Sunday, April 15, 2018

#StretchEdu - Keynoting at Lead 3.0

Necessity is the mother of invention.

In the Fall of 2017, Danelle Bowron, the Educational Services Coordinator for ACSA, reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in performing as the Keynote Speaker on the opening day of the Lead 3.0 Symposium in April of 2018. For those who aren't familiar with this gig, it is my all-time favorite flavor of Edu Conference. Lead 3.0 is custom suited to me: the "3.0" is based on the trifecta collaboration between three organizations that each have influenced my career - the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership (TICAL) and CUE - which produces California's premier educational technology conferences and events. These three incredibly influential organizations in the California educational sector, have collaborated each of the past ten years to produce this event that focuses on Leadership, Technology, and Innovation.

No joke, I love this conference. I dig tech, I present on this topic all the time and am continually fascinated by the ways that educators are leveraging these tools to create access and equity in American classrooms. I think many people assume that innovation goes hand in hand with tech, but what I have come to realize is that any invention, sprung from the mother of necessity, qualifies and if it should be shared. So, the crux of this conference for me is how Tech and Innovation can be shared amongst Leaders. Thus a need was proposed: I accepted the honor of keynoting and now I had to decide what I could share with the overwhelmingly sophisticated eduLeaders in the room.
A room filled with leaders from across the state, educators of every shape and size of the educational landscape. The room would fill with principals who were masters of culture. There would be directors who are amongst the nation's leaders in curriculum and assessment design. This room would host TOSAs who lead teams of innovators, as well as superintendents who lead districts large and small. My charge was to speak for about an hour.

"Talk about whatever you want."

Yikes. What in the world could I say that would tie together the relevant experiences of such a diverse and intimidatingly #eduAmazing group? This problem became my catalyst for creativity; this was what kept my head spinning for several months; some people sing in the shower, I spent the last season of my life speaking to this crowd in mine; this problem to solve became my mother of invention.

I am a 20-year educational veteran and have now worked and lead in K12 environments as well as a short tour of duty at the district office. As I searched my inventory of topics that might reach this entire group, I found my centerpiece: Leading Change. This is one of my favorite EduTopics and one that I have spoken on often. On many occasions, I have talked about "Stretching our Rubber Bands," in the direction of change. This analogy has carried many talks for me and is my favorite way to describe the iterative process of both learning and making change. However, for this particular talk, having an hour to fill, I decided to organize everything I knew about leading change, every eduNugget of knowledge I have that is at all associated with the topic of "Stretching our Rubber Band," in the direction of change. This exercise catapulted my thinking to a new found depth of understanding around a topic which I thought that I already knew well.

I started by brainstorming all of the effective tips and tricks I could recall using over this past decade or so as an administrator. Looking at my mind-map on paper, it dawned on me that I knew maybe more than I had realized, but the more significant realization was that when woven together, these tips were the foundation for creating a school culture, filled with educators that are adaptable, open and willing to engage in change.  Rather than a playlist of methods to coerce people to make change, these topics laid the foundation upon which smart, hardworking adults, find their own reasons to stretch in the direction of a commonly agreed upon state. I felt like the idea cloud I had generated was a curation of every eduLeadership book, lecture, side-conversation, and experience I had taken in for over a decade: now the challenge was to organize these thoughts into one story.

To make sense of this eclectic collection of leadership lessons learned, I did what any good EduNerd would do: I created an acronym. The topic of my keynote evolved into: "Building a Rubber Band Culture," and the acronym that sprung from this central theme became "STRETCH."
Once my thoughts were curated into these seven buckets, the keynote started writing itself. In fact, the problem of filling an hour became an entirely different issue: I had too much content rather than not enough.  As I put this speech on its feet, began to rehearse and eventually performed this story for hundreds of the most amazing EduLeaders in California, it became a reflection of my career and a celebration of my journey as an educator.

As I look back at the experience of first being asked to speak, which was maybe the highest honor of my professional career, to the process of organizing my thoughts into one coherent story, I am appreciative of the mother of invention. I don't know that I would have taken the time at this point in my career to stop, reflect, analyze and organize my experiences thus far, however, being asked to speak in a room filled with people I hold in incredible esteem was a powerful motivator that lead to a work that I am incredibly proud of. I am grateful for the opportunity to have spoken at Lead 3.0, humbled by receiving so much feedback and honored to have been a small part of such a successful event.

