Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mining for Strengths: 8 Tips For Helping Kids Discover Their Gold

With all we know about the benefits of living through our strengths and passions, imagine if kids learned about theirs early on, and went through all of their school years curious and ignited to grow into their best selves?

Maybe you have a little one, niece, nephew, or friend and you want to save them from arriving at early adulthood with the looming questions: "What am I good at?" or "What do I love and want to do for the next 40 something years?"

From reading lots of research, and living through my own personal experience as a teacher, social worker/therapist intern and mom to 2 incredible kids, I have found the following ideas key to helping kids discover their unique assets.
  • Make sure children have time to explore. Many kids are super-scheduled with piano lessons, tennis lessons, playdates and structured time, so much so that they don't have time to even think about what "they" really want or love to do. Imagination and creativity need time and space to flourish.
  • Give them opportunities to make choices from an early age. Now this doesn't mean everything should be a choice, but when kids can select an activity, an outfit, or even food from a list of your approved choices, it allows them to learn from their decisions. These experiences, seemingly minor, can lead kids to discovering their unique preferences.
  • Observe. From a young age, I could tell that my son loved to build things, test them, destroy his creations, and re-build. To nurture this strength, family members gave Nick legos, Knex and many other "constructing" items. Of course, it's important not to pigeon-hole and label a child so he also got a keyboard and a guitar when he showed musical interest and passion. Even though he is a mechanical engineering student at MIT grad school, Nick has a diverse range of strengths that he explores and enjoys. I often refer to him as my "Renaissance Kid."
  • Don't live vicariously. As parents, it can be easy to transfer the missed opportunities to work on our own strengths and passions to our children. If we are feeling strongly about our child taking those violin lessons, it's important to step back and reflect: Who really wants this?
  • Find role models and mentors. If your child is interested in a topic you are not informed about, it's easy now through the internet and social media, to find an expert to connect to. Why not use Twitter to find that scientist to answer your child's questions?
  • Erase the illusion of "easy." Just because a person has a strength does not mean that things come easy. In this "instant gratification" culture that we live in, it's often misleading when kids look up to celebrities or athletes who make success look effortless. Read and tell stories of hard work "paying off" for people who have found their dream niche.
  • Praise the effort, not "talent". As Carol Dweck discusses in her wonderful book, Mindset, the way we praise children is critical to their success. We can turn a child away from pursuing a passion if we instill a need to "be perfect" all the time. If we encourage hard work and progress that comes from failure, we give the message that will lead to a child persevering.
  • Be a role model. Are you living your strengths and modeling the joys of mindfully engaging in what you love to do? Do you have passions or hobbies that your kids see you participate in? The best way for us to show the benefit of using our strengths is to be "doing our strengths."
Of course, there are many ways we can foster experiences that will lead kids to discover their "gold." Please share your ideas and stories so that we can learn together.

Joan Young, (formerly known as Joan Mancini), is a 4th grade teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area after teaching Kindergarten/1st grade for many years. Before her life as a teacher, she worked for several years as a foster care social worker and therapist intern. She is passionate about helping kids discover their strengths and stay excited about learning. Joan is also the author of “25 Super Sight Word Songs & Mini-Books” published by Scholastic. She enjoys helping teachers find creative opportunities and solutions in everyday classroom challenges.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Unique Gifts

by J.T. O’Donnell

Why You Can’t Identify Your Strengths

Anyone who’s ever done some soul-searching about their career has stumbled across one or more experts telling them to focus on their strengths as a way to find satisfying work. I call them Unique Gifts because out of the 100’s of people I’ve worked with one-on-one, no two people have the same combination of strengths. Each one is different and special.

Identifying Unique Gifts Can Feel Impossible

I’d say at least 50% of the people who have completed a PSA (Personal Strengths Assessment) with me stop in their tracks when they get to the Unique Gifts exercise. They call or e-mail me completely frustrated. They say things like, “There is NOTHING unique about me, “ and “I don’t have anything special.” I love when this happens because I know a huge Ah-ha Moment related to their career is about to occur. Why? This is the point in their self-discovery process where I get to point out the power and importance of leveraging their Unique Gifts.

They’re Not Unique to You - Hence, Why You Can’t Identify Them!

Our Unique Gifts are strengths that we have developed over a lifetime. Without even realizing it, they are skills and abilities we’ve been nurturing. Usually, because we had early success or failures that made us realize we could use them to get the results we want. As a result, they don’t feel special. In fact, we usually make the mistake of thinking that everyone can do what we do. So, when we finally recognize what our Unique Gifts are, we find it easy to incorporate them into our career as a way to get results without it feeling like work.

EXAMPLE: Meet Jeff…

This past year, I had a mid-career professional named Jeff come to me for help developing his job search. He was being laid-off as a project manager and was worried that he would have a tough time differentiating himself amongst a sea of unemployed project managers. He was right. Most job seekers don’t understand how to identify and incorporate their Unique Gifts into their brand as a way to catch an employer’s attention. As we went through the process, Jeff was able to focus in on what his specific strengths were as a project manager. It turned out he had a successful track record of taking complex projects that involved input from multiple departments and creating communication and coordination strategies that helped everyone to stay informed and on schedule. He even had quantifiable proof that his project management resulted in on-time delivery and zero need for re-design after implementation – a pretty impressive statistic. Ironically, Jeff never saw this as unique. He said to me, “J.T., this is what a project manager is supposed to do. How can I say it’s a strength of mine?” It wasn’t until I pushed back and asked him how he learned this was something a project manager must do that he had the Ah-ha Moment I was waiting for. He immediately started speaking in an energetic and confident tone. He proceeded to tell story after story of projects he had seen fail when he was just starting out. He effortlessly shared how he contributed to fixing some of these past failures and how he eventually got put in charge of his first project after the manager had to be let go for incompetence. A powerful career story rolled off his tongue and you could feel the sincerity and passion he possessed. At that point, the expression in his face change as he realized his particular approach to project management really was his Unique Gift. After that session, Jeff revamped his career tools (resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter template) to properly reflect his Unique Gifts. Jeff got three interviews and 2 job offers shortly after. He said talking about his Unique Gifts in the interviews was what got him the offers. He found it effortless to talk about his success without feeling like he was bragging. Why? Because he knew he was telling the truth.

How to Identify Your Unique Gifts

The secret to determining what’s special about you is to spend some time truly focusing on it. If you can’t do it alone, then get help. Often, others can see what is unique about us better than we can. I have my clients talk to family and co-workers. I also give them a set of self-discovery questions designed to guide them towards the Ah-ha Moment such as, “What was the last thing someone asked for your advice on and why do you think they came to you?” These kinds of questions can help you see patterns of success that point to your Unique Gifts.

Everyone has Unique Gifts. The key is to keep working until you identify them. Trust me. Once you do, you’ll find the process of job search and career development a lot easier.

Jeanine Tanner “J.T.” O’Donnell is a career strategist and workplace consultant who helps American workers of all ages find greater professional satisfaction. Her work has been cited in Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, The Boston Globe,,,,,,, and dozens of other national publications. In 2008, she founded the career advice site, which is now a top 10 world-ranked career advice blog, featuring the best career experts in America, and in 2009, she launched the first ‘Career HMO’ - CAREEREALISM Club, a virtual career center staffed by experts that helps professionals advance their careers. Her book, CAREEREALISM: The Smart Approach to a Satisfying Career, outlines her highly successful career-coaching methodology. Aside from her company, you can find J.T. on LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as her nationally syndicated column with Dale Dauten.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Playing From Strength Makes You a Rock Star

Do you typically think of your self as a rock star? Neither do I. Sure, we all have those exhilarating moments; and some of us even play Guitar Hero. Yet, when things settle down, we return to our own status quo – whatever that may be.

