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We've just dispatched our first email newsletter using Mailchimp. The frequency of these mailings will range from monthly to quarterly. This one features the highlighting of some interesting articles, a summary of Steve's recent book review, and a recap of our Educon experience.
You can view the complete newsletter here and subscribe to future mailings using the Subscribe link on the top left corner. Enjoy!
I have read exactly 76 pages of Robert Sutton's new book, Scaling Up Excellence, and I'm doing something I've never done before -- I'm stopping in the middle of a book I'm enjoying. I'm putting the book down. By way of endorsement, I'm going to try to explain why.
Sutton (and his co-author Huggy Rao) bounce effortlessly between deep research and captivating stories, and they have thought deeply about "spreading constructive beliefs and behavior from the few to the many" (ix). In short, they know their stuff.
But a lot of business writers know their stuff -- and lots of business writers want you to know that they know their stuff as quickly as possible. This leads to formulaic books that substitute acronyms and shorthand for vigorous language and true depth.
What's different (for me) about Sutton and Rao is the meandering, thoughtful quality of their prose. These guys write sentences that are packed with insight and demand to be chewed on, puzzled over, bandied about, and applied. I have read exactly 76 pages of Scaling Up Excellence because it has implored me to slow down. I know the book wasn't written exactly for school leaders, but it suits our work perfectly.
Look at the following sentences that appear in the Preface:
Scaling well requires never leaving well enough alone. It means constantly seeking and implementing better ways of thinking and acting across old and new corners of the system. (xiii)
There's enough sturdy guidance in those sentences to help a school leader do his or her work for years. If you rest on your laurels, your school starts to slip. If you think your school can't be any better, you have already lost. You should think of your mission, sure, but you should also be thinking "constantly" about ways to invigorate that mission. Excellence in thinking begets excellence in acting, and vice versa, and a leader promotes both -- a leader demands both.
Such work is neither easy, nor neat, and Sutton and Rao address its very human side:
Scaling requires grinding it out, pressing each person, team, group, division, or organization to make one small change after another in what they believe, feel, or do. (4)
I remember reading a story about Sheryl Sandberg when she worked at Google. When she wanted to change the culture, she met with her direct reports and told stories, continuously, until they fully understood and embraced the shift Sandberg wanted to make. I imagined this rising leader, known for her ability to drive results, sitting down face-to-face with people, talking with them, listening to them, convincing them to give 100% effort to the cause. . . .
In our technology enhanced era, it's far too easy for leaders to attempt to e-quarterback every play in their areas or divisions. We all send too many messages across too many devices, and we all need to be reminded to reach out to people directly. In Leading Online, Reshan and I exhort our readers to "keep the off-ramp open and use it frequently." We call for blended leadership -- a mix of online and offline interactions -- whether school leaders are running a meeting or implementing an initiative. Sutton and Rao bring more urgency to the matter by reminding us that scaling anything is a "ground war, not just an air war." You have to get your hands dirty; you can't just peck the keys in front of you.
Fortunately, too, Sutton and Rao show us that scaling begets scaling begets scaling. Work hard enough and smart enough and you can "touch off" a form of accountability that most school people would find appealing because it focuses on culture (i.e., people). Imagine a school that is "packed with people who embody and protect excellence (even when they are tired, overburdened, and distracted), who work vigorously to spread it to others, and who spot, help, critique, and (when necessary) push aside colleagues who fail to live and spread it" (20). A school like that wouldn't even need administrators. It might not be perfect, but its heart would be in the right place, always, and it would aim to be better, always. There would be room for disagreement, but not for naysayers; time for renewal, but not for slacking.
I happen to think I work in a school that embodies this kind of accountability, and maybe that's why I want to slow down and ponder Sutton's and Rao's book -- it is helping me to savor the small wins in each of my days, helping me to appreciate my colleagues in the trenches, and reminding me that challenges in service of great purposes are the reason leaders wake up in the morning. As Sutton and Rao remind us, "organizations that scale well are filled with people who talk and act as if they are in the middle of a manageable mess" (xv). And, I'd add, they wouldn't trade their mess for all the order and clarity in the world.
Time to re-open this great book and see what else it has to offer. It will be available for all to open on Tuesday, February 4.
On Tuesday February 4th, I (Reshan) will be at EdTechTeacher's iPad Summit in San Diego. My presentation will largely be about Explain Everything, but I have attempted to frame the flow of the session using the Leading Online chapter headings. It seems to work. The session is going to involve collaboration (or at least cooperation), creation, and maybe even some perspiration (from me). Slides are below.
On Saturday, January 25th about 40 educators at #Educon got together and wrote a collaboratively constructed book in 90 minutes.
You can download the multi-touch version for iBooks with this link.
You can download the book as a PDF with this link.
Congratulations to all those who contributed, both named and anonymous.
Thanks to Mark Crotty and Bradley Chambers who both recently mentioned our book on their blogs.
Mark Crotty's To Keep Things Whole featured a post today about the "Potential of Student Blogs." Below is an excerpt, and you can read the complete post by clicking here.
...And I think we really miss an amazing opportunity with students and blogging. I like all the hyperbole about giant audiences, but I also know that it doesn't really happen that often. At the same time, I love the aspiration implied —that it's possible!
Bradley Chambers post on his Chambers' Daily website can be accessed by clicking here.
Thanks for the feedback and support!
I love good, old-fashioned books, and for over a decade I have never questioned the idea that the endgame of writers (and writing teachers) is to move thoughts to paper. I will never fully leave that idea behind, and I will never fully stop loving it. But my experience since the publication of Leading Online has given me some tangible proof that the iTunes / iBooks ecosystem offers writers an incredible platform on which to present their thoughts.
Reshan and I published our book three days ago, and we have enjoyed several benefits that are simply not available to writers who publish on paper.
