The Greatest Lesson in Life from the Commencement Address Never Given

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I remember starting my first job as a systems engineer on an aerospace project. My new boss gave me an unusual assignment on my start day. He wanted me to tell him what “E = mC(squared)” and “You can’t push on a rope” meant.

As part of figuring out the answer he said to first ask anyone you want in the department for advice or insight. Of course, I thought he just wanted me to meet everyone on my own since I already knew the answer to both questions.

It turned out I was wrong on all parts.

Here’s what I told him when we met for lunch in the cafeteria on the third day of my first job.

“E = mC(squared)” While I got the scientific principle right the bigger purpose was to understand how this relates to the real world of product design given competing constraints on functionality, time, cost and manufacturability. The lesson: It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you lose sight of the big picture.

“You can’t push on a rope.” I thought this one had to do with strength of materials, some kind of force diagram and one of Newton’s laws. But it turned out to be about human nature. The lesson: The most important part is that you can’t push the people involved to do what you want them to do despite overwhelming analysis or engineering evidence. You have to understand their needs first.

I learned later that Zig Zigler said it more eloquently, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

That’s a principle everyone needs to apply to get ahead regardless of their age or their job.

Here are a few other useful life principles I learned early on in my career.

In my first engineering design class the professor showed a picture of a bridge across some river that didn’t meet perfectly in the middle. There was a six-inch offset. The professor started by saying that in this course you’ll learn how to ensure this will never happen to you. Planning ahead was the big lesson. Thinking of the consequences of your actions was the more subtle point. Stephen Covey’s “Begin With the End in Mind” pretty much sums it up. While this stuff is easy to say, it’s hard to do whether you’re building a bridge or figuring out how to just get through the day.

Persistence overrides intellect. In most of my engineering classes the answers to the problems were given. My non-engineering friends thought this was too easy. I thought so too until I was given one very complex problem to figure out. It took me all night and a lot of trial and error to get the right answer.

There were a lot of lessons learned that night. The obvious one: Getting the answer right was secondary. Figuring out how to find the right solution was the purpose of having the answer given. A lot of smart people gave up too soon. That’s when I realized that persistence is far more important than intellect.

Some similar things happened a short time later as an intern and during my first full-time engineering job. I was assigned two very complex technical projects. In each case there was an initial 2-3 weeks of total confusion. It was clear I was going around in circles, over my head and an abject failure. After stumbling about, talking with people and thinking about the problem from a totally different perspective, the fog starting lifting. Soon a solution emerged. In both cases it took a few very uncomfortable weeks to go from nothing to a potential solution. Of course, getting the actual solution took a lot longer but that was the easy part. The lesson learned again: It’s okay to be confused but it you keep at you’ll figure out what to do.

I learned later that Winston Churchill said it much better, “Never ever give up. Never!”

But that wasn’t the big lesson in all this. By not giving up too soon you build confidence in yourself to take on any project as long as you can figure out a solution and create a vision of where you’re going. As a result I then started volunteering for projects and positions over my head and even asking for promotions in different departments. And I got them by selling the vision to others and getting them to see how this would personally benefit them. This got them to be allies not foes and they became proactively involved in ensuring we were all successful.

The real lesson is that true confidence is contagious. But you need to struggle a lot before you develop it in yourself. So look for some struggles to tackle. A lot of them. And never give up despite how easy it might be to do. I’m not sure, but maybe this is how leaders are developed, too.

Data-driven decisions require CIOs to help educators interpret and organize vast amount of information

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When it comes to data analytics, Maribeth Luftglass,CIO at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, focuses on ensuring privacy of all student data. And, she adds, it should be a top concern for all CIOs. (Photo: Donnie Biggs, Fairfax County Schools)Just a few years ago, CIOs—if they were involved in data analytics at all—would run a report, export it into an Excel document and create a chart or a graph to share with teachers and district leaders once a week, or at the end of each semester.

Now it’s all about creating systems that aggregate and sort data automatically, making it easier for educators to view crucial information every day.

“The CIO is really becoming more of a leadership position,” says Elizabeth Dabney, director of research and policy analysis at the Data Quality Campaign. “It’s not just an IT role—it’s having a very broad vision and a good understanding of the value of data in supporting education goals at the district and being able to communicate that.”

Since creating its first custom data dashboard in 2014, Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin has been in a constant push to develop easier ways for educators to analyze data pulled from all of its schools.

The district used to rely on the state’s WISEdash system, which is a data portal that uses “dashboards,” or visual collections of graphs and tables, to provide multiyear education data about Wisconsin schools.

But it was barely used, because it didn’t allow schools to really drill down into detailed data. So the Sun Prairie district joined a data consortium of local districts a few years ago and has been creating different custom dashboards with the help of a software company.

The most recent project: An early-warning system that identifies students at risk of not graduating high school. The system feeds data from 12 indicators—including attendance, grades and discipline—into an easy-to-use program so educators can provide extra support to at-risk students as early as middle school.

Educators would previously look at the risk indicators individually in WISEdash. The new system overlaps the data to show which students are most at risk.

“What we’ve seen is the need to get data into the hands of our teachers, and get that into their hands in real time so they can use that information for decision-making on an almost daily basis,” says Michael Mades, Sun Prairie’s director of technology.

Sun Prairie’s data transformation reflects changes in the day-to-day roles of CIOs and CTOs in many other districts. “I am not someone who is allowed to be in the background making sure that our infrastructure is working—that isn’t my job anymore,” says Tony Spence, chief information officer at Muskego-Norway School District, also in Wisconsin. “It’s on a much higher level. I spend most of my time making sure the data systems we have reflect the needs of the district.”

So how do CIOs keep up with the changing demands? Here’s what four CIOs and CTOs had to say about how data analytics is changing their jobs—and their districts.

CIO as data interpreter

CIOs say their role is increasingly that of a data interpreter—someone who bridges the gap between the technology department (or product vendor) and the academic and operational branches.

Mades, at Sun Prairie, says he speaks two languages. In meetings with principals, he talks in academic language about the kinds of data that can be generated to improve student achievement, for example. Then he goes back to his IT team and, in much more technical language, discusses the systems needed to track and analyze that data.

Mades is a member of both the academic and operational branches of the district, meaning he keeps tabs constantly on how every department uses data. “Part of my work in the meetings is to listen to what their needs are and then help our data system support those, whether that’s building new dashboards or modifying some of the reports,” Mades says.

Because Mades understands the problems leaders are trying to address, such as behavior, he can provide better analysis.

For example, if misbehavior reports increase at a school, he can help a principal determine if there’s a buildingwide issue or if the problem is limited to specific classrooms or teachers.

For Dane Conrad, director of technology at Hattiesburg School District in Mississippi, interpreting data involves working with the district’s academic evaluation specialist to determine what data should be collected and analyzed. He then turns to his vendors to identify programs or products that meet the specialist’s needs.

On a different day, he might help schools take better advantage of existing data—for example, showing them how to track and identify trends in teacher or student absences.

CIO as data visionary

Because systems change so quickly, analyzing systems is a task that requires being something of a data visionary. And it means understanding how data supports current district goals, and then thinking about what information its educators will need in five or 10 years.

Many CIOs are shifting their focus from managing district data servers and applications in-house to seeking out third-party vendors and cloud-based systems that automate analytics for them, says Tracy Weeks, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

For CIOs who don’t have time to develop relationships with vendors that can provide analytics services, Weeks suggests teaming with neighboring districts to seek out the best products via consortium procurement agreements.

When looking for new products, Conrad from Hattiesburg relies on an email Listserv for district technology leaders in the state. He also finds ideas from Linkedin and technology conferences.

Even if the end goal is to automate analysis—when data from different areas, such as attendance or behavior, is merged in ways that educators can easily access—selecting the right systems involves hands-on work.

“We want somebody who used a product, preferably somebody who has had it for a while, that can tell us their experiences and how the product fits into their flow and make sure their flow matches our flow and our needs,” Conrad says.

CIO as trainer-in-chief

cCreating ways for teachers and administrators to study multiple kinds of data has opened up the problem-solving potential of analytics, says Rich Boettner, chief technology officer at Hilliard City Schools in Ohio.

But it’s also created a new role for CIOs: trainer-in-chief.

It’s important to make sure educators who may not have a background in analytics can use the information in meaningful ways, Boettner says.

Spence, at Muskego-Norway schools, trains teachers, academic coaches and certified staff during summer breaks and throughout the school year in how to use data systems and understand the numbers. Before CIOs can plan training or make sure data is being used effectively, however, they also must have a deep understanding of the data and how it supports district goals, Boettner says.

Boettner points to several main sources for professional development for himself and his staff: product vendors; internet resources, local and state networks for technology leaders, and conferences like ISTE.

CIO as silo regulator

And finally, after administrators understand how different departments use data, such understanding can help reduce or eliminate the data silos that exist within many districts.

At Muskego-Norway schools, Spence relies on a building-by-building plan that outlines how each school site is working on the district’s continuous improvement goals and which data will be used to support which efforts.

The plan gives Spence a clear understanding of what data each department collects, so he can ensure the systems are kept timely and up-to-date.

“Without the data plan it would be stabbing in the dark,” Spence says. “Instead we have a very specific goal about where we need to be.”

Benchmark One, Inc. Announces Strategic Partnership with PCS Edventures, Inc.

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DENVER, COLORADO — February 10, 2014

Benchmark One, Inc. a leading provider of performance development software solutions and services for the education community and PCS Edventures, a leading provider of K-12 STEM curriculum and programs both domestically and internationally, announce the formation of a strategic partnership. An initial focus of this partnership is the pursuit of joint projects with the Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia. The strategic partnership projects showcase the capabilities of Benchmark and PCS and the two companies anticipate additional avenues of growth and development for education business opportunities throughout the world. The new partnership is expected to fast-track Benchmark One’s development and delivery of its comprehensive, cutting edge performance management software to meet domestic and international mandates and legislation for school improvement.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is currently restructuring its national education system which serves 33,000 schools, over 500,000 educators and five million K-12 students nation-wide. As a major national priority, the Kingdom and its Ministry of Education have dedicated billions of dollars and a multi-year effort to realize its vision of the new model school of the future.

Benchmark, through its partnership with PCS, has designed and proposed the infrastructure and assembled the team of educational expertise to provide required educational services to assist the Kingdom in building the capacity to initiate and sustain school improvement processes throughout their schools and to develop national systems necessary to license and evaluate teacher performance. This Benchmark designed infrastructure and team, in combination with PCS, provides an excellent solution to the Saudi Arabian projects.

Integral to this effort is the inclusion of Benchmark’s flagship performance management software as a critical tool for tracking, managing, analyzing and sustaining progress throughout and beyond these educational initiatives.

“We are pleased to enter into this strategic partnership with PCS Edventures,” said Kelly Cobean, CEO of Benchmark One. “This relationship gives Benchmark One the opportunity for exponential international market growth for our flagship software product, PD Master™ and programs developed through the Educational Services Division.”

 Helen Ryley, Vice President, Benchmark One, Education Services Division, said, “Developing and delivering on opportunities to impact the teaching and learning of children in any educational environment is the mission of an educator. The opportunity to impact the quality of education for five million students as envisioned through the Model Schools of the Future projects tendered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education is monumental. Our partnership with PCS opens that door in epic ways.”

 Today’s announcement is a classic example of the power achieved by combining organizational strengths and market access through business partnerships – enhancing business opportunities for both parties.

The partnership will compliment and support PCSs delivery of its STEM product lines. Robert

Grover, CEO of PCS Edventures said, “We are delighted to have formed a close partnership with

Benchmark One. This greatly expands our capabilities for responding to advanced and complex professional development needs for projects in Saudi Arabia and other countries, and will also provide cross marketing and domestic growth opportunities for PCS Edventures.”

 About Benchmark One

 Benchmark One, Inc., a privately held corporation, was founded in 1995 and has established a presence in the education and corporate marketplace. The Company has provided staff development services and program management for the US Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Education, the Midwest Regional Education Laboratory (McREL), the Education Commission of the States (ECS), and a wide range of school districts and regional education centers in more than 25 states and Canada.

Benchmark One has a long history of developing and directing system-wide organizational improvement through an extensive cadre of highly trained and experienced educators and project management professionals.

Information on Benchmark One products and services is available at http://www.benchmarkone.com.

About PCS Edventures

 PCS Edventures, Inc. (PCS) designs and delivers educational products and services to the K-16 market that develop 21st Century skills. PCS programs emphasize hands-on experiences in Science, Technology, engineering and Math (STEM) and have been deployed at over 7,000 sites in all 50 United States and 17 foreign countries.

Additional information on PCS STEM products is available at http://www.edventures.comPCS Edventures, Inc. is headquartered in Boise, Idaho and its common stock is listed on OTC Markets (OTCQB) under the symbol “PCSV”.

Thought for Today

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Little Hinges Swing Big Doors

What, Me Worry !

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WORRY

Serves no useful purpose

Is of no value

And doesn’t change a thing.

Good proverb

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Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.

4 Ways to Get a New Employee Off to the Perfect Start

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That interview you had right before you made the job offer? It’s not enough. Here are four things you must do on a new hire’s first day. You work hard to find, interview, and hire the right employees. They have great skills, great experience, and great attitude.

   Thoroughly describe how your business creates value.

New employees need to learn how to do their jobs, but first they need to thoroughly understand your company’s underlying value proposition and competitive advantage.

No matter what your business, one or two things truly drive results: Maybe it’s quality. Maybe it’s service. Maybe you’re the low-cost provider. Maybe it’s the personal connection you make with each individual customer, and the true sense of community you’ve worked hard to create.

Other aspects are important, but one or two are absolutely make-or-break

Map out the employee’s internal and external customers.

The new employee may have direct reports. She has external customers, even if she never meets them, and she definitely has internal customers. No job exists in a vacuum; understanding the needs of every constituent helps define the job and the way it should be done.

Take time to explain how the employee will create value for your business while serving all their internal and external customers. Achieving that balance is often tricky–don’t assume new employees will eventually figure it out on their own.

Set immediate, concrete goals–and start giving feedback.

Successful businesses execute. Your business executes. Set that productivity tone by ensuring every new employee completes at least one specific job-related task on their first day.

Why? Not only do you establish that output is all-important, your new employees go home feeling a sense of personal achievement. A whole day or days spent in orientation is boring and unfulfilling and makes the eventual transition to “work” harder.

Explain exactly why you hired them.

Every employee is hired for one or two specific reasons, but often those reasons get lost in all the fluff of the interview process. (Be honest: It’s nice to find a well-rounded employee, but most of the time you really need an employee who is a superstar at doing X.)

Sit down with new employees and share the primary reason you hired them. It’s a great opportunity to praise their skills and experience, and praise their attitude and work ethic. What new employee doesn’t like that? More importantly you reinforce the connection between their skills, experience, attitude, and work ethic and the actual job you hired them to perform.

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business

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