Imagine though, that the very concept of rock star were to be reinvented, allowing us to be a rock star in whatever career we pursue. Well, this is precisely the premise behind a well-known television ad for Intel. It features Intel Fellow Ajay V. Bhatt who is identified as co-inventor of Universal Serial Bus (USB), and “The Real USB Rock Star.” The commercial, which makes an event of Ajay grabbing a cup of coffee, ends with this point: “Our Rock Stars Aren’t Like Your Rock Stars.”

We know this intuitively. We know and acknowledge accomplished people who “rock.” Still, in one deft and creative move, Intel has elevated this cultural association and clearly redefined rock stardom. And yet, there is also a critical distinction here. Ajay Bhatt has attained his celebrity through achievements that reflect a strong commitment to and passion for what he does. Read his bio and you realize his work is more than simply a job – it is the reflection of a strong personal brand.

So, what does this mean to you? Simply this: By taking the time to understand who you are, what you excel at doing, and how you engage the world, you can attain the kind of clarity that can make you a rock star – no matter what your field of endeavor.

Walter Akana is a certified personal branding and online identity strategist, and career coach. After more than twenty-five years in the financial services industry, he founded Threshold Consulting, where he works with mid-career professionals in transition. In addition, he is a trusted resource for clients of Reach Communications and Right Management. Walter’s career advice has been featured on,, and He is a long-time blogger, an avid user of social media, and can be found on Twitter: @walterakana

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Strengths Project: Angela Maiers

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog piece for Angela Maiers' PassionDriven series. The more I read the series, the more I was inspired to start one based upon one of my passions, which is strengths development. So, I am starting The Strengths Project series here on PEOPLEGOGY. In the following weeks, I will be posting a series of posts by a myriad of professionals. Each of them will share from their expertise the importance of working from ones strengths. How fitting is it that Angela Maiers, who inspired this series, is the first up to bat.

by Angela Maiers

I was so thrilled when Will or as I know him @peoplegogy on Twitter, agreed to be a contributing voice to an important conversation on my blog about passion. But I am even more excited to see how far the conversation is taking us. Passion is not only a strength we should be working from; it is a critical attribute of success both in business and in life.

The word passion is thrown around in business and education so much that we need to "rescue " the concept as leaders by fleshing out what and thinking carefully about the strengths and habits of passion-driven learners and passion-driven teams considering questions like:

  • What is passion…really?
  • How do you define passion?
  • How could/does passion change the game?
  • How does passion present itself in your work? life? organization?
  • What does it mean for you? our students? your community? clients? the world?
  • Can passion be “taught”?
  • How is passion different than engagement?
  • What conditions are necessary for passion to exist?
  • Is passion a necessary or a “nice to have” quality?
  • What are the repercussions of being a “passion-less” person or organization?
  • Can we quantify passion? If so, how?
  • What is misunderstood about passion?
  • What can we do to change this? move the conversation forward?

I recently invited a diverse group of thought leaders from across the Blog/Twittersphere to examine this topic and weigh in with their perspectives and advice. Each with their own stories and insight examined the role passion played in their work, learning, and life.

I was not only awed and amazed at the candidness, honesty, and boldness of their answers; I was amazed at how contagious the conversation became. Hundreds of tweets and fifty plus blog posts later, confirms that passion matters to educators, innovators, marketers, bloggers, branding specialists, parents, radio personalities, project managers, PR pros, professional speakers, leaders, scientists, leaders, coaches, and students.

Seth Godin would say,“a tribe” like this, could change the world, and I couldn’t agree more! This small Twitter project is a microcosm of the potential these conversations could have in your world.

Passion, energy, and initiative are gifts that people choose to give or withhold day-by-day and moment-by-moment. Engaging these gifts requires managing and organizing our classrooms” and our schools in very different and distinctive ways.

What would happen if...

  • We Lead with more passion?
  • We worked to Amplify Passion with the tools and technologies to we have at our disposal?
  • We Noticed Passion and it's many faces?
  • Spread Passion?
  • Inspiring people to give generously of these talents and gifts requires a renewed commitment to passion. We need to help keep the conversations going. Join me in rescuing this very important topic by using the hashtag #passiondriven, so all conversations can be linked.

We CAN change the world, but not alone and not without passion!

Happy Holidays, Friends and Leaders!

Angela Maiers is an award-winning educator, speaker, consultant and professional trainer known for her work in literacy, leadership and global communications. She is a consistently energized and recognized worldwide speaker greatly impacting leadership through not only the education field, but the international business community as well. Challenging educational philosophies and business ethics, Angela strives to achieve total synergy and unstoppable energy by reconstructing the thought process of many dated ideologies. You can Angela at Angela Maiers Educational Services (515.554.2004) and at @angelamaiers

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Beyond the Conversation

Why is social media called a conversation? It's much, much more than that. Forget about seeing Britney Spears loose it or some other celebrity showing their google bits to the world. Social media is a way to engage, to interact, and to collaborate on a level that is far more reaching than face to face communication. Using social media, I can obtain resources from a variety of experts with the click of a mouse or conduct a presentation via Skype to a classroom or conference room in China. As simply as I can say it, social media is the great connector.

Professionally, social media has been a way for me to connect with a myriad of amazing individuals. Through Twitter I have met Ingrid Stabb, co-author of The Career Within You, J.T. O'Donnell, founder, president, and CEO of and Eric Sheninger, educator, author, speaker, consultant. Each of them, along with the many others I didn't name, have enriched my life in ways that go beyond simply calling social media a conversation.

Personally, social media has also been a great asset to me as a doctoral student. This quarter I am taking a stats class. It's a class that's loathed by everyone in my cohort. However, the work has been easier to understand thanks to tools like Skype and Youtube. I can't tell you how invaluable it has been to be able to be on a Skype call with several members of my cohort to discuss assignments, and to be able to share screens to actually see how someone created a Pivot Table or conducted a Index has been key to understanding the material. And, Youtube is the best site for getting answers. I've been able to find video demos on how to do the Pearson product-moment, as well as conduct a T Test on Excel. Honestly, Youtube is more effective than doing the same search on Google.

You can call social media what you want. I call it a game-changer - Akin to how the VCR forever changed how people watched movies. In this informational age, having access to relevant, reliable, useful, and actionable resources and materials will be what separates those on the bench from those in the starting lineup.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Color of Learning

Go to any major city and you will see that the teachers as well as the state and school leadership are mostly White. Not that that is inherently wrong or some sort of a conspiracy, but it is a major problem. And, one we need to seriously talk about. Believe it or not, there is a color to learning.

The students who attend those schools come from some of the most poorest, violent, drug-infested communities in the country. Most of them come from single-parent households, non-college educated parents, and never see a professional who look like them in their neighborhoods. So, when they go to school, they need to see teachers and administrators of color, because those individuals do more than the ABC's of teaching and learning or running a school. They serve as life models for students who only see rappers and ball players leave the neighborhood.

Colleges of education, civic organizations, as well as the State Departments of Education have to make it a priority to recruit and hire more teachers and administrators of color. I am not talking about a quota thing or a "reverse discrimination" thing; I am talking about the need to bring in people who have a better chance at reaching the students on a visceral level - beyond the speech of the benefits of getting a college degree.

I know from personal experiences that I connected more with Black teachers and how often Black parents sought me out once I started working in education. I can't describe in words what it means to see someone who looks like you and who you can relate to on a cultural level. There is a level of trust involved and a belief that this person has your best interest at heart. And, that is a powerful motivator as a learner and as someone who is trying to find their way in a country that doesn't like to show the full diaspora of people of color.

Now, before you call me a racist, I am not saying that White teachers and administrators have no place in urban schools or can't or aren't doing a great job. I know many who are and consider quite a few of them to be friends. What I am saying is that it makes a difference to students of color the race and gender, for that matter, of the teachers and administrators at their schools. If you don't believe me, ask them. They will tell you it does.

