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!

FIELD OF DREAMS lied to me

It has taken me a long time to arrive to this conclusion:

Traditional professional development (PD) for teachers is not effective.

Teachers are busy. They’re still learning how to teach Common Core standards. They’re grappling with intervention, adopted curriculum, finding time for PE, and a myriad of other issues that have been around for decades (grading, parent conferences, classroom management). Of course, they have personal lives, too.

That’s why traditional PD doesn’t work. Traditional PD provides training after school. Maybe you get a day or two off to travel to a training center–away from students–and learn the newest program. Then you go back to your classroom and implement it.

In the past, I’ve set up the majority of my PD sessions after school where teachers can come to me and learn something about technology. I was convinced this was the best way. Then I learned it wasn’t. Teachers are too busy to go to a PD session after school–there’s just not enough time in the day. I thought just providing a training was enough. Like in Field of Dreams, I believed if I built it, they would come.

Field of Dreams lied to me.

I’ve even tried going to school sites and conducting training sessions, which usually results in poor turnout, too. This is a problem, because I truly believe I have quality material that will positively affect student learning. I have to share what I know. What’s the solution?


The solution is that I go to the teachers, in their classrooms, and teach their students while teachers watch. At first, people told me I wouldn’t receive enough bang for my buck. 45-60 minutes in one teacher’s classroom? Isn’t it better to have a PD session where there’s an opportunity for many teachers to show up?

No. Being in another teacher’s classroom affords me the opportunity to teach approximately 30 students and the teacher. Those students will get excited about technology, and they’ll help their friends. Teachers will see how engaged the students are, and they’ll tell their friends. Capacity (which is partly a shared knowledge of skills) grows in both students and teachers. This helps me build student and teacher leaders on campus who spread the awesome power of technology to others. This is stronger that a measly PD session. Plus, it shows I have skin in the game in regards to what I preach, and it helps me gain credibility in the eyes of teachers.

I still promote after school PD sessions in moderation, but most of my time and energy (PD-wise) is spent preparing lessons and teaching, which is what I love to do after all.

Empower those around you, and everyone thrives

The large amount of online resources built to enhance student learning is staggering. There’s no dearth in what can be implemented. Instead, the hurdle to teachers adopting new best practices is actually trifold:

  1. Lack of time
  2. Lack of communication
  3. Lack of confidence

Time is a person’s most valuable resource. When dividing a day between eating, sleeping, being with loved ones, and earning money, it’s difficult to learn new things. Responsibilities pile up pretty quickly for adults, and this means less time to explore unfamiliar territory.

Communication has traditionally been poor throughout many schools and school districts. There are a myriad of reasons why this is. In my opinion, a major reason is because a lot of people feel more comfortable going it alone. Collaboration and transparency get the heart beating quickly–better to stay an island.

Confidence grows when you’ve had time to learn something and experience success. Some walk around with false bravado, but most of us appreciate exposure to new curriculum and technology before confidence and mastery appear.

I believe one of the best ways to enhance student learning is by giving teachers more time, better ways to communicate, and helping them gain mastery over technology (which, for me, is synonymous with curriculum) and instructional best practices so they are confident.

That sounds really nice, but how is this accomplished?

Professional development (PD) can initially be daunting and expensive, but every school district has the ability to build effective professional development sessions. Coordinators just have to start with one idea in mind: crowdsourcing.

It’s important to unpack “crowdsourcing” before moving forward. I’m using the word in the following way (my definition): “Contributing to the collective good by outsourcing work within your tribe so everyone benefits.” To crowdsource in education, you build capacity within fellow teachers who in turn create passionate edtech niches and share that passion and knowledge with everyone in their school or district.

Boom! That’s it. Instead of paying consultants to come in and blah, blah, blah about something teachers have heard over and over, pay teachers to seek out best practices, learn them, harness them, and share them with as many people as possible. The money is staying within the district and local community, and a sustainable network of motivated people can teach colleagues. (If you’re wondering about the nuts and bolts of this human infrastructure, check out what I wrote here.)

And don’t let this be forgotten: Motivated people are necessary because they continue learning. We need individuals who will learn, teach, learn again, teach, and so on because everything is in flux. The need for continual PD has never been so important, and there’s no way for one person to know everything. To create institutions of learning that actually foster learning, everyone needs to evolve. If you’re not getting stronger, you’re getting weaker. If you’re not learning new things, your knowledge base is dwindling.

Recently, my school district put the above into action. In one day we offered twenty-two 50-minute sessions taught by teachers within our school district. Attendees picked five of the sessions they thought would be the most helpful. We named the event PBVCon, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Why did a majority of teachers like it?

  1. They had time to choose their own path of learning. Autonomy is a powerful thing.
  2. They communicated with knowledgeable presenters with skin in the game, and they communicated with each other.
  3. Their levels of confidence grew. Perhaps not to an extravagant degree, but there was definitely an increase in the belief: “I can do this!”

Time, communication, and confidence. Crowdsourcing, which is just another version of the age-old technique called “jigsawing,” is the most powerful method schools and districts can adopt in order to help students.

Empower those around you, and everyone thrives.

