Thursday, December 31, 2015

The potential of 2016

52 weeks
366 days (Leap Year)
8,784 hours

However you want to count it, the potential of it lies within you.

You get to decide what it will be. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Different Kind of ROI

Return on Imagination?

It's a thought. We all know return on investment -- we invest x and the return is y. Finance loves ROI -- especially when it is increasing. It's measurable (most of the time), can be adjusted, adapted, and redirected.

So, what is Return on Imagination?

Over 700 million iPhones have been sold since they were first introduced. We can look back and take into account product development costs, marketing costs, and other costs to determine the full return on investment. Then, we can look specifically at marketing and determine individual channel returns -- did tv outperform digital? What was the ROI for radio? Etc.

However, without Imagination there would be no iPhone to sell.

In fact, without Imagination there would be no:

Personal computers
and the list goes on and on.

Much of our time is focused on return on investment but we tend to forget the role Imagination plays. Imagination opens the doors to the need for measuring investment. Where would we be though without Imagination?

My concern today is in the realm of education we are spending too much of our time thinking about return on investment, and spending far too little time on Imagination.

We seek ways to measure student performance, then explore ways to improve it. We introduce a new nationwide curriculum, designed in some part to give us a similar foundation to measure results. Then, we introduce new legislation to change what we measure, how often we measure it, and what we need to do to invest in the education of our youth.

Where does Imagination fit in? Who in the world of education is introducing to us the iPhone for the very first time? Who is bringing us the telephone for the very first time? Who is building a new mode of transportation to replace the horse and buggy?

We need to have the dreamers in education. We need to allow Imagination to be of equal importance as Investment when it comes to education.

In fact, we need to encourage more Imagination. It's a different kind of ROI which requires a different way of thinking.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Suit That Changed Bathing To Swimming

Today, $13.25 billion is spent annually on swimwear. In 1920 the total amount was zero.

The reason is in 1920 they were only known as bathing suits. There were no such things as swim suits.

It wasn't until 1921, Jantzen introduced the first swim suit. After lengthy board meetings, task forces, focus groups, and corporate strategy sessions, they finally arrived at the idea of what would become known as a swim suit.

Not really.

Instead, the idea of a swim suit originated with one man -- John Richard Dodson.

Dodson worked with Portland Knitting Company, manufacturer of Jantzen bathing suits and predecessor of Jantzen Inc. At the time he was retail manager of their Broadway store.

"I remember distinctly the twinkle in his eye as he suggested the use of the name in our advertising," stated John A. Zehnbauer, co-founder of Portland Knitting Company, a few years after the change. "So from 1921 we discontinued the use of the name bathing suits and used swimming suits in all our copy."

One person, one idea, and a new industry was born.

Most breakthroughs occur like that, not around a conference table.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A New Year means new possibilities for virtual schools . . .

. . . unless we continue doing the things we have always done.

We cannot continue down our current path and expect a different outcome.

If we want 2016 to look drastically different than 2015, we must have the desire to make decisions that are drastically different -- different in what they are and different in how we make them.

And therein lies the rub -- do we have that desire?

It's easier to tweak the input and hope the output is exponentially greater but that is rarely the case. It is also easier to be excited about minimal increases and improvements and call it success. However, if we do that we will arrive on December 28, 2016 and be faced with the same questions we are faced with now.

If 2016 is to be different then it is up to us to make it that way, and it begins with desire.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Exit Now

The youngest of my four children is a seven-year-old girl who will one day rule the world. She is an amazing little girl whose insight into life is refreshing.

Her middle name is Breeze and my wife has collected what we call Breezyisms -- or her sayings over the years that offer a fresh perspective on life, often filled with humor.

Recently we spent over a month in Lake Buena Vista, spending time with my clients, working from and with Disney, and enjoying the parks as often as possible.

One evening as we headed back to our executive villa, we found ourselves on I-4. It was late, we were all very tired from the Magic Kingdom that day, and it was quiet in the car. Then, a Breezyism occurred.

"Dad, that sign says Exit Now," Breezy said, noticing one of the interstate directional signs flashing up ahead. "That's so rude. Why couldn't it say Exit Please?"

Sometimes what we mean doesn't come across by what we say. We need to choose our words carefully, and allow for the nuances that occur when they are heard.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

In pursuit of excellence

The difference between mediocrity and excellence is not found in the details. We can take care of all the details and still be mediocre.

Excellence begins with our mindset. It is a decision we make long before we begin working on it.

Excellence is a pursuit, a way of thinking, an inner focus.

Begin first with the decision to pursue it, then you will be on your way to achieving it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas

While I have no analytical data to prove it, I sense that the term "Merry Christmas" is being used more this year than prior years.

Perhaps it is the circles I run in, yet I spent over a month at Disney World, and noticed it there as well. I also noticed it at Target, at Publix, at Celebration, FL, and a multitude of other places this year.

To me, it seems "Happy Holidays" has taken a back seat to "Merry Christmas."

Have you noticed it too?

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"Hi, I'm Olaf. And I like warm hugs."

If you concentrate only on the needs of your students, you miss the point.

Take time to figure out what your students like.

When you begin to meet those, you then have the opportunity of building something remarkable.

Monday, December 21, 2015


One little spark, of inspiration
Is at the heart, of all creation.
Right at the start, of everything that's new.
One little spark, lights up for you.

Two tiny wings, eyes big and yellow.
Horn of a steer, but a lovable fellow.
From head to tail, he's royal purple pigment.
And there, voila!, you've got a Figment.

We all have sparks, imaginations.
That's how our minds, create creations.
For they can make, our wildest dreams come true.
Those magic sparks, in me and you.

Imagination, imagination.
A dream, can be a dream come true.
With just that spark, in me and you.

The Sherman Brothers
Journey into Imagination with Figment

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Being authentic

Below is an image of the Nativity scene, and it is similar to one we probably have all grown up with.

It's a beautiful scene, filled with warmth.

However, I happen to believe it was probably more like the version below from Gari Melchers.

To me, this one is just as beautiful.

In today's world it is much easier for customers to "go behind the scenes" to see who you really are. The potential of it all is that many times a more authentic version of you is even more beautiful than the one you try to paint over in hopes that others will believe it.

Virtual schools have spent far too long trying to paint an unreal picture. All the while parents have been asking for them to be authentic yet for some reason they remain afraid to be who they are. I believe beauty lies within authenticity and those virtual schools who are willing to be who they are will lead us into the next generation of virtual schooling.

