Thursday, February 26, 2015

I am surrounded

Watson & Sherlock
I'm writing this post surrounded by dogs: Sherlock laying next to me, wearing a cone because his eye infection is creeping back and I need to keep him from making it worse before he sees the vet. He is grumpy. Watson is my headrest; his poodle coat is too long and woolly and it heats up the back of my neck. He really loves our new couch because he can lay along the back cushions again. Darwin is chewing on a piece of dirty, knotted rope on the other side of my lap. He's chewing noisily and won't stop moving, shaking the whole couch and annoying the other two. He's a giant pit bull that thinks he's a little dog.

The house is quiet, except for Darwin's chewing and the faint sound of Sallie singing in her bedroom. She's home sick today with a fever and various other complaints. In a little while, I'll ask her if she's hungry and she'll chat all the way through lunch, telling me about some scenario playing out in her room with her stuffed animals.

I love being alone. I love quiet. I don't have music or a movie playing in the background on days like today when I work from home; I don't usually have the radio on in the car. But it's rare that I'm ever actually alone. Dogs. Kids. Work. Church. The only time I have to myself anymore is when I'm driving to pick up or meet someone, or sometimes in the bathroom (although kids and dogs aren't always respectful of a closed bathroom door).

My husband John knows that I'm an introvert, although I try to fake otherwise. I hate labels like that, "introvert," but I do acknowledge that labels help people understand complex dynamics quickly, so sometimes I'll use it to explain why I avoid social hour in between church services, or why I don't want to be the one to call for takeout, or why I am completely exhausted after I speak at a conference and need to decompress.

I find myself tired a lot now. Exhausted, even. John and I both work full-time, manage the schedules of our 5 kids with us in California and figure out how to stay present in the weekly routine of the 6th one who is back in Pennsylvania for most of the year. He's never out of our thoughts and we're constantly planning trips and phone calls and Skype conversations, the planning of all these things tempered by the difficulty of negotiating them. Daily life isn't just us, the kids and the dogs...it's all of the kids' other parents, too.

And work. There aren't a lot of jobs in the world where you can work by yourself, and I don't have one of them. It's funny because I intentionally chose a career path that focused on helping people learn. I love it. I'm passionate about it. And it, by design, surrounds me with people.

Beyond family and work, I'm still surrounded. I'm on the Worship Committee at church and work to create worshipful lay-led services to support our ministers. I need the feedback of my committee members and the members of the congregation to be successful. I am constantly working on new start up ideas, seeking out other entrepreneurs and experts to collaborate with, networking and building relationships. People, people everywhere.

I am surrounded. I fantasize sometimes about just driving someplace quiet, alone. Maybe reading a book. Maybe just listening to the ocean, or the sounds of the mountains. I think about what it might feel like to not be responsible for or to anyone but myself. What a relief that would be. I think about when I read Eat Pray Love and how selfish I thought the woman was, and how absolutely glorious it still sounded to me. What a luxury, to be free of commitment. How light that must feel. Nobody to make dinner for or pick up from somewhere, no deadline I need to meet.

I'd probably be so incredibly, incredibly lonely. No one to tell me something funny that happened to them at school. No one snuggle with at night. No one to hear my favorite part of the day. No one to waggle their whole body in excitement to see me when I come through the door. No one to tell me I look beautiful today. No one to giggle with about a goat who sounds like he's saying "mom." No one to hear singing in the shower. No one to ask me for a hug. No one to be devastatingly proud of as they perform on stage.

Darwin is snoring
Sometimes when I'm feeling suffocated, overwhelmed and buried, I think about what I've surrounded myself with. All of these people and animals...I might not always be able to handle all of them. I shouldn't think I have to. Being surrounded can be a lifting up, not a holding down. Because it's love, all of it is love. I chose this life, all of it. My family, my pets, my career, my friends, my spiritual community...even my Facebook friends. It is love, not responsibility. They challenge me and make me think and reflect and grow. It is love, messy and crowded and busy. It is love, loud and yes, sometimes overwhelming. I am surrounded by love. And right now, love sounds like a pit bull curled
up next to me, snoring. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Common Core Conundrum

You know the old saying, if you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail?

This is the analysis that I can't help but apply to the Common Core assessment battle emerging in states across the country. 

