A New Found Respect for Teachers

Science teachers having fun at the NSTA show.

For the past year I helped launch Legends of Learning as cofounder and CMO. While I have worked with several education brands before, Legends represents my first dedicated full-time experience. Marketing learning games to middle school science teachers has given me a new-found respect for how hard teachers work.

In addition to the hours they spend at school, teachers often work nights and yes, weekends to prepare lessons for their classes, learn about new teaching methods, grading, and, oh yeah, answering parent and administrative correspondence. In short, teachers work hard.

Time Spent

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Teachers invest time not only in the classroom with today’s youth, but also exploring the vast amount of content and education solutions online. Teaching is often a 60-hour per week job, or more.

In spite of the numerous companies generating curriculum content, it can be extraordinarily difficult to find quality materials in this 21st century, post-textbook world. Teachers spend as much as five hours a week researching content for their classroom.

Teachers will invest more time finding content for subjects that are not over-tested for state and national standards, such as science (where Legends of Learning fits in), social studies, language, and the arts. These subject areas are underserved bu vendors. Most vendors build content for English and math since districts, charter school networks, and schools are incentivized to excel in math and English by our current education laws.

Teachers’ research processes extend beyond actually finding potential content; they also have to thoroughly vet it to see if it will fit in their classroom. Think about how much time we are talking about here. These are startup-level hours on a teacher’s salary.

Think about how much time we are talking about here. These are start-up hours on a teacher’s salary.

Sure, they get summers “off,” but not nearly to the extent most of us think. Districts and private schools have teacher training for weeks prior to the students’ first day. Many teachers go to Edcamps and conferences over the summer for professional development or PD as they call it.

To add insult to injury, schools are often underfunded. Most teachers invest some of their own money to buy classroom supplies and explore professional development because they want to do their job.

A Disaggregated Inundated Community

National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes speaks to our ambassadors at ISTE.

What about sharing content found with each other online? Surely that would save time searching, and maybe even help teachers find resources their peers have already tested.

While this already occurs on a micro level, teachers don’t have a central location like Yelp to read each other’s reviews online.

K-12 education is inherently local. Teacher communities are often limited to their district or perhaps state. Online communities develop based on edtech used, social networks, and learning management system platforms, which vary greatly. Often boasting huge numbers, these teacher networks are quiet with little visible activity.

That makes well-connected, internet-savvy teachers who are well connected online highly valuable in some ways. Tech companies have figured that out, and now seek “ed influencers” to help spread the word about Some say this raises ethical issues. As someone in the space, teachers deserve any extra scratch they can make.

And that’s not because Legends of Learning pays its Ambassadors. We don’t. We incentivize them with free access to our platform, company swag, and funding for trips to PD events and conferences. Payments are strictly for our content reviewers, and we do not find those teacher consultants through our influencer networks.

In my book, if teachers can get a tech company to pay them for their efforts and insights, good on them. They deserve the extra dollars because work hard and are underpaid for their very important role in society: Educating the future leaders of our communities.

Over the long term teachers work this hard because they care about the children they educate. It’s unfortunate that more in society don’t understand the effort teachers put forth for their communities. But I do now, and that’s why I respect them so much more.

The Trump Presidency Ends in Calamity

I remember reading a prediction that the Trump presidency will end in calamity last winter. The author was Richard Nixon’s Watergate lawyer John Dean, an ominous prophet if there ever was one.

Seven months later, I have to agree. Trump’s presidency cannot end with the election of another president. It’s just unimaginable to me. He either passes away in office, successfully overthrows the government, gets impeached, or resigns.

Most of these scenarios will be the result of a calamity. And regardless, you have to look at the continuing series of Trump scandals and mistakes as an unmitigated self-imposed disaster.

Trump is a madman. The body of evidence out there is impressive, much more since I last wrote about this six months ago. Any argument that President Trump would be different than candidate Trump has been completely smashed. He is the racist, lying egotistical despot we thought he was.

Unfortunately, we cannot escape this Administration. Trump continues to destroy the moral fiber of the United States before our eyes, and in the process, is decimating the country’s global standing with trade partners and enemies alike.

No reasonable argument can prevent him from teeing off if he is threatened or angered. That’s what makes me certain that he cannot end his presidency in the conventional manner.