First though, that requires knowing who you are.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Once upon a time . . .

It's not the stories we tell others but the stories we tell ourselves that matter most.

"I can try" is far different than "I can't."

"Yes, if" opens more doors than "No, because."

It's not about positive thinking as much as it is about thinking positively. We tend to find that which we look for most and we see the world the way we expect to see it.

The beauty is we can begin a new story today, just as soon as we decide to turn the page.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Force Awakens

Virtual schools offered education a new hope.

Then, the empire struck back.

The ones I have worked with are returning to their original jedi promise.

However, I believe all virtual schools have the potential to awaken the force within them and revolutionize the educational empire.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Be a dreamer

The realists said Disneyland would never work.

The realists returned when Walt Disney wanted to build something bigger in Florida -- again, they said it would never work.

Dreamers tend to make things happen in spite of realists.

Oh sure, realism should be part of the dream. But it is far different to have realism in your dreams than it is to be a realist.

The past is in the past. It is the future that can be changed, starting with the one day we have -- today.

Decide today to be a dreamer, and dream big. We need your dreams.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The K12 ship continues to go under water

Over a year ago I penned a blog (Why K12 will struggle) that stated if Agora Cyber pulled their management contract from K12 that the K12 stock would drop into the $13 range, perhaps even as low as $12. Shortly after it was announced that Agora was indeed pulling their management contract, K12's stock plummeted into that range. It is difficult to overcome a loss of 11,000+ students.

The silver lining at the time was K12 continued to provide curriculum to Agora under the new agreement reached. There was spin associated with this new arrangement but what was missed was that it was a temporary association. Within the next 2-3 years, Agora will pull their curriculum from K12 as they work to build their own (and while that is a mess, that is another story entirely).

A few months ago I wrote a blog The K12 ship is sinking and laid out some reasons why I believe they are on a steady decline.

As I write this, their stock price is $8.91 per share. My guess is they would love to see it in the $12-13 range that only a year ago was considered dismal performance.

So, what next? What does the future hold? Of course I can't say for sure but I can point to indicators:

1. Watch what happens when Agora pulls the curriculum

2. Pay attention to the potential closure of Tennessee Virtual Academy at the end of this academic year

3. Pay close attention to the California Attorney General's investigation into for-profit providers which includes K12

4. Watch for other virtual school boards either threaten to or actually pull their management contracts from K12 over the next two years

5. And, pay attention to the academic performance in Maine and North Carolina -- the narrative K12 has wanted to tell the past few years was they were in transition and now putting students first. Both Maine and North Carolina were launched with the new management in place so this will be the true test as to whether or not the transition was real or simply smoke and mirrors

Where there's smoke . . .

Monday, December 14, 2015

"How can we get our students to engage?"

That was the question presented to me by a Superintendent the other day.

It's a question often asked of me -- whether it pertains to students, current families, or prospective families.

It's a typical question. I just happen to believe it is the wrong question to ask.

So often, we all spend our time and energy seeking to find, provide, or offer solutions.

Yet, how many times do we take a step back and make sure we are asking the best questions, even the right questions.

Wrong questions typically lead to wrong answers.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Timing matters

As a virtual school you must begin to ask yourself what time of year is most important to you when it comes to enrollment -- October 1 or May 31?

If you say "Both" then October 1 is the real answer.

However, if you determine May 31 is more critical then you begin to open the door to the real possibility of growing with purpose.

Today's virtual schools spend millions each year trying to recruit new students and at the same time only thousands to retain the ones they have. What would happen if we reversed that?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

One is a lonely number

When parents tell you they are leaving your school due to lack of socialization, they are not asking for more field trips.

Nor are they seeking more clubs to join.

What they are looking for, what they are asking for is connections, not socialization.

Become a human connection virtual school and you create the potential to be a place where families want to belong.

To JP: Know who you are, accept who you are, and be who you are. The world needs what you have to offer.

To AK: Be as committed to your art when no one is watching just as much as you are when on stage. Success is found in the work done off stage, it is merely appreciated when on stage.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Unexpected expected

If you ever go to Magic Kingdom the best place to watch the fireworks is not in front of the castle where everyone else crowds in shoulder to shoulder. The best place is behind the castle near the carousel, in front of Be Our Guest restaurant.

By standing there you will have to watch the fireworks spectacular with tennis in mind -- turning your head back and forth from Cinderella's Castle then behind you, then back to the castle, then behind you.

The beauty of it all is that you find yourself not just watching the fireworks, but standing in the middle of them. It is something to behold.

But, that is the expected. Go to Disney, watch an amazing display of fireworks set to music, and even search for unique spots to watch them.

What is the unexpected expected?

When you stand behind the castle to watch the fireworks you will find on most evenings a young man named Craig.

Craig is a Custodial Cast Member. He spends his days and evenings working to ensure that the park is kept clean of trash and debris. You would expect that since he is a Cast Member, he would also seek out ways to make magical moments for Guests of Disney. Again, that is to be expected.

But, stand there and as the fireworks begin, Craig begins to put on a show. He transforms from a Custodial Cast Member to the Conductor of the fireworks themselves. He dances, waves his arms majestically with wand in hand, and lip syncs the entire fireworks program. For the little kids who are there watching, it is as if he is the one causing the fireworks to perform.

"I enjoy my role here at Disney, but I live for this each evening," Craig said to me after his performance last night.

For the families who are there to witness his show, it is a highlight of the day spent at the Magic Kingdom.

What makes it so magical is that it is so unexpected, and yet being Disney you would expect that this might happen -- the unexpected expected.

Virtual schools can learn from this by seeking ways to provide their families with an unexpected level of service at first, Then, over time it becomes expected. Once that is achieved, you then have the opportunity to provide the unexpected expected level of service to your families, continually surprise them, and consistently build loyalty from them.

It takes a disciplined approach to provide this type of service, and a commitment to seeing it through. It must be something you "live for" each day.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What's it like to be with you?

Do you ever take time to think about how it feels to do business with you? Enroll in your school?

It's okay, and necessary, to consider the buying process, or enrollment process and look for ways to streamline it, and negate potential combustion points.

However, don't forget to give the same consideration to what it feels like, as a customer of yours, to go through that process.

Friday, December 4, 2015

A story to tell

"This way please and you can enter to see Mickey Mouse," said the Disney Cast Member. My wife and I, along with our youngest walked with several other families, turned the corner and entered the room to see Mickey himself standing there.

Everyone in line was exhausted after standing in line waiting to enter for well over 20 minutes. Adding to the exhaustion it was approaching midnight as we turned the corner because we were all there for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World -- a ticketed event that starts at 7 p.m. and ends at midnight.

We were third in line but the room was quiet enough and secluded enough where you could hear Mickey visiting with the guests who had come to see him.

The first family made their way over, their little boy strolled up to Mickey, handed him his autograph book and then they each posed for photos. The two Cast Members (one an assistant and the other a photographer) played their roles very well, staying in character, and adding to the show.

Next, just in front of us, was a man in a motorized scooter and his son, who had to be at least 15 years old. I could easily tell that his son had some sort of mental disability, and my guess was autism. But, when his son approached Mickey, he clearly thought he was with THE Mickey Mouse -- there was no doubt in his mind this was the real Mickey. He hugged him over and over. They visited with each other and he continually whispered something in Mickey's ear to which Mickey responded each time with encouragement, to the young boy's delight.

In what normally takes a minute, two at the most, to move through, grab a photo, and then move on, took almost five minutes. The boy did not want to leave, and the Cast Members, along with Mickey, did not want to interrupt what was clearly a special moment occurring.

For us, and the rest of the families in line witnessing this moment, it was something that seemed to cause time to stand still. None of us said a word, made a sound, or even moved. We all simply watched with amazement at what was transpiring between Mickey Mouse and this young boy.

At last, his father edged out of his scooter, called his son, walked over to him and guided him away from Mickey. All the while the boy kept his eyes on the one person he had come to see. And, as they departed, we all took a brief moment to collect ourselves before taking our turn with Mickey.

When we exited, all my wife and I could say to each other was, "Wow, that was amazing."

Fast forward 30 minutes and we are across Town Square at the Magic Kingdom and I am waiting on our other children to join us at the Christmas tree as my wife takes our youngest daughter to the restroom. Approaching me on his scooter is the boy's father, and he comes to a stop just a foot away from me.

"You are the father of the young boy who just visited Mickey aren't you?" I asked him.

"Yes, I am," he said in a hesitant manner.

"I cannot tell you how much of a privilege it was to be a part of what we just witnessed in there," I told him.

Relief seemed to come over his face, and he grinned from ear-to-ear. "Thank you," he said. "My son has autism and he lives for that, for meeting Mickey Mouse. He absolutely adores Mickey."

"Well, it was evident to my wife and I that was the case. Again, we were just glad to be part of it," I said.

"You know, most of the time, people get frustrated at us, and even make comments about us taking too long," he answered. "But they don't know our story and why it is so important to him. I mean, he has written stories about Mickey and wants to work for Disney when he grows up. When he meets Mickey, he believes he is talking to a real Mickey Mouse, and that's why he whispers in his ear all the time."

"Tell your son to dream big and we look forward to the day when he greets us as a Cast Member," I told his father, seeking some way to encourage him for a brief moment.

"Thank you, I will," he said. And then he drove off.

I wish I could say that I responded like this every time I have had the opportunity, but I haven't. However, my interaction with this man reminded me, reaffirmed to me that each family has a story to tell.

So often though, others won't take the time to listen.

During this time of year, be a listener. There are families around you, people close to you, strangers among you, and each one has a story to tell. The question is, who will listen?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The problem with online schools . . .

In a recent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Susan Patrick, head of International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), disagreed with Nina Rees, head of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and her emerging belief that online schools should not be charter schools. 

According to Ms. Patrick, "The problem is not that online schools are getting authorized as charter schools. The problem is that the authorizers are not demanding adequate transparency, evidence of quality of work at a college-level ready and are not shutting down or intervening in poor performers."

While I agree with her rebuttal of Ms. Rees' assessment that online schools should not be charter schools, I disagree with her statement of what the problem is with online schools.

Transparency, evidence and intervention are not the problems. They play a role but solving them will not lead to successful online schools.

Now, contrast her opinion with a K12 press release addressing what they see as the problem, also quoted from the Cleveland Plain Dealer article.

"Many families choose online schools because they are fleeing a school or situation that wasn't working for their child, often in distress, or because of other reasons -- bullying, special needs, medical issues, social or emotional challenges, safety concerns, academic problems, etc."

According to K12 in the same release, "For many families, online schools are schools of last resort, the only available public school alternative, thus filling a critical need within the public education system."

Are online schools merely schools of last resort? If so, how would better transparency, evidence of quality and intervention improve them?

Perhaps Susan Patrick and K12 are both wrong.

Better oversight is not what is necessary. Correct oversight is. We need authorizers who understand not the current online model, but rather what the correct model should look like and how to achieve it. Transparency, evidence, and intervention are still being held up by a crumbling foundation. Authorizers need to understand how to construct a foundation that will support success in online schools.

Also incorrect is the idea that online schools are schools of last resort, as K12 would have you believe in their retort to ongoing criticism of their performance.

Perhaps that is the case for many K12 schools, but that has more to do with their messaging, marketing, and recruitment than it does with the reality of online schooling. If you are targeting students who have been bullied, students with medical issues, students with social or emotional challenges, offering them promises that cannot be kept, then the result is what you currently see going on with K12.

See my blog post here for my ideas on what a virtual school should look like -- Virtual School Manifesto: Nine Essential Ingredients.

And, finally, I would also disagree with Ron Packard's (founder and former CEO of K12) way of looking at it as he stated in the same article in supporting the idea he would not want to block students from enrolling in online schools, "Being in the school is a right. Staying in it is a privilege. That's how I believe you have to look at it."

Being in the school is not a right, it is a choice. Staying in it is not a privilege. It too is a choice.

Virtual schools who see both as choices have the opportunity and potential to recruit differently, enroll differently, retain differently, and serve differently.

So, what is the real problem with online schools? The current model is broken, and it is falling apart.

We have to re-imagine the virtual learning experience. It's time.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Be the change, or change the be

I could hear the passion in her voice as she described to me what she had been doing, and what she wanted to do moving forward. The dichotomy was that she had recently been dealt a difficult hand by a educational company after accomplishing great things for them during her time there.

Yet, even in the midst of this she was focused on being the change. I could hear it, feel it, and I know she will accomplish much if she pursues her passion to help students with special needs -- especially if she chooses herself first.

There are others though who work without passion. Perhaps they merely see what they do as a paycheck, a job, or just a means to an end (many times just the weekend). For them perhaps it is time to change the be.

No matter the role one plays, there is opportunity to be the change the world needs to see. When we relinquish that responsibility to someone else, we lose passion and vigor for what we do. Unfortunately, others suffer for this as much as we do ourselves.

