EdWeek blog post on teacher hiring published

I was fortunate enough to have a guest blog post published in EdWeek. How Do We Hire the Very Best Teachers excerpt below:

Think back on your education – all those years sitting in classrooms and diligently taking tests. If I asked you to name the best teacher you had, or to explain why that teacher was so great, could you do it?

I’m going to guess the answer is yes: We all had those few special educators that really got through to us, and it’s easy to pinpoint teaching style, passion, personality or another key trait as the reason why. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20. So while it might be easy for us to remember which teachers made an impact, it’s a bit more difficult for districts to determine and select teacher prospects that will do the same.

The ability to identify and hire the very best candidates is extremely important. While there are countless factors that affect the success of any student in the classroom, research has shown over and over that teacher quality is the school-based factor with the largest impact on student achievement. That’s not to say teacher quality is “the problem” – but it should remain top of mind as an area of focus when considering and working toward district improvements.

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Edudemic article published

Three ways EdTech is moving beyond the classroom. Excerpt below:

Lately all eyes seem to be on edtech, specifically technology’s role in education, especially in terms of how new offerings are reshaping the classroom. New tools are meant to help improve educators’ teaching abilities, help enhance the actual learning process and also help students become more tech-savvy. But while such tools are important to the overall education ecosystem, technology can also make an impact long before and after a lesson takes place.

As such, technology should have a leading role in the part of the education process that takes place behind the scenes – parts of the process that are often overlooked, but that can also improve student achievement and learning outcomes. Let’s take a quick look are three such areas: human resources, professional development and improved IT infrastructure.

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NBC News Education Nation article published

I’m thrilled to have an article published in NBC News’ Education Nation. In it, I explore three myths about technology’s role in K-12 education. I’ve included a short except below:

There is a lot of buzz around technology’s role in education. Unfortunately, most of these conversations are missing the mark – honing in on ed-tech financing or the “technology gap.”

What follows are three common myths surrounding technology’s purpose in the education system and ways to address these myths to help improve innovation, adoption and student outcomes.

Myth #1: It’s all about disruption.

One of the biggest problems surrounding technology in education is that new developments and products are often over-hyped, due to the thought that technology should immediately “disrupt” current operations. This sensationalism frames new technology as a cure all to improve processes and outcomes, but then fails to offer actionable steps for schools to implement and integrate that technology into existing practices.

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New article published in eSchool News

This article, published in eSchool News, focuses on four ways K-12 districts can use technology to improve the hiring process. Here is a short excerpt:

In many districts across the country, the process for hiring teachers could stand to be improved.

While there are many facets of the process that could be changed, a few key areas standout: there is a lack of multi-dimensional data on individual candidates, the hiring process is either overly manual, creating inefficiencies, or too automated, leaving out quality candidates, and technology and process are difficult to integrate.

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Article published in District Administration

In this article, I tackle five tips for expediting the teacher hiring process in K-12 districts. Here is an excerpt:

When hiring teachers districts should identify their needs and fix only what is broken, says consultant Joel Sackett. It’s no secret that having great educators in the classroom is one of the keys to fostering successful students and an effective school—but finding top-tier educators can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive. The hiring process is especially challenging in today’s landscape, as most states have made dramatic cuts to education funding since the start of the recession. This reality has forced administrators to do more with less—and also makes expediting and optimizing the hiring process a near necessity for districts.

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Guest column published in EdTech Digest

I was fortunate enough to have a guest column posted in EdTech digest. The topic was how Big Data can help solve some of K-12’s most fundamental issues. Here is an expert:

Efforts to improve student achievement in the U.S. have skyrocketed over the years. Despite these efforts, several issues continually thwart America’s progress towards higher levels of achievement. Fortunately, the education landscape is evolving, and concepts such as big data and predictive analytics will undeniably move the dial forward.

