Gates & Jobs on education

I found this passage while enjoying Walter Isaacson’s transcendant biography of Steve Jobs.

“[When they last met, near the end of Jobs’s life], Jobs asked [Gates] some questions about education, and Gates sketched out his vision of what schools in the future would be like, with students watching lectures and video lessons on their own while using the classroom time for discussions and problem solving. They agreed that computers had, so far, made surprisingly little impact on schools – far less than on other realms of society such as media and medicine and law. For that to change, Gates said, computers and mobile devices would have to focus on delivering more personalized lessons and providing motivational feedback.” (Kindle location 9507/12477. Emphasis added.)

Anthony Cody’s blog post, “Bill Gates’ Big Play,” adds further context to the scope of Gates’ plan and intentions.

If this teaching technique reminds you of the flipped classroom, you’re not alone.

My first question: what will teachers do with students refusing to do the pre-work to make the class time useful?


Video, marketing, you, and your work

Premise: Ideas gain audience through the sharing made possible by social media.

How did video become an expectation in our marketing plans?

  • Video is inherently personal. We love to share video because we love to share stories. We love to share stories because stories are the means of sharing our lives. Video turns enormous corporations into a group of people working on something interesting – and shows us how we might become a little part of what they’re doing if we use their products.
  • iMovie set a standard for ease of use. Windows Movie Maker might be simpler for some tasks, but only because iMovie came first.
  • Technology (processor speed and data transfer) grew to reduce the time we invest making, editing, and uploading our masterpieces. At the same time, high-definition video cameras shrank to fit in our pocket.
  • Social networking made sharing our work exponentially easier, thus multiplying the potential return on investment (see #3).

Why isn’t every single school and small business riding the video express? Here’s three out of many possible reasons (with a literary parallel):

  • We might not articulate why a video isn’t impressive, but thanks to a lifetime spent watching television, our culture sees the difference between Quality and Not-Quality. (Literary parallel: think of the last time you closed a webpage or turned off your Kindle (or even shut a book) before you finished reading. Why was it so easy to stop?)
  • Quality videos take much more knowledge to shoot than we realize. (Literary parallel: though many writers use computers, not everyone with a computer can write.)
  • Quality videos take much more time to produce than we realize. (Literary parallel: though great editors use Microsoft Word, using Microsoft Word won’t make you a great editor.)
What do we do?
  • Learn about social networking for individuals and businesses. Start with Groundswell, then discover that there are 33 million people in the room with you. (Yes. Right now. Thought you’d want to know.)
  • Learn How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck. I’m truly sorry if the title of this book offends you – but you’ll be much more offended by your audience’s comments if your videos don’t reflect these principles of videography.
One last thing – I’m not talking about changing careers to become a professional videographer. 80 percent of what you must know will come in the first 20 percent of the time you invest learning. Become what Samuel Adler called an excellent amateur – a rare and refreshing designation, and a compelling goal for any life-long learner.

How ideas gain audience

Over at Project Domino, Seth Godin identifies three factors relevant to a spreading idea –  “a fabulous idea, a compelling salesperson and a media channel that enables that idea to spread.” Read all about it here.

Independent schools should learn something from this concept. Combine  a story about an innovative school program (fabulous idea) told by our students (compelling salesperson) over social media channels (a cheap, simple way to spread the idea to a broad audience), and we have a much larger market than we might expect.

I wonder what Seth would think of Philips Andover’s approach. According to Ian Symonds, this sort of video reveals the “new normal” of independent school marketing.

Will we wait until social media becomes yesterday’s news before we turn its possibility to our advantage?

Purposeful Participation

I believe social media has enormous potential for connecting individuals and tribes who would otherwise live in ignorance of each other. If you are peering into this arena, or are new to the environment, you will do well to read this post addressing some critical issues of purpose by Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald.

How many “issues” regarding social media may be traced to ignorance, miscommunication, or misaligned expectations? Avoid – or reduce – those issues by first determining your purpose in social media participation.

Essential reading: Groundswell by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li.  If you won’t make time to read the whole book, at least review these slides.

Additional reading from Bradley & McDonald: Six Attitudes Leaders Take Towards Social Media. Which one describes you?











A leader’s legacy

Every sitting or aspiring head at every independent school should consider the implications Michael Schrage presents here.

The greatest threat to Steve Jobs’s legacy….is his board of directors.

Jobs himself feared this. “Hewlett and Packard built a great company, and they thought they had left it in good hands,” Jobs told Isaacson. “But now it’s being dismembered and destroyed. I hope I’ve left a stronger legacy so that will never happen at Apple.”

Leaving a charismatic legacy is one thing; leaving behind a board with wisdom, judgment, and entrepreneurial courage is quite another….Board competence — as much or more than successor CEO headmaster capabilities — determine how well cultural values and leadership legacies endure or ebb away.

Independent schools flourished by the strength of many hands even before Pearl Rock Kane gave “farewell” to the “lone warrior” leadership model. Without many hands making vision into familiar and constant practice, even the visions of a prophet will fade.