I believe each one of us has a gift to share with the world and by doing so the world becomes a better place. If we have passion in what we do we can then be the change. If we seek to be the change then we have the potential to make the change.

To JD and others reading this, who have a passion for what they are doing, be that change you desire to see in the world.

For those struggling with a lack of passion, find out what excites you, and if it is different than what you are currently doing, seek ways to change the be.

We need what you have to offer, now more than ever.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Seeing is believing

Or, could it actually be the other way? Believing is seeing.

If you believe only what you see then life will mirror what you tend to look at most.

However if you first believe -- believe in what you desire, believe in what you expect -- then you will begin to see what you believe come true.

You will see beyond what is and believe in what can be. Then, what can be has the potential to take the place of what is.

Believe first.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

My office is EPCOT

Thanksgiving is a mere two days away. Today I find myself sitting across from my namesake Journey Into Imagination with Figment conducting executive coaching calls, re-imagining virtual schools, and helping a new client develop a customer-centered culture -- and doing it all while I listen to the EPCOT music overhead, watch people pour into the Figment attraction, and enjoy the reason why I started my own firm over two years ago.

I am in Florida for over a month working on a special Mouse-related project along with my normal consulting efforts. Today though I have the privilege of working from EPCOT, because today this is my office.

Two years ago I chose myself, as Seth Godin would say, because I grew tired of the corporate life and became disillusioned with the evolution of K12. Since then I have had the honor of working with some wonderful clients who are out to truly "do virtual right." They too are weary of the current model, and desiring of something far greater. Those are the types of virtual schools and companies I want to do business with -- ones that want to make a difference, a real difference.

The fun thing about being a consultant is you also get to choose your clients. Oh, I know most would say the client chooses you, and that is true to a point. However, you also get to choose your clients. You determine who you are willing to work with, and who you are not. The selection process is a two-way street, and by seeing it that way it actually increases your potential.

Since leaving K12 I have become wealthy in ways far more than mere financial wealth, though that too has increased dramatically.

The wealth of freedom.

The wealth of independence.

The wealth of doing the work that matters.

The wealth of making a difference.

The wealth of working with clients who are remarkable.

The wealth of providing a service that is appreciated.

The wealth of having my family with me for this journey.

The wealth of being there for my children, and not missing anything in their lives.

The wealth of relocating by choice.

Today my office is EPCOT. The beauty of it all though is that tomorrow my office is wherever I want it to be. And for that, I am grateful.

Now, I have an hour until my next call -- perhaps it is time to experience Journey Into Imagination with Figment.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dancing to work each day

A client of mine sent this video to me this morning so we could craft a Facebook post that relays both purpose and sense of place to those who belong to the virtual school, and encouraging others to find out more about the school.

However, I also wanted to share it here because it resonated with me personally too.

Tim Harris is a restaurant owner who lives each day with a smile, sees each moment for the potential it holds, and seizes each opportunity to make someone else's day better and brighter. By the way, Tim has Down Syndrome, and yet when I watch his video I sense that he understands the meaning of life far more than most of us.

Be inspired by Tim today. Then, it's your turn -- try dancing to work tomorrow morning and see what a difference it makes for you.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Personalized learning

There is a difference between personalized and individualized.

Main Street in Magic Kingdom is the same Main Street for every individual who walks the path. Yet, for each guest on Main Street there is an opportunity for the walk to be a personalized experience.

When virtual schools grasp this difference and begin to truly focus on personalizing not just the academic adventure but also the learning experience overall, then the true journey of education can begin for each individual.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The time horizon of change

On September 20, 2011 a Disney blog publicly announced the agreement between Walt Disney World and James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment. The highlight of the announcement was Disney's Animal Kingdom would be home to an area devoted entirely to the blockbuster movie Avatar. That was 2011.

Construction began in 2014.

Yesterday I toured Disney's Animal Kingdom and construction was still going on for the area that will be known as Pandora - The World of Avatar. Yesterday was November 19, 2015.

Expected completion date could be in 2017 for part of the land but full completion may be in 2019. If my math is correct 2019 would be eight years after first announcing the agreement.

Right now almost half of Disney's Hollywood Studios is closed off to guests as they build themed attractions around the Star Wars franchise they purchased from George Lucas several years ago. Completion of these attractions is a few years away.

In Epcot construction is underway in the Norway pavilion for a Frozen-themed attraction. Due to be completed in the near future, this new attraction was launched by the blockbuster movie that debuted in 2013.

In today's NOW economy it is difficult to remember sometimes that change occurs at a pace all to itself. In the world of attractions that pace of change can be years.

The same is true in the realm of existing virtual schools. Changing marketing strategies or branding efforts can be done quickly -- hire a new firm with the bright and shiny accouterments and everyone feels like change is happening. Everything has a fresh coat of paint so everyone thinks it is new, yet the cracks remain.

However, the real change required, the kind of change that impacts the students and families, the kind that makes a difference takes a little longer -- this change requires more than a marketing paint bucket.

The obstacle most virtual schools run into when considering this undertaking is they shorten the time horizon allotted for this change to occur. If it cannot be completed in one enrollment cycle then the pain is too much to bear.

The average Disney World guest visits the parks every three to four years. This means a guest at the park in 2011 when the Avatar deal was announced will visit the parks two more times before the new attraction is completed. They will be eight years older.

The difference is Disney understands the concept of time horizon. They understand that short-term pain will be offset by long-term gain.

What is true for Disney can also be true for virtual schools. The current model is broken. It's time to make the public announcement that a deal has been reached and for one virtual school in each state to step up and become the standard by which all others will soon want to follow.

The short-term pain will be offset by the long-term gain.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A virtual school freeze frame

I had every intention of writing today about Disney World name tags and the role they play in building relationships, but then I spent time last evening in Magic Kingdom watching a photographer perform her magic. So, I will save the name tags for the future.

One of the perks of working with and at Disney World is being able to experience it in the evening as a guest. Last night, my family and I were waiting for the rest of our party by the large Christmas tree in Magic Kingdom's Town Square, near the place where they take the photos. If you have been there you can typically see Cinderella's Castle in the background with all of Main Street in front of you, but now the Christmas tree blocks that view.

As we were waiting we watched this young Disney photographer do more than take pictures of the guests. She, like Paul earlier in the week, understood the difference between her job description and her role. She was engaging with the guests, delightful, animated, fun, and added to the show for each guest (whose ages seemed to range from 7 to 95) -- and, by the way, this was around 10:00 p.m., after a long day at work for her I am sure. But, you couldn't tell by the way she performed.

