Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Best Xmas Gift Ever: Appreciation & Affirmation From A Former Student

Three days before Christmas this year, a direct message came through on my Facebook account. It was from a former student of mine from 12 years ago named Reed when I was concluding my last year as the Leadership Advisor at Buchanan High School.

I am sharing this with you below for a couple of reasons. One, as an educator, there is no better gift than a student, especially after time has passed, reaching out to you and acknowledging their educational experience. Two, his story is the ultimate affirmation for an educator. It’s not an affirmation about me as an educator, but what works in education. His story reminds us, in a very personal and detailed way, what matters in school. And that is that our mission is to help all students find a passion and purpose and then support them in pursuit of both.



Although this student likes to attribute his success and his unique journey to his experience with me, it’s really more about the work we were both involved in collaboratively for the greater good of our school and community. It was about the environment we both helped create where ideas, innovation and risk-taking were not only accepted, but rather the norm.


12 years ago, we were not discussing in such collective fashion what a 21st century and transformational education should look like as we are today. However, it’s good to know that it is something that has existed and can exist. It takes steadfast adults determined to allow and support students as they pursue relevant, real world work that impacts their campus and global communities.


Thank you Reed Zelezny for inspiring me. Thank you for reminding me that those of us that believe that students can dream and then execute amazing and meaningful endeavors do indeed change the world. Naturally, I am very proud of your success and your reflective appreciation. But I am also proud that you represent what is possible and what should be. All students need these opportunities and these environments. And then, all students can enjoy a lifetime of eternal successes.


Reed, thanks for the incredible Christmas gift. I am proud to have worked with you. I hope all educators have this experience.
Here is that Facebook message from Reed in its entirety:


Hey Mike!


Hope you’re well and enjoying some holiday time with the family.


Earlier in the year I saw that Stephanie Rusmin sent you a message about how much your Leadership class at Buchanan shaped her. I chatted with her about it briefly and told her that I’d been wanting to send a similar note your way, which she encouraged me to do. Now months later, as the year comes to a close I’m finally getting around to it!


I can echo a lot Stephanie’s sentiments, as I’m sure a lot of students who’ve taken your class would - particularly those that consider themselves introverted leaders. For example, in the interesting social and political climate we’re experiencing, I’m frequently reminded of leadership class events like Human Relations Day.

Reed Zelezny.jpg

I also want to point out though that I took something very unique away from your class. One of the most important things I experienced in high school was your encouragement to coordinate and lead school activities which involved music and the arts, the biggest of which was probably the school CD that Kevin McDonald and I worked on. I was admittedly not fully engaged with sporting events, pep rallies, fashion shows etc. But I wanted to learn leadership skills, help people, and I loved music. Without your nudge I don’t think I would have harnessed an entrepreneurial spirit and realized that I could bring together my interests in such a unique way that created value for others.


From that experience I embarked on my college education with the idea of somehow mixing business, entrepreneurship, and the arts. I was a Business Entrepreneurship student at Cal Poly, and when it came time to do my required senior project I rejected the idea of taking the CPA exam or writing a business plan. Instead I left school for 6 months to write a thesis about how the internet and technology was impacting and helping independent musicians.


While wrapping up that project, I found myself in Silicon Valley and met the quirky young CEO of a cloud company who wanted to chat with me about digital distribution models for artists like Radiohead. A week later he threw a jack-of-all-trades job my way at his 40-person startup. It wasn’t the most glamorous way to start a career - I spent the first six months stocking fridges, putting together Ikea furniture, constantly calling repairmen as we outgrew our building, ordering food for lunches and dinners, etc.


Six years later, we’re a public company with 1400+ employees, offices around the world, and I’m the company’s Global Media Producer. I’ve had the opportunity to rub shoulders with leaders such as Gavin Newsom, Marc Benioff, Eric Schmidt, and Tim Cook, as well as artists such as One Republic, Weezer, Blink 182, and Jared Leto.


Reed Zelezny 2.jpg

It isn’t all blissful - the bay area is unrealistically expensive, and surrounded by some of the brightest tech minds on the planet I constantly find myself in the trap of wondering “what I’m doing with my life”. But the older I get, the more grateful I become for this path I’ve found myself on and how your class set the stage for it.


And so 12 years after taking your Leadership class, and as an adult 29-year-old man, I want to say thank you most sincerely.