End Game Scenario 1: Passes Away

What if Trump becomes so angry that he turns as red as a lobster and literally implodes, having a fatal heart attack or a stroke of some sort. In fact, it would have to occur while he is holding his smartphone, Twitter app open in mid-tweet.

Would this scenario really surprise you? It would not shock me to get a news alert about Trump suffering a fatal cardiac event. Sooner or later all of that KFC comes back to haunt you. The president does not look like a healthy man.

End Game Scenario 2: Coup

This seemed very likely when Trump first took office. He speaks like a fascist authoritarian and the Republicans continue to enable this Administration’s brutish approach. But as time passed this year, Trump weakened his position through outbursts. Now a coup d’ état seems less possible.

It would take military support to successfully overthrow the government. While Trump has several generals in his cabinet, they are Americans first. In fact, I feel encouraged by the military’s willingness to defy the President and chart its own path, such as denouncing the Charlottesville white supremacist protest and protecting transgender rights.

Still, one cannot help but feel that Trump has done his best to weaken and destroy the American Democracy. Through authoritarian edicts, nonstop attacks on the free press, and attempts to reward Russia for helping his campaign, Trump’s actions show a total disrespect for democratic norms.

The silver lining of the Trump Administration will be more checks and balances in our Democracy to protect the government from future unhinged presidents. The whole episode certainly makes me respect parliamentarian forms of government a lot more, just saying.

End Game Scenario 3: Impeachment

When will the GOP find its values? The party of Lincoln has almost completed its transformation into the party of Voldemort. The Republicans in power are hesitant to undermine their still un-passed legislative agenda. Charlottesville responses demonstrate that Republican leaders would rather hedge their words instead of acting on principles. This well remain true until the GOP base stops supporting Trump.

Perhaps Bannon’s “war” will create enough strife to rip the Republican rug from underneath Trump’s feet, but I sincerely doubt it. Would Robert Mueller’s investigation produce the reason for Trumpers to abandon their demagogue? It’s questionable. We don’t know how bad Mueller’s report will be. One thing is certain, it’s going to take a long time.

Impeachment is a political process. What Breitbart’s new focus on establishment Republicans and Mueller’s report are more likely to do is inspire more bi-partisan rebukes of Trump in the form of legislation that limits his powers.

One possible scenario: Trump’s base will abandon him if he engages in a war that costs tens of thousands of American lives. When our soldiers die abroad without reason, angst comes home to roost. Vietnam and most recently with the Iraq wars have proven this to be true.

Such a war is highly likely, as demonstrated by Trump’s insane bombastic game of chicken with North Korean despot Kim Jong-un. I could also see Trump starting a war for a different reason. War is a very common way to divert the American public’s attention.

When you are under investigation for obstructing justice and colluding with the Russians, and public criticism mounts for draconian reactionary social policies, well, yes, diversions look good. If there is one thing Trump loves, it’s a good red herring to throw at the public.

So yeah, impeachment. It could happen.

End Game Scenario 4: Resignation

Of all the possible endings to the Trump Administration, this is most likely. Trump quits before he is completely shamed. We have seen this over and over again. Whether it was disbanding his business councils this past week, yielding to Russian sanctions from Congress, or settling the ugly Trump University civil action lawsuit, Trump folds the cards when the writing is on the wall.

When his base abandons him, impeachment seems inevitable, or yes, the Trump business lines start tanking thanks to negative brand impact, that’s when Trump resigns. The bad news: Things have to devolve much further, to the point that Trump can no longer stand it.

He’ll manufacture some reason to quit, and declare his time in the White House a success. Most of us will hurl mud at him on Twitter for his final bogus presidential moment, but a collective sigh of relief will be heard across America.

President Pence will finish the term. America will remember what it’s like to work with a civil conservative (and all of the right wing policies he brings) as opposed to a demented tyrant. Trump’s story will live on in infamy for most, but as a hero to some (poor misguided souls).

I could be wrong, but any of those four scenarios seems much more likely than a normal four or eight year term presidency. After all, there is nothing normal about President Trump.

What do you think?

All of these photos were taken at Trump protests in Washington, DC over the past eight months.

Yellow Stars, Pink Triangles, and Blue Crescents

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As part of their systematic program of dehumanizing people in concentration camps, the Nazis made Jews and gays wear yellow star and pink triangle badges, respectively. In the case of the Jews, this eventually led the Nazis trying to kill them off in the world’s most reviled case of genocide. They were also made to wear yellow stars in public, too. Gays were subjected to execution, bizarre medical experiments, castration, and jail sentences.

