History Can Be Fun and Games

While we may look to the history books to see the chronicling of the past, we don’t have to limit how we teach history (or civics or social studies, or any subject, for that matter) to those same books. New technologies, new instructional approaches, and even the embrace of the old role-playing styles, have opened up new doors when it comes to how we teach — and learn — history.

Over at Medium this week, I write on how history instruction can be transformed through a gaming approach to teaching. USA Today reporter Greg Toppo has literally written the book on the topic, with his The Game Believes In You telling some incredible stories of how educators are using games to better reach their students.

In my piece, I look at some of the specific efforts to use gaming to bring social studies instruction alive, everything from iCivics to the teacher-focused simulations at Ted Kennedy Institute to the new Woodrow Wilson HistoryQuest Fellowship program.

As I write:

Simply put, we cannot expect 21st-century students to truly learn from history — and civics and social studies in general — in the same way and through the same approaches that may have worked for Santayana, Winston Churchill, and others concerned about repeating history. The methods of old, those with experienced educators lecturing in front of a class of students all sitting at desks in straight rows, is quickly becoming a thing of the past. If the students of tomorrow are to truly “learn from history,” they require instructional approaches that better reflect their own interests, learning styles, and experiences.

And as I conclude:

And that is the role gaming now plays in my kids’ classroom. I want a teacher who has been part of the HistoryQuest program to make social studies come alive for my kids in a way a paper-and-ink textbook simply can’t. I want a music teacher that is channeling my son’s love of Minecraft to help him appreciate his grandfather’s love of opera. And I want an educator who can use the simulations of the Kennedy Institute to help my daughter better understand what I did all those years when I worked on Capitol Hill.

Give the piece a read. Think of it like a game …

The Teacher of the Future

The teacher of the future? That future might be now. It is an important discussion that policymakers and practitioners should be having. What are our expectations for teachers in the future? What should incoming educators know and be able to do? And what do we do when our expectations don’t match the realities in the classroom?

Earlier this month, KCUR public radio in Kansas City, MO dedicated an hour to the topic, offering up a wide range of perspectives. The segment included Arthur Levine, President of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation; Cristin Blunt, teacher at an alternative school in Shawnee Mission; Colleen Power, homeschool mom and teacher; Matthew Oates, involved with Friends of Hale Cook and candidate for Kansas City Public Schools board; Sylvia Maria Gross, Senior Producer of KCUR’s Central Standard and former teacher; Tony Kline, Superintendent, University Academy; and Kyle Palmer, KCUR reporter.

You can hear the full story here on the KCUR site. It’s definitely worth the listen.

Can We Learn Empathy from the Clock Incident and #IStandWithAhmed ?

Now that the dust has settled some on the controversy out in Texas where a high school student was arrested and then suspended for building a digital clock at home and bringing it into school, it is time to start asking what we can learn from this experience (and from many like it when school rules seem to conflict with a student’s love for learning).

Over at Medium, I explore this topic as part of Changemaker Education and Ashoka’s Start Empathy Initiative. As I write:

No, we don’t know what would have happened if the student’s skin was Northern European white instead of Middle Eastern brown. We don’t know what difference it would have made if his last name was “Michaels” instead of “Mohamed”. But we do know that our public need to stereotype and give in to phobias may have stifled a potentially strong scientific mind from pursuing his full potential.

What becomes most frustrating about the experience is that, while we talk about the importance of empathy in the schools, we instead see a classic case of “defending” discrimination. Authorities could have taken a step back and tried to look at this through Ahmed Mohamed’s eyes; the pride of building a digital clock on his own, the confusion of being discouraged by a trusted teacher. The fear of being interrogated by police and then placed in handcuffs. All for building a digital clock.

I hope you’ll give it a read.

