Put the “Higher” Back in “Higher Education”

A 62-year old is laid off after an entire career with the same company. As part of his severance he is given modern job search training. The biggest piece of advice? “Find the keywords that the prospective employer is looking for and type them in white around the border of your resume. People won’t see it, but the computer that’s scanning your resume will.”

One of the best students I ever worked with came to my office asking for help on a homework problem that he already had the solution to. When I asked why he needed my help he told me that he copied the solution from the internet so that he wouldn’t lose any points, but now he wants to actually understand it.

A student didn’t turn in a single assignment all semester, and got a failing grade on the final exam. Then asked me for a passing grade because it was his birthday. He made sure to send me proof that it really was his birthday.

Here’s my question: what have we done!?

Continue reading “Put the “Higher” Back in “Higher Education””


I’ve avoided that particular closing for years. In grade school we’re taught that “sincerely,” is the proper way to end a letter. The actual sentiment behind it is instantly lost on a bunch of third graders as they practice writing it by rote.

Ending a letter with “sincerely,” felt anything but sincere.

Continue reading “Sincerely,”

Oh. Well in that case…

People spend too much on babies and learning. We perceive an urgency or risk, and so we let our guard down and accept what the salesman tells us.

“Don’t skimp on a new car, your child’s life is at risk.”

On the one hand, we need to buy quality goods. There is such a thing as an unsafe car. But Mercedes isn’t the only company that makes safe ones. Brand new cars (with brand new car payments) aren’t the only ones that are safe either. Continue reading “Oh. Well in that case…”

How Investments Work

Investments work on a simple principle: forgo consumption today, and reap the ability to consume more later.

If we spend a little less from our paychecks, we can save for retirement. After a little effort spent selecting good mutual funds, the magic of compound interest will cause this money to grow, becoming capable of purchasing more in the future than it can purchase today.

It’s not a big stretch to look at time the same way: Continue reading “How Investments Work”

Pride Kills Connected Learning

If you spend more than a minute with a good search engine, you can find dozens of explanations of just about any topic. Written articles, blog posts, podcasts, videos, books, slides, and infographics are just some of the many formats.

Yet when a teacher sits down to create lesson plans, the beginning is always Lecture Notes. The teacher presumes that before engaging with the topic, the students need him to explain it as only he can. When the teacher spends all of class time lecturing, she makes the implicit statement that the myriad of explanations on the internet are inferior to her own.

Is this pride? Is it fear? Perhaps teachers are afraid that if they aren’t lecturing, they aren’t needed anymore.

Teachers are(can be) much more than content delivery machines.

Film School [@TonyBrainstorms Guest Post]

Great Teachers in Film.

Unanimous: they break the mold of sitting in rows. Students in their classrooms do more than follow instructions. They create. There is a scene with administrators yelling at them. There is a student who doesn’t get it, and the teacher fights for him. There is a scene in which the students fail and it looks really dark. And then they succeed. And then they live lives worth making movies about.

  • Mr. Holland’s Opus
  • October Sky
  • Dead Poets Society
  • Dangerous Minds

Buried in our collective psyche is the idea that school is supposed to be more than this. It’s time to embark on a journey of educational images. What do we want school to look like? Ask the movies.

Where are the elbow-padded professors, guiding students in lively debate in a wood-paneled office? Where are the students who spend time discussing what they read, because they love to learn, not because they were assigned to?

Leadership truths are teaching truths

I’ve been reading Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy, and in the last chapter they share three truths about life and leadership:

  1. “Self-leadership always precedes team leadership. Leaders… that make the greatest difference are highly self aware and well rounded…they live lives that are attractive to those they serve and lead.”
  2. “…our teams are watching us. They set their levels of trust and engagement Based on what they see in our lives. How we leaders live matters.”
  3. “What’s true for you is true for your team members. They can’t compartmentalize their lives either.”

It turns out, teaching and leadership have a lot in common. My remix:

  1. Self-learning always precedes classroom learning. Teachers… that make the greatest difference are highly self aware and well rounded…they live lives that are attractive to those they serve and teach.
  2. …our students are watching us. They set their levels of trust and engagement Based on what they see in our lives. How we teachers live matters.
  3. What’s true for you is true for your students. They can’t compartmentalize their lives either.

Students and teachers alike: bring your whole self, your best self, to the classroom (and everywhere else).

Merry Christmas!


Today is an odd day for me. I am withdrawing from two “opportunities.” One is a paper for a conference, the other is a job application.

The paper represents the typical academic currency, keeps the “publish or perish” ledger in the black. The job represents my last offer to enter into the industrial research machine, and make the unremarkable changes that come from a place of absolute safety.

Both represent opportunity to move up a rung in the safe, professional ladder I have been climbing. There is a “typical” or “traditional” track to follow which is the expected and (seemingly safe) trajectory for my career, the natural continuation of the path that led me to this point. This path leads directly into the machine, and offers the opportunity to become a cog.

Cog (n) /kawg/ A crucial, but easily replaced part of a machine. Only noticed when it doesn’t work.

I can’t help but notice that if I don’t send the paper, the conference will go on. No one will miss it so much that they decide not to attend. The job opening that was “created just for me” came with so little communication and urgency that I have to wonder if this is just a sales pitch, a way to make me feel like a winner as I settle. Someone else will take the job. The factory owner wins when highly talented people join the “cog list” as employees. It is the highly talented new employee who suffers. This person must hand over the keys to his dreams in exchange for a “safe” career, with well-defined promotion tracks based on years of service rather than impact.

In either place, it is easy to test just how cog-like the opportunities are: If I walk away, will the long-term outcome change? 10 years from now, will it matter that someone else published their paper, or someone else took that job? Inverting the question: if I don’t do the work that I plan to do instead of these two “opportunities,” will the world miss that? I think so.

Today is especially strange for me because these two “opportunities” represent my last open lines to that safe track to cubeville. Letting go may actually burn the bridges, leaving me fully committed to the uncertain life of following MY purpose. Not someone else’s purposes. Not the expected path that has been trodden countless times. I’ll have no one to boss me, no one to blame for my success or failure.

But I’ll have a chance to matter.