Judge Not: Don’t Let Disagreements Lead to Disdain

By: Eranda Jayawickreme

“I’m all for helping refugees, but some cultures just don’t fit with the American way of life.” 

So said my airplane seatmate a few years ago. He and I were in a heated discussion—should the United States admit more refugees from war-ravaged Syria? As someone who has done research on how forcibly displaced populations cope with the impact of political violence, I had strong views on the topic. 

Of course, a degree in psychology does not make me a specialist in the complexities of refugee policy in my adopted country. I couldn’t rattle off statistics or deeply informed analyses of resettlement issues. Yet my first instinct when hearing my seatmate’s claim was to challenge him. And, in the back of my mind, to judge him. 

Why was it hard to be humble and honest about what I didn’t know in this situation? In a recent study, people were more likely to consider different viewpoints in situations where they saw the person they were arguing with as moral and therefore trustworthy. Conversely, they were less likely to be open to opposing views when they disliked the person. The content of the disagreement—morality, facts, opinions—didn’t matter; what was important was what they thought of their conversation partner. 

That may be why we become defensive when we get into arguments—we tend to see criticism of our views as critiques of our character because that’s how we typically think of others. If I wanted to convince my seatmate that refugees—from Syria, Afghanistan, or other politically unstable nations—deserve a chance in this country, perhaps I should have listened more and judged less. 

That may be why we become defensive when we get into arguments—we tend to see criticism of our views as critiques of our character, because that’s how we typically think of others.

Eranda Jayawickreme

If I could go back and redo my conversation on the plane that day, I would ask, “What do you think are the reasons we should help refugees? Where do you think refugee policies have gone right in this country?” In today’s polarized environment, I think we all need to cultivate intellectual humility more than ever and model these skills for the young people in our lives.  

Don’t believe that when someone disagrees with you on an issue, it reflects a character flaw.

Do assume the best of intentions when disagreements arise. If you take a step back and remind yourself that they’re not a bad person, you can disagree without being disagreeable. 

With humility and gratitude,


Eranda Jayawickreme is the Harold W. Tribble professor of psychology and senior research fellow at the Program for Leadership and Character at Wake Forest University.

5th-6th Graders Take Up Call To Action For International Women’s History Month

This month is International Women’s History Month – a global acknowledgment of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. It has also come to represent an international call to action for accelerating gender parity and women’s equality.

Well, the 5th and 6th-grade learners working with Dr. Shayna Markwongark at iLEAD Antelope Valley Hybrid are heeding that call to action. According to Markwongark, learners are currently embarking on a Women’s History Project. They have to first identify a key woman in history, learn her story and then connect that story to their own lives and community. Their driving question is “How can we use the activism of women throughout history to influence or change my /our community today?”

“This is all about research and then activism,” said Markwongark. “Its purpose is to connect this information to their world and their futures.” It’s this latter part that is the true project-based learning aspect, according to Markwongark.

The project has two key components once teams of learners have identified their famous woman, done the research, and learned the key aspects of her story. First, said Markwongark, students will work in teams to produce a three-five-minute podcast that tells both the women’s story and then showcases how it can connect to the students’ school lives and community.

The second major public product, according to Markwongark, will be a series of written proposals that the teams prepare for iLEAD Founder & CEO Dawn Evenson and iLEAD Antelope Valley Director Dawn Roberson. This proposal will represent the students’ recommendations to iLEAD about continuing to empower women and raise awareness within the iLEAD community.

This correlation of history and activism is at the heart of this project, according to Markwongark. She said learning the history and even connecting it to the learners’ lives is important, but what’s more important is how this information is used going forward.

“This is about inspiration first, then action second,” said Markwongark. “It’s great to be inspired and full of hope, but what matters is how we individually contribute to improving the world.”

For Markwongark, she wants all of her learners to be empowered by the stories of others and then take action. “I’m going to continually ask them what they can do going forward – this year, this summer, next year, and beyond,” she said.

School Director Dawn Roberson is excited about the facilitation and learning associated with a project aligned with global goals of empowering women to advocate for their rights as human beings. Roberson appreciates the depth of this project allowing learners to see the complex world in which they live through a more powerful lens.

“Even in a nation like ours, we see the need to continue to advocate for equal pay, equal rights, and equal opportunities for women and for all,” said Roberson. “These 5th and 6th graders will have a better understanding of their role supporting all the women in their lives and advocacy on behalf of others.”

As the Founder & CEO of iLEAD Schools, Evenson said she is eager to be part of such an important and dynamic project and can’t wait to see the learners’ proposals and presentations.

“Having our 5th and 6th-grade learners participate in a project that deeply explores the impact that women have had on history is both academically engaging, as well as a powerful way to empower our learners to create change in their school, community, and ultimately the world.”

Although this project is just getting underway, Markwongark has high expectations for learner outcomes. In addition to the historical knowledge and content, there is a social-emotional component, along with some very important skills, that Markwongark is anticipating that the learners will experience. She said that one of her goals is for the learners – after reflecting on the obstacles, challenges, and successes of their woman in history – there will be learner epiphanies about what they can do with their lives.

“My learners already have great qualities, but I am going to see a lot more empowered young men and women,” said Markwongark. “It doesn’t have to be global. It can be in their own communities and even their own families. It might be even just working with their brother or sister to be more sensitive, aware, or inspired.”

This idea of empowerment leads to the student voice and agency aspects made possible by high-quality project-based learning, according to Markwongark.

“Hopefully, they become the disseminators of this information about what equality looks like,” she said. “Who knows? Maybe some of these learners will come up with ideas that iLEAD decides to implement. That’s the power of PBL.”

For more details and background on this project, see The Project Design Guide and the Project Information Flipbook.

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Smart Review: Lenovo VR Classroom 2

The use of virtual reality in education has been on the rise in recent years. In particular, this school year when we are working through the challenges of remote learning and also are limited in the possibilities for taking students on field trips or other limits in providing real-world experiences for them. When it comes to VR, there are always concerns that come with it.  Will all students have access? What are the benefits of learning? What is the cost involved?

Companies have been working to provide more options for schools so that students can all experience learning through innovative environments and emerging technologies. Lenovo has been working on creating more options for educators and schools to embrace the use of VR and to make it accessible for all students.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Rich Henderson, the Director of Global Education Solutions at Lenovo. We spent time talking about the use of VR and the benefits for education. He shared some of the upcoming features that will be available for use with their virtual reality products. In speaking with Henderson, he talked about the need for a concentrated effort around embracing change, in particular, that teachers need to adopt to best prepare students for workforce readiness.

Lenovo started the VR classroom in 2017 and has continued to seek input from educators and work to provide a versatile product for use in classrooms.  The lessons learned in Lenovo’s initial VR offering for schools have been reflected in new features that are particularly compelling in today’s environment, where 90% of the world’s learners were impacted by school closures.

During our conversations, we talked about the ongoing challenges that now exist for educators and students due to the pandemic. Finding opportunities to connect students with real-world experiences and to develop skills beyond the content area is critical. Henderson said that the focus should be on providing future-ready education experiences for students and also help teachers promote increased student engagement. To accomplish this, he says that VR solutions help to engage students more in learning.

Benefits of using VR

Using tools for exploring and immersing more in learning through VR enables students to connect more closely with what they are studying and in a more meaningful way. Through VR, students can be fully immersed in experiences that enable learning beyond the classroom “space” which can lead to the development of empathy, a greater understanding of more complex concepts being studied, and increased knowledge retention. VR also allows more access to experiences for students who don’t have the ability to travel.

When it comes to what Lenovo offers, they launched some updates to the education solutions they provide, including the Lenovo VR Classroom 2 which is powered by ThinkReality.™  With these solutions, they provide greater support to schools as they adopt new curriculums and virtual learning styles for this school year and in the future. VR also allows more access to experiences for students who don’t have the ability to travel.

How does it work

Making the VR content available to students is easier because they now use the platform to log in and the content has already been uploaded to the cloud which then makes it available on each of the headsets. Teachers have a separate login and can choose to start the classroom experience at the same time for all students or instead enable the students to engage in the experience at their own pace. Teachers can also pull all students into the same VR experience through a portal.

Henderson shared that the VR Classroom 2 will help especially with the distance learning environments when it can be a challenge to work amidst distractions. VR Classroom 2 offers students and teachers “a visually and audibly isolated environment” to fully engage with instructional materials that come with preloaded content, classroom management, training, and device support.

Their focus has been to provide something simple for IT to set up so that teachers and students can get started without needing a lot of steps in the process. IT sets everything up for teachers to access and push the content to the cloud through the ThinkReality platform which makes everything available to students on the headsets. They are currently working with Veative to offer 500 modules for students. Through the classroom management tools from LanSchool, teachers can sync a fleet of headsets and take their entire classroom on a guided virtual lesson, 360 tours and provide other VR experiences all from a single source. Whether it’s taking students on a virtual field trip around the world or looking closely at something in a biology class, for example, DNA strands, there are endless possibilities for immersing students in learning with VR.

Benefits for teachers

One concern that Henderson mentioned is that virtual reality is at the risk of being a gimmick. He said the key is focusing on that instructional connection and how to best use it to provide students with a way to more meaningfully connect with the content that they are learning. VR can be a great engagement tool for students, especially at this time when we are experiencing hybrid and virtual learning and are limited in our possibilities to immerse students in experiences by travel or simply because of limited resources available.

For teachers, and I’ve seen this in my classroom, virtual reality can be a great engagement tool. For some students, it might just be that spark that promotes curiosity for learning, gives them a different perspective to explore and better understand the content, and in the process develop empathy. In the research done by Lenovo, 97% of the teachers who are using VR said that it was improving engagement.

Lenovo’s partnership with Veative offers up to 550 curriculum-mapped lessons in STEM fields like Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Math, and also virtual tours from around the globe. Each lesson includes learning objectives, immersive learning modules on topics like photosynthesis or the human heart, and formative assessments that help students and teachers track progress.

They are also in a partnership with Launch Your Career which interviews students explores using Myers Briggs and determines spirit animals. The platform then asks students about careers that people might be drawn to. Students can even do a virtual job shadow experience. It then also provides links to websites and students receive a code where they can then explore colleges or career fairs.

The Wild Immersion Jane Goodall partnership offers stunning opportunities to be up close and personal with animals in places such as Africa, the Amazon, and even underwater. They leave cameras in those locations so students can see how the animals are interacting in a natural environment and get the feel as though they are there in person. Hearing Henderson explain this reminded me of the show “Wild Kingdom” from years ago.

Lenovo also worked with schools to get an idea of different objectives and materials that would best benefit students and teachers. For helping students to build empathy, Lenovo offers New Realities. They interview 10 young women about their lives which helps students learn from different perspectives and to be more closely connected to those experiences through VR.

VR Classroom 2 offers a complete solution through its content, device management, the hardware, training available, and the support offered for getting started with it in middle and high school settings. It is important to offer options to audiences that will lead to more authentic and meaningful experiences that will also promote the development of essential skills for their future. With virtual reality possibilities, we now have the opportunity to reimagine learning and create immersive and more engaging learning opportunities for all students.

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Esports: Sports Continue to Play On

Due to the shutdown put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, sports have come to a screeching halt in the world, but not at Montour School District. As social distancing guidelines remain in place, Montour’s Esports team continued to practice safe social distancing through virtual Esports, and the first year team made it this spring to the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) playoffs. In fact, it was the only team to participate this spring in sports, and it created some much needed excitement for the district.

Innovation Starts and Ends with People

As educators, we get the opportunity everyday to listen and support the most creative and curious people in the world, our students. When a group of students approached Nicole Kashmer, English Teacher at Montour High School, to sponsor an esports club; she listened. For Nicole, the decision to be innovative was personal and professional. Nicole reflected, “As a mom, that didn’t allow video games to be played until my son went outside for exercise … and as a teacher that stayed abreast of the articles saying that there were benefits to gaming in the classroom … it wasn’t until my son built his first computer that it all clicked for me.”

Through her personal and professional experience, Nicole knew that supporting an esports program at Montour, with support from a 2020 PAsmart Targeted Grant to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, was no longer a personal interest, but her professional duty as an educator to do what is best for children. “During our first match, I watched as a handful of students worked together and had non stop ‘chatter’ in order to win. I truly had not felt so good about something in a long time,” said Nicole.

Creating a Learning Culture

When Nicole expressed her excitement to Todd Price, principal at Montour High School, he listened and supported her and the students and together helped start an official esports program at Montour High School. Todd explains, “This student-led initiative has created great enthusiasm within our student body. I can’t thank those students enough who have taken us on this journey. Their efforts have helped to bring together and connect students to their school community in a way that I never would have imagined possible.”

Montour’s esports coach and technology support specialist, Aidan Mulvihill, believes esports is an avenue for students to learn collaboration and STEM and computer skills through a comfortable and positive social atmosphere. Furthermore, he believes this program will give students the opportunity to collaborate with players from around the country who share similar interests creating lasting connections.

Putting Children First

For the students at Montour High School, “Video games have been something that we have always played for fun with our friends. Now we have an opportunity to turn it into something more than video games … esports. This is going to be an organization that allows for different types of students to build relationships and learn important STEM and computer skills while also competing in this common interest that was never available to us before,” John K. and Josh N., Montour High School students.

When students return back to school in the future, they will be welcomed back to a state-of-the art esports arena that includes a 280-square-foot video wall, 5v5 gaming stations, coaching station, gaming chairs, and more.

According to Business Insider, esports viewership is estimated to increase between 2019 and 2023, from 454 million in 2019 to 646 million in 2023, and most projections put esports on track to surpass $1 billion in revenue for the first time in 2020, making esports no longer just a ‘game.’ The bottom line, esports is now a viable career and social pathway option for students because of its relevance and meaningful nature to students’ lives.

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Venture University: A Trade School for the Innovation Economy

Want to be a venture investor? The best way to learn is to start investing and learn on the job. Wonder where you could do that? Check out Venture University.

