Education, Leadership, Teaching, Technology

Can Innovation Happen Without Shared Conviction?

In his most recent post “Want To Be Innovative?”, one of my #Eduheros and friends, Dr. Tony Sinanis, provides leaders with much-needed advice as to how they can bring about innovation in their schools.  Imploring us to “keep it simple,” he suggests that we, first and foremost, focus on building relationships. As innovation only happens within cultures that encourage risk-taking and celebrate new learning that results from failure, he reminds us of the importance of trust when he writes:

“Relationships are the key to innovation because if educators are invested in the people within their school communities then they will always be looking for ways to get better and disrupt the norm to help create an innovative space for themselves, the students and their families.”

Sinanis also notes the importance of “solidifying the basics” and allowing these to be the foundation on and through which teachers and students can begin experimenting with tools like technology that help students share their learning in new and powerful ways. Finally, he asserts that innovation requires people to be informed, and to be informed requires individuals and organizations to focus on learning.

With Tony’s words “Innovation is a process about people and ideas, not things and devices,” fresh in my mind, I happened upon this article about entrepreneurship and bringing ideas to fruition written by Adam Molinsky where he cautions, “Without the capacity to execute an idea — to take an idea and turn it into a living, breathing, viable organization” – we are doomed to fail.

So, where does the ability to execute come from?

Sounding a lot like Simon Sink in his powerful Ted Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Molinsky suggests that if we are to innovate, if we are to break out of our comfort zones, we must, “Embrace our purpose and mission, because that is going to give us the motivation and courage to actually take the necessary leap.” If I could contribute to Tony’s three things leaders should focus on, I would add that we need to intimately know and be able to communicate our “WHY” so we can inspire conviction in others!

The Importance of Conviction and Innovation

To borrow words from Molinsky, who borrowed them from Maran Nelson for another great article, with regard to innovation, teachers need to know that what they are doing is good and that it must exist in the world of experiences we provide our students. To help foster this, we have carefully crafted our “Why” by first sharing this quote with our teachers:


To further emphasize our need “to do new and or better,” we have talked at length about how 21st Century Skills are “now” skills as the internet and near ubiquitous connectivity have allowed access to information to everyone. With that being the case, the words of Thomas Friedman truly resonate:

Untitled image

If we accept that it is not the knowledge itself, but how we share or what we create with the knowledge we have that sets us apart, the work of George Couros and his book/blog titled “The Innovators’ Mindset” becomes that much more important. As Tony shared, the mindset that Couros espouses is rooted in the belief that “Learning is about creation, not consumption. Knowledge is not something the learner absorbs but something a learner creates.” For us, this has been a powerful “call to arms” with regard to our students’ digital literacy and what we are doing with the technology we are so fortunate to have in our classrooms. Couros inspires us to reflect citing Dr. Mitch Resnick’s powerful question, “We wouldn’t consider someone literate if they could read but couldn’t write. Are we literate if we consume content online but don’t produce?”

Indeed, the world that our students are currently living in and the future they are going to inherit are exciting and very different from the world we grew up in. As educators, we must also understand – so are the students themselves. Couros is incredibly effective at explaining this. In his writing and presentations, he cites technology writer Nick Bilton and makes a very compelling argument when he quotes,  “This generation thinks in pictures, words and still and moving images and is comfortable mixing them all in the same space.” For this reason, we must present students with opportunities to create in ways that align – for lack of a better term – with the way they are wired. In our school, Google Apps for Education, Padlet, Popplet, iMovie, Kidblog and Movenote have been used by teachers to tap into and merge these different pathways. Further, they have allowed students to share their learning with a much broader audience which has fostered greater motivation and attention to detail. The words of educator Rushton Hurley below capture this phenomenon beautifully!

Share with the world...

