Deficient? Detoxing from Negative Framing

equal testing has all animals climb a treeI attended the welcoming reception at the education conference I am at this week – an opportunity for vendors to entice people to their booths with free food. Obviously this works on me because I was there. I enjoy looking for new tools or strategies for our students, so the exhibit hall is a favorite part for me. However, as I went from one booth to another, there was one I hesitated approaching. It was huge, dominating a large portion of the room, but I passed by it several times. I was struggling with first bullet point on their sign: deficiency diagnostics.

Now, I understand the concept of deficiency diagnostics, and the importance of knowing where the gaps are – especially in a mastery-based program like ours. So I forced myself to finally read the rest of the booth’s signs to see if there was anything to redeem the negative feeling.


What’s my hang-up? After years of detoxing kids from negative framing, I find that instead of becoming jaded, I have only become more sensitive. We often get students who see themselves as “deficient” and who need to be “fixed” because of all the things “wrong” about them. It takes time to help them reframe their approach: use their strengths to tackle the challenge areas to the best of their abilities, and focus on their gifts and personal goals to define themselves as the wonderfully unique beings they are.

Maybe there isn’t a better way of saying “deficiency diagnostics” that would fit on a display sign. However, is there a way we can help students recognize and work on areas for growth without them feeling “broken” as a result? Can we – the teachers, parents, and other potential mentors – model this, or are we struggling with this for ourselves?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Also, if you know of any tools, strategies, or other resources that focus on a positive growth mindset, please share them with me.


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Personalized Learning No More?

Words clipart cute kid“I’m not using the words ‘Personalized Learning’ after this session,” said Adam Garry, speaker of the iNacol presentation titled The Possibilities of Personalized Learning. With that title, you can see why he was kind of stuck using the words for at least another hour.

I knew immediately why he felt this way. There were many sessions at the conference with the words personalized learning in the title or description, but much of what was being presented wasn’t really personalized learning.

Blended, differentiated, individualized, and data-driven learning can all be options for a personalized learning experience, but they are not by themselves “personalized learning.”

Has personalized become an empty buzz word? Better question: what makes learning personalized? Answer: the student. Not the curriculum. Not even the teacher. The student.

How much voice does the student have in his or her learning experience? Is the student in the driver seat, setting the goals and choosing how to get there? This can range from selecting from a menu of options that meets the student’s needs, to the student taking the goals and designing a program from the ground up.

I call it personal agency, but I like how Adam summed it up: Voice and Choice.

In the personalized programs I have been part of, students enroll for many reasons, and with many different goals. Some are aiming for university admission and will need to make sure their program is designed for that, requiring more guidance from their coach and instructors. Meanwhile some want to gain specific skills or knowledge and might not even be interested in a diploma; they want to take, even design, the courses that make sense for their goals. For both of those scenarios, and many others, we are here to serve.

However, I am stuck with the question of whether or not we should continue calling it personalized learning. What else would we call it? Maybe we could create an acronym comprised of defining words (personal agency, empowerment, voice, choice, etc.); educators are very good at creating ever-changing lists of acronyms. Or should we just stick with the admittedly over-used terms personalized learning.

What do you think?

Click here for a chart showing how personalized is different from differentiated and individualized learning.


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She Let Go by Reverend Safire Rose

Let GoShe let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear.

She let go of the judgments.

She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.

She let go of the committee of indecision within her.

She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.

Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.


She didn’t ask anyone for advice.

She didn’t read a book on how to let go.

She didn’t search the scriptures.

She just let go.


She let go of all of the memories that held her back.

She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.

She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.


She didn’t promise to let go.

She didn’t journal about it.

She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer.

She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.

She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.

She just let go.


She didn’t analyze whether she should let go.

She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.

She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment.

She didn’t call the prayer line.

She didn’t utter one word.

She just let go.


No one was around when it happened.

There was no applause or congratulations.

No one thanked her or praised her.

No one noticed a thing.

Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort.

There was no struggle.


It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.

It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be.

A small smile came over her face.