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Interview with Jason Flom: Teacher, Blogger, Cyclist

Jason is a 5th grade teacher at Cornerstone Learning Community (CLC) in Tallahassee, FL. As a teacher, he works to balance laughter with challenge, standards with relevance, and experiences with reflection. He earned his bachelors and masters in education from the University of Florida, before pursing outdoor education. A chance to help open CLC’s elementary school in 2001 convinced him to leave the woods for the classroom. He founded Ecology of Education as a collaborative, multi-author blog in March of 2009 to give voice to a range of professionals working in the field of education. He is also the moderator for Edutopia’s Green Schools Group & an ASCD Emerging Leader class of 2010. Follow him on twitter (@JasonFlom).

Will: Who is Jason Flom? Why teaching? How long have you been an educator? How long did it take you to feel comfortable in your skills as an educator?

Jason: I’m a 5th grade teacher in Tallahassee, FL. When not getting schooled by my students, I spend my time with my two girls trying to instill in them a deep and abiding love for superheroes. 3 year old likes both Marvel & DC, so I’m feeling pretty good about that. 10 month old likes to eat the books, so I’m hoping for appreciation through digestion for her.

I realized I was going to be a teacher during my 6th & 7th grade years. In both cases my math teachers really inspired me in a way that remains relevant today. I remember watching them and thinking, I could do that. In fact, I think I might really like that.

I’ve been teaching for 10 years in the classroom and did 2 years of outdoor/environmental education before that.

In terms of comfortability, I guess I would have to say that I’m still not comfortable. I’m confident I can make a difference, but I try to keep from getting comfortable in order to not become complacent. I daily expect my students to move past their comfort zones and into their stretch zones. I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t hold myself to the same standard.

Will: What is your educational philosophy? How does technology play a role in your philosophy? And how are you using social media?

Much of my education philosophy came out of my days working at Outward Bound and can be summed up in 3 quotes:

1.“I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion.” – Kurt Hahn

2.“To serve, to strive and not to yield” – Outward Bound motto

3.“A ship in harbor is safe – but that’s not what ships are built for.” – John A. Shedd

Technology really doesn’t play that big of a role. We use computers for some research, writing, blogging, and the like, but I see it as a supplemental tool rather than an integral component. That said, I think it is important that it play a role in preparing students for the “real world” (whatever that is, because for students & teachers, school is pretty real). However, when it comes to cultivating students as lifelong learners with the qualities in the Kurt Hahn quote, technology is not necessary, IMHO. It helps make school more meaningful & relevant, but going outside and doing water quality samples can be equally valuable, perhaps if not more so.

We use social media lightly in 5th grade. A few of the students have e-mails, but most don’t. We have a class blog that the students work on regularly and I always show them the power of twitter. However, the power of the collaborative curve is a leveraged often. We discuss & debate everything. There is a great wealth of knowledge and insights within our classroom and I seek to tease it out everyday. Sometimes we’ll just talk about what’s going on in literature for an hour, relating it to their lives, choices, and challenges. Whenever we take summative assessments in subjects where we’ve explored topics together and in depth, I find their thinking much richer. And the thinking is transferable. So, while social media is light, social learning is heavy.

Will: For the past year, there has been a concerted effort by politicians, corporate interests, media personalities and fly-by-night “educators” to blame teachers for the current shape of public education. Do they have a legitimate argument?

Jason: Yes & no. Yes, teachers matter. We make a difference in students’ lives (positive, negative, & somewhere in-between). At the heart of their argument, if we could peel away the blaming & bitterness, I think we’d see a respect for teachers. They know the power we wield.

At the same time, their argument seems to rest on the notion that every one of society’s ills should be solved at school, in the classroom, with a script. This just isn’t the case. There’s a misperception that the outliers (the success stories), should be the norm. And while I do not disagree with this narrative in theory, in reality it cannot be achieved on the narrow backs of teachers. The problem is that teachers are a tempting & visible scapegoat for the much larger systemic issues at play.

The current state of education is as varied as our population. We make the mistake of boiling it down to numbers & stats and then get all Chicken Little about what the numbers tell us. “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” The frantic push for change, while well meaning, keeps us from actually making a generation long goal. We compare our numbers to Finland, flip out, and then treat each year like it’s a horse race.

“Achievement is coming round the first turn and looking good, with Performance on his hind. Merit Pay is fast approaching coming out of the bend pushing Math Scores to really beat those hooves. Achievement Gap pulling up the rear but looking strong in the second turn, giving Teacher Accountability a run for its money. Reading Scores falling behind but rumors of a new trainer will sure improve his performance later in the season. On the home stretch Data surging ahead while Achievement falters. Student Performance looks like it may take this one, but Tenure takes the prize.”

Each year is a litmus test for one year’s efforts without the benefit of implementing long-term investments in systemic change. The Finns realized the need for this. A generation ago they began reforming their education system and are now the envy of the world. Three teachers per class, no standardized tests, and a teaching corps from the top tier of their collegic ranks. All students (all people really) have access to health care services and students arrive ready to learn. The teachers in this scenario are one part of a much larger system dedicated to capitalizing on the potential of each student. In this way, the argument that teachers can overcome all is not legit. There must be a broader commitment to truly reach, care for, and serve each child.

Will: Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I had/have a big problem with NBC’s Education Nation and Oprah’s venture into conversation. Both filled their panels with non-classroom teachers and with individuals who clearly have the agenda to break teachers’ unions. What are your thoughts? Did they cross the line? Is tenure the problem they present it to be?

Jason: I just read an article about the Philly super who was a signee on the recent manifesto and then distanced herself from the final published copy (she had only seen a draft). She makes the point that over half of Philly’s urban teachers have been teaching less than 5 years and many will leave by the time they reach 5 years. Tenure is not the issue. Look at Finland (widely respected for its consistent international score achievement). They have tenure and strong unions. Plus, as I understand it, before a teacher is given tenure, he/she is much easier to fire. Surely an astute supervisor can tell the difference between an educator with potential and one without.

The myopic version of education and edreform heralded by Oprah & NBC has had two fortunate outcomes – 1. People are talking about education, nationally. 2. Teachers are uniting against a perceived foe. Any opportunity for teachers to band together and stand up I think is a good thing.

Will: Always. Always. Always. We hear about the miracles being done by charter schools, when in fact, they are not fairing any better than traditional public schools. What is your take on the push for charters?

Jason: I’m not an expert on charters, but from where I stand, I’m bummed about what’s become of them. I was an early supporter (and still am, selectively). I’m a small school advocate and early on it seemed that charters represented an opportunity for progressive educators to break out of the standardization-for-all approach of traditional public schools. In this regard they really were labs for innovation. I saw (and still see) a number of successful efforts. Here in Tallahassee there is a very high regard for a local charter, School of Arts & Sciences. I’m among the cheerleaders (even though we often lose students to them).

Ultimately, I think we need schools that meet the needs of the community in which they exist. Therefore no one model will work for all situations. We need a diverse arsenal of schools. Charters, at first glance, seem to be an answer to that. Small schools, flexible management designed to give those on the ground floor voice, and opportunity to look beyond the standardization to give students something more personalized. However, when boards of these larger corporate-style charters do not have teachers or parents on them, and are made up of mostly hedge fund managers I begin to question their motives. Are we replacing one standardized system for another?

Will: With all of the talk about the ills of public education, we are failing to speak honestly about the communities and homes students from urban areas come from. Should we expect schools to address the social ills that affect student buy-in and student and parental participation? Is it fair to pile on that responsibility to teachers?

