Connections, Uncategorized

How Well Do You Know Your Team Members?


How well do you know the people you work with?  The final day of post-planning our Head of Upper School, Blair Peterson   had everyone participate in a “getting to know you” activity. Actually it was a what are you doing this summer activity.  We lined up in a Soul Train Line  and every three minutes you switched partners.  The final pairing I was with Erin McCubbin.  Erin serves Mount Vernon Presbyterian School as College Counselor.

Over the past few years I have witnessed Erin work her magic.  Assisting students with getting into colleges that are an ideal fit and challenging students to stretch and reach colleges that may not be in their initial pool.  Ms McCubbin has navigated the oceans of scholarships, grants and other forms of financial aid to help families tackle the cost of colleges.  She has also served as a member of the school’s leadership team, mentored students, assisted with debate, expanded the name of the school and has always willingly pitched in throughout campus life.  She is an all around wonderful person and yet I did know her as well as I thought.  After our three-minute Soul Train dance, I was extremely excited about her summer plans.

Erin along with Sam Aleinikoff formed a non-profit and the goal is to empower students to take charge of the college admissions process.  The third weekend in June MAP (Metro-Atlanta Access Program) would be hosting its inaugural Summer Intensive.  Nearly 40 students would be brought to Oxford College at Emory University.  These students would go through a crash course of the college admissions process.


The Summer Intensive

Living and working with students for three days allows us the time, space, and opportunity to cultivate relationships that empower students to begin their college search. The Metro-Atlanta Access Program  provides lessons, resources, and tools that enable each student to build the muscle needed to begin the application process their senior year. We promise that each student will:
  1. Engage meaningfully through sports, talent shows, down time, and meals to build relationships,
  2. Participate in a case study to help visualize the college admission reading process,
  3. Be empowered to brainstorm and develop a working draft of a personal narrative, 
  4. Educate themselves on application and testing fee waivers, financial and merit aid processes and distinction, and scholarships available to high-need families,
  5. Work to build a robust resume highlighting his or her experiences and strengths,
  6. Develop a deep understanding of the high school transcript and its place in the application review process, including GPA calculation and HOPE GPA eligibility, and
  7. Have a customized list of schools to consider at the end of the summer intensive.

After hearing this and visiting the website, my next question was how can I help.  She was generous enough to allow me to serve as an Ethnographer for the weekend.  I captured stories, interviewed students and mentors, tweeted about the experiences and observed the workshops and shared through my blog.   It was an amazing experience for the students and for me.  It allowed me to get to know more about the college admissions process.  My big takeaway was a greater understanding of one of my coworkers who I admired before and know have greater respect.

I mentioned this was the first year of the program.  Sam and Erin started the conversation in January 2016 (this year) and six months later their vision is a reality.  So while Erin was successful assisting students with applications, scholarships and organizing graduation.  While being a member of the leadership team,  mentoring students and successfully completing PhD coursework.  She was able to pull off this program and give students a launchpad for a successful senior year.


I would encourage you to follow the works of Metro-Atlanta Access Program:


Twitter @mapcollege   or  MAP website 

How well do you know the members of your team?




Connections, Education, Ethnography, Reflection, Uncategorized

Summer Choices Create Senior Voices – MAP2016


It is common for students to take the summer off. You have spent 9 -10 months  in intense study, writing epic papers, engaged in higher order thinking and solving the most complicated problems the world has to offer.  So yes you deserve a break and should be allowed to enjoy  summer but what about spending part of your summer investing in your future.  What if 2.5 days of personal investment could catapult you ahead of most rising seniors in the nation.  Day two of the Summer Intensive was spent doing just that.



Students began the morning engaged in Case Studies.  In these case studies they played the role of College Admissions Counselor.  They had to determine if a student should be admitted, denied or wait listed for The University of _______________.  These rising seniors played their role well, analyzing every detail from SAT scores, GPA, personal experiences and extracurricular activities.  The benefit of such an exercise, students can a greater understanding of the admissions process.  Many assumed that GPA and grades were the primary deciding factor.  They were pleased to learn that life experiences can play a role in an admittance and sharing their personal stories during the essay portion can sway the reader’s view.



Learning the value of a well crafted essay was eye opening to many of the Summer Intensive program participates.  So these rising seniors were thrilled to learn they would be able to practice their initial essay.  Gathered in a small group with only their mentor (representatives from College/University admission offices) students wrote at a fevered pace.  From an outside observer you may have thought it was the official SAT or an English final exam.  It was a group of students giving up a portion of their summer to gain insights into the college process.  Learning how to tell your story is a crucial part of life not just college admission. Sharing your life in a way that does not come across as braggadocious or makes you seem mediocre can be tough.  Through quality feedback from their mentors students came away from workshop with a developing first draft.