In my blog post earlier this week about Paul, I spoke of the difference between job description and roles and how he epitomized this difference. This young photographer, who could not have been more than 25 years old (if that much), was another shining example of this difference. However, that is not my purpose for this post.

What watching her did do for me was to remind me what matters most in virtual schools. The setting last night at Magic Kingdom was, well, magical. Main Street glistened with Christmas decorations, the tree was tall and beautiful, and the music was playing the familiar Christmas tunes we could all hum. The process of taking photos, standing in line, waiting for your turn, was a simple one, an easy one to follow, and a quick one to work through.

But, what created the magic was not a setting or a process, it was a Cast Member. The setting and the process crafted the environment for this young photographer to perform. But, she could have broken the magic by simply taking the photos and ignoring the opportunity she had by being on stage. Instead, the engagement and interaction between her and her guests will be their lasting memory as the exited for home.

So, what matters most in virtual schools? Is it the curriculum? Or, is it the interactive design? Is it the speed of the technology? Is it the course offerings -- how many AP courses? Is it the web site? Is it the online school?

No. It's none of that.

What matters most in virtual schools is the teacher. More precisely it is the teacher and student relationship that is formed on a day-by-day, single interaction basis. Each interaction between teacher and student either adds to the show, or the experience, or takes away from it. It is either a positive one or a negative one, and if it is not positive then it is negative. It is never just an interaction. Each one, in essence, is a freeze frame that when put together tells a story and becomes a motion film. Teachers have the ability to build the story one frame at a time.

When students and families talk about how great their school is, they are thinking of a teacher or teachers. When they share their experience with others, they are thinking about their teachers. When they think about their school, they are. in reality, thinking about their teachers.

The setting and processes of virtual schools should be set up to allow for, encourage, and simplify the teacher-student interactions. Put that first, put that in the middle, and then wrap everything else around it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Customer-centered culture in virtual schools

"I can't put a finger on when it happened but I can definitely tell things are different," said a client of mine recently while we were on the phone discussing the retention culture we were building.

He shared with me that their engagement rate year-over-year had increased almost 25% and the attrition rate had decreased by over 20%. It mirrored a conversation I had with another client on the other side of the coast.

Our focus, our attention was on culture building, not engagement or retention programs. Programs are easier to build and easier to measure and track. However, cultures are what make the difference. Change the culture first then build the programs. You see, programs are not inherently bad or ineffective. However, they must flow from a proper perspective and culture if they are to have the type of impact potential desired.

As I write this I am situated on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, just around the corner from Starbucks. And I am reminded constantly of the difference that a culture centered on the customer can make. The effort put in by Disney to constantly surprise, serve, and WOW the customer rises to a level envied by many but seldom mirrored, especially in education.

Disney has a culture built around the customer. Therefore, the programs it offers has a feel of authenticity to them even though they are scripted and rehearsed. There is a genuineness to the kindness of the Cast Members because of the culture of expectation built into the role. There is an obsession with the attention to detail in the architecture, the colors, the songs, the texture of the streets and pathways, the flowers, the Cast Member costumes, and more.

Families arrive on Main Street needing a vacation. However, what they want is an experience worth sharing. Disney takes care of the need by focusing their attention on serving the want and the emotions attached to the want.

Virtual schools should take heed and learn from the Mouse.

Do you know what your families need?

More importantly, do you know what your families want?

Even more importantly, do you know what emotions are attached to that want?

Once you do, then you can begin to serve them properly -- not with programs but with a culture centered on meeting those wants and emotions.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Virtual schools -- will your families really recommend you?

I know they say they will when you ask them in your survey. But, will they really recommend you?

Peruse any virtual school web site and most have a graph or announcement that touts 95% or 97% or 96.5% of their families would recommend them to another family.

Then why don't they? Take a look at attrition rates and retention rates and one has to wonder who the 95% are that said they would recommend their school when 40-50% of them are leaving each year.

In my time spent today with the Disney Research Team I was impressed by not only how they ask the questions but also how willing they are to find out the truth. They are not searching for platitudes to place on a web site, rather they are searching for ways to improve their service, enhance the guest experience, and uncover combustion points in their delivery.

What if virtual schools took a similar path in their research?

What if virtual schools stopped asking families questions for web site graphics and started researching why families are leaving.

Why do families say they will recommend you but don't?

Why do families start your school but never engage?

Why do they leave less than one month after committing to you?

Why do they not return the following year after telling you how great you are?

The answers they provide may surprise you. And, you will have to work hard to understand the real answers being given -- these go beyond the ones they give you.

Finally, if all you do is send out surveys once or twice a year, well, you will only receive web site poster material. However, if you are serious about knowing your customer then you will have multiple listening posts, gathering data in a myriad of ways, and seeking input throughout the year.

What Paul from Magic Kingdom can teach virtual schools

One of our favorite characters to watch perform in the Magic Kingdom is Gaston, the villain from Beauty and the Beast. He's arrogant, braggadocios, and quite hysterical. When we are at the Magic Kingdom we make it a point to stop by and observe Gaston in action.

However, this time it was Paul who stole the show. Paul also works for Disney and by the look of his costume, he appeared to be a supervisor of some sort. I noticed him prior to Gaston's appearance giving direction to the photographers on hand for the family photos, as well as guiding other Cast Members in the nearby vicinity.

But, it was his performance with the guests that mattered most. He was busy, quite busy, and really had no time to waste and then the first guest approached him.

"Hi Paul, you had mentioned that Gaston would appear today at 3:15 and it is now 3:30. With this long line waiting to see him, I am afraid we are going to miss our Fast Pass at Pirates," said the young lady. The line had to be at least thirty people or more and her family was toward the back, so it could easily have taken twenty minutes or so for them to see Gaston once he arrived.

Paul's response not only recovered his mistake but also kept the magic alive for the lady's little girl standing next to her, and enhanced their experience.

"Oh my, you are right," Paul said. And then he bent down to talk to the little girl. "Gaston was in the three o'clock parade today so it probably delayed him. However, let me give your mom these passes. All you have to do is show it to the Pirate Cast Members and they will let you on any time for the Pirate ride. That way you can still catch Gaston here, and ride the Pirates ride. Is that okay?" he asked.

The little girl smiled from ear-to-ear which made the mom happy. She walked away thanking him several times. Paul smiled politely knowing he had kept the show going. For the family, it was a WOW moment.