Founded by entrepreneurial duo and married couple, Jenna Fernandes (CEO & Head of Admissions) and VC investor J. Skyler Fernandes, Venture University is an alternative MBA. It’s a trade school for people interested in venture capital and private equity. The university has amassed an impressive list of advisors, speakers, expert instructors, and a team including Andrew Zalasin, Managing Director of Venture University, who will be running the day to day program and investment fund in San Francisco. Andrew was previously a General Partner at RRE Ventures.

Launched in January, Venture University grants no credits, no degree. The tuition becomes an investment fund. Learners can earn tuition back and then some–or not, depending on how their investments fair. Applications are open for the summer and fall of 2018 and Spring of 2019, in Silicon Valley. After that, it’s NYC and Chicago. They already have 2,000 applications for 35 spots.  

Deal Structure

Tuition is $15-20,000 per semester, a similar to top business schools. Participants can choose one, two or three semesters.

A large percentage of the tuition is put into an investment fund (up to $350,000 with 35 individuals) and is invested during the program period, providing individuals the ability to benefit from the financial upside from the investments made.

Participants source investment opportunities, review pitches, meet with startups, conduct diligence, present investment recommendations, and vote on which investments to make. A typical cohort will invest in a handful of companies.

If the investments pan out, participants can earn back their tuition–or more. Won’t that take a while? Fernandes said, “The feedback loop on venture and private equity investments is initially two to seven years. The losers you will know about usually within  two years, potentially some winners or at least indications of winners, and longer for actually realizing the win via an exit.”

“During the program we will be covering a number of case studies, where we give examples of companies, the class evaluates and is then shown the outcome. This will provide an immediate feedback loop on evaluation versus future reality and what caused that outcome,” added Fernandes.

“Returns from each class will be reviewed by future classes so the feedback loop will be shorter on this too with future classes,” said Fernandes.

If participants are currently enrolled in a university degree program they may be able to receive college credit for participating in Venture University’s work program via internship credit.

Should you apply? Venture University “seeks candidates who have a strong level of intellectual curiosity, a passion for innovation, are contrarian thinkers and have a desire to work with and invest in disruptive companies that are changing their industries and building the future.” You also have to be willing to bet on your ability to win your tuition back.

Venture Backstory

Fernandes is managing director of Cleveland Avenue, a growth venture fund focused on restaurants, food and beverage brands, and technology. It is also an incubator lab for new concepts and a consulting group with leading industry veterans in real estate site selection, franchising, operations, marketing and technology. The group was cofounded by the former CEO of McDonald’s.

After the Great Recession, Fernandes invested for Centripetal Capital PartnersIn 2014, Fernandes founded Simon Venture Group, the investment arm for real estate giant David Simon of Simon Property Group, an S&P 100 company.

As someone who suffered through a traditional MBA and learned venture investing on the job, Venture University looks like an attractive alternative.

This post was originally published on Forbes.

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How We Increased Teachers’ Data Use Without Data Overload

By Debbie Clark and Stephanie Williamson

As schools administer a battery of tests to determine what students know and don’t know, educators are getting an enormous amount of data meant to inform their instruction. But all of this information can be counterproductive if teachers don’t have an easy way to make sense of it.

In California’s Buena Park School District, where we are Teachers on Special Assignment, the situation is no different. Our district serves nearly 5,000 students in grades K-8, and our teachers give a wide range of universal screening, diagnostic, formative, interim, and summative assessments to students throughout the year.

For instance, students in kindergarten through second grade take the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) at the beginning of the school year, so teachers know their reading capabilities. Those who are identified as needing Tier II or Tier III intervention from their previous year’s DIBELS screening also take the Basic Phonics Skills Test III, so teachers can determine appropriate interventions. These students will continue to be tested every two weeks to monitor their progress. Two weeks before the end of each trimester, all K-8 students take common district benchmark assessments. Up to six times each trimester, teachers give formative assessments to check for students’ understanding. And, of course, there are also the end-of-year exams given every April and May.

The problem is not that schools aren’t collecting enough information about student performance. It’s that teachers have too much data. It’s overwhelming for them. They don’t know what data points to focus on—and they don’t have time to be combing through massive amounts of data to figure out what students need.

As a result, the sophisticated data analysis and reporting tools that many school districts have invested in tend to be underutilized. And that was our experience as well.

In our district, teachers use Illuminate Data and Assessment (DnA) to create assessments, and teachers at our middle school administer these tests through their online learning management system, Canvas. Teachers also use DnA to analyze the results of these assessments and make data-informed decisions that we hope will lead to gains in student achievement. But an experience we had during a presentation at a staff meeting showed us that teachers were not using our tools very frequently, if at all. We had teachers bring their laptops so they could log in and follow along during the presentation, and many teachers admitted that they didn’t even know their password.