Jason: I’m among those who feel teachers have a moral imperative to address social ills. Schools should be models of egalitarianism, in my opinion. Ideally, schools are the level playing field of America. We know this isn’t the case right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive for it.

However, the idea of putting these additional correctional responsibilities on teachers is unreasonable. At the same time, there is no way to sanitize curriculum. Everything that schools are sends value messages to students, either perpetuating or challenging the social norms they find themselves in.

I think we need curricula that exposes students to content that is uncomfortable and forces them to confront injustice (though not developmentally inappropriate material), gets them angry, unsettled, and even a bit righteous. Such passion and emotion can be a powerful ally in creating opportunities for transformative learning experiences. As part of our integrate social studies/literature program we read a number of books that address the glaring injustices of racism throughout the history of the SE.

The irony of this push to put teachers on the hook for solving the social challenges is that it comes on the heels of a push to ensure that students aren’t exposed to anything controversial or possibly offensive. However, life is controversial & offensive. We need to give students a curricula that actually reflects their lives, if we aim to prepare them for “real life.”

Will: Keeping with the theme of expectations, should we expect all students to learn and thrive in a system that is designed to produce students for the traditional 4 year college/university route? Why aren’t schools developing academic programs aimed at addressing the different academic and career interests and strengths of students? Is doing so such a major undertaking?

Jason: I’ve wondered for a long time why we don’t have more occupational tracks in our schools. We’ve got a situation in which students graduate from high school without any applicable skills for the workplace. They graduate bubble sheet ready, but not job ready. With a massive decrease in apprenticeships in craftsmanship occupations (as well as the economy that supports those jobs) there is a bottleneck in our education system. Everything channels in one direction.

Why aren’t more engaging real world skill programs being developed? I’m not sure. I wonder if it is the same reason that we are seeing so little real innovation & differentiation: standardization. In the quest for “achievement” and “performance” we’ve replaced Learning with Scores on Assessment Batteries. The narrowing of the curricula in order to achieve efficiency & increase scores prohibits development of programs that aren’t testable and immediately quantifiable.

At this stage of the game, I think finding a way to include anything that isn’t currently tested and doesn’t produce immediately crunchable numbers would be a incredible challenge. Applied engineering? No way. Sustainable architecture? Not a chance. Hydrology in human systems? Yeah, right. But these are the precise sort of challenges our students will face as adults. Including them in any kind of education reform to any meaningful degree would not be just a major undertaking, it would be nearly complete reversal of course.

Will: Let’s talk about school leadership and organizational development. I haven’t conducted a formal survey, but from what I have gathered from my conversations with teachers all around the country, there seems to be a dearth of leadership throughout all levels within K-12. What is going on? Why hasn’t leadership taken responsibility for their role? And what characteristics do you look for in a leader?

Jason: When we look at leadership in companies, CEO’s come from within the ranks. Perhaps not at the companies they head, but from comparable business enterprises. However, in education, little time is spent cultivating the ranks of the teachers to groom leaders. Sure, most principals were once teachers, but many of the district admin & state DOE admin come from a different model all together.

I follow @EdReformPR on twitter. He’s got a parody account lampooning the edreform effort. He recently posted a few tweets dedicated to skewering the appointment of a publishing executive to the head of NYC’s school system. In one he wrote: BREAKING: Publishing giant, Hearst, hires a teacher as new CEO! "Seemed fair since 1 of our execs will head #NYC schools." I’m not sure why, but it made me laugh, thinking how unlikely it would be for a teacher to find appointments elsewhere, yet not uncommon for people so far removed from education taking the helm. The reality is not funny, but gotta laugh at something.

The good news is that there are efforts to increase teacher leadership. ASCD is working hard to do this, as are a number of other groups. The recent development of Huffington Post’s ed page has given a few talented teachers a chance to publish on their site. I think there is real merit to the idea of greater teacher professional topography: Apprenticing teachers work under a veteran before getting their own class. Eventually they earn the chance to mentor others and gradually take on more leadership roles while keeping one foot in the classroom. But the reality is that such a model is a long way off. Still I dream.

Will: Top five books on education?

1. Roland Barth: Improving Schools from Within
2. Neil Postman: Teaching as a Subversive Activity
3. Ralph Peterson: Life in a Crowded Place
4. John Dewey: Experience and Education
5. Theodore Sizer: The Students are Watching

Will: Jason, I want to thank you for the interview. Do you have any final thoughts?

Jason: Thanks for the opportunity, Will. I appreciate that you are working to give voice to those in the field. I think in closing that there is great potential in networking to develop the relationships that will provide the grounding & learnings for tomorrow’s educators to harvest the seeds we sow.

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” - Harriet Beecher Stowe

I hang my hat and rest my head on the hope that the tide will turn, that our fight for the good of the students is the right fight.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How a Whisper Becomes a Roar

Tom Whitby recently challenged education bloggers to post about positive education transformation in the midst of the teacher bashing occurring in the media. The teacher bashing has upset me, too, especially after hearing teachers at the recent televised Education Nation broadcast resoundingly shout, "Fire bad teachers." Education transformation isn't easy or else the education system would have improved immensely within the last 100 years. Maybe we have better facilities and more children receive an education, but we still have numerous problems to fix.

Current Education Roarers

Every field has employees who don't perform according to certain expectations. Smart business folks will tell you that not only isn't firing cost-effective, but usually it isn't the employee who is the problem. If many employees are failing to meet their job expectations it is a training and management problem. My business background has taught me this, but apparently most of the general public worldwide doesn't realize this when it comes to education or they wouldn't cheer the mass firing of teachers or candidates and celebrities who support this. These unfortunately are the roars that are being heard worldwide in the sudden movement for education reform.

These aren't the voices that the public should be listening to or hearing. Instead, I would love for us, our educator Passionate Learning Network (PLN), to be the voices that are heard.

How We Roar

During the Education Nation debate I commented, "If every educator in our PLN shared, shared, shared their best practices on social media we wouldn't be a voice we'd be a roar." Right now over 50,000 educators participate in Social Networks worldwide for professional development (Just check the membership of the various educator Nings, Facebook educator groups, and Educators on Twitter).

I believe our whispers are getting louder, but we can have more impact if we....

Have daily conversations with all stakeholders

Continuous conversations with all educational stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, administrators, community leaders, and support staff) are the way towards positive education transformation. We need to get all sides to listen to each other and collaborate.

The problem is that we aren't being heard by the majority of society. Parents haven't seen how we are educating students and preparing them to problem solve and collaborate with technology. Other educators we work side by side with don't know we blog or read our blogs even if they do. Our progress with students isn't being noticed by the media only our test scores. Our administrators aren't seeing the potential of social networks. I'm talking about the majority of our situations. Let's face it, most educational stakeholders don't collaborate with us in our social networks. You'll find them on Facebook, with Youtube accounts, and contributing to social networks for personal reasons but they just don't collaborate with us.

But we're growing...

I've been on Twitter for a little over a year and I can see a movement growing. We are adding educators worldwide to our online educator communities. I believe this is because so many of us are sharing with our school communities. We are providing online professional development, sharing through several social networks, and even getting noticed by different media sources such as Mashable, the Huffington Post, and TV news. I love when my PLN tweets they have been in the news. I tweet these resources because we should spread good press to combat the negative press. These sources are where the majority of society tunes into so we should spread the word and try to get ourselves in these various media outlets.

Share, Share, Share....

We need to have daily conversations with stakeholders and share what we do with our students. We have to be transparent and not be afraid of letting the public step into our classrooms. We need to have faith that what excites us about how our students are learning will excite their parents, our staff, and the public. If we invite stakeholders to see what we do then we get them to evaluate us based on more than test scores. Unfortunately, we will be evaluated by standardized test scores for a long time as we have been for decades. However, if our community knows about the work we do with students then we have other measures in place to show our students development.