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Quoted in Forbes.com article

I am beyond excited to have been quoted in a Forbes.com article exploring Big Data’s usage in K12 schools. An except is below:

Predicting teacher success
School districts in Chula Vista, Calif., Winston-Salem, N.C. and other cities are using big data tools to help their schools hire teachers. The districts are piloting a predictive analytics software program from Hanover Research’s Paragon K-12 that uses massive quantities of historical data to correlate teachers’ individual attributes to student achievement, alone and in relation to one another. Joel Sackett, Paragon K-12 product manager, says the company’s partnerships with grade school districts “helps them prioritize teacher applicants in a way that analyzes information to predict – at the time of hiring – which teachers will be most successful at improving education.”

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Simple content strategy: relate your headline to your first paragraph!

I know this sounds like common sense, but with the long holiday I’ve had a bevy of extra time to catch up on a million email digests, Google reader feeds, etc, and I have been absolutely shocked at the number of times I was drawn in by an articles’ title, only to get two paragraphs in and realize I had no idea why I was continuing to read. Aside from the obvious problem of failing to deliver on an implied promise, there is a more serious issue in terms of a loss of trust. This type of practice will lead to users no longer trusting the author or site. Given the amount of available options, and limited screen-time people generally have, this is detrimental to building a lasting and fanatical audience.

The initial traffic bump of a catchy but misleading headline will ultimately erode users confidence that they are going to find value after that click, and will likely be lost forever. I’ll freely admit that I don’t have any empirical evidence on the subject, but it doesn’t seem like a presumptuous assertion to make, given my own observed behavior, and informal discussions with others within my digital community. In the ever growing shift to user-centric experience/design, I firmly believe that the value proposition of a well formed title and correspondingly on-point article or post, will lead to greater levels of user satisfaction, more shares, and a far more loyal base of repeat readers. Disagree? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

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Value mapping as a mechanism to drive consensus

Let’s face it; when it comes to wire-frames & designs, consensus is hard to come by. Especially when working within an organization (as opposed to externally, as a consultant) and particularly in non-profits, hard, user based evidence can be pretty scarce. Decisions are the product of opinion or group think, and the value proposition to the user can be lost in the shuffle.

All hope is not lost. There are some simple tools that can be used to help drive consensus without alienating anyone in the group, with the added bonus of getting to the heart of the user-centric value proposition.

Recently, I was faced with a similar situation as the scenarios described above. A team of folks of varying areas of expertise were working on the user experience of a particularly critical set of screens for a member-based section of a website. Upon seeing what was termed the ‘final version’ I quickly realized that the page had staggering visual hierarchy issues, which would render the user more confused than they were with the current iteration of the page. Without wanting to alienate the designer, and knowing I had some non-UX experts to convince, I launched into the following value-mapping exercise:

1) First, create a prioritized list of all of the features and visual elements on the page. I find it is helpful to assign values of 10, 5 and 1. 10 is meant to represent elements that are of the highest value to the user, 5 is in the middle and 1 is the lowest.

2) Gather the group, and ask them for their input on the value based list. The goal here is to reach some measure of consensus as to what features should be the most value to the user.

3) Then, have the group look at the current design or wire-frame, and have them rank what is there using the same scale.

4) Finally, compare the prioritized list of features to the visual weight represented by everyone’s score on the design/wire-frame. The point here isn’t to ‘give direction’ to the designer or information architect, but to represent that there is a mis-match between the value you are trying to convey to users and how the visual hierarchy is currently being received.

5) Rinse and repeat until the desired features present in a way that is congruent with their priority or level of value.

While there will still likely be a robust discussion, at least there is common ground: value to the user. It is unlikely that opinion won’t still be a factor, but at least the playing field has some context and there is less ambiguity than there would be otherwise.

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It’s been a few years since my digital presence was updated, and it was sorely in need of a refresh. In the coming months, I’ll be periodically blogging about digital & product strategy, user experience, project management, and whatever else seems noteworthy.

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