Monday, February 23, 2015

And the Oscar goes to . . .

. . . those who stay weird, stay different.

Screenwriter Graham Moore's acceptance speech was easily one of the highlights of last night's 87th Academy Awards Presentation in which he encouraged teens (yet each of us really) to "stay weird, stay different."

I believe that is part of the promise virtual schooling holds -- it allows students to be themselves, to learn their own way, to explore their passions, to follow Graham's exhortation.

Students in virtual schools can move beyond the confines of the seats in traditional schools, discover what lies outside the walls of brick-and-mortar buildings, and learn to see the world in new and fascinating ways.

We celebrate the weird, the different each February when it comes to the Oscars. What if we did the same each and every day within the realm of education. What if we honored each student for who they are and who they desire to be.

Virtual schooling provides us with this opportunity.

It offers us the chance to expand the categories to fit the student instead of working to fit more students into fewer categories.

It gives us the freedom to see the world through each of their eyes instead of telling them what they need to see. And, when we begin to do that we are then on the verge of opening up the future in ways unknown, and that is when potential can be fulfilled.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I don't know.

Three simple words, and yet so difficult for many of us to say.

It took years for me to master these words, and there are times where the small voice inside me continues to provide me with doubt as to whether or not they should be said again. But, I also understand the power that comes with being able to say, "I don't know."

Saying it doesn't mean you can't learn it.

Saying it doesn't mean you can't find the answer (see for that).

In fact, saying it frees you up to grow, to further your knowledge and expertise, and to become even better at what you do.

You may want to give it a try.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Virtual schools: Concept v Implementation

Virtual (cyber, online) schooling has the potential to bring a high-quality education to any child, anywhere. It can democratize education by allowing children of any demographic the ability to access a learning experience tailored more to their learning style, and help them reach their full potential. It removes geographic barriers and opens up new avenues of learning for children.

Over the past 15 years the implementation of this concept has gone awry for various reasons (not everywhere and not every school though). But, it doesn't mean the concept of virtual schooling should be tossed aside, dismissed, or unfairly criticized.

Critique it, adapt it, adjust it, improve it, modify it -- yes, do all of these things. However, start first by understanding it. Understand what it can do, who it can serve, and who should be part of it.

It's not for every child just because every child has access to it -- that's not a negative on the child it just means a different approach is better for them (whether they are struggling or considered "gifted").

It's not for every teacher just because they have the credentials -- that's not a negative on the teacher it just means their abilities and talents are best applied in another setting.

It's not a solution for every educational problem. However, it can provide a strong solution to some (perhaps many) of them. Let's look for alternative solutions to the problems it cannot solve.

And finally, let's separate the concept of virtual schools from the implementation of virtual schools. The concept is a revolutionary one, and revolutionary concepts sometimes take time to be fully realized.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Change perspective and perspective can change

Much of what I write about, and do in my consulting business, has to do with challenging perspectives, and changing them. It allows for fresh ideas to occur -- sometimes they work brilliantly and sometimes they do not.

One of my mentors is author and creative thinker Michael Milchalko. I found his book Thinkertoys at a Barnes & Noble years ago, and it has been a constant companion of mine since then. Fortunately it wasn't the only book he decided to write. I have had the good fortune of being in contact with him over the years and continue to enjoy his thoughts, his perspective, and his writings.

In addition to authoring books, he puts out a regular blog dedicated to creative thinking. You can read his latest post here.

In it he will challenge you to change your perspective in order for your perspective to change -- allowing you to see things in new ways.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Is closing Tennessee Virtual Academy the answer?

Former Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman threatened to close down the Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA) due to poor academic performance. And, in fact, there is a sunset law coming into play this year that should the TN Legislature not extend the law, the school would have to close.

TNVA currently serves approximately 1300 kids across this State I call home. Recently hundreds of TNVA parents, students, teachers and administration made their way to Nashville to plead for it to remain open.

I have recently had numerous families in TNVA reach out to me for my thoughts on it, and have turned down a few interviews for stories related to TNVA and whether or not it deserves to be closed.

And now, four paragraphs into this post and I have yet to touch on answering the question I posed in the title: Is closing TNVA the answer?