I've been introduced to Common Core as a former teacher and now as a parent with kids in elementary, junior high and high school. I've read all the perspectives on Common Core from teachers in social media, I've read the informative literature provided by my kids' teachers, schools and school districts. I've seen the type of assignments and questions asked of my kids change. I get what they are trying to do and frankly, despite the challenges that inevitably come with change, I support Common Core. I want my kids to become critical thinkers, not spouters of facts. I want them to be problem solvers and understand the why, not just the what. I want them to think creatively and deeply and I'm encouraged that school might be a place where that is encouraged and fostered. I think it's a noble cause and it makes that longing to go back into the classroom a little stronger. A survey of teachers find that most of them feel the same way I do:



And then I hear about the testing

It is going to be a shame if Common Core is protested, abandoned and ultimately fails because we can't reconcile our desire to encourage critical, creative thinking with a scalable assessment of those skills. We already know that standardized tests are biased and don't represent student success or achievement. They are not used as a measure of student progress; they are only used as a measure of comparing schools. They aren't even used as a measure of teacher effectiveness in most cases (and rightly so). 

Standardized tests are really good at measuring how well students can complete standardized tests. If we're trying to move our educational system to measure critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, design thinking...do we REALLY think more expansive standardized testing is going to give us the information we are looking for about the impact of Common Core on student success?

Sadly, I think we're at risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Common Core curriculum and Common Core assessment should be viewed as two different things, different pieces of the same puzzle. While I think the curriculum changes are encouraging, my encouragement is overwhelmed by my disappointment on the emphasis on using the same old standardized assessment. I've been trying to ignore or combat the various Facebook memes of  anti-Common Core ranting. But with these new, expansive assessments looming, I find myself siding with the Common Core protesters. No, I don't want my children sitting through 10 hours of testing that will have no bearing on their learning, forget about all the instructional time dedicated to "test prep." No, I don't believe standardized test results will show the impact or benefit of Common Core curriculum. 

How can I support Common Core and not support Common Core standardized testing? How do you support the strategy and vehemently oppose the tactics? How can you support teachers and schools in trying to meet the modern needs of their students when the government assessment of student education is stuck in the 80s?

It's time to break free from the hammer of standardized testing. Common Core is not another nail. Students are not all the same. If K12 education is changing to support different skills, then assessment must evolve, not expand. We don't need more standardized testing, we need a different kind of test, a different kind of skill assessment. 

I'm passionate about immersive learning, but even more so about immersive assessment. Let's stop assessing knowledge...let's let students apply their skills. What if assessments were games? What if we structured assessments like Odyssey of the Mind, or Math Super Bowls, or science fairs? What if we made assessment challenging and engaging and fun? What if we made assessment real?

I've never had to take a standardized test at work to measure my competency. I show my value in the work that I produce, the ideas I contribute, my participation and passion and ability to see problems on the horizon or find the root cause of problems that already exist. If we want students to develop those skills, let's find meaningful ways to assess them. It is possible. Let's use those creative problem solving skills that Common Core is developing to create better solutions to assessing our real capabilities. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

If it can be measured, it can be valued

Training is often viewed as a cost by companies and therefore is on the chopping block when costs need to be cut. Much like the arts in K12 education, training is seen as a "nice to have," but not a core function of the organization.

Why is training viewed as a cost and not a strategic investment? Because learning professionals don't measure the impact of training on the performance of the organization.

Think about the last time you delivered a training program in an organization. Or the last time you participated in training, if you aren't an L&D professional. How was the success of the training measured? 

How many completed the training?
A passing score on an assessment? 
A subjective "smile sheet" ranking where learners reported how valuable they thought the training was?

Do these training programs measure improvements in employee performance? Decreased time to market/increased productivity? Customer satisfaction ratings? Increased revenue? Reduction in costs? Increased employee retention?

No? WHY NOT?

If training is a strategic investment, then it is absolutely critical that we show the value of the investment. Attendance is not value; increased sales is. Assessment scores are meaningless if people don't perform their jobs better. 

If our role in an organization is to improve performance, then shouldn't we be measuring performance? 

Only when we start measuring the right things will training be valued. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The annual resolution post, 2015 edition

Every year I try to set some goals for myself, usually to pretty good success (except for picking yoga back up in 2014...total failure on that one).

I've been struggling with resolutions for this year, and as I've been reflecting on the past year, I think I know why: my life and time right now is not wholly my own. Being a part of a large family, and one of only two people in that family who drive, means that much of what I spend my time doing is doing for others. I don't think people talk much about that side of being in a big family, but it is the truth. You can't be selfish. You can't put yourself first. You can't only think about what you want, or what you need. You are part of something bigger than yourself, and when a big family is at its best is when everyone is working together and looking out for each other.