A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore…

Lead With Your Heart

heart art background“What is the top advice you would give to younger generations?” I asked Joanne, a retired teacher who did her own share of shaking the system over the years. She was now facing end-of-life type decisions, and while a recent injury had her down, she wasn’t out, and the spark in her eyes in response to my question reminded me of this.

“Lead with your heart,” she said without hesitation. “And I mean lead. I use that word on purpose. Lead.” She explained that “following” one’s heart could create a frustrating situation of never reaching one’s desires. Instead, listen to what makes your heart sing, and then actively go for it. And while you are at it, you might find yourself leading others along the way. Joanne is one of those accidental leaders who make a difference in the world by making their own way.

The creation of personalized education programs, has been series of heart-lead projects, and I have often had people say that they couldn’t do the same thing. They have ideas of what they want, and try to follow paths to reach their goals, but they didn’t realize that leading sometimes means forging your own tools and cutting your path.

When my team and I sat down apply for accreditation for one of those programs, we overshot the mark in what was required because we were diverging from the norm. We were the freaks. The deviants. And six years later? We were the standard. As we worked through the reaccreditation process, we saw the new standards aligning to ideas that were considered radical and even confusing only six years ago.

I’ll went to the iNacol conference as a representative of a school who has been doing the “new” stuff for awhile. Instead of being complacent as the current standard, I wanted to see what more we could do to lead toward continued growth for students.

I would like to hear from you. What’s in your heart? Do you have any suggestions, or struggles that could be addressed in education?


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My daughter wants to be Neil Gaiman, and I’m good with that.

Note Cass left me before taking off on her adventure, promising to not die.

Note Cass left me before taking off on her adventure, promising not to die.

My daughter Cass is traveling the country with a cat named Juan and a chicken named Vanna. I could blame Neil Gaiman, but it’s probably my fault.

Here’s what I think happened.  Over the years, I would frequently ask my daughters the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We would then talk about how they can be anything and many things, even all at once.  And how they could change their minds along the way. It was a question that would inspire smiles, sometimes giggles, and I enjoyed how the answers changed over the years. Physical therapist. Astronomer. Teacher (where’d they get THAT idea?). One of my favorite responses from my youngest daughter, Heather, was “Scooby Doo.”

One day, however, my daughter Cass gave this answer: “Neil Gaiman.” That was the one she finally stuck with into adulthood.  It reflects her varied interests and creative pursuits. She saw a video of Neil advising aspiring writers to go live life, so Cass is on the go, working various jobs and having adventures.  And writing. And hopefully meeting Neil at an upcoming event.

Cass is what Emilie Wapnick would call a multipotentialite – someone with varied interests and creative pursuits. Emilie recently gave a TED Talk on multipotentialities where she explained that “the problem wasn’t that I didn’t have any interests — it’s that I had too many.” She described anxiety of the question, what do you want to be when you grow up (oops – sorry kids!).  However, she explains that this way of being doesn’t have to be a bad thing just because it doesn’t align with our current culture’s ideal of having one single true purpose.

It might even be in line with a reality that’s been around since the Baby Boomers who, per the USBLS, have held on average over 11 jobs in their lifetimes. Now the number of careers – not just jobs, but careers – is reaching the same level in our dynamic society. I know of people who have stayed in the same career so long that they found themselves among the long-term unemployed because their field of expertise or way of doing things disappeared.  Brian Fippinger of Q4 Consulting echoes this observation, and offers some great advice in his article The Job of a Lifetime No Longer Lasts a Lifetime.

The bottom line is that it is more important than ever to prepare students to be lifelong learners.  Being curious, exploring new pathways, and building a diverse resume can be a strategy for our modern world.  And when you ask them that question – as many of you will – use it as an opportunity to also discuss how life is really an adventure with lots of bends and forks in the road.

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Pictures of Cass

Cass and her partner Dan dressed up for a special adventure.

Cass and her partner Dan dressed up for a special adventure.




Cass after participating in a Run or Dye marathon.

Cass after participating in a Run or Dye marathon.




Cass and her kitty Juan on the road.

Cass and her kitty Juan on the road.







Cass has been in 6 or 7 states her first year on the go.






















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