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This website contains ideas that are "in process." Simply put, what you read here may be just some random thoughts, rather than validated and final procedures. Mind you, aren't most ideas "in process?" The bulk of what you'll read here are answers to questions I am emailed or asked during presentations, or summaries of excellent ideas others share with me.

Of course, you can add to this blog by leaving your own comments, too.

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Bill Jensen--"What is your life's work?"

Bill Jensen

I’m a Bill Jensen fan. How could I not like someone who says his mission in life is "to make it easier for people to get stuff done"? I think his book Simplicity can be used by anyone who is or wants to be a coach. His book is filled with wise and practical knowledge about how to be persuasive, use time, clarify our thinking, and think through and implement important plans.

Here are a couple quotations from Simplicity:

“As I reflect back on all the breakthroughs I’ve seen, one thing was always present-unbelievable clarity. Not reduced to ducks and bunnies explanations…but the exciting, passionate clarity of ideas” (p.15).

“Our biggest limit is no longer the reach of our imagination. It’s now our inability to order, make sense of, and connect everything that demands our attention. We are failing to make the complex clear” (p.21).

Mr. Jensen has written two other books I like. Work 2.0 redefines the contract between employees and employers from the perspective of the employer, and as interesting as that book is, I am more impressed by his most recent book, What Is Your Life’s Work?

The book is a collection of letters that people have written to their children, parents, friends and enemies in which they define what really matters in their life. When I started the book, I was a little disappointed, too many “ducks and bunnies explanations…” over simplifications that might sound great in a convocation address, but not as templates for living your life.

As I read more of the book, though, I was hooked. The book has many life lessons that can be starting points for deep reflection about the important questions in life. I believe that to be effective as leaders, coaches have to begin by reflecting deeply about who they are and what they stand for. Here are some fragments from the book:

“As you move into the workplace, and possibly lead other people, I would suggest that you answer five urgent questions:
• How should I think and act when faced with defining moments?
• How do I resolve them in ways I can live with?
• Do I think I can lead/manage innocently?
• Who am I?
• What is my moral center?”
--Dennis Bonilla writing to his one-year-old daughter, Sophia Lillian

“My fear for you is not that you won’t succeed… my fear is that you will do nothing that gives you personal meaning; You will succeed at someone else’s life” Nancy Adler, speaking to an advertising executive

“Whenever we feel defensive, hurt, personally attacked, confused, or afraid, we have a choice—we can get very curious. Rather than saying, ‘I never would have said that,” we can say, “I wonder what these people heard me say? I wonder what their perception is?”

“In school, first you get the lesson, then the test. In life, it’s first the test, then the lesson.”

—Linda Stone, writing to “the many who filled her life with love and laughter”

“Beware of those who seek to rise or acquire at someone else’s expense. And never take credit for someone else’s work; eventually you will be defined by your lack of integrity. In the end it WILL catch up with you, and cost you your dreams and relationships. NEVER DO IT!”—Neal Sofian, writing to his children

“the secret behind everything is your work ethic—your attitudes, beliefs, and determination to stay focused on what is important”—Mark Servodidio, writing to his children

“As we try to improve, we are drawn to the large, dramatic, and splashy programs for change, but we are impacted more by the small and simple changes in our daily routines. We don’t change the world through epiphanies, but by doing lots of little things that add up to sustained transformation. Simple things are not always easy to change, but by improving one thing at a time, we make progress toward great things”—Dave Ulrich, writing to his great-great-grandfather.

“We live in both a wonderful and a horrible world. We each choose, every day, which part of the world we are from. To do wrong for a good cause is still wrong”—Rob Newson, writing to his children

“The greatest accomplishment in life is not to defeat or suppress your opponents but to prevail in an environment or under a system that may be holding you back or even oppressive to you”—Scarlett Hu, writing her 12-year-old daughter

You can read more about this book at


Seth Godin

Seth Godin has a lot to say about how ideas spread, the power of stories, the irrational behavior of customers or clients, and much more. If you read Fast Company, and/or if you are interested in how new business ideas might impact your work in schools, you might want to check out his blog at Seth's blog

or listen to a recent podcast interview of Seth at Seth's podcast.

I think a lot of what a coach does is marketing, at least the kind of marketing that Mr. Godin describes, and he's worth a listen and a read. His book Ideaviruses is also a useful complement to The Tipping Point, which is an important book for understanding change in schools.