First, I would re-frame the question. Instead of arguing over whether or not TNVA deserves to remain open, make the question related to the 1300 students that would be impacted by this decision.

If TNVA were to close, what choice would each student have for school next year? Why did they choose TNVA this year? How would it benefit each student by, in essence, returning them to the place they left because it was not meeting their needs?

In reality, there is not a single answer that will suffice here. There are, in fact, 1300 different answers to this question.

Second, let's not make this a Yes or No question and answer. Instead, what if we explored ways in which to transform TNVA and its model into one that will serve the students and families. What if TNVA attracted students that would be a better fit for its model? What if TNVA built itself around even some of the Nine Essentials I proposed in an earlier post related to virtual schools? What if TNVA adapted a blended version of itself in key areas of the State? What if . . .?

Instead of making this a decision related to staying open or closing, make this a decision about transforming the model (not tweaking) moving forward. Make it a decision about the future possibilities not just the past results.

Third, if the decision is to close TNVA, my hope is that it is made based on the implementation of the model, not on the overall virtual concept. Virtual learning has great promise and it can serve the right students remarkably (when implemented correctly).

So, what is my answer? Actually I can see both sides of the argument. However I can't help but give thought to the faces of the 1300 students.

Perhaps the real question is what is best for each one of them?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Customer service v customer experience

Customer service is meeting needs.

Customer experience is fulfilling wants while meeting their needs.

If you concentrate on the experience you have the potential to create loyal customers.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Two mistakes made by email marketers

Having someone's email address is of high value, and carries with it great responsibility.

For marketers, there is constant tension in how to handle the email addresses within their database, knowing the degradation rate each year.

And, many of them tend to make two primary mistakes:

1. Emailing too often

What prompted this blog post for me this morning was the fact that within a span of 30 minutes I received two emails from Rosetta Stone -- both pertaining to the same content centered around Valentine's Day. The first one had a title of "Ignite Your Child's Love of Language" and arrived at 9:13 a.m. this morning. The second one arrived at 9:37 a.m. with the title "Your Special Offer Has Arrived."

Each morning for the past week I have received an email from Rosetta Stone. But, they are not the worst. That would fall to My Publisher, in my opinion. Rosetta Stone is at least trying to offer some content-oriented incentive (love of learning, enriching experience, etc.) whereas My Publisher, in the words of Meghan Trainor, is all about the discount, bout the discount, bout the discount - no full price.

2. Not emailing often enough

I sign up for Inbound marketing from different companies to watch and learn how they utilize the permission being granted to them. And while most companies tend to make the mistake listed above, there are others that tend to be too hesitant in the use of their email database.

In today's short-attention-span world, is an email once a month enough to keep your database of families engaged?

The goal is to find that middle ground where you are contacting them regularly enough to illicit positive behavior from them, but not too often that it becomes a commodity, or worse a nuisance in their inbox.

Sure, content is the main driver, and that is expected here in this discussion -- give them something that is valuable to them (other than just discounts). But, with all of the CRM tools available today, companies should be able to determine where that middle ground of frequency lies based on the analytic information at their disposal.

Who do you think is doing the Inbound Marketing right? Who are those that are bombarding you? Interested to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Behind the curtain

"I was told that it would only take 6-8 hours each day for the schoolwork to be completed. But, now I am finding out that in addition to the 6-8 hours of schoolwork, there is also more to be done with teacher meetings, test prep, and other online meetings -- this means our days are more like 8-10 hours. Not what I was told."

Cyber (virtual) school mom

A friend shared this Facebook post with me as we were discussing the idea of how easy it is to "peer behind the curtain" and see what is really going on. With Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other social avenues, prospective families can easily and quickly determine if what you are telling them is true or not.

Not too long ago it was simpler for companies to create a false front and craft the story they wanted to tell. Today, your customers play an integral role in sharing that story of yours. So, make sure it is authentic from the beginning because they can easily see behind the curtain.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Moving at the speed of trust

Your customers, your prospects will only purchase from you at the level to which they trust you.

It creates for you an amazing opportunity: If I build trust then I can increase revenue.

And while I know it is not quite that simple, and there are other factors involved, the two are directly related. But they do have a prescribed order.

Focus on trust and revenue will follow.

For more on this idea, read The Trust Game in economic theory.