[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]

As a lead learner, how do you hold other people accountable to high standards of performance every day for student learning to flourish? More importantly, how do you hold yourself to a high standard?

Experts have stated over the years that motivating one’s staff, and oneself, can be done in a myriad of ways. Buzzwords are generously thrown around in administrator courses and within leadership books: autonomy, candor, culture… all good words with wonderful intentions. The problem is these terms are effects of something else. In other words, you can’t have a campus where autonomy, candor, and a positive culture flourish without a main cause.

Speakers and writers who make their livings discussing how to build accountability within schools and districts are missing this cause, and I must admit I was blind to it as well. It took the words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb to help me locate this blindspot and give it a name. As often happens, thoughts and beliefs are constructed by the vocabulary one possesses. Just as Taleb provided us with the word “antifragile,” he’s also provided insight regarding a term that shines a light on every place of learning and exposes the level of accountability members hold themselves to.

Skin in the game.

Let’s back up a bit. I was listening to Michael Fullan speak about two years ago, and he discussed how one of the correct drivers of student learning is “securing accountability.” Having read his book Coherence before attending his talk, I was familiar with this driver and didn’t expect to learn much more when it came to this idea. I was wrong. Not long into his explanation of securing accountability, he provided a synonym for the word accountable: responsible.

In an instant I saw this driver in a different light. Accountability and responsibility are of course similar, but responsibility speaks much more powerfully to me. We all have a responsibility to help students learn and mature into flourishing citizens who can in turn help others. We are all responsible for the state of the world in which we find ourselves, and it’s the great women and men who have taken a stand (when it’s difficult to do so) that creates positive change. These people saw it as their responsibility to live in a way where they would suffer consequences for their actions–mostly for the unfortunate reason that oftentimes doing what’s right is not popular.

In the field of education, administrators are taught they must create “buy-in” within their organization. Fullan divides the “securing accountability” driver into two sub-categories: external and internal accountability. (From here on out I’ll refer to “accountability” as “responsibility”). External responsibility is the process by which an administrator influences others to do what he or she wants, and it’s accomplished by means of directives, evaluations, and systems constructed to provide a specific result. This form of leadership can definitely be effective, but it’s extremely fragile because it depends on one person making sure everyone else is doing something. Once that administrator leaves, whatever is being managed will disappear because the staff didn’t hold it dear to their hearts.

Internal responsibility is more robust because, as the name suggests, people internalize the change and make it part of their practice. In some instances, external responsibility may come first, but the hope is that it morphs into an internal responsibility system for each members of the organization. This is when culture becomes positive, and a school site or district pulls in one direction toward its purpose.

This all sounds well and good, but the important question is: how do you create a sense of internal responsibility within a person? Earlier I wrote that great women and men in the past have changed the status quo by taking a stand for or against something by making themselves vulnerable because of it. A nice way of putting it is they take risks for their opinions rather than protecting themselves from the consequences of their actions.

External responsibility is easy: mandate, evaluate, implement, threaten (just kidding); you can always try to make someone do something. The goal, however, is to foster internal responsibility, and the most effective way–in fact, possibly the only way–to promote internal responsibility is by having skin in the game.

It’s common knowledge students will behave well in the classroom of a teacher they respect. They’ll even work harder for teachers whom they know care about them. The same goes for adults; teachers will work extremely hard for a principal they like. The million dollar question, however, is how does a principal garner the respect of his or her staff? It’s not by giving them whatever they ask for. It’s not by sending them to fun conferences. It’s not by being nice or strict or firm.

It’s by having skin in the game.

I go back to the words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, as I often do, because he speaks and writes truth. In his new book Skin in the Game, he cogently explains the importance of taking risks for one’s actions and opinions. For example, he writes, “If you give an opinion, and someone follows it, you are morally obligated to be, yourself, exposed to its consequences.” Someone with skin in the game is more than willing to pay a price for having exposure to the real world. When they tell others to do something, they don’t hide behind another strong leader or the mantra “that’s just the way it is.” They don’t hide behind anything, which is unfortunately rare–especially within large organizations. As Taleb writes, “Bureaucracy is a construction by which a person is conveniently separated from the consequences of his or her actions.” Skin in the game as a leader is basically a broader way of referring to extreme ownership.

