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.

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?

How My Master’s Degree Prepared Me

When people ask me if they should consider a post-graduate degree, I almost always say yes. In many ways, my career success can be directly attributed to my masters degree from Georgetown’s Communications, Culture and Technology (CCT) program.

It’s no coincidence that this February 28th’s xPotomac will be hosted at Georgetown University’s Copley Formal Lounge. My former program is sponsoring the event because it includes many new media and communications elements that their students are studying now.

Even though I graduated in 2000, CCT taught me several core skillsets that I use today at work. In addition to a deeper understanding of communications, I also learned quite a bit about technology and how it impacts media. Further, I learned technology diffusion theory, which is how new tools are adopted by cultures and society. In fact, my masters thesis focused on global wireless Internet adoption.

On a sociological level, we learned how technologies impact cultures and individuals alike. I remember one class where we studied dystopican science fiction literature and movies, and analyzed how they represent deep fears presentented by the technological future.

Now the program has evolved quite a bit in 14 years as has technology itself. Today’s student should benefit from these evolutions.

The CCT Program prepared me for what I write about, how I help companies and nonprofits succeed, and the career I’ve had to date. These results drive my enthusiastic response to friends and colleagues who are considering post-graduate education. If it’s a good program in someone’s field or area of interest, I don’t think they can go wrong. While the theories may seem esoteric, in my experience people will soon see how they impact their sector.

In many ways, this ability to read market dynamics provides a great differentiator. I intuitively understand why things happen, and how to approach them. It saves time, and I think more strategically.

A good professional masters program also offers a chevron for job opportunities. Before I went out on my own, Georgetown was mentioned in almost every interview I had by the potential employer. I never received that kind of attention for my Literature degree from American University.

By the way, I know these things aren’t cheap. The eraning gap between a bachelor’s degree and amaster’s degree is not that great anymore. I paid for my own graduate degree, but I think it was worth it. Just some reasons why I encourage folks to go for more schooling if they are so inclined.

What is your experience with graduate school? Did you avoid it, or do you want to go?

The featured image was taken yesterday at Georgetown University’s CCT Design Technology Studio.

Pink, Thomas the Train and Other Choices

We had a week of fun with Soleil. Her third birthday on Tuesday was a blast, and of course last night was Halloween. Soleil was Cinderella, her favorite princess.

People often remark about her love of princesses, all things pink and purple, shoes, kitties, and babies. She’s a girly-girl they say, and we agree, because she likes these things and most boys do not.

But Soleil is more than that. She likes to chase her Daddy and jump all over him while is sleeping (much to my chagrin). Soleil loves Thomas the Train, and trains in general. She also likes playing with building blocks and gears. We already discussed her crazy toddler passion for technology.

I worry about this girly-girl labeling more than I probably should. It seems that’s what we do as humans, afix labels and concepts on people, judge and put them into a box, and assume that’s going to be their life.

Roles Evolve

So you can see I fear that Soleil will become boxed into a submissive girly-girl life. Fortunately roles have evolved for women, but there are many hurdles to overcome as any good Marissa Mayer debate reveals.

I try not to interfere with Soleil’s predilections to like certain things, though I did put my foot down on My Little Pony. God, that’s mindless drivel. She does get to ride lots of ponies and horses, though.

Soleil should be exactly who she is, and that’s OK whether she becomes a powerful executive or a homemaker or anything else. The world is her oyster if she is willing to work for it, and that’s my primary message. There’s nothing wrong with an engineer who wears pink and purple. Or whatever color her evolving fashion palette determines is right.

I want to be present for her during this time. She has a fantastic life ahead of her, and there is much to see, wherever her path takes her. More than anything, I want her to have choices, the ability to discern consequence, and the education to engage intelligently in these acts of mindfulness.

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Obviously, we have the holidays coming up. Rather than spoil her with everything she wants, her gifts will be distributed. For her birthday, she got a baby doll and a kitchen set. By the way, I cook as well, so in Soleil’s mind, I’m pretty sure kitchen life is gender neutral. Nevertheless, there is the historical baggage the kitchen brings.

To compromise and give her choices beyond stereotype, her Hanukkah gift will be a Thomas the Train set. She may never use it (I doubt that), but at least she will have a choice. Daddy is happy to play with trains or wood tomatoes, alike.

