Monday, 24 November 2014

What's Happening... At ClassDojo? Motivation, Media and the Facts

As the ongoing search for "Product Market Fit" continues I've found it useful to stop and take stock. In this post I share some of the lessons learnt... and let people know why I have no problem helping and supporting a few EdTech organisations that I am not involved with.

I've been reviewing the goals that I set myself two years ago, along with some of the ideas that I've bounded around with my PLN to try to determine why these projects didn't get the necessary buy in and to assess the best course of action going forward.

I've reviewed and am updating various projects and reports, including my Twitter in FE report, Business Development Ideas for FE and my Technology report.

By happy coincidence I've been updating this while reading Nick Bilton's book about Twitters early days "Hatching Twitter" and the trials and tribulations that it took to hatch that inoffensive (And what some would call pointless) little "What's Happening?" text box... A text box that's changed the world.

I don't know why I thought this, but I had assumed that Twitter was one of those companies that had a charmed existence... one that found it's "Product Market Fit" straight away and was an overnight success. No chance! Those companies don't exist. Twitter when through many of the same painful growing pains that any other young company goes through.

I imagine that I will be discussing this book in a number of future posts, today I want to focus on;

1) The roll out process of Twitter, and
2) The role that the vision and motivations of the founders had with the roll out

I would then like to apply these ideas to ClassDojo to highlight why I'd encourage educators to also show their support... Which they are already doing.

Roll Out & Product Market Fit
There is one comment from Hatching Twitter that jumped out and appealed to me a great deal;

"If people are going to embrace these new technologies, they will do so of their own accord, not because a company willed them to"

We get a clear example of this from the data when reviewing my Twitter in FE report. When I wrote this report 2 years ago just over 50% of colleges included Social Media icons on their homepage... Today all but 16 do!

How many FE conferences has Twitter sales people attended? How many sales calls or presentations have they made to individual colleges? None?

Like other successful companies the product sold itself. Here's Google Founder Larry Page's attitude towards marketing;

It was only when a product stopped working better than the competition that branding became a factor. By then you'd already lost. For a long time, Larry refused to even use the B word - because "branding" implied that the technology alone was insufficient for success.... Larry made it clear "If we can't win on quality, we shouldn't win at all" In his view, winning by marketing alone would be deceitful, because it would mean people had been tricked into using an inferior service against their own best interests" Doug Edwards, I'm Feeling Lucky

The trend is a familiar one with the top tech companies, we saw Apple pay get 1 million users in the first 72 hours of being launched.

There are not too many EdTech companies that can be included in the list of "Companies who have enjoyed rapid roll out because of product market fit" but ClassDojo is one of them.

Motivation & Vision
Something that always stands out with the founders of companies with this kind of growth is that their motivation and vision drives them, often at their complete disregard for revenue... at least when you compare revenue with this vision and the quality of the product/service.

"Ev had know all along that it had never been about the money... It was about making a dent in the universe." 

For Ev making a dent included giving people a voice. I did not know that Evan Williams was the founder of blogger, Twitter and Medium. Blogger and Twitter have become my window to the outside world. After reading some of Evans "Inside Medium" posts, as well as checking out some of the features of Medium, I will be using Medium and letting Educators know why it makes sense to use it for students too.

In Hatching Twitter another founder, Biz Stone, appears in the book to be unmoved by the power of celebrity or governments trying to influence any of Twitters decisions.Today Biz is supporting students through the fantastic "Circle the Schools" project and the Biz and Olivia Stone Foundation.

These 2 founders managed a team of 35 people from 2006-2009 and had made it onto the Time 100 Most Influential People and the Oprah show, as the service went from sending 5,000 Tweets a day in 2007, to 300,000 in to 35 million a day in 2009 (Noah Glass and Jack Dorsey also founded Twitter but were not always involved in the day to day operations).

What would Twitter be today without sticking to this vision? A mouth piece for mainstream media because they decided to sell to the first suitor? A plug in for Facebook? A forum that has the same kind of cosy relationships as other media moguls?

To use just one example that is topical for the ClassDojo founders, Twitter and Facebook took a very different stance with regard to user privacy. One of these companies appear to be doing what they like and using it data for ads; the other stuck to their guns and their vision.

Uber Annoying
All of these game changing companies start out with a handful of staff and I find it amazing to consider what these small but determined groups achieve... especially when you compare it with the status quo!