Projects To Help Us Roar

Our ideas for positive education transformation need to be heard. As long as teachers continue to be scapegoats no real education transformation will take place and the millions of children who fail to receive a proper education and enter into poverty will continue to escalate.

So how do we collect the voices in our PLN so we can become a roar?

Several projects have begun that you can participate in to help us become a collective voice:
  • Participate in blogging calls such as this one by Tom Whitby, Ira Socol's Blogging For Real Reform Challenge, and Scott Mcleod's annual Leadership Day Blog Challenge
  • Join the Youtube Educator Stories project where we are aiming to get over 1000 videos of positive practices
  • Participate in the Reform Symposium and other free virtual conference for educators and invite your entire staff to them
  • Participate in educational chats like #Edchat and invite another educator to join. Here's a list of all educational chats and times by @Cybraryman1
  • Join the 30 Goals Challenge and learn how to use social networks to spread your best practices! Invite teachers new to online educator communities to join this free community of mentors and read the free e-book.
  • Share all these free presentations with your community and invite teachers, students, administrators, and community leaders. It's time we had conversations with all stakeholders.
  • Create news blurbs about your innovative practice and share with the local media. Often they are looking for stories and if they can film you and your students they will jump at the opportunity. Ask several till one says yes! Here are some tips for getting on the news!
  • Send out media waivers and publish your work in a wiki, blog, or free school website. Share this on your Facebook account or other place where the public has access and can see the great things you are doing!

Hear Our Voices Rising...

As I finish this post, I am so happy to note that Tom Whitby's challenge was met with great success. Over 115 educators have written about reform today. Check out their posts in the Wallwisher! Become part of a movement. We need your voice! You have something to contribute!


Participate in one of these projects and have a conversation with someone you haven't about what exciting thing you do with your students!

What other projects do you know of that help educators gain a collective voice for positive education transformation?

I'd like to thank Will for allowing me to repost this on his blog! I welcome you to post your views and experiences.

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is the author of the Teacher Reboot Camp blog and tweets @shellterrell. She is also the VP of Educator Outreach for Parentella and the Social Community Manager for The Consultants-E. She has worked with students of all ages for over a decade and now teaches English in Germany.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Interview with Shelly Kramer: Speaker, Blogger, and Owner of V3

Shelly is the Chief Imagination Officer of V3, an Integrated Marketing Agency located in Kansas City, MO. She's a marketing and online strategist, speaker, writer and a very good juggler. She loves learning, teaching, hanging out with smart people, doing good work and good things. Stalk her on Twitter at @shellykramer and find her online at V3. Meet Shelly Kramer.

Will: Who is Shelly Kramer? Why Personal Branding and Social Media? What about them spoke to your inner core self?

Shelly: I’m not really sure about this question. So I’ll tell you about me. I own a full service integrated marketing firm. We don’t focus on branding and social media – we focus on solving problems. Helping businesses do what they need to do to survive – which is selling more stuff to more people. I’m a marketing and brand strategist. I am good at a lot of things, including social media, but that is certainly not my specialty. It’s just one of the tactics I might employ if the strategy we develop for a client warrants it.

Will: What is V3 Integrated Marketing? What was the genesis for you creating the company? How did you come up with the name?

Shelly: V3. Hmm. The letter “V” just kind of spoke to me, and I knew that what I’m really good at is vision. I have a lot of vision and often help my clients take ideas from concept to reality as a result. Then I decided that what we did at V3 was help clients craft a Vision, which is really an effective marketing strategy, then put a Voice to their brand and that vision, through traditional or non-traditional marketing methods, and then lastly, we add Value because we are fanatic about metrics. That means we don’t market without first setting goals and establishing benchmarks, then measuring our progress every step of the way. That way, we know what part of our marketing initiatives are most effective and where to concentrate budget dollars moving forward. Vision + Voice + Value. It just seemed to make sense.

Will: In reviewing your company’s website,, I noticed on the Who We Are page a principle you have about not working with clients you don’t like or products you don’t believe in. Why is that a principle of your company? Why does it matter if you like someone or believe in their products? Isn’t it just a job?

Shelly: I’m old enough and experienced enough that I don’t have to sell my soul for anyone just to pay the bills. If I don’t care for someone or their product or service, there’s no way I can be passionate enough to work for them on a daily basis and make an impact. And that’s really the key. The best marketers are passionate about their clients’ products and services. I think about my clients all the time and am constantly thinking of ways to make them more successful – it’s just how my brain works. If I am not working with someone that I like or respect or enjoy being with and working with, it’s just too much. And what I consider not being true to myself. Or to the client. So in those instances, I choose to walk away. It makes for a better world and a happier heart – which are things we all need.

Will: How did you come up with the title of Chief Imagination Officer? I absolutely love it. It has both a social media feel to it and is an immediate brand identifier.

Shelly: It just seemed more interesting than CEO or Founder or a whole bunch of other boring titles. And it also describes what I do best … which is bringing the 30,000 foot view to the table. I have the ability (and one that often annoys people) to look at a concept or an idea and pick apart the things that won’t work and identify the things that will – and those are oftentimes things people haven’t yet thought of. I also always approach things with the “of course we can do this” mentality. I loathe working with groups of people who are constantly identifying all the reasons NOT to do something (I think mostly because they are either lazy or scared) … and would much rather be and work with people who think that the sky is the limit and we’re all collectively smart enough to figure things out and make it happen. I dream big. Then I execute. And I’m not at all afraid of risk. Those things fuel my creative passion and that’s the thing that makes me get up every single day loving what I do and loving the life I’m fortunate enough to lead.

Will: As the Chief Imagination Officer of V3, what is your view of effective leadership within the field of social media? Has social media changed the way leadership should function?

Shelly: Those are really two separate questions. And I’ll be brief or this interview will be boring because it is too long. To my way of thinking, effective leadership within the social media realm is realizing that this is a new field and we are all pioneers. There are no cut and dried right answers, because we’re all experimenting, hypothesizing, testing and learning. Understanding that change is inevitable is critical and understanding that the early adopters aren’t the only folks on the planet is also important. I think great leadership is evidenced by those people who get that and who understand that it’s encumbent upon leaders to teach. To lead. To risk and to dare to try things and fail. Publicly. And who are honest enough to admit that no one knows it all. That, to me, is effective leadership within the realm of social media.

The other question is about leadership in general and how social media impacts that. That always leads to the over-used and over-hyped “transparency” term. But it’s true. Leaders in today’s world, whether CEOs, politicians or religious leaders or any other kind of leader, must all understand that transparency in society is a big deal. You’ve got to be who you say you are, do what you say you will and realize that skeletons rarely stay in closets these days. It takes us back to the rules we learned in Kindergarten: Don’t lie, don’t take things that don’t belong to you, don’t be mean, do the right thing. If leaders remember those things, I think that’ll stand them in good stead. The advent of social media, which is really just a by-product of the age of technology and the Internet, makes all things real time. I think that learning to function in real time, listen in real time, react in real time is all now pretty much integral parts of standard operating procedure for all leaders.

Will: On more than one occasion, you have mentioned the need for people to integrate video into their online presence. What makes video such a king producer of content? How do you personally use video to bolster your online footprint?

Shelly: I think that video is important. Just as blogging is important. And webinars and white papers are important. And location based technology is important. And mobile is important. No one is any more critical than the other. What really matters is your goal. And that changes with every client. And sometimes it changes with every marketing initiative. And being aware of these mediums and their efficacy as tools, and knowing how to use these tools to reach your goals is what’s important. And that’s the part of the equation that many people overlook. Or miss completely. Today’s marketing success stories are typically the brands who realize the importance of reaching customers where they are.

