Memories and Changing Expectations

A Facebook memory popped up the other day, it marked the passing of Dr. Andrew Grove, the retired CEO of Intel.

In 1996, back when I was smart, I was invited by Compaq, Intel, and Microsoft to participate in a conference called Innovate Forum 97. The conference brought together representatives from around the world, from a variety of industries to discuss and share thoughts and ideas with leaders of technology industries. I was honored to be part of the education group.

Dr. Grove visited with us about his recently published book, Only the Paranoid Survive, released that year. In it, he writes about significant events that occur in the life of a business. He calls them Strategic Inflection Points.

“A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end. They are full-scale changes in the way business is conducted, so that simply adopting new technology or fighting the competition as you used to may be insufficient.”

Dr. Grove, working with Michael Porter of Harvard University, lists six factors that can cause a strategic inflection point. They are:

  1. Power, vigor, and competence of existing competitors;
  2. Power, vigor, and competence of complementors;
  3. Power, vigor, and competence of customers, I would add both internal and external customers;
  4. Power, vigor and competence of suppliers;
  5. Possibility that what your business is doing can be done in a different way; and
  6. Power, vigor, and competence of potential competitors.

While his book is not intended for the education market, I believe that there are parallels when we view education not as a legislated monopoly, but as a competitive business in an environment of expanding choice.

Since its inception, educators decided what was good and what wasn’t. We set our own quality levels and our own specifications to meet them. As a legislated monopoly, nobody ever questioned that we had the right to do that, and generally we were on target. But now, we are being openly questioned and challenged in the light of emerging technologies and the power of those tools to alter and enhance the teaching-learning process. Many critics point out that the  problems with our educational system are not that it is been doing its task poorly, rather, the schools have not responded in a timely and effective fashion.

We are being impacted by several of Dr. Groves’ inflection points, and too many of us still seeing them as threats to the status quo rather than opportunities to respond to the changing expectations being placed on our graduates.

I am currently serving as the Chair of the Montana ACT Council. In the past two weeks, that position has given me the opportunity to explore in depth how we can change to better meet the expectations of our “external customers,” those who hire our graduates.

I was honored to serve as Director of High School Programs at the Central Educational Center in Newnan, Georgia during the 2003-04 school year when we were named a National Model High School by the International Center for Leadership in Education. With an enrollment of approximately 1,100 students, and growing, we could boast a five year average graduation rate of 98%. Of that 98%, 100% of them were either full-time employed in their career of study, full-time enrolled in post-secondary schools, or a combination of both within 6 weeks of leaving us. And we guaranteed their knowledge and skills.

One of the keys to our success was our implementation of a Work Ethics curriculum. Every student was evaluated every day, in every class, on the following 10 traits:

  • Attendance
  • Character
  • Teamwork
  • Appearance
  • Attitude
  • Productivity
  • Organizational Skills
  • Communication
  • Cooperation
  • Respect

We believed then, and it remains true today, that more people are fired from jobs not because they lack the technical skills to perform them,  but that they lack the work ethic skills needed to be a valued employee.

The work ethic score was a separate line on both the quarterly report card and final transcript. What is important gets measured. We shared that these were important skills and attitudes by measuring them. How else would our students understand that they were important to their futures?  Each semester, potential employers would meet with our new students to explain the work ethics program, and impress upon our kids that they placed more importance on that score than on the GPA or class rank.

The academic score, to them, was only a snapshot of what the student knew at one point in time, it was not indicative of what could be learned. They explained that they would constantly be working with their employees to upgrade their technical skills. But if they could find employees with the necessary “soft skills,” it was a win-win for all. In other words, they expected to continually teach new skills. But they would not teach attitudes. Those had to come with the employee.

Two weeks ago, I spent several days in San Antonio attending the ACT State Organization Spring Summit. I devoted most of my breakout session time to immersion into what ACT calls their Holistic Framework.

We are all familiar with the ACT test we took as juniors and seniors in high school. The beauty of working with ACT in the council role is to discover the other tools they have developed to help us help our students (internal customers) for what life expects of them once they leave us. They holistic framework is one of those tools, and it parallels what we had in place at CEC.

It consists of 4 parts:

  • Core Academic Skills: knowledge and skills necessary to perform essential tasks in core academic content.
  • Cross-Cutting Capabilities: general knowledge and skills necessary to perform essential tasks across academic content areas.
  • Behavioral Skills: interpersonal, self-regulatory, and task-related behaviors important for adaptation to and successful performance in education and workplace settings.
  • Education and Career Navigation Skills: focuses on what individuals know about themselves and their environments, and how they use this information to make choices, plan actions, and move along their education and career paths.

There are significant parallels between education and work success, they are multi-dimensional, so readiness for both naturally should focus on diverse sets of knowledge and skills.

Last week, our Council presented our ACT Workplace Success Exemplar award to Boeing Helena in recognition of the work they do with the Helena School District, Helena College, and the greater Helena community. During our conversation with their leadership team, we asked what they looked for in employees. Not surprisingly, they told us the same things we had learned at CEC, skills will be continually taught and upgraded, attitudes need to be part of the hiring portfolio.

