Data Informed

Data informs every aspect of decision-making.  The flowchart below is a look at how data collection, asking questions, finding answers (not the answers you want, but discovering what the data says) informs everything from “What do our teachers value?” to “Why and how should we pilot a new program?” to “What professional development does our staff want and need?”



The Iceberg Model

The Iceberg Model is an awesome visual and analogy that helps you visualize and uncover the underlying causes of the events we see (the portion of the iceberg above the surface).

The analogy works because there is always an unseen portion of an iceberg that lies below the surface and with events, there are values, structures, and patterns that lead to the event.

Once you uncover the underlying structures, you can start to leverage those to transform and design outcomes or prevent unwanted outcomes.  You can use high value and high leverage concepts like the beliefs and values of your organization to create desired and positive outcomes.


Design Thinking

Design thinking has become a bit of a buzzword in education over the past few years.   In our classes I do not want it to become (and have no intent in it becoming) reduced to a buzzword.  

Design thinking is a process and a mindset.  It cannot be reduced to a simple checklist.  Lessons and projects for students should include empathy, experimentation, prototyping, reflection, and redesign.  

Abandon prescriptive scenarios.  Facilitate activities that let students “problem find,” practice empathy, interpret issues and find meaning leading to the generation of new ideas, experiments, and iterations.

Students can learn these valuable skills centered on empathy, collaboration, prototyping, and iteration if we set out to create opportunities to include these mindsets in our instruction.

The interesting thing about design thinking is that teachers are inherently designers of instruction, beginning with empathy for their students’ needs.  Ultimately, we need to support our teachers with time to create projects that allow the students to practice design thinking.  


Here are some great books to introduce kids to these mindsets:

What Do You Do With an Idea?


What Do You Do With a Problem?


The Most Magnificent Thing


Here’s a good resource to get started:

Design Thinking for Educators



Lessons Learned from Surfing

Reflection. Adam after a sunset surf. Photo: Kyle McCarthy
Reflection. Adam after sunset surf.

I was fortunate to have grown up just a few miles from the beach in New Jersey and was there daily.  A childhood that consisted of playing at the beach and in the ocean, learning to surf around the age of 12 was a natural progression.  Currently, at the age of thirty-five, I’ve been surfing for over twenty years now, and yearly (which includes cold NJ winters) since I was sixteen.  Although I could easily wax nostalgic about the youthful days of surfing, that is not the purpose of this blog post.  Rather, surfing has taught me many life lessons that I have connected to my career as an educator, some are probably more deeply rooted in my subconscious and others might be more easily identifiable.  I recently read Grit by Angela Duckworth which brought this concept to my conscious and ultimately this blog post for those interested.

Surfing has taught me a few things about life, learning and teaching, and myself.  To be brief here is my short list (as of September 2016, because there’s bound to be more lessons):