And there are a lot of consumers using YouTube. It’s the second largest search engine in the world and that’s often overlooked. Some people go to YouTube the way that others head to Google. They go to YouTube to learn things like how to can peaches, how to change the oil in their car or how to cut their dog’s hair. If you want to reach those people, you need to create content for YouTube. But only if that’s part of your overall marketing strategy, designed to help you reach your goals.

Will: I don’t get why some people haven’t caught social media fever. I can’t go a day without Twitter, checking my blog, or going to Youtube. Why is social media such a part of our daily lives, and what do you tell clients or other people about the pros and cons of riding the social media wave?

Shelly: I think that not everyone gets social media and others get the concept, but don’t need to use it. My husband, for example, is an example of the latter. And not participating in social media doesn’t impact his life negatively in any way. But, even though he doesn’t use social media, he understands the principles and why it’s an important part of business, marketing and brand management today. As for the people who don’t get it, they are certainly not alone. It’s like the people who don’t understand the importance of websites for today’s businesses. Some will survive, in spite of that, and others will fail. The same is true of social media. Not everyone NEEDS to participate in social mediums, for business or for personal use. And just because we do, and enjoy it, benefit from it, etc., doesn’t me we earn the right to judge others who don’t. The world has changed. Some will change with it and some won’t. And only time will tell whether opting not to change and adopt new media strategies and technologies will have a negative impact. Of course, I have an opinion on that, but the fact is – time will tell. And I’m comfortable with that. And feel as if I’m headed in the right direction, and ensuring that my clients are as well.

Will: Ok. As part branding company, what do you tell your clients they should be doing in relation to their brand? What top five tips do you have for the average professional or individual?

Shelly: Identify the following:

Who you ARE.
What you BELIEVE in.
What you can DELIVER.
What PROBLEM do you solve for your clients or prospective clients?
What makes you BETTER than the competition.

This is your brand story. Your unique selling proposition. Marketing is about solving problems. And doing it in a way that people trust you and turn to you as the best resource for making that happen.

Will: I have never asked the following questions in an interview. Mac or PC? Blackberry, Iphone, or Android? Coffee of Tea?

Shelly: Mac, iPhone, Coffee. And beer.

Will: Any final thoughts?

Shelly: Thanks for being patient while I took so long to answer 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Reflections on Waiting for Superman

This post is cross-posted from my Philly Teacher blog. Thank you, Will, for the opportunity to share it with a different audience.

This past Friday was a half day at my school for Professional Development. As a nice surprise, our CEO took the entire staff to see Waiting for Superman at a movie theater downtown. It was a very thoughtful (and exciting) outing.

As I sat in the theater before the movie started, I realized that I was going into the movie with a lot preconceptions and I already had a sick feeling in my stomach.

As the movie progressed, I realized that there was very little in the movie that I didn't know already. I recognized Geoffrey Canada's voice before I even saw him. I had learned about the Rubber Room in NYC 2 years ago when This American Life dedicated part of a show on them with interviews with actual Rubber Room teachers. Most people in the theater, including my colleagues, were learning about a lot of things for the first time. The other thing the movie failed to mention? Mayor Bloomberg and the union have agreed to do away with rubber rooms altogether.

Throughout the movie I was frantically typing notes into my iPhone, and trying really hard not to be a curmudgeon. I'll be honest, I did yell out a comment or two, but I tried to control myself.

Who are the Real Superheroes?
To me, the real heroes in this movie are not the teachers or the education 'reformers,' but the families and parents of the children the movie follows. We watch parents who have struggled themselves but have made a conscious decision to put their children first. We see a parent who takes a 45 minute subway ride just to visit a school that her child has a tiny chance of getting into. These parents are empowered in that they seem to know what their options are, they see the value of education for their child and they are willing to do whatever it takes to give their child the best education they can.

To me, the shameful thing is that while this movie shows the dedication and love of these parents, it chooses not to celebrate these engaged and caring parents. Instead, it chooses to demonize teachers and unions and lift up a small group of 'experts' as the true heroes of education reform.

Public Schools are Evil
At one point, the movie states that these poor performing schools are doing damage to the neighborhoods in which they exist. I can't argue that fewer graduates means more youth on the streets and higher crime rates, but what the movie doesn't discuss is the deeper issues that influence students outside of school. If you know more people who have been to prison that have gone to college (a statistic from the movie) a school has a huge hurdle in helping you understand the importance of school. This hurdle is magnified by uninvolved or neglectful parents.

What really saddens me is that what the movie doesn't discuss is the fact that many of these low-performing schools in high-poverty neighborhoods are teaching scripted programs, have cut out art, music and other creative arts and teach primarily to the test. Of course a student in a school like this would find no value in education. Worst of all, the teachers have little say in the introduction and implementation of these programs. This is NOT a generalization. I taught for 5 years in a school like this. We were nearly at the bottom of the list of state test scores.

What IS evil about public schools?

The wall in my old classroom.
Yes, there are a number of poor-performing or novice teachers (though for some reason if you're a Teach for a American teacher this stigma doesn't apply to you) and yes, it does require a series of paperwork to 'get rid' of a poor-performing teacher. However, the true evil is many traditional public schools are over-enrolled, under-staffed, under-funded and in many cases, the buildings themselves are falling apart.

The world Jonathan Kozol described in 1991 in his book Savage Inequalities has not changed much. In fact, Camden, which sits a stones throw across the river from Philadelphia, is, I believe, still one of the lowest performing districts in the country.

Teachers Unions are Evil
One of the most disturbing parts of this movie is the way it depicts teachers' unions. There was ominous music playing when AFT president, Randi Weingarten appeared on screen and many in the audience, including those in my staff may as well have booed at her.

Throughout the movie, the Guggenheim refers to the fact that the education reformers always find that 'the union gets in the way.' At one point, Jonathan Alter, a Newsweek writer, actually used the term "menace" when referring to unions. This from a man who writes about the economy and from a magazine who wrote the 'brilliant' cover story: The Key to Saving America's Education or Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers. (To which I responded: Shame on You, Newsweek)

I have my own issues with unions, and I'm not a gung-ho union supporter. That said, I understand their importance and their place in education.

It a complete and utter myth that union teachers are lazy and do the bare minimum because they can. Some of the best articles I have read about education have come from American Educator, a publication of the AFT.  The union and its members is dedicated to celebrating good teachers and good teaching.

The movie describes what some districts call the 'lemon dance.' This is a process by which administrators agree to shuffle around their poor-performing teachers to share the burden rather than fire them (wait, we should blame that on the teachers?).

This process happens constantly in the School District of Philadelphia with administrators. A strong administrator will be pulled out of his or her school to go 'fix' a school with a poor-performing administrator. This poor-performing administrator is then either shuffled to a new school or put behind a desk at the central offices. Principals have a union, too.

For the 7 years I taught in the unionized School District of Philadelphia I met teachers from all ends of the spectrum. 90% of them were talented, hard-working and dynamic. They had classes of anywhere from 25-30 students with no aid. They weathered fights and lock downs, they taught students were neglected, malnourished, students with a variety of learning difficulties, and they did this often in a building with a broken heating system, no air conditioning, peeling paint, broken stairwells and a schoolyard that looked like a prison yard.

The other 10% were like the 10% in any other profession.

So why did they still have jobs? Yes, partially it was because of due process. Not tenure, as some would call it, but what I would like to call 'due process.' (Thanks to Ken Shelton for reminding me of that distinction.)  Some of these teachers were receiving extra support and had already been disciplined. Some had not been disciplined, but were offered extra support by school coaches. 

Others? Lord knows. In some cases, everyone in the school knew they were a poor teacher, but nothing was ever done about it. In my opinion, it may have been too much of an effort to go through the discipline process. Or, maybe certain steps had been gone through, but then the administrator never pushed further.