I have shared the video of my keynote here in this blog post, and hope that anyone who has the time to give it a watch would recognize that these topics apply to each of us in educational leadership positions. My hope is that anyone who has the chance to sit through my talk would realize the influence we each have as leaders to inspire innovation. During this keynote, I did something I have never done before - I launched a hashtag. I wanted to create a space where ideas may be curated as well as questions posed around the topic of Building a Rubber Band Culture. Already it has been such an honor to watch those who were in attendance at Lead 3.0 begin to use this hashtag as a place to celebrate. Should anyone reading this blog, or watching this keynote have any inspired thoughts that generate from the conversation of Building a Rubber Band Culture, I would be honored if you would share your thoughts using the hashtag #StretchEdu.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Keynoting at #USDLearns

I talk a lot. If you know me, you know its true. In these past couple years, since I started my Learn with John Eick Podcast, I have been blogging a lot less and just talking into the voice recorder a lot more. I just like the way words roll off the tip of my tongue more so than my fingertips to the keyboard. I like the pregnant pause that just can't be captured by an ellipse, or the slow escalation of volume as a sentence builds toward its crescendo through a microphone. I really love the spoken word as a speaker and a listener. I devour audio books, I enjoy podcasts with every breakfast, I prefer Voxer to text messages and sometimes I sit in church, just to hear the pastor spin a yarn. However, as much as I love to speak, it still makes me nervous every time.
This week I was #EduHonored to keynote the opening of a day of learning at Union School District in San Jose, CA. The district brings in amazing presenters for their PD days, people like: Tim Bedley, Coach Ben Cogswell, Eddie Campos, Traci Bonde, Jeremiah, Ruesch, Efrain Tovar, Princess Choi, and Bob Dillon, just to name a few, and the whole thing is organized by Jon Corippo from CUE and Andrew Schwab (an Associate Superintendent in Union School District who is also the president of the CUE Board). Needless to say, this is a district committed to amazing professional development for its teachers. I have visited three years in a row, and have walked away each time thinking that the teachers in this district are doing it right: one stretch of the rubber band at a time. 

What makes me most nervous about speaking is not the speaking itself. I love the showmanship of taking the stage, I love the canned bits that always get a giggle, I am always happy when I am bringing a crowd with me down some spontaneous rabbit hole, like when I mispronounce a word or a cell phone goes off and there is an opportunity for a one line sidebar to remind us all of the reality of the situation. It isn't the speaking that ever makes me nervous - it is the message. It is the exposure of sharing your own thoughts, the vulnerability of exposing your own ideas, that make delivering a keynote so intimidating. Standing in front of 400 amazing educators, not that scary, telling them how they might develop themselves professionally...terrifying. 

I have known that I was going to speak for months, and while the awareness has often been in the back of my mind, it is always the week before a speaking gig that it becomes the most distracting. Monday, I knew what I was going to say and my slides were more or less built. Tuesday, I wanted to make sure I got some rehearsal time in. Wednesday, feeling confident, but starting to think, "Maybe that middle section could be changed." Thursday, I listened to a podcast by Bill Selak at 6AM, and it sparked an idea that I had to pursue. Thursday night: complete rewrite (based on the sparked idea). Late Thursday night, building slides, rehearsing in my hotel room. Friday morning: deliver a keynote that was less than 24 hours old - and I was terrified that it wasn't polished enough to go in front of such an #EduAmazing crowd. 

I captured a 12 minute segment of the speech and have included it here. As I watch it, as low quality as the video is (sorry I walk off screen a bunch), I am proud to say that these thoughts are mine, the delivery sounds like me, and I am very grateful to everyone who was involved in allowing me this opportunity. Thank you to Union School District for having me out, thanks to my colleagues at CUE for the constant inspiration, thank you to my Board and staff at Westlake who allow me to travel, and thank you to Bill Selak for his podcast about the technologies of the Punk Rock music from his past which inspired me to think about the technology that inspired the art of mine.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Every Test is Formative

Every test is formative.