Twitter had 30 staff and millions of users and Tweets, ClassDojo has less than 50 staff and 35 million users. Give me these innovators over the 600 MPs who spend their days sitting around and arguing amongst themselves which party is the least useless any day of the week!

Here's an example, this week a few MPs dropped in at the annual Association of Colleges Conference, no doubt to remind delegates how great they and their party's education policies were... meanwhile over at Parliament Square students were protesting, some of whom were being beaten and arrested for protesting. Unsurprisingly, the mainstream press didn't cover the protests.

However, the press have picked up the issue student data and privacy with ClassDojo recently.

On Monday I saw an article called "Privacy concerns for ClassDojo and other tracking apps for school children" (NB Not including the link here demonstrates my contempt for the article).

Following the horrendous coverage of the Scottish Independence Referendum, the first thing that I think of when I see any news article these days is "Why is this publication producing this story? Why now? What's the angle? ClassDojo has been growing rapidly for a few years now, what's happened? A leak with some student data?

Nope. It might be argued that the press is at odds with any Silicon Valley tech companies who stores user data because of one company. This focus on ClassDojo may have been inspired by the ridesharing app Uber "Uber taken to task over anti-journalist privacy debacle," so are journalists turning on any startup that holds data?

Class Act
Please don't see this post as me dismissing the seriousness of the privacy debate but. However, the fact is that you simply do not grow to 35 million users with 1 in 3 US schools using a service in 2-3 years, without getting an a lot of things right... and from the outset!

The press articles I've read detail that ClassDojo developed their service AFTER interviewing and collaborating with educators! Their market research highlighted that class behaviour was one of the biggest issues.

I was not surprised to see the education community come out to rally round in support of ClassDojo. I am happy to add my voice in support of them, and I would ask anyone reading this to circulate this ClassDojo response to their followers: What the New york Times Got Wrong

It is also my belief that ClassDojo can actually turn this negative press into a positive and that their growth plans will not be affected by this negative press. I will be exploring some ideas in future posts.

In the mean time we have seen what negative PR can do around the privacy debate with InBloom and, as Barak Obama says in the Audacity of Hope, "I am whatever the press say I am"

So I would encourage educators to explore the facts around this story, compare any privacy concerns with ClassDojo's own data policies, look into the motivations and visions of the founders and, as always, the proof is in the pudding... Go ask the ClassDojo users and mentors about their experiences with this student behaviour tool... as well as the responsive bevhaviour of the company to educators ideas.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Start Up Education - Some Practical Examples

Twitter, Facebook, Ello, MyBook, School Circles
...Never Ending Innovation
Recently I've blogged about the importance of independent education institutions like academies/charter schools and the role that can play in Education reform, as well as their involvement with corporate organisations. These ideas have been discussed since I opened my blog, but recently I've focused on Newlands Junior College.

In this post I want to highlight that how and why this isn't a case of bias, but more an issue of size and autonomy...Having similar attributes to a startup enables these schools to do things that other types of schools may struggle to implement.

This isn't meant as a criticism, it happens in all sectors and even Tech giants can be susceptible... Yahoo was once the undisputed king of search, that was until "The little Engine that could" came along aka Google. Today there is speculation about whether or not Ello will unsurp the mighty Facebook.

I opened my blog as I wanted to highlight the importance of collaboration with various members of the community, as this appeared to be a differentiating factor between privileged private education and deprived inner city schools. My argument (In the form of a mini-novel)) was that "It Takes a Village to Raise a Child"

My most read blog post is "Start Up Education" which details what educators and EdTech companies can learn from each other. Given my interest in more collaboration involving a variety of stakeholders and exploring new ways of engaging our students I am extremely excited to hear about;

2) San Francisco's #OneCity initiative (especially their "Circle the Schools" project), and 
3) Some of the things that Activate Learning is doing.

But does any excitement and support for these alternative models mean that I don't value "traditional" schools and colleges and less? Absolutely not! Quite the opposite!

I'm supportive of these schools and colleges because their fresh perspective means that they are unencumbered by tradition, and their size and autonomy means that they can very quickly drop what isn't working and focus on what is.

These lean organisations are more likely to be the pioneers who can help with edreform that all educators can benefit from (For the same reasons I cite in my EdTech report). These schools are not necessarily "better." But having the freedom of effectively being a start up just makes them different and, arguably, this difference makes them better placed to test new ideas. 