Why, you ask, have due process at all? Why make it so difficult? It may seem simple enough. Do away with due process and you can get rid of these poor performing teachers more easily.

Here's why.

Many administrators here in Philadelphia solve the paperwork conundrum by just writing teachers out of the budget. However, they usually don't write out the poor teachers. Instead, they write out the people who speak their mind, the people who stand up for themselves. The people who won't accept the status quo.

Without due process, without a union, these people would essentially be out of a job just because they stood up for what they believed in. I am not speaking hypothetically here. I personally know of two people who were written out of the budget for these reasons.

So why else are unions important?

In a large, urban district, a lot goes on in any given day. A teacher may be dealing with a dangerous child who has destroyed a room 2 or 3 times without repercussion. They may be publicly teased or harassed by a co-worker, an administrator or a student. A union is there to help them out.

The current system of tenure (due process) does get a few things wrong.

I was granted tenure by the School District after 3 years and a day as any employee is. However, I had not received the necessary official observations required of a non-tenured teacher. Despite that fact, I was granted tenure automatically.

That system is inherently flawed. No one really knew what was going on in my classroom.

I wonder, as a side note, how Michelle Rhee herself kept her job after applying masking tape to her students' mouths during her first year as a Teach for America teacher.  I'll tell you one thing, though. Her union would not have been able to do much if she asked them for help.

However, focusing the conversation on tenure is a waste of breath. It is, in my opinion, the least of our worries at this point.

Divide and Conquer
What I feel that this movie has done is successfully pit 'us' against 'them.' Charter versus traditional public, union versus non-union.

I see this in my day to day conversations and it breaks my heart. Recently, on Facebook, a friend told me that I was part of the "Charter school movement." I had no idea, first of all, that there was such a thing. This statement just reaffirmed my beliefs that we are moving away from the real issue, which is educating children.

My response has become my personal mantra:

I'm a part of the educating kids movement. Charter, regular public, whatever works ;) I think all schools should be free to do what they think is right for kids. So do most of my union buddies.

Why the Movie Appeals to Us
One thing that Guggenheim does to reel the audience in is to use scenes that depict school the way it looked when 'we' went to school. The desks are in rows. The kids are using pencil and paper. They are taking tests. There is some carpet time with a story. He also intersperses some school scenes from the 1950s and 60s. There is a warm sense of familiarity to the scenes that helps pluck our heartstrings.

The problem?

from Wikimedia Commons
None of the scenes depict a truly innovative or progressive school. School just doesn't look like that anymore. To see what progressive and innovative education actually looks like just see George Lucas' response to the movie and watch the videos at the bottom of the post.

What is it That Teachers Do?
If you were hoping to get that answer from this movie, be prepared to be let down. There is little insight, aside from the clip of a teacher whose use of rap songs to teach the alphabet and other concepts inspired KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin. Other than that, it's all similar to stock footage. One can also assume that the teachers they filmed were at the charter schools and not a local public school where pretty much the same kind of teaching probably goes on.

What you will see, however, are images of kids heads opening like a door with a teacher pouring knowledge into their brains. Because we all know THAT'S how teachers do their best teaching.

Some Surprises
There were a few comments about the profession that really amazed me. One came from Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children's Zone. In describing his path to teaching and his experiences, he stated that he became a Master teacher in his 5th year of teaching.

I was floored.  I am in my 6th year of teaching and I am hardly a master. In fact, I believe that there is no such thing as a Master teacher. If you call yourself a Master, it implies that you have no more to learn, that you have mastered everything you need to know. Anyone who has ever taught before knows that, as a teacher, you can never master everything you need to know about teaching. Becoming a teacher means dedicating yourself to a life of learning new things.

The second surprising comment came from Michelle Rhee, who stated that she came into her job as Chancellor of schools in Washington, DC, knowing that she'd be a one-term chancellor. She is also a TFA graduate. What does it say about her motives or dedication to students and families to come into such an important, powerful job with that mindset?

What it Gets Right
As I went into the movie trying very hard not to be a curmudgeon, I made a point of finding parts of it that I agreed with.

The first statement I agreed with was actually by Michelle Rhee. She stated that after all of the trials and tribulations she had been through that in the end, it's "always about the adults." While we may not agree on why that is or which adults we are speaking about, it is entirely true that in the discussion and implementation of school reform, it is most often the students who are thought of last.

The movie also makes an important case for the detrimental effects of tracking students. However, it is not necessary to attend a charter school to avoid tracking. Many schools have done away with it. It's a shame that the one featured has not yet.

I also agree with the movie's statement that we have an obligation to other people's children.  Now who 'we' are in the movie I'm not sure, but I would agree that we are in this together.  I would also agree with Guggenheim's statement that "schools haven't changed, but the world around them has." This indeed, is one of the roots of the problem. Too bad he didn't take the time to show schools who are changing with the times and it's a shame that he says that almost at the end of the movie.

Final Thoughts
All in all, Guggenheim has produced a film that is heart wrenching and has a clear message. It provides a solid jumping-off place for dialogue to happen.

Let's just hope that the dialogue happens and that people learn to read between the lines of a well-produced and well-funded movie.

I hope that others will join me in my mantra.

I'm a part of the educating kids movement. Charter, regular public, whatever works ;) I think all schools should be free to do what they think is right for kids.

Other posts about the movie:

Abandoning Superman - John T Spencer
Seeing Waiting for Superman - Kirsten Olson
We're Not Waiting for Superman, We're Empowering Superheroes -- Diana Rhoten
Larry Ferlazzo's list of posts about Waiting for Superman 

An excellent description and explanation of Charter Schools:

The Toll-- Chad Sansing

Superman image from Xurble on Flickr

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Are You A Helper? Know Your Strengths Factors

By Ingrid Stabb (@ingridstabb)
This is PART TWO of a series that walks you through nine career types. To learn more, see

You’re the Helper if your greatest strengths factor is about “Meeting Needs.” If you are the second career type, you understand FEELINGS, know how to PLEASE, and like to ASSIST your boss and others. You take PRIDE in being needed and in being instrumental to the success of the group. RELATIONSHIPS are of utmost importance to you. Since many careers for Helpers require ASSESSING NEEDS of others, popular roles are as psychologists, caregivers, teachers, human resource directors, receptionists, medical practitioners, and chiefs of staff. Helpers can be found in just about any profession, including law, finance, accounting, science, journalism, and the arts, especially in roles that require interacting with PEOPLE. However, some successful Helpers spend long hours alone, such as Danielle Steele, who writes best-selling novels about love relationships.

WARMTH and going ABOVE & BEYOND what is required stand out about both male and female Helpers. While most are extraverted and have strong people skills, introverted Helpers feel more comfortable contributing behind the scenes.

If you are a Helper, you are good at reading people—even to the extent of knowing what they need before they do. This skill helps you get you where you want to go whether by being kind, altruistic, dignified, cordially welcoming, affectionate, or seductive.

You may lean towards the style of one of the types next to yours. If you are a Helper who is more influenced by the Perfectionist career type, you may be more objective than some Helpers. If the Achiever “wing” influences you, you may be quite image-conscious and unusually ambitious for your own career for a Helper career type.

If the Helper describes you, what do you consider your greatest strengths factors? Rate yourself below (or stay tuned to read about the other career types).