In closing, the ideas above represent our “Why.” As we prepare to welcome back our teachers and students, we will follow all of Tony’s advice by committing to learning and continuing to develop relationships. As we do so, we will keep these ideas at the forefront of our thinking and intentionally work them into conversations with teachers, parents and students. As leaders, if we believe Sinek when he states, “People don’t buy what you do – they buy why you do it!” it is critical that we know and can communicate our “Why” so we can inspire conviction in those we are fortunate enough to serve. Without conviction, ideas will remain ideas and we will not be able to innovate at rate commensurate with the changes in the world around us.







Education, Technology

Tech and Flow

Reflections Inspired by #CELI15 – The Long Island Connected Educator Summit 2015

In his groundbreaking book Drive, Daniel Pink highlights the difference between what science knows and what most of the world does when it comes to business and how organizations work. Specifically, he writes about what motivates us and how the “carrot and stick” systems which drove the economy in the 1900’s now breed compliance as opposed to the creativity and innovation necessary for organizations to thrive in the 21st century. He shares that rewards and consequences are the operating system of the past and how Motivation 3.0 requires equal parts autonomy, mastery and purpose. In short, Pink believes that, “We are designed to be active and engaged. And we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we’re clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice – doing something that matters, doing it well and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.” When autonomy, mastery and purpose are in place, Pink contends that conditions have been set to help us attain what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “Flow,” or “those exhilarating moments when we feel in control, full of purpose and in the zone.” To paraphrase, “Flow” is when we become lost in a task – when we are working in a refined, nearly Zen-like state where we push just past our Zones of Proximal Development as we strive to accomplish something significant.

As an educator and the fortunate Lead Learner of an amazing school, I have been searching for “Flow” and where and how it exists for our students since I first learned the term from Dr. Bill Brennan a few months ago. Each day during my walk-throughs or when I scroll through our school’s Twitter feed, I cannot help but smile at traces of this Nirvana that I see when our students are truly “lost in a task.” What does this look like? What conditions need to be in place for us to even approach this yet alone attain it? Are we comfortable enough to step back and allow our students the time and the freedom to revel in these learning experiences? How can we replicate these conditions so “Flow” can occur more frequently?

Like most things in life, the things you are searching for often find you while you are out looking for them.  On a cold Monday in March, a member of our amazing team called my office and said, “You are never going to believe what one of my students did over the weekend! Can I send her down to share her work?” Excitedly, I said yes and while I waited for the student to make her way, her teacher explained that she had shared the web tool Popplet with her class on Friday and that the students were creating Popplets to share their research on a part of the Solar System of their choosing. As I hung up the receiver, an out of breath and clearly beaming girl burst through the door holding a dense pile of papers. Averaging what seemed like 1,000 words a minute, she turned through each page of the presentation she prepared where not one, not two, but every single planet, the Earth’s moon and the sun were carefully researched. After congratulating her and celebrating her hard work, I asked her, “What made you want to work on this over the weekend? Was it something you needed to do? Was there any extra credit?” With big, proud and happy eyes she shook her head and said, “No, I LOVE learning about the Solar System and I love messing around on the computer!”

At that moment, the power of these words hit me as they are Daniel Pink’s ideas about Autonomy manifested in the words of an eleven year old explaining an instance of “Flow” that she achieved and sustained in a learning experience. What resonated about this student’s reflection was the idea of choice – choice in what she researched, choice in the technique or tool she used to share her learning and choice in when and where she decided to continue to learn about a topic she loved. Choice, the cornerstone of Google’s 20% Time, the defining principle of Genius Hour and a tenant of differentiated instruction, resulted in heightened motivation and an outstanding body of work! Way to go Gianna!


While this is important, perhaps what might even be more interesting is the later part of her sentence where she states, “and I love messing around on the computer.” Based on her work samples, Gianna was clearly not “messing around” on the computer. She was researching, vetting sources, close reading a myriad of high level texts, identifying and comparing salient details, searching for images and videos and then organizing her findings using a tool that she would use later to share her new knowledge with her classmates. If we look more deeply into the sincerity of her words, by “messing around,” is she is confirming that she was indeed lost in a self-directed task? Had she found “Flow” and was technology a significant part of that experience?

