[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.


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

Warren Buffett famously said, “I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars; I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.” Unfortunately, within the field of education, we ignore 1-foot bars and instead seek 7-foot bars and try to jump over them right away. “We’ve got to do it,” we say, “FOR THE KIDDOS!” Then we (possibly) don’t clear the bar, and we’re back to square one next school year.

I’m equating 1-foot bars with simpler, or smaller, task size. If you break up tasks that are easy to accomplish, then you’re setting the organization up for bigger successes in the future. It reminds me of radio-host Dave Ramsey’s strategy for getting out of debt. He suggests that people differentiate their various forms of debt, and then place them in order from the smallest amount (e.g. $1,000 on a credit card, perhaps) to the largest amount (car or house payment). The person then starts paying down the smallest amount first because it’s easiest to accomplish and get out of the way. Once that’s finished, the person goes on to the next biggest amount and pays that off. Then the next one. Then the next one, until he or she is debt free. Ramsey calls this the “Snowball” method.

The same idea is explained In the book Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath as they expand upon Buffett’s thought:

“A business cliche commands us to ‘raise the bar.’ But that’s exactly the wrong instinct if you want to motivate a reluctant Elephant. You need to lower the bar. Picture taking a high-jump bar and lowering it so far that it can be stepped over (page 129).”

It would behoove leaders to follow Buffett, Ramsey, and the Heath brothers’ leads. Give your people 1-foot bars to step over. Once they begin clearing those easily on a regular basis, then you can lift the bar higher, à la the Snowball method.

Let’s say you set up a 1-foot bar and soon discover it’s actually a 7-foot bar that staff members can’t clear. As quickly as possible, decide whether you want to train teachers to clear that high bar or cut your losses and abandon the practice. There’s no shame in stating, “This is not for us–at least right now.” Remember, saying a thousand no’s is better than saying a thousand yes’s. The best teacher teams I’ve seen are able to take the tools and strategies at their disposal and synthesize them in a way that’s not overwhelming.


I heard about ‘simplexity’ for the first time exactly one month ago at an education conference. A Google search for the term will provide you with this Wikipedia page, which begins with:

Simplexity is an emerging theory that proposes a possible complementary relationship between complexity and simplicity. The term draws from General Systems Theory, Dialectics (philosophy) and Design. Jeffrey Kluger wrote a book about this phenomenon that describes how house plants can be more complicated than industrial plants, how a truck driver’s job can be as difficult as a CEO’s and why 90% of the money donated to help cure diseases are given only to the research of 10% of them (and vice versa).

I like the word, even though Wikipedia doesn’t explain it precisely the way I think it can relate to education.

Teachers work in a seemingly straightforward environment: standards, curriculum, technology, students. On their face, these items appear pretty simple; bureaucratically, they are usually dealt with interchangeably. We say one size doesn’t fit all, but we rarely mind it, and this is because there’s not enough time and training.

It’s a pity, because even though such things as standards, curriculum, technology, and students are dealt with millions of times a day, their simplicity masks an almost impenetrable complexity. To better illustrate this, think of an iPhone: The device is extremely easy to use–so easy, in fact, my three-year-old son can navigate its interface to select apps (PBS Kids is his favorite), movies, and home videos. However, the complexity underneath the touchscreen is astounding, and it’s too much for my son (and me) to comprehend.

The same can be said for the items I mentioned above. Common Core standards are clearly published online and in districts’ pacing guides, but the various ways to teach them is confounding. Curriculum, which must be accessed to teach Common Core, is in the same boat. Technology is used every day by teachers, but how to use it is up for debate. (Should students take notes on devices? How many words should be on a PowerPoint slide?* How does one provide digital infrastructure in a classroom?)

Students, of course, are the most seemingly simple but undoubtedly complex factors in every classroom across the country. Language, background, disabilities, gaps in knowledge, missing school days, years of ineffective schooling, attitude, parent support, peer groups, nutrition, health, and subject area interest are some of the many variables students bring to school. Teachers must view each student under a lens of simplexity. When figuring out how to best teach (usually with the aid of formative assessments, experience, and time getting to know the students), teachers can determine what kids need to know. This, in turn, can better guide teachers on how to approach standards, curriculum, and technology. By no means is this easy. I mean, we’ve sent a rover to Mars but haven’t been able to bring most of our nation’s students to proficiency. That says something.

Because of the proliferation of information and rapid speed of technological development, change is ever-present. I tell this to teachers all the time during professional development sessions. The only way to be comfortable in 2015 is to embrace uncertainty and find a complementary relationship between complexity and simplicity.

*As few as possible

Limitations are important

And sometimes necessary.

Chipotle, In-N-Out, and Chick-fil-A are popular, and one of the reasons for their success is a simple menu. The customer visits these restaurants with a clear idea about what he or she wants, and the establishments deliver.

I’ve used this philosophy in my classroom for years now: Teach the students important concepts and teach them well. I’m interested in depth of knowledge, not wide and shallow learning. That means I have to curate very carefully when deciding to include material and new lesson plans within my units.

Steve Jobs was a huge proponent of simplicity. He said he was more important about what Apple didn’t do than what they did do. He also said this:

That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.

“Simplicity,” “focus,” and even “curating” are not copouts for avoiding hard work. On the contrary, they demand even more emotional and physical effort. Education would benefit a lot by incorporating Steve Jobs’s philosophy into best practice methods. Teachers need to sort out the bad and focus on the good. and in no realm is this more important than incorporation of technology in the classroom.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

There are so many great technological resources to use as an educator, but when I google “education” and “technology,” I am blasted by a fire hydrant of information when what I want is a sip of water. Teachers can’t use everything they think is “neat” with their students and 1:1 devices. This will result in a rudderless pursuit for mastery of standards. Laptops and tablets should definitely be used in student learning, but the students need a framework with which to navigate the internet, learn, and produce work. I’m working on finding the best way to do this right now. 

The job of the teacher has just expanded. Now we are curators who do a lot of work making things simple. It’s what the best companies do, and there’s no excuse to act differently.

Approaching technology

Sometimes I’m tempted to pick Facebook up again, and I continually weigh the pros and cons. There are plenty of reasons why Facebook is good. There’s one big con, however: The insidious way it sucks up time.

I used to check my wall while watching T.V., while on my iPhone, while waiting in line at the pharmacy… Sometimes I’d click around on the different things people posted and half an hour would be gone.

Once I quit Facebook, I wrote a lot more and read a lot more (books, that is). A level of productivity materialized I hadn’t known the year I was on FB.

Now I approach technology a lot more skeptically. (Like the Amish, I guess.) Instead of thinking about how cool a new site might be to visit, or how fun a new gadget might be to own, I think about what I’m giving up to invest time in the next new thing.

My goal: never pick up a new gadget unless it simplifies my life. And hopefully, gadget makers will be striving for simplicity within the product itself.

Interestingly, Apple’s priorities are becoming the industry’s priorities. It seems that companies making electronics–whether they are vacuums, hand dryers, or thermostats–are striving for simplicity, beauty, and excellence. This wasn’t always the case. Remember the way cellphones appeared before Apple introduced the iPhone? All those sad devices looked the same. Now they all look like iPhones.

By the way, have you seen this new thermostat? Here’s the trailer. (Yes, it has a trailer.)

It’s designed by a former Apple employee. The way things are going, however, you don’t have to be a former Apple employee to appreciate striving for perfection.