What happens when your GPA, SAT scores and personal experiences are not enough.  What do you when you crafted your words the best way you know how but it does not get your point across.  Maybe it is time to show demonstrations of interest.  Making a phone call to the university admissions office.  Taking the time to go on an additional college visit.  Maybe when you know the representative of that school is in town setting up an interview.  As a part of day two students participated in Mock Interviews.  The mock interviews lasted ten minutes and then students received immediate feedback.   Hearing pointers around making eye contact but not staring, telling stories with vivid details yet knowing what not to say, and how to be an active listener without seeming insincere.  These soft skills seem like common sense but as student learning  these skills  may be the difference between, “hey we need you at our school” or “we wish you the best during your search.”


The second day involved a lot of think work and personal reflection.  Students analyzed case studies, thoughtfully developed essays and experienced mock interviews.  They learned more about the Common App  and how to use it as a tool to navigate the process thanks to Aba Blankson,  Director of Communications .  Johnathan Hill with ZeeMee demonstrated ways to make their profile come to life and standout amongst other applicants.  So day two saw students exhausted mentally but ready to have fun.  The day closed out with a talent show and then time to relax in preparation for the final day.  

Connections, Education, Uncategorized

The Summer Intensive – Metro-Atlanta Access Program 2016


It is the summer of your freshman year of College.  Each night you are contemplating am i attending  the correct University.  You waited until the last minute to make your decision and settled on an out of state school.   The financial aid office is “dragging its feet” on securing a package that truly meets your needs.  In reality you procrastinated and thought they would understand your tardy paperwork party.  Even as you countdown the days to your first official class, you are already considering transferring closer to home.  You daydream, wandering if only I had attended the Metro-Atlanta Access Program Summer Intensive.  Thankfully this scenario is only a dream, you are currently attending MAP 2016.



The inaugural summer intensive started yesterday with a bang or more like a pop of a balloon.  MAP 2016 will take place June 18th – 20th at Oxford College of Emory University.  The organization’s co-directors, Sam Aleinikoff and Erin McCubbin, are excited to host 40 students from Atlanta Public Schools and Dekalb County Schools. “Living and working with students for three days allows us the time, space, and opportunity to cultivate relationships that empower students to begin their college search.”  The Metro-Atlanta Access Program  provides lessons, resources, and tools that enable each student to build the muscle needed to begin the application process their senior year. We promise that each student will:

  1. Engage meaningfully through sports, talent shows, down time, and meals to build relationships,
  2. Participate in a case study to help visualize the college admission reading process,
  3. Be empowered to brainstorm and develop a working draft of a personal narrative,
  4. Educate themselves on application and testing fee waivers, financial and merit aid processes and distinction, and scholarships available to high-need families,
  5. Work to build a robust resume highlighting his or her experiences and strengths,
  6. Develop a deep understanding of the high school transcript and its place in the application review process, including GPA calculation and HOPE GPA eligibility, and
  7. Have a customized list of schools to consider at the end of the summer intensive.


Aleinikoff and McCubbin will be joined  by  9 college admission officers.  These officers will serve as small group mentors, giving students advice that will definitely impact their search for the ideal college.  The following Colleges and Universities represented:  



  1. Emory University
  2. Georgia College
  3. Sewage: The University of the South
  4. Tufts University
  5. Carleton College
  6. Oberlin College
  7. Centre College
  8. Elon University
  9. Washington College

The initial part of the day began with team building and creating culture,  moments became more competitive as teams battled during College Jeopardy.  Jeopardy served as a foundation for learning as Admission officers began sharing insights about their school and the Admissions process in general.  


Couple of takeaways…

“Finish the Drill.”  Even if it states the essay is optional, complete it.

“Your story matters, stories show personality and voice.”

“Liberal Arts schools teach you, How to Think not what to Think”

So in reality it is the summer leading into your senior year of high school.  You are part of the MAP 2016 program.  You are surrounding by a host of adults who are vested in your future success.  How will you use this weekend to set the tone for an amazing College search.


Connections, Education, Facilitation, Reflection

Come Together For Change

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”  Henry Ford



Being able to experience learning outside of your school’s four walls seems like standard practice for me.  I think it should be required professional development for all teachers to extend their learning.  Each year as a member of MVPS, I have been privileged enough to attend various forms of Professional Development.  My first year, it was the Stanford d.School where I was engulfed by Design Thinking.  The following summer witnessed me walking through the big city of Exeter, New Hampshire as I learned the Harkness Method.  Recently, I traveled through the trails of Boulder Colorado and landed at Traverse 16.  



