“You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat!”


Three able men are shoveling chum out into the water to attract the menace terrorizing their beaches. Suddenly an image begins to take form beneath the water, circling the small fishing vessel. They assess they are looking at a 25-foot, three ton tiger shark. Police Chief Martin Brody exclaims, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!” A patently obvious observation? Granted…remember the theater breaking out in nervous laughter when Schneider blurted it out in 1975? But with Shark Week behind us, it’s also an apt allegory for personal capacity building.

Capacity building typically refers to an organization’s ability to offer new services that add value for those it serves. You have to have the capacity before you attempt to take your services to a higher level. For example, it doesn’t make sense to increase your student body by 300% if you don’t have the staff and room to accommodate three times as many learners. Sure you’d have more revenue from increased enrollments, but you wouldn’t be able to meet everyone’s needs and expectations. You have to have the capacity to handle your goals once you realize them.

The concept of capacity building holds true for each of us individually. It makes no sense to pursue goals that you aren’t personally ready to handle…because once you arrive at your desired destination, the reality will hit hard that you can’t handle what you thought you wanted. Be careful what you wish for, but more importantly, when you know what you want to go after in life, be sure you have built your inner capacity so you can fully engage and enjoy it! When your ship comes in…do you want to meet it at the docks with a station wagon or an eighteen wheel moving van?

Educators, think of it like instructional scaffolding. We don’t expect students to sink or swim as they work to master new skills and concepts. We provide support for them to build on their strengths and successes as they take risks, make mistakes and learn. The same holds true for us as adults, whether on the job or at home. To build personal capacity we need to be able to push ourselves to take risks, learn and grow. Sounds simple, but what is required?

  1. Push yourself beyond where you are – if you’re too comfortable where you currently live or work, you’re not going to grow
  2. Identify new small challenges – nothing earth-shattering; something you can attain using your current skills
  3. Commit your personal strengths to meet your challenge – you’re making it a priority to take risks to grow
  4. Invest your time and energy to make it happen – stretch yourself to meet and surpass the challenge you’ve set
  5. Monitor your progress – be self-aware, learn as you go and make adjustments as needed
  6. Be persistent – push yourself and refuse to give up to develop resilience and tenacity
  7. Be flexible – consider multiple ways to meet your challenge from different perspectives
  8. Hit your target – give yourself credit for progress and know when you meet your challenge
  9. Appreciate your new capacity – recognize how meeting your challenge helped you grow
  10. Build on little victories – identify new challenges that will push you to grow and build more capacity so that you will eventually realize your goals

If Quint’s boat had the proper capacity to deal with his nemesis, “Jaws” could have ended much differently. No one wants to find themselves sitting in a vessel too small when facing challenges or opportunities!

So how about you? You have a say in how your story will read. Start today, purposefully developing your personal capacity, no matter what vessel you are navigating!

Can I Buy Your Magic Bus?

magic bus1

A little over a month ago, Stephanie Giese shared a blog post, “What I want People to Understand about Why Teachers are Frustrated,” As a former teacher, she shared, “There are few professions where you are required to obtain a college degree, take multiple certification tests, and prove yourself through a residency program only to not be allowed to perform your job as you know best once you are in it. We trust our doctors to treat our ailments and our lawyers to try our cases. Our teachers are professionals, and it is time we started treating them as such.”

I don’t want to cause no fuss, but can I buy your Magic Bus? Nooooooooo!

Frustration is an understandable human reaction when you feel powerless to make things better. But education’s decision-makers aren’t opponents of energy and idealism; they have reasons for making the decisions they do. By definition, a new innovation is an unanticipated, unplanned-for, unbudgeted initiative…which translates as a lot of extra work for an administrator. If they don’t see a direct connection between their goals and your ideas, where’s the incentive to buy in? Successful change agents learn from every failure, every letdown, every setback:

  • Why don’t they see/hear/understand what I am trying to accomplish?
  • Why didn’t I get the support I needed to get this done?
  • What can I learn from this to be more successful?
  • What can I do differently next time?

I want the Magic Bus, I want the Magic Bus, I want the Magic Bus…

When I read sentiments like Giese’s my mind goes back over my own trials, setbacks and successes. What have I learned? Innovation is not magic. It is not, in and of itself, a reason to change. I may have interesting, exciting ideas, but that won’t get me buy-in. Even when I can see exactly where I want to take people and the incredible outcomes they’ll experience once they arrive at that destination, it doesn’t mean they are ready to climb aboard my bus. I’ve learned that in order to implement and sustain successful programs, it’s important to build capacity before starting the journey…to make sure I have everyone on board who needs to be on board.

I want it, I want it, I want it, I want it…

magic bus2

How is capacity built? Identify a role model or mentor and work to learn to:

Establish relationships
Cultivate a rapport with key stakeholders before the time comes you need to ask for their support.

Work within a framework
Use federal and state plans, professional standards, and local strategic plans, goals and objectives.

Have an implementation plan
It can be an internal document that isn’t shared publicly, but have a plan with achievable objectives on a timeline to keep you moving.

Get buy-in from higher up
Show a direct connection of how your plan of action will help achieve the desired outcomes of your organization.

Build consensus
Work with all groups of key-stakeholders to create a network of support: your school board, administrators, teachers, students, parents, community members without school-aged children, and businesses and professional associations.

Connect allies
Introduce these different groups of stakeholders to one another so that they can find common ground upon which to support you.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate
Positive promotion and good public relations are your best tools in building and sustaining capacity.

Find, implement and celebrate easy wins
Find the low-hanging fruit that you can easily pick, share and hold up as examples of success.

Build momentum from little victories
Be sure that all stakeholder groups know of your early easy wins; also make sure they understand the significance of easy wins in your larger plan.

Document and distribute
Compile measured and anecdotal evidence of your plan’s progress and regularly get it into the hands of all stakeholder groups.

These are the steps successful innovators use to successfully create change within existing organizations.

magic bus

In 1968 Tom Wolfe published his Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, showcasing Ken Kesey and his followers riding a psychedelically-painted school bus across the United States. The story is now considered romantic folly. What difference did that bus trip make? Was there any impact on people outside the bus, or was it simply Kesey and company tripping? More importantly and to the point, when you think of your own journey, are you willing to accept Kesey’s folly? If you’re disappointed by setbacks, probably not…

Every day you’ll see the dust as I drive my baby in my Magic Bus…

The image of a psychedelic ride has been used by the Beatles, the Who, the Partridge Family, even Miss Frizzle. It’s a great symbol of breaking out of our current constraints! But if you’re not willing to settle for joy riding on your own, then you need to do the kind of capacity-building that will fill your bus with passengers and give you a greater potential to drive change. Learn to think more strategically, with conviction to learn from your setbacks. Reassess, regroup and build capacity for future success.

These are hard lessons…and it’s hard work. Sure driving your own bus can be an exhilarating trip, but when you take a hit, you need to stop and assess the impact of the collision. When you run low on gas, you need to have a dependable place to pull in and refuel. It may not seem as spontaneous and unfettered as Kesey’s wild ride, but sustained change seldom is.

magic bus3


Magic Bus Lyrics: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/who/magicbus.html

magic bus4“The Magic Bus” written by Pete Townsend, 1965.

Next Generation School Districts


Reposted from the Center on Reinventing Public Education:

Every sector of the U.S. economy is working on ways to deliver services in a more customized manner. If all goes well, education is headed in the same direction. Personalized learning and globally benchmarked academic standards (a.k.a. Common Core) are the focus of most major school districts and charter school networks. Educators and parents know students must be better prepared to think deeply about complex problems and to have skills that are relevant for jobs that haven’t yet been created. Promising school models are showing what’s possible, but innovation in the classroom only takes you so far. Twenty-first century learning practices demand twenty-first century systems.

This paper goes deep into the question of which system policies are most likely to get in the way of implementing personalized learning at scale. We work outward from the school to define the new capacities and functions districts need to develop. We make the case that districts are currently unwittingly hostile to school-level innovation. For that to change, they must aggressively work to change the incentives, policies, and structures so that they encourage and free up schools to innovate.

Read More…

Read the paper here. [PDF]

Schools Move Towards BYOD Programs to Build Ed Tech Capacity


Reposted from the Washington Post:

“The idea of allowing students to use their own technology in schools to enhance academic instruction is a significant departure from the cellphone bans of old. But it has increased in a number of school systems, including those in Fairfax and Prince William counties, as educators look for ways to embrace the digital world.

Such approaches come as many school systems are investing heavily in laptops and tablets, with an eye toward one-to-one computing, which provides a device to each student. But some districts find that impractical, and in Montgomery, school leaders are taking a blended approach that they say is more affordable and sustainable: supporting BYOD practices as they also buy thousands of Chromebooks and tablets.

But in some places, there are signs of change right now…”

Read More…