Trapped in a Blender...?
"You are shrunk to the height of a penny and thrown into a blender. Your mass is reduced so that your density is the same as usual. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?

This is one of the first questions that greets readers of William Poundstones book, Are you Smart Enough to Work at Google?

On first inspection this may sound like a silly interview question but (after had giving up thinking of a reasonable answer) I looked at the back of the book... and thought the rationale for the question was fantastic!

If you were shrunk to the size of a penny, your body mass would be reduced and you'd be strong enough to leap like Superman, right out of the blender.

Poundstone goes on to explain that the question is a metaphor. The growth of a company is all about change of scale. Solutions that work when something is small does not necessarily work as its scope expands.

Social Media
The issue of social media in mainstream education demonstrates this very well. I'm updating some college data at the moment, while reading Nick Bilton's book "Hatching Twitter"

Twitter started out as "a fun side project" but the companies main service floundered, and the founders found their "product market fit" was adjacent to what they were working on. Dave Feinleib observes this is typical in "Why Startups Fail" and the importance of testing new ideas... which is easier for smaller organisations;

"Changing the focus of a startup is not like the metamorphosis of a traditional business - Like trying to turn a high end clothing store into a construction company. Instead it is more akin to altering the type of food a restaurant serves. Although the cuisine the customers are served changes, sometimes drastically, the same chefs and wit staff can be used to make and serve it." Hatching Twitter

Today educators dominate Twitter, thanks to the trailblazers who explored the medium and became advocates of micro-blogging. But the coverage and uptake remains patchy in places.

A few years ago I compiled a list of College Twitter accounts and discovered that around 50% of UK colleges had Social Media icons on the college homepage. Today almost all colleges have a Twitter account and an icon on the homepage. Quite an impressive roll out! But the process followed the same pattern  

1) Early Adopters who pioneered Twitter... Who was the first educator on Twitter? Can you imagine the resistance did he/she get when trying to convince colleagues of the benefits of micro-blogging?

2) Early majority: as EdChat's started to appear others would have joined in

3) Late majority: We now have events like connected Educator Month to try to encourage people to get connected

4) Laggards... Pockets of resistance remain. While colleges have gone from blocking to displaying social media on their webpages there is still an on-going struggle to get all members of staff to get the value of social media, blogging and collaborating with the outside world. 

While connected educators continue to encourage the laggards, I wonder if these new, smaller institutions have had the same discussions and challenges regarding social media. We are seeing that some of these schools welcome any and all kinds of collaboration with various's encouraged and (in some cases) is even part of the curriculum. 

No-one would suggest that we use students as guinea pigs to test new ideas in education, but we still need to innovate given the pace of change. Pioneers who are ready, willing and able to innovate is more crucial than ever. This is easier to do in small, autonomous groups than in larger, more bureaucratic one.

When these new models come with a "Cast Iron Guarantee" of a college place or a job, what's the worst that could happen? Especially when the provision is for students who are already disengaged with education!

Ello Facebook
These issues are not confined to Education, there is a lot of buzz about the latest Social Media platform Ello, whether this will become a serious contender to Facebook remains to be seen.

If Ello does unsurp the incumbent market leader, it will be for the same reasons we should be excited about these new, smaller education models: they are not constrained by the task masters of the old guard (Ofsted) and traditional group think (Politicians).

The major appeal of Ello's "Value Proposition" is around an ad-free platform and guarantees around personal data. These are areas that Facebook may struggle to compete with because of its size, the number of employees it needs to pay, the members of the board and stockholders that they are now accountable to. Advertising is a key part of their strategy and it will be difficult to back track.

Activate Learning
While I am a huge advocate of 1) some new education models, 2) more collaboration and joined up thinking, 3) various stakeholders being more involved (Even sharing space), 4) business involvement and the importance of mentors...

Activate Learning
It's a bit of a culture shock when you encounter it.

When updating some FE College information I came across a very different website and model and it took a moment to get used to... It's definitely not you're typical setup!

But if Jane Jacob and Steven Johnston are right, and I believe they are, then the diversity of having secondary, further and higher education, along with workforce training,management consultancy and social enterprise is no bad thing.

