Ideas, Influence, Impact

What is a Linchpin?

Linchpin literally means to keep the wheels from falling off.  In today’s society and multiple organizations a linchpin is someone who does more than keep the wheels from literally falling off.  They create value in the company.  They keep things moving metaphorically in the company.  And, they are indispensable components of any successful organization.

In every successful organization, linchpins served three primary functions.  First, they challenge ideas, people, and assumptions.  Second, they connect ideas, assumptions and people.  And third, they create new information and stronger groups formed from these connected individuals.

Linchpins serve critical purposes.  They challenge assumptions and create value for their organizations.  They are invaluable pieces of an organization and are not found in large numbers.  Linchpins certainly are not born.  Rather they are created over time through challenging situations, tackling wicked problems, and through pushing themselves to find a new insight into old problems.

There is a need for linchpins in our society – and every organization and institution.  I wish to be a linchpin.  I hope you do, too.

Let’s work together to be indispensable.


Learning: Either/Or No More

Before the start of the new school year, my family took a week-long vacation to Duluth, Minnesota.  We had never been there before, but were excited by cool temperatures in July, a beach in the Midwest, and the opportunity for a lot of family fun.  During the trip, we visited a children’s museum, a coastal lighthouse, the Aerial Bridge, the Great Lakes Aquarium, the Lake Superior Marine Museum, the Lake Superior Railroad Museum and so many other interesting places.

Throughout the trip, my family (five kids ages 2, 4, 7, 9, and 11) had a great time – and asked a lot of questions.  With each stop, we learned something.  It was a great trip!  It also reminded me that school may be a place, but learning is a process.  It can – and does – happen anywhere.  It happened as we spent 45 minutes learning about the locks and dams along the Great Lakes.  It occurred in the replica steam engine, and it certainly occurred standing on the beach of Lake Superior.

With each stop, new questions were asked and answers were sought.  We learned, we laughed, and we did it as a family.  Now, not all learning is family based, but it is personal.  What Grace (my 11-year-old) learned at the aquarium was different that what Elle (my 9-year-old) learned, but it all had value.  And don’t even get me started about all the train things I learned from Sam (my 7-year-old) at the old train depot.

Competency-based education does just what this family trip did.  It takes what is personal and connects learning to what is necessary.  There were a lot of science, math, English and social studies standards met while on vacation.  We learned because we wanted to, and ultimately, it will be deeper learning because of our interest.

Competency-based learning holds the potential to take each one of this moments and turn it into a learning experience.  We do not need artificial lesson, because real life did it for us.  Imagine all that can be learned, is learned, in a single day.

CBE can help us do it better, do it richer, do it deeper.

CBE can help us cross the bridge from “required to know” to “desired to know.”


The Aerial Bridge in Duluth, MN

Lead Yourself

Lead yourself with passion, purpose and perseverance.


Rise to the level of your excellence, not sink to someone else’s level of mediocrity. 

Personalized PD

Our district took an important step forward in its journey toward a competency-based learning system this semester.  Last month, our teachers began a personalized professional development plan.  Below is the document used to introduce this work:

Vision / Intent – (Why?)

  • For teachers to experience an individually-driven learning experience, similar to what is being discussed for competency-based education for students (CBE team)
  • Learn from our struggles implementing with teachers to make it a smoother transition for students

Timeline – (When?)

  • 2nd semester of this year
  • May still have some building or district PD sessions on Tuesdays – AIW, CBE, literacy, technology, etc.

Logistics – (How?)

  • Teachers are welcome to work independently or in a group – address your learning style
  • Maintain your reflections in the same PD reflection GoogleDoc
  • Complete the new iPD form  {below in bold}

Expectations – (What?)

  • Stretch yourself – focus on new learning
  • Use your time wisely – time not to be used for grading papers
  • Demonstrate professional integrity – support each other, share success and concerns
  • Need to share out with another teacher that day (Social Collaboration)
  • Need to share out with principal (Accountability)

Possible Examples –

  • CBE
  • Literacy
  • Standards-based grading
  • Technology integration
  • Performance-based assessment

Summative Evaluation – End of year

  • What worked?
  • What should be changed?
  • How does this impact PD plans for next year?
  • What are the success criteria?

Teachers need to answer the following questions:

  • What do you plan to learn?
  • How will you know you’ve learned it?  (What will be your evidence of learning?)
  • How does your learning support the work of your building and/or district?
  • What resources will you need?
  • How will your administration (building principal, superintendent) need to support your learning?
  • How will your building principal know of your progress in learning?

The design of this work is to have our teachers begin to experience the freedom (or fear) of personalized learning and use those experiences to develop a better system of learning for our students.  As we continue to look at our world, it is becoming more customized all the time.  Our educational system finally has the philosophy, tools, technology, resources, and leadership to transform itself into a personalized learning system.  We are proud of our step in this direction, and this work will allow us to take more steps faster.

I am trying hard to imagine the reaction to a newspaper headline or the top story on the evening news that says, “BREAKING NEWS: Boeing Builds Plane Mid-Flight!”.  I wonder if the world would herald the respected company for its innovative new construction process or ridicule it for brazen disregard for engineering and aerodynamics.  Would stocks soar or plummet?

For me, I personally would feel unsafe getting into a plane that was being built while in flight.  I was recently traveling and during my layover, the plane of which I had just gotten off needed a mechanical issue addressed before I got back on it to continue to my destination.  Please be clear, the plane did not stop because of the mechanical concern; rather, it was just a part of its flight routine.  I boarded the plane a few minutes later, and I made it home safely and on time.

I share this story because I am extremely frustrated with educational leaders that use the term “building the plane while flying it”
in reference to any number of changes or reforms in which they are involved or leading.   I am not sure why we gravitate to this phrase, but we use it a lot.  In one week, I heard it seven times.  And it needs to stop.

Good grief.  Tell me, would we get onto an airplane knowing that it was going to be rebuilt in the midst of the flight?  Would we deem the company credible?  Would we consider ourselves sane?  I think the answer is “no” to all those questions, yet why do we use this phrase to discuss the improvements we are making to our educational systems?

In education, we deserve a better phrase than this to describe the intense work we are doing with continuous school improvement.  We need to use a phrase that speaks to the integrity and intensity of our work.  We need a phrase that conjures an image of professional competence, not willful neglect or ignorance.  We need a phrase that accurately describes the hard work we do daily.

But, please, until we find that phrase, can we at least stop telling parents, students, legislators and community stakeholders that we are “building the plane as we fly it”?  I am never taking that flight with you as long as you are, nor are many others.

iNACOL 2014

It was an extraordinary opportunity to attend the 2014 iNACOL Symposium.  I was able to learn so much about competency-based education, personalized learning and blended instruction.  Throughout this conference, one key them continued to arise – “change the mindset”.  Session after session spoke about the need to change the mindset of teachers, of administrators, of parents, of community members and of policymakers.  For our system to truly be transformed, each of these groups need to think differently about what is learning and how we develop a system that fully supports it.

Every group, that is, except students.  Students were lauded as willing and able and excited to learn in a new system, a new ecosystem.  Students are ready for this new system.  From this international conference, and from my interactions back home, I know there are teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and policy makers already with mindset to change the system.  In fact, they have not only the mind for it, they have the heart for it.  They have the fire for it.  And, with each day, we gain more skills for it.

From the WILL set to the SKILL set, we are ready.  We need to be.  My sons and daughters – and yours – need this transformed system of learning NOW.

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