This is not to say that you shouldn't make time for yourself. This isn't to say that there are times when some members of the family do more than others. As one of the parents in our big family, it means my attention is often focused on keeping the family machine running smoothly. Meal planning. Laundry. Cleaning. Cooking. If I'm not doing it myself, I'm usually coordinating who is.

So this year, as co-founder of our big crazy bunch with another full time job (that pays me!) to boot, I'm cutting myself a break on my 2015 resolutions. No pressure, no guilt. I'm putting things on my list that inspire me and that I'm passionate about. Here they are...let's see how I do.

  • Get that second book done. 
  • Get isanno off and running. I know you probably don't know what I'm talking about here. I'm hoping by the end of 2015 you do. 
  • Use my AMAZING new camera every day...I've already started a 365 day challenge for myself, maybe I'll share with you. 
  • Draw something every day. Use that dusty sketchbook.
  • Learn Illustrator and Photoshop and Lightroom. 
  • Learn a few songs on my ukelele. I really miss playing music.
  • Take care of myself. I'm not getting any younger. OK, this one is a necessity, not a passion...but I'm trying to make it a passion :)
  • Do some real work with those cool Nevermind folks. Maybe that's related to isanno. Figure that out. 
And that's it. Yep, it's a long list, but it's the kind of list that's a little art, a little science and a lot of learning. It's the kind of list that I'll make time for, or that I can pretty easily squeeze in time for. It's a list that inspires me right now, to do more of the things I love and am passionate about. 

What inspires you? Are they your resolutions?

2014 in review

Facebook tried to prompt me to share their version of my 2014, but after taking a look at it, they missed so much. As I've made a habit of doing every year, I wanted to take my own look back and forward. 2014 was a tumultuous year, lots of highs with some lows thrown in there for perspective. One thing I'm learning is that being a mom, especially with 6 kiddos, means that my highs and lows are often wrapped up in theirs. Yet one of the things I'm most proud of is that I have a whole life, a whole identity outside of "mom," and many people are surprised to find out what a big, crazy family we have. I'm fiercely protective of both of those sides of my life and 2014 was a test of balance and preservation. I suspect that until these kiddos start leaving the nest, this is what life will be like.

I thought taking care of them when they were little was hard. I clearly had no idea...

So here it is, my 2014 in review, skewed toward things I did/accomplished, not the kids :)


  • We spent New Year's Day at my first Rose Bowl Parade (my MSU Spartans were in the Rose Bowl!).
  • My first book, Immersive Learning, was published in January. I did my first book signing in Las Vegas.
  • Also in January, John and I took a belated honeymoon trip to Sonoma and drove along the Pacific Coast Highway on our way home. I highly recommend it.
  • In February, we all traveled back to NJ and got to all of the Paganos and lots of snow. 
  • In April, I turned 40. We took a trip to San Francisco to celebrate, including a trip to Tiffany's and Alcatraz.
  • In June, we made another trip to Pennsylvania and stopped by Philly ComicCon. 
  • July I got to spend with Zevon and my parents here. I miss them terribly. 
  • John and I celebrated our 1st anniversary in July. 
  • We went on a proper family vacation to Yosemite in August and stayed at the Bison Creek Ranch. I can't say enough about what that vacation did for my soul.
  • I also completed the 21 Day Drawing Challenge in August. I really loved it. 
  • AND we went to Scare LA in August. Also really loved it. (August was a great month!)
  • In September we spent a weekend camping at deBenneville Pines. 
  • Our honorary family member Keara was married in October and John officiated. 
  • I keynoted my first conference in October. 
  • We fostered Darwin in October, our big oafy pit bull. 
  • October ended with DevLearn and Halloween. Enough said. 
  • John turned 40 in November and we did Santa Barbara Startup Weekend as his birthday present. 
  • We officially adopted Darwin in December (which no one was surprised about...).
  • I celebrated my 1 year anniversary of becoming a vegetarian at the end of December.
It was a pretty awesome year, upon reflection. True, I didn't mention some of the big (BIG) challenges we had with the kids or I had with work, or how I spent the better part of November and December sick. I didn't mention my frustration with myself that I didn't learn to play my ukelele, or blog as much as I want to, or to really dig into this big idea that I've been struggling to get off the ground. I didn't mention my car accident and physical therapy. I also didn't mention just all of the "stuff" we celebrated with the kids...concerts, Math Super Bowl medals, plays, talent shows, birthdays. I didn't mention John's four improv shows.

