Found this to be intriguing… you might too. Our kids are going to face a lot of changes in the world of work as the make decisions moving forward. I think, despite its commercialization, this video provides some fodder for thought.



Meaningful Meetings


Photo of displeased businesspeople looking sternly at snoring man at presentation
I was recently asked to outline the meeting processes I use to work with a fairly large team.  We all understand the sentiments of the gentlemen in the picture. I admit, it’s happened to me. It starts with a loss of conscious attendance. I look down at my notes or my laptop and the lines start to blur. In the back of my head, I know I’m dropping off so I fight it, grit my teeth, look up and take in my surroundings. I’m sure I’m going to be ok only to be suddenly jolted awake by the gravitational pull on my head as I slump toward my keyboard.

I manage teams and frequently my days are one giant blur striding between meetings or waiting behind my screen in my home office for another video conference. I’ve read a few blog posts, digested a few articles and taken advice from my peers to come up with a strategy that allows me to deal with the madness of meetings and keep teams from doing the head nod.

The teams I work with have a few components. I have members that are the feet in the street supporting end users on site daily. I have another group whose work is about supporting district wide applications or services.

Here’s my strategies:

Part 1 – Whole Team

a) Keep meetings as short as possible – just because they are scheduled for the hour, don’t feel compelled to create an hour long agenda.

b) Start on time – honor the fact that people are there and on time. Those that are late need to be held accountable for their actions – call them on it.

c) Use bullet rounds – I use a Google form to collect items from the team that need to be discussed. They submit in advance of the meeting. The items presented are things that impact a large part of the team. Items that affect sub-groups are pushed to a break out after the meeting so that no one in the room is disengaged. Here’s a pic of the form we leverage.

Bullet Round Form PicThe Team Member lists the person most affected by the submission. (“All” is a choice.) Submitted by identifies the person bringing the information forward. Type – well, that’s obvious. Information items are submitted and only brought up in the bullet round if clarity is required.  Location – we have 42 sites that are supported… location provides a place to pinpoint where the issue resides (again, “All”) is a choice. Issue again is self-explanatory and a spot for additional notes is available.

Meetings are chaired by a member of the team other than the recorder or me. It’s difficult to be fully engaged in the meeting and chair or take notes, so that work is delegated. Each chair takes control for 4 meetings and then delegates the next chair. The chair’s job is pretty simple: KEEP the Meeting Moving!

The bullet round items submitted online are reviewed in the meeting with the chair calling on the submitter to address their items. Follow up is recorded on the Google Spreadsheet tied to the form and any items dealt with in the meeting are highlighted in green and remain on the list until the start of the following meeting.  It is the responsibility of the team member that submitted the item to be relentless about its solution.

Once the items are completed, the chair asks each person if they have any additional information to be reviewed. If required, they submit the item to the list. Team members may pass and frequently most members do pass as the expectation is that their items are recorded.

Meetings with 35 people have lasted only 12 minutes and sometimes are as long as an hour. Typically the longer ones are necessary because team brain-storming regarding a controversial or difficult issue has arisen. What we’ve found is the meetings, for the most part, actually get shorter over time.

We often have a draw or celebrate some milestone to end the meeting.

Everyone quickly disperses.

Part 2 -Feet in the Street Team

Right after the bullet round. feet in the street team members gather for a short conversation to brainstorm solutions or get mini professional development sessions. These are focused and short as their desire is to get back out to their sites. They pull in other team members as needed to find resolution to their concerns.

Part 3 – Central Team

Central Team members take a short break and then return to provide the two priorities for the week. We have an ongoing spreadsheet and the expectation is their two priorities for the week are listed. It has a number of impacts.