Traverse ranks as one of my most meaningful learning experiences.  Couple of reasons why, each session was an experience.  Over the course of 2 ½ days I may have been spoken at for roughly an hour.  Each experience was designed to get participates actively involved in the process.  Sessions were three hours long but the time was so well planned it seemed so much shorter.  I went to a session, received the overview of the session and went on an excursion to apply or obtain the learning.  The final piece of the experience were the people.  Traverse is limited to 100 participants so it is a real intimate setting.  I felt like I came in contact with every participate.  More importantly, I felt I made true connections with 20 or more people at this unique conference.


Some BIG IDEAS I was able to take away from this conference.  There are so many educators working to change the state of education.  The processes that we use may vary from Project Based Learning, Expeditionary Learning, Design Thinking, Big Picture Learning, and the list goes on; ultimately we want our students to have authentic and meaningful learning experiences.  Another take away, I was reminded of the need to get students journaling on a consistent basis.  I wonder how many great ideas I missed the past few years because of not allowing space and time for students to write.  My thoughts around the best learning experiences come outside of the classroom, as we interviewed people on Pearl Street and as Watershed teachers shared their many expeditions.  


Since Traverse is a production put together by the Watershed School I was able to connect with many of the amazing Watershed faculty members.  Team members shared resources and gave me new ideas.  They recharged my battery after a long exciting school year.  They shared the well and refilled my bucket which will have a direct impact on the upcoming Humanities Course. Students will now journal everyday and I hope we will redesign the course to include resilience as a major theme.

The long-term impact of Traverse 16 may not be realized for many years.  It seems that conversations are taking place to solidify a partnership between MVIFI and the Watershed School.  With very similar mindsets it could set in motion a means to inspire and impact the next generation of educators and students.  For me I plan to stay connected to the new members of my tribe and figure out how to grow meaningful relationships.


Have you had a meaningful Professional Development? What made it meaningful?

DesignThinking, Empathy, Reflection

Designing A Life

DesignChangesMy first “adult job” – 40 hours a week, health benefits, vacation and all the things we desire when we think of careers was a Job Coach.  My work consisted of working with individuals who were physically or mentally challenged.  I would visit local companies and attempt to help my clients attain employment.  Once employed I would train them, monitor their daily progress and eventually set them free at there new place of employment.  These positions did not require a great deal of skills but for these individuals it gave them purpose and independence.

The individuals I served had other people in their lives to assist them with additional day to day functions that we often take for granted.  Some had dietitians who managed daily menus and food preparation.  Many had  hour to hour schedules designed to assist them with basic functions and administration of various medications.  Higher functioning individuals lived at home with parents or family members.  The daily planning was very methodical and well thought out to ensure the success of each individual. In the world of education, where I currently exist maybe I would have been labeled as an Executive Function Coach .  As a 25/26 year old this lifestyle seemed necessary but very restrictive, looking back now it seems more liberating.  

We talk about Creative Constraints as a means of limiting the amount of time to overthink a project.  I give my students timed writings to get them to focus on sharing the main points and avoiding the fluff and added drama when defending a thesis.  So could intentionally designing my life lead to more freedom and creativity? Could this liberate me from the self imposed barriers that I place in my path.  Let’s give it a shot.  How Might We (I) design my life?

Prototyping is a key component of Design Thinking.  I personally consider Empathy the number one component and prototyping comes next.  Prototyping puts you in the mindset of not designing the perfect experience but creating the initial prototype and seeking feedback to make it better.  You have to allow feedback and failure to guide your course of action.  So designing  a life or more specifically, My Life will require me to plan day to day life and legitimately give myself feedback on what works and what does not work.  Finding the points in the day where I have the most impact on my personal life.  Identifying the times of day where family takes the forefront and when other important people in my life take the lead.  Knowing when I am completely in the moment and when my brain is wondering.

Since I am currently in summer OTA’s this will afford me the time to work on designing my life.  Why is this necessary?  It is necessary for me to ensure that I am creating the most meaningful life for me and others.  Being halfway committed means that I am not committed.  Being fully committed and having focused energy will allow me to create a greater experience for all that I encounter.  Striving to be the best Connector, Learner, Father,  and Educator requires Designing or ReDesigning my life.   

What are you Designing?

Connections, DesignThinking, Facilitation, Reflection

Small Group Facilitation

Make Monty

As an educator more and more I am required to be a facilitator.  It is a skill that requires you to give up a degree of power in the classroom or workshop.  I liken a facilitator to Magic Johnson when he was point guard of the Los Angeles Lakers.  Magic was a very talented point guard and had the ability to play all five positions on a court.  He could easily have been a ball hog and taken control of a game but his role of facilitator required him to get all players involved and make everyone great.  A good facilitator has to recognize when to step into a situation and when to step back.  How do you gain those skills as a facilitator?   Its very easy, PRACTICE – to perform or exercise repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.