Importance of Partnership

Jean Clark is an Instructional Coach in Maryland who has worked with Sherry Eichinger for the past year. Below is a vignette (an edited version of what Jean told me in an interview) in which Jean explains, beautifully I think, just how beneficial it can be to have a collaborating teacher who can support you as you work to improve instruction in your school:

Jean Clark talking about Sherry Eichinger:

In the years previous, it used to be that I was training to be a professional developer. But I had this fear that maybe I don’t have good people skills, perhaps I shouldn’t be doing this. I kept running into these adults who were getting really ticked off at me. I kept thinking, well you know, I’m just getting more and more awkward here as I’m aging and I’m not able to get these folks to work with me as I used to. So I was just about ready to get out of this field and just go back to the classroom.
But what I’ve been discovering is that I can do this really, really well as long as I have partners. I see that when I have a partner like Sherry. She was a Christa McCauliffe scholar. She has a Masters in Special Ed and in transitions and she will not back off for those kids—she will do lots of work. I gained a great deal to suddenly be around someone who works like that. She started coming to me and asking, “Well how would you teach a kid that really didn’t understand how to read,” and “I don’t understand how to do this,” and every time she asked me a question I had to think about it and as soon as I started to think about it I started thinking about how I learned.
The two of us work so well together. We disagree with one another but we’re both working for the same thing; we’re both working for the kids and an understanding with the kids. I can’t do it by myself and I see that she can’t do it by herself. We support one another. She supports me emotionally when I’m really depressed; she tries to keep me up. And when she’s really depressed thinking, “OK, I’m not going to do this another year, everybody’s at my throat,” I talk to her about it and remind her how far we’ve come. So we support one another both cognitively and emotionally. Because it’s hard to do this work without a partner.
Being a change agent you can weather it, you can weather what happens to you if you have enough folks talking to you—not just talking to you, but giving you things to think about, and letting you see their growth, like I’ve seen her growth. Having her there it has given me faith.

You can download a free copy I've written about the partnership approach to professional development at Partnership Fieldbook


The Oral History Project at Lab School in NYC

Last Friday I had the pleasure of visiting the Lab School in New York City on 17th Street, in between 8th and 9th Avenue. The Lab School is frequently listed as one of the best schools in New York. For the past year, I have been working with some teachers from the Lab School on Content Enhancement (, and one of those teachers, Sam Affoumado, invited me to observe a culminating activity associated with one of the projects at the school.

What I saw Friday night was really quite wonderful, a chaotic, joyous, stimulating, learning celebration. Students from several seventh-grade classes had completed an oral history project, and I attended their final presentation. The students interviewed truly fascinating people: a member of the Manhattan project, for example, talked about his mixed feelings about the atomic bomb and being a part of the team that created it. The school was filled with dozens of peoples’ stories, books students had published, videos, excited students, proud interviewees who, it seemed to me, felt validated by the whole process. I watched one fellow stride up to a video of himself and said, “that’s me right there!” emphatically. As important as it was for the students to listen and write these stories, I think, it was also important for the people with their fascinating biographies to have someone with whom to share their stories.

But what impressed me the most last Friday was the palpable sense of what the genuine joy of learning can be. The students clearly grew and learned by conducting their interviews. The people telling their stories had many great comments about the children. The teachers respected their students and were proud of the students’ work, and I think, for that night at least, the teachers were very aware of what a good thing it can be to be a teacher. We shouldn't forget that.


Understanding by DESIGN

By one of those strange learning coincidences, I’ve encountered ideas that seem to be fitting together in an interesting if not entirely coherent way. I'm in New York City to work with teachers, but it happens to be Design Week 2005. School and design seem to keep getting mixed up in my mind today.

First, although I’ve looked through Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design, (1998) on a number of occasions, I’ve only just started to read it with the care it deserves. I’m struck by how the authors compare instructional planning and curriculum development to design:

“Teacher are designers. An essential act of our profession is the design of curriculum and learning experiences to meet specified purposes. We are also designers of assessments to diagnose student needs to guide our teaching and to enable us, our students, and others (parents and administrators) to determine whether our goals have been achieved; that is, did the students learn and understand the desired knowledge?

Like other design professions, such as architecture, engineering, or graphic arts, designers in education must be mindful of their audiences. Professionals in these fields are strongly client centered. The effectiveness of the designs corresponds to where they have accomplished their goals for the end users” (p.7).

At the same time, I’ve been reading this month’s Fast Company, which features several articles on design. I’ve found the articles, so far, to be energizing and they make me feel, at least for the moment, that there is so much more to “designing” instruction that authentically engages our students.

Fast Company suggests several interesting websites on design, and I find them inspiring and confusing, so I thought I would put the sites on here in case someone else might make use of them: