Category Archives: Reflections

Innovative Leadership Seminar

How do you decide whether a conference was worthwhile? Many people I know say things like, “If I can just take away one useful piece of information, new tool, or practice, the experience was worth it.” This seems like a pretty low bar to me. Granted, I’ve said the same thing and been happy leaving with that one thing before. But attending conferences is an investment of time and money and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect more..

So, what if you had the opposite experience? What if attending a conference left you with too much information? What if, days weeks later, you’re having a hard time deciding what you want to try out? What if that experience changed the lens through which you view your school, colleagues, and students? What if you connected with a bunch of amazing people? What if you left feeling energized despite it being the end of the school year?


Much of the seminar was at the lovely Hakone Gardens.

Yep, I had that experience at the Innovative Leadership Seminar hosted by the Santa Fe Leadership Center and Hillbrook School in Los Gatos, CA. Here are just a few of the many things worth sharing.

Signature Presence

So much of what we covered at #innolead resonated with me because it was rooted in authenticity. We kept coming back to the idea of your Signature Presence. It’s the notion that we are at our most effective, and innovative, when we embrace our own strengths and weaknesses openly while staying attuned to those of the others we work with.

Practicing Innovation

It’s easy to think only some people are innovative. Sure, some people are natural risk-takers or naturally creative problem solvers. But according to our facilitators, innovation is a personal skill that can be practiced. Careful observation, making connections between your own work and what’s happening elsewhere, thoughtful questioning, networking your ideas with others’, and experimenting are concrete skills we can all adopt and practice. Doing so will help new ideas emerge.

Need Finding and Empathy

Again, authenticity. Make a real effort to find the needs of your organization and those you serve. Doing so requires us to empathize with others, going beyond walking in their shoes to explore the implicit needs that may not be easily expressed, or even known.


Look for stories. Tell stories. Our lives are stories. Instead of distilling and presenting information, tell the story around why that information is important. This is infinitely more useful for everyone. Here’s one area I need to work on.


The world of education is abuzz with Design Thinking and how to incorporate it into the classroom. One of the primary steps in the design process is to iterate your work. Stop shooting for the perfect solution or product. Start small, observe and test, make small changes, rinse and repeat. If you are someone with perfectionist tendencies, as I am sometimes, this presents quite the challenge. Nonetheless, it’s resonated with me and I’m adopting it fully!

Visual Communication

I’m a very visual person so this was pretty cool for me. The seminar included a presentation from The Grove Consultants International founder David Sibbet. He shared many visual tools with us that can be used to collect, process, and elicit ideas in group settings. David was one of the first to promote the use of the visual note taking like the popular RSA Animate videos. This type of drawing on the fly can help audiences understand the presenter’s material while also helping the presenter understand what’s coming across.

I could go on for a long time praising the Santa Fe Leadership Center and the amazing job they did with the Innovative Leadership seminar. Thanks to our facilitators Carla Silver, Greg Bamford, Ryan Burke, Richard Kassissieh and Mark Silver. And thank you to all the new friends I made!


Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Reflections


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#EdCampLA Reflections

EdCampers at the session board.

Have you ever had a week like this? Something awesome happens that gets you excited about life and your general direction. Then you spend the next few days riding the wave of good feelings only to have them rudely interrupted by a slew of unforeseen events that force you out of your usual routine. It’s like you’re enjoying your favorite dessert and then, on the last bite, your tooth is broken. You spend the next week nursing a sore mouth but still thinking about how wonderfully delicious that dessert was. This past week has been  like that. I won’t go into details but my awesome event in this story was EdCampLA and I’m still thinking about how great it was.

I’ve posted about EdCamps before here and you can read even more at the EdCamp Foundation site. Special thanks to the EdCampLA team: Bill Selak (@billselak), Gayle Cole (@ghkcole), Stephen Davis (@rushtheiceberg), Jamie Gravell (@dontworryteach), Jayme Johnson (@jaymej), Lisa Dabbs (@teachingwthsoul), Vicky Sedgwick (@visionsbyvicky) and John Umekubo (@jumekubo). You were awesome! I’m also glad 15 of my talented co-workers from CEE made it out. Thank you for your contributions. And thank you to our amazing school for hosting.