This troubled us, because we saw enormous potential in using data to improve teaching and learning. But it was also quite revealing. We realized that if we wanted teachers to use data to inform their instruction, we had to simplify the number of reports for them to look at, so they wouldn’t have to sort through an abundance of data to inform their instruction. Once we made this key change, we saw our teachers’ comfort with data take off.

To make evaluating data as easy for teachers to use as we could, we customized the information available for each grade level, making sure reports and resources that will have the greatest impact on student success were accessible.

For instance, a kindergarten teacher can view kindergarten standards, kindergarten readiness reports, DRA results, DIBELS results, and intervention plans. A fifth grade teacher will see links to the fifth grade standards, Interim Assessment Block (IAB) results, EasyCBM results (our Response to Intervention system), and state test results. There are also resources that we push out to teachers at all grade levels, such as attendance, grade books, math pacing guides, and writing rubrics.

We tried to focus on reports, documents, and websites that teachers would be using on a weekly basis. We steered away from resources they would only use once in a while. We wanted these resources to become an invaluable part of the teacher, principal, school psychologist, or counselor’s day—and we have seen that occur.

We have said to our staff: “Tell us what you need from us to make your job easier.” And the excitement we have seen from them in return has been inspiring. Their momentum in using data has grown: Teachers are sharing and discussing their use of reports within grade-level teams, and they know they can ask us to provide resources for anything they need.

We started small this year—helping teachers use data with training wheels on. Next year, we will show teachers how to customize the information available for themselves. When we take these wheels off next year, we will truly be empowering them.

By streamlining the amount of data teachers have at their fingertips and simplifying how we present this information to them, we have made it easier for our teachers to use data to inform their practice. Teachers are accessing the system every day and are using data to inform their instruction, and our proof is that we no longer have teachers asking us: “What’s my password again?”

Debbie Clark and Stephanie Williamson are Teachers on Special Assignment for the Buena Park Elementary School District in Orange County, California.

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Building the Cognitive Muscles to Thrive in the Automation Age

The Information Age was a four decade long global sprint to incorporate information technology; the World Economic Forum calls it the Third Industrial Revolution. It changed how we live, work, play, and, just in the last few years, how we learn.

We’ve entered a new era with new learning priorities and opportunities. We’re only a few years into this automation age (WEF calls it the Fourth Industrial Revolution) but it is becoming clear that it’s changing the nature of work and skills required for contribution.

Living in this new era requires us all to learn for a lifetime and, starting at an early age, to take charge of our learning, and direct it for life.

A few intrepid educators spotted the potential for technology-enhanced learning in the 1990s: productivity tools (word processors and spreadsheets), computer games, digital curriculum, and, perhaps most profound, online research. Search tools on the World Wide Web flipped the education challenge from scarcity to abundance, from memorize to synthesize. Instead of a few people sorting limited choices, it’s often up to individual learners to weigh the veracity of claims.

The first online programs extended access to students and families that need new options. As portable computers became available, early adopters created blended and personalized learning environments. Adaptive software helped chart individual learning journeys.

With philanthropic support, a few advocacy groups including iNACOL led the information age learning revolution, first with online learning, then blended and personalized learning. Contributions included field building, convening, and pointed to quality and equity.

The New Opportunity in Student-Centered Learning

Six global trends are framing the new opportunity for student-centered learning. They build on the progress made in blended, personalized, and competency-based learning and add updated goals and learner voice and choice.

Narrow goals: often limited to literacy and numeracy, which are necessary but insufficient for success in college and careers Broader aims: a graduate profile that incorporates the knowledge, skills, and habits of success
Fixed mindset: beliefs and biases that result in different expectations for students and often become self-fulfilling prophecies Growth mindset: an appreciation that capability grows with effort
System-centric: education is done “to” students, rather than placing the student at the center Learner agency: students are engaged in their own success, their interests and skills are incorporated into the learning process
Time bound system: advanced students are bored, struggling learners advance unprepared for what’s next Personal progress: learners get time and support to succeed and move on after demonstrating mastery
Mixed messages: grades are often averages over time combining effort, achievement, and extra credit–not a reflection of mastery Clear feedback: learners receive frequent and detailed feedback on growth
Confined education: learning is primarily confined to the four walls of the classroom Community learning: learning happens at school, home and in the community anytime

Nellie Mae Education Foundation says student-centered learning engages students in their own success—and incorporates their interests and skills into the learning process.

This new era requires that we build student agency–that we put learners in the driver’s seat–for three reasons:

Worksheets don’t build growth mindsets, entrepreneurial mindsets or social and emotional intelligence. These new-era cognitive muscles are built through extended challenges, community-connected work, and a culture of strong supports and rich feedback.

Developing new and transformed learning environments will require thoughtful leadership, rich professional learning experiences, and networks of educators committed to working together for student success. It’s time to build new community agreements in support of student-centered learning–it’s the new opportunity.

