Monthly Archives: March 2014

Learning from March Madness

March madness is here.  My team lost the Big Ten Tournament Championship yesterday (University of Michigan vs Michigan State University) so I’m in recovery mode.  I watched the battle this time with great interest in players’ skill, technique and seamless ability to adapt to the quick moves, change-ups and turnarounds that happen repeatedly in this kind of contest.  Michigan State suffered this season with the loss of their top players to injuries.  NowImage they are back!

The physical/mental/emotional responses are a marvel.  Needless to say, days, weeks, years, hours of practice contribute to these seemingly innate abilities.  All accomplished through team collaboration, immediate feedback, ‘rinse and repeat’ scenarios until these athletes are spent in all imaginable ways.  These guys came to the university with already demonstrated prowess. But they had to gel with coaches, culture and fellow team members to become a viable contributor to success on the court. Egos had to be set aside; the value of ‘we’ vs ‘me’ had to be instilled.  At the same time, each player’s strengths needed to be lauded and keenly developed in tandem with others’ in order to hone a victorious squad. Yes, this is a metaphor for school transformations and meaningful uses of technology in a personalized environment.

Every child brings skills, interests and needs to the learning arena. Though they aren’t chosen or recruited for our schools they have value to contribute to their personal achievement as well as in collaboration with fellow learners.  What if we educators (coaches in a sense) knew early on what each learners’ strengths were and embedded them in a scenario for goals for achievement both on the individual’s and group’s levels?  There would be emphasis on activating the learner’s abilities toward potential while honing a collaborative model among all learners.

With the use of technologies – learners can collaborate face to face and virtually. These powerful avenues in tandem have the potential for changing a school culture while developing a winning team of achievement-oriented students.  Imagine the levels of support among learners there would be. Each having the others’ back – helping, guiding, reflecting on progress, needed resources and analyzing results.  It’s like watching films of previous games – assessing each person’s contributions, hand-offs, team effort and where greater focus was needed.  Sports teams rely on each player’s abilities to react quickly and seamlessly – to flex automatically in reaching the goal.  Learning in today’s education can become this because of the potential to highly integrate and make ubiquitous the meaningful uses of technologies….individually and collectively.  Feedback can be quick and immediately reflected upon; the change-up toward greater success can be automatic.

Of course, to achieve the above in schools it will take time and focus. It will require educators to adopt and understand the necessity for the changes to occur to best meet the needs of a new century in a new age of faster than the speed of sound information.

School administrators stand in yet another key position.  Following the thought process above he/she can adjust a culture to accommodate the same collaborative, rapid, team exchange among the adults on board. Honing each educator’s skills, finding connections and building robust communities of practice is like building a strong athletic team – aimed at mutually agreed upon goals of changing schools for the better and personalizing the experience for each child.

Leslie Wilson
CEO – One-to-One Institute
Co-author – Project RED


Disrupt? No, Enable!

Reading “Monuments of Tech” by Quentin Hardy, in Sundays NY Times (, I thought about applying scenarios presented to traditional schools.

At the Facebook (FB) offices in Menlo Park, California, no one has an office. Space is mentally and emotionally reconfigured to encourage experimentation, risk, trial and error and personal and group analysis.  The unofficial motto is ‘hack’…we’ve learned the downside of malicious hacking activities – but at FB they’ve adopted this in the engineering definition meaning to remake something with a novice’s “passionate disregard for the usual rules”.  The ecosystem supports this hacking mentality by providing support for the engineering mission even when the lights go off, batteries die or devices are faulty.  Everything is designed to change thinking….to keep people coming up with new ideas, new solutions.

At FB, furniture is often replaced without notice, just as the FB home page design and functionalities frequently change.  People are initially annoyed – but then quickly adapt and move forward.  The culture created is one of expectation of change and one’s ability to adapt and be flexible within that kind of ecosystem.

At Twitter, informal meetings are encouraged via a low stress environment and open-plan work areas.  Files and furniture are on wheels so workers can take up the location of their choice and have their work tools readily available.  There is a pervasive sense that ‘nothing is permanent’.  They have the belief that ‘we must all change, all the time and yet architecture demands that we must also represent something lasting’.  To my thinking that means the Twitter folk know that change is of the essence and that within that knowledge and experience is the stability of understanding that this is the permanent structure of what they do.

Google’s offices are really a gigantic testing/data center.  Every move they make around employees (and customers) is driven by extensive data gathering and analysis; everything they do requires affected employees to evaluate the friendliness, efficiencies and overall experience for what just happened.  At Google, it’s not just about writing code, creating or how fast you work, it’s about what you ‘experienced’ in what you did – emotionally, and how much energy you had when you got home to spend quality family time.

Disclaimer here – I’m not comparing education to business operationally or otherwise. What I’m doing, what I always do, is fiercely find lessons learned, expert practices that can serve as jumping off points for how to well transform schools to best serve students.  Schools are grandly known for their traditions, lockstep schedules, rules, predictable expectations and the like.  We’ve been at the school reform business for so long with so few lasting results that I love to examine how other organizations transformed and determine if any of those strategies can be applied in schools.

There are examples of schools doing uniquely flexible things with schedules, flipping, blending, etc.  Even within those environments – what if teachers had a major disregard for the usual rules?  What might happen?  No doubt the school would be turned upside down with turmoil that would distract from day to day activities….and what would happen when that dust settled? What lessons would be learned? What take-aways would there be?

When I was a high school principal, some teachers wanted to hold classes in the school’s courtyard from time to time. They did. What chaos ensued!  Teacher peers complained that it was a distraction and disruptive for everyone.  It resulted in a whole school dialogue about how to ‘solve’ the problem.  Long story short, we created so many student-focused disruptive practices that they became the ‘norm’. Teachers had the freedom to activate learning experiences for students that they themselves initiated using many different spaces in and around the school. Heck, we had many faculty meetings on the lawn in front of the place.  It became an organic learning world for all of us.  Teachers and students brought ideas forward for improving all manner of student experiences.  Each was presented, researched, collaborated upon and decided go or no-go based on the benefits for learning outcomes.  We changed ‘time’ and personalized learning through new scheduling, student advisor time and a whole school ‘care team’ for critical conversations about students’ success.

What if education administrators sought waivers for the state, federal and local mandates, teacher contracts, seat time, etc., in order to institute an anytime and anywhere learning environment that was student-driven?  I’ve been in schools where the bricks and mortar are extinct. Students work beyond classrooms in spaces that are conducive for small group collaboration.  The coming together of the whole group happens as needed. Students lead their learning through the power of 1:1 technologies and how teachers have activated the learning experiences in advance. The whole school and beyond is a learning sandbox.

A high school principal in a suburban Detroit high school instituted a daily schedule that was different every day!  On Monday’s students attended periods 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. On Tuesdays they followed 3, 1, 2, 6, 4, 5..and that schedule changed up every day through Friday.  To know where one must ‘be’ next, students and teachers had to ‘think’ about what day it is and ‘recall’ what schedule for that day to follow.  Imagine the advance planning students and teachers had to do to be ready right day, time and place! Yes, teachers were annoyed with what seemed to be a useless ploy. But the school culture was vibrant, smart and became a cultural phenomenon.  Students excelled academically, the parent community was highly involved and celebrated their school.  Of course the schedule had little to do with those outcomes.  It was the personal and interpersonal dynamics that were created and the culture of things changing everyday that drove individuals to be in tune and aware to be together.

There is so much that can be accomplished with ‘thinking’ about how to create the learning environment most conducive to the expected outcomes of student achievement, readiness for engagement in a profoundly changing information age, personalizing and maximizing every students’ school experience.

Leslie Wilson

CEO – One-to-One Institute

Co-author – Project RED