Thanks, Bulldog Reporter! #bulldogawards

Just wanted to take a quick second to thank Bulldog Reporter and all of those who are involved in the Bulldog Awards process. Earlier this week, Bulldog Reporter announced the winners of its 2015 Bulldog Not-for-Profit PR Awards. I’m honored to announce that dear ol’ Eduflack won the gold for Outstanding Non-Profit Communicator.

Specifically, Bulldog recognized my work with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, where we are seeking to transform teacher education. Communications has been an important part of the Foundation’s work over the past year, and I’m fortunate to work with a number of terrific individuals on this effort. Communications is now integrated in all of the Foundation’s programmatic work, and the mutual benefits of this relationship can be seen in Woodrow Wilson’s successes.

So thanks to Bulldog, to the judges, to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation team, and to all those across the nation who are part of a shared effort to transform teacher education. We are building a movement, and I am fortunate to be a part of it.

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Talking Public/Private Partnerships on Twitter #ANPRSA

Just wanted to share this notice from the Public Relations Society of America. On Thursday, September 24 at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT, I’ll be part of a Twitter town hall that PRSA is hosting on “Best Practices in Managing Nonprofit-Corporate Partnerships. Following are all of the deets. Hope you’ll be able to join us on hashtag #ANPRSA for the discussion.

The Association/Nonprofit section’s next Twitter chat will bring folks together to discuss Best Practices for Nonprofit and Corporate Partnership — what challenges to anticipate when building and managing these relationships, what outcomes you can/should expect, and what resources are available for nonprofits who want to engage more in this kind of work. We hope you can join us! 

Best Practices in Managing Nonprofit-Corporate Partnerships

Thursday, September 24, 2015
8 PM Eastern / 5 PM Pacific



Patrick R. Riccards (@Eduflack)
Chief Communications and Strategy Officer, Woodrow Wilson Foundation

Tom Greer (@tompgreer)
Director of Communication, TASBO
Denise Bortree (@dbortree)
Director, Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication

Does Accountability “Eradicate Goodness?”

As a nation, No Child Left Behind has been the law for more than 13 years now. Good, bad, and ugly (and with the occasional waiver from any of the three), NCLB governs K-12 education in the United States.

Listen to any of those who were responsible for bringing it into law, or those who were responsible for implementing the law, and you’ll hear one of the most important components was “accountability.” NCLB was designed to hold states, districts, schools, teachers, and students themselves for learning. Test scores determined if adequate progress was being made. If it wasn’t, then federal dollars were at risk and great public shame could come to those put on the “list” for failing to make AYP.

We all recognize that, at some point in the near future, NCLB will be replaced with some variation of the current “Every Child Achieves” bill that is currently working its way through Congress. A great many legislators, organizations, individuals, advocates, agitators, and the like are all look to make the changes that help them the most or reflect their own dreams and desires for federal K-12 governance.

And we will see change. We likely will see a number of changes. We will likely see changes that aren’t even warranted (or may not be demanded). But one thing should be clear. We aren’t going to see federal law do away with accountability.

I understand there are a great number of people who want to accountability go the way of the dodo. Those that want to see all the sticks replaced with carrots and federal law governed by the philosophy that we are all a success and we’ve earned trophies just for participating in the schooling process.

But results count. There are clear benchmarks of what students should know and be able to do at the conclusion of each grade. There are clear expectations of what it means to finish the fourth grade or to graduate from high school. And when students enter fourth grade unable to read at grade level or head into 12th grade functionally illiterate, someone needs to be held accountable. The state. The district. The school. And the student himself.

So it a cryin’ shame when we see folks who should know better thinking that a redo of the ESEA law can and should mean the total elimination of any and all accountability. Particularly when they frame it as, “Doing anything punitive in nature eradicates what goodness is going to come out of this bill.”

For those keeping track, those are the words of Sheila Cohen, the president of the Connecticut Education Association. They were spoken, as captured by the Connecticut Mirror, in response to U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy siding with civil rights groups who want to see accountability provisions remain in the federal law, including the NAACP.

