How to Fix the Most Soul-Crushing Meetings

Meetings are notoriously one of organizational life’s most insufferable realities. U.S. companies spend more than $37 billion dollars a year on them. Employees in American companies spend more than one-third of their time in them. And 71% of senior managers view them as unproductive. In one global consumer products company that I work with, my firm’s organizational assessment revealed an unusually intense degree of frustration over how much time was consumed by meetings, leaving “only evenings to do our day jobs,” according to one interviewee. In a meticulous inventory, we calculated the hours spent in meetings by directors and above across the enterprise (a population of about 500). They collectively spent more than 57,000 hours per year in recurring meetings. That’s the equivalent of six and a half years!

Better meeting techniques, like distributing agendas, holding stand-up meetings, or enforcing a no-device policy, are all well-intentioned practices. But none of them will salvage a meeting that shouldn’t be happening in the first place.

Meetings are productive and meaningful when the people in them have a clear reason to be there, have a definitive contribution to make, and advance strategic priorities together. Any standing meeting, whether it’s of a departmental leadership team, a cross-functional group owning a process like innovation or talent management, or a task force managing a six-month transition to a new technology, should be designed and linked to a broader governance plan. Together, standing meetings should synchronize the entire organization in a meeting cadence that executes strategy and delivers results. But too often, meetings are disconnected from the intentional distribution of decision rights, resources, and priorities across the organization, making them unnecessary.

Meetings that aren’t part of effective governance design take on two destructive pathologies: they become meetings as source of power or meetings as bottleneck.

When meetings become a source of power, being in charge or included affords you disproportionate degrees of influence and status. They justify their existence with lengthy presentations that most attendees find boring and irrelevant while nodding eagerly in a feigned sense of importance. In the consumer products company I mentioned above, one interviewee told us, “People would get to meetings 30 minutes early to make sure they sat near the executive they wanted to be seen with.” This kind of politicization leaves most leaders in meetings disempowered, employees disengaged, and meetings dysfunctional. Meetings should serve to distribute power, not concentrate it at the top. When they do, leaders are more inclined to use power responsibly.



When a meeting becomes a bottleneck, decisions or resources are passing through people who likely have little or nothing to contribute, usually because “they’ve always been involved.” Standing meetings like these are often like layers of old wallpaper pasted over one another; they’ve far outlived their usefulness. At the consumer products company, many of the standing meetings were of groups that had been formed years prior and had never been dissolved as the organization evolved and shifted strategies. In fact, there were six different groups managing two different processes governing product development. Many of those groups had been formed decades earlier, each one gripping tightly to their claim over determining which projects in the pipeline moved forward with what investments. The wars between departments doubled the time required to bring a new product to market because teams were often given conflicting directions.

These are just symptoms, however. The underlying problem is bad governance. To fix these issues in your organization, establish the following three elements.

1. A clearly articulated mandate with defined decision rights. Regardless of the type of meeting, the scope must be clearly defined, and narrowed to a few key areas. In another multinational company I work with, the executive team, the business unit teams, the regional teams, and the country teams were painfully duplicating work — everything from P&L management to key hiring decisions to customer relationship management. Meetings became war zones, as each group complained about how one of the other groups was undermining what they believed was theirs to do. In a holistic redesign, we created charters for each level so that they were focused on the work they could uniquely execute. Strategy and priorities were set at the executive team level. The business unit teams focused on talent, customer segmentation, and marketing. The regional and country level teams were responsible for P&Ls, customer relationship management, and geography-specific priorities. With these responsibilities set, they could create meeting agendas focused on what they needed to be doing (and publish them weeks in advance), and all of the requisite decision rights and resources were allocated accordingly.

2. A synchronized cadence. It may seem obvious, but a meeting’s frequency and allotted time must be commensurate with its charter and decision rights. Teams and task forces governing near-term priorities will need to meet more frequently for shorter durations of time, while those focused on longer-term priorities should meet less often for longer durations of time. In the multinational example above, the cadence of meetings was choreographed to keep each level appropriately linked and informed. Each group met monthly for two hours: the executive team on the first Monday of the month, the business units on the second Monday, the regions on the third Monday, and the countries on the fourth. Any inputs or outputs from one to the other were immediately sent on to the next group. This also allowed each team to keep their respective organizations up to speed on progress, shifts in priorities, and their counterparts’ work.

3. The right composition and metrics. Too often leaders let hierarchy define who comes to a meeting; if you are a direct report to the leader calling the meeting, you attend. Which makes everyone feel compelled to bring something to say. This is how meetings devolve into useless status updates. Worse, under the guise of making people feel “included,” meetings balloon into U.N.-like summits with dozens sitting in a room wondering why they are there. The composition of a meeting should be defined by its charter, and only those who have something specific to contribute — expertise, authority over resources, responsibility to execute — should be included. Anyone else who has a stake in the meeting outcome should be informed. For example, if a meeting charter has significant implications for finance, one person from finance can attend and keep their colleagues informed.

There should also be metrics assessing how well a meeting is executing its charter. For example, if a customer success team composed of sales, customer support, on-site technical assistance, and engineering is tasked with effectively implementing new technology for customers, then customer complaints, speed of adoption, open ticket time, and overall product satisfaction should be tracked so that the team — and its stakeholders — know if it’s contributing as intended.

In my experience, meetings being ineffective is often an indicator that they shouldn’t be occurring. To test this, I ask groups, “If you stopped meeting, who besides you would care?” If they struggle to respond, I have my answer. If you want to give your organization a great gift, immediately shut down recurring meetings that don’t meet these criteria. The cheers will be deafening.

Ron Carucci is co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, working with CEOs and executives pursuing transformational change for their organizations, leaders, and industries. He is the best-selling author of eight books, including the recent Amazon #1 Rising to Power. Connect with him on Twitter at @RonCarucci; download his free e-book on Leading Transformation.

Ron Carucci is co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, working with CEOs and executives pursuing transformational change for their organizations, leaders, and industries. He is the best-selling author of eight books, including the recent Amazon #1 Rising to Power. Connect with him on Twitter at @RonCarucci; download his free e-book on Leading Transformation.


Juuling: An Alarming Trend Reversing Decades of Health Gains


Cigarette smoking has been on a steady decline among teens for the past decade. That’s good news … but, a new craze called “Juuling” is threatening to reverse that. A Juul is a brand of e-cigarette that has become popular among middle and high schoolers, at least in part because of youth-friendly flavors and a discrete, concealable design. If Juuling is not yet on your radar, it should be, as it is quickly moving from a trend among a small percentage of teens to a major health crisis, with many implications still unknown.

Our Country’s Long Relationship with Tobacco

The history of smoking in the United States is as old as the country itself, with tobacco at the center of many early Native American spiritual ceremonies. European settlers fueled the economic growth of America through the tobacco trade, with many linking the country’s dependence on this cash crop to the birth of the slave trade. Tobacco use spiked after World War I, when soldiers returned home addicted to tobacco.

During the decades that followed, smoking took on a “cool” vibe, with ad campaigns like the Marlboro Man driving cigarette sales despite emerging research on the associated health risks. By the late 1950s, research confirmed those links between smoking and a variety of life-threatening diseases, pushing cigarette packs to carry a warning label by the ‘60s. Smoking bans in public places followed but did not really take root until the early ‘90s. By then, smoking had reached its peak in the U.S. population, with slightly more than 50 percent of eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders combined reporting cigarette usage, according to the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future (MTF)report.

By 2017, the number of teens smoking cigarettes had dropped to 17 percent, thanks to a growing awareness of the harmful effects. According to the MTF study, “it takes quite some time for the public to comprehend adverse consequences of a particular drug, thus when a new one comes on the scene, it has a considerable honeymoon period before usage declines as awareness peaks.” The United States had reached the point of steady decline in cigarette smoking among teens, with usage dropping by nearly two-thirds since 2000. Now, we may reverse those gains due to the popularity of vaping and Juuling. As defined by MTF, “vaping involves the use of a battery-powered device to heat a liquid or plant material that releases chemicals in an inhalable vapor or aerosol, or mist. Examples of vaping devices include e-cigarettes, ‘mods,’ and e-pens. The vapor may contain nicotine, the active ingredients of marijuana, flavored propylene glycol, and/or flavored vegetable glycerin. The liquid that is vaporized comes in hundreds of flavors, many of which (e.g., bubble gum and milk chocolate cream) likely are attractive to teens.”

The New Honeymoon with Vaping and Juuling

The MTF survey began tracking vaping usage in 2015, with more than one-third of 12th-graders reporting usage at that time. In 2017, MTF began tracking the substances used in the devices, with 25 percent of 12th-graders reporting nicotine usage and 12 percent reporting marijuana vaping. MTF researchers believe these numbers are likely to grow.

Although originally touted to help an adult population curb cigarette smoking, vaping may be introducing a whole new generation to nicotine and potentially other dangers not yet fully understood. Many researchers are now tracking evidence that vaping predicts cigarette experimentation. According to JAMA Pediatrics, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, “teens and young adults who try e-cigarettes are about three times more likely to try cigarettes later.” In addition, according to a recent article in USA Today, “Nicotine, contained in varying amounts in e-cigarettes, can rival the addictiveness of heroin and cocaine. For young people, whose brains are not fully developed, it can be particularly dangerous, leading to reduced impulse control, deficits in attention and cognition, and mood disorders.”

And, by all measures, vaping appears to still be in its honeymoon stage. The trend that appears to be accelerating this is Juuling. A Juul is a vaping device that resembles a flash drive and can be used for smoking all types of substances. In an interview with CNN, Pamela Ling, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine, said, “Because it’s referred to as Juuling, not smoking or vaping, some students may think what they’re doing is harmless. They may not even know it contains nicotine.” She goes on to point out that “one Juul ‘pod,’ the nicotine cartridge inserted into the smoking device and heated, delivers about 200 puffs, about as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, according to the product’s website.”

The maker of Juul has now taken measures to restrict teen access to the product, but many students report that the product is relatively easy to come by. After months of complaints by parents, teachers, and others, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is finally stepping in. It announced in April that it had begun “a large-scale, undercover nationwide blitz” on the illegal sale of e-cigarettes to minors, online and in stores. The FDA has discovered numerous violations and has sent warning letters to more than 40 retailers. Next steps include:

  • Working with eBay to prevent sales of Juuls through re-sellers.
  • Working directly with the manufacturers of Juuls to hold them accountable for taking action to prevent teen access.
  • Investigating companies that are using misleading advertising to lure teens into using vaping products.
  • Engaging in research-based campaigns to alert students to the dangers of all tobacco products.

Actions Schools Should Take Now

So what can schools do to protect students? Experts suggest a few essential steps:

  • Revise school policies to specifically call out vaping and related devices.
  • Develop programs to educate students on the dangers of vapes and Juuls.
  • Train faculty and administrators to recognize the use of vapes and Juuls at school.
  • Inform parents about the dangers of vaping and what they can do at home to protect their children.
  • Share this American Academy of Pediatrics fact sheet with parents and teachers.

Some schools have taken even more proactive steps, such as placing sensors in bathrooms to detect vaping. Others have banned the use of flash drives that so closely resemble these devices. Clearly, every school needs to take this threat seriously and to take proactive steps that fit with the age of the students they serve.

Unfortunately, the long-term health effects of vaping and Juuling on both the development of the teen brain and overall physical health are just beginning to be discovered. There is time to end the honeymoon period for these devices if we act now as a community. Please share what actions your school is taking to deal with this crisis so that together we can end this epidemic.