EdCampLA was terrific and it was great seeing so many familiar faces from previous EdCamps, conferences and local schools. A fun activity that has become a regular at conferences for me is matching faces to online personalities. I love having my impressions of people affirmed. So many people in my PLN are constantly posting intelligent things. To see that their “real-life” personalities are just as interesting makes me feel good and reaffirms my belief that what we are doing here is real life, too.

I keep returning to a thought I had during lunch, really the combination of two ideas. The first is that Twitter is a “human filter” you create to get what you want out of the Internet. At any one time your stream has a completely unique feel dependent on who is currently online and active. EdCamps are like face-to-face Twitter. Each one also has its own feel and the mix of ideas that come out of each are wholly unique. You can’t reproduce it. That’s the magic of unconferences. They’re like the salons of the past.

Here are some highlights from EdCampLA. Thanks to everyone who came out and participated. EdCamps are impossible without interested participants who are willing to share.

  • New friends were made. Great things were learned. People were inspired. We ate pizza.
  • I wasn’t able to attend this but Chris Thinnes (@CurtisCFEE) and Catherine Rhee led what sounds like an invigorating session on Public-Private School Partnerships. By the way, if you’re not following Chris on Twitter your stream is lacking.
  • Jo-Ann Fox (@appeducationfox), Jessica Park (@packwoman508), and Karen Foerch (@kfoerch) facilitated discussions on great apps for the classroom and teachers.
  • Bill Selak (@billselak) did not suck in his leading the EdCamp staple session “Things That Suck”. Side note: learn how to lead this session with Bill’s easy instructions. Our admin and faculty, of whom 15 attended EdCampLA, were so stoked on “Things that Suck” that we used it in our last faculty meeting.
  • Another session I wasn’t able to attend but heard so many good things about was Dave Burgess’ (@burgessdave) session called “Magic for Teachers”. Some of my coworkers were inspired and talking about it days later.
  • ton of awesome tools were shared at the Slam.
  • Then some blog posts were written. Make sure to check out David Theriault’s (@MrTheriaultFVHSHip-Hop Reflection.

Check out the EdCampLA Wiki for resources from the day and here’s an archive of the tweets.



Posted by on January 20, 2013 in EdCamp, Reflections


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Google Teacher Academy Reflections


I spent two days last week at the Google Teacher Academy at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA. Even though friends who have attended previous academies assured us it would be “life changing,” I had serious reservations about even applying.

First, I’ve been in edtech long enough to know how much money is at stake in this industry and how hard companies work to win us over. I wondered, what business does a multi-national, multi-billion dollar tech company have “certifying” teachers? Aren’t we certified and licensed enough? Aren’t huge corporations exactly who we want to keep out of education? Is this program a type of edtech elitism? Those are valid questions, but I decided to put them aside for now and trust those who went before me.

I’m glad I did. The experience was great and I met many great people.

Of course, the two-day event was packed with learning. We delved into Google Apps and learned a lot of new tips and strategies from CUE’s lead learners. A special thanks goes out to Jim Sill who led our team. Presentations from an impressive lineup of Googlers, including CFO Patrick Pichette and “Education Evangelist” Jaime Casap were also really great. We were also treated to video chats with developers and Googlers sharing some new features.

I could go on forever with tips and tricks we learned. But for me, the real value of the Academy was seeing first hand how Google operates. Google’s focus isn’t education, it’s innovation. As Pichette told us, they have a mandate to innovate. They know that giving employees space and autonomy is the perfect recipe for doing great things. That’s why employees are given 20% time to work on their own projects, and the results are sometimes amazing.

Photo Dec 05, 12 43 09 PM

“Everyone deserves to whistle to work.” – Patrick Pichette, CFO, Google

I think that schools could learn a lot from Google. Instead of over-scheduling, over-testing, and over-teaching, how about a little autonomy, or maybe some 20% time? I think we’d be surprised at what students would learn and create on their own. I applaud the teachers who have already started this with their classes.

Listening to Google employees speak, you can hear that they love their jobs and believe in their work, which is pretty amazing. We should be aiming for the same thing. Our students should be excited about their work and their projects. We just need to get out of the way.

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