Christmas is yet to be determined. The joys of growing up in multicultural house!

Presence in All Paths

Soleil had her three year check-up this week, and it appears that she will be a tall woman. The doctor thinks roughly 5’8″ or 5’9″. I wonder what she will be like, whether the princess phase is permanent and she becomes a model, or if she’ll jump on sand instead of my back and become a volleyball player, or…

There are many paths. They are for her to choose.

My/our job is to be present, and help her learn responsibility, the power of choice, good and bad, and then to empower her as much as possible to succeed.

It really is an honor to be a parent. I am so very grateful to have Soleil in my life.

What do you think?

P.S. Just a reminder that I wll be fundraising for my client the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) today. If you’d like to help me or the other dozen individuals fundraising, here are two easy actions:

1) Participate in the #NCFLBigGive Thunderclap. More than a hundred of people have already signed up to blast out a timed Tweet at noon on November 1 to launch the Big Give. If you’re interested in joining, sign up here and Thunderclap will take care of the rest: https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/5673-support-the-ncflbiggive?locale=en

Please consider making a donation. Just $25 makes a big difference as we try to attain $25,000.

The Screen Time Dilemma

Like most parents, I am concerned with my daughter Soleil’s welfare and education. One of the most disconcerting things about this time period is her interest in video and games, and what is an often poor reaction to being separted from the media.

Soleil throws sever temper tantrums when she video and ipad time ends, which is now causing us to discipline her more frequently. Specifically, we are using corner time, room time, restricted access to video, and grounding to work through this period.

She doesn’t go to school yet, but her start is imminent (waiting on pddy training to take hold). Until then we’re actively reading with her and more. We’d love interactive games and fun learning to be a part of this. She’ll need the skills to succeed later in life, but the impact on her mental and emotional development requires close moderation of use and access.

The Need to Be Engaged

With education in the United States continuing to deteriorate (41st int he world), parents need to be more involved in their children’s welfare. It’s important for parents to actively participate in their child’s education. It’s not enough to go on autopilot and let schools and tools (technology and media) lead the way.

This is one of the reasons why I am thrilled to help my client the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) with its first annual Big Give, or the #BigGive4Families, this November 1. More on this at the end, but in short NCFL’s mission is to use the family as the focal point for learning.

I think that’s more imperative now, thanks to technology. Digital media are advancing so quickly that parents have to be actively involved in their child’s activities. There are many unexpected traps.

One example is the application PBS Kids. PBS offers great programming, but it’s also addictive and creates the Soleil zombie state where she won’t do anything else, and then throws temper tantrums upon separation. Perhaps that’s Soleil’s personality at play, but I would normally feel safe trading on the PBS name. Sorry Daniel the Tiger, but access to you has become restricted (My Little Pony, too).

Screen time behavior is the biggest challenge facing Soleil right now, so all in all, we have high quality problems. Soon she’ll start Montesori school, which has no tech, no phones lying around, etc, and that will help. Notice that we are sending her to private school.

It is my intent to make sure she has the opportunity to participate in the finest schools possible. If that means going to private shcool, then I will work to make it happen.

To be a part of Soleil’s growth, I make sacrifices, the same sacrifices that many parents choose; keeping that camera another year, buying a lesser version of a car, eating out less often, etc. Most importantly, I sacrifice my time. I stay up late and wake up early to work, so I can spend more time with her. I know spending time with Soleil on education dramatically improves her learning process, and increases her chances of a prosperous life.

Many families don’t have access to the education resources that I do, nor do they have the knowledge to learn with their children. Because of cost and the deterioration of the country’s educations system, I feel very strongly that NCFL’s work is necessary.

If you’d like to help me or the more than a dozen individuals fundraising during the #NCFLBigGive, here are two easy actions:

1) It may seem obvious, but if you can’t fundraise the best way to help us make our goal is to donate to my personal fundraiser on November 1 or before. Even $50 makes a big difference as we try to attain $25,000.

2) Participate in the #NCFLBigGive Thunderclap. Hundreds of people will blast out a timed Tweet on November 1 to launch the Big Give. Just sign up here and Thunderclap will take care of the rest.

How do you handle access to phones, TVs and other forms of screen-based media with your children?

P.S. Though NCFL is my client, fundraising is not part of my scope of work. I architected the big give, but also decided to fundraise because I believe in the cause.