My Stake in the Sand
Early on in my professional life I was introduced to the world of entrepreneurship and as I started my first business at 24, Forever Young Inc., I soon wrapped my identity around being "an entrepreneur". But what does it mean to be an entrepreneur? What I came to learn is that entrepreneurship is really about wonder and problem solving. It's about being an expert sleuth, constantly looking for problems worth solving. It's about applying systems and design thinking to engineer the minimum viable product or MVP as a start to solving that problem. And perhaps most importantly, I learned that entrepreneurship is about putting ego and crazy ideas second to real people and real challenges. Sometimes real problems require crazy ideas. But most problems, if approached with humility, can be solved with elegant solutions.
With this profound knowledge, the following is "my stake in the sand": I strive to be the best thought partner I can be; to collaborate with the people most impacted by challenges worth solving; to thoroughly research and test solutions; and to genuinely evaluate progress. I will continuously seek to place my finger firmly on the pulse of whether we are achieving what we hoped to achieve. And if what we intended isn't working, I will pivot. Always nimble and iterative - I will strive to refine solutions and products to continuously meet the needs of people and the challenges they face.
All entrepreneurs have to wear multiple hats. But the strategic entrepreneur knows that half the battle is honing what she is good at and delegating authority to others to help shape and build a vision. And that speaks to leadership. The following is a quick story that demonstrates my entrepreneurship, thought leadership and design thinking skills but also shows my willingness to let a great idea flourish and grow way beyond the initial MVP to something I never imagined.
One of my areas of expertise, and clearly a huge professional passion, is using human capital development as a driver to scale change across large organizations. Things don't scale change. People scale change. Having served in a variety of roles as an educator, I often encountered a problem I considered really worth solving - the dreaded Train-the-Trainer model (TtT) or as I call it, "one-and-done, good-bye and good-luck" professional development. While serving as Discovery Education's very first Director for Professional Learning, I came across a superintendent who sincerely wanted to drive change in a district that characteristically made decisions school by school. Like so many districts I have worked with across the US, this superintendent and his team were struggling to implement the Common Core Standards. Serving as a thought leader, I sat down with the superintendent's leadership team and together, we broke the problem down. We talked about TtT - why doesn't it work? Is it the model of PD or is it us or is it how we implement it or fail to implement it? And then we talked about what would happen if we dared to do something else. We wondered, "If not TtT, then what should a more progressive professional learning model look like and what should it feel like to the stakeholders it's intended to serve and more importantly, how will this new model serve our students?
Around that time, I had just finished devouring a book titled, Professional Capital, by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan. Hargreaves and Fullan break down Professional Capital into three chunks: human capital (the talent of individuals); social capital (the collaborative power of the group); and decisional capital (the wisdom and expertise to make sound judgements about learners - cultivated over many years). No doubt, Hargreaves and Fullan never intended for their ideas to serve as the antedote to TtT but that's how I interpreted their ideas and swiftly went about using some of their basic concepts to reimagine and create a system of professional learning called Teacher Leader Corps to solve the problem of the dreaded Train-the-Trainer.
The original MVP of the "Corps" model was beautiful, nimble, elegant and simple. Using design thinking principles, it was a solution built on the fundamental belief in nurturing and growing capacity in people. But Teacher Leader Corps, and all it has come to be, required hundreds of people collaborating towards common goals. It takes a village to raise a change movement! And that's the moral of the story. Once the fundamental components were set, the system began to morph in the image of each district and the people it needed to serve and the problems it needed to solve. The coolest thing about being an entrepreneur and architecting a solution like Digital Leader Corps, is having the guts to stand aside and watch in awe as my peers and district partners ran with it.
The original Teacher Leader Corps model has since served Discovery Education's professional learning department to drive the effective integration of it's digital content solutions across the world. And since I started with the organization nearly ten years ago, Discovery Education's Professional Learning division has grown to over 30 million dollars in partnerships annually. Professional learning is now nearly half of Discovery Education's total annual revenue, which is a big deal considering Discovery Education's main product is digital content!Download Resume