A look back

It’s that time of the year again. A time to pause and look back. I have to say that this year has been a hectic one and a year jam packed right up till I finished at work on Friday. Heck the work is still spilling into holiday time. This post is about themes and lessons learnt, not achievements or failures.

Daily deliberate

A huge lesson this year was the value of volume through daily habits. Through podcasts, blog posts, books and then daily practice I learnt that writing, creating, making, learning, improving is a process of continued daily devotion through deliberate practice. I wrote a lot, in fact I filled four notebooks and have countless drafts and Trello boards of ideas but there was a lot of crap in there. There was also a lot of gold. Writing daily kept me coming back to ideas and often a different mode or headspace could take an idea in a different direction. I learnt from many inspiring people that the process of improvement lies not in a one off magical output but the repeating cycles of doing and reflecting. For those looking to develop their voice, I implore you to start. Write for 5 minutes every day in a notebook. Wake up, time yourself and get lost in the five minutes. Keep that practice up every day for a month and then come back to those ideas. You will be amazed with how much you can write and have to say. Once your habit is established, extend your time or if you want to deliberately improve, get someone to read them, either from your notebook or via a blog. Feedback is key to improvement.

The power of stories and narratives
Storytelling is how knowledge has been shared through generations and a great story compels us to listen with intent and interest. Unfortunately many presenters fail to see the narrative and bombard us with slide after slide of slotted together information, without a thread of narrative. I have spent time this year through speaking gigs, practice, sketch noting trying to develop my ability to tell a compelling story. The stories that need to be told are your stories and people need to hear them. I have had the pleasure of working with a few members of my PLN closely this year as they have developed their ability to tell stories and it has been amazing to watch. The world needs less quotes on a slide deck and more powerful stories shared.

Battle between distractions and flow

In this day and age, being a connected educator can be severely distracting. Notification upon notification just chips away at your ability to get anything done. The dopamine craving of a retweet or a thumbs up leads to a decreased ability to get into a state of flow (check out Cal Newport’s Deep work). It also leads to a battle to be in the moment and it is something I have wrestled with immensely. Living close to work doesn’t allow for a lot of debrief time and so I have worked to put the phone away until the kids are in bed…and you know what, the world hasn’t ended and people have sorted out their own shit or they wait till tomorrow. It is so easier to be in the moment when your phone is not within arms reach. I have also employed this strategy with regard to email. I don’t check email until about 10.30am. That first two and half hours is when I am at my sharpest and so I use it for uninterrupted work on projects. I wear noise cancelling headphones to let my team know I’m not to be disturbed and I listen a chill mix I made on Spotify. I thoroughly recommend people developing routines that allow them to get into flow.

Power of belief
I hit rough patches this year a few times and they largely revolved around the question of purpose. I spent time trying to uncover what my purpose was, where I was heading to next. In fact, I probably tried too hard to drive the conversation between myself and it led me to some really barren points during the year. Some great conversations with people I respect and plenty of thinking time while I work out in the morning helped me through there spots. What did I learn? You need to get lost in opportunity and the opportunity you have is the opportunity you need to use to create this. Instead of letting negative thinking or self doubt creep in, step out of your comfort zone (and own head) and walk on.

Incrementalism and persistence.
Incrementalism is an interesting concept and it was this great podcast my wife referred me to by the Freakonomics team (great podcast series) that led me to the concept. Throughout history, monumental shifts in human thinking were not the results of big bang overnight success but incremental steps. Often the initial steps are long forgotten but they were necessary for the change journey to begin. Stephen Dubner from Freakonomics sums it up best with this quote.

“It got me to thinking that incrementalism is to the moonshot, what maintenance is to innovation.”

In our schools, we have moon shots that we aspire to. Large scale reform and change is hard and slow but every day you can take steps towards this. Every step is a step and while it might sometimes be a step backward or a sidestep, it is action. Moving on this with the end in mind helps to keep the the moon shot alive. A key part to this is to share the journey. The best journeys are shared. You also need to stop and take stock. Persistence in the face of huge roadblocks can be daunting but the energy you receive when you stop and look back at how far you have come can provide wind in your sails and help you through rough patches.

What lessons have you learnt this year?  As always, comments welcomed!

Podcasts, podcasts, podcasts!

I have a slight obsession with podcasts. Since I first discovered them back in the good ole iPod days, I have been a regular listener. The EdTech Crew was the first education podcast to grab my attention and I would often extend my drive (the measure of a podcast in my mind) to finish an episode. I caught up with Tony Richards (@itmadesimple) recently and was hounding him to get the band back together so here’s hoping! Since then my listening tastes have shifted. I still enjoy education podcasts but find my interests lie now in more diverse areas.

For education, I personally can’t go past the TIDE (Today in Digital Education) podcast by Doug Belshaw (@dajbelshaw) and Dai Barnes (@daibarnes) or The Education Review (TER) podcast by Corinne Campbell (@corisel) and Cameron Malcher (Capitan_Typo). Both provide tremendous perspective and depth to all things education.

Podcasts that align with my values in life have been growing in popularity on my podcast list. This all started with the Minimalists podcast, a podcast about two guys who gave up six figure jobs and a live of gathering wealth and possessions to live a life of value, joy and fulfillment. The reason I love this podcast is that it makes you question where your values lie and then challenges you to do something about it. This podcast led me to 10% Happier by Dan Harris and Waking up with Sam Harris. Dan Harris is an ABC news anchor that had a panic attack on national television, which led him to take up meditation. Dan claims that meditation makes him about 10% happier, hence the name and he regularly talks to inspiring people about their meditation habits on his show. Being a Weezer fan, I especially loved the Rivers Cuomo episode. Sam Harris (not related) is unbelievably intelligent and his podcast challenges contentious issues in the world as well as discussing the most interesting of topics.

My latest favs are the Unmistakable Creative by Srinivas Rao and The Tim Ferris Show by Tim Ferris. Both Srinivas and Tim look at business, learning, creativity and innovation through interesting perspectives and by interviewing amazing guests. Local representatives on my list are the Huddle Show by Huddle, a human centred design firm based in Melbourne and Future2 by Steve Glaveski (@steveglaveski). I have had the pleasure of getting to know Steve through his coworking space Collective Campus over the past year and his knowledge as well as the calibre of the guests on his show are second to none when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship expertise. Although this one was a once off podcast series, Seth Godin’s Startup school was also a great listen. I find Seth to be an amazing thinker who can take complex topics and make them accessible through clear narrative and anecdotes. He always blows my mind.

Other great podcasts to check out are Finding Mastery with Michael Gervais, IDEO Futures by IDEO, Office Hours by Dan Pink, Stanford Entrepreneurship videos, Stanford Innovation Lab and Freakonomics radio.

What’s on your podcast list?

Lessons to learn from the naughty kids

Straight off the bat I’m going to tell you that I don’t believe there are naughty kids. There are kids that challenge us, that make poor choices, that rebel but as an educator I believe that all kids are inherently good.  I have taught my fair share of students that have given me grey hairs or have driven me to want to publically share my grasp of colloquial language but I believe that everyone can succeed in the right environment and with the right support. The bagging of students is one reason why I’m not a huge fan of staffrooms.  I understand the need to vent after a challenging lesson but I also believe that there are more productive ways to do this and number one is finding opportunities for positive encounters instead of conflict.  Anyway rant aside, the point of this post is about what we can learn from the “extreme” student.

The word ‘extreme’ is borrowed by IDEO’s Human Centred Design process where interviewing ‘extreme users’ can provide incredible insights and ideas for innovation.  Empathy is the driving force behind the Human Centred Design process and this method forms part of the inspiration stage.  It allows us to take a deep dive into all areas of a problem and look at the problem from all angles. Lets look at an example, getting teachers to use technology in their teaching.  We can instantly think of extremes at both ends.  Think of two people in your life or school that would qualify as either extreme users of technology or extreme non users of technology.  What about their behaviour classifies them as extreme?  When we analyse how they work, what jumps out at you?  When you speak to these people about how they work, what do you discover?  Extreme users often have unique work patterns or workarounds. For the hyper-connected extreme user, he/she might automate mundane tasks through IFTTT (IF This Then That) recipes and this workflow helps create time for more important tasks. For the analog user, their use of their diary to collect anecdotal notes might serve as a powerful formative assessment tool. We can learn new ways of working or highlight practices that are highly efficient.  On the flipside, we can also find new ways to connect the dots and work through our problem. Whatever the case is, there is much to learn here if we spend the time noticing.

Source: https://i2.wp.com/image.slidesharecdn.com/workshop1-digital-innovation-nesta-150206105315-conversion-gate02/95/presentation-by-nesta-on-designing-and-prototyping-made-at-the-oecd-conference-on-innovating-the-public-sector-from-ideas-to-impact-1213-november-2014-16-638.jpg
Source: http://image.slidesharecdn.com/workshop1-digital-innovation-nesta-150206105315-conversion-gate02/95/presentation-by-nesta-on-designing-and-prototyping-made-at-the-oecd-conference-on-innovating-the-public-sector-from-ideas-to-impact-1213-november-2014-16-638.jpg?cb=1423241786

You can find two great resources to help you learn from the extremes from the Stanford d.school and the IDEO design kit.  Being able to empathise with the extreme users in your class can allow you to see the world through their eyes and can help you discover new ways of thinking or design new ways of connecting. We have much to learn from the extremes in our life.

Thanks for reading.



Start your day on the right foot

I had an encounter with a colleague this week that really stayed with me. We were in the first stage of our new appraisal process at work and were reviewing the student data collected through surveys. The data was pretty much perfect, except in one particular area a student had given the lowest score. The twenty other students had nominated the highest score as their preference. Throughout our discussion, the conversation was brought constantly back to that one score by my colleague. My colleague couldn’t let that one slide and it was a position I could really empathise with. No matter what type of feedback, the negative kind seems to be the one that sticks the most. The score counted for 5% of the total performance but because it was an area my colleague felt they did well, it might as well have counted for 95%. I spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on this after our appraisal conversation. Why does the negative seem to linger longer? I am an incredibly optimistic person. I will always see the glass half full. But like everyone of you, I wake up somedays poisoned by the negativity of my own thoughts. Our toughest opponent is always ourselves. The little voice inside your head that says “You can’t do it”, “They think you’re a fraud”, “You don’t know what you’re talking about”. This opponent is a huge factor when it comes to preventing people taking on new challenges and pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone. So what do we do? How do we quiet this internal monologue?

Framing the day with a good start and a good end is a great way to begin. I have been a long time fan of the writing of Srinivas Rao and of his fantastic podcast, the Unmistakeable Creative. Srinivas uses positive questions to positively frame his day. Questions like ‘What will be great about today?’ or “How can I make today fantastic” or “What am I grateful for?” can help focus on the good that can come with a new day or the good in life in general. He also talks about having a good morning routine. You need to own your morning routine. I wrote last week about how this is my “me” time and I am absolutely religious about it. The things that give me morning energy, that bring me joy are exercise, music and headspace and my morning is built around them. I alternate between running and walking each morning. While I run, I love listening to music or podcasts. On the walking mornings, I spend the time thinking about the day ahead or the events of yesterday. I reflect and I work through positive and negative emotions and by the end of my walk I’m in a better headspace. Negativity is important as we aren’t meant to be up all the time. Finding the balance is key as growth can happen from both. Once I finish exercise I meditate for 10 minutes. This is a practice I have been doing every day since July and I can’t recommend it enough. I use Insight Timer to follow guided meditations and have built it up from 5 minutes over time. I still have days where my brain is on overdrive with thoughts but I am learning to sit and be with the breath. This pause helps me be still and be present. One of my favourite guided meditations says that when everything feels overwhelming, all you need to do is just breathe.  If all else fails, just breathe. The morning routine helped save me from burnout. Now ask yourself, what are you doing to start your day right?

Once the day kicks into gear, how do you balance the positive/negative books in your head? It starts by understanding what gives you energy and how many of these elements are in your every day. In their book, Designing Your Life, authors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans share a happiness hack to develop the life you desire. It starts with a Good Time Journal which is filled in regularly by the individual with the things in their day that make them feel ten feet tall. This in itself is not unique. Merely collating entries is not enough. Burnett and Evans have devised the AEIOU method of happiness analysis where each entry is dissected to discover the elements that made the event/interaction/etc… so meaningful.

A stands for Activities: What you were doing? What was your role? How was the activity set up?
E stands for Environment: Where were you? Describe the place and the feelings you felt
I stands for Interactions: Describe who and what you interacted with. Was it a familiar or unfamiliar interaction?
O stands for Objects: What objects were present and engaged with? Did you make any objects?
U stands for Users: Who else was present and how did they impact your positive and negative state?

Spending time analysing the great moments (no matter how big or small) in your day is an incredibly powerful exercise and Burnett and Evans write that the insights and patterns that appear are the items that you need to build into your day. If a walk after lunch gives you a boost for the afternoon, then find ways to build that into your day. Build the positives into your day.

Finishing a day with this practice helps to focus on the great in your day. As well as this, find time to wind down and look after yourself. Come to a gradual halt and set yourself up for a great brand new day.

Thanks for reading.

You have more time than you think!

Time. A currency so rare and so often too easily spent. For many of us, we could change the world if we only had more time. Here is how I am working to use the precious time that I have.

I use Trello to organise everything Digital. I use a notebook to capture everything offline. Between them, I jot down meeting notes, blog ideas, quotes, to do lists, books to read, absolutely everything. They are my bug lists, my ideas wallet. I use the Kanban technique to make sure that I only focus on one task at a time but I first spend time prioritising my day into my top six items. I select the most pressing one and I work only on that one task until it is complete. I then move on to the next task on the list.

I plan my whole week in half an hour chunks (using Google Sheets so I can access it any device). This is a practice I learnt from reading Cal Newport’s book “So good they can’t ignore you.” I began the practice firstly to see where my time went and I found it really helped with organising my week and releasing the pressure of upcoming deadlines. Breaking your day into half an hour chunks and then collating them to see where your week went is like a calorie counter for time. If I dedicated half an hour to a particular task, I made sure that I was working on that one task. It is amazing how much you waste without knowing it.  I begin my week by looking at the items that I can’t change. I add these into the timeslots. My morning ritual is locked down every day. I go to bed to get eight hours sleep EVERY night. This practice has changed my life. I wake up refreshed and ready to tackle the day EVERY day. I wake at 5.30am every morning and if you do the math on that one, it is a 9.30pm bedtime and I love that. I began my morning ritual as a way of getting some time to myself. For those with kids, you’ll know what I’m on about. I need time for me. I am an introvert who gains energy by being by myself. The morning ritual of exercise, stretching and meditation helps get me physically and mentally ready for the day. It also means that when the kids are up and about, I am home and present.  Once I have locked down the items that can’t moved, I add in the items that I wish to use my time on. This is my priority list. As you can see in the image below, I even write in when I drop off my kids to school and when is family time.  This might seem odd but I struggled with transitioning from work to home. Now I follow the list and focus on being present. I have noticed the difference in my headspace. I plan for success and this means getting the work out of my head and into an easy to manage planner. This deliberate practice helps reduce my stress because I have allocated the mental resources to map it out and then the time counter keeps me honest.


I used to check Twitter and emails while I was at home in the morning but I am changing that habit. I still check Twitter from time to time but I have stopped checking email as it would often ruin the start to my day.  Email is the one thing in my job I would give up in a heartbeat. I now don’t check email until 10.30am. I am at my most creative and sharpest at 8am and so I work on my big ticket items, my number one priorities for the first two and half hours of my work day. I used to spend my days going from meeting to meeting and just checking email and it made me miserable. I would leave work feeling like I accomplished nothing but the acquisition of more work and less time to do it. Working in two and a half hour blocks also really helps me get into the flow of work. I work in an open plan office and so I put my headphones to show everyone that I don’t wish to be distracted. It doesn’t always work but it does help me keep in the zone. I made the change to not check my email after reading in Cal’s book the following question:

“Do you want to be known as the person who is good at responding to email or the person who gets things done?”

Cal Newport

I know which one my Principal would want. Checking my email only twice a day also means that I skim looking for the important emails. If a response requires more than 2-3 minutes of my time, it is a phone call or a visit to that person. This is in my opinion is much more personable and time efficient. The next item on my time list I am looking to reduce is my meetings. Meetings are way too long and often a poor use of time (gross generalisation here but my two cents). I want to try walking meetings. It worked by Steve Jobs and it really makes sense to me. Everyone gets exercise, gets away from screens and connects with other humans. What’s not to like!

If you spend time analysing where your time goes, you will see where the leaks are. You have more time than you think. It’s just how you design your day to take advantage of it to make it work for you.

I would love to hear your strategies for managing your time. Comments always welcome!

Sensory deprivation and reflection

Image source: https://goo.gl/images/w83OfR

For Father’s day, I was given a gift voucher to a floatation tank venue. I had never heard of this before but as usual it was my wife’s keen interest in exploring it and her preference for me to be the guinea pig to test it out. I walked in with no idea about what was to go down but I went in with an open mind. A floatation tank is a sensory deprivation pod filled with salts that enable you to float. The experience is designed to block out the stimuli of the world and to allow you to be alone with your thoughts. The session begins with music to help you transition but after ten minutes you are on your own. Silent, floating, thinking, still…for 60 minutes. There are no screens, no emails, no noise and it is so incredibly peaceful. The mind still tries to move at the pace its used to but it soon runs out of steam and you’re left still, distilling and reflecting. In our world, there is not enough time for reflection. Taking stock of the journey travelled is as important as travelling the journey itself but reflection is often beaten by the bell or by the conveyer belt of the school day. At the end of the 60 minutes, I left recalibrated. It was the strangest feeling. It felt kind of like a rebirth.

The sensory deprivation/floatation tanks are popping up all over Melbourne at the moment and I think it is reflective of the times we live in. People are seeking escape from the noise, from the abundance of decisions, information and challenges. I get it. On my drive home, I was left with a clarity of thought that I hadn’t had in ages. I kept thinking about the world we live in and the world our students/children live in. There is a reason mindfulness is growing in popularity in schools and across the world, people need it. Being still, being present is becoming more and more challenging for people. There is so much competing for our attention and it is so easy to give in to it.

For me, the float was amazing. I got to really spend an hour with myself. I was present. I experienced a new sensation and I saw the world from a new perspective. It has led me to try to find new fresh perspectives to explore. I try to do these daily as a way of getting off the conveyer belt of the day and to stop and smell the roses. So much of our day can be on autopilot and so we need to explore ways to grab back the steering wheel and be present.

How do we disrupt our thinking?

Innovation is a constant theme throughout my blog. It is a constant theme throughout the books I choose to read, the blog posts I choose to read, share and comment on, the podcasts I listen to. I am enthralled by the process, the mindset and by those who do it well. The more I read, the less mystical it becomes and in the same breath the more difficult it can seem. Largely my reading leads me to business innovation as there is so much to learn from looking outside education, especially when it comes to how large corporations (insert schools here) adjust their path (quickly) and innovate. Innovation is the reason behind the CoLearn MeetUp. I wanted to move past interest and more into action and the themes of our MeetUps are based around developing innovation cultures, mindsets and tool sets. Education needs innovation now more than ever but innovation is not a person or a thing. Innovation is a way of thinking, a way of questioning and as I wrote in a previous post, a process. Maybe my obsession stems from my love of punk rock. I like seeing the world through alternative lenses, challenging the status quo. The challenge is moving away from the way we have always done things, to disrupt the current status. Disruptive innovation, a term made popular by innovation guru Clayton Christensen is defined by Wikipedia as

an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances.