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This post was originally published on Forbes.

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Hit Refresh: How a Growth Mindset Culture Tripled Microsoft’s Value

Four years ago Satya Nadella took the helm at Microsoft. Under his leadership, the value of the company has tripled. Some think it could be the first company worth a trillion dollars. The story of the culture and strategy refresh is told in a new book titled Hit Refresh. Satya’s co-authors were Greg Shaw and Jill Tracie Nichols. Both worked with the last three CEOs at Microsoft and have a great perspective on the ups and downs of the company.

In a recent conversation (listen to the podcast), Greg and Jill discuss the importance of the cultural refresh at Microsoft–one inspired by Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset. Like Angela Duckworth at Penn, Dweck discovered that human capability is not fixed at birth but malleable based on effort.  

With this key insight, Nadella made lifelong learning a priority at Microsoft–it’s even highlighted on employee badges.The focus shifted from “Know it all to learn it all.”

Nadella puts out a video every month on what he’s learned. “He’s very thoughtful about how he reinforces key cultural elements,” said Jill.

In the new Microsoft culture, they talk about meeting the unmet, often unarticulated, needs of customers. Greg insists that this goes beyond just listening and involves a lot of active empathy.

When Nadella took over, Microsoft had big high margin business, but the world was shifting and a tech shift is easier than a business model shift. The company had framed success around particular products but Satya realized that going forward success would not be made by moving from hit to hit to hit, it would be about the batting average–and that’s a function of learning and culture.  

Inspired in part by his special needs son, Nadella made accessibility a product priority. A set of integrated tools in Office 365, OneNote, and the Edge browser make it easy for struggling readers and their teachers to adjust size, spacing, and colors, to add voice and auto-scrolling with a ruler. Last month they added a visual dictionary.

Like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Satya is a technology optimist, he thinks it can boost productivity, increase inclusion, and solve problems.

But technology is also going to produce massive displacements. “That’s the big question facing mankind right now,” said Greg. “We’re transitioning to new industrial age, the next big transition is data everywhere where cognitive services and robots will do things faster and better than some humans.”

Hit Refresh is optimistic about ways that tech will augment humans, grow the number of mid-tech jobs, and lead to social surplus.

The Writing Backstory

Greg Shaw (@gregorymshaw) grew up a reader in rural Oklahoma, “Reading was my constant companion.” He started writing for his high school newspaper. His idol was Lou Grant, the tough news editor on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Greg would type out the first few dozen words from the regional newspaper to imprint the practices of good writers.

He graduated from Broken Arrow High and studied journalism at Northeastern State. Son of a wheat farmer in cotton country, Greg was the first in his family to graduate from college.

He edited the Cherokee newspaper before serving as a speechwriter in the Reagan administration. Greg managed public relations at Microsoft in the 90s. We worked together at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the 2000s where he led local grantmaking and helped shape the foundation’s early childhood initiative.

Greg and I worked on Bill Gates’ speech to the February 2005 National Education Summit on High Schools. That speech helped me appreciate Bill’s advocacy platform. “Bill learned through his speeches, they were always an exercise in learning the content. He had a great sense of what he wanted to communicate and how to use his platform,” said Shaw.  

Jill Tracie Nichols (@JillTracie) grew up in New Jersey. When bothered by a roller rink incident, Jill’s mother urged her to write a letter to the owner. It taught her that carefully expressed opinion mattered. After attending tiny Houghton College she worked in HR and change management in telecom and tech before leading communications for Steve Ballmer. After a quick four day transition, Jill became Satya Nadella’s chief of staff.

Initially disappointed in Ballmer’s retirement, Jill recalled that Steve said if he didn’t change, the company never would. (She’s on his left elbow in the featured image.)

“A lot goes into good writing that’s not writing,” said Greg. Of the research process, he said the key is “being as open and inquisitive as you can be, going as deep as you can within a deadline, and organizing and adding structure what you’ve learned.”

“Writing is hard,” said Shaw, “but the thing in which I take my greatest pleasure. I hate puzzles, but get pleasure out of writing in the same way that some people love problem solving.”  

Jill took early inspiration from the Annie Dillard classic The Writing Life where Dillard urged, “Write as if you were dying,” and “assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients.”

Greg writes alone devoting four to six hours a day, seven days a week. Jill is happiest collaborating, brainstorming and bouncing ideas off collaborators. With different styles, it’s important to be clear about who’s got what role.

On editing, Jill said the key is to make sure every paragraph counts by asking, “What are we trying to achieve with this passage?”

On learning to write, Greg appreciates watching his own kids. “My daughter had a teacher that encouraged brave writing, she said don’t let rules and structures get in the way, go for it. Don’t second guess, pour it out and let it go, then go back and refine and edit.” Shaw added, “Everyone is a writer, everyone is an author.”