I think I was in pre-algebra as a 13 year old version of myself, I was sitting at the dining room table, frustrated at the textbook flopped open in front of me resting on top of the macrame woven placemat. The book might as well have been in Greek, we were half way through the first semester and all the getting to know you, light weight, easy assignments had long since withered my early A in the class to a D that was a gift considering I now could not complete a single problem in chapter 6. Looking back, knowing now what I did not know then, I realize that I had holes in my learning: it wasn't that I couldn't comprehend pre-algebra, I was just trying to learn to use tools that I had never acquired, in an effort to accomplish a task that could only be perceived through a fluent understanding of the tools themselves. I was at a brick wall, a dead end, and all the help in the world could not move me forward - until I moved backwards.

My dad sat down next to me. I love my dad, and always have, but he was always more of a sock you in the arm and, "go get'em slugger," kind of dad. I was an young teenager and we had an unspoken agreement that I wouldn't tell him what I was doing as long as he didn't ask: it was a symbiotic relationship from which we both benefited. However, on this given day, in this given moment of frustration, my dad taught me something that has carried me for my entire life. He didn't try to push me forward. He didn't even try to help me with the homework that I clearly couldn't do. He did the unthinkable. He started turning textbook pages in the wrong direction. I didn't even know they could do that.

We went backwards, page by page, looking for the last place in the book where I felt confident. Granted, it was farther back than either of us had hoped, and to be honest, the story doesn't have a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow ending: I never did all that well in high school math. However, the lesson I learned that day made an impact.

I remember saying to my dad that day, something to the effect of this, "I guess it doesn't matter if I don't know something, I can always go back and learn it." While I remember my dad grimacing at the thought that I was ok with failure, I look back and think that this was my first introduction to a growth mindset.

Every test that I take just informs me what else there is to learn.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Crowdsourcing Appreciation

Every year, for teacher appreciation week, I like to send out a Google Form to our entire community and ask everyone to share some gratitude for our amazing staff. The form goes out in the weekly blogpost, I mention it in the all call, we may even slip it into a Facebook post or two. Every time we do this, we get roughly 1000 responses. Then we use some Google magic to mail merge the responses so that each staff member receives a single email with all the comments shared by our community.

Imagine recieving an email with crowd sourced comments from current and former families, all thanking you for what you have done in support of thier students! #Grattitude

If you'd like some step by step directions on how this is done, well, just keep on reading!


John Eick

The Steps below will demonstrate how to collect 1000's of comments from the community and merge them automatically into emails that look like the one to the left.

Step 1: Build a Form with the names of all the people you would like to see celebrated.

Step 2: Launch the form into a community.

Step 3: Use some simple formulas to merge all the appreciation into one place.

Step 4: Mail merge the celebrations to email so that each person gets one email containing all the celebrations that were submitted on their behalf!

Click Here for a Sample Form
Click Here for a Sample Spreadsheet

Step 1: Build a Form with the names of all the people you would like to see celebrated.

The key to step one is to use either a Multiple Choice, or a Select from a List, and include all the staff members you want to celebrate. If you allow families to type in the name of the teacher, it will be hard to sort the data later on.

The rest of the form is simple, ask them for their name or family name, this way you can later merge their comment with who it is from. Next ask them to enter some appreciation into a paragraph box.

Step 2: Launch the form into a community.

Step two is the most fun part! Take the link for the Google Form and send it out to the community in every channel you have access to. I even like to send the link out to staff, so they can celebrate one another! Note: let people know when the form will close, and remind them to use the form as many times as possible. Once you are ready, shut the form off and begin steps 3 and 4.

Step 3: Use some simple formulas to merge all the appreciation into one place.

1. Merge comments and Signatures:

Since one column has the name of the family, and another column has the comment, it is fun to merge them together. This will give your email merge a very consistent look. Every comment will have a signature line.

In this example, column C has the family name and column D has the comments. So, we are going to merge them together in column E.

First we will label column E with a header, let's call it: Merging Signitures.
Then, in the first row in column E, we will use the following formula:

=D2&CHAR(10)&"- "&C2&CHAR(10)

Now if you are new to formulas, let me explain. In the first row, below the heading, in column E, we just wrote a formula that tells the sheet what to paste here.
  • = sign tells the cell that we are starting a formula.
  • D2 just tells the cell to paste whatever is in D2 into this cell. Well for us, D2 is the comment from the family.
  • & tells the formula that we have another command coming, so it reads, paste the comment here AND ...
  • Char(10) is the command to hit return. So it is going to Paste the comment, the hit return so that when we paste the signature it falls below the comment.
  • & tells the formula that something is coming after we hit return.
  • "- " says print whatever is in these quotes. Therefore, I am asking for a hyphen. So, we have our comment AND a carriage return AND a hyphen.
  • C2 is the name of the cell with the signature, so, we have a comment AND a carraige return AND a Hyphen AND a signature.