In my opinion it's this kind of connectedness that gives private education the advantage, as all stakeholders work toward the shared goal, and taking a holistic approach around doing what's best for the student.

Given the pace of change in the workplace (along with the resistance to change in Edu) I think there is value in having smaller, diverse, autonomous and determined groups pioneering new ideas in education as well as the large, slow, bureaucratic, homeogenus organisations that the government likes to constrain with outdated assessment methods. If anyone disagrees with this suggestion I'd encourage them to check out "Waiting for Superman

I'm a huge fan of all educators, but I also enjoy working with visionary early adopters who question and disrupt the status quo. I feel the models above are better suited to explore and pioneer new ideas, which others will are able to follow once the case studies have been established.

Now how to get some of these Silicon Valley tech companies to roll "Circle the Schools" out to other areas? Hmm, let me think... Twitter Maybe? Perhaps some of the One City tech companies could join an EdChat from time to time. Here's a list of EdChats and their moderators

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Occupy Democracy, #The45Plus & Education

The Revolution will not be confiscated
But will it implode on itself?
After spending the last 6 weeks blogging about the Scottish Independence Referendum I find myself getting drawn into the murky world of politics again... and contemplate the value of doing so.

As many of my education followers will be aware I took a departure from my usual content with getting involved with the Scottish Independence Referendum. The reasons for this was not due to any political beliefs but because of the cultural conditions that the referendum helped establish.

However, a lack of leadership by the SNP/Yes Alliance killed the momentum and, along with it, the opportunity. I remained involved longer than I should have. The conditions that had peaked my interest with the change agents and optimists coming together got replaced with the moaners. I got so caught up that I hadn't realised the change and had joined the moaners.

For example, compare the post that I wrote on the day after the Independence Referendum with my last post:

A Pre-Occupied Mind
Image result for the revolution will be televisedJust as I decide to stop writing about politics, I find myself getting drawn in again and for the same reasons as I did with the #Indyref... Not because of politics, but because of the concerning practices and because of the potential for change.

Reading reports about the Tarpaulin Revoluion, the events taking place are very concerning (Which, contrary to the BBC's "The Revolution will be Televised," it most certainly won't be!). But whether to get involved, or not?
  • Job Search: I'm currently looking for work as my startup plans are not going too well, so commenting on anything "Occupy" is a risk.
  • The Political Class: In my professional, personal life as well as my recent foray with indyref politics tells me that politicians simply don't care about listening to "the people" or their concerns.
  • Resistance is futile: We've had low turn outs for elections, occupy movements, riots, recessions, extreme poverty... nothing moves the political class or the status quo
  • Hypocrisy: politicians will praise protests and calls for reform in other countries but "Not in my backyard," (Or should that be not when it affects my wage and expenses)
  • Elitism: and cosy relationships are like something out of Atlas Shrugged
All of this is ironic given ITV Tonight show this week asked "Is Britain Happy" and included soundbites from David Cameron, and his desire to increase the nations happiness. Surely listening to, instead of arresting people for nothing, would be a pre-requisite.

Closed Minds
My interest is with reform in education and, in particular, social mobility. I realise, after much frustration, that UK education is too complex and/or senior managers have become too politicised as I've had more success in the US compared to the UK. 

This was part of my reasons for getting involved with #The45Plus, I thought there might be another way to implement some of the ideas based on what's worked in the past... and possibly on a larger scale.

Some activists and "cybernats" found it bizarre that I would enter political discussions when I had no time for party politics. While I did write over 30 #indyref based posts in a month, the majority of these posts were based on how to develop the right culture that would allow #The45Plus to gain momentum and make some real change...with or without politicians! 

Unfortunately the culture was not carefully cultivated and "The Moaners" moved in, led by some angry publicity hungry politicians. Despite all that is wrong with our politicians and the political process this is the main reason that I hesitate to get involved... because while the movement will gain momentum, it will probably implode due to infighting, caused by a lack of culture. This is the reason I am reluctant to get involved.

Culture Matters
For those that are not aware, the #Indyref #VoteYes people were trending for 2-3 days solid after the referendum, which became known as #The45/#The45Plus. The reason this happened was because ofof the #Indyref #VoteYes and the "Network Effects" and "Positive Feedback Loops" that the campaign created. 

The Network Effects are still there, all anyone needs to do to get them involved again are some "Positive Feedback Loops." But boy! Getting the culture right when you have momentum sure ain't easy when you have a large number of people who are coming together! It's hard enough to do in the workplace... never mind with political activists who all have quite different agendas!

I wrote 29 posts in just over a month based on #The45Plus, most of these were on the importance of culture and/or how to develop a positive culture and the need for unity, which as these posts highlight, can be achieved with some shared identity and a common goal. Pre-indyref these Scots wanted this disintegrated because a lack of unity and no leadership: #The45Plus Where Did it all Go Wrong?
#IndyRef #VoteYes... for Tarpaulin?
How does Scotland go from every man, woman and child talking about politics in every coffee shop, bus, train and water cooler to 70 people attending a devo max rally 4 weeks later?

Sure, this was partly due to the referendum being a huge decision in the nations history, but it was also because of the momentum that was caused from these "Network Effects and Positive Feedback Loops" #Indyref and #VoteYes worked not because it was political, but because it was fun.

Old and new friends congregated at the #indyref water cooler and this diversity of people made it an enjoyable experience. People you know + enjoyable experience = more frequent and longer visits...which attracts new people to create more momentum. 

We saw this momentum post referendum as the first 2 days people gathered to discuss the result and were also asking "What could we and should we do with this network?" when the only people who could lead this, Yes Scotland, didn't turn up the void got filled with angry people.
Did you see Doctor Who this week? "The group is lost and a leader is about to emerge. That leader needs to be you Clara and not the moaner" That's kind of leadership that was missing.

Today the only people visiting #The45Plus are angry nationalists, the fun has gone.

Is there an opportunity for the #indyref #VoteYes and #VoteNo to reclaim #The45Plus? Could it do so while adding other reformers to the group? (As I highlighted in my #The45Plus It's a Mindset post). It may be too late for this "brand" but could there be an opportunity for Parliament Square and #Indyref people to amplify their voices for the movement (regardless of what hashtag is used) to evolve? So that anyone who wants to see reform shares the same space.

In my opinion most of the #indyref people voted Yes because not because they wanted independence from England but independence from Westminster. If the people at Parliament Square were to engage with #Indyref #VoteYes #VoteNo #IndyScot #bbcbias #Bettertogether and vice versa would there be more chance of affecting change? (Although there may be the odd snide comment from some committed cybernats)

Three people to connect with are @Bravemany, @Zen432 & @Tw33tingOwl (Who is English and will be sight seeing around Parliament Square today and was very supportive of #Indyref) 

Be the Change... Because Politics Won't!
What ever happens under the stars tonight without Tarpaulin or pizza boxes to protect from the elements and without the leadership of politicians to protect the democratic right to protest... make sure that the leadership is there to facilitate all the people who are committed to change are under the same Tarpaulin on Social Media after the event so that collectively the change that people want to see remains a possibility.

I will not be getting involved in the political aspect of this movement because I do not believe that politicians will move, it is obvious to me that they have no interest in "Listening to the people." 

I have already done as much as I can by detailing how to work on the culture. If enough people remain together and committed to change through small random acts of kindness (Food banks, supporting small/ethical business, volunteering, mentoring) then the people will lead with so much positive change that politicians will not be able to object.

Then, if successful, in their desperation for popularity politician with then align themselves with the cause, and will probably end up trying to take ownership and credit for it too.

I'll leave you by converging my interests with education, the potential for change these political activists have and organisational culture by quoting a change agent I admire, Peter Sheahan and his colleagues who suggests that educators need to "Stop Lobbying and Start Changing" which is from:

Talent Magnets: Attracting and Retaining Young Teachers Through Courageous Leadership and Inspiring Cultures

Whether educators, rebellious startup, #The45Plus, Occupy if you're interested in the right kind of change with the right kind of culture please do get in touch. We all need to Collaborate... as if our country depends on it!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Newlands Junior College: Optimism Bias... Or Pessimistic Vibes?

Newlands Junior College
I have not always been a fan of having a sales background.Today I am proud of my sales experience and my abilities. What changed? Today I only sell projects and ideas that I believe in... Actually, I don't sell anything! I put forward an argument for projects that encourages people to "Buy into" an idea once I've outlined the benefits.

Today I hope to encourage educators to "Buy into" the idea of Newlands Junior College in Glasgow which opens today. I will detail the benefits to educators and encourage people adopt some "Optimism Bias" towards this new education model.