I bring these horrific atrocities up for a reason. The United States is in danger of succumbing to a dark fear that the country will consistently victimized by Islamic State terrorists, radicalized criminals who state Islam as their cause.

Bigotry waged against Muslims is reaching an all time high in this country, perhaps worse than the period of time immediately following 9-11. Hate crimes are increasing.

To be clear, the acts of radicalized terrorists are those of extreme fundamentalists, nor do they speak for the vast majority of 2.6 million Americans who state they are Muslim. Angst against American Muslims is fueled by the United States’ own radical conservatives, the Christian right and extreme Republicans.

The worst of the worst, presidential hopeful Donald Trump wants to close the borders to the Islamic peoples of the world, all one billion of them. In prior statements (since deflected as taken out of context), the demagogue Trump said he is willing to create a database — the modern registered list — of Muslims.

These rhetorical statements and the actions they imply are dangerously close to taking yet another dark step, requiring all Islamic people to wear blue crescent badges. Fortunately, all of these “solutions” are unconstitutional in our Democracy.

The Inexcusable Rhetoric of Racism

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Image by Padraig Rooney.

Trump’s defense is to have minions state that this is no different than when the United States put Japanese citizens in internment camps during World War II. This was one of the most cruel and embarrassing moments in U.S. history. Forty years later, Republican President Ronald Reagan signed a law apologizing for racism and paying reparations to those Japanese citizens.

Don’t think Donald Trump is alone in his fear-mongering demagoguery. Another leading Republican Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has stated the United States should only accept Christian refugees from Syria because they won’t commit acts of terror.

Christian right leader Jerry Fallwell Jr. suggests that all Americans should carry guns to shoot Muslim terrorists. Because guns are the answer, right? We don’t have enough armed American psychopaths going on mass murder rages. Now let’s arm more people and encourage them to shoot threatening Muslim Americans.

The real issue is ignorance and fear. Ignorant American citizens who don’t understand others, and are now reacting to fear. These people are preyed upon by their so-called political leaders. The end result of this rhetoric? Inexcusable wide-spread racism and bigotry.

This groundswell of hate supports the Islamic State’s rhetoric that Americans hate Muslims. Further, the angst meets the terrorist group’s goal of inspiring fear.

A Time to Be Active

We need to look at the moral fiber of this country. Do we truly believe in the principles outlined in our Constitution, the principles of tolerance and freedom? Or will we succumb to fear and hate-mongering.

If you think it can’t happen, that we won’t force Muslim Americans to wear blue crescent badges or register at the police station in every town they visit, then just consider what happened to Jews, gays and others in Nazi Europe; yellow stars, pink triangles, and horrors beyond the imagination. That Western “civilized” country succumbed to the fear and war mongering of Adolf Hitler.

Informed Americans need to be active in politics right now. It is a time to participate in debates, and make sure your voice is heard. More than anything, this is a time to fight racism and make sure that every American — regardless of race or religion — is welcome as part of our community.

It’s also a time for people to start taking Donald Trump seriously. The GOP has been forced to acknowledge Trump may actually win the Republican ticket. Like the Huffington Post, the rest of us, too, must come to grips with Donald Trump’s demagoguery and damaging statements.

We cannot allow the Donald Trumps and Ted Cruzes of the world destroy all of the great freedoms protected by the United States’ Constitution. To quote one of our founding fathers John Dickenson, “By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.”

I’m Grateful the United States Let Us In

November is time for gratitude in the United States. Yet after the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month, the United States of America is divided about whether or not to let suffering war-torn Syrian refugees into the country. Some Americans fear refugees are hidden agents of ISIS or Daesh as the terrorist group is coming to be known.

The whole conversation sickens me, in large part because the very nature of it goes against the very fiber of this country. So let me proclaim my gratitude this month for the Americans who let my Jewish relatives into the country, refugees of antisemitism in the 19th century and war-torn Nazi Germany.

Most of my ancestors came from Germany and Russia in the 19th century to escape anti-semitism. While conditions were better, they met milder forms of anti-semitism in the United States. My father’s ancestors changed their names from Lowenstein to Livingston to mitigate some of the bigotry they experienced.