Echoing Annie Dillard, Jill said, “Don’t let facts get in the way of the truth, start and let it fly, get characters on the page, find out where can this go.” She finds that honest journaling is a great way to bring more voice into nonfiction writing.

You can find Jill at the Tracie Group. Learn more about Greg at Clyde Hill Publishing.

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This post was originally published on Forbes.

Practical Ways to bring SEL into the Classroom

Toward the end of the past school year, I noticed some changes in student behavior. There was a decrease in student engagement, especially while I responded to the question of a student seated close to me, students around the room became distracted or stopped listening. Trying to get the group to refocus sometimes presented a challenge and resulted in a loss of valuable instruction time. A second concern was how students had been treating one another. I overheard conversations in the hallways, witnessed unkind interactions in the classroom, or heard directly from students who sought help in dealing with different situations. There were two issues to resolve: eliminate the valuable instruction time that was being lost and help students to develop more positive, collaborative peer relationships. How could I connect students more to the content and to one another, so they could work together to foster a more positive classroom. After some brainstorming, I decided to first focus on ways to promote collaboration and to step out of my role of “leader” in the classroom by stepping aside.

The changes:

My first realization was that I needed to shift roles in my classroom. I needed to get out of the way, and students needed to do more than simply sit for the entire class. To get started, look at your own classroom. Where are you and the students spending the class period? Are you the only one speaking and moving? If so, think about how you can open up space and provide a more collaborative setting for students. Think about how you can involve the students in more “active learning” that will lead to better student engagement.

One morning, I looked at the physical space of my classroom and decided to break apart the rows of desks. By doing this, it created more flexible spaces for students to interact, to create and lead, and do more than just sit and listen. Students need opportunities to work with their peers through lessons and engage in activities where they can master the content together, and that will provide opportunities to develop their interpersonal skills, self-awareness and social awareness of others.


Making these changes can feel uncomfortable because it means going against what likely has been the traditional classroom structure. However, many teachers have moved toward flexible learning spaces, creating a more student-centered and student-driven classroom. A classroom which moves away from simply lecturing, reviewing homework, passing out materials, assigning new homework, and repeating this same routine the very next day. While this process may promote the acquisition and application of knowledge, it does not effectively promote collaboration, invite student input, nor foster development of vital SEL (social-emotional learning) skills.

CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), formed in 1994, is an organization which actively works toward promoting the importance of developing SEL skills in education. SEL is focused on five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness,  relationship skills and responsible decision making. The development of these skills can benefit the level of student engagement as well, leading to higher academic achievement and reduce discipline issues in the classroom. To promote the development of SEL, here are some ideas and additional resources to get started.

Practical ways to promote SEL:

  • Icebreakers: I started the school year with fun icebreakers, to get to know one another and to find out what students had in common. Why? It all starts with relationships, building a connection with peers and the teacher, and using this to connect with the content area. Returning after an extended holiday break, doing even one icebreaker can be a good way to welcome students back to the classroom, to ease into the daily routine and to start the year fresh by working on relationships. Perhaps have students share what they did over break, show a picture, talk about favorite foods for holidays even, and let students make connections on their own.
  • Games and activities: Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of games and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. There are many online tools available to help you get started. For elementary and middle school, Centervention provides free online games, activities and printables for teaching students about SEL. Gaming helps students to learn to problem solve, collaborate, think critically, and develop empathy through scenarios within the game itself, or as a result of being part of a team. It creates a sense of community and belonging, which foster the social-emotional skills students need. Even by using Minecraft, educators have seen a connection between the benefits of gaming for learning and the development of SEL skills.
  • Learning Stations: Something that has really made a difference in my classroom has been using learning stations. I started the year with rows and decided one morning, that the rows had to go. I quickly set up clusters of desks or “stations” to accommodate three students each, with four extra desks grouped together in the center. At each station, students spend 10-14 minutes doing a hands-on activity like a worksheet, creating flashcards, watching a video, playing a game or simply coming up with their own ways to practice. Deciding upon the activities takes some planning, especially when trying this for the first time, but it is well worth it. Start by explaining the “stations”, involving students in the discussion and asking for feedback. When we explain our goals and share any fears we may have, we are modeling “self-awareness” and “self-management”. By using stations, we also have more time to interact with each student and group, work on relationships and foster a deeper understanding of the content as well as connecting with one another and creating a more positive classroom culture.

Challenges and solutions:

  • Groups: The first few class periods there were complaints. Students wanted to work with their friends and others wanted to work alone. It can be awkward if you are the only one who doesn’t find somebody to work with, but it can also be a challenge to work with a group when you may end up being the only one doing the work. Assigning random groups can help alleviate some of these uncomfortable feelings, even though in life and for the future, students may face the same challenges and uncomfortable moments, not having a choice in collaborative work. However, for the time being, the importance is to help students to develop interpersonal skills that will enable them to be successful in the future, to develop the social and emotional learning skills, especially in terms of relationships, decision-making and developing a self- awareness.
  • Timing: It can be a challenge at first to know how much time to provide for each station. I started by spending ten minutes reviewing material, asking questions, or doing an activity with the whole class, before starting stations. I tried giving 15 minutes for each, so students would work through two each day. Some students finished early and wanted to move on. To work through this, I would use the time to speak with each group or individual students, and then make adjustments during the next station rotation. There is always room to improve, but the important thing is remembering to be flexible and open to changes that will positively impact student learning and relationships.


  • Student engagement: Students have been more engaged in learning, and have come in to tell me how much they look forward to coming to class. Because of the different activities within the stations, students participate more because they are active and moving, and know that each station offers a new way to learn.
  • Student leaders: Students are offering to help one another, to explain concepts, and to cheer each other on. They keep each other on task and by working in these small groups, there are less distractions than working as a whole group. Each small group can ask questions, receive individualized feedback because I can freely move around the classroom and clear up any misunderstandings.
  • Teacher-student relationships: Students are getting timely, authentic and personal feedback. By using learning stations, more time is student-focused and those individual conversations can happen as needed, to help students to be successful and be more confident.
  • Student learning: In terms of academic achievement, the participation and results of recent assessments are the highest they have been. Students enjoy coming to class because they know they’re going to be leading and making decisions about their learning, in a way that is comfortable, flexible and fun.The learning experience is more authentic and meaningful for students. Research has shown the positive benefits of incorporating SEL into the curriculum.
  • Student behaviors: As for the class distractions and the negative interactions that existed before, both have decreased tremendously. It is not something that is going to change overnight but what matters is that we make constant progress. We are learning and becoming better together.

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Easy Ideas for Pleasant Holiday PD

The Holidays have arrived! For those in the northern hemisphere, it is a brief respite from work as winter sets in. For those in the southern hemisphere, long summer days at the beach beckon. In a globally connected world, it is becoming harder to talk about holidays without recognizing the seasonal differences across the world.

For educators, working with young children is draining and deep refreshment is needed to restore vitality and regain energy, particularly for those in difficult school environments. Downtime, family, food and travel feature strongly in holiday breaks. It is a time to recharge, sleep, go for long walks and seek out and read captivating books (and for those of us in Australia, eat cherries, nectarines, mangoes and watermelon). I’m currently sliding through Michael Tolkin’s darkly satirical novel NK3.

Some educators find the thought of professional development during holidays anathema. Others enjoy finding a quiet meditative moment to explore ideas that don’t fit into the daily life of work. Just as creative ideas tend to strike when we are in the shower or on a quiet walk, holidays can provide the brain space for teachers to think about tweaking lesson ideas and for school leaders to think about policies and programs that are hard to get to during school hours.


Most commonly, perhaps, using some holiday time to read one or two practice-related texts is a great option. I am enjoying reading the latest offerings from Project Zero, Edward Clapp’s Participatory Creativity (about creative classrooms), and learning about Shari Tishman’s focus on immersive attention in Slow Looking. Chris Emdin’s For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too provides a powerful antidote to top-down teaching and I have just ordered the recently released Flip the System UK. EdLeaders might be drawn to The Leader’s Guide to Coaching in Schools by John Campbell and Christian van Nieuwerburgh.

Online Learning

Many educators use social media to keep in touch with educational thinking, often via Twitter or LinkedIn. The #edchat hashtag is always a great place to jump in and you might like to flick back through last week’s #oecdglobalharvard chat on global competence.

For those who wish to develop their technology skills, there are a wide variety of courses on digital technologies. While you can experiment on your own, Microsoft Educator Community, Google for Education and Apple Distinguished Educators are worth exploring as well.

For those even more serious about their downtime PD, MOOCs and online courses provide plenty of food for thought. Some are free and some require a small fee. The University of London offers a six-week online course called What Future for Education? which helps you to critically examine your own ideas about education, teaching and learning. The University of Melbourne offers a six-week online course on Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills which is designed for teachers who are wondering how they can incorporate teaching and assessment of 21st century skills into their classrooms. Big Picture Learning Australia offers short online courses on Project-based Learning and Assessment by Exhibition. You can take an introductory course on design thinking with IDEO, the world’s top design firm. Or you can even take a short 3-hour mind-expanding online course on Understanding Exponentials with Singularity University, where you will learn about the exponential mindsets you need to be a leader of the future while becoming acquainted with a global network of innovators.

But for me, much as I love learning, the surf’s up and the beach is calling–and I’ll see you in January.

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