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.