Build up teachers by crowdsourcing

Consultants are used in many fields. Business. Politics. Sports. Education is no different–especially with the influx of devices pouring into school sites due to 1:1 deployments.

There’s nothing wrong with consultants; they’re helpful in many instances. I do believe, however, it’s important to keep two things in mind when hiring an edtech consultant:

  1. Hiring a consultant to teach a specific program may be necessary, but remember that edtech programs are in a nascent state, which means free apps may start charging, websites could go under, and better technology might be right around the corner. Paying someone to teach you something that may rise in price, disappear, or become inferior is a waste of money.

  2. Teachers within your school or district may end up being the best consultants you’ll find. As of right now, the only reason I’d pay a consultant is to help build capacity within a school district by making teachers mini-consultants. This is a form of crowdsourcing that allows school districts to continually curate the best edtech programs on the market, train teachers, and save money. We should be making edtech experts out of teachers by helping them find their niches. In this way, the overwhelming task of combing through all the available resources is made more manageable. In addition, teachers are empowered and invigorated to not only help students, but also fellow educators.

In my opinion, avoiding traditional consultants and building up teachers as experts is the most sustainable way to provide professional development and build capacity as we enter the era of the Brave New Classroom. I implore all educational leaders to look within to foster professional growth and student learning.

Six ways Tim Ferriss can make you a better teacher

Technology has increased the rigor of professional development sessions tremendously, mainly because new tools exist that actually engage students and help them produce. Another reason is the field of education has experienced an influx of smart people who view learning in a much different way than teachers and administrators. Oftentimes it takes individuals with an outside perspective to improve a system.

Enter Tim Ferriss. Like Seth Godin, Dave Ramsey, and a handful of other writers today, Ferriss’s work has had a powerful impact on my life. His books introduced me to an effective diet, strength training, principles of investing, Stoic thought, journaling, morning routine, the downside of specialization, and many other ideas that’ve positively affected my life. I’ve adopted many of his methods in my work life, and since I’m a Curriculum and Tech Specialist in a school district, I apply these strategies within the public school system.

I’d like to share with teachers and principals six ways Tim Ferriss can improve the way you work, which will ultimately increase student learning.

  1. Ferriss’s blog. This is the perfect place to start for finding out more about Ferriss’s teachings. From posts such as ‘How to Think Like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos’ and ‘What My Morning Journal Looks Like’, the blog is the best place to get introduced to Ferriss and gain a sense of how he can help your day-to-day practice and life.

  2. Ferriss’s books. There’s The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, and The 4-Hour Chef. You won’t literally learn how to work, train, and cook for only four hours a week by reading these books, but you’ll discover how making small, smart changes can produce dramatic improvements. In education, there’s a lot of wasted time–from what the students are made to do in class to how teachers use their prep time. Learning how to optimize every second of your day so you experience maximum results can produce students who think and create at high levels.

  3. Ferriss’s podcasts. I was speaking to a well-known educational trainer recently who told me teachers don’t listen to podcasts because no one has the time. I’m not sure if she was right or not, but I do know Ferriss’s podcast is a true gift. He interviews high profile people and asks them the perfect questions. When driving to work and listening to his interviews, I can learn Maria Popova‘s thoughts on workflow, how to master money from Tony Robbins, lessons Ed Catmull has learned working at Pixar and Disney, Stoic wisdom from Ryan Holiday, and how Matt Mullenweg built WordPress. For the average person (i.e. me), getting the chance to talk to all of these people and glean their valuable expertise is impossible. Ferriss’s free podcast is a gift for those who are always in the pursuit of improving and learning from the best in their fields.

  4. Ferriss is on the advisory board of, and he’s written about his belief that poor education is the root cause of most of society’s problems–an idea with which I wholeheartedly agree. This post by Melinda Gates does a wonderful job explaining DonorsChoose, and the fact that Ferriss is a part of this organization means he’s very aware of what the field of education is lacking and what it desperately needs.

  5. Adopt Ferriss’s constant pursuit of deconstructing excellence. Education is concerned with learning about the world and pursuing excellence in one’s life. Ferriss has made a career out of mastering many different subjects in the smallest amount of time possible, and he constantly shares this information with the world. I think students would benefit greatly if teachers emulated Ferriss’s lead through experimentation, sharing findings via various outlets (books, podcasts, blogs), and understanding that if you’re not continually learning, you’re continually forgetting.

  6. Avoid additives–just make the way you work more effective. In education, schools and district are always implementing new programs. Oftentimes, these programs are added to already existing programs that haven’t yet been mastered by teachers. Implementations should not be additives; we shouldn’t keep adding curriculum and interventions just because we can. Instead, school administrators should examine what has already been implemented and either help make teachers better at those things or cut the programs altogether. If you’re saying ‘Amen’ to this, then Ferriss is your man.

Being a good teacher is difficult work. It takes constant vigilance and redefinition. The days of teaching the same thing over a 35-year-career are over. Like Ferriss, teachers must continually learn how to improve their craft, and the resources and inspiration Ferriss provides would benefit every educator who takes the time to read his books or listen to his podcasts.


If you’re interested, here are some items I’ve been turned on to by Ferriss that have improved my life: