We live in an age of randomness…an expectation that things don’t have to make sense. And the more we celebrate it, the more it distorts our frame of reference. From Flo the Progressive agent to Jan the Toyota receptionist to Aaron Rodgers’ discount double-check, it’s almost a competition of mindlessness, pushing us to the point where things not only don’t make sense, they don’t matter. It’s randumb…a mindset without context.

What started as a fad of ironic detachment has become a shift from substance to style: if it looks good and sounds good, then that’s good enough. There’s no actual vetting of ideas or working to find the facts. If it feels good, go with it. If enough people buy it, believe it. We actually purchase status via brand identification…self-identifying with corporate mythologies…and losing ourselves in the process.


To be randumb is to be intellectually lazy. If nothing matters, then anything goes…flocking as birds of a feather around opinions that conveniently support biases and beliefs. As long as we feel good about it, we can discount anyone who questions us, insulating our thinking. It escalates from randumb to randumber…like Lloyd and Harry playing out their magical, farcical thinking to its ridiculous-yet-logical conclusions…

It’s so much easier to laugh at self-constructed chaos that defies any sense of responsibility. Want to poke a jab at reality? Post a meme! Want to counter someone else’s jab? Post another meme! None of it matters. We like and share and post and comment, and none of it has any impact on reality. Idiocracy is not just a bizarre cult comedy; it is a cautionary tale.


This escapist anthem is as old as Mick Jagger’s scowling “get off of my cloud” and as recent as Aloe Blacc’s smarmy, “I didn’t know I was lost.” What was supposed to make us more communal has driven us underground into exclusive randumb bunkers…and we can wait anything out, so long as it doesn’t impact us. What could possibly go wrong?

While it is quirky and fun, randumbness isn’t reality resistant. I can create my own little insulated existence, but right outside lies real world contexts: disease, hunger, injustice, ignorance, hate…and it is in these contexts we can make a real difference…impacting the real world as profoundly as it impacts us.

As educators, this is especially true, because it is on our classrooms and communities that all of these very real challenges manifest themselves as we work with children and their families. Our charge is to help them reach their full potential by making school a place where they can be healthy and safe and engaged and supported and challenged. There is no smug, aloof, irony-embracing mindset for dealing with reality. We have to be immersed in it to impact it…and there’s nothing randumb about that.


The pendulum will swing back again, and this age of randumbness will be a faint memory. That’s how reality rolls. But after we’re done looking back, shaking our heads, wondering what we ever saw in it, where will we be? Where will our children be? What is the impact of this current no-context culture on our future?

Should we form a bubble to discuss and come to agreement on what makes us feel good…or hunker down and get to the hard work in front of us, immersing ourselves in contexts that are not relative nor negotiable, being responsible for forging our own legacy as educators?

No brainer?

I hope so.


Cerebral Networking


My first district tech director job was in Salem, Massachusetts back in the day. My predecessor left me notes and records and a very dedicated and talented staff, but when it came to the big questions about the education culture of the north shore of Boston and the technology drivers across the commonwealth, I was on my own. After digging and reading and feeling my way along, I picked up the phone and started reaching out to my counterparts in neighboring districts: Beverly, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Gloucester, Rockport, Marblehead, Peabody, Lynnfield, Lynn, Saugus and Danvers. Individually they each had unique district profiles and varied job descriptions. But it struck me that they shared one common denominator; they were all so busy managing district technology, they rarely talked to each other. Still, when I called, they each had an incredible wealth of information and insight to share.

One thing led to another, and as word spread that tech directors were having a shared dialog I started scheduling and inviting them to monthly lunches to network, compare notes and find ways to collaborate and build economies of scale. What started with maybe a dozen tech directors blossomed into all of eastern Massachusetts, as people began coming from the western suburbs and south shore of Boston, Cape Cod, and Worcester. Ultimately I found myself making trips to Springfield and Lennox at the invitation of tech directors in western Massachusetts, as word spread a movement was taking place…people wanted to be heard. And after a number of conference presentations, meetings and writings, this eventually formed into an official organization, The Massachusetts Educational Technology Administrators Association (METAA). And I am proud to say METAA took root and continues to serve its mission today.


