Visualizing change helps!


Along time ago when I was studying how to manage change and efficiency while working for a city councilmember and later trying to rethink what an effective learning space needs to look like, I read a lot about system thinking and managing systems of change. Back then, I was intrigued with the model that Toyota had been incorporating from and evolved thinking models they used to help make the production and problem management process clearer for all involved.  
As the company got bigger, as more artists were brought into projects, the questions poured into management: how can we clarify the systems in order to prevent the tyranny of ambiguity? Ambiguity creates a lot of people issues.  People issues are expensive in every way.


As a storyteller, it’s super important to pre-visualize and visualize the ideas and the thinking. Clarifying the product (the WHAT), clarifying the process (the HOW), is the project. The project is simply not the final product, consequently, its the sum of the product and process components. Making sure this is visually clear, making sure the language is synced up with the team helps create a better story, thus, limiting ambiguity.


The essential question for Toyota as it learned from the cultural failures of American manufacturing was: how can we be more empowered and effective AS A TEAM? 

For me, this is a great question, too, since I still see a lot of “us vs them” situations today in schools.  I noticed that we consistantly try to change the stuff around people without actually making the WHY clear, clarifying the system and empowering them to change the stuff for themselves. Clear goals provide parameters; unclear goals require procedures (step-by-step). Parameters allow a certain level of ownership with the tasks. Procedures only give you the option to do it right or wrong. So, the teams limited to ask “just tell me what to do, how to do it, and when it’s do— very disempowering.

Back then, as a new educator, I wanted to engage my colleagues in these types of conversations, however, because it was not a content area lead conversation, I was not very successful. Empowerment, motivation, purpose was not the star of our sentences, meetings, reports, and grades.  Sadly, I still find a HUGE focus when we meet as a team on content and curriculum (stuff) and not on systems (way of thinking through things) that can help inspire,  clarify, model, and support change. 


Yesterday, I saw a cool story about an organization that helped rebuild homes in New Orleans after Katrina that received some strategy (systems thinking) support from a couple of Toyota systems thinking managers to help them be more effective and efficient.  They coached them on how to visualize the goal so everyone is clear. They clarified language into simple categories.  They assisted them in publicizing their challenges daily. They encouraged people to contribute to the solution finding with the clarified and agreed-upon language.  They helped make needs and concerns have an appropriate stage for action and reflection without doing “the blame game thing”.  

Consequently, this humanitarian organization became 50% more effective and less than a year. They were able to get more people back into their homes more efficiently because they had a system in place that helped create clear goals, clarify specific roles, and have a reflective process that was being utilized as a tool for assessing and adjusting. This mapping out process became part of the culture.  

Below, is an excerpt from a medical journal blog written by Richard Zarbo, also, used this thinking process to help make them more effective and efficient. Below each paragraph, I’ll ask reflective questions for you to think about or consider.


“The primary role of team members is to reveal in real-time, to each other, and to their managers what is not working as expected, that is, to identify in-process defects and waste.”

QUESTION: How does your school, classroom reveal, in a safe and comfortable way, what is not working as expected? Do you have evidence of this?

“To this end, we place white boards in the workplace so that defects can be made visible by the workers themselves, in a blameless fashion.”

QUESTION: How do you visualize a process for your teams to share their victories, their lessons learned, and their needs and concerns regularly?

“A white board is a work communication tool for the worker and manager so that ‘no problem doesn’t become a problem’.”

QUESTION: how are you or your team aware of problems, possible problems? How are they addressed? What does that process look like? Is it transparent to the team?

“Why write it down publicly?  Simply, to collect factual information about less than optimal work and because lack of effective communication begets poor quality.”

QUESTION: reflection. How many times has a problem gotten worse because we failed to address it and talk about it? How many times did we avoid talking about it because we were too scared of hurting someone’s feelings?


The even bigger questions here are that what happens when we continue to not be clear with the goal(s), when we don’t have a clarified and common language on how we plan, how we produce, and how we reflect to assess, adjust, and re-evaluate? What happens when we don’t help make it clear, when we don’t visualize the process?  Can we continue to assume we can make change and manage it if we only address the stuff  like content and curriculum only?  What happens when we don’t talk about how to think things through and what that looks like? 

Talk about it. Share the ideas with your teams.


Make your community matter!


Why do we need communities more than ever? 

Why do communities matter? What does a community do? For me, they help me take risks because I know I can go to them for help, inspiration, ideas, and even instruction. 

