Everything that everybody knows is usually wrong.  – Peter Drucker

Everybody knows that to positively affect a change effort, you should concentrate on enlisting the 80% of the employees that are predisposed to the effort or are “on the fence” and forget about the 20% that are openly negative or unconvinced.

One successful turnaround expert says that she concentrates on convincing the naysayers. Why waste her time? Because, as she explained, these are the people that when convinced will be loyal to the cause. Whereas, those that are easily convinced, or are unaffiliated can become less enthusiastic about the change and even be attracted to the next popular cause.

Never thought of it that way!



How many goals do you have?

Are they written in unambiguous language?

Does everyone in your organization know them by heart?

How are you going to measure success?

In its most basic form, this is what strategy is all about. No matter what process you have used to develop your goals, they should be less than five in number, simply stated, internalized by everyone in the organization, and measured using LEADING indicators.

Let me give you an illustration… Most educational institutions will spend three to six months writing a strategic plan. The plan has some worthwhile goals and may actually be fairly specific as to what the targets are. These goals are either set knowing what the measures will be (e.g. raising test scores) or not (e.g. student success). In either case leading indicators are tough to come by or nonexistent. When pressed, district administrators will provide you with the methodologies they are employing to accomplish the districts goals, but are generally at a loss to demonstrate the leading indicators that point to progress toward those goals.

Our formative testing is showing that our students are improving!

OK. Is there a long term correlation between those formatives and the summatives?

Our graduation rates are steadily increasing!

OK. Is there a long term correlation between graduation rates and student success?

My friends, there is a great deal of work to be done. Are you willing?



Where to Find a Consultant

Here is the dillemma:

You can hire a “consultant” for your school district who is a retired local administrator.

The advantage is that there is little or no learning curve and no travel expense. Since this consultant has worked in your district, they know the issues and the players and can begin to solve whatever issue you need help on immediately.

The disadvantage is that they are too familiar with the issue and may even have been trying to solve it while they were still an employee of the district.

Seth Godin has written recently about this dillemma. “If a problem is worth solving, it’s worth engaging with the right people to solve it with urgency, isn’t it?”

Peter Drucker often claimed that his lack of knowledge of a specific local issue was his greatest strength as a consultant. His perpective as an outsider allowed him the ability to ask the appropriate questions and discover the solution for which he was hired.

  • The cost of a consultant should be only one consideration in the selection of a consultant.
  • Diversity of experience should be another.
  • However, solving a similar problem may or may not be a criteria since some will seek to apply a square peg solution that has worked in the past to a round hole problem.

I have participated in many selection processes. I have made presentations. I have selected consultants. I have advised committee members on selections. I can’t recall a single presentation in which the consultant did not claim to listen to their prospective clients. Just as the written material usually boasts that the consultant is uniquely qualified.

The best advice is to choose a consultant that matches the issue.

  • If the problem is chronic, select an outsider.
  • If the issue is new, use an insider.
  • If you want plausible deniability for the proposed solution, hire an outsider. If you want confirmation of a solution you have developed internally, pick an insider with peerless credentials.
  • If you need an innovative solution because everyone familiar with the problem has tried and failed, call on an outsider.

As a planner and project manager, my preference has always been to hire a problem solver with a proven process, but not an answer. A thoughtful selection is the best path to a satisfying experience!



I have been reading Pasi Sahlberg’s book on the lessons to be learned from Finland’s successful education program. Dominant in the PISA assessments since their inception in 2000, this Scandinavian country which set out deliberately to improve its educational system in the 1970’s is used by reformers and politicians alike as the exemplar of high academic standards. And yet, we have largely failed to learn from their experience and methodologies. Increasing the competition among schools, assigning letter grades to schools based upon high stakes testing for a handful of subjects, and denigrating the profession as a group of inadequate part-timers is neither productive nor factual.

Ifinnish lessonsf we cannot learn from Finland’s success, then we should not use the PISA scores as evidence that our educational system is in need of reform. If you decry our mediocrity in international testing, then learn from the international leaders. Emphasize the importance of all subjects, not just those that are tested. Treat our teachers as professionals and compensate them accordingly. Do not hold back those students who have mastered the content. Apply special education as a resource to all students who have difficulty and apply it immediately. Personalize the delivery of learning to each student, not simply through software, but through empathetic personal connections to caring adults.

It’s time to offer practical help and solutions, not just criticism. Take Finland as an example. Take it to heart.

Passive Listening – a rant

owlActive listening is a technique used to make the person speaking believe you understand their message. Many practitioners use the tools  – the knowing head nod, the slight smile, the “So what you are saying is…” (actually reflective, not active, but frequently used), and mirroring the body language. I was recently subjected to this from a professional active listener. She was so good at the technique, I almost forgot what was happening as I spoke. Then came the response. It was clear she was good at the active part, but lousy at the listening part.

Listening is an exercise in empathy and understanding. It is not an exercise in forming a contrasting argument. Next time you have occasion to hear someone speak, try passively listening – listening for learning, not retort. The speaker will thank you for it.

Thank you for listening!


Personalized Learning

In her February 24 commentary in Education Week, Jenifer Carolan, co-founding partner of Reach Capital makes a solid point about personalized learning.

…personalization does not mean isolation, and it doesn’t mean sitting our students down in front of laptops all day. Personalization is a strategy that allows us to adapt to the needs of all children, preferably after giving them a powerful, shared learning experience that motivates them to dive deeper.

The most productive PL is collaborative – a group of three or four students working together to solve an “impossible” problem, or a student working diligently with a teacher/coach nearby prodding and praising. While the technology provides the access to the information, the social connection is the all-important ingredient that creates the knowledge.

When Mathematicians play Football

I am currently helping Weldon City Schools with their strategic plan. One student we surveyed said he wanted to play in the NFL. My first reaction upon reading his comment was that I wasn’t sure that was a reasonable goal.

But researchers tell us that most of our current K-12 students will work at jobs that currently do not exist. I think there is a place for everyone and and every talent in today’s marketplace. It’s about finding or developing your niche based upon your strengths.

There was a noon press conference in Charlotte NC today with Ron Rivera, head coach of the (now) NFC champion Carolina Panthers. During the press conference he was asked why in Sunday’s game against the Phoenix Cardinals he had decided to go for a two-point conversion even though his team led by 19 points. His answer was very straightforward and to the point. His statistician told him it was the right thing to do, and he listened.

Maybe that student will get to the NFL …one way or the other.