“The principle of accountability is not negotiable to us,” said Leslie Proll, director of the Washington office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “This was the raison d’etre of the original act. Educational systems must be held responsible for narrowing and eliminating gaps in opportunity and achievement for students of color.”

Proll is right on point here. Educational systems must be held responsible. They must be responsible for both the inputs and the outcomes. They must both admit there are serious concerns when it comes to achievement and opportunity gaps AND that we need to everything possible to close those gaps. And no, simply blaming “poverty” is not going to get us there.

There cannot be accountability without some sort of punitive action. Otherwise, there simply is no accountability. Are we to simply say, borrowing from the old Robin Williams routine, “improve the schools, or we’ll ask you to improve them again?” Decades have shown us it just doesn’t work that way.

Instead of believing that something punitive eradicates all that is good in nature, perhaps we should borrow a little from Newton’s third law of physics. For every act of accountability, there is an equal and opposite act of achievement. That the possibility of a negative impact will actually lead our schools to make the requisite change to close those persistent gaps that need to be closed.

The Loss of a Legend … and a Really Great Guy

Eduflack was deeply saddened this afternoon to learn of the passing of Larry McQuillan. Larry was a colleague, a mentor, a dear friend, and just a terrific guy.

Just about everyone in the education communications community knew Larry. And he was universally liked in our field. That can be a real rarity. 

For those unfamiliar with his background, Larry started off as a reporter. He did the local media grind in a number of small-town newspapers. Larry was a helluva reporter. He worked his way to Washington, DC, where he covered the White House. And the stories he could tell about life as a beat reporter. 

As I came to know Larry, I finally asked why he was always wearing a coat and tie, even when he was working in a business casual environment. He responded with a story of covering President Bill Clinton. The “lid” was supposedly on for the day, and Larry was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Then he was called into work, finding himself in the Oval Office in jeans. He wore a tie every work day after that. He would never be caught unprepared again. 

After he left journalism, Larry worked in communications for groups like the American Federation of Teachers and American Institutes of Research. It was at the latter where I really got to know Larry. 

He was the consummate professional, terrific writer, thoughtful leader, and great human being. Larry had a great sense of humor, coupled with a wonderfully dry wit. I could be entertained for hours each day just by the stories he could tell or the conversations we would have. 

When I left AIR, one if the hardest things was saying goodbye to Larry. My success at AIR was due so much to Larry and his terrific work. After departing AIR, I was fortunate to continue to build my relationship with Larry, really growing to appreciate him as a friend. 

Larry cared about me and my family, always wanting the latest updates. He loved talking about his own son and how exciting the equine world, his son’s field, was by observation. He adored his wife, and was always telling me about her work. And in recent years, nothing meant more to Larry than his role as grandfather. 

Today, I lost a great teacher, great counselor, and even greater friend. Larry was the big brother who taught me what it was really like to think like a reporter. The education world is a little lesser today with the loss of Larry McQuillan. And I know my personal world is as well. 

Larry is what we all should aspire to become. A successful professional, completely selfless despite enormous skill and success. A man who knew his priorities, and never forgot them. 

Goodbye, my friend. Know you will be deeply missed, but never forgotten. Your advice, counsel, and fraternity will forever be a part of my professional DNA. Thank you for all you did, all you gave, and all you cared. 

Is the Time Right to Change Higher Ed?

For decades now, the media had proclaimed the “death” of higher education as we know it. Online ed was supposed to do it a generation ago. Just a few years ago, the MOOC was going to put all colleges and universities out of business. Yet the institutional model that has been around for a millennium still seems to be alive and kicking.

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, my colleague Arthur Levine (president emeritus of Teachers College, Columbia University and current president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation) writes on how the time may finally be right for higher education to begin to transition from its assembly line, industrial age approach to one better suited for the information age we all current enjoy (or at least tolerate).