What strikes me about this is that Gianna, like most of our elementary school students, was “born digital.” She is a “digital native” as defined in Marc Prensky’s seminal article “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” As Larry Rosen so eloquently put it in his article “Teaching the iGeneration,” “To them, the smartphone, the Internet, and everything technological are not “tools” at all – they simply are. Just as we don’t think about the existence of air, they don’t question the existence of technology and media. They expect technology to be there, and they expect it to do whatever they want it to do. The WWW doesn’t stand for World Wide Web, it stands for Whatever, Whenever, Wherever.” Upon reflection of these facts, a huge question loomed, “Are digital natives more likely to reach a state of “Flow” in school if the integration of technology is a condition for learning?” If so, this is “The Why” that has the power to change everything!

If this is true, how will this impact what we do in our classrooms? First, we must proceed with the understanding that the technology alone is not the answer. The right questions, the right tasks, and the right pedagogy should drive the decisions about what technology should be embedded in the experiences we offer our students. Second, we might begin searching for examples in our day-to-day experiences where students have achieved “Flow” in our classrooms or our buildings. To help identify these moments, you might consider asking yourself or your teachers a series of reflective questions Mark Barnes suggests in his book Teaching the iStudent. These questions include:


  • How often is paper and pencil part of your classroom routine?
  • What role does the internet play in your classroom?
  • How often do your students use web tools, social media or mobile devices?


Barnes believes these questions help us make an internal audit of our practice and will help us measure if we understand and are meeting the iStudent’s need to be connected. Other things you might consider include working with your District’s Central Administration and IT team to ensure that restrictions on social media no longer stand in the way of teachers and students. Finally, step back, examine your own expectations of your students, and think about how we can bring these powerful opportunities to our students at as early an age as possible. Check out the balance in this Kindergarten classroom and see how technology and social media have amplified the hands on learning experiences we know five and six year old children need.

Just as we have to teach our students to be responsible with technology and social media, let us learn from them to be unafraid! Be fearless! The time to start is now!

Education, Growth Mindset, Leadership, Teachers

What All Teachers Need to Hear

In light of Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address, an awesome post by Tony Sinanis and Lisa Meade, and the reading of an amazing article from The American Scholar titled School Reform Fails the Test by Mike Rose (MUST READ), I felt compelled to post a letter that the six principals in my district shared with our amazing teachers. Following a meeting we had with the members of our Board of Education, we reflected on the work being done in classrooms across the district and how our teachers continue to raise bar for themselves and the students. The letter reads:

January 14, 2015

To the members of our awesome staffs,

Unfortunately, there are no Golden Globes for teachers.

There are no red carpets. No paparazzi. No star-studded events, no tuxes or gowns, no trophies and perhaps saddest of all, no after parties.

There should be.

If there were, and writers needed material to help them craft speeches to honor you and the work that you have done thus far during this school year, they need look no further than last night’s meetings that central administration, the principals, and the directors had with the Board of Education. In our conversations, each of the #words discussed at September’s Superintendent’s Conference Day came to light. The #RISKS you have taken with new instructional practices, the #EXPECTATIONS you have set for yourselves and your students, and the ways that you have worked to #ENGAGE AND #EMPOWER every child would be things cited in opening paragraphs. Your continued willingness to #REFLECT on each of your lessons and the evolving needs of your students would be celebrated, as would the way you have been collaborating with one another in your PLCs and other venues. Prior to inviting you to the stage, the presenters would pose the question, “Are you the teacher you would want your child to have?” It would be answered with an overwhelming, “Yes.”

When considering what you might say after hearing these accolades and accepting your awards, we could not help but think of Kevin Spacey’s words when he won for best actor in a television series. He shared a conversation he had with Stanley Kramer where he told the ailing director what he thought about his work. He said, “The films you’ve made, the subjects you’ve tackled, the performances you’ve gotten out of some of the greatest actors that have walked the earth, the Oscars you’ve won – your films will stand the test of time and will influence film makers for all time.” To Spacey’s surprise, as he stood up to leave, Kramer grabbed his hand and said, “Thank you so much. That means so much to me. I just wish my films could have been better.” It was in that spirit that Spacey accepted his award saying, “I just want it to be better. I just want to be better… but this is very encouraging. Thank you so much.”