Communities help me create, they helped me learn, and they help me share.  Since I have a variety of hobbies, I am constantly connecting with people all over the world.  As a learning chef, I religiously follow a variety of blogs and have a collection of bookmarks that I can go to for help. I subscribed to a variety of channels that I can go to for ideas and how to’s.  I follow key chefs on Twitter and follow them using Facebook as well.  I need to be connected with them. In my quest to improve my potential for being a smart and creative chef requires it.  However, it doesn’t stop there. I follow a similar structure for my love of bicycling, skateboarding, drawing, photography, filmmaking, and even parenthood.  Because I contribute to these communities, people are more willing to connect with me.  This makes me feel safe, comfortable, and it helps me build the necessary confidence to take risks.  

What do your communities look like?

Education should not be as complicated as it is. It is a structure created to provide students the necessary skill sets to learn to lead, solve interesting problems, and learn to tell the stories of the experiences along the way and afterwards.  Unfortunately, politics, adult issues, school reputations, etc. provide the clutter and noise that blurs the personal intention of our  education.  Because of this, many new moving and complicated parts are thrown into our algorithm to get students from point A to point Z in the most efficient, effective, and empowered way possible.  

Because of this, we need to not feel alone. We need a community to help us rethink things, get inspired regularly, if not daily, look at ideas or share your own, and learn how to survive daily with strategies, tips, techniques that can help us get through the day or the lesson. 

What are your needs? What are the questions you need asked or answered to help you feel safe, comfortable, and confident enough to take risks today, tomorrow, and so on? Who can you talk to about this? Are your colleagues limited to the people around them? Maybe, you have more colleagues everywhere who can provide the necessary perspective to help you boost confidence. Communities do this. They create a sense of belonging. This is a human need that education today needs more than ever.  Students, too, need to see and learn from the teachers on how they leverage people and resources throughout the world to help meet and immediate and/or long-term need.

As we sell the idea to engage people in our schools to connect with each other and share ideas, we need to think about our essential question here: are we asking them to connect to their selected community using social tools we created for them? Or, are we helping them understand that they are not alone, that there needs and concerns and ideas are similar to people beyond the school property? And, because of this already existing environment of empathy and our digital promise schools ecosystem, how can they leverage tools to help them navigate their needs to the right resource, person, idea?

What is the need we need to organize around? What is the goal for this group? Why should they connect with each other? How can we help facilitate these connections? How can these groups help reduce the clutter and shift the noise into signals that mean something as opposed to be seen as more work?

How can we make the Digital Promise community even more effective, efficient, and empowered? How can we be the modem that helps connect the necessary nodes of your needs, wants, concerns, victories, lessons? 

Think through your communities. Why do they work for you? What do they need in order for them to better work for you? Please share!

Making measuring matter to more people. 


How do you measure? How do you make measuring more effective? How doe we use what we measure guide our adjustments?  
 These are a great questions we need to be asking more. We talk a lot about data but it seams like that’s it. We talk about it. What do we do with it?  More importantly– what are we measuring? How are we measuring? Why are we measuring? After we measure, what happens with this information?  
After listening to a number of back-to-school events and seeing charts about how the school scores, how the different ethnicities score, how special need student score, and how language learners score on their standardized tests, not one talked with us about where exactly are the problem areas. What were the areas they found success?  What were the patterns in the data?  It was only a delivery if information. Why can’t this be a 2 way conversation?  After the data is shared, what that mean to all of us and how can we help? 
I was hoping to hear something like this:
These are the numbers. These are the numbers compared to….  These are the patterns that show the areas where they scored well and these are the areas where they didn’t. From these patterns, we are making the following adjustments. I wish there was a challenge for all of the other content area teachers to think through 1-3 strategies they can contribute to support a growth plan for those problem areas. It would be great for them to share those ideas to the other teachers and even the families. Maybe we can look at the strength areas and see how they can be used to support the areas in need for improvement. 
What can this look like?
For parents, schools can make recommendations on what can be done at home to supplement the adjustment strategies. 
What can this look like?
This is a challenge for us to think through a process to take results, reflect on them, identify patterns, identify strategies to make necessary adjustments. This way, I believe, we can make measuring matter more for everyone and make the journey more inclusive. 
Your thoughts. 

DRAFT: How to be a smart conference goer!

Here are a few tips for you I’m preparing for a conference. Let’s be strategic. 

First, let’s break down the conference.  

1. The sessions/ presenters. The sessions are usually focused around someone sharing something that works for them, how to use  a product/tool, or, explaining a trend. There maybe more, however, these are the main ones. 

2. The  Exhibit hall. Here is where developers and companies share their products with the conference goers and give away free crap. 

3. The social networking before, between, during, and after the conference events. Here is where people meet, share reflections, making new friends, and have a good time with their peers and new ones from other places. 

The challenge:

So let’s think about how to maximize each part. I know many of you struggle communicating those many special moments. I know it’s tough to Convey the environment  the conference provided you. I know it’s a struggle to go back to your school colleagues, who were not blessed enough to go with you, The many wonderful opportunities you experienced. Therefore, you’re probably starting off on the wrong foot delivering what worked for you.

The problem is storytelling. The story experience at the conference, the conference posting city, and the environment of the event doesn’t translate very well if you just come back with a bag of fliers and links to website. So much of the story happens in real time and, if you think about it, you have resources on you and I can help you be more effective and efficient at storytelling the experience back to your colleagues.

Effective conference going Tip 1. 

Think about how to select people to go and think about how you’re going to use those people at the conference.  For example, send teachers who are willing to share and report back what they experienced in cool and creative ways. Ask teachers to share how they would storytell the event. Make this a priority for your whole staff to be this audience for this conference goer and their report!  Popcorn please. This adds a bit more accountability to who gets to go. It should be a school priority to provide the necessary stage and audience to discuss what was seen and what was learned from the experience.

If you have the luxury of sending more than one teacher, create a plan ahead of time. Identify someone who can help story tell the event. Let’s call them the team mentor. Also, Select people who can be the mentees. They’re the ones that are going for the first time or may be new to that conference’s themes. They will work as a team to share the experience of the conference from someone who has gone through the experience and someone who is new to the experience.

Choosing the right team and making the goals clear, and, agreeing on common language on how to report back is fundamental.

The more creative. Use a variety of ways to report back.   Don’t wait until the airplane ride back to write your full reflection. Collect along the way like a photojournalist would Cover an event live.  Leverage your mobile device to help capture moments that matter. As a kid, I loved my moms slideshows. Everybody would sit down and listen to her talk about the picture and what happened around it. I love the question and answers that happened afterwards too.

With this new team, write down some goals you have for the conference. What are concepts you need clarified. What are resources you need to look into more. Who are people you feel you need to meet and listen to. What are companies and or products you feel you need to understand  more. Planet out. Identify sessions, presenters, and exhibits that can and will help you answer your key essential question, for example, how do I improve and increase learning opportunities at my school? Create a process to collect questions from your colleagues as well. Although they are not going, what would they like to learn from this event. Take their list and keep an eye out for solutions or resources that can help answer their questions. This will create more buy-in from them as well.

Four the sessions, write down your reflections. What were some victories that you experienced because of the session or presenter? What were some key lessons learned from the experience? What word needs and concerns for you after the session or after hearing the presenter? Agreeing on this reflective format can help you with your writing, podcast, or video making prompt. Try to do it immediately after the session and or at night before going to bed. If you quick reflective lines can go along way. Use the dictation tool. I do all the time!

For the exhibit, create a top 10 or top five list. Find the top or best of. Again, talk about why you like it. What question does it answer, how will people benefit from this, and why do you think it’s cool. Create a quick 2 to 3 question prompts that will help you create a template for you and your team to create this list. Pictures of the exhibit item or both, interviews with the booth representative, and or video will help you convey the story more effectively.

For the social time, I have two key tips. 1. Connect informally with your team. Go out! Take advantage of this new place to get to know each other better outside of  school  distractions. It’s key to build relationships with people who are going to help you make the world a better place.  2. Connect with new people. Exchange business cards, twitter links, Facebook links, etc.   really follow up with them! I cannot tell you the benefits I have experienced because of my new relationships with my new colleagues. Because of the connected world we live in, they can be your true colleagues. Follow up with them! Work on projects together! Make conductivity and collaboration real and not just words schools like to throw around.

DRAFT: ESPN The Storyteller (they have to be).

ESPN a is a sports channel. It’s 24 hours, too. They started out small. They had a similar business loan that CNN had– all sports, all day. They were out there first. It worked, however, to survive, they need to evolve. They did. They evolved from a fact delivering institution to a storytelling one, as well.

They had to take a page from the NFL films team and find the narrative of the match. The facts alone would not fit the time slot nor did it fit the emotional gaps people experienced while watching the game. The essential question became: How can ESPN transfer the emotion experienced before, during, after, and around the game? How do they move from fact reporting to emotional storytelling? The documentaries produced by ESPN are some of the best stories out there. The stories are incredible. They are keyed in to the following key ingredients to demonstrate empathy by including:

Challenges/ struggles

They connect. They make our heroes vulnerable. They make the unsung hero a hero. The stories of winning from losing and losing from winning are moving. They make you care. This helps ESPN keep on going.