Do our distinguishing programs rely on the vision of a single leader, or upon communal values established and maintained throughout our governance?

Have we led the communal work of establishing powerful mission and shared purpose drawn from a vision, or do we hope a “strong reputation” and “the highest expectations” will be sufficient?

At every level of our leadership, we should know what will change – and will NOT change – upon our departure – if we wish to build an enduring legacy within our schools.

Apple will answer these questions, one way or the other, in days ahead – as will each independent school community facing leadership transitions.

Classroom function and form

From Seth Godin, “Form and function“:

“When a change in form comes to your industry, the first thing to discover is how it will change the function.”

I wonder if we will ever have lasting change in American education while the traditional classroom form, designed for content delivery to a group, continues as the dominant physical feature of a student’s school experience.

Outward Bound

My friends at Outward Bound shared my summer experience on their blog.

I remain forever grateful to OB for the opportunity – and to those with me in the mountains, who made the experience truly unforgettable.

Faculty recruiting

More people have a Facebook account than a passport.

According to the linked article, 95% of current university students have Facebook accounts.

What will happen to faculty recruitment as these students complete degrees and seek employment?

How will these young adults engage our school culture?

How might we attract them? How might we repel them?

Pretending our schools will not encounter generational conflict is self-deceptive, harmful to our school’s long-term success, and a hinderance to growth.

What must we learn – first as leaders, then as learning communities – to embrace a thoroughly networked generation into the teaching ranks?

The little white lies hidden in the fabric of school culture will not be kept secret in a networked world. (The for-profit world is already learning this lesson.) We will perpetuate those half-truths to the peril of our reputations – or we will embrace a new level of integrity and reap the rewards of transparency in our learning communities.

The choice will be ours.

Update: A New York Times article, “Social media history as a new job hurdle,” tells of a company conducting background checks constructed completely from social media sources.

From the article: “We are not detectives,” said Max Drucker, chief executive of the company, which is based in Santa Barbara, Calif. “All we assemble is what is publicly available on the Internet today.”

Digging deeper, we learn, “Less than a third of the data surfaced by Mr. Drucker’s firm comes from such major social platforms as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. He said much of the negative information about job candidates comes from deep Web searches that find comments on blogs and posts on smaller social sites, like Tumblr, the blogging site, as well as Yahoo user groups, e-commerce sites, bulletin boards and even Craigslist.”

Why I’m surprised that anyone is surprised. How did we ever imagine anything on the Internet was going to remain private?

When I compose Merlyn’s Rules of Digital Communication, I will include these words: permanence, availability, and immediacy.

Deep Knowledge

Seth Godin notes the value of deep knowledge.

I’m reminded (again) of Ben Carson’s story. When Ben realized he learned best by reading, he stopped going to class (save for labs & exams) and began systematically reading his way through the course materials.

To Ben, the assigned materials were just the beginning. He read the sources & cited works for the assigned reading, then read the source materials for THOSE works.

His knowledge exceeded his peers and eventually catapulted him to the chair of pediatric neurology at John Hopkins University, where his contributions redefined his field. When Dr. Carson was 36 years old, he led a team of neurosurgeons in performing the first successful separation of Siamese twins joined at the head (craniopagus twins).

Read more about Dr. Carson at the Academy of Achievement.

Dr. Carson’s story never fails to inspire me because his entire life exemplifies a person committed to doing the best work possible with the resources at hand.

My list of excuses becomes much shorter when I remember Dr. Carson’s story.

How is your knowledge of your field?

Learning resilience through school admission

We are counting down to this year’s announcement day for high school acceptances. The season begins with boarding school announcements this week; Augusta’s magnet programs will announce their acceptances at the end of March; Augusta’s independent schools are already admitting applicants.

Jane Foley Fried, dean of admissions for one of the most prestigious and selective boarding schools in the world, posted an insightful, considerate, and utterly compassionate blog entry with wise counsel regarding what to do while waiting for – and after  receiving – The Envelope.

The harsh reality remains that we do not learn resilience without failure, and often repeated failure. We test the truths within our souls under such circumstances.

I have paraphrased and shortened this from Seneca’s thirteenth letter. “It is only in this way that the true spirit can be tested – the spirit that will never consent to come under the jurisdiction of things external to ourselves. This is the touchstone of such a spirit; no prizefighter can go with high spirits into the strife if he has never been beaten black and blue; the only contestant who can confidently enter the lists is the [one]… who has been downed in body but not in spirit, one who, as often as he falls, rises again with greater defiance than ever.”

What lessons will we teach our students in the long hours of waiting before the envelopes arrive?

What lessons will we teach our students in the moments after the envelope is opened?

Will we act with maturity – as Kipling, to “meet with Triumph or Disaster/And treat those two imposters just the same”, or will we be something less than what we ought to be?

The young royalty watch us, and will remember the lessons of our actions long after the envelope has been forgotten.