Ineffective leaders hide amidst fuzzy bureaucratic obstacles. They do what they have to do, and then insulate themselves from the effects of their nebulous decisions. When these people apply external accountability measures, staff balks. The leaders find no one listens to them, no matter how many administrative books containing buy-in strategies they’ve read and implemented. And if external measures don’t work, it’s crystal clear internal responsibility isn’t fostered.

People want leaders with skin in the game. Whenever I’ve visited a school where kids are learning, teachers are working in harmony, and (a chosen few) effective strategies are being implemented well, you’ll find a principal walking around the campus who doesn’t protect herself from her actions. Even if they don’t know it, most people crave for a lead learner such as this to take command of their campus. This is the type of leader who gets results from external responsibility. More importantly, this is a leader who has developed internal responsibility within herself and her staff. She’s taken risks for her opinion, and she’s received both accolades and grief because she was tied to her decisions and actions.

Let’s examine what a lead learner with skin in the game does not look like.

(My book will hopefully be published this year!)


[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]

“No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself.”–Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader

True lead learners are people who live authentic lives so they can fully express themselves. They have a purpose, which not only helps them become who they truly are, but also aids them in nurturing authenticity within their organization.

Learning and expressing oneself go hand-in-hand. If you’re compelled to express yourself, you’ll continue to learn the multiple ways you can do so. This constant learning means you’ll be an authentic leader, or as Michael Fullan writes, an “indelible leader.” In his book, Indelible Leadership, Fullan writes of the importance of “deep learning,” which can only happen if leaders help their staffs find meaning. As stated before, this isn’t done by attempting to tap into people’s passion. Leaders accomplish this by promoting deep work. Fullan quotes Cal Newport from Newport’s book Deep Work:

“To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn . . . is an act of deep work. If you are comfortable going deep, you’ll be comfortable mastering the increasingly complex systems and skills needed to thrive in our economy. If you instead remain one of the many for whom depth is uncomfortable and distraction ubiquitous, you shouldn’t expect these systems and skills to come easily to you.”

There are some leaders who cruise at 30,000 feet and only want to think about the big picture. They can’t be bothered with the details–perhaps it’s just too much for them to process. Other leaders get stuck in the weeds. Their intentions are good, but they waste valuable time and resources working through problems that can most likely be ignored.

A lead learner isn’t coasting at 30,000 feet nor chopping through the weeds. Instead, I like to think of a lead learner as a helicopter pilot who can deftly fly to different elevations very quickly. These people soar at 30,000 feet in order to bring coherence when needed; then they can drop and hover over the weeds (without getting stuck!) when a specific issue requires their expertise. I truly believe teachers are longing for leaders like this. They want someone who sees the big picture and also can dive in and get messy when it comes to curriculum, instructional strategies, collaboration protocols, and more.

As stated by Cal Newport, depth is important because deep learning means you can take complex systems and make them simple. A lead learner brings a lot of value to his or her organization by being comfortable with complexity and always looking for ways to make ideas more easily accessible to all adults at a school site.

In one of Cal Newport’s other books, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, he explains how a person can become valuable to an organization. As I re-read Newport’s book, I was struck by how similar his thoughts are to other great thinkers I’ve already shared in this book. First, he writes about the importance of a craftsman mindset over a passion mindset.

“Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you.”

To be valuable within a school or district, it’s best to begin each day with the motivation of finding how you can help others rather than how they can help you. At first this sounds easy, but to maintain a mindset of everyday generosity takes constant effort. If you have to feel passionate about what you’re doing, in the long run not much will be accomplished. We’ve touched upon this already, but it’s worth noting that a worker running off passion will not be able to sustain the mundane responsibilities found within the field of education. As Newport writes:

“When you enter the working world with the passion mindset, the annoying tasks you’re assigned or the frustrations of corporate bureaucracy can become too much to handle.”

As a teacher or administrator, the bureaucratic tasks that are constantly thrown at you can wear you down and make you bitter if you don’t approach the day with purpose. It’s the integral first step in becoming valuable.

Newport further discusses the “craftsman mindset.”

“It asks you to leave behind self-centered concerns about whether your job is ‘just right,’ and instead put your head down and plug away at getting really damn good. No one owes you a great career, it argues; you need to earn it—and the process won’t be easy.”

Once you decide on working with a purpose (i.e. craftsman mindset) you can begin learning the craft. The teachers and administrators I’ve seen who have a craftsman mindset are constantly reading, practicing the strategies they’re learning, and performing acts of generosity not just toward students, but also adults. You earn your career through hard work and constant learning. Afterall, we don’t call it being a “lead learner” for nothing.