What happens when your practice does not mimic an experience you are about to encounter. I recently had an experience in facilitation that that brought me into unfamiliar territory.  I was hosting a meetup event for The Teachers Guild.  I was expecting close to 20 participants at this event.  My previous experiences with the Guild have all involved virtual coaching so this was truly a new endeavor.  My gameplan was set and my previous experiences with facilitation would be displayed.  Only four people showed up!  It was a little disappointing, but reflecting back it was understandable.  High School Graduations were taking place at various schools, it was exam time and many people were planning for memorial day weekend.  So as a facilitator what was I to do in that moment.

My facilitation prep for 20 people, became a small intimate fireside chat.  Instead of standing at the front of the room talking down to my small group.  I sat at the table with them and had more of a conversation.  The workshop was centered around Empathy Interviewing and Prototyping and in essence I was testing my ability to facilitate in a small group.  Things I learned:  (1) small group facilitation can get a little uncomfortable because there is no place for participates to hide, (2) because of the intimate setting you get to know your participates a lot better, (3) the encounters can be more meaningful because you become a close knit group.

Still consider the following, give the members of the small group space and time to plan without you as facilitator always being in the mix.  Do not make members feel uncomfortable by forcing them to speak, allow it to come natural.  Yes and spread the conversation around so that all members are active.  Push them to allow their ideas to go deeper but read body language to identify when you are getting pushy.  Ask questions to gain insights from the group, while helping they go deeper but avoid being annoying.

The art of facilitation can be a wonderful skill once you get the hang of it.  In the classroom it can take the burden off of the teacher and get students involved.  Amongst peers great facilitation can turn an us against them professional development into a team effort. When you “master” facilitation you realize you are not giving up power but gaining more power and influence. Remember perfect practice makes perfect.
How Might You handle small group facilitation?  


Summer OTAs

Coach & Sam

Today was the beginning of summer vacation for my students.  I imagine they will spend the next two months sleeping in late, watching lots of TV and vacationing in various parts to the country and the world.  It also marks the beginning of what I like to call Offseason Training Activities or OTAs for short.  Similar to the NFL off season which consists of Organized Team Activities.  There is a common misconception outside of the world of education, that summer represents vacation time for teachers.  Time will be spent this summer on vacation but most of the time will be spent in OTAs.  So what does my summer offseason training activities look like.

The first plan indulge in summer reading.  I have been trying to read The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth for a while.  Mr Roth uses practical insights and elements of Design Thinking to help the reader redesign their life.  My plan is to take that book and use it as a basis for recreating elements of my life.  Next on the list is Work Rules, I bought this book almost a year ago and it still sits on my shelf (so sad).  Work Rules uses insights from Google to help you lead others and lead your personal life.  Change by Design another book that shares the elements of Design Thinking by Tim Brown.  So those are my starter books but I will read parts and pieces of other books and articles to help impact my thinking.  I will top it off by reading a ninth grade summer reading challenge book, Sleeping Freshman Never Lie.  The teacher must be prepared to lead a group conversation.

The second OTA involves attending and facilitation of a few conferences and workshop.  I am excited to attend Traverse in Boulder, Co.  Since i have never been to Boulder, Colorado for that matter it will be a chance to explore.  Traverse will allow me to gain others insights on the future of education and share some of my experiences as an educator.  The following week, I will be one of the Base Commanders at our annual Fuse Conference.  Fuse16 is designed to teach educators the Design Thinking process and share the possibilities of how school can be done differently.  Finally it will directly impact four Atlanta non-profits who we will design around issues they face.  I have other meetings and opportunities for face to face learning.

My summer will also consist of co-creating a Humanities 9 course.  MVPS has made a bold leap to create a Humanities Course that will capture the human experience.  It will encompass World History and English, while capturing the Arts, Music and all the other elements of this thing called life.  I will be partnered with an additional classroom teacher and a PLC for planning.  My fear, how do you teach with a partner everyday.  My joy, I love the direction this could take the school and my.  Showing the overlap in various subjects, making connections to authentic or real world experiences and the chance to get constant feedback on my teaching.  So out of nothing we are creating something, or it could be we have all the ingredients we just need to put it together.

So my summer will be quite busy prepping for the new year.  Reflecting on the current year and yes there will be some vacation time (1 week).
What are you doing for your Offseason Training Activities?