So how are we doing in this area? Are we focusing so much on the academics and test scores that we are short-changing the attitudes and traits the external customers need from our graduates?

This was weekend reading recently…

I suggest that SBAC, PAARC, ACT and SAT, with their focus on teaching and the acquisition of knowledge, aren’t going to help us prepare our graduates for this kind of work. But a multi-dimensional approach based on learning and the application of attitudes along with knowledge and skills will certainly help us better meet the needs of our external customers.

The good people in Helena, Montana get it! The discussion between the leadership at Boeing, the Helena School District and Helena College was about creating processes and programs that will ensure prepared graduates at every level, and will allow Boeing to continue to be an industry leader.

Hope springs eternal!

The Torch Is Passed

Little late getting this written for the #Compelled Tribe, but here is my vacation journal from Spring Break 2017.

This year, it was all about the KiddRock17 wedding in Yuma, Arizona. Sheila Kidd, the oldest daughter of my older brother, was joined in matrimony with Rocky Laguna, a fine American, a nephew to be very proud to have in our family.

My brother and I are all that’s left of our side of the family, our parents and sister having already passed. We get along famously, but distance between Montana, Colorado, and Arizona means we don’t see each other as often as we would like. KiddRock17 made is possible for the families to gather for something not called a “Celebration of Life,” an event all too common at our point in life.

This trip included Spring Training baseball in Phoenix with my youngest niece, Rockies/Royals, my two favorite teams. Unfortunately, one of them lost, but an afternoon at the ballpark with special people is never time wasted.

Our son, daughter-in-law, and youngest grandson joined us mid-week. Time on the golf course with your son is also always special. No birdie putts fell, but none were left short of the cup. And it is only March, lots of golf in our future.

Not that anyone enjoys getting up at 4:00am while on vacation, but when it means a hike up the mountains to see the sun rise over the desert with your sister-in-law, it was well worth missing a few hours of sleep. Time to talk, catch up on stuff, and be thankful for a glorious sun rise seen from the top of a mountain is a treasured memory.

The wedding was, as they all are, a very special time with family and friends. And it was a beautiful ceremony, held outside on the grounds of the Yuma Territorial Prison. Can only hope Rocky understands the metaphor….

Best of all was time with family. The oldest member of our branch of the family tree, age 93, was able to get acquainted with the youngest member of the branch, age 6 weeks. Grandson will remember the event only by looking at pictures and sharing in the stories, but that is how history is passed along.

New lives started that day, congratulations to the newlyweds. Two remarkable families became one, the Kidd family and the Laguna family are embarking on some amazing adventures. And one very special photograph has been added to the family history and tradition.

The torch has been passed to a new generation…


imageAnd so it goes…

On This Day

April 12, 1961 was a day that the world was forever changed.

In less than 2 hours , Yuri Gagarin  “slipped the surly bonds of earth, and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.” *

I was an elementary school student that day, my eyes saw the reports of his flight.

My eyes have also seen all that followed. They were in the Lincoln Elementary School  gymnasium watching television on February 20, 1962, when John Glenn became the first American to orbit earth. They were in the gymnasium at the Chase Elementary School on January 28, 1986 when we watched Space Shuttle Challenger explode shortly after launch.

My eyes have seen both the triumphs and the tragedies.  They have shed tears at both.

Personal sidebar – our son started working for Lockheed-Martin after his high school graduation. His first project was to work with four men the ages of his parents to build heat shields for Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. These eyes also watched the reports as both landed successfully on the Martian surface. His heat shields worked. And our son, at age 18, built something that has littered another planet. We wouldn’t have thought that possible on the night he was born, but life has a way of changing from what we expect at some point in time.  End personal sidebar

They have seen many changes in many aspects of life, except for our schools.

I work in a middle school that is not fundamentally different from the junior high I attended. I have worked in elementary schools that were not fundamentally different from Lincoln Elementary School in the early 1960’s. We do some things differently, but schedules haven’t changed. Groupings of students haven’t changed. For the most part, attitudes haven’t changed.

I have also worked in schools that have been classified as “Pockets of Excellence.” They were fundamentally different from the schools I attended. Schedules were different, groupings were different, they were about learning more than they were about teaching. Because they were grounded in attitudes and beliefs that had changed. The irony is that they were considered Pockets of Excellence, not mainstream schools.

Every day, I am honored to be part of the lives of about 1,100 adolescents. What will their eyes have seen by the time they are the ages of their parents? What will they have seen by the time they are my age?

Are we preparing them to litter another planet?

Or pass a test?

“Up, up the long delirious burning blue, I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace, where never lark, or even eagle, flew; and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, put out my hand and touched the face of God.” *

I want for our students what I wanted for our children. I hope we are creating more litterbugs.

And so it goes…

*High Flight – John G. Magee, Jr.