One relative decided to fight back. Sigmund Livingston formed the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, which now is simply the Anti-Defamation League, a cause that fights for tolerance of all races and religions.

Later, the last group of my lineage left Switzerland at the feet of the Nazi army, which was granted access to cross the Alps and invade Italy. Though Switzerland was neutral, officials could not guarantee my ancestors’ safety. My grandfather and his brother and sister — the Bigars — were told to flee Lausanne and they did, barely escaping Venice on a boat hours before the Nazis arrived. They made their way to New York with nothing, and started their lives anew.

Freedom Starts at Home

Iwo Jima Blog Version

When you consider the ancestry of most Americans, they, too, were refugees. Whether rebels or slaves, by choice or by force, they ended up here. Thanks to the U.S. Constitution, their descendants have an open opportunity to build better lives here, the so-called American Dream.

Watching politicians engage in every activity possible to deny access to Syrian refugees makes me question that dream. This great prejudice, bigotry if you would, is perhaps one of the greatest exercises in hypocrisy Americans could engage in. For while “Je suis Paris” may be true, so is “We are Syrians.” Almost all of us are descendants of refugees of some sort.

Consider Daesh’s primary proaganda in fighting Western powers is to combat the western enslavement and abuse of Islamic peoples. Daesh, while an acronymn that literally translates ISIS in the Arabic tongue, is a word in its own right (rather than an acronym) meaning ‘a group of bigots who impose their will on others.’ So now we have American conservative bigots supporting the Deash bigots’ logic and their justification to enact atrocious acts of terror.

Perhaps Thanksgiving 2015 is a time to consider what this country still believes in. I hope it remains freedom and tolerance. If so, this outbreak of fear-driven racism should pass. We should embrace Syrian refugees and help them stand up and find a path to a more prosperous life in the United States.

After all, freedom begins at home. If we can’t practice the principles we espouse to the world in the United States, then being “American” stands for nothing but hypocrisy. Our brand of freedom should not be a condition of race, creed, or belief. And for that reason alone we should allow screened Syrian refugees to relocate here in America.

Thank you to all of our ancestors, those that left their homes for a better life in America and those that embraced the refugees of yesteryear, helping them find their way. I am grateful for what you built. I hope this generation continues those principles.

4 Ways to Reboot and Adapt New Skills

Recently we discussed surviving rapid change in media technologies. There comes a point where we embrace the fear of change. We accept it as inevitable, and grow willing to adapt new methods and technologies. But how does one go about embracing new skills?

Going back to college for a second degree is not an easy choice, both from a time commitment and from a financial perspective. One could debate whether or not another college degree could prepare you for a new profession given how fast technology is changing everything.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a Masters degree in Communications, Culture and Technology from Georgetown. I still use the lessons learned, but my degree was from 2000. The long-term value was learning media dynamics, and how to think about the way people use communications tools.

Getting that degree was expensive, and it’s not something I can easily do again. So, in that vein when I need to learn new technical skills, I turn to alternative methods. Here are some ways I have embraced learning.

1) Experiential Learning

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Millennials (in general) have a great attitude about change. My friends Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter, co-authors of When Millennials Take Over, note that Millennials discard and adapt new technologies with the times. If one technology stops working, they move on to the next tool.

Learning by simply adapting a new method or tool can be extraordinarily difficult. Yet learning through experience can provide the deepest and most impactful knowledge. You know firsthand because you adapted by trial and error.

The challenge in this method is what I would call a sophomoric failure. A false confidence about how a technology or method works can carry you until a challenge arrives. There are often many tutorials online from people who have done the same thing, a virtual “YouTube University”, and sometimes these how-to articles and videos can help. But if the challenge is too stifling it could cost you a project or a job.

I would argue this is the challenge some social media experts face. They play with tools and talk about them, but cannot execute on projects based on their experience. A deficiency in the larger communications skill set is often the problem.

I self taught myself social media and learned several lessons along the way, including being more personal, reciprocation, etc. I became better with practice, but if I didn’t already possess other communications and marketing skills prior to my social start in 2006, I would have struggled a lot more.

2) Conferences and Seminars

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Seminars, one-day workshops, and conferences are a quick way to jolt your thinking. They help you think about challenges in a different way. These types of events usually offer a quick lesson(s), and some examples from a more experienced person(s).