2014 was just really, really busy.

Here's to 2015, to more adventures and more love and more learning. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Are video games the new spectator sport?

For those who are looking for it, the news is everywhere: video games are becoming the new spectator sport. The signs have been there for years, although they were subtle in many cases. I saw them in my own family room, with my kids sitting together and watching each other play. I always thought "how boring," and dismissed it, thinking my kids were probably the only weirdos who would sit and watch other people play a video game that they themselves weren't playing.

But when I think about it, how many times did I stand in an arcade, watching an expert player dominate Mortal Combat? (a lot.) If you ever saw the documentary King of Kong, you'll remember groups of people crowding around a Donkey Kong game, holding their breath as competitors beat level after level after level.

Just a couple years ago, I noticed another phenomenon. My kids were watching other people play video games on YouTube. Sometimes they watched to learn how to beat a level in a game they were struggling with. Sometimes, they just watched for fun. With the arcade gone and more players playing at home, YouTube became the place to observe and learn and go back to your Xbox and try again yourself.

But then, my kids weren't satisfied with just observing...they wanted to record themselves playing and share those videos too. New kinds of videos of game play emerged: color commentary! Some videos featured gamers recording their parents or grandparents playing, the ultimate noobs to laugh at. Other videos featured gamers whose funny quips and engaging personalities helped make them into celebrities in the gaming world. My kids started imagining themselves becoming YouTube stars, simply by recording the games they were playing.

I didn't have a name for this new genre of entertainment, but yesterday saw this article about arenas where you can observe video gamers competing. The term, I found out, is esports, and it's becoming huge. Want more evidence? Game developers and even colleges are now awarding scholarships to top gamers, recruited to play on the school's esports team.

"WHAT?!?! Shut the front door!" (This is an exact quote from me, as I forwarded the story link to my teenagers...)

But if you think about it, it makes sense...while kids used to spend hours and hours on the basketball court practicing to make it into the NBA (some still do, for sure), more and more kids are spending time in League of Legends or Minecraft. It logically follows that stars would emerge and systems to reward the best gamers would be created. And, as we do with professional basketball players, we want to watch the best gamers compete and flex their finely tuned hand/eye coordination against each other.

I'm not sure that we'll see our cities' football stadiums converted to gaming stadiums any time soon, but don't count out esports as our future national pastime.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Finding seashells

Life. I don't know why I'm constantly amazed at how it gets in the way of the important work of reflection. November was such a tough month, and also a fantastic month, but the end result was no blog posts. I logged in today because I wanted to write another post, but first I need to write this one.

When I started Tandem Learning in 2008, I used blogging to document my founder journey. Over the years, it has evolved to be less about selling and documenting my professional journey, and more about documenting MY journey. I now write about things that move me, interest me, challenge my thinking and this blog is my documented reflection time, my place and space to dump out the clutter in my brain and try to make sense of it with words and grammar and, sometimes, editing.

I still think of blogging as a release and synthesis, and am shocked that anyone at all reads what I write. Sometimes I write when I'm angry or frustrated or sad and I don't know how else to process my feelings. Sometimes I write when I have an epiphany and need to write it down. Sometimes I write because I'm preparing for a service at USSB and this is my "writing repository," so I post it as a blog post. Sometimes I still use this blog for professional observations, critique and sharing. The key theme for all of my blog posts is reflection and learning. Reflection is how you process and learn, thinking back on situations or emotions and giving them meaning. What am I learning? What does it all mean?

So when a month goes by and I haven't blogged at all, it makes me pause. Am I learning as much without that point of reflection? How am I synthesizing everything that is happening without taking the time to write about it and give it meaning?

More than a month has gone by. In that time, I've experienced major shifts in my professional life, witnessed great achievements from my kids. I've participated in another startup weekend. And in the
world...Measure P was voted down. Ferguson. The Rolling Stone article on campus rape and UVA. GamerGate. Eric Garner. Thanksgiving. My amazing husband turned 40. Maybe it's just been too much to process. Maybe it's too early to reflect. Maybe it's easier when there is so much going on to just be, to let it wash over me and recede like ocean waves, to wait and see what remains washed up on the shore, those bits of shell and beach glass that remain. It's time to pick up and examine those bits, the important things that move me and change me.

I don't know if the storm is over, but it does feel like it's time to reflect and discern meaning. It's time to do the work. It's time to blog again.