What Teachers Need to Know About “13 Reasons Why”

Address parents’ concerns and support students with the return of this popular Netflix series.

May 14, 2018

Common Sense Education

If you work with middle or high school students, you’ve no doubt heard about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The controversial show returns for a second season on Friday, May 18. Based on the best-selling 2007 book, the show revolves around a teen girl who dies by suicide, leaving behind a series of tapes that hold the story of her motives.

When the first season premiered in 2017, schools grappled with how to address parents’ concerns about the series and how to help students process the show and its themes. The series depicts graphic scenes of sexual assault, rape, and suicide, and many adults — including mental health practitioners — worry that teens with mental health issues may conclude that suicide is the only solution to their struggles. In addition, many tweens and young teens watch the series, causing great concern among parents and experts who feel the show’s themes are too mature for younger kids.

In 2017, schools and educators responded to these concerns in a variety of ways: sending messages homehosting parent panels, and even using the series as a springboard for action. One high school in Michigan started a 13 Reasons Why Not campaign to raise awareness and open up a conversations about teen mental health.

Given how TV and movies can facilitate conversations about difficult topics, teachers might consider using the upcoming release of 13 Reasons Why’s second season as an opportunity to talk with students about suicide, rape, mental health, and how schools can support kids.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to respond to the series, a host of organizations have resources to help parents, educators, and students process the show’s difficult topics:

In addition, many of Common Sense Education’s digital citizenship lessons and resources can be used to start conversations in the classroom on key topics from 13 Reasons Why:

Today’s Exhausted Superkids

The New York Times

There are several passages in the new book “Overloaded and Underprepared” that fill me with sadness for American high school students, the most driven of whom are forever in search of a competitive edge. Some use stimulants like Adderall. Some cheat.

But the part of the book that somehow got to me most was about sleep.

It’s a prerequisite for healthy growth. It’s a linchpin of sanity. Before adulthood, a baseline amount is fundamental and non-negotiable, or should be.

But many teenagers today are so hyped up and stressed out that they’re getting only a fraction of the rest they need. The book mentions a high school in Silicon Valley that brought in outside sleep experts, created a kind of sleep curriculum and trained students as “sleep ambassadors,” all to promote shut-eye.

The school even held a contest that asked students for sleep slogans. The winner: “Life is lousy when you’re drowsy.”

Sleep ambassadors? Sleep rhymes? Back when I was in high school in the 1980s, in a setting considered intense in its day, the most common sleep problem among my peers was getting too much of it and not waking up in time for class.

Now the concern isn’t how to rouse teens but how to lull them. And that says everything about the way childhood has been transformed — at least among an ambitious, privileged subset of Americans — into an insanely programmed, status-obsessed and sometimes spirit-sapping race.

Take one more Advanced Placement class. Add another extracurricular. Apply to all eight Ivies.

Lose a few winks but never a few steps.

“Overloaded and Underprepared,” published on Tuesday, was written by Denise Pope, Maureen Brown and Sarah Miles, all affiliated with a Stanford University-based group called Challenge Success, which urges more balanced learning environments. The book looks at homework loads, school-day structures and much more.

And it joins an urgently needed body of literature that pushes back at helicopter parenting, exorbitant private tutoring, exhaustive preparation for standardized tests and the rest of it. This genre goes back at least a decade and includes, notably, Madeline Levine’s “The Price of Privilege” and Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed.”

But it has expanded with particular velocity of late. “How to Raise an Adult,” by Julie Lythcott-Haims, came out last month. “The Gift of Failure,” by Jessica Lahey, will be released in two weeks.

There’s a unifying theme: Enough is enough.

“At some point, you have to say, ‘Whoa! This is too crazy,’ ” Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford, told me.

Sleep deprivation is just a part of the craziness, but it’s a perfect shorthand for childhoods bereft of spontaneity, stripped of real play and haunted by the “pressure of perfection,” to quote the headline on a story by Julie Scelfo in The Times this week.

Scelfo wrote about six suicides in a 13-month period at the University of Pennsylvania; about the prevalence of anxiety and depression on college campuses; about many star students’ inability to cope with even minor setbacks, which are foreign and impermissible.

Those students almost certainly need more sleep. In a study in the medical journal Pediatrics this year, about 55 percent of American teenagers from the ages of 14 to 17 reported that they were getting less than seven hours a night, though the National Sleep Foundation counsels 8 to 10.

“I’ve got kids on a regular basis telling me that they’re getting five hours,” Pope said. That endangers their mental and physical health.

Smartphones and tablets aggravate the problem, keeping kids connected and distracted long after lights out. But in communities where academic expectations run highest, the real culprit is panic: about acing the exam, burnishing the transcript, keeping up with high-achieving peers.

I’ve talked with many parents in these places. They say that they’d love to pull their children off such a fast track, but won’t the other children wind up ahead?

They might — if “ahead” is measured only by a spot in U-Penn’s freshman class and if securing that is all that matters.

But what about giving a kid the wiggle room to find genuine passions, the freedom to discover true independence, the space to screw up and bounce back? Shouldn’t that matter as much?

“No one is arguing for a generation of mediocre or underachieving kids — but plenty of people have begun arguing for a redefinition of what it means to achieve at all,” wrote Jeffrey Kluger in Time magazine last week. He noted, rightly, that “somewhere between the self-esteem building of going for the gold and the self-esteem crushing of the Ivy-or-die ethos, there has to be a place where kids can breathe.”

And where they can tumble gently into sleep, which is a gateway, not an impediment, to dreams.

What parents and teachers can do to not make the 7th grade the worst ever

ABC News

PHOTO: Middle-school aged boys stand in a hallway in an undated stock photo.STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images
Middle-school aged boys stand in a hallway in an undated stock photo.

In sixth grade, Carrie Rountrey’s son Owen couldn’t wait to get to school.

“He used to get up, make his lunch, do everything for school,” she said.

What a difference a year makes because now Owen is in seventh grade and his attitude towards school has changed, according to his mom.

“He doesn’t like school,” Rountrey said. “He loves his math and science classes, and he hates everything else. It’s been pretty frustrating.”

PHOTO: Carrie Rountrey, J.R. Gentle and their son Owen. Morefamousjack Photography
Carrie Rountrey, J.R. Gentle and their son Owen.

A professor of communication sciences and disorders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rountrey also can’t understand how her only child can be so disorganized.

“He forgets his keys on a regular basis,” she said. “He turns a lot of things in late.”

Fortunately, schoolwork comes pretty easily for him. Other seventh grade students aren’t so lucky.

Few kids, no matter how smart, manage to get through seventh grade without some hiccups. And, for many, seventh grade turns out to be the worst of their school years.

“Seventh grade sucked for me,” said Annie Fox, an award-winning author and educator, who has traveled all over the globe talking to teens and tweens.

A trusted online adviser for parents and teens since 1997, Fox said the reason kids — their parents and teachers as well — struggle so much when they are ages 12 and 13 is because there’s a lot happening to them developmentally.

PHOTO: Annie Fox, an educator and author, is an expert on teens and tweens. courtesy Annie Fox
Annie Fox, an educator and author, is an expert on teens and tweens.

Not only are they dealing with the onset of puberty, with all of its raging hormones, but the pre-frontal lobe of their brain, which manages impulse control, predicting consequences and planning ahead, is not fully wired.

“They are not playing with a full deck,” Fox said.

“Put 500 kids with that kind of insecurity in a group that spends six hours a day together and they are not going to be kind to each other,” Fox said.

Yet, this is exactly the time that their parents and teachers expect more from them.

“In sixth grade, they coddle them. In eighth grade, they are getting ready to go to high school so they are really elevated,” said Jennifer Powell-Lunder, a clinical psychologist and adjunct professor at Pace University in New York. “In seventh grade, no one really cares. You’re thrown to the wolves. They really are in such an in-between age.”

PHOTO: Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder, a clinical psychologist writes about teens and tweens. courtesy Jennifer Powell-Lunder
Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder, a clinical psychologist writes about teens and tweens.

Parents of seventh-graders likely expect their kids to step up, too, and they are usually surprised when they don’t — or don’t even seem to care.

“It’s the age of snarky,” Powell-Lunder said. “They tend to be more irritable, kind of touchy. They don’t believe they are a reflection of their parents, but that their parents are a reflection of them.”

That means the potential for their parents to embarrass them in front of their almighty peers is at an all-time high. It’s because kids at this developmental stage put more weight into what their peers think and where they fit in.

“Their emotional real estate is so fixated on where do I fit into my peer group,” Fox said.

For boys, that can mean how they match up against their more physically developed peers. For girls, it’s negotiating often tricky relationships, aka “mean girls.”

One mom of three, who asked not to be identified, knows this all too well. She says both her girls began cutting themselves in the seventh grade.

The younger one used to complain that she felt sad and empty, she said.

“Nobody likes me. I don’t want to talk to anybody. They are looking at me weird,” she said of what her daughter would tell her.

It got to be so bad, her daughter had to be held overnight in a hospital.

Fox hears many stories such as that one. In a survey she gave to 1,200 tweens and teens, kids said the number one stressor in their lives was their peers, with school and parents following behind in second and third place.

“Every middle-schooler feels different than their peers, whether gay, straight or transgender,” Fox said. “As human beings what we are trying to do is fit in. On a species level this is the most awkward time.”

Given everything kids are experiencing at this age — socially, developmentally and academically — Fox encourages parents to exercise more compassion.

“I want parents to be a safe place to talk about anything,” she said. “They need to talk less and listen more.”

Keep reading for more helpful tips from Fox and Powell-Lunder on to how not make the seventh grade worst year for everyone.

PHOTO: Middle-school aged students sit on a school stairwell in an undated stock photo.STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images
Middle-school aged students sit on a school stairwell in an undated stock photo.

Control your own stress

Parents stress themselves out over what their kids are doing or not doing at this age.

However, parents need to let go of the idea that they have total control over their kids, Fox said.

“You have a remote control for your TV, but you don’t have one to control another person,” she said. “You can’t get them to do anything they do not choose to do. Most of the time, we parents are stressing because we are trying to point a non-functional remote control at our kids.”

Fox learned this when her own son entered the seventh grade, and it was like a bomb went off in his room, she said. After feeling like their relationship had been taken over by her nagging, she said she stopped trying to get him to clean up his room and their relationship improved.

“You cannot control someone else’s choices,” she said. “You can only modify your own behavior.”

Give them autonomy, not independence

At the same time, teens and tweens still crave structure and boundaries, Powell-Lunder said.

They may be looking for more autonomy from their parents, but they are not yet ready to be fully independent. Setting limits, especially when it comes to technology, is important, she said.

“A lot of time parents want to be the ‘nice’ parent, but kids need rules,” Powell-Lunder said.

Boundary-setting starts with knowing your child and what their individual needs are, as well as acknowledging that those needs change as they get older, Fox said.

“Mom and dad have to take a closer look at the children sitting in front of them,” she said. “They are changing so rapidly. If you don’t keep up, you won’t know how to communicate or listen to them.”

Don’t try to fix everything

With rules, come consequences. Both Fox and Powell-Lunder said parents have to let their middle-schoolers fail sometimes.

“Let them take responsibility for being a full-time student,” Fox said. “That’s a contract between student and teacher — unless you’re planning to go to college with them.”

“Be supportive but don’t try to fix everything,” Powell-Lunder said.

“Over-functioning parents will raise under-functioning kids,” Fox added.

Practice what you preach

Kids at this age are also learning a lot by observing the adults around them.

Be careful what you’re modeling to your kids, whether it’s screaming and yelling or being tethered to your smartphone.