The value of a seminar is a quick fix to stale thinking. It may be all you need. But make no bones about it, the impetus is still upon you to learn and excel after the event.

Further, it’s important to have a discerning eye at conferences. Not all events are created equally. At even the highest quality conferences, not all sessions are equal. To use the social media expert analogy again, you may be just getting more sophomoric knowledge from another sophomore. Look for real examples and experience to discern the value of the tips offered.

When I first sought outside experience in 2014 to break out of a stagnant period as a photographer, I paid for three workshops from KelbyOne, National Geographic, and Nikon. The lessons were valuable, and I still use them today.

3) Intensive Experiences

Soleil, the Thinker-4

A different method of learning is to take on an immersive experience. This basically puts you into a highly engaged full-time work simulation or learning environment. You are run through numerous exercises under the guidance of an experienced professional or instructor.

The effort is intense. It can blow your mind. But the new skills gained are invaluable and can really help you break out of a rut, and forge new ground. The trick is to continue using the skills in your regular work.

There are many examples of intensive workshop environments. Today’s coding academies are great examples. Language immersion seminars and schools are a more classic example.

The Santa Fe Photography Workshop I participated in over the summer was one such experience. I learned quite a lot, and have since used the tips Tony Corbell passed on in several situations, including the above photograph of my daughter Soleil.

4) Continuing Education

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Getting away for a week to several months may not be an option for many people. This is where traditional education and corporate training comes into play.

Learning through continuing education credits may not be as hip as a conference in a schwanky location or an immersion course, but it offers a proven way of learning new skills for work. The time commitment is much more reasonable (one or two evenings a week), and while homework isn’t necessarily fun, it offers a familiar routine for most.

Consider that many employers will compensate you for taking on a training program. It makes you more valuable to them. And continuing education and approved training courses are considered to be more acceptable and safe methods of learning.

When I worked at TMP Worldwide 15 years ago, I got moved into business development for a period of time (Yeah, I know, embarrassing, but I loved it!). At the time, my manager assessed my skills and suggested a Dale Carnegie sales training course. By the time two month-long class was over I had become the class SalesTalk champion, and I closed two multi-million dollar deals within the next year. Not too shabby.

These are just four ways I have learned new professional skills outside of the traditional college degree. What would you add for those looking to sharpen or reboot their skills?

RFP: Request for Pain

Having done two mandatory tours of duty in the big agency world, I understand the RFP process. It’s a necessary evil to win most large accounts. However as a small business, I find them to be downright painful. An RFP ought to be called a Request for Pain.

As a small business owner, RFPs are extremely taxing. Consider that in a large or mid-size agency you have business development and senior staff dedicated to winning this kind of business. In a small agency like mine, you are basically pulling time from a very limited resource pool. Instead of focusing on local networking events, phone calls, building relationships online, and developing useful content, you spend 20, 40, 60 or more hours building a proposal and pitch.

The odds of winning RFPs are not good when you are small. I would say the same thing for a large agency, but is easier to dedicate the resources and mitigate the risk.

You almost always have to have a prior relationship, and get the RFP written to you, or intelligence to help you shape your pitch. There is almost always a favorite or two in the dance.

If you do not have a prior relationship, question whether it is worth your time. Many times the third through fifth firms have been referred as good agencies that might be able to do the job, but the odds are long. In the cases were the RFP is hard-wired, some or all of players three through five are asked because they can’t win. They have a glaring flaw.

In the case of a small agency, size is almost always in issue. In a wired RFP, a small agency is an easy kill. Scaling questions must be addressed to the client’s satisfaction. Sometimes this is overcome with a focus on niches, such as community management or social media content. With larger contracts, though, even the ability to scale quality niche work becomes an issue. Most large companies don’t want to deal with a network of consultants and small boutiques to achieve scale. Can you blame them?

People do business with people they like. So if there is no relationship, you have to become the darling of the potential client very quickly and get the same type of intelligence that the favorites receive. That can be hard to do. If the client is cold and distant during the initial RFP process consider it a clear warning that you are wasting your time.

I almost always decline to participate in RFPs because of these many issues. The pain is not worth it. At least for a small firm like mine. My time is better served networking and building relationships for projects and winning business with people that know and trust me (and my firm).

What do you think of RFPs?