  1. A deep understanding of the ocean.  The science: meteorological and oceanographic aspects – tides, currents, waves, winds, storms and swells, bottom contours, erosion/deposition, etc., etc.  It takes years to develop an understanding of a particular part of the ocean or surf break – and this knowledge and practice is what helps one become a better surfer.  This deep understanding can be applied to various locations around the world.  Just like in teaching, it takes years of practicing your craft to develop a deep understanding of the art of teaching.  Eventually, things like classroom culture, routines, or having an ‘arsenal’ of discussion questions or strategies to use in the moment become second-nature – helping one become a better teacher and respond to various situations (see #5).  What skills or subjects have you developed a deep understanding for?
  2. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  It’s only riding waves, it’s all about having fun.  It’s okay to fall; laugh at yourself.  Have fun teaching; make learning fun.  It’s also okay to make mistakes.  Laugh at yourself once in awhile, be sure your students know you’re human.  Of course, maintain the role of teacher/facilitator/coach and classroom culture will thrive.  When was the last time you laughed at yourself?  Do students have fun learning in your classroom?
  3. Perseverance.  Grit.  Practice.  Persistence.  These are all characteristics that I believe I’ve developed from surfing.  You fall a lot in surfing, especially while learning.  You’ll fall a lot less as you persist at it, but you’ll still fall.  Hold your breath, get back on your board, and catch another wave.  This is my ‘mantra’ for learning and work.  Falling or failing is okay.  I make mistakes, I reflect and try very hard not to make the same mistake twice.  Let your students see you fail, or when you make a mistake, (see #2), accept it, make a joke of it, correct it and learn together.  When have you allowed yourself to fail – and then, picked yourself up and gave it another go?  Where have you demonstrated grit?  Take Duckworth’s Grit Scale.
  4. Patience.  This is particularly the case in NJ, it’s not exactly a ‘wave blessed’ region offering consistent, big, surfable waves daily.  Patience and an understanding of the ocean (see #1) are essential characteristics to surfing in any region.  Be patient with your students.  Your down to the minute schedule won’t always work.  Give kids the time they need to struggle (see #3) and develop perseverance.  Don’t sweep in and give them the answers right away.  Wait.  Guide, coach, support.  Practice patience.  Can you think of an example where patience has paid off?
  5. Ambiguity. Riding waves on a surfboard is an amazing example of split-second decision making.  At most surf breaks, there is no script.  Just to catch the wave, you have to take into account your working knowledge of the wave and your expectations of how you think it will break.  Once up and riding, you are continually assessing the movement of the breaking wave, anticipating where it will break next, maneuvering your body and board according to your current abilities, and continuing until the wave ends or you fall.  In teaching, and in life, sometimes the plan needs to be abandoned.  While working with your students, use your working knowledge, the feedback you’re getting from your students (formative assessment/questioning/etc.) to consider changing directions or speeding up/slowing down.  Be comfortable with scrapping ‘the plan’ and thinking on your feet.  (Remember this takes time, see #1).  In teaching, career, or life, when have you been challenged with uncertainty but still made a decision?
  6. Be nice and respectful.  I’ve been fortunate to travel to some amazing places – all for surfing.  By no means am I seasoned globetrotter, but I’ve surfed in enough foreign lineups to understand that simply showing respect, smiling, and being welcoming is usually the easiest way to start a conversation, ask a question, learn something new, and give something back.  In teaching, it’s obvious.  Be respectful and care for your students and colleagues – as teachers, we play an important role in a child’s life.  When tough situations arose, I always said, “They’re only kids.  I’m here to coach them, care for them, and help them learn how to learn.”  Where in your life has kindness and respect helped you in challenging situations?
  7. Don’t be greedy.  Surfing can be a selfish sport.  Waves are a finite ‘natural resource’ and there is competition in any lineup to catch waves.   There are some unwritten ‘rules,’ and there’s usually a rotation and order to a lineup.  Once learned, the skilled surfer can successfully work his/her way into that rotation and get a few waves.  However, regardless of your skill level, don’t be greedy and share waves with everyone (and see #6).  I relate this to working collaboratively with colleagues – share ideas, be open, pay it forward.  Don’t be a one-way street.  How do you collaborate and show signs of generosity in teaching, in work, or in life?
  8. You can always learn.  I still find myself learning new things about surfing, pushing myself to get better, attempting different maneuvers, riding different surfboard shapes, or experiencing and learning new surf breaks.  You can be both a teacher and a learner.  Participate in a professional learning community, pick up a new book or try a new instructional strategy.  I am currently learning more about Arduino and coding, but am ultimately relating what I learn to instruction, learning, and what’s best for students.  What are you currently learning? Are you learning something new, something totally outside of education, or are you developing your skill-set?  Perhaps all of the above.

This last point relates to many of the others, but specifically number 1 and 3.  I had an intrinsic motivation and perseverance to be a competent and skilled surfer.  I had the same intrinsic motivation to do well as an educator, to be a good teacher for kids.  I learned as much as I could from everyone around me.  I was fortunate to have great mentors.  I also had the persistence and desire to get better.  I have fostered and developed a deep understanding of these interests and ultimately my passions for them were fostered.  As Duckworth claims, through grit comes deep understanding – skills increase, interest increases, nuances learned – passions developed.  This concept can be applied to almost any skill or topic, and is related to sports, arts, music, martial arts, mathematics, sciences, writing, and career.  Surfing and teaching/learning are my examples; my passions.  What have you learned so deeply that you’ve developed and fostered a passion for?

For most, the first couple of years of teaching are extremely hard, but through perseverance and grit, one may begin the journey towards deep understanding.  Sometimes, you’re going to fall.  Take a deep breath, get back out there, and catch another wave.  It’s worth every second because you’re bound to have amazing moments.

Photo by: Don Cooper
Adam surfing at his local break in NJ. Photo by: Don Cooper

What Do You Do With An Idea?

What Do You Do With An Idea?


My two-year-old son recently received the book, What Do You Do With An IDEA?  He loves the illustrations and how the story changes from black and white to color.  I love the message that this book delivers.  When my children are ready, I’ll definitely spend time discussing it’s theme.

I also found that this story struck a chord with me, both personally and professionally.  I often have a lot of ideas myself.  For those that know me, you might say I’m sometimes a “flight of ideas.”  In fact, just this weekend my closest friends outside of education teased me about this.  However, this website and blog started with an idea and although sometimes the first step in any journey is the hardest – we just have to start.

This also speaks to the message of the book – sometimes people will think you are silly, foolish, too ambitious, or even crazy – and you need to be resilient, thick-skinned, determined, and not easily discouraged.  I would also add that we need to teach children to be open to constructive criticism, different perspectives, new ideas, reflection, and the capability of iteration.  Of course, rejection doesn’t feel good, but rejection can lead to the next iteration – an improvement, a redesign, a different perspective.  Like in the book, our ideas need attention and love – whether that be research, redesign, time – until our idea is ready to be released.

This process is different for all people and creatives.  As Malcom Gladwell recently examined in his Revisionist History Podcast, some ideas are “perfect” on the first few iterations, while others, take years upon years of iteration.  As educators, the theme in What Do You Do With An Idea?, also speaks to the design thinking process.

Finally, as educators, it behooves us to inspire curiosity in our students.  This starts with a love for learning, understanding the learning process, and becoming self-directed.  If we do not, their ideas – “crazy” or not – will only remain ideas.