Second, to bring value you must recognize student achievement will come when the adults on a campus get really good at what they do. This is accomplished by understanding what being “good” means. You can quickly learn which activities are worth your time by tracking your day by hourly increments on a spreadsheet–perhaps even quarter-hour increments. Then, you need to seek out immediate feedback concerning your actions, which could come in the form of student test scores, the thoughts of colleagues, or the observation of your boss. Imagine if students sought out feedback concerning their work on a daily basis! The same benefits can be derived from teachers and administrators who are honing their crafts by asking for feedback.

Third, Newport describes the importance of incorporating difficult strategies into one’s practice in order to improve. He writes:

“But this stretching, as any mathematician will also admit, is the precondition to getting better. This is what you should experience in your own pursuit of ‘good.’ If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”

This reminds me of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s belief that a person should be lost physically or mentally every day. The only way to grow is to stretch oneself and feel the uncomfortable nature of uncertainty. Traditionally, educators have believed they can arrive to a point where they know everything and can just be left alone to do what’s “best for the students.” In reality, the work of “becoming” an educator is never finished. Just as the ever-changing nature of fashion is never finished and platforms such as Facebook never stop morphing into new entities–lead learners never stop evolving.

Fourth, it’s imperative we develop “rare and valuable skills.” This is hard, but as Newport writes:

“Hardness scares off the daydreamers and the timid, leaving more opportunity for those like us who are willing to take the time to carefully work out the best path forward and then confidently take action.”

The bottom line of being valuable within a school or district means you’re positively affecting student learning in the biggest way possible. This is difficult, and it takes amazing work to make it a reality; therefore, you need a clear path toward understanding how it’s accomplished.

To review, here’s an outline of what it takes to be valuable:

  • Purpose (craftsman) mindset over passion
  • Get really good by tracking your time and seeking feedback
  • Stretch yourself by trying new things (the process is never over)
  • Develop rare and valuable skills

If these four steps are accomplished at school sites and district offices, then true value will be attained and our students will improve by leaps and bounds. If the adults are constantly improving, the students will improve, too.


[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]

What are some personal things you’d like to accomplish? Learn another language? Master an instrument? Go to the gym? Eat healthier? Save more money? Whatever it is, you may think the best way to attain what you want is by setting goals, and you might frame it like this:

  • I’ll conjugate X number of verbs by Friday.
  • I’ll learn X number of chords on the guitar by Friday.
  • I’ll go to the gym every weekday.
  • I’ll eat X number of vegetables a day.
  • I’ll not spend X amount of money each month so I can save it instead.

You probably read the above statements and found them to be reasonable–perhaps even noble. There are some people who can set goals and then power through until they’re accomplished. If that’s you, and you’re successful, then that’s great. Unfortunately, for many of us, goals set us up for failure. That foreign language never gets learned. The guitar remains on the stand that was purchased from the local instrument store. The gym never becomes more welcoming than a warm bed on a cold morning. Vegetables never become tastier than pizza, and saving money in one’s Roth IRA isn’t as fun as attending a Bruno Mars concert.

Setting a goal doesn’t mean a thing. Unfortunately, the simple act of creating a goal makes people feel they’ve accomplished something when they haven’t–at least not yet. This occurs on an individual level, and it happens within schools and districts as well. Administrators and teachers set professional development goals all the time.

  • We’ll learn to deploy blended learning strategies by the end of the year.
  • We’ll send everyone to a direct instruction training.
  • All teachers will use the adopted curriculum by the end of the quarter.
  • Program X will be implemented by the second semester.

We’re quick to make checklists, and then we’ll go to town checking items off in the mad rush to 100 percent implementation. While checklists are extremely powerful on many occasions, learning within an organization is not one of them.

Goals can lead us astray. Instead, what we need are systems. For example, when I set out to write this book, I didn’t say, “I’m going to have the first ten pages done by Friday… I’ll have the rough draft finished in nine months… I’ll proofread it by the end of the summer.” Instead, I set aside a period of time each day where I did nothing but work on this book. Oftentimes, I woke up at 4:45 A.M. and wrote until 6:00 A.M. This wasn’t a goal–I simply set my alarm for 4:45 A.M., woke up, walked to my laptop, and began typing. During each morning session, the words poured out. Some days I was lucky if I could muster 300 words that made sense. On other days, 1,000 or more words leapt onto the screen effortlessly.