Once you have the formula built, just drag the corner of the blue box down, and the formula will auto populate for all rows!

2. Prepare a Mail Merge Sheet:

In this step, you will leave the Response Sheet and start a new sheet where you will merge all the information before sending it out via email.

First, open a new tab on your spread sheet.

Next, Paste all the names of your teachers in Column A.

  • You now have a sheet with all your names in Column A and nothing else on the sheet. Each staff member should only be named here once, just like on the form.

Next, since we will be emailing to each staff member,  place each staff member's email address in column B.

Final Step: The Big Merge

Now that you have the names and email addresses all in place, we will merge all comments to column C. The formula looks intense, but it is really useable, here we go:

Place the following formula in column C:

=join(CHAR(10), QUERY('Form Responses 1'!A:E, "select E where B contains'"&A3&"'", 0))

Ok, here is how the magic works:

  • =join tells the cell that we are going to Join multiple things
  • (CHAR(10),means we are entering a carriage return. This will put a space between each entry. The comma says that another command is coming.
  • QUERY('Form Responses 1'!A:E, Tells the cell that we are running a query, or we are looking for something on the sheet named'Form Responses 1', in Columns A through E. So far we have said we are going to Join a space with something that we are looking for in Columns A-E on the response sheet.
  • "select E where B contains'"&A3&"'", This is where the magic happens, this describes the Query: paste here the contents of Column E (this is our merged signature column), only when you see the teachers name in Column B that matches the teachers name here in Cell A2.
  • ,0 tells this cell if you don't find a match for the name in A2, just do nothing.

Once you run this formula, it will Join a carriage return or a space, with each comment associated with the teacher name in A2.

Next, just grab that magic blue box again in the bottom left corner of the cell, and drag it down so that it pastes the formula on every row where you have a teacher name.

Step 4: Mail merge the celebrations to email so that each person gets one email containing all the celebrations that were submitted on their behalf!

To mail merge from this spreadsheet to email is simple. Just go to the top of the sheet, in the dropdown menu, select AddOns, then click Get Add Ons.

Search for the add on, Yet Another Mail Merge. 

Follow the prompts to add this Add On.

Next, click on the Add Ons drop down at the top of the sheet again, and select Yet Another Mail Merge from the list. Once you launch this Add On, you will be prompted, step by step to create the merge.

Video Support

Below is a video that might help if you get stuck on any of the steps above. Please feel free to use comments or reach out to me directly at if you have any questions!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Math and Mindfulness

This past weekend, up in Roseville, California, an innovative and exciting new conference launched: The Math and Mindfulness Summit 2017. The whole gig was the brainchild of Carole Pryor and Marie Criste. For years these two Roseville Joint Union High School District all-stars have wanted to collaborate on a blend of their two passions: Carole is an #EduHero in the Math world and Marie is known far and wide for organizing the most engaging and well planned Professional Development shows in town.

The modern math scene has recently been set ablaze by the work of Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck. These two are revolutionizing the way we all see the math classroom, most notably, due to these two educational researchers, we are all hearing the call for a growth mindset in the classroom and marching to the mantra of, "banishing math anxiety and giving students a roadmap to success," as described in Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets. This work is clearly a piece of the catalyst that launched this conference.

Now, for a bit of brilliant pageantry, we introduce a sprinkle of flexible seating and 360 Math, as can only be described by the event's keynote speaker, Ed Campos. You can imagine how this whole thing came together. Upon the foundation of Jo Boaler's work, brought to life by amazing practitioners from across the region and kicked off by keynote speaker Ed Campos: it was like a mathematician's perfect storm.

So, there's the stage, it's set. After this last year of leading powerful PD around equity and access for RJUHSD, the dream team of Pyror and Criste launch the Math and Mindfulness Summit: a blend of that which creates anxiety, coupled with the antidote to anxiety - all in one setting.