“Show you have more self-control than your son or daughter,” Fox said.

Powell-Lunder tells teachers: “Teach by example.”

Organization helps

At a time when kids seem the most disorganized, being organized seems to count the most.

Powell-Lunder, who is a big believer in the “K-8” model because it “smooths out the rough edges,” said educators in middle schools need to be more understanding of seventh-graders and teach them the organizational skills they lack. Posting homework in one place certainly helps, she said.

Fox frowns on too much homework because she said it turns some middle school students off from education. This age group still needs time to pursue passions, she said, be with family and just daydream.

Talk less, listen more

Both Powell-Lunder and Fox encourage parents to show more empathy for what their children are going through.

“Ultimately, you want less stress and tension between parent and child, and more compassion and conversation and understanding,” Fox said. “They are not getting it from their peers or their own internal monologues where they are putting themselves down. We are just adding to the chorus if all we’re doing is finding fault.”

The Strong may Survive but the Resilient will Thrive

Carla Silver, Head L+Doer
April is nearing a close, and May is about to sneak up on all of us school people – throwing the inevitable curveballs at us.  It is actually a perfect month to dig into the eighth chapter in Whiplash: How to Survive our Faster Future by Jeff Howe and Joi Ito. We’ve been enjoying this book all year, but somehow the topic of “Resilience over Strength” seems to be timely as we prepare for the most relentless month of the year.
As an originator and neophile, I rarely read the same book twice or watch the same movie over and over again.  Why would I do that when there are so many other books to read, and movies to watch? I make a strange detour from this behavior when it comes to podcasts.  I will sometimes listen to the same podcast two or three times – maybe it is because I can’t easily look back at my favorite parts (although the transcripts are often available) or maybe it’s because I am an auditory learner. Regardless, there is one podcast I have listened to about a dozen times  – a Freakonomics episode from March 2016: How to Be Great at Just About Everything which is essentially an ode to the resilient and persistent learner.  I guess I listen to this one on repeat because I am ever hopeful that I will become truly great – at something.
Freakonomics host Steve Dubner, builds this podcast around the work of Anders Ericsson, a professor at Florida State University who has studied this topic for most of his career. His work has inspired the 10,000 hours idea that Malcolm Gladwell write about in Outliers and the “growth mindset” theory of Carol Dweck.  Ericsson’s research has supported the idea that with enough “deliberate practice” humans can achieve a high level of skill in almost anything. While Gladwell prescribes a magic number of hours, Ericsson believes that 10,000 hours alone is futile and that it is all in the kind of practice we do and the coaches/guides we have along the way. It helps to have some innate talent, but talent alone is no guarantee of greatness.  In his 2015 book Peak:Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Ericsson writes about the highest achievers in any given field. “The clear message from decades of research is that no matter what role innate genetic endowment may play in the achievements of “gifted” people, the main gift that these people have is the same one we all have-the adaptability of the human brain and body, which they have taken advantage of more than the rest of us.”
The most important distinction of Anders Ericsson’s work is that the simple act of repeating a task will only get you so far. You can get to a point of automation and general competency, but simply running 5 miles a day or even 10 miles a day, will not improve your running after a certain point. Instead your practice must be purposeful which according to Ericsson means it is focused,requires feedback and forces you out of your comfort zone.  It requires a certain amount of resilience to imperfection and the ability to of fail forward.  The brain is amazingly adaptable when put to the right training conditions, and with these three elements in place, anyone can drastically improve.
The implications for us as educators from this research are profound and go beyond promoting a growth mindset in students.  While growth mindset is probably a prerequisite to deliberate practice – one needs to believe they can actually learn something and get better at a skill or knowledge – it is really just scratching the surface.  As educators, it means we also need to design the right kind of practice – not simply repetition and regurgitation – and it means we need to be giving feedback – lots of it.  Most importantly, we need to be prepared for our students to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. John Kotter calls this the “productive range of distress” and it is necessary for growth to occur.
This isn’t just about student learning either.  I believe it means that as the profession of teaching evolves,  we are all going to need to engage in deliberate practice if we are going to be truly great at our work of designing meaningful, relevant and engaging learning experiences for our students.  And as leaders, we will need to hold ourselves and our faculty and staff in that same “productive range of distress.”  Like a good coach, we need to know how hard to push and when recovery is necessary, but we can’t expect growth and improvement without discomfort.
My friend and colleague Christian Talbot of Basecamp often asks whether a school seems to operate from a position of scarcity or abundance.  In other words are there a finite amount of leadership opportunities or awards or experiences that are limited to the “top tier” of students – the innately strongest?  Or are there ample opportunities for those who might have a budding interest and are willing to work hard to improve, excel or even do what it takes to become truly great at something?  What does your school do to provide opportunities for the students who may not be the strongest, but just might be the most resilient – and what are you doing to cultivate that resilience and allow it to emerge? This is not the same as giving everyone a trophy for participation.  This is about helping every student to pursue a level of greatness at something.

Meanwhile in our organizations, we need to be more resilient than ever as we adapt to rapidly accelerating world with paradigm shifts. As Ito and Howe smartly write,  “We are all infallible. No matter how strong we try to appear, something can take us down. There is no institution or person that is too big to fail. We know that now, in an age of disruption and dislocation.”  Therefore, none of us personally or institutionally can rely on what have perceived as our strengths simply because those are things we have always done well. How can we be so sure that those same attributes still hold the same value to a new market, and what if some other school or organization or individual can simply do those things better and add more value? We need to develop greater adaptability, a willingness to take risks and try new things, and a tolerance for failure. These three things will provide us, as Howe and Ito write,  an “immune system” for the future. We don’t always need to be proving our strength, but rather practicing resilience if we want to thrive.

Wishing you all lots of resilience in the coming month!

3 Fun Presentation Tools for End-of-Year Projects

Help students demonstrate classroom knowledge and develop design skills.

April 25, 2018

Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA

As the school year winds down, tests and final projects are looming. Class presentations can be a great way for students to synthesize knowledge, practice public speaking, and interact with their classmates. But there are also potential drawbacks: Standing up and speaking in front of peers can be nerve-racking (even for some adults!), and the presentations themselves can become repetitive and formulaic.

Multimedia tools can reduce student anxiety by encouraging a creative approach that not only builds design and tech skills but also can turn an intimidating final assignment into a fun experience. Check out three of our top picks below:

Screencastify screenshotScreencastify

Price: Free; premium version $24/yr.
Platforms: Website
Grades: 3-12

Screencastify is an extension for the Chrome web browser or Chrome devices that records the screen, voice, and more. Students can record what they’re doing on a single browser tab, record all activity on their screen, or add a video insert to include video of themselves using a webcam. While recording, they can use the drawing tool to write directly on the screen or the spotlight tool to highlight certain sections. Screencastify is a great tool for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned, give presentations, and more.


Office Sway screenshotOffice Sway

Price: Free
Platforms: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Chrome, Apps for Windows
Grades: 6–12

This free, one-stop shop for creating sleek graphics, web stories, and animated videos is incredibly easy to use and challenges students to think critically about visual presentation. Sway integrates with the online Office suite and allows students to share their creations publicly, privately, or to a limited group. Consider using Sway as a digital portfolio tool where students can offer highlights of their written and visual work on the web.


Screencastify screenshotAdobe Spark

Price: Free
Platforms: Website
Grades: 8–12

Adobe Spark is a design and media-creation platform that’s easy to use and that offers plenty of inspiring templates to get started. With the tools’ three project types (Posts, Pages, and Videos), students could create collages and graphic images to accompany lessons, web stories to present their research or bring a narrative to life, and videos to argue a position or describe a research project. Adobe Spark offers rich opportunities to demonstrate learning while getting creative with design elements.