having more access to communication is awesome but we obviously have a lot of work to do. I need to be smarter about what I read and tweet. I work with schools and districts and should know they are almost all well meaning folks and I should have taken the time to dig deeper. We need to help and remind people to engage in conversation. I’m not sure who to blame here and that’s not the point. We just need to make sure the conversations begin with each other before the media gets involved. Finally, and I’ve been preaching this one for a while, schools and districts need to own and tell their stories.