Sunday, August 21, 2016

Happy to Be Here

Dear Teachers,
It's hard for me to believe, but I've been in my current role of Instructional Technology Specialist almost 10 years. It was 16 years ago that I started in this district as a middle school librarian. That means I'm starting my SEVENTEENTH year in the district. I can't say it seems exactly like yesterday, but it definitely doesn't seem like close to two decades.

Where does the time go, anyway?

When I started back to work in 2000, I had been home with my kids for several years; they were 9 and 7. Now they are 25 and 23. I was married to the wrong person at the time; now I've been married to the right person for over 11 years. The best people I've ever known work in my school district, and I'm proud to call them all acquaintances, and many of them capital-F Friends. My current co-workers are beyond amazing, and I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunities I've had. As grueling as being back in grad school can be, I love what I'm learning. I have ideas that seem to have a good chance of coming to fruition. Life is by all accounts pretty good.

Tomorrow begins another school year. You may have not liked children all that much back in May, when the last school year was wrapping up and it was all you could do to drag yourself into your classroom or library every day. But tomorrow. Oh, tomorrow: I know how excited you all are to get to meet your new crop of students and to see how the year will unfold. Into your room tomorrow will walk all kinds of students... those who have every advantage, and those who have never once had an advocate before you came into their lives. They will need you in ways you can't imagine, but I know you: you will rise to their every need and do more than many people would ever dream possible.

I went to yoga this morning, and when my sweet yoga instructor greeted me as I was signing in and gave the usual, "How are you?" my reply came out unbidden: "I'm happy to be here." But I've kind of been contemplating my response all day today.

Happy: I WAS happy to be there. People at yoga always seem to enjoy being there, I make some amount of progress in stretchiness, and I always feel better when I leave than when I went in. I am the kind of relentlessly optimistic person that others probably find annoying sometimes; I can find the silver lining in any cloud.  "Happiness is a choice" sounds like a trite aphorism at times, and I do believe that some people are just wired for optimism or pessimism. But I also think everyone does have at least some degree of choice about how they view and respond to their surroundings. I am basically content, and I count that as a gift.

To Be: The older I get, the more I value the opportunity to just get to live and breathe on this planet. Time moves faster every year; it seems like it was just five or ten minutes ago that we were celebrating Christmas, and here we are almost at the end of August already. What a gift it is every day to wake up and smell coffee and have dog hair to sweep up and get to laugh with coworkers or have dinner with friends and go to bed with my best friend of all. To BE, to exist, to live: when you step back from it, is there anything to say besides WOW. My father died at the age of 44, so I've already had 12 more years than he had. I hope not to squander any time here in this precious existence.

Here: on this planet, in this city, in your home and your school. At yoga, at a great job, even sitting in traffic. Of all the places we could have ended up, we are HERE! Tomorrow your HERE will be your classroom; your students' HERE will be their school, your room. What a great place to be! Make your students' HERE the best place it can possibly be for the next 10 months or so!

Happy. To Be. Here. 

Happy to Be, Here. 

Happy, to be Here. 

Yes. Yes I am. I hope that you are, too. Have a great day tomorrow, everyone!



Sunday, August 14, 2016

Crucial Conversations About Digital Literacy

Dear Teachers,

At last I am coming to the end of my current grad course. It's been something of a brutal five weeks, with coursework that has been challenging to me in addition to my personal whirlwind of professional learning delivery, including multiple Google-related classes, three sessions at the Summer Elementary Academy, training, a week of ETSI, New Teacher training, and many campus visits. Whew!

I've read several books for this class. My second-favorite, Influencer, was all about the Psychology of Change, and the six sources of Influence necessary to effect real & lasting change in an organization. My Influencer Strategy report is here. My favorite-favorite was the one I just finished, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. I had heard the title of this book mentioned in passing from several people in my district, and I'm so glad that my class gave me the push to read it. The book provides fabulous advice for holding all kinds of conversations in different arenas of life. The seven principles of Coaching for Crucial Conversations from the book (2011, p 215-216) should be extremely useful for me in my current plot to take over the world project to improve students' digital literacy (Improving Digital Literacy Through Student-Created Content=IDLTSCC for short). Each of the seven principles has an accompanying skill or skills, and the crucial questions that one should return to when applying each principle.

Principle 1: Start with heart. At the beginning of my current class, we created a compelling Why Statement, and I see that my plan keeps circling back to that why. I appreciate having had to articulate that why statement, because if I lose sight of the reason I'm committed to my project, it won't have much chance of succeeding. My why is this: Digital literacy is not only a crucial component of a student's success as a lifelong learner, it is also, according to Angela Maiers (2016), a human right. Don't miss that part about the human right: students without digital literacy skills will not be able to be full participants in society. Maiers continues, "Students’ lack of mentors and role models for how to behave in the digital arena puts them at risk personally, and impinges their ability to create a permanent digital record of their character and potential to be taken seriously in the world. More importantly, it puts their freedoms on the line." That's a pretty compelling reason to recommit to my own plan.

I want better digital literacy and digital citizenship for all God's children, but I would settle for starting in my little corner of the world. I want students not only to learn digital literacy skills from each other, I want those content creators to recognize the enormous power for good they have by making positive contributions to digital society. I want them to understand that their online actions impact other people - and that they should want to impact other people positively. This project is my tiny antidote - or at least an inoculation - to the negativity that one sees in the online world sometimes. Don't think that negativity can change? I beg to differ! Nobody thought 30 or 40 years ago that smoking would be banned in public places, and look where we are on that one. You and your students can become digital culture change agents starting today!  

Principle 2: Learn to Look. Being a keen observer of both the content of people's conversations and the conditions - how people are reacting to the content - provides opportunities to open up dialog about the process of the whole IDLTSCC plan. I will need to be aware of body language, people (including me) becoming too quiet or getting loud or insistent, and the general climate of a gathering whenever we meet to discuss the project.

A "crucial" conversation has high stakes, strong emotions, and differing opinions (p.3). It would be a mistake on my part to think that my idea is so non-controversial that no one would ever have a dissenting opinion about it! I need to be sensitive to others' opinions, suggestions, and uncertainties about the plan, and to be aware when people might not feel it's safe to challenge me. In general, I try to be very open to others' ideas, and if any of you who are reading this ever sense that I'm being defensive or not listening to suggestions, I hope you'll pipe up! There was one quote from the book that I particularly loved: "The pool of shared meaning is the birthplace of synergy (p. 25)." To me, that means when we all get our ideas out on the table and feel heard, that's when the magic of collaboration really starts to happen - and there is nothing better than that! I did discover that my Style Under Stress might include using too much humor to deflect tension at times; that is something that I am aware of and am actively going to try to get under control. It's hard to break a lifelong habit, but I'm determined to try!

Principle 3: Make it Safe. People need to feel as though it is safe to offer criticism, voice concerns, or even just ask a question. I like to think that I listen and am approachable, but I need to be open to the possibility that other people don't always share that opinion. "Making things safe" does NOT mean watering things down a message to the point where nothing gets accomplished; it means that both parties' mutual purposes have been acknowledged. All parties must assume positive intent. That's so hard, especially if there has ever been a pattern of perceived negative intent. Here's a little trick I try to remember. Whenever I get an email from someone who rubs me the wrong way (it's never from YOU), I walk away and come back to it later. When I open it and read it a second time, I imagine that it is from one of my best friends. Nine times out of ten, the content is much more benign than I might have thought on the first read-through. Assuming positive intent helps everyone to feel safe in the conversation and can lead to much more productive outcomes.

A commitment to mutual purpose creates a feeling of safety, and the acronym CRIB will be useful in establishing that mutual purpose. It stands for Commit to seek mutual purpose; Recognize the purpose behind the strategy; Invent a mutual purpose; and Brainstorm new strategies. In this particular instance, the mutual purpose is allowing and enabling kids to create content about digital skills they possess in a way that teaches others those skills. Hopefully all participating teachers and librarians will already recognize that mutual purpose. If we need to invent another mutual purpose, I also hope that all those involved will be open to brainstorming new ideas and strategies for making the program successful. I commit to being respectful of new ideas and approaches, and to fostering a climate that allows a free exchange of ideas among the participating educators.