First, we have been able to share demo copies of the book instantaneously via email. So if someone was excited about the book, we could get it into his/her hands right away, further stoking their interest in, and energy for, our project. That's good for the writer and good for the reader.
And speaking of exchanges, our book has allowed us to speak directly -- and immediately -- with our readers AS THEY READ THE BOOK.
As readers complete chapters of our book, they see a small invitation:
Clicking on that image allows readers to speak directly to Reshan and me. So far, two people have made use of this feature. They haven't finished the book, mind you . . . they are reading it chapter by chapter and, as often happens when people read books, they had something to say. Instead of writing in the margin or reading a passage out loud, they wrote directly to the authors.
Here's one post from Rob V. What I love most about it is its searching quality and the way it extends the thinking Reshan and I present in our book:
Since this email arrived, Reshan and Rob V are off and running in a generative side conversation, one that is sure to push both of them and to help both of them learn and grow in their professional roles.
When you publish your thoughts on paper, they are often fairly final. If you change your mind about something, you have to write another book. (Another benefit of our approach is that we can make adjustments as we go -- more on that later.) If someone wants to talk back to you, they have to track you down and hope you will return the call or email.
When you publish in the iTunes / iBooks ecosystem, your thoughts are easily tied to the thoughts of others. You are one author among many possible authors, a common host rather than a privileged guest.
I love good, old-fashioned books, but I love the new kinds of books that are now possible, too.
A colleague from the NYCIST Listserv, one of the organizations we reference a few times in Leading Online, just asked if we could share with the group some of the mechanical steps required for publishing a book via the iTunes/iBooks ecosystem. He mentioned that he was familiar with publishing for Kindle and Nook, but not with Apple's system. We're going to be working on the epub version of Leading Online over the next few weeks, so we anticipate that we may be reaching out to him to ask for help when we're ready to make the book available for those platforms. But for now, we're sharing below what Reshan sent back to him and the NYCIST group about the steps required for getting our book on the iTunes store.
Working backwards from being available in iTunes...
Leading Online: Leading the Learning, Leading by Learning is now available for iBooks (iPad and Mac OS X Mavericks).
The price is $9.99 but you can download a free sample chapter to get a preview before purchasing.
We'll be updating the book from time to time and we'll continue to share thoughts and ideas via this blog. Enjoy!
Not on 51 stores, but we hope that that will change very soon. The iBooks authoring and publishing ecosystem is very similar to the iOS App development and publishing process. Once the book has been created, you have to prepare it for the iBookstore using iTunes Producer. This software is the place where you add metadata. Metadata is information that includes the author names, the target audience, the ISBN code, the screenshots for the store, and much more. It's similar to all of the information that is attached to a iTunes or MP3 music file such as artist, album, year, genre, etc.
In a day or two, the red button on the right there will turn yellow, indicating that the book has been reviewed and is ready for sale. Then Steve and I (this is Reshan writing - I probably should have mentioned that earlier) will have the opportunity to accept this version or submit a new version which will need to be reviewed and approve by Apple's iBook review team. If we accept the version, the button will be green and it will say 'Available on 51 Stores.' We are excited for that moment.
The more I reflect on my Leading Online collaboration with Reshan, the more I find buried in the folds.
My latest learning extraction is that this book was such a joy to write because it aligned so perfectly with everything else that has been going on in our lives over the past year. Time with the book was time in the lab, and many of our experiments, even when they failed, fed our work and our lives:
1) We have both used Google Docs in school to organize the work of students and teachers. But Leading Online forced me to go deeper into the Google Docs suite than I ever have before; as I learned about new techniques or tools with Reshan, I immediately put them to use with my classes and teams.
2) Reshan has used Weebly in the past, but I have not. Now that I am learning about it (as I use it), I have developed a list of ways I might use it for my upcoming creative writing class.
3) By creating a book project that includes a bunch of other professionals, Reshan and I have also been exposed to different kinds of questions than we usually hear. When you work with the same set of people day in and day out, as most of us do in school, communication patterns become somewhat predictable. Partially, this is a result of pure pragmatism -- we develop shortcuts and shorthand to save time as we aim to meet our daily deadlines. When you work with different people, though, they don't meet your expectations or play by your rules -- and this is a great way to expand your conceptions of what is possible. Our first interaction with Beth Holland (after receiving a wonderful blurb from her) led to a great question when she asked, "I wonder if you could run a virtual book club reading via Subtext?! That could be so cool!" (The English teacher in me thought, "great, if Beth helps us run a virtual book club, maybe I can use that with my students over the summer.") Interacting with Grant Lichtman taught us that we were on the right track as he expressed his enthusiasm for some of the features in the iBook; at the same time, Grant helped to expose some bugs in one of our early iBook versions. Interacting with Dan Pink, who also wrote a blurb for us, helped us to learn about awayfind.com, a very nice way to tell people that you are "out of the office." It was instructive for us to learn that you can demonstrate a human touch even when you have automated your communication for a brief period of time.
4) And here's my favorite example: the last page of the last chapter of the book called for a picture -- something that would send the right message about using technology without allowing it to dominate our lives. We decided to take a picture of our children wandering around some statues of people that are part of an art instillation at a college near our houses. As Reshan snapped dozens of pictures, our children met for the first time. Soon they were holding hands and dancing and laughing. The morning stretched into the early afternoon, as work became play . . . as a project became family time.
So here's a secret when picking passion projects to pursue: Find projects that don't cause a disruption in your daily schedules, or rub up against your larger responsibilities; instead, find projects that enrich your daily schedules and feed your daily responsibilities.
And when people ask you how you found the time to do something "extra," just tell them it's not extra, it's part of what I do. Or, if you want to stretch their thinking a little bit, tell them that true passion projects don't take away time, they add time.