Levine offers three reasons why we may finally see higher education transform in the United States. Reason one: As a nation, we are transitioning from a national, analog, industrial economy to a global, digital, information one. So it only makes sense that higher ed would follow the nation. Reason two: the number of higher education providers is booming, and it such opportunities are no longer limited to the traditional, ivy-wall-covered universities we have grown used to. And reason three: research makes clear that people learn in different ways, and we may need multiple approaches to higher education to ensure all are receiving it.

Dr. Levine is a particular fan of competency-based education, which focuses on subject matter mastery rather than time spent in a classroom. At its core, CBE is about students demonstrating their knowledge, rather than being recognized for coming to X numbers of classes for X total hours. As he writes:

[Competency-based education]  experiments need to be watched, assessed, and supported so that institutions can create and expand the infrastructure for competency-based education, including an alternative to the time-based Carnegie unit. This is merely the most visible aspect of a revolution occurring in education at all levels: the shift to learning outcomes and learner-centered education.

Every institution of higher education will have to make this shift, and the time to plan for it is now. History shows that the future of institutions that fail to act will be determined for them by policy makers and by pioneering competitors — inside and outside traditional higher education.

The full commentary is worth the read. Change is coming to higher education. The only question is whether institutions and individuals will be leading that change, or just have the change happen to them.

Woo Hoo! I’m Evergreen

Readers of the Eduflack blog know that I am particularly proud of my book Dadprovement, which chronicles the adoption of our two children from Guatemala and what raising these two incredible kiddos has meant to me and how it has helped me change my priorities and become a better father, husband, and man.

I can’t put into words how it feels when someone tells me what the book has meant to them or how it had impacted their own thinking or their own family dynamics. And that is the point — to break from the stereotypical role of the “father” and to help establish a new look at what a modern-day day really is.

Earlier this month, I learned that Dadprovement was the winner of a 2015 Living Now Evergreen Medal from Independent Publisher. According to IP:

We launched the Evergreen Book Medals to commemorate world-changing books published since the year 2000. We all seek healthier, more fulfilling lives for ourselves and for the planet, and books are important tools for gaining knowledge about how to achieve these goals for ourselves, our loved ones, and for Planet Earth. Divided into five categories, these books are honored for their contributions to positive global change.

For 2015, Dadprovement received an Evergreen Medal for Personal Growth. In honoring my book, the folks at Independent Publisher singled out an excerpt that is particularly important to me:

I was playing at being a father; I wasn’t being a father. I was playing at being a husband; I wasn’t actually being a supportive husband. I was doing everything I had always done. I was being selfish. I wasn’t being a real man, and I certainly wasn’t being a real husband or father. I was a selfish little boy. And I had had enough.

Big thanks to the Independent Publisher judges who bestowed this honor, and to all of those who have been so supportive of both the book and of my personal evolution.

Happy reading!

Blowing Up Schools of Ed?

Over at Education Post, I have a piece that talks about our need to transform education schools across the country. With everything we are putting on teachers today, and all we expect from them in the classroom and beyond, we just can’t expect that teacher preparation today would still look like it did 50 years ago. Yet at far too many colleges and universities, it just does. As I wrote:

We have been asking more and more from our teachers. A decade ago, the remark was delivered expecting teachers to be researchers and psychometricians. In the years since, we have looked to those same beginning teachers to also be social workers, assessment administrators, referees, moral compasses, and the ultimate criteria for whether school districts, schools and students were succeeding.

In the piece, I spotlight the work I am currently engaged in at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, as we embark an on exciting new effort, in collaboration with MIT, to build the ed school of the future, one that is competency based and focused on outcomes. As I note, “We need a new teacher-education model focused on outcomes and one that requires recognition that learning, time and process are variables and that one size definitely does not fit all.”

You can check out the full piece here. And while you are at it, check out some of the other content at Education Post. The new platform is doing a great job spotlighting reforms and improvements across the country.

Happy reading!