Principle 4: Master my stories. Stories are our interpretations of facts, and when dealing with other people we often make assumptions because we don’t have all the facts. I thought the most interesting “crucial question” to ask myself during the process is “What am I pretending not to know about my role in the problem?” - wow, what a lot of insight answering that question requires! My role in problems (the thing I might “pretend not to know") will most likely be in the area of communication. I’ve gone over and over my plan and goals so many times that I could tell the story in my sleep, but that doesn't mean anyone else has spent as much time on it! I may take for granted how clear the plan is to others. Even those educators who have read my blogs and other updates about the project likely don’t have nearly as clear an understanding about it as I might believe they do. So telling my story clearly, with no victims, no villains, and no helplessness, will be something I’ll need to watch myself for. Conversely, I’ll need to monitor the stories I tell myself about what other people are doing (or not doing). It’s tempting to attribute certain behaviors to an assumption (i.e. a story), but there are usually many other options for why someone is doing something than the story I might choose to believe. Assuming positive intent can help to frame a story/assumption in a positive way.

Principle 5: STATE my path encourages us to speak persuasively, not abrasively. STATE is an acronym for Share your facts, Tell your story, Ask for others' paths, Talk tentatively, Encourage testing. This principle allows people to be both totally honest AND completely respectful (avoiding a “Fool’s Choice” of being one or the other). The three ingredients are confidence, humility, and skill - and I’m not sure I have enough of any of those at times for a hard conversation! Confidence and humility can actually be good friends, assuming the confidence does not lead to OVERconfidence and arrogance. I like to think I will be confident enough to have an opinion on how to proceed, but still humble enough to recognize that others may have very valid suggestions for improvements or other directions the program might take. We have wonderful teachers in our district; I would be a fool not to be open to other viewpoints! Talking tentatively does not mean to water down what I’m saying, but rather to avoid being dogmatic. It means giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, and allowing others to see that although I’m confident about my plan, I certainly don’t know everything.

Principle 6: Explore Others' Paths. No idea I ever have on my own will be as good as an idea that has iterated through a group of smart, committed individuals. I'll need to continue to ask for others' input and suggestions on making the IDLTSCC program much better than it would be if I were on my own. This is a time for genuine curiosity about what others are thinking, especially if anyone seems to be moving toward Silence or Violence. It’s all about being open and actively seeking the opinions and suggestions of others. It’s exciting to think about that happening, because the more people feel a shared ownership of the plan, the better chance it has of becoming part of the district culture and continuing long after individuals have moved on.

Principle 7: Move to Action. After all the discussing (and hopefully very little cussing!) it will be time to take action. Principle 7 of Crucial Conversations reminds me very much of the 4th Discipline of Execution: "create a cadence of accountability." This is the step where people make an account of what they have done so far and make commitments about what they will do next. “Who will do what by when” is the way Crucial Conversations puts it: specific, defined steps will help everyone to understand what they should concentrate on next.  Teachers committed to the IDLTSCC program will commit in weekly meetings to the content that they will have their students produce over the next week.

Another component of the plan that I hope to create is a student review panel made up of some of the older students. This panel will decide how to categorize and tag the submitted content, whether the video is of sufficient quality to be added to the collection, whether it is redundant, etc. It will give older students some experience in managing a rollout and will allow them to mentor younger students. The younger students should enjoy getting feedback from “the big kids.”

[Click for more]

As the school year begins, dear teachers, I am excited to see the direction that my - now OUR - project leads us and our students. I wish you all an excellent start to your year. Happy creating, everyone - I'll be in touch soon!



Maiers, A. & Moran, N. (2016, April). Digital literacy is about power and privilege. Retrieved from 

Patterson, K,, Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2011). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Dear Teachers,

I am almost 80% done with my current grad school class, the one that is both helping and vexing me so with my plan to take over the world improve digital literacy through student-created content. My mantra for this course has been "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" because althought the learning has been incredibly valuable, it has definitely not come easily to me. The course title is "Leading Organizational Change" and it's all about helping us execute the Innovation plans that we created in the previous course. I wish I could just say, "My plan is great! It will help kids!" and have that be enough for success, but I'm learning there's a lot more to it than that.

Earlier this summer, I published my original Innovation plan for Improving Digital Literacy through Student-Created Content (IDLTSCC), and I am excited-slash-overwhelmed-by everything I've learned in the intervening weeks that will need to happen in order to make it a reality. This was my initial Innovation plan (click to access the entire graphic):

The previous assignment in my current course had us look at the Influencer model of leading change, which spoke to the psychology of change and why it's crucial to get all six areas of influence working for you when you are trying to change behavior. My Influencer plan is here; I struggled with it, but was basically proud of the final product. (Note to self/you: let your students struggle sometimes. They will own the learning better. As my co-worker is fond of saying, the person doing the work is the person doing the learning.)

This week in my class, I have been applying The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) to my plan. Whereas the Influencer model addresses the psychology of change, the 4DX model addresses the logistics of change: it helps you lay out what actually needs to happen in order for your grand plan to come together and succeed. The models are not competitors, but actually complement each other nicely. I have an idea of how to approach people about my plan thanks to the Influencer model, and an idea of what steps to take from the 4DX model. So I appreciate having learned about both of the models. The 4 Disciplines of Execution are as follows:

Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important Goal (the "WIG")

What teacher is not familiar with what 4DX refers to as "the whirlwind"? Teachers' daily whirlwinds are made up of testing demands, parent phone calls, playground or cafeteria duty, the kid that they just can't reach, the kid that just threw up on everything, an unexpected fire drill, the principal who thinks the teacher would be just PERFECT for a new initiative... does any of that sound familiar? The problem with introducing any new goal or initiative is exactly that whirlwind. McChesney, Covey, & Huling (2012) state that the main reason people don't follow through on new things is most often simply because they are so very busy; the important gets overshadowed and swallowed up by the urgent. The goals of the organization, while important, never have the same immediacy as the whirlwind.

So through the reading of the 4DX book, I've learned that implementing Discipline 1 requires a big shift in thinking: instead of focusing on trying to improve everything at once, I'll focus on my one wildly important goal, or WIG. I'm pleased to be able to say that my WIG fits in very nicely with both our district's Vision Statement (Our schools "...empower students to be able to adapt to new learning and career opportunities throughout their lives, collaborate with, and contribute to, the global community and to be disciplined and creative in their thinking") and our Superintendent's Operational Expectations. My WIG is very similar to the goal I created for the Influencer strategy:

By May 2017, improve digital literacy by making available to students and teachers a website repository of at least 125 student-created tutorials that address basic digital skills.

Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures

Lag measures and lead measures are two phrases that never entered my lexicon before about a week ago. In a nutshell, a lag measure reflects an end goal of some kind, and the lead measures are the measurable steps you take to achieve that lag measure (think goals vs. objectives). So my lag measure, taken from my WIG above, is "improve digital literacy."  Lead measures, by contrast, are predictive of achieving the WIG, influenceable by the team, and measurable (McChesney, Covey, & Huling, 2012, p. 143).

The three lead measures I have identified and hope to focus on are:
  • Curriculum writers for 7th grade Technology classes will include in the online curriculum planner lessons with capstone projects that involve student-created content
  • Teachers will enable the students to become creators of digital content through a classroom culture of student choice, creativity, and leadership
  • At least five teachers will submit at least five pieces of quality student-created content at least five times per year

As I noted in my Influencer report, I am focusing specifically on 7th grade Technology teachers because those are the classes where the content creation can happen formally and in class; any other teacher in my district is welcomed and encouraged to participate, too. (You know who you are!)

Discipline 3: Keep a compelling scoreboard

The scoreboard offers a visual representation of progress toward the WIG, the thought being that people play differently when they are keeping score (McChesney, Covey, & Huling, 2012, p. 155). For this stage of the project, I care mostly about the number of pieces of content collected, so our scoreboard might, by the end of the first grading period, look something like this:

Alternatively, a simple thermometer type graphic that would simply measure total contributions might give more of a feeling of district unity for the project:


The type of scoreboard could be determined by the teacher participants. We might also need to break down the content by subject a bit more; it wouldn't make sense to have 97 videos about file management and none on tips to remember one's password, for example. As the project gets underway, I imagine the teacher participants will begin to take ownership of the scoreboard and will have ideas for how the scoreboard can evolve. 4DX says that the players should be in charge of the scoreboard - so the best possible outcome would be for teachers to demonstrate their ownership of the program by coming up with an amended plan.

One additional benefit of a scoreboard: Covey (2012) states that the single biggest predictor of morale at work is whether employees feel like they're "winning." Think of all the things in a teacher's life that might contribute to feelings of defeat - test scores, lack of student motivation, unhappy parents, etc. A scoreboard that clearly shows that teachers are making progress toward a goal will go a long way toward building morale for the program.

Discipline 4: Create a cadence of accountability

The cadence of accountability involves regular meetings with a specific agenda: refocusing everyone on the WIG.  If you participate in my plan, we will meet via Google Hangouts since we are all so spread out around the district. The first thing we'll do in these meetings is account: catch everyone up on the progress on commitments that were made at the previous meeting. We'll review the scoreboard (it will look different from the one above at first!) so we can figure out who is having success and who might need a little help. Finally, we'll set some new commitments for the upcoming week (these might sound like, "We are almost to the end of the information literacy unit. I'll work with Maria and Connor to complete their screencasts on database usage and then I will share their creations with you.") These meetings will be very brief, I promise - I always try to be very respectful of a teacher's time!

The Stages of Change

The 4DX model outlines the stages of change that one can expect when implementing a new initiative of any kind. The five stages are getting clear, launch, adoption, optimization, and habits. In the first stage, I'm the one who is Getting Clear on my WIG and the whole 4DX process. Writing this blog is helping a lot with own feeling of clarity about the plan. I'll also try to clarify my passions and goals in my initial face-to-face talks with teachers to ensure that everyone else is as clear as possible about the plan. This first stage also includes the identification of the WIG and lead measures, creating the players' scoreboard, and committing to the regular WIG sessions.

The Launch stage has already begun! I have the enthusiastic buy-in of two of our curriculum writers for the 7th grade Technology classes, and their participation in getting the "student creation" capstones written in to each lesson is crucial to the success of the launch. I plan to meet with all of the 7th grade Technology teachers at the back-to-school inservice to introduce the program and answer initial questions and concerns. In addition to the 7th grade Technology teachers, I also have commitments from several teachers and librarians to get the program off the ground in their schools. The curriculum writers, teachers, and librarians who are already committed to the program are my models. The 4DX plan explains that with any new push, you can expect that 20% of people involved will embrace the initiative enthusiastically and are called models. Another 20% are the exact opposite; those negative Nellies who can't wait to tell you all the reasons your plan will never succeed are the resisters. (Don't be that person.) Most people fall somewhere in the middle, the 60% of potentials who might be swayed to become models, given the right conditions. As the program progresses, the goal is to shift the middle of that bell curve to the right.

In the Adoption stage, I'll reach out to more of the potentials with offers to mentor them while the models' enthusiasm for the program increases. I'll also need to deal head-on with any active resisters by working to build relationships and clarify any misunderstandings. As the scoreboard begins to shape up and the team can see evidence of their work with students making a difference, the participating teachers will begin to feel more invested in the program. In the Optimization stage, teachers will  feel more ownership of the program and will likely come up with significant program improvements that are not yet on my radar. I can't wait to formally acknowledge successes as the plan begins to really take hold, and to recognize potentials who start acting like models! Finally, in the Habits stage, teachers may begin to introduce new goals and expectations for student content creation - perhaps on a wider variety of subjects. We'll get to celebrate the success of accomplishing the WIG, and the entire team will come up with new WIGs and lead measures. In the Habits stage, it's possible that a new kind of culture will develop in the classrooms of the participating teachers - now THAT's exciting!


So, dear teachers, that's the latest on my grad school work and on my grand plan to improve digital literacy. It is very exciting to formalize plans that will help my dream become a reality. I hope you are enjoying the final days of summer, and that your own dreams for student success will also be realized this year. Looking forward to hearing from you soon!



Covey, F. (2012, April 19). Executive overview of the 4 disciplines of execution. Retrieved from

McChesney, C., Covey, S., & Huling, J. (2012). The 4 disciplines of execution: Achieving your 
  wildly important goals. London: Simon & Schuster.