If I would have set goals for myself, I don’t think you would be reading what’s in front of your eyes right now. The creation of this book was the product of setting up a system within my day when the work would get done, and that made all the difference. Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip Dilbert, wrote a book entitled How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. In it, he states, “Success isn’t magic; it’s generally the product of picking a good system and following it until luck finds you.” Adams is a huge proponent of the systems-over-goals mentality. Harkening back to the first section of this book regarding purpose and passion, Adams writes, “How much passion does this fellow have for his chosen field? Answer: zero. What he has is a spectacular system, and that beats passion every time.” Even without passion, there’s always a purpose, and systems assist the purpose-driven person in attaining heights that goals and passion can’t reach.

Likewise, I believe schools would benefit from creating systems where adults can’t help but learn how to become better teachers and administrators. Goals aren’t cutting it when it comes to professional development–what we need are systems set up throughout every week, possibly each day, where administrators and teachers can learn (whether they feel like it or not). Whenever this time takes place (staff meetings, PLC meetings, prep periods, lunch), the learning opportunity isn’t about checking off that learning has occurred. Rather, it’s about deep learning. This means what’s being learned is part of a coherent framework that’s more concerned with mastery over compliance. In this scenario, ad hoc strategies are banished so everything being learned is connected. This allows administrators and teachers to make clear connections among district-wide implementations, adopted curriculum, technology, ELD strategies, formative assessments, data protocols, and so on.

To be honest, it all comes down to a campus full of lead learners.


[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]

Even though working at a school site means you’ll be entering unknown territory every day, having a clear and disciplined strategy isn’t just nice to have, it’s essential if you want clarity about your practice and its impact. It sounds weird to say, but lack of options are actually freeing. Being able to do everything can be a prison. I’m reminded of a movie from the 1990s entitled The Devil’s Advocate. Keanu Reeves is a lawyer who joins a successful law firm in New York. Unbeknownst to him, his boss (Al Pacino) is the devil. Pacino’s character puts Reeves and his wife (Charlize Theron) through the ringer. One of the more interesting ways he does this is bestowing upon Reeves and Theron a beautiful Manhattan home that’s a complete blank slate inside. The young couple needs to paint the white walls and furnish each room. As the plot progresses, the decisions begin to eat away at Theron’s sanity, so much so that she’s painting the walls over and over again, trying to find the perfect color. Instead of lashing her with a cat o’ nine tails in a fiery landscape, the devil tortures her with gallons of paint in an upscale neighborhood.

By giving Theron’s character unlimited options, she became trapped in a prison of choices. During collaboration time when leaders tell teachers, “Do it however you want, just make sure X gets done,” leaders are unaware they’re likely causing confusion and frustration. After a long day of teaching students and making choices about instruction, curriculum, discipline, and more, teachers more often than not want to be given parameters in order to facilitate the deep work they’ll be accomplishing as a team. To not give teachers this structure is at the best foolish and at the worst cruel. Teachers want clarity of strategy–if they don’t get it, their whole meeting can be derailed before it even starts.

Decision making is extremely difficult. Not only that, it’s draining. President Obama is famous for wearing pre-selected suits every day to eliminate morning decisions. The same goes for Mark Zuckerberg; wearing informal t-shirts and hoodies helps him focus less on smaller decisions that deplete brain power, which frees up processing capacity for problem solving and unforeseen daily events. What both President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg are aware of is the insidious Paradox of Choice.

So what is the Paradox of Choice? It’s a fact that while people want autonomy to make their own decisions and have options offered to them, having too many options is unbearable. You can perceive this when talking to employees. At one moment a teacher or administrator is saying they want to be treated like adults and left alone to make their own professional choices, and at other times they feel overwhelmed because they’re not being told explicitly what to do. Striking a balance between the two is extremely difficult, and there’s obviously not a silver bullet to make the paradox any easier. The best approach as a leader is to make a few big decisions you know you won’t reverse, and then pour all your energy into those limited programs, initiatives, or strategies instead of second-guessing them. By doing this, you’re forced to rely on your purpose, and you’re forced to focus your direction.

For more about the Paradox of Choice, I highly recommend reading this.

The Strategy of the Crown

[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]

The most integral component of collaborative work is that a team believes it can make a positive difference. In other words, stories are told to one another stating collective effort matters and will increase student learning. As John Hattie’s research shows, teacher collective efficacy is the way through which teachers can help quadruple the amount of learning a student can accomplish. This is a belief system, which Robert Greene call the Strategy of the Crown in his book 48 Laws of Power:

“The Strategy of the Crown is based on a simple chain of cause and effect: If we believe we are destined for great things, our belief will radiate outward, just as a crown creates an aura around a king.”