Paul wasn't done. Right after the first family went back to their line another family approached him asking for directions to a restroom that had a companion room. Paul told the family to stay there and he would be right back.

Moments later he returned sharing with them that the restrooms they were closest to did not have a companion room, however the stalls were extra large. He then offered to walk them to the closest restroom with a companion room that was nearby if they would like. They too left Paul while thanking him for his assistance, sharing with him the large stalls would work fine. Again, another WOW moment from Paul.

Paul then turned to give directions to some of the Cast Members nearby as Gaston was now making his appearance. Clearly, Paul needed to exit soon in order to move to another area as he mentioned to a Cast Member standing next to him. Then, another little girl approached with her mom.

"Do you mind if we look at your pins?" the mom asked. Disney Pin Trading is a huge endeavor, and most Cast Members wear pins around their necks to encourage the trading of them. It is not uncommon for a guest to stop a Cast Member and ask them to see their pins, then trade one of them to add to their collection. Then, they move forward and repeat the process over and over and over.

Paul quickly smiled, bent down to the girl's level and proceeded to exchange in pin trading with her. She took her time examining each one and Paul politely engaged her in conversation about Magic Kingdom, her favorite characters, and her favorite pins. It was Paul who extended the conversation, not the girl or her mother. It was Paul that proactively looked for ways to take the pin trading exchange and turn it into a WOW moment.

The girl found a pin she wanted, traded it with Paul, and then thanked him. The mom, in turn, showed her gratitude to Paul, turned and walked away -- both had large smiles on their faces. Paul had done it again.

Paul rose, turned in my direction, and as he passed by said hello to me, and then said "have a magical day."

What he didn't realize is he just created that magic, not just for the three families he interacted with, but also for those of us nearby who watched it all unfold.

Paul understood his job may be supervisor, but his primary responsibility is creating magic for guests.

When those guests go home and talk about the "Disney experience" they will not be talking about a corporate entity. Instead, they will be thinking about Paul and the other Cast Members who create that magic each and every day in the park.

I have the privilege of working with and from the Disney parks over the next month, witnessing encounters like this from Paul. Sometimes one little spark is all you need to see things differently. And, when you see things differently you then have the potential to change what is into what can be.

In my Virtual School Manifesto: Nine Essential Ingredients I list out ways in which virtual schools can create a new model. With each one I lay out practical ways to see things differently: putting the teacher-student relationship at the center instead of the student; investing in teachers beyond academic professional development; craft a remarkable learning experience; build a retention culture, and more.

The common denominator with each ingredient is exactly what Paul epitomized yesterday at the Magic Kingdom: creating WOW experiences by understanding your role and your opportunity -- in other words, building customer service into the learning experience.

Your role is not your job. Paul's job was not what he demonstrated in a span of five minutes, that was his role and his opportunity. But, what he created in those five minutes will last far beyond his job.

Virtual school administrators, staff, and teachers each have a job. More importantly, each have a role to play in constructing a remarkable learning experience, and opportunities to create WOW moments. All we have to do is Be Like Paul.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I'm giving up on virtual schools.

Recently the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), in conjunction with MATHEMATICA Policy Research and the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released its findings on a national study of full-time, online schools.

The results of the findings were dismal. The report was released just prior to the annual conference of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, which is going on this week in Orlando to tout the benefits of virtual learning and the impact it has had.

As for the report, there were quick responses from K12, ECOT (an Ohio virtual school), and others calling into question the validity of the findings, or taking issues with key aspects of it. K12 even published a more detailed analysis of the study itself taking issue with the study's lack of taking into account persistence, enrollment date, mobility, reasons for enrolling, and more. While most of their reasoning falls flat in my opinion, they do raise some valid points.

"I'm giving up on virtual schools." -- that's what a former colleague of mine used as a subject line in her email to me, after reading the report and sending me her thoughts on it.

Other words she used were "disgraceful" and "pitiful" as she laid out her argument for agreeing with the findings. It was a long email, and one where I could tell she had put great thought into it. More than likely, she wrote it, edited, and rewrote it. It was not quick and flippant but instead was one filled with deep emotion.

I am sure it deserved a response equal to its original standard. That is why I am also confident my reply disappointed her.

Dear (      ),

It's okay to give up on virtual schools. Just don't give up on virtual schooling.

Kind regards,
Figment Consulting

Dr. James Woodworth, Senior Quantitative Research Analyst for CREDO at Stanford University, was quoted at the end of the study's press release. He said, "While the overall findings of our analysis are somber, we do believe the information will serve as the foundation for constructive discussions on the role of online learning in the K-12 sector."

An industry friend of mine and I are working now on either an article or series of articles (not sure just yet) related to Dr. Woodworth's belief in constructive discussions. Our hope is to put forth some ideas and suggestions on ways in which we can move forward -- at the policy level, oversight level, and at the school level.

At the heart of the report is what I have believed for a long time now -- the current model is broken. However, as I said to my friend via the email, don't give up on the concept. I haven't.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The virtual school dilemma

Search for and attract the type of student who can be successful in an online learning environment.

Or, adapt your school to serve those you are currently attracting.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Building a retention culture in virtual schools

Retention program: a planned series of future events, items, or performances

A retention program focuses on trying to keep students and families from leaving.

Retention culture: a way of life of a group of people -- the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next

A retention culture offers students and families a place to belong.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"I know, let's pretend to be ourselves." The Mad Hatter

It was a quick line uttered by The Mad Hatter last night and I barely heard it. My family and I spent last night at Mickey's Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom. Our oldest kids were off to Neverland, or Space Mountain after the stage shows and fireworks display and my wife and I were touring the property with our youngest watching for Disney characters and treat stands where they passed out candy.

Now, there are several characters I enjoy watching perform while they are on stage, and The Mad Hatter is one of them. So, we paused to listen in and observe as others stood in line for their photo opportunity with Hatter and Alice.

As the group, including the characters, lined up for their photo, that's when I heard The Mad Hatter say, "I know, let's pretend to be ourselves."

I love the play on words. I especially love the deeper meaning behind it.

I also believe they are words of wisdom for virtual schools. In my Virtual School Manifesto one of my Nine Essential Ingredients is Be a Specialist.

On the surface being a specialist means you serve a niche instead of attempting to be all things to everyone. At a deeper level it means virtual schools know who they are, why they exist, who they can best serve, and then carve out a space that is uniquely theirs. It's more than merely differentiating from competitors, It's more than merely positioning and branding. Being a specialist is knowing who you are, owning who you are, and being who you are.

Then the story you share with the world is an authentic one because you are pretending to be yourself instead of someone else.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Virtual schools: Do you know why your parents are leaving?

Do you know what question is most asked of Cast Members at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom?

Where is the nearest restroom? -- Nope.

Where is Mickey Mouse? -- Nope.

What time does the park close? -- Nope.

The question most asked of Magic Kingdom Cast Members is "What time does the 3 o'clock parade start?"

However, the response that Cast Members are trained to give is directed toward the real question being asked. Because, in reality, parents are not asking what time the 3 o'clock parade starts. So, the response is centered on the real question which is -- What time will the parade be where I am now?

Cast Members are trained to answer that question, and they go even further by recommending a great place to be nearby in order to see the parade.

Attrition rates are high and retention rates are low at virtual schools and many of them conduct exit interviews to try and obtain the reasons behind the departure. However, what they fail to comprehend is that there are answers behind the answers given by the families.

If you believe families are leaving your school due to "lack of socialization" then you are focused on the start time of the 3 o'clock parade. If you believe they are leaving because your school is "too rigorous" then you are focused on the start time of the 3 o'clock parade.

Instead there are reasons that go deeper as to why parents are leaving your school. Once you recognize that, then you can begin to comprehend them. Once you comprehend them, then you can understand them. Once you understand them, then and only then will you be able to craft solutions -- solutions that focus on the real issues.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Chief Crowfoot, railways, and virtual schools

Born in what is now Alberta, Canada, Crowfoot was made chief of the Big Pipes band of Native Americans in 1865, and one of three head chiefs of the Blackfoot tribe in 1870.

Well-known for his bravery in battle it is his relationship with the Canadian government and their desire to extend the transcontinental railroad that is of primary interest to me. In 1877 Chief Crowfoot persuaded the Blackfoot tribe to sign Treaty Seven with the Canadian government to allow for the connecting of the railways system from British Columbia in the west to the rest of Canada through their lands.

For his part in helping bring the negotiations to pass, Chief Crowfoot received a lifetime pass to travel on the railway. But, he never used it. Instead, he placed it in a small satchel that he carried around his neck and it remained there until he passed away in 1890. While he was given the opportunity to take advantage of and utilize this new form of transportation, he declined.

This is of interest to me because I see an interesting correlation between Chief Crowfoot and virtual school students and parents. Stay with me on this because there is one.

Much is made of the performance of virtual schools -- academically, attrition rates, and retention rates with much of the blame being given to the schools themselves. In many cases and in many ways, it is a valid argument -- virtual schools can do much more to enroll better-fit students, retain more of them, and engage them at a deeper level throughout the year.

However, it cannot go unstated that at some point in this relationship, students and parents must show up. And, they must be willing to put forth the effort in order to succeed.

Virtual schools can and should build better railways for students and families, and provide them lifetime tickets to fulfill their potential. But, students and families must be willing to use that ticket. There must be effort on their part. Instead, there is a small yet significant percentage of families who take the ticket but never jump on board for the ride. In that instance, there is little the virtual school can do.

Enrolling in a virtual school and engaging with a virtual school are two different acts altogether. For the relationship to work, there must be two involved -- school (teacher, administration, staff) and family (student, parent).

By not using the ticket given to him, Chief Crowfoot never realized the true value of what was offered to him. In the same way, students and parents who do not engage with their virtual school fail to realize the value of what is offered to them by the virtual school.

See, there was a correlation after all.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How, What, When.

How you say something matters as much as what you say.

When you say it matters as much as How and What.

Taken together How, What and When form a three-legged stool for sharing content properly.

Typically, virtual schools focus too much on What, pay little to no attention to How, and only think internally about When (When is a matter of convenience for them).

How, What and When must each play their proper role in order to support and enhance a content stool.

So, while content may be king, it rests on the throne of How, What and When. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Better enrollments, higher retention, deeper engagement.

That was, in essence, my pitch to a prospective client. I had spent a couple of days with this virtual school, discussing where they had been, where they were, and where they wanted to go. I had walked them through my Virtual School Manifesto, shared with them where it diverged from current models, and outlined the measurable results that consisted of better enrollments, higher retention, and deeper engagement.

Better Enrollments

Currently there appears to be a thought process that better enrollments does not equal more enrollments. In reality, it may mean just that. It doesn't have to though. A third option though is that it could mean more enrollments and better enrollments over time.

However, the current model of enrolling as many students as possible, without taking into account true fit for the model, does a disservice to the families, students, and the school. The result is the high attrition rates we are now experiencing.

As I shared with this prospective client, my attention is centered on finding families who are willing to put in the work necessary to succeed.

"Virtual schools are not for everyone, so why therefore do we attempt to recruit anyone who will say Yes?"

Instead, I support the notion that we train our efforts, invest our dollars on finding families who align with our mission and have the necessary aspiration to show up and play the role they need to play. It is a team effort that requires both school and family.

Higher Retention

By default if we recruit better enrollments we should experience higher retention rates. However, that will only move the needle slightly. In order to have the type of impact that makes a difference, we need to move to a retention culture.

When we begin the process of dismantling the retention programs and build a culture centered on the learning experience, the families, and the service we can provide them, we then initiate a culture of retention. And this is where the real change can occur.

In most virtual schools, students who stay longer perform better on state tests (due to many reasons). It only makes sense then that virtual schools should work harder at serving and keeping their existing families than they do at recruiting new ones.

Now, combine a retention culture with recruiting better enrollments and you will have more of the "right" students with more of them staying longer.

Deeper Engagement

From showing up for online meetings, classes and field trips to being present and ready at the state tests, a deeper level of engagement by students and families will boost school performance.

My belief and experience is if we build a retention culture based on the aspects of customer service, it creates an environment in which families engage with their school at a deeper, more meaningful level. We want students to be present and we also want them to engage. Being there is the first step, participating is the goal.

Each point is a measurable metric. We can measure the quality of enrollments just as we can easily measure retention rates. And, we can also measure engagement levels by students and families.

This approach requires the school to be disciplined, and authentic in its message. It turns the attention away from more and shines the spotlight on better, higher and deeper. If done well and consistent, it will also lead to more, but more of what is desired -- better, higher and deeper.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Virtual schools and socialization.

Virtual schools across the country are faced with the dilemma of how to engage students who are spread around the state and never have to set foot in a building.