How do you rate your ability to communicate emotions or ideas to one person or a group successfully?
LO 1 2 3 4 5 HI

People Skills
How skilled are you at winning people over to your point of view, creating a comfortable environment, conversing, and being diplomatic?
LO 1 2 3 4 5 HI

How alert are you when it comes to picking up insights and awareness about people and other complicated subjects?
LO 1 2 3 4 5 HI

How much can others depend on you to be responsible and to do what you say you will do?
LO 1 2 3 4 5 HI

When a new situation or problem arises, how do you rate your ability to solve it by using your store of knowledge, your own creative solutions, and/or your own intelligence?
LO 1 2 3 4 5 HI

Stay tuned to learn about the strengths factors of seven more career types!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Are You A Perfectionist? Know Your Strengths Factors

By Ingrid Stabb (@ingridstabb)
This is PART ONE of a series that walks you through nine career types. To learn more, see

You’re the Perfectionist if your greatest strengths factor is about “Making Improvements.” If you are the first career type, you are interested in doing what is right. You are clean, neat, fair, idealistic, physically fit, health conscious, or a combination of these. You like to MAKE IMPROVEMENTS, to be CONSCIENTIOUS, and to WORK HARD. Perfectionists shine in roles such as auditor, dentist, fighter pilot, and chef, where they must pay attention to DETAILS. Down to earth jobs where they can be ORDERLY include nurses, mechanics, and personal organizers. Particularly IDEALISTIC Perfectionists may be found as reformers, political columnists, heads of charitable organizations, teachers, and ministers, where they bring PRINCIPLES—-an interest in MORALITY or BELIEF SYSTEMS—-to the workplace.

As a Perfectionist, you try to be good. You can forge ahead on a project, do well in school, and are likely to have been teacher’s pet. Putting a high premium on education, you will continue to learn through life, picking up traditional cues from your surroundings and polishing your values of fairness, cooperation, and self-sufficiency.

Measuring yourself often against others’ performances and your past performances can lead to dissatisfaction, but you try to maintain a pleasant demeanor even if you fall short of your ideal. Having good manners is just one of the areas in which you hold yourself to high standards.

Two career types related to yours, the Helper (the second one) and the Peace Seeker (the ninth one), may especially influence your own personality. Perfectionists with a more developed Helper side tend to be more interested in working with and caring for people; Perfectionists with a more developed Peace Seeker side tend to make use of more objectivity in their work.

If the Perfectionist describes you, what do you consider your greatest strengths factors? Rate yourself below (or stay tuned to read about the other career types).

To what degree do you strive to remain dignified and gracious when relating to others, including as good team players and as good listeners as well as communicators?
LO 1 2 3 4 5 HI

Logical Thinking
To what degree do you think in a methodical and systematic fashion?
LO 1 2 3 4 5 HI

Rate your ability to do skilled precision, thorough, and/or detail-oriented work.
LO 1 2 3 4 5 HI

Rate how conscientious and dependable you are in roles where you are in charge. This may include the ability to handle stress.
LO 1 2 3 4 5 HI

Improving Things
To what degree do you raise the standards of your individual work, move the group project ahead, and/or make the world a better place?
LO 1 2 3 4 5 HI

Stay tuned to learn about the strengths factors of the other eight career types!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Interview with Mallory Bower: Student Affairs Professional

Mallory Bower is new to the field of Student Affairs. In her role as the Assistant Director of Career Services at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Mallory helps students navigate the process of discovering rewarding and personally meaningful careers. She is also an active advocate in the field and seeks out opportunities to network and learn from other Student Affairs professionals. You can check her on her blog: Declaration of Interdependence or on Twitter: @MalloryBower. Meet Mallory Bower.

Will: Who is Mallory Bower? Why Student Affairs? Why Career Services specifically?

Mallory: My name is Mallory Bower and I am currently the Assistant Director of Career Services at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

I am a new student affairs professional and college career coach who works with students to create strategic plans for success. In my role as the Assistant Director of Career Services at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, I help students recognize their strengths and turn interests and passions into meaningful, fulfilling careers.

I am an advocate, resource, teller of difficult truths, and figurative cheerleader. I am a strong believer that education, hard work, and a healthy dose of support and challenge can be the best recipe for success.

I spent a lot of time in college struggling to figure out what I wanted to do as a career. My interest in student affairs happened by accident. I landed an event planning internship with my university’s career center. In addition to my task of planning career and internship fairs, I was required to meet with students and give group presentations. Turns out, I liked this part of the job the most. Both of my supervisors had student affairs backgrounds and they pointed me towards graduate programs and opportunities that would help me break into the field.

Why Career Services? For a lot of people, their careers are a huge part of their life. I think it’s really cool to see a student’s face light up when they finally figure out what they’re meant to do.

Will: How long have you worked in the field? What is your Student Affairs philosophy?

Mallory: I am a new professional. I’ve been working at UNCP for a little over a year, but I have worked in various career centers for the past three years.

I believe that a student’s environment and experiences shapes his or her identity. My approach to working with students is simple: I always assume that I am the first person they have met at the university. If the interaction is a good one for them, they are more likely to make a connection to an office, a person, or an experience. This helps students to become more comfortable in their environment and encourages them to seek out other resources. The more connected and involved a student becomes the more productive and satisfied they are.

Will: What do you find students need the most help with?

Mallory: The students I work with are struggling to find their identity as adults. In terms of career and adulthood, it is sometimes difficult for them to separate what they want from what others want for them.

I think faculty and staff need to do a better job of connecting classroom and out-of-classroom experiences. There needs to be a better tie-in—how will the curriculum help students achieve their career goals? What skills will they need to become hired in their field of choice?

Will: What is the toughest part of your job? What have you learned that you wish you knew coming into the field?

Mallory: The toughest part of my job is convincing students that they need to begin career planning now. Many wait until the last minute to start thinking about careers and job searching. It truly breaks my heart when I meet with graduating seniors who don’t have a plan. Not sure where they’ll be working or living.

Will: There are a lot of strengths and personality tests out there. Are they legitimate? Which one do you use the most in your practice?

Mallory: We use a variety of interest inventories in my office. We use online assessments such as DISCOVER and Career Liftoff to explain Holland codes to students. We also give the Self Directed Search and MBTI. Looking more into StrengthsQuest.

Will: How do you negotiate the impasse of a student loving an academic major and that major not directly leading to a career field? What do you tell those students? Have you ever told one to change their major?

Mallory: I will never tell a student to change his or her major. My job is to listen and to provide alternative/additional options for the student. It is truly heartbreaking when a student has a clear passion for something but will not pursue it because their friends/family want something different.

My role is to support them and to help them think outside the box. Everyone deserves to have a career doing what they love—I just show them how to get it.

Will: We all know that it is tough out there for everyone seeking full-time employment. How has the economic downturn changed how you do your job?

Mallory: I have a lot of honest conversations with my students. About 40% of our May 2010 grads didn’t have job offers or acceptance into graduate school. And that is scary.

The thing is, they know that it’s rough out there. Many students are afraid to fail, so they don’t even try.

It will always be a struggle for career services professionals to reach students early. Students just aren’t focusing on these things early enough. Some aren’t even sure what they can do with the degree they are earning. Beginning to job search two weeks prior to graduation is a surefire way to end up living with Mom and Dad again.

Will: How are you using social media, and what are you teaching students about social media?

Mallory: My office has a Facebook page, Twitter account, and Linkedin group. Our Career Peers are looking to start a blog about students in different stages of their college career.

Our students definitely need to start thinking long-term. We talk about online identity in our Introduction to Career Development course, in Freshman Seminar, and in our presentations to student groups. In our class, we have students complete an “Online Identity” assignment. They are required to type their full name into three different search engines. After viewing the results of the searches, they write a reflection from an employer’s point of view. This has seemed to work very well.

Will: So, what’s next for you? Do you plan on staying in Career Services? If not, what other areas in Student Affairs peak your interest?

Mallory: I’m not sure where I’ll go next or what I’ll be doing. Right now, I love what I am doing, so I’ll be around for a while.

Recently I discovered my particular interest working with first-year students. This is when the magic happens, when we can make a positive impact. Within the first minutes, hours, days on campus… this is when we validate students’ decision to attend college.