Dot connection.
How do we leverage story from a fact reporting culture in our schools? How can we create a greater advocacy to enable and empower our schools to storytell their stories (resilience, hope, challenge, and emotions) with their world. Schools are more than facts and data. We now need to fill in the emotional and intellectual “time slot”to connect/ relate, survive and thrive, to matter.

Thanks ESPN for making me rethink the data and story conversation.

Draft: Mobile Storytelling Tip: How to add a created song from GarageBand to your iMovie project.

Music making, to this day, is one of the forgotten parts of storytelling in the classroom. A lot of people just add a popular song to that video. The problem with this is copyright music cannot be used without the express written permission from the creators of the music. In another words, the music cannot be legally used.

The solutions are as follows:

  1. Don’t use any music.
  2. Find royalty-free music online. Download it, and use it on your project.
  3. Use a music app to make loop based music. Another words, use the loops that are already included with the application.
  4. Use a music making apps like GarageBand to make your own music. Whether you’re a professional or just a beginner, GarageBand can help you create music that is perfectly legal and perfectly yours.

What I like about option number four is that it creates an opportunity for another student to participate in the storytelling process. Music, is an emotional communicator and, in many cases, it’s the key component to the actual bigger story.

The cool news about iPads is that it comes with iMovie and a garage pad. So, if you’re editing your movie and iMovie, you can open up GarageBand, make a song, or a music bed and use it under your movie.

I’m going to walk you through how to move a created song in GarageBand and open it and iMovie.

On your iOS device, open up garage band. Locate the song you created for your movie. if you select and hold the song you want, it will wiggle. This means that it is awaiting a command from you. In the upper left-hand corner, you will see some actions available. You will choose the send to option which is the box with an arrow pointing up to it. See the image below.


Once it’s selected and the “send to/export” icon is selected– you’ll choose the “open in application” icon on the bottom


(Choose share)

When you choose this icon, you get the option to open it and iMovie.


Once you select iMovie, you will be prompt to choose the movie you want scored.



(Choose the movie you’re scoring: Rio Rides)

Locate it, select it, and you will see that the music will automatically be placed underneath the video. Now, all you have to do is adjust the length of the song/music and you’re done.



(Make length adjustments)



(That’s a rap).

DRAFT: New Orleans: Conflict makes for a great narrative.


Photo by Marco Torres


From Jenna:

This project has been an assault of the senses for me.  I have been learning with my whole being during this initiative.  This project reminds me of being in New Orleans on a hot and muggy day in July.   You stroll around  the Quarter wearing your flip flops armed with a sloppy po’boy while the mayonnaise drips down your arms. Watching jugglers, a Second Line, and artists at their canvass you are transported into a story told unlike any other in the U.S.  But it’s your flip-flopped feet that tell the real story at the end of the day.

They tell the story because they are utterly filthy.  New Orleans is a city that all at once is creepy and beautiful, dangerous and heavenly, Good and Bad, clean and dirty.

Aren’t those the elements that make a story good?

From Marco:

That is what makes a great story. The ups and the downs. The coming back up from a down or the other way! Music needs a happy ending and sometimes a sad ending. Stories, music, art, need this conflict. Ying and Yang are the best marketers. They win you over because you want to see how they figure things out after a mess up. Even people like surfers need this conflict in their stories. Wiping out is part of the journey. It doesn’t stop them from getting back up on the board. They even have a silly happy song about wiping out. Failing for them is not trying.

Jenna’s connection between New Orleans and this digital promise journey is a very accurate one for me as well. The official insect for New Orleans should be the bumble bee because. The bee is not supposed to fly. The wings are too small in proportion to the body but it does. New Orleans is below sea level. I remember looking onto the city from a river boat and seeing the tops of houses. This is usually bad news if one understands the law of physics. However even though they are confronted with this constant reminder of dangers, or as Jenna calls it, “the bad”, they thrive in their own special way– “the good”.

The city has a history of people trying to figure things out from slavery to kicked out Canadians, French, and Spanish to Plessy vs Ferguson to Katrina. Data is not NOLA’s best friend, however, the story is! This is why it’s one of my favorite places to go, as well. I’m addicted to its story.

Today, America and the world is grateful for the city that has given us a soul, art, culture, and hope (even though part of this story is sad, too).

We will thrive. We will survive. We will scrape our needs. Share victories. Dirty our feet. But, at the end of the day, like the Crescent city, the experience will be worth it!

There are three things New Orleans never hides: 1. It’s challenges, 2. How it adapts, 3. And how it tells that story using sound, smells, site, flavors, and emotions.

I love this challenge!

Thank you, Jenna, for helping me connect these very important dots for me today!

I’m now craving red beans and rice, Louie Armstrong, and my “Who Dat!”