Most virtual schools tend to rely on the traditional field trips, online clubs, and even virtual field trips to fill this void and overcome the lack of student engagement. Unfortunately the results are minimal at best. Attrition rates continue to remain high and socialization (or lack thereof) is often cited as a reason for many parents who choose to remove their child. It is ironic when you look at the offerings provided by each virtual school to offset this and realize many of them are working hard and providing families with a multitude of options to interact and engage -- zoo trips, museum trips, online activities, clubs, and much more.

So, what is going on? My experience tells me that virtual schools are actually trying to solve the wrong problem. By focusing on socialization they are working hard to put band aids in place when the real wound is something else.

One need only to look at the current environment to better understand what is going on. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social platforms provide us a glimpse into the real issue. Each is built not on the idea of socialization but on Connectionalization (I know it is not a real word but one day it may be).

Students are looking for a place to connect, not socialize. They want to belong. As I mentioned in my Virtual School Manifesto: Nine Essential Ingredients, socialization is the school dance. It is organized by the school, promoted by the school, and monitored by the school. Then, students show up and many of them simply stand around and watch a few have a good time.

On the other hand, Connectionalization is what occurs in the hallways where friendships form and tribes emerge. It's organic more than it is scripted. Many times it is student led which can be frightening for many administrators. Yet, it creates an environment where students can feel like they belong.

Virtual schools who want to engage their students, retain more of them, and make them happy will become obsessed with being a Human Connection school.

It is Essential #7 in my Manifesto, and right now it is sorely lacking in virtual schools.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Time for customer service in public schools

Recently a student in Texas was arrested for bringing a clock to school. And while I believe this latest incident shines a spotlight on where we are in today's world, and how fear seems to be driving us, my intent is not to focus on that larger issue for this.

My aim is to center in on the follow-up letter sent out by the district to the parents, and the spotlight it shines on the lack of customer service skills pervasive in public schools today. Transforming the letter from one of informing parents of what happened at school to recommending they use this opportunity to speak to their children about the Student Code of Conduct and specifically not bringing items to school that are prohibited shows poor judgment at best.

It also demonstrates the lack of customer service within our public schools today. The virtual schools I have the privilege of working with are helping transform the overall learning experience by building a customer-centered culture, adopting service standards, and treating students as the valued customers they are.

Imagine a public school that took the same initiative. Imagine a public school that focused not just on the academics but also on the experience of learning. Imagine a public school (leaders, teachers, and staff) that built a culture centered on providing a remarkable learning experience for its students and treated them as the valued customers they are.

It is an idea worth imagining. It is also one I am working to bring to reality.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Don't believe the lie

Unless it happens to be the truth. And therein lies the difficulty - - discerning what is true and what is not.

What is most disconcerting is how quickly we as consumers make that decision. We quickly form our opinion then look for facts that support it while we tend to ignore potential red flags. Most of the time we do this without realizing it.

So, is it marketers that distort the truth, exaggerate the truth, or do we simply forget to read the fine print, because it is too fine?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Virtual School Manifesto: Essential Ingredient #1

1. Place the teacher-student relationship in the center

The current model of virtual schools proudly places the student at the center, then encircles that student with technology, content, teacher support, intervention, test prep, and more. They message it out as putting students first, revolving around the student, or everything we do is about the student. They each have the student serving as the foundation upon which they are building everything else.

Unfortunately, the foundation is crumbling. And, instead of addressing the real issue, online providers and educators come together at their annual conference in order to showcase new technologies for their Learning Management Systems (LMS) in order to allow more timely teacher interventions. Or, they tout new gaming-type graphics and media that will engage students. Next, they adopt new terms such as competency-based or adaptive learning in order to demonstrate ongoing progress. And, finally, they share best practices among each other when no one is succeeding in such a way that should be followed.

And, when all else fails, they seek to implement variances of the model, moving today toward a blended learning approach instead of full virtual.

All the while they ignore the foundation. What if they were to change the core concept upon which they build? Instead of placing the student at the center, place the teacher-student relationship there and see what possibilities emerge.

A simple change such as that could do wonders for the way in which technology is utilized.

John D. Rockefeller understood this concept at the turn of the last century. No, not the virtual school concept, but rather he understood the real role railroads played in the building of America. Tom Scott and Cornelius Vanderbilt believed railroads were the foundation to build upon. Rockefeller saw it differently.

Rockefeller utilized the railroads in order to transport his product, oil, into the homes of Americans so they could have light. For him, the railroads were merely a conduit to move his product from Point A to Point B. So, when Scott and Vanderbilt, rivalries at the time, combined efforts in order to squeeze more money out of Rockefeller, it backfired on them. Instead of caving in, Rockefeller began to build the nation’s first oil pipelines because he rightly understood the foundation of growth was in the oil, not in the transportation of it.

Fast forward to today and we have another oil v railroad situation. Too many online providers and educators view technology as the oil when in reality it is merely the railroad. And, just as the railroads gave way to the airplanes so too will current technology give way to future advancements -- mobile is outpacing personal computers, tablets are outpacing laptops, and so forth. Ten years ago there was no app industry.

The problem remains in that everyone is focused on building a better railroad, or inventing the airplane in order to replace it. When, in reality, they should be focused on the real oil, in this case, the teacher-student relationship.

In the world of virtual schools it is still the teacher-student interaction that carries with it the potential to inspire learning. The current model relegates teachers to the same level as the technology and asks them to serve as interventionists or mere supporters/cheerleaders. This not only diminishes their role but it also severely inhibits their ability to impact the learning by the student.

Imagine instead a virtual school model that is built upon the foundation of the relationship between the teacher and the student. Imagine a virtual school that understands the vitalness of this interaction and builds everything to encircle it instead of merely the student. This is not to diminish the role of technology, it is merely to ask it to serve the proper focus and foundation.

Teachers inspire learning. Teachers, equipped with powerful technology have the potential to powerfully inspire learning. Technology should serve as the conduit to transport the relationship between the teacher and the student. Technology is not the oil, the relationship is.

I purposely state it as teacher first then student when speaking of the relationship. The teacher goes first in this relationship because they are the ones that can bring out the personal best within each student. They are the originators of the relationship. They are the ones that drive the breadth and depth of the relationship. The teachers are the ones that engage the students therefore they are first in importance, even when it comes to the student.

So, let’s establish our virtual school upon the foundation of the teacher-student relationship. Then, let’s see what emerges as we begin to build.

Taken from Virtual School Manifesto: Nine Essential Ingredients