On behalf of all of us, we are very fortunate to be surrounded by colleagues who work so hard and strive continuously to “be better.” Please know that your hard work, your dedication to our students and the manner in which you model the Growth Mindset in the way you approach your craft were shared with members of the Board of Education. Thank you for all that you have done and what you will continue to do for our students.

With respect and admiration,

Glen, Luis, Joe, Trish, Michael and Patrick

As school leaders, when we think about our teachers, we must keep Mike Rose’s words in the forefront of our minds. He writes,

Teachers live in a bipolar world, praised as central to students’ achievement and yet routinely condemned as the cause of low performance.


With our words…

And our actions…

We need to change that.

Education, Leadership,

A Hashtag! A Knowledge Management System?

Something Awesome Happened
A Celebration and a Call to Arms


While randomly checking my Twitter feed, I had to stop and marvel at an interaction between three colleagues that, when looked at in a greater context, was absolutely awesome. Before detailing this exchange that took place in 140 characters or less, it needs to be put into perspective.

Since our district’s opening Superintendent’s Conference Day in September 2013, Farmingdale has been on an exciting journey driven by Carol Dweck’s outstanding book Mindset and fueled by social media. Dr. Bill Brennan’s words, “We don’t know what we don’t know… yet” have become our mantra and we have been energized and empowered by the reality that we can learn at anytime, anywhere and from anyone. To enhance communication and become our own public relations engines, each of our six schools have established a voice in the Twittersphere and our collective number of followers is approaching 2,000. Individual teachers within each of the buildings have created class Twitter handles which they use to communicate with families, inspire their students and highlight their best practices. Daily, administrators and teachers are working to “flatten the walls of our classrooms” and we are sharing the exciting learning experiences we offer our children with the world. In doing so, we have fashioned new conversations between parents and their children about the six plus hours they spend in our charge. With each tweet, with every picture and video, we are “telling our story,” we are defining the Farmingdale “brand” and we are showing why we are “Proud to be Dalers.”

In addition to all of this, more and more of our us have began using social media as a way to take charge of our own learning. We are following the best and the brightest minds in our field and perhaps even more importantly, we have started following one another. It is in this context that I hope to share the very awesome thing that happened!

As building and district level leaders, we have been struggling with the following questions:

– How do we take the expertise that exists in each of our six buildings and network those understandings in a greater context that would promote the learning of our entire organization?
-How do we get this information out there? How do we take the outstanding practices developed within smaller Professional Learning Communities and share them with a much larger, perhaps virtual, community of practice?
-How can we share charts, mentor texts, graphic organizers, ideas and other resources between buildings?
-Where can we go when we need help?

The answer to this last question could very well be found within our own buildings. However, no matter how awesome the colleagues that comprise our Professional Learning Communities are, most PLCs are “closed” communities. As Eric Sheninger and Alec Couros suggest, they are limited by time, space and proximity. Typically, we only work with teachers on our grade level or in our department within our own buildings. It is time that we change that.

To do so, the hashtag (#fpschat) was created so there would be a place for teachers and administrators to share what they are learning about and to post the outstanding work that is happening in our schools. In essence, we are cultivating our own knowledge management system for our virtual community of practice. Together, we have the potential to develop a precious, organic, sustainable reserve of knowledge that can be added to and accessed by all.

But are we using it?

So, about the awesome thing that happened… Recently, one teacher tweeted, “Table teams made human number lines to warm up our rounding skills! Thanks for the idea @____. #fpschat” Here, the teacher was referencing a tweet sent by two teachers working collaboratively in an ICT setting in another building where that same practice was shared a few days prior. While I am sure that conversations like these have happened in person and perhaps on Social Media, this was this first time that the magnitude of this struck me. While this might seem like something small, it is groundbreaking in that it evidences how we are developing the Social Capital of our organization by communicating between buildings in a digital space that we have created! This is awesome!

While we celebrate this victory, we must also use this outstanding example as a call to arms to all teachers. You! Yes you! You are doing fantastic things in your classroom. You are reading books that others might not know about that you need to share! You are reading professional books to further your own learning! You are working with your colleagues in self-directed Professional Learning Communities and what you and your fellow teachers are creating and learning about is outstanding!

If you haven’t already done so, please consider joining us on this journey! We are stronger together! We need you!

Educational Leadership

Where The Danielson Rubric Meets Kraft Swiss

What Our Schools Can Learn from Chef Eric Ripert and One of the Greatest Restaurants in the World

The August 2014 edition of Wine Spectator Magazine features a profile of Chef and Philanthropist Eric Ripert and his seafood temple, Le Bernardin, which many consider to be one of the finest restaurants in the world. If one can get past the drool inducing photographs and vivid, near sensual descriptions of revelatory dishes like the tuna carpaccio with fois gras and examine the text through the lens of leadership, it is clearly evident why Le Bernardin has remained at the summit of culinary experiences in the greatest food city on the planet and why Ripert is viewed by many as one of the most gifted chefs to ever put on an apron. In what might seem like an odd comparison between a world-class restaurant and our schools, there is much that we as school leaders learn from Ripert. What does he, as successful leader, do differently?

Be Present Where It Matters Most

At the outset of each day in the restaurant, Ripert walks through the kitchen with a plastic spoon which he uses to taste everything from stocks, to sauces down to the tiny garnishes that adorn each plate that enters the dining room. He visits the stations of each of the 20 or so chefs taking part in the night’s service and examines their “mise en plas,” or the building blocks of each of the dishes they are responsible for preparing. It is here when he provides feedback to his cooks instead of waiting until each dish is fully prepared and plated. His feedback is given immediately, salt is added, levels of acidity are tweaked and preparations continue. It is not until this ritual is completed that Ripert travels to the office and meets with his personal assistant to address the business aspects of running multiple four star establishments and to deal with other pressures associated with celebrity chefdome. As school leaders, we must learn from this as too often we find our priorities out of balance. We cannot let the business aspects, (i.e. parent phone calls, compliance issues, discipline problems, etc) of running a school building keep us from getting into classrooms. We need to give feedback in the moment instead of waiting until a “formal observation” or after the Superintendent visits, or worse yet when we are delivering the overall rating to a teacher at the end of the school year. Daily, we must ask ourselves, “Are we present where it matters most?”

Develop Relationships

Having Eric Ripert taste something that you, an aspiring chef, have prepared on a daily basis must be beyond intimidating. In fact, it must be nearly as terrifying as a walk through during the nerve-wracking experience that was/is The Quality Review in the NYC Department of Education. Remarkably, it is not. As detailed in the article, the kitchen at Le Bernardin is described as a collaborative, respectful atmosphere where Ripert’s acknowledgements and suggestions are the welcomed norm. For any of us who have commented on a student’s writing or who are in the position that requires reviewing another’s performance, we know that giving feedback is difficult. If our strategy for school improvement centers on meaningful feedback and we understand that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” how we develop a culture where criticism can be seen as truly constructive? The answer is in relationships.

Quickly leafing through the article, it is somewhat surprising that Ripert is not center stage in every photograph – in fact he is not even represented in all of the pictures therein. A highlight is a picture of Ripert standing with his brigade where he has elected to fade into the background as his team is smiling in the foreground.


Another image that speaks to Ripert’s leadership is a photo of Justo, a prep chef who is responsible for butchering every piece of fish that enters the kitchen and preparing it for service. In Ripert’s cookbook, Avec Eric the chef describes him as a vital member of the organization and refers to him as a true craftsman. As Anthony Bourdain writes about Ripert in the Forward, “His eagerness to share the credit – specifically to point out who does what, and how, acknowledging every part of a large, ever grinding, complicated but (always) smoothly running machine – is unprecedented.” As school leaders, how often and how do we show that we value the members of our organization? If we did this more, how would the feedback that we give be perceived?

Be Transparent… Be Collaborative… Be Reflective

Even in this seeming eutopia, the article notes times when chefs in Ripert’s kitchen disagree with one another and even with Ripert’s assessments of a dish. While most chefs, and principals for that matter, might end a difference of opinion like this with a “It’s my way or the highway” response, Ripert and his team instituted a system that would help them collectively calibrate their palates so they can evaluate a dish together. Ripert shares how pieces of Kraft Swiss are made available to every chef in the kitchen for this purpose. Ripert notes that Kraft was chosen for its straightforwardness and it’s consistency as “it always tastes the same.” After each chef takes a bite of this cheese, a common taste emerges and the team reexamines the dish in question before revisions are made.

In it’s intended form, The Danielson Rubric was meant to be the Kraft Swiss for educators and used so a common understanding of what good teaching is could be established. How unfortunate it is that this exquisite document has been demonized by the APPR process? How refreshing would it be if we could alter this reality so it could be used to ensure we were all on the same page before we began conversations about next steps? For real reflection and honest dialogue to occur, the relationships described above must be well in place. Once these are established, we must begin asking questions like “How are standards of excellence established in our organization?” “Are all stakeholders aware of the expectations and does a uniform understanding of what these expectations look like in the classroom exist?”

Foster Innovation and Celebrate Failure

To remain at the forefront of the ever evolving landscape that is the New York restaurant world, you must continue to innovate and challenge yourself, your chefs and maybe even your customers to move out of their comfort zones. Ripert understands this as new dishes emerge on his menus constantly and join classics that celebrate pristine ingredients and the flawless techniques that have brought Ripert his fame. To his credit, Ripert invites his team of chefs to play critical parts in the creative process and there is even a room in the restaurant dedicated solely for research and development. Hundreds if not thousands of cookbooks are available to chefs and the freedom to experiment with new ingredients and flavor profiles from a variety of cultural influences is encouraged. In the article, Ripert notes that as dishes are conceptualized, they are carefully scrutinized and typically go through twenty or thirty iterations before they make to the restaurant menu.


As school leaders, there is much we can learn from this. How and how often do we encourage our teachers to take risks? Is there a safe, nearly sacred room in our buildings where staff can come together to discuss ideas and reflect on their trials and partial successes? Do we view failure as a something negative instead of what it truly is, a first attempt in learning? In his work titled, School Principals and Virtual Learning: A Catalyst to Personal and Organizational Learning, Dr. Bill Brennan, Lead Innovator of Farmingdale Public Schools on Long Island, NY, writes, “One of the most well-known antecedents to innovation is failure.” He notes the pivotal role of principals as we, “hold the ability to establish a culture of risk-taking.” As leaders, we must work diligently to cultivate and maintain a culture where people feel safe to “put themselves out there” as they strive to create and further develop what Hargraves and Fullan call “next practices” in their book Professional Capital. Elements of Ripert’s work where he has created a hub for innovation within the restaurant would be highly touted by Dr. Brennan as he believes that “every school in this country should design an “idea lab” where key people come to share and test ideas in a grassroots leadership manner.” While space is a luxury in many of our buildings, we need to create this venue in order to keep our organizations moving forward.

In summation, how do we take elements of Ripert’s leadership and bring them to our schools? First and foremost, we must be present where it matters most and continue to develop relationships within our buildings that breed trust and inspire collaboration. As feelings of mutual respect permeate the organization and an understanding that “this is a safe place” emerges, individuals will be more likely to take risks which will inevitably lead to innovation. With thoughtful feedback, honest reflection and frequent celebrations of the products and techniques that result from the collective creative process, perceived failures will become breakthroughs. When we add these “next practices” to the “best practices” which comprise the menu that is the learner’s experience in our classrooms, there will be no limit to the number of stars our schools will earn.