Educators must believe they can positively affect student learning. In this era of data, we expect information to be sufficient to change people’s minds. This may be true in some cases, but in many other cases data fails at changing behavior. Why do people continue smoking when there’s ample evidence proving what it does to your body? Why do people still drink and drive in a world with Lyft and Uber? Why do some people not work out or eat healthy food? Why don’t people read more books, start side businesses, or stay off social media when more and more studies prove the negative effects of Facebook and Instagram? It’s because data oftentimes doesn’t matter–what people need is a story.

As a leader within an organization, it’s your job to provide that story. Sure, information is extremely helpful, but rather than start a staff meeting with graphs and tables showing the growth or decline of the school in various areas and sub-areas, it’s more important to tell specific stories of how students are thriving at your school. Write up a story about how an EL student was reclassified. Share how a student in GATE class created a project that was honored by a local energy company due to its technical skill. Tell a story about the students who were able to go on that field trip because they all scored proficiently on a formative assessment.

As Yuval Noah Harari states, humans are transitioning from an era of “humanism” to an era of “dataism.” Data is not going anywhere. In fact, it’s just going to become more prevalent when making decisions regarding what to buy, where to live, what to do as an occupation, who to marry, etc. There’s nothing wrong with using data–data is extremely important–but Homo sapiens have had the same brain for 70,000 years. Just because data and information have crept into our professional practice doesn’t mean telling each other stories is a dead practice. We will need stories for many more generations, and practices such as The Strategy of the Crown help blend data with the stories we tell ourselves concerning not only the power we have within, but the collective power we possess when striving for high student achievement.


[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]

Years ago, Google became determined to create the perfect team. Executives believed building the best team meant putting the best people together. In 2012, they launched the Aristotle Project, which was an attempt to study teams in order to determine the ingredients for the perfect group. When all was said and done, they examined 180 teams within the company.

At first, there were no patterns to distinguish a high performing team from a lower performing team. Soon, the importance of established “group norms” came into view. This NYT article explains it well:

“Project Aristotle’s researchers began searching through the data they had collected, looking for norms. They looked for instances when team members described a particular behavior as an ‘unwritten rule’ or when they explained certain things as part of the ‘team’s culture.’ Some groups said that teammates interrupted one another constantly and that team leaders reinforced that behavior by interrupting others themselves. On other teams, leaders enforced conversational order, and when someone cut off a teammate, group members would politely ask everyone to wait his or her turn. Some teams celebrated birthdays and began each meeting with informal chitchat about weekend plans. Other groups got right to business and discouraged gossip. There were teams that contained outsize personalities who hewed to their group’s sedate norms, and others in which introverts came out of their shells as soon as meetings began.”

The researchers soon found good teams had two traits: talking was evenly distributed among everyone, and members were sensitive to how teammates were feeling. In other words, they had empathy for one another.

The researchers found it didn’t matter how smart or average the people were–if you had a group full of brilliant people who didn’t have norms in which everyone spoke and empathy was established, they were consistently outshined by a group of average workers who did have these components established. This more cohesive group felt “psychologically safe” because members believed they could share their feelings, have difficult conversations in a productive manner, and participate in any number of emotional conversations.

In a nutshell, the best teams listen to each other and tend to each other’s emotional needs.

We’ve been talking about norms for years within the field of education. Oftentimes, norms conjure the memory of sitting in a group, trying to think of as many ways as possible to be nice to each other during PLC time–and then revisiting this list before each meeting. By thinking of norms in this perfunctory way, we lose sight of the importance of norms that occur naturally–as if they were like breathing. Many consultants harp on organizations to make lists of norms because in reality it’s easier to codify norms on paper and then read them before each meeting than the alternative, which is having each member take stock of his or her own ability to listen and possess empathy.

Think of the most dysfunctional group you’ve ever seen. They’re nasty to each other. They talk behind each other’s backs. They don’t meet unless they have to, and then when they do meet it’s a cold war between all members. Writing down norms before a meeting will accomplish nothing to help this team. In fact, the practice will just exacerbate the problem because members will mock the idea of norms altogether.