Now that’s all well and good in business but how does that translate to education. What is the education version of Uber or AirBnB? I’m not sure on that one but once again it is the thinking that jumps out at me.  How do you disrupt your thinking? According to Luke Williams, author of DISRUPT: Think the unthinkable to spark transformation in your business, there are three steps. A key part to these three steps is being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Silly ideas, crazy ideas, whatever ideas, the key is to defer judgement. Let them swill around in your brain and let them be possible. As the famous cliche goes, you need to think outside the box.

Step 1. What do you want to disrupt? 

The area of focus needs to be high level. Think big.  Let’s say for example I want to disrupt the shape of the day for schools. Time is always listed as a constraint for schools, for learning. I want to disrupt the shape of the day so that we can discover better examples for our use of time.

Step 2. What are the cliches?

Williams describes cliches as “the assumptions that influence the way insiders think about the situation”. The assumption about the structure of the day is that it works for all learners, for all ages. Another assumption is that everyone learns best between 8.30 and 3.30pm.  Whatever suggestion, let the idea swill and defer judgement. Wear it for a while.

Step 3. What are your disruptive hypotheses? 

Start provoking the status quo. What lies in the adjacent possible? What can you invert? What can you deny? We need to defer judgement on our hypotheses and let them swill around in our brain. These are what ifs, fresh perspectives. Let’s say we start the day at 11am. Studies show that a later start would work for the developing teenage brain. What about if school followed the Spanish lifestyle and we had a siesta in the afternoon, followed by our creative subjects. It works for Don Draper! We would have to minus the scotch though. Whatever you land on, the thinking is the hero. From here you need to test and validate that your assumption works.

Now I know what you’re thinking. This is exactly the definition of innovation that parents think of when they hear teachers and schools talk of innovation. Experimenting on their children. It isn’t. It is seeing the beauty in new possibilities and finding out (quickly) whether or not this works. A great framework for how school’s can use this thinking can be found within Richard Olsen’s Inquiry Oriented Innovation process.  The strategic component of the framework has four categories.

1. Educational goals 

This is largely the purpose of school. The why. It can differ from school to school, school segment to school segment but it is the overarching vision for the school.

2. Stakeholder expectations/beliefs

What does the school community expect and believe? A strong correlation and connection between the educational goals and the stakeholder expectations is extremely important. Many families chose schools based on the school’s beliefs, goals and values. Many families Ieave schools because of the same thing. The strength of this relationship is paramount. The same goes for teachers. Teachers need to feel that they are valued and that the school that they work at aligns with their values (well at least they should!).

3. Student needs

According to Olsen, these are the pressing, changing or unique social and emotional needs, content, skills and traits that learners possess or require developing.  The needs of the students needs to drive all innovation in my opinion. Contributing to the development of young people is our core business and so should drive all quests for improvement.

4. Compelling opportunities

What are the great opportunities at our feet? What local, community, technological, global opportunities present new pathways? Identifying these can help develop innovative opportunities in your school. We can start to bring in the disruptive thinking process here. Most innovation is from recyled or repurposed ideas and so we can start to let the great, crazy and zany ideas swill around in our heads. Remixing ideas or smashing two or three ideas together. Using the ten types of innovation to see new possibilities. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

From here we develop our innovation thesis, our hypothesis. I’ll touch on this more in my next post.

If you are keen to know more about this process, come and join us at Collective Campus on Wednesday September 28 at 6.30pm. This MeetUp is for Melbourne based educators at the moment but the next MeetUp will be online. More to come shortly.

As always, comments welcome. Thanks for reading.