In reflecting on this, I realize it wasn’t about the personalities or the social interaction. I didn’t know any of the players when I began making those phone calls to my colleagues in neighboring districts. I was driven by questions, wanting to be fully aware of all my options to serve my district.  The professional connections and eventual friendships that emerged from those discussions was secondary to the networking and the work. Yes the personalities definitely enriched the experience; I am so grateful for the people I’ve met along the way. But it was the value I was able to bring to my district, and contribute to other districts, that was the difference maker in my efforts. It’s the ideas that drive the work, not the people. Names and faces change across the ed tech landscape, but the work goes on.

Another example, for your consideration. As board president of the ISTE affiliate in Massachusetts , The Massachusetts Computer Using Educators (MassCUE), I began asking questions of our neighboring affiliates in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. As we compared our work, emails and phone calls turned into dinner meetings. Each affiliate had a very different set of opportunities and challenges, and yet the common thread of championing ed tech in our respective states provided a lot of common ground. I can still remember our first six-state meeting at the Radisson in Nashua, New Hampshire. The weekend began on a rainy Friday night, wherein those who had to travel the farthest arrived the latest, due to weather and traffic. But we all assembled for dinner fairly on time in a posh Tudor-style conference room, and dinner gave way to an evening of going around the lengthy banquet table cerebral2sharing each affiliate’s story: how they started, what they had accomplished, and their current status. We all warmed in the glow of those stories, giving and receiving, and by the end of the evening we all headed to bed smiling and eager to spend the next two days exploring the ways we could collaborate across state boundaries. On a subsequent weekend each of our state technology directors joined us, alternately meeting with us affiliate leaders and meeting on their own. They hadn’t, they confessed, had the opportunity to meet for a weekend retreat in a long time, and they were grateful to take advantage of our invitation. We were grateful they accepted! The result was ISTE’s first regional affiliate, New England ISTE (NEISTE), which I am again proud to say continues to carry on its mission today.

This was well before the days of social media (the closest thing we had was AOL chat rooms – hey don’t judge me – my 14.4 kbps modem was screamin….so long as the dogs didn’t bark at the doorbell and kick it offline!), but the concept of asking questions and following responses to chase ideas, gain insight, share information and build economies of scale was already alive and well. There are many other stories I could share about reaching out to colleagues and initiating conversations that benefited both our districts and the profession as a whole, but you get my point. These experiences confirmed everything I believe about working within the positive flow of life, watching doors open as I move forward because I am where I need to be to get the job done. At no time was it primarily about people or personalities. Making introductions and collecting business cards is all fine and well, but that’s more about playing the percentages than being in the positive flow. Yes, relationships are important, but they are more important given the context of the work in which they thrive. In my experience, the best, most fulfilling relationships have been those that were doing rewarding work. Even when the work is over and we move on, the relationships that have lasted long-term for me are those that grew out of significant, successful collaboration.

Why do I share these stories and make this point today? Because in an age where social media makes networking and collaboration easier than ever, I see a lot more instantaneous relationships and a lot more flash-in-the-pan points of synergy. What I hope to see eventually emerge is educators asking difficult questions, looking past easy answers, and reaching beyond social connections to build a new professional legacy. We need to be about the work of pushing one another’s thinking and doing the heavy lifting that our profession requires of us here and now. Social networking is easy. Cerebral networking: vetting thinking, doggedly doing, charting paths towards an unseeable future, building capacity not just for us in our own careers, but for our profession and for society’s future…that’s the real work. Because when I go back to see what METAA, MassCUE and NEISTE are doing now, I remember all the work that went into putting things in motion so they could get where they are today. And I am proud to know I had something to do with it…something worthwhile…something that sustains itself long after I’ve moved on. Social networking is all good, but cerebral networking is where we need to be.



Tom Hierck: “How Many Leaders Have You Left Behind?”

HierckRead the entire post on the Heart of Education.



This is the Age of Abundance

This is the Age of Abundance

This is a new era where there is a wealth of information, ideas and possibilities. The idea of a standard education for every child is outdated and obsolete. Children, on the other hand, need the tools and skills necessary to be relevant and engaged in the work of this new age. One size does not fit all. Individualization, personalization and many paths to success…many paths to the future…are the promise of today. Work, speak and act to support the whole child!


Our Legacy; Our Gift to the Future

Our legacy; our gift to the future

For the last thirty-five years, the reforms that have been imposed on public education have cited the cost of everything but lost sight of the value education delivered. The solution is not further reform of the outdated model, but to fully transform education to where it needs to be today. It won’t happen quickly, but it will happen. Join us!