In this situation, it’s better to travel the more difficult route, which is working on listening and empathy skills. Of course, there are many books written on both of these topics, and you can search online for “increasing empathy” and “improving listening skills” to find helpful articles and videos. In my personal experience of being a part of teams and visiting scores of school sites, there are strategies that can help the dysfunctional team.

  • Spend time with teams that possess empathy and good listening skills.
  • Read a helpful article together and use the EAA model to both analyze the text and produce actionable steps for becoming better as a team.
  • Set up a few “one-foot bars” that can be easily cleared as a team. This will create Dave Ramsey’s “snowball effect,” which will make the team eager to accomplish more. Stay far, far away from seven-foot bars. Expecting a team to successfully accomplish a difficult objective will make matters much worse. We differentiate and scaffold for children–the same has to be done for dysfunctional groups. You can’t expect a team of four teachers who hate each other to garner the same results as four teachers who work well together because they’re BFFs.
  • The leader of the organization must regularly sit in during the team’s meetings. The leader should praise the group for growth as a team, and he or she should also point out areas that can be improved. It would be helpful for the leader to go through the EAA process with them every time they meet.
  • WORST CASE SCENARIO: The team needs to be split up. It’s the job of a leader to assemble a team whose members can exemplify the positive traits found by researchers of the Aristotle Project. People may have to be moved to different grade levels so teams can thrive and students can learn.


[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]

Jocko Willink spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy and commanded SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser. He’s famous for saying “Discipline equals freedom.” What does this mean? I believe, and Tim Ferriss interprets this similarly in his book Tools of Titans, that constraints are a positive force in one’s work.

Even though many educators say they want complete freedom when working collaboratively, I’m positive it’s not what’s best for longterm productivity. The Paradox of Choice causes paralysis (e.g., What should we do now? What should we do next week? What’s expected of us?). Having an extremely simple pre-scheduled strategy provides a better sense of agency and freedom. The biggest caveat is you need the right strategy or protocol for this to truly work. Otherwise the discipline of keeping it simple will vanish.

So here’s a strategy that will work in every collaborative situation.


Or, simply put, EAA.

That’s it! That’s all you and your teachers need to remember. EAA. Evidence. Analysis. Action. This handy little acronym will serve you and your staff well. Everything you do collaboratively on a campus can be encapsulated in EAA. Before we get to how you can use it, here are some reasons why I personally like it so much.

  • EAA eliminates choice. The Paradox of Choice will not torment a team.
  • EAA does away with the overwhelming reality that there are so many protocols out there. So many! Why not make it easy on yourself and just pick one.
  • EAA is easy to remember. You need something that teachers and administrators can instantly remember. We all know the motto for Nike. We know the motto for McDonalds. We know what a Coca-Cola bottle looks like. We know the main Disney characters by name. These are marketing tools that are ingrained in our minds so we can easily recall them, have a positive emotion, and spend our money. Likewise, you need a strategy with a rememberable name that everyone can use to conduct business. EAA fits the bill.
  • EAA is simple… especially after a long (and potentially emotionally draining) day of teaching. To provide lengthy and complicated strategies and protocols at the end of the day for teachers to navigate after they’ve already taught, planned, organized, disciplined, (and a lot more) is asking for failure. I can’t tell you how frustrated I am when I’m in a meeting full of administrators and they discuss how teachers need to use this protocol and that protocol for students to succeed. I try explaining that the best path is to give teachers an easy strategy they can use in many different situations. In this way, they don’t have to search through binders or their Google Drives for various protocols. They don’t have to make multiple decisions at the end of an already draining day. Instead, they can simply sketch out EAA on a doc or a piece of binder paper and go to town.

I like the following example Chip Heath and Dan Heath give in their book Switch. They discuss the U.S. government’s Food Pyramid. I’ll let them explain one of the reasons why it was such a terrible idea:

“Let’s start with the pyramid shape. A pyramid signifies hierarchy, yet no hierarchy is evident in the Food Pyramid. The first version of it displayed rows of food, one row on top of the next, with grains at the bottom and oils at the top. Some people interpreted this arrangement to mean that oils were the most important food group. (Whoops.) The revised version… abandoned that construct for vertical-ish streaks of color intended to eliminate any implied ranking. What this means is that the pyramid structure itself has no meaning whatsoever. The Food Pyramid might as well be a Food Rhombus or a Food Rooster.”

There were a lot of problems with the Food Pyramid, and it’s easy to see how confusing it was to use the image for anything constructive. The Food Pyramid didn’t bring anything concrete to mind. On the other hand, the Nike swoosh makes you think “Just do it.” The Golden Arches (notice I didn’t even need to say the “M” for McDonald’s) makes you think about “lovin it.”

In addition, the Food Pyramid was just plain hard to use. As stated before, it’s confusing, which means people had a lot of questions and were never sure if they were using it correctly. In addition, it was hard to remember, and people need something that sticks with them if they’re going to internalize it and use it consistently.

EAA brings a clear, concrete idea to mind of how to use it. Not only is it easy to use, it’s easy to remember. Once you memorize the letters “EAA,” you’re not going to forget what they stand for.

EAA is research based. I first read about EAA in Leading Impact Teams, and I highly recommend checking out that book for a deeper look at what EAA entails. For our purposes right now, it’s important to know that very smart people have combed through John Hattie’s research and decided upon the effectiveness of EAA. If you’re using Hattie’s effect sizes in your school or district to make more educated choices as to what you will or will not incorporate within you practice, EAA is right up your alley.

So, here’s my pitch regarding collaboration at school sites: Eliminate choice. Use one strategy that’s easy to remember. Keep it simple. Use something that’s research based.

EAA fits the bill.

So how can you use EAA? Let’s review some possible scenarios describing how it can be used:

  • It’s the end of the day, and a group of teachers just sat down to look at the results of a short 10 question formative assessment they gave and quickly graded. They’re going to use EAA to view the evidence (students’ answers), analyze the evidence (hmmm, why did the students score this way?), and make a plan for what to do next. (“We need to teach linking verbs again if we want Johnny to understand what a compound sentence is.”) By using EAA, they now have a quick and easy framework through which to share a uniform method of analysis.
  • The principal pays for substitutes so a group of teachers can embark on instructional rounds. The teachers move through various classroom, taking notes and looking for solutions to their problem of practice. They ask themselves, “Where is the evidence of good strategies being used to mediate problem X?” The teachers meet together after the rounds and create a Google Doc with EAA across the top. The teachers then type all the evidence they witnessed concerning their POP. They analyze the evidence, providing responses to questions such as: What were the students doing? How was this working? How could strategy X help us attain our goals? When this is complete, teachers can determine which ACTION steps they’ll take next. This list will be the tangible things they can immediately begin in their classrooms.
  • A school is implementing PBIS and needs a way for a group of teachers or administrators to systematically determine the needs of students who are misbehaving during school hours. First, they take a look at the EVIDENCE (i.e. the elementary school student is chronically late to school.). Second, they ANALYZE why this is happening (i.e. The parent always drops the student off after the bell rings.) Third, they take ACTION (i.e. contact the parent; explain how this is affecting the student’s learning, provide incentives for the child arriving early, or discuss the possibility of the student walking to the school bus stop.)

It’s so simple, and yet it’s so simple to mess up–and I’ll tell you why: it’s easy to complicate it. Heck, you–dear reader–may already be thinking of ways to complicate it. If you’re an educator, especially an administrator, you’ve come up in a system that doesn’t like simplicity. What the system accepts is individuals who create complicated programs and systems. Why is this?

A complicated system is in need of someone to explain it. Creating complicated protocols ensures job security. More simply though, people believe doing more is better. Maybe this is because being busy makes them feel productive? Maybe being busy looks good to others? It’s time we stop, place everything on the cutting board, and trim the fat.

I think we should be just as proud of the things we aren’t doing in the field of education as the things we are doing. Simplicity is important because it prevents fragility. The more rules, protocols, and strategies you adopt, the more that can go wrong. Too many initiatives, too much confusion, and you can’t get good at anything. If you’re a teacher or administrator, aren’t you tired of doing stuff half-assed? Wouldn’t you rather feel like you’re knocking it out of the park? You could, but it means you need to let go of stuff. In reality, you need less than you think.

Collaboration is both a journey and a process that never ends, so we better get as comfortable as possible and enjoy the ride. We shouldn’t just be interested in the results–this defeats the purpose. To a certain extent, the process is the purpose. This is why a simple tool like EAA is so critical. Difficult steps to remember and various protocols for different circumstances will destroy a team’s morale. If you don’t keep the process simple, then no one will like it. If no one likes it, then no one will dive into the deep collaborative work that’s necessary to develop teacher collective efficacy.

So throw out all your unnecissarily complicated collaboration protocols and adopt EAA.