Wishing you all the best and I hope you have a great new year ahead of you! - Reed

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Collaboration (Partnering) 2.0

There may not be a skill that is getting more attention than ever than COLLABORATION. Indeed, in Education, we use the word so much that it has sadly become cliche or jargon. However, that being said, it is and has been identified as the most important professional skill in the new economy (See Forbes Magazine). Matter of fact, one of the dominant reasons people often get fired is still related to an inability to work with others. I like the word collaboration, but preferred the word PARTNERING. Collaboration sounds like working with others, while partnering sounds like a long-term investment in a relationship that is mutually beneficial.
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So, if we can agree that partnering is crucial and essential. Let’s identify what it really looks and feels like in our educational environments and beyond. One, partnering first infers that we will work with our peers. Students need to partner with students, teachers need to partner with teachers and so on. And this partnering can extend well beyond our immediate or like peers, but can, thanks to technology, be global partnering with peers. Students can connect with and partner up on projects with students with similar interests all over the world via social media and other tools. Teachers can participate in professional development and dialogue with educators from around the world via Twitter and more.
But let’s focus on the partnering that can exist beyond our peers in terms of community and professional partners. For a variety of reasons, education is realizing, more than ever, that we have a vast network of potential partners in our communities beyond the school walls. Schools need these partners more than ever and these partners are interested in education more than ever. The time is right and the time is now. What does collaboration - or partnering - with community again look and feel like? Here are FIVE ways to examine further:


  1. Resources: Our community partners have tremendous resources. These can come in the form of time, money, equipment, expertise, mentoring, professional/industry standards and more. As we move more towards real, relevant and project-based work, we are going to need all of these from our community partners. They can help fill all of the gaps in transforming our educational experiences and systems. They not only have a vested interested in helping from a philanthropic standpoint, but also have a need to be directly involved in training, recruiting and inspiring their future work forces. Our students and schools need them, but they need our students and schools too. It is mutually beneficial.
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  1. Mentoring: mentioned in the list above, this is going to continue to be what students need to be successful as they prepare for 21st century careers. Their teachers, families and peers are important, but cannot take the place of professional mentors. Networking has always been crucial and will continue to be. Each student needs to develop a network of professionals that can inform, champion, inspire and facilitate professional student work. Mentors from our community partners (business, leaders, non-profits and others) can provide that final and integral link that all students need - both in the short term and long-term.
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  1. Reciprocation: as also mentioned earlier, partnerships are mutually beneficial. Our community partners need our students, educators and schools too. One, they are potentially training, recruiting and creating their future workforce right? Most leaders in all industries or trades realize that their best employees are the ones that they train and indoctrinate. Additionally, most of our community partners often need volunteers, feedback, customers, ideas and more. What better than to give our students the opportunity to give back to their partners in these vital roles. Students have time, ideas, creativity, energy, networks and more to share with the partners. They represent an important focus group that partners can truly appreciate, utilize and realize.
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  1. Problem-Solving: this is often mentioned as a skill that is also essential in success in the new economy. Much of our educational redesign is centered around the need that our students need to bigger and better problem solvers. Ironically, our world also has a host of real world problems that represent the work and opportunity for future jobs, companies and industries. Students and educators will have problems that community partners can address in a variety of ways (see #1) and community partners will have problems that our students and schools can address (see #3). Bottom line is that if problem-solving skills are vital, we will need to practice and see them in real world contexts and situations. Partnering to solve problems is a backbone of the new economy.
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  1. Public: one of the hallmarks of our educational efforts going forward is that our work - student work, educator work, etc. - is now going to be public more than ever. Students need to have public work for relevance and portfolio development. Educators need to have public work for everything from ongoing professional development to new definitions of meeting standards, having success, etc. When we partner with our community entities, all of our work will be more public. The community partners represent the public and will bring the public aspect back in new ways to public school.
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The need and acknowledgement of partnering (collaboration) is more present and relevant than ever. Indeed, it may be the most powerful component, or missing link, related to many of our educational ills and challenges. Our classrooms do have to become community (or truly public) classrooms more than ever. Our partners are waiting to be invited and involved.  We need them and they need us. It’s time to PARTNER 2.0.


Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

(images courtesy of Foter, Free Digital Photos)