Self-Selecting, Real-World Learning Communities

ImageImagine in your mind, a map of your community. Nothing detailed; just the boundaries and general lay of the land. Got it? Now add in the major areas in your community where people live and work and play. You know, to give yourself some bearings with a few landmarks. Still with me? Good! Now convert this mental image into a heat map. You know, where the hot spots flare up in bright yellows, oranges and reds? Picture in your mind hot spots that indicate places people go to learn new things and practice skills that are important to them. Where are those heat surges? Athletic fields? Dance studios? Book stores? Parks and beaches? Art galleries? Theaters? How about school buildings? No? Why aren’t school building hot spots on anyone’s heat map?

Karen Pittman discussed this this at the recent ASCD Whole Child Symposium Live Event: “Learning communities need to be grounded where children live, being able to learn in all kinds of places within their community. Let’s let go of the idea that there are buildings where learning happens and help children find their own learning communities based on their interests and abilities and pace of learning. Such learning communities do not provide just more learning time, but better learning experiences by being able to learn and practice skills in their authentic contexts. We need to allow young people to create their own heat maps based on their learning needs and interests. And then we need to go to those places where children identify their learning hot spots and find ways to replicate learning experiences there on the ground within the community. You can bet schools are not going to show up very warm on heat maps.”

This isn’t a big conceptual stretch. We already have virtual learning communities that connect people of common interests and skills. Students meet online with content matter experts, skilled professionals and learning partners as a way to push beyond the four walls of the classroom. But as we continue to transform education from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, why settle pushing the boundaries when we can literally open up the doors and let students out to seek meaning and understanding and practical application of the skills they will need to be successful contributors to their community?


Children are past the point of needing to master content. They can find the information they need on the fly in real time from anywhere. Instead, they need the skills and understandings of how to

  • collaborate,
  • problem solve,
  • create products of value,
  • practice conflict resolution,
  • self-monitor their work performance, and
  • learn from risk-taking regardless of the outcome.

If students can learn and practice these kinds of skills, they will be ready for whatever their adult world looks like, regardless of the information at hand.

“Right now,” Charles Haynes pointed out at the live Whole Child Symposium, “there is an emphasis on student interest and choice in preschool and in college, but nowhere in between.” Why is that? In a world where agility with skills and concepts is key, why are our elementary, middle and high schools focused on prescribed content and contrived outcomes? Because for the last century the ideals of the industrial age were reflected in public education: alignment, standardization, consistency of behavior, ability to follow directions. These things produced a more homogeneous citizenry, a trainable pool of prospective soldiers and responsible stewards of business. We accomplished this to an impressively high degree. But society has continued to grow and morph, and being able to master a set scope and sequence of memorized facts, rote vocabulary and basic heuristics no longer meets the needs in a collaborative, competitive global economy. If we continue training bean counters, they will serve those who can ask important questions, find valuable answers, and deliver innovative breakthroughs in ways our generation cannot even imagine.

School buildings are brick-and-mortar monuments to a bygone age. They have served their purpose well, delivering us from being an agricultural start-up to a world super power. But we no longer need brain factories dispensing knowledge into empty heads. There’s little value in inspecting graduates with one-size-fits-all assembly-line standards. A century ago we enacted labor laws to free children from inappropriate working conditions. Today we must enact education laws that free children from inappropriate learning conditions. Learners participating in self-selected learning communities. Teachers participating as facilitators, coaches and mentors. Learning taking place across the community: libraries, museums, laboratories, businesses, public offices, virtual spaces. Anywhere students are engaged and motivated to learn, allow them to do so. Sure there can still be standards and assessments, but let them be as practical and authentic as the real-world environments where learning takes place.


For the last thirty-five years, the reforms that have been imposed on public education have cited the cost of everything but lost sight of the value education delivered. The solution is not further reform of the outdated model, but to fully transform education to where it needs to be today. It won’t happen quickly, but it will happen. How do we start? Educators committed to children need to band together and take risks, creating environments where learners can acquire and practice the skills they need. It will be our legacy; our gift to the future. What a transcendent way to give back to our profession, and make the world a better place for the next generation.

This blog has been cross-posted on the Whole Child Blog: