Three Minute Thrillers

Three Minute Thrillers are professional development videos packed into 3 minutes or less. I’ve been creating and posting them weekly since the beginning of January, and people have found them to be efficient ways to learn new skills from the comfort of their homes, Starbucks, offices, classrooms, etc.

Most Three Minute Thrillers deal with Google Apps for Education. Check them all out here!

Fiver Fridays

Fiver Friday is a newsletter I send every Friday containing five things I’ve found useful or information regarding education (or somehow related to education). Sign up here to receive the message in your inbox every Friday. You can view the archive by clicking the Fiver Friday tab at the top of this blog.

Thank you, Mrs. Bauer

I hated taking the bus to school during first grade. I was a sensitive kid, and walking to the bus stop was no easy task. My parents meant well having me trek down the street every morning–I think the attempt toward cultivating a little more resilience was noble–but there was an issue that eventually threw a wrench in my parents’ plan for carpool-less mornings and afternoons: The morning bus was always late.

Most kids could care less that the bus dropped them off late at school. The tardiness wasn’t their fault, nor their parents’. The culprit was the bus, so most kids didn’t bat an eye when strolling into class 10-15 minutes late.

I was not one of those kids. If the bus didn’t show up at the stop on time, I cried. When the bus did eventually arrive, I’d cry on the way to school. And when the bus finally arrived, I’d cry while walking off the bus and into class.

I’m not proud of these tear-soaked episodes. I wish I could talk sense to six-year-old Steve. “Don’t worry about the bus,” I want to say. “It’s not a big deal. All you’re missing is attendance and the morning announcement. Maybe you’re missing the pre-spelling test if it’s Monday, but again, not a big deal.”

In my memory, the bus was late a lot. Maybe I’m exaggerating this lateness. Even if I am, I have plenty other reasons why the bus was bad news for me. I remember stepping in dog poop before boarding the bus one afternoon. It didn’t take long for everyone to smell it and begin making fun of me. I also recall a pimply bus attendant who introduced me to Freddy Krueger. I remember the first time he told us first graders about a scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street... it was the part when the heroine is in the bath tub closing her eyes and Freddy’s claw emerges from the soapy water near her feet. I couldn’t take a bubble bath for weeks.

The terror of the tardy bus culminated one morning in a way I’ll never forget. My mom walked me outside, gave me a kiss, and waved goodbye from our driveway. It was a cold morning, and as I made my way to the bus stop I could see my breath, so I pretended to be a locomotive for a while. I was about halfway to the bus stop when I shifted by backpack and noticed it was a little light. I slipped one of the straps off my shoulder, unzipped the bag, and peered inside. My lunch box was missing.

At that moment, the bus made its turn far up the street and began to slow toward the bus stop. It was finally early on a morning I forgot my lunch! With my backpack in hand, I made a dash toward the bus. The bus stopped and two or three students boarded. Then the doors closed and the bus lurched forward. The driver eventually saw me out the window, so he stopped, the door opened, and I jumped inside.

Unfortunately, as I was running my nose started bleeding, so I sniffed back the blood the best I could. Most of the kids probably just assumed I was crying–they obviously had strong prior evidence to believe this was the case. Eventually, they were correct, because I did begin crying. I had an empty backpack with no lunch. I was frustrated about the bus coming early on the day I forgot my lunch. I was embarrassed about getting on the bus late. And my nose was bleeding. I was a hot mess.

Because of the bus’s promptness, no other students were around when my bus mates and I stepped on campus. I walked to my first grade classroom, sat outside on a nearby bench, and continued sobbing.

A first grade mind is like another planet for adults. Too quickly we forget what it’s like to be young. The lens with which we view the world is drastically different now than it was then. Life experiences, cognitive development, and common sense all help us control our emotions and put things in a healthy perspective–at least most of the time. 6-year-old Steve, with a bloody nose and no lunch box, had a lot of developing and learning to do. I think that’s why I was crying, and it’s also probably why my crying eventually caught the attention of my first grade teacher.

I remember Mrs. Bauer opening the door. She stepped out, helped me to my feet, and walked me inside. Her room was warm, and she had on the classical music she sometimes played while we worked. It smelled like coffee, which I liked. She sat me down and brought over a box of tissues. She gently rubbed my back as I pinched my nose. She told me everything was OK.

She helped me wash by face when the tears and blood stopped flowing. Then she called my mom to let her know I needed a lunch.

The amount of relief and peace I felt in Mrs. Bauer’s classroom that morning is something I’ll never forget. She calmed me down, helped stop my bloody nose, washed my face, and ensured my lunch would arrive. As the other students began whooping and hollering outside upon their arrival, Mrs. Bauer let me stay inside and eat a snack. She smiled and spoke softly. It may have been cold outside, but her classroom was filled with so much warm light.

Teachers do this on a daily basis. They help students who had bad mornings or terrible nights. They leave indelible impressions so girls and boys can grow into strong and empathetic women and men. Educators help students again and again and again–all the while teaching standards, creating engaging lesson plans, formatively assessing, intervening, attending meetings, and much more.

I wish I could say thank you to Mrs. Bauer. I wish I could tell her I still feel the warmth of that morning in her room. I’d like her to know I eventually did become more resilient–that through good and bad years I grew into a man who now has two of his own children whom he loves dearly.

So thank you, Mrs. Bauer. And thank you to all teachers who care for our most precious resources by showing love and compassion on a daily basis.


Have you ever seen the movie Hitch? It’s the one with Will Smith in which he plays a Casanova-like matchmaker with a heart of gold. (Maybe that’s how it was pitched to studio heads?) My favorite part is when Hitch (Smith) is teaching Albert (Kevin James) how to dance. Here’s a clip:

Albert believes dancing is the least of his problems, and Hitch is immediately suspicious. It’s all down hill once Albert showcases his moves.

After Hitch watches for a while with a disapproving stare, he tells Albert to never dance like that again. It’s clear Albert has at least two problems:

  1. He doesn’t have any developed dancing skills.
  2. He’s doing too much.

Hitch’s solution is simple: Keep it simple. Albert lets his enthusiasm get the best of him, and unfortunately it results in an outlandish mess. Hitch’s solution involves a short step back and forth with his elbows close to his body. The simplicity of this movement makes it possible for Albert to dance successfully with the woman he loves, and it leaves open the opportunity to later incorporate new moves as he learns them.

It’s important edtech leaders keep this approach in mind when helping teachers blend technology and instruction. Sometimes educators will receive 1:1 devices and act like Albert. Leaders need to gently show them how to keep it simple, for it’s only by starting with a strong foundation that a teacher will be able to successfully incorporate technology within a classroom.

“Shiny objects” are any software, hardware, or programs that can be implemented at a school site. Shiny objects aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves, but their use can be misguided based upon timing. In other words, MinecraftEdu might be OK to implement, but it could be a horrible time to do so.


So this is what I propose: Help teachers become proficient using Google Apps for Education–specifically Drive, Docs, Slides, and Classroom–before anything else. Once this is accomplished, teachers can begin implementing more. Cloud based software that allows students to produce and communicate is where all good 1:1 usage begins.

Keep it simple.

Stick with Google Apps for Education.

Be like Hitch.

Heroic change

Change is difficult. That’s why it’s important to use models explaining where we are, why we do what we do, and how to go about creating positive change.

Using the hero’s journey archetype to conceptualize change is powerful. 1 If you’ve seen or read The HobbitThe Hunger Games, or Star Wars, then you’re familiar with the hero’s journey. Here’s a short video that does an excellent job explaining it:


It’s easy to compare the hero’s journey to many of the stories with which we’re familiar. Surprisingly, it’s also easy to apply this framework to the experience of growing as a teacher, school, or district. 2

Let’s compare this wheel to an educator’s experience: The teacher is in her classroom living the status quo, when suddenly she’s called on an adventure. (1:1 implementation, Project Based Learning, Personal Learning Plans… the list goes on.) She’ll need assistance (fellow teacher, TOSA, academic coach, principal, etc.) when she accepts the call. Then comes the departure (performing the new practice), and she’ll quickly encounter trials and approach a crisis (colleague or admin push back, disheartening initial results, physical and emotional fatigue). Through hard work and trusting her students, she’ll earn the treasure (student achievement), and the results will be shared when she returns to work in an enlightened state (new life). The resolution occurs, but it’s not necessarily “happily ever after”. The teacher is indeed changed by the powerful experience of student achievement, but colleagues and admin may not acknowledge the accomplishment of her journey. This is where the cycle begins again, only this time the teacher is the assistance–possibly for a fellow teacher, administrator, or an entire school.

It’s important to self-identify where you are on the hero’s journey before embarking on the change adventure. Perhaps you’re accepting the call. Perhaps you’re in the throes of a crisis. Perhaps you’ve returned a changed person, and you’re ready to provide assistance.

Let’s assume you’re in the assistance role. As a newly minted Gandalf, Obi-Wan, or Morpheus, it’s your job to change teachers and administrators for the better. Just explaining your heroic journey is not enough; you need to be strategic in your approach. This is where another circle–what Simon Sinek calls “The Golden Circle”–comes into play:

The message from the above video is clear: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Take a look at the Golden Circle:


As Sinek explains, you have to move from the inside/out. This means your WHY must be established before you can assist people. If you don’t have a WHY, you can’t be of service. (It’s easy to brush this off and assume your WHY has been identified, but I recommend writing down your WHY and taking a good hard look at it.)

Implementing technology in and of itself isn’t an effective WHY. It’s an outside/in approach to changing behavior. Also, providing facts, figures, and technology doesn’t change people’s gut feelings–especially if they’ve been teaching for decades. Instead, you need an inside/out approach. Sinek shares Apple’s WHY: “We believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.” Creating devices comes much later. Educational leaders must be provided a WHY that’s inspiring–because only then will change occur.

Once you develop your WHY, you then need a First Follower.


In the above video, Derek Sivers makes the case the leader’s First Follower is extremely important. “(The First Follower) is an underestimated form of leadership in itself.” This means you–as a leader–must attract a First Follower with your WHY. If the WHY is solid, then it’s inevitable a second follower will show up. Then a third. Then a fourth. Momentum ensues, and eventually teachers who aren’t joining the movement will feel left out, meaning almost everyone will join in. This is when skin in the game is developed, and trust me, skin in the game is extremely important.

Sivers calls the accumulation of followers “creating a movement”, but it’s essentially the same as taking a group on the hero’s journey.

Let’s put this all together:


In the above picture, we have the hero’s journey circle and the Golden Circle, which is pointing to “First Follower”. This is the foundation for change.

Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Identify where you or your institution is on the hero’s journey.
  2. Establish your WHY. Afterward, you can better determine and enact your HOW and WHAT.
  3. Attract your First Follower(s) and nurture their leadership. By nature of being a First Follower, they will join you as assistance along the hero’s journey.

As I stated at the outset, change is hard. Using the hero’s journey, the Golden Circle, and Sivers’s First Follower concept can help educators as they become more effective for the sake of students.

  1. Joseph Campbell popularized the hero’s journey archetype, but I learned about using this framework to conceptualize educational change at the CUE Rockstar Admin conference at Skywalker Ranch in September 2015. Jon Corippo and Ramsey Musallam developed and shared the idea; you can find out more about CUE Rockstar Admin here
  2. I used Canva to make the images in this post, but the hero’s journey and Golden Circle were not originally created by me. Joseph Campbell delineated the steps of the hero’s journey, and Simon Sinek developed the Golden Circle. The image at the end of this article is a synthesis of Campbell, Sinek, and Derek Sivers’s wonderful ideas. 


It’s important all stakeholders within a place of learning be on the same page regarding grading. If they’re not, problems will appear down the road. It’s similar to building a brick wall. The first row has to be level. If not, misalignment will become apparent as more rows are added. Everyone who sees the completed wall will notice how off kilter everything is, and it won’t be difficult to locate the culprit.

Unfortunately, the culprit may be more difficult to find within education. There are a lot of moving parts within a school, and it’s not an easy task to attribute a relationship between adopted practices and student learning. Fortunately, there’s sound evidence regarding grading.

This is where you should open another window or tab in your browser, go to, and purchase a copy of Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam. I highly recommend you read his book because I can’t do justice to the wealth of information he provides concerning feedback and grades. In a nutshell, assigning a grade–even a grade in conjunction with feedback–doesn’t provide the positive results you’d think. In many cases, grades can negatively affect student learning.

This is hard to process for a number of reasons. First, we’ve all grown up in a system that regarded grades as important. Further, we had to work hard–oftentimes completing homework, classroom, and studying long hours–in order receive an “A” or “B”. This obviously shades our thinking. Second, the whole collegiate system relies heavily upon grades. This means high schools can’t jettison grades, and this trickles down to middle and elementary school. Third, the current state of grades is comfortable. Changing grades, whether that means moving to a standards based grades matrix or simply asking teachers to change the way they weigh their grades, scares people.

For these reasons and more, we can’t abolish grades. What we can do is alter the grading practice so it’s more effective. This can be done in the following ways:

  • Make grades standards based. Simply telling students they either grasp a concept or not is less nebulous than an A, B, C, D, or F. When you’re forced to say “yes” or “no”, you can quickly pivot and address a deficiency.
  • If grades can’t be made standards based, then change the weighting so grades are based 100 percent on assessments.
  • Shift toward a model that values constructive feedback opposed to grades.

Grades should be a reflection of learning and nothing else. When you use grades to cover citizenship, extra credit, overall effort, and assessments, the message gets muddled. An “A” or “F” become nebulous. This is because being a “good citizen” can skew a grade, which has nothing to do with whether a concept is understood.

For better or worse, grades aren’t going anywhere. This means the most effective way to mitigate the potential harm grading can unleash is by stating over and over the following mantra: Grades should reflect student learning. This idea will align educators so grading is conducted with similar goals in mind. It also rids both students and teachers of unnecessary work so time can be used more effectively. Ultimately, it will mean that when we look at a student’s grades, there’ll be a better understanding as to whether he or she has learned.