Ed Campos started the day with an inspired and heartfelt keynote that had the entire room eating from the palm of his hand. We all broke out to sessions, each was an incredibly balanced blend of Math and Mindful practices that encouraged growth mindsets, self regulation, and intrinsically motivating students. I don't know that I have ever seen or experienced anything quite like it.

I was honored to be asked to close the day with a short closing keynote. My job was simply to inspire the crowd to take action on what they had learned during the day.

Here is a bootleg video of my 12 minute closing keynote. It opens by me saying that I was blown away by this conference, but I truly have to take just a moment and reiterate what an inspirational conference this was. My sincerest congratulations and thank you goes out to Carole and Marie for their vision and their offer to include me in this unique opportunity. If you see this conference come around again, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in experiencing a tribe of people envisioning how the modern math classroom could exist.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Right in the Middle of Something

I'm not sure who signs up to be an astronaut; the job looks like there are some real high moments, but on the downside there is the freeze dried food, long time in confined places, bursting into flames on reentry, and absolutely no way to walk off the job. Not that walking off the job is a good litmus test for what makes a good career choice, but if you are in the middle of orbiting our lunar satellite and you disagree with a call made by your supervisor in Houston, you can not very easily rattle the boss's day with a pithy one liner and do the slow motion movie stroll out to your car in the parking-lot. Being an astronaut in outer-space is one of those gigs that I assume keeps your full attention. I can imagine an astronaut picking up the phone out of habit on the first ring and having to explain to his mother, who is calling for advice with leaking faucet, "Umm, Mom, I'm right in the middle of something, I'll call you back."

Not that the school business is parallel to taking off from Cape Canaveral, but it is a gig that I have been neck deep in for nearly 20 years, and I have increasingly found myself thinking, "Well, I couldn't leave now, I'm right in the middle of something." Do you ever find yourself having the winning the lottery fantasy? You see yourself collecting all that cash. There have been times when I have spontaneously had that thought and I could see myself walking away, but more often than not, I find myself having the lottery fantasy in response to some reality I am facing, and the lottery dream is only a reminder that regardless of whether or not I picked the right six numbers on a lotto ticket or not, the work that I was doing would still have to get done before I left to collect my cash.

That seems to be the truth for most of the educators I know. They get into this gig with the big dream that they are going to have summers off, but the truth it, the job sucks them in. Their afternoons begin to fill with coaching and clubs, their weekends with grading and even though from time to time, a loved one says, "Well it sounds like you are working too hard, maybe you should look for a different job," every educator I know sits up straight at that moment and, more often than not says, "Leave? Oh, I couldn't leave, I am right in the middle of something."

This gig may not pay the most, and sometimes the work is a little messy and overwhelming, but I wouldn't trade our industry for one that was easier to walk away from.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


It is truly a story I have reflected on my entire life, but never really shared with too many people. I was just five years old, I was shy, and I wasn't sure how to make friends in that new neighborhood. My mom threw open the garage door, told me to have more fun than anyone else, and I would have friends by the end of the day: the Kid Power Club was born. I became the president of my own club, I made a great group of friends, and I never forgot the lessons my mom taught me that day. 

40 years later, I just had the opportunity to stand on stage for 12 minutes and share this story with over 400 people. The tale was originally about making friends as a child, but it has evolved into a report about the importance of our relationships as adults. When we build a network, we have access to better ideas, we have more access to the fuel that inspires inspiration and growth. 

This short talk was the opening keynote at the CapCue Techfest, right here in my home town; I was honored to open the show in front of many of my own colleagues, friends and family. As it turned out, the amazing team from the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium captured the gig on video and have created this page where the video can be found. I shared it with my mom, and she told me it made her cry. #MomPride is real. You never know what stories are going to be the ones that shape your deepest beliefs, but sometimes, when you share your story, you realize the impact a single lesson has had on what you believe in most.

Last night I came home from #FallCue. What an amazing two days of inspiration. It isn't just the sessions, the resources, or the presentations: it is about the people. Fall Cue is like one big Kid Power Club meeting, where everyone is having more fun than anyone else, where the network is drawn together and no one is afraid to give away their best ideas. If you'd like, take 12 minutes, watch this video and I think you'll know exactly what I mean.