  1. It causes each member to think about and prioritize the work for the week. Large items move forward every week since the team has to break their work into digestible tasks.
  2. It provides accountability – frequently team members are able to remove their items from the list on a weekly basis. There’s a bit of competition to ensure you meet the demand posted on the screen. The fact that it’s public ensures that the item posted isn’t about being able to erase a line each week. People call each other out if the work posted isn’t reasonable. That’s a part of high performing teams. Lencioni’s work regarding high-performing teams suggests that there is trust and an ability to have safe conflict.
  3. Again, items that are completed are removed and new items are listed.

That’s it. So far this strategy has been successful with a number of teams I’ve worked with.  Meetings tend to have an urgency to them and we’ve been able to keep everyone engaged. I’ve sought feedback and so far it’s been very positive!

Hope this is helpful. Let me know if you need clarity.


Leadership from the field – the boys in stripes

Evolving in leadership can be a life-long journey. My friend Del Litke reminds me that often times nostalgia and amnesia mix together when recalling the good old days.  I think I have this story as best I can remember. All the boys in this picture are now officially in or hitting their 50’s. That’s enough to give my brain a jolt all by itself!

Leadership - Soccer Boys and Stevie Y

Leadership comes in many forms. There are a few sports stars that have had an impact on me. One in particular stands out amongst them. I consider myself lucky to have grown up in the city of Kamloops. It was a place of lakes and amazing skiing, fresh fruit, sunshine and laughter. I spent a lot of time on a soccer field and a lot of that time was with a special group of kids that included my own little brother, Michael and a young Steve Yzerman.

A good friend and I coached these kids together… a couple cocky young men without any formal training in coaching or leadership – just a love of being outside and a willingness to give back.

Stevie Y. was off the planet fast, even at 11 years old. He always had a huge grin on his face – infectious and authentic. The whole team was like that. Outside loving the sunshine and running like crazy doing what it took to win games. They won a lot of games.

I think my co-coach, Steve M, might say otherwise, but we didn’t know a lot about coaching soccer. We knew a lot about running, we could kick a soccer ball, and we both had a lot of enthusiasm… but did we know how to coach soccer at a high level? Not really. What we had was a team of amazing kids with a number of good athletes, a few incredible ones and a whole bunch of kids that LOVED, loved, loved to work hard and have fun.

When a team included lightning fast kids, there were more than a few times that a goal would result because the ball was kicked down the wing and Steve or others would blaze down the sidelines and past the defenders. Steve was incredibly fast. When he caught up to the ball he made no mistake about where it belonged – either on the foot of a player rushing the middle or in the back of the opposing team’s net. He had vision and speed and charisma – characteristics that all of us witnessed regularly as he went on to become an NHL legend and, at the time, the youngest NHL captain ever. He became iconic with the Detroit Red Wings, continues his role in leadership and his legend survives as I watch my own son cheer Detroit after years of brain-washing by his Dad.

Two soccer goals from those  early days stand out. The first was a pass to the head of my little brother who pushed it into the net. I was always hard on my little brother and probably never appreciated his own skill set in those days. Michael is a bit of a genius and he always approaches the world with humility and humour. I just ignored him or was harder on him than any other kid. Good thing he’s forgiven me.

During this particular goal, Steve accepted and then passed the ball from his position on the right wing through a needle’s eye of defenders and placed it so that my brother, a head taller than anyone around him, could strike it past the goalie. It’s something you see a lot of in soccer – but not when kids are 11 and 12 years old. It would have made the highlight reel. Michael redirected away from all other players and into the only spot available. It was a perfect head.

The other goal that stood out was a shot from a corner kick. Steve was probably 12. There was a breeze that day and I remember Steve looking over at us as his coaches. His grin was gleaming and he jerked his head sideways to indicate that he wanted to curve it in. He was 12! Seconds later we were watching the ball banana curve untouched into the far back top corner with every parent in the stadium astounded and two coaches fist-pumping post-shot.

There were many great days with those boys. It was always fun. We laughed a lot, made them sweat like crazy, ran them and ran them because they were never going to be worn out before their opponents and, we won a lot of soccer games. In the middle of it was a team of kids that truly supported one another, that were humble, and unselfish, and classy. And that’s the other side of this story.

I grew up in the boom times in British Columbia. Westsyde (with a y) was known as the wrong side of the tracks before things started expanding. Our soccer league couldn’t match the teams from downtown Vernon and Kelowna. Their teams would show up in matching tracksuits with players’ names sown on the back and every kid would have brand new cleats, their own team bag and personalized water bottle. Our team would show up in red and white striped shirts, a mish-mash of personal shorts of every colour  and more than a few wore the same running shoes they wore every day. The hand me down jerseys were worn out and faded and sporting the stains of a few years of half-time orange wedges squeezed past grins and drooled down chins.

We’d get some looks when we showed up to play. Coach Steve and I were sporting our long hair back then and we often wore sunglasses. I didn’t really feel like we garnered a lot of respect when the opposition found out we were the coaches of the riff raff in red. We celebrated their underestimation.

So, what’s this all got to do with leadership? First, albeit cliche, I think it starts with never under estimate your competition or the power of passion. Thirdly, use communication. The boys on the field were always talking to one another. Whether it was about where the ball should go or  the position of a defender or most importantly the positive cheers they would give to their team mates. Fourthly, leverage creativity. There were some passing plays that caused me to marvel. When you have a group of kids doing things with a soccer ball that demonstrated patience and precision, well that was just fun. These were very young boys understanding the unselfishness of a pass and the need for timing and communication.

There was laughter too – once when the opposition took a shot and had it bounce off the post, our goalie, Brent O., kissed the post and shouted “I’m in love!”

Finally, there’s one more piece. Responsibility…

There’s another kid that I have to apologize to. His name is Mike M. He went on to be a gifted athlete and a great soccer player. One time during practice, we were doing a “last man back” defensive drill” . We wanted to ensure that our goalie was never left without two of our players between him and the ball. Mike, being the consummate learner and star defense, asked what he should do if there was only one man back? I recall telling him to take a penalty if he had to. Well, you can guess the rest of the story. Mike was carded for tripping a player during one of our games. It was a flagrant foul stopping play and ensuring an offender didn’t get past the last man. We pulled him from the game in what must have been an embarrassing moment for him. I can still see him looking at me in shock and shouting “but you told me.”

Mike – I’m sorry.

That’s how all these boys were.

Run a mile! They ran.

50 push-ups! They grunted.

100 ball hops! They jumped like rabbits. Pushing each other, laughing and determined while have a great time.

I had no idea the power my friend and I held as a coaches and leaders of an incredible group of boys. To a member, they took responsibility for their wins, their losses and their mistakes as a team. When Mike was yanked off the field, fellow teammates made a point of letting him know they were behind him. Pats on the back, a few positive comments, and Stevie Y., discreetly letting me know that he was just following orders.

Thanks boys – you taught me more than I taught you. The memories generated by the time spent with you are among my favorites. If you happen to be in the picture displayed above and it gets to you through this post, let me know how and what you’re doing.

It would be great to hear from you.

Lessons learned on a rainy night

I’m in Redmond Washington, the ground is wet and everything is green, green, green. The rain poured onto my bald head and found its way down my neck last night. It was only a short walk to where I went to watch the sports highlights and settle into a meal after a flight and a cab ride to the hotel. As I stepped out of the pouring rain I found a cheerful waitress that settled me into a seat and offered me a beverage.

It was warm and fairly empty… and I guess that was part of the problem. I had just begun to sip my drink when I was approached and then verbally accosted by a patron seeking an audience for a story he had told night after night in that same spot. I was new blood and he needed to share it again.

He reached out and rubbed my wet head, got into my face about the atrocities he had committed and went on at length shouting vulgarities.

There’s a line we all have I suppose. I hesitated to figure out the mental capacity of this person and what was fair to say or do in the circumstance all the while coming to grips with what I was willing to tolerate. I wasn’t the native and so chose to ask the person to leave so that I could have my meal in peace. He was about to become agitated and I prepared myself to respond.

The waitress was the only individual with any presence in the room. She walked over sensing that I had had enough. She addressed the man directly, gave him a choice and ushered him to a stool on the far side of the room. For the duration of my time there, she proceeded to be the buffer between the individual and the rest of the patrons. She jockeyed her work and her directives to ensure the needs of everyone in the place were met, all the while respectfully demanding that our friend left folks alone. Really, it was very impressive.

So how does this tie into leadership or my work in educational technology?

Lesson 1

Never underestimate people – that waitress surprised me. She was a tiny, pretty young girl. And was the most powerful person in the room. Don’t get me wrong… it is never my assumption that beautiful women are not powerful. I’ve been surrounded by them my whole life and continue to respect their work. The surprise was more related to how this tiny girl stood up to this somewhat deranged, larger man. She was assertive, calm and respectful AND she made sure he knew his options and that she wasn’t going to accept any variance.

Lesson 2

Be Tolerant. The gentleman had a story. It was hard to tell if it was true or not. He wasn’t the type of rational person I am used to dealing with… and so it’s a new lesson for me. That young lady modelled the behaviour that I needed to duplicate. I also know I’ve readjusted my own boundaries and will be better prepared for the next time a similar occurrence takes place. And therein lies the rub – I’m surrounded by supportive positive people almost all of the time. My own experience sets up expectations about how people should act. This guy was a surprise and I didn’t even know what to do with it.

At the same time, our friend needed some tolerance. A different person might have been pretty aggressive and the consequences would have formed a different outcome. In my training with Crucial Conversations people respond in two ways when they don’t feel safe – flight or fight. What I knew was I didn’t want an altercation. I just wanted a cold beverage and to watch the sports highlights. And this guy just needed an audience… his methods about getting one weren’t well-received but he had a story and got to this point in his life for reasons far beyond my scope of understanding. Being tolerant was probably the best thing I could have done.

Lesson 3

Be prepared – I am in/near Seattle – it’s going to rain… Sometimes, for someone supposedly so smart, I’m not very bright. I had a toque in the trunk when I left Calgary. It would have kept my head dry.

We get busy in this life. So busy that sometimes we’re not as prepared as we would like to be. As leaders, we need to give ourselves permission to prepare. As I write this, I know my work is leading me to places I haven’t been before, with audiences I haven’t seen and materials I don’t understand. I’ve just scheduled some time to prepare for those circumstances.

Of course, we can’t be prepared for everything, but we can prepare for what we know.

Right now the sun is breaking out of the clouds. I’m off to the Microsoft Campus to do some of that preparation. Bruce Dixon and others interested in the strategic deployment of learning technologies are gathering together to immerse ourselves in the research and best practices to create environments for kids that allow them to leverage technology to improve their learning. The research is international in scope and the exemplars of best practice have been uncovered. The materials include a process that can be adapted and augmented to engage with others related to this topic. It’s going to be a great few days.

To the gentleman that rubbed my wet bald head – thanks for the gift, you provided leading to this reflection. To the rest of you – never underestimate others, be tolerant and be prepared 🙂

Happy Holidays to all of you.

Recent Awards

I’m honored to receive these two awards:

Bob Allison IMG_0118

I’ve been surrounded by great and helpful people all of my career. There’s too many to mention in this post and as I accepted these awards I have to tell each of you that I was unable to accept them as mine alone. Each award includes the tremendous number of other leaders who helped shape my work, deepen my understanding of the importance of quality relationships and support me through my weaknesses while celebrating my strengths.

The Bob Allison Memorial Award

The award, which honours Canadian education leaders, is presented by the Education Team at Microsoft Canada. It is awarded usually only to one recipient. This year was an exception as two recipients were named.

The Alberta Technology Leaders in Education Award

The Pillar Award is usually provided to only one recipient in Alberta. This year’s award was also an exception and I shared the honors with my good friend and colleague Todd Kennedy. The Award honors outstanding contribution to supporting the convergence of Leadership, Education and Technology in the Province of Alberta.


Extraordinary People

My work as a consultant is in full swing. As followers you know that I retired from Foothills School Division this last June. I took a small vacation as a newly retired free agent and went on a small adventure…. Okotoks to Campbell River to Phoenix and back. I haven’t had 30 days of vacation for a great many years. I have to say everyone should try it.

As a part of my excursions I was able to capture the following images…

Some great fishing… there’s a story behind every fish…

Bryce Canyon – a must see for anyone, a must walk for all hikers. Phenomenal!


Zion Canyon – again, a great day of hiking

Grand Canyon – we took the train… then hiked the rim…

We took in the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas as well…

I have to say it was extraordinary. I relished in every moment. From the shock of the opulence of Vegas to the magnificence of erosion and its impact on the landscape.

As the vacation initiated, I had started some work with Elk Island School Division. I tucked in digitally once in a while using Google Hangouts to have dialogue with the team and work toward some solid constructs of moving forward as an organization.

I followed the trip with an excursion to Sherwood Park to work hand-in-hand with the team. I’ll be there for the next number of months. What I’m finding is the dedication that lies inside all the educational organizations I’ve worked with. In the very short time I have been working with this highly motivated group, they have stood upside-down to move and act on the team based initiatives we’ve developed collaboratively. They put in extra time, go the extra mile and engage in difficult conversations in a healthy team-focused way. They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Currently we have two main goals: 1) Develop and align a team that is able to support the explosive growth of learning technologies. 2) To build an infrastructure capable of handling that growth.

We’ve put purchasing of new end user technologies on hold, we’ve prioritized all other efforts as secondary and every day, every member has to answer this question:  what have they have done to move the efforts of the team forward on our two main goals.

The impact has been powerful. We’re unearthing issues, we’re updating systems, we’re simplifying structures, we’re building processes, we’re becoming more efficient and we’re service oriented. And we’re relentless in the pursuit of the two primary goals. The weekly updates demonstrate the progress being made and, with so many hands working on the same goals, change is not the slow process of erosion… it’s a landslide.

You consider the work that the people in the Depression put into making the Hoover Dam. It was extraordinary. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things… in the blazing heat… in a time of shovels and pick axes, and concrete and sweat. They wanted to build something that would have a lasting impact.


Kinda like the team at Elk Island… The toil is different… but anyone working in IT in education knows that it’s not easy work. It’s relentless and takes ongoing team-based efforts.

We’re building our own structure – one that will have a lasting impact on every learner in the system.

That work is being completed by extraordinary people. Enjoying every minute of these efforts.


Skills for Today’s Classroom

I’m working with a group of teachers that are trying out “BYOD” – Bring Your Own Device – in classrooms in Foothills School Division. We’ve learned a lot this year despite the devices being owned by Foothills and not by the students. We tried out Apple iPads, Windows Tablets and some Chromebooks. What we found was that, because they were first out of the gate, there has been a tremendous uptake with Google Edu.

Each teacher had a project as a part of their design work for using the devices and through it, the use of technology changed their teaching both in process and in outcomes.

We’re meeting later today and I’m hoping to get a chance to see how the use of the 33 Digital Skills exercise I’ve put together has changed because of their experiences. (Here’s a link to the skills description now down to a lean 20  and here’s a link to the exercise). It does a couple of things:

  1. Suggests PD for upcoming teacher sessions
  2. Is a measure of our move from consumer to creator.

We’re on hold to move forward on BYOD… still waiting on feedback from parents, etc. The cost of the device is becoming less of an issue as more and more technology is affordable .

I don’t usually add recommendations for vendors but the work I’ve been doing with Collin from BestBuy and Eldon from PCCorp has been more than admirable. Check them out.