First, what's my association with Newland Junior College? I tried to contact Jim McColl when I first heard about the college a few years back, but didn't hear back from anyone. How much do I know about the college? I've been on their website and read a few press releases about the model.

Why try to encourage buy in for this college when I'm not involved and don't know a great deal about it? Because;

1) I like what I see. I mean I really, really like what I see! The model ties in with a lot of my findings
2) I have a standing offer of "How can I help" anyone involved in education.
3) I'm gloriously and unashamedly "overly optimistic" about the potential of this College.
Social Selling & Newlands Junior College: Sharing my experiences with FE 
I have enough evidence to believe that this will be the source of education reform within Scotland, the UK and maybe even globally.

Education & #The45Plus: A Culture Experience
My blog has been taken over by politics over the last month, the reason for this is because I had realised how little progress I was making in my attempts to make a difference in Further Education. I saw in the #Indyref #VoteYes and #The45Plus a forum where I could implement some of these ideas... and on a larger scale.

Three of my #Indyref posts were on the potential that I saw in this network. Then 19 posts were in some way related to the importance of culture when establishing this network. Like a handful of other people, I tried to influence the culture of the forum, but the attempts turned out to be futile.

I am extremely grateful for this experience! It has reminded me:
  • How fragile culture is
  • How easy it is to shatter
  • How it must be constantly monitored and cultivated 
Culture! Culture! Culture!
More importantly than anything this reminded me that culture is the responsibility of every member of staff and every stakeholder. In education, a single negative event or soundbite in the press involving a student, parent, politician or member of staff and the culture can be badly affected and difficult to repair.

Carefully cultivating culture is the reason Zappos offers staff a months wages to quit after the induction period. This is why members of the Apple 2 team were given an Apple PC during induction, if they used it they got to keep it... if they didn't they were sacked.

How can you improve on a product that you don't use? Compare this with politicians preference for elite schools for their children and the Education Secretary's advice to Headteachers of "Stop whinging" (See P19 Culture in FE Report), or tenure in the US and "The Lemon Dance"

My frustration with politicians because of what they had simultaneously created and then destroyed with #The45Plus led me to write two posts exploring the contribution to education, the built environment and the economy compared with business people.
Scanning through my bookshelf looking for advice, reflection or even a bit of escapism could only ever lead to one destination: Ayn Rand.

Over-Optimism and Over-Confidence
I am re-reading "Atlas Shrugged" at the moment and this comment from Rand's journal jumped out at me;

"Dagny's error is over-optimism and over-confidence... she thinks she can do more than an individual actually can. She thinks she can run a railroad single-handedly, she thinks she can make people do what she wants or needs, by the sheer over-abundance of her own energy; she will show them how, she can teach them and persuade them, she is so able that they'll catch it from her... This can't be done. This is her crucial error. This is where she fails" Ayn Rand, Journal April 18, 1946.

Now I know plenty of people have issues with Rand and her philosophy, so please allow me to put Dagny Taggerts plight in the context of less divisive and more practical example.

If we look at Rands character within Dave Logan's "Tribal Leadership" scale we will find that Dagny Taggart is a Stage 5 leader working with Stage 2 Teams. She only wins when she collaborates with other Stage 5 leaders before, eventually, switching to work with Stage 5 teams permanently... these teams are capable of changing the world.

These teams also don't need to be big, Silicon Valley, HP and Google all started out with 2-3 people. Unfortunately I am not in contact with too many Stage 5 teams (few people are as only 2% of organisations operate at Stage 5), but I sure do support them when I see them.

Stage 3 Teams:"I'm great... You're not" The attitude of most teams
There is plenty of information out there to detail how to make culture work for any organisation that is interested in the topic. But few organisations seem to be. 

For example, I contacted 4 senior members of the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) as I felt the current course of action could be improved. In particular I felt that that the culture could be affected in a more efficient manner with the adoption of technology. (See FELTAG Cultural Considerations and The Problem with FELTAG)

I made sure my voice was heard as any concerns I had about about one of FE's entrepreneurship projects went unheard. This project has cost the sector £3.5 million... and not a great deal to show for it. (See The Problem with Gazelle)

How was my FELTAG input received? One person ignored me, one person (who I had liaised with for over a year) requested that "we cease communications"; 2 people said they would value my contribution... but never came back to me or responded to any follow up emails.

I have spend the last 2 years trying to make some new ideas work and have had to abandon the plans I was working to because the culture simply wasn't right. (See Leaving FE)

Unity Matters
Culture matters. Unity Matters. Collaboration Matters. These are in short supply between some education stakeholders... check the social media feeds and see what the employer/employee relations are like in Education. There is very little unity or collaboration between educators and politicians.

In my various attempts to make a difference I have been guilty of "Optimism bias." I have myself to blame. I've met MIT's Bill Aulet on three occasions over the last 4 years and each time he's advised me "EdTech is tough." So I was warned... but I have no regrets.

When people judge their chances of experiencing a good outcome - landing a big account, getting promoted, having a successful marriage, making a good financial investment - they estimate their odds to be better than average. When they consider something bad happening, they assume odds lower than what they estimate for others.

Optimism bias inflates over-confidence. It is the reason that 90% of drivers think they're above average behind the wheel of the car. It's why almost all newlyweds believe there is 0 chance of their marriage will end in divorce, even when they know that 50% of marriages self-destruct.

It's the reason new restaurants in big cities continue to open, despite well documented failure rates as high as 90%. Restaurants know the numbers, but they do not think they apply to them. In regarding ourselves, successful people tend to be optimists. (A good thing too. Without it, people wouldn't get married, or plunge their life savings into a startup. A society that doesn't take risks based on optimism is doomed).

But something happens to our optimism when we stop evaluating ourselves and begin evaluating our peers chances of succeeding. We're not as optimistic when we take ourselves out of the equation. In fact, we can become pessimists and cynics. As evidence, gauge your level of optimism when you present one of your cherished ideas in a meeting. It should be high. 

Compare that to your level of optimism when an arch rival presents his or her best idea in the same meeting. It's probably not as high. Part of this is predictable envy and competitiveness; we don't mind a rival succeeding, but not more than us or at our expense. Part of it is the difficulty in being optimistic about someone else's abilities where we have no control over the outcome. 

But much of it is simply our failure to be generous in extending our optimism to others. That's the downside of "Optimism Bias." We may see everything that could go wrong with the other persons idea while remaining blind to what could go wrong with ours. It's not a quality that we should hang on to.

If we can take the positive spirit inside us toward what we are doing now and extend it to what other people are doing - in other words, make our optimism contagious - then each of us has a better chance of becoming a person who can rise from a setback that might crumble others, a manager who doesn't yield to the standard cynicism and negativity, and a leader whom others will follow. Marshall Goldsmith, Mojo

Newlands Junior College
In my previous post I detailed how a culture of suspicion, mis-trust and cynicism between educators and politicians can lead to good ideas being dismissed (along with bad presentation, questionable implementation and poor roll out)

This poor politician/educator relationship has led to some unfair comparisons with state and charter schools/academies in the US and UK. I don't think it is a fair comparison because one has the autonomy to set the culture, the other I think has too much "history" to foster the right culture.

Untangling this history is a messy business and you'd be forgiven for throwing your hands up and saying "Let's scrap it all and start again." Something that I think both politicians and educators might agree on!

We can see this as Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has blocked inspections of Academy Chains while State Educators had #EndOfOfsted trending over the weekend, the source appears to be this article The Entire Schools Inspection Culture is the Problem

But different treatment between academies and other schools will only add to any animosity and comparisons. Just because a charter school has the autonomy to set the culture, this is not to say that they will set the right culture. The wrong culture along with rolling academies out too quickly could be disastrous... as we are already seeing in the UK and US.

However, just because the relations between policy makers and state educators is low due to politicians making questionable decisions... is it fair to be cynical or envious of a new education model?

New & Alternative Edu programme: Isn't that the Reform we are all keen to see?
My plans in UK education have not panned out. I have suffered for the same reasons that educators do. It's been exta-ordinarily difficult for me over the last 4 years... Especially the last 2-3 years.

But am going to take Marshall Goldsmiths' advice regarding "Optimism Bias" and wish Newland's Junior College every success!

Furthermore, I would like to extend an offer to pass any ideas I have had over the last few years to the college... and to assist in any way I can with the implementation of any projects they might feel is worth exploring further.

I would strongly encourage my education contacts to do the same, and not even out of any sense of alturism or optimism, but because I think that if you let them... they just might save your bacon!

How Newlands Junior College Can Help Other Educators
Please allow me to back this statement up by demonstrating why by challenging some of the concerns/criticisms from this "Businessman Jim McColl's vision for non-academic pupils" article.

"Some teachers are enthusiastic about the concept. Others are more skeptical and see potential risks: for instance, taking a child out of a school where they are settled and have friends is always something of a risk"

If a student is disengaged with school, what kind of friends will there be the potential for them to be settled in with? Are they likely to "Fall in with the chess club?" or "Fall in with the wrong crowd?"

Steve Jobs parents MOVED TO A DIFFERENT TOWN because his parents were worried that young Steve was getting in with a bad crowd. Is part of KIPP schools impressive results for the same reason? Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it might do:

"To become a success at what they do KIPPSTERs have to shed part of their own identity because the cultural legacy they have been given does not match their circumstances – not when middle and upper class families are using weekends and summer vacations to push their children ahead. Their [KIP students]communities do not give them what they need. So what do they have to do? They give up their evenings and weekends and time with friends – all the elements of their old world – and replace them with KIPP" Malcolm Gladwell, Blink

The largest teachers union the EIS says it is not opposed to the creation of the junior college but is not a cheerleader for it either.
Why not? Unions like EIS should be cheering from the rafters! A counter culture like this could wring in the changes across the board. NJC will have an open door policy and I hope this will be a well trodden path for reformers at other schools and colleges. 

Maybe it will even act as the kind "free space" that change agents need in order to wring in the changes... This kind of space is vital for reform! (For more info see "Twitter #EdChats: Chat or Change?).
A spokesman said that while the motivation behind it was sound it seemed to duplicate some of the work of existing partnerships between schools and colleges and some of the Wood Commission's recommendations.

I don't mean to be controversial but... Seriously? Are you kidding me? The mismatch between education and employment is a HUGE concern! 

I've seen reports like the Wood Commission since I've been involved with FE. All these reports seem to do is keep civil servants in a job! Who better to make up a curriculum around the job market and establish links with industry than a captain of industry* 
* With the right motivations and the right level of due diligence! As NJC appear to have. 

How many jobs have those involved with the Wood Commission created compared with Jim McColl? Here are 4 examples to back up any controversy about this kind of suggestion;

We have so many local and national enterprise, entrepreneurship, LEPs, career advisors and apprenticeship schemes that they are coming out of our ears... all producing fancy reports, but I do wonder about the value of it all... or the return on investment (or the level of collaboration!)

The union said that they did not oppose philanthropists like Mr McColl supporting education but believed proper funding of the state system was the best way to ensure consistent high quality provision.
I'm not sure that I agree with this. Not because of anything that the school is doing, but the culture between the various stakeholders. There needs to be unity. Unity isn't easy. It's hard work!

In my opinion, there is too much suspicion and cynicism between teachers and other stakeholders whether parents, governors, Ofsted, politicians or employers. Surely it's difficult to have Maverick Buccaneering Head Teachers when the the culture is this fragmented.
It can feel as though educators are under fire by everyone, this is not something that I am trying to do here. Quite the opposite! It takes a village to raise a child... this is why I believe that private education works so well.

But the villagers that used to raise the children in the inner cities have all gone. From what I can see NJC is going to be connecting the first cohort of students to some new villagers through mentors and guaranteed progression. 
With this new, lean and unencumbered school there will be new learning ideas and methods. Mr McColl and Mr White have already stated that NJC will complement, and work in tandum with, the state sector and has a guarantee of an apprenticeship or College place for students.

This will assist FE with admissions... this is a win-win situation for all stakeholders are this may have been a group of young people who could have otherwise dropped out of the education system.

I do not think that the stakes could not be higher for FE either. It is my belief that FE is in a state of decline and risks some serious threats from new suppliers, so collaborating with a small independent college could deliver significant benefits. Need evidence of this?
Compare this with this article about Southern New Hampshire University: How a Tiny Struggling Uni Became the Amazon of Education.

There will be more posts and reports detailing why I feel this college is a good idea. For the moment, I hope that I have put a convincing argument forward for educators accept Newlands Junior Colleges' open invitation to visit the college and to collaborate with them.

Newlands Junior College... It's gonna be big!
Newlands Junior College