Drugs Are Illegal. Reform’s Scary. Coffee Fixes the World.

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 4.45.17 PMI want to have coffee with a friend. We struggle to squeeze it in.

“How about two Fridays from now?” Why can’t we get our calendars to stop fighting so we can drink coffee? Eventually, one calendar wins. Coffee arrives.

What starts as coffee with a good friend ends as vision. Always does. Soon, note pads, pens, Macs, iPhones and iPads clutter the table, pushing our freakishly healthy foods aside.

Usually when two or more teachers are in the room, venting begins. Bitching even. Everyone opens the valve a little. My husband doesn’t understand this. He wonders why teachers bitch. He hates it. He won’t go to “teacher things.”

“It’s not bitching,” I explain, “It’s ‘looking for solutions.'” Sure, there are People Who Bitch. They’re the ones speaking negatively about others–students, colleagues, and leadership. When good teachers gather, it’s not bitching. It’s seeking answers for real problems. When the fixes are out of reach, there’s frustration. Especially when frustration takes good people down.

“I’ll never go back into the classroom,” I hear it more and more. “I can’t do all this testing and stuff.” People go into leadership, guidance, or whatever because, they say, they’re “done with the classroom.” Others–good people–jump into those roles to save the world, finding windmills to fight on that side of the fence, too.

“This isn’t for me. I’m no good. Didn’t realize it would be this way–I wanted to change lives, not tabulate test scores.” That was roughly the quote I got from someone leaving the profession–literally, box in hand. Midyear.

Good teachers fear tests and evals. Sure, accountability’s in every profession. Can we do it better though? I heard Steve Blank talk at last year’s Business Innovation Factory conference. “Fire the idea, not the person,” he said.

Steve Blank is a pretty smart guy. As one of Forbes Magazine’s “30 Most Influential People in Tech,” he’s not only written textbooks on how startups should be created and grown, he even changed the way the National Science Foundation spends money to align with the systems of successful entrepreneurs–systems he invented.

Anyone who changes the way government spends money has the ear of this lowly teacher.

His thoughts were simple. Sometimes you need to fire the idea, not the person, he said. Run the numbers without blame. Then fix the problems.

Getting rid of judgment helps people be objective and take risks. Risks produce results. Taking risks in education can get a person low scores, though, so there’s fear.

Fear about things real or imagined shuts good people down.

Fear does not produce vision.

Fear is conquered by vision.

Vision, luckily, is found in a cup of coffee with a friend. It pours out our hearts into the vortices swirling throughout the mugs into reality. All the little things mixing and colliding in the swirls…that’s the vision. Every sip, gulp, cup waiting for a sip–vision. Leaving the cup on the counter to go cold is missing the possibilities–so easy to do when rushing around. Steam goes uncaptured into the universe. Vision lost.

But sitting with my friend, vision pushes aside inconsequential girl talk. It says things like, “Sounds like you might consider,” and “That happens to me. I’ve tried…” or “I notice you write a lot about this, but I’d really like to read it if you wrote this…” or “I’d buy that idea…”

Every single time I meet Vision Friend, I leave with a dozen working plans. On a good day, I have pages of notes. On a crazy day, we’ve got blogs, businesses, books, and concepts racing around the room trying to get to the finish line first so we might convert them to reality.

Vision conquers fear. And accountability defeats complacency. Inaction. Inertia. This is why vision needs company. It needs someone to say, “Hey, you told me you were going to….how’s that going?”

Otherwise, we’re tempted to “forget” we promised to do something, and vision dies. Vision often requires courage, support, and the swirly things in a cup of coffee to produce results. Follow-through. Reality.

I know vision’s in the room when my heart leaps just a bit and the notepad comes out. The more I surround myself with friends who make my heart leap just a bit and pages fill on notepad, the better I become. I want to be better. And I want to make other people feel that they are better for having known me.

It’s a simple goal. One I hope I can meet. I think I can, if I have just one more cup of coffee…with my good friend.

Notes: 

My “vision” friend, Alicia, blogs here: WriteSolutions under the tag “Student Learning Is No Accident.”

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How a Rhombus Ruined my Relaxation

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 6.02.33 AM“Mom!” I can see we’re going to have the nightly bed struggle. I just sat down, fantasizing about relaxation.

“I put you to bed, get back there.”

“But I made you a rhombus,” said Declan, extending a white rhombus of paper.

Oh, in that case, stay up all night. If I’d have known you made me a rhombus…A rhombus does not get you out of bed. A fifty, maybe, but not a rhombus.

“Excuse me, Ma’am, do you know why I pulled you over?” the officer says.

“No,” I say, “but I made you a rhombus. Can I go now?”

I don’t think that’s an effective life strategy.

“Mom!” he says. We are having parallel conversations. I want him in bed. “I MADE you a RHOMBUS!”

“Great. I like rhombuses. Or are they rhombi? Anyway, you’re out of bed!” I refuse to be cheated out of my one hour of peace before my bedtime by an inanimate geometric shape. Moms never get peace.  The world waits for me to sit before it needs something. And if I don’t respond right away, it stares me down until I do. It’s not like I can enjoy my dinner when someone “needs juice NOW!” “Do you know where the thing is?” “Do we have any more….” “Wipe my hiney!” “I NEEEEEED YOU!!!” No. I am not getting up. Not now. Not even for a rhombus.

“It’s a rhombus. See, it’s made of two triangles.” he pointed out. That’s pretty advanced. I’m fairly impressed, to the point where I’m almost distracted from the mission. Bed.

My husband chimes in. “Yeah, he brought that to me today, and I thought, like, WTF is a rhombus? In my day we called it a diamond. We had normal shapes–triangles, squares, what’s the heck is a rhombus?” I help him out with the geometry. He’s right, though. As a high school teacher, I think it’s odd that everyone knows what a rhombus is but no one can tell time on an analog clock or remember their multiplication tables.

“Excuse me,” Declan says addressing our side conversation. “It’s not a diamond! IT’S A RHOMBUS.” he said.

“Great. Get back to bed. It’s a nice rhombus–see, no ninety degree angles. A square is a rhombus, but a rhombus is not a square.” I reiterate.

“I know.”  You KNOW? You’re in kindergarten. Tell me how this isn’t a problem.

“Time for bed. Go.” No movement. Just a study in rhombus.

“Okay, you forced me.”  I pick up my iPhone. I pretend to hit an app.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING, MOMMY?”

“Putting notes in this app.” I say

“What app?” he asks. Something…is…not…good.

“The punishment app. It sets an alarm and makes up a punishment. It’s not a wise idea so close to your birthday…” He believes me. I hold it up and click an imaginary something. “See, it has a scanner. It knows you’re not behaving.” That’s actually a great idea for an app. I make a note to have someone make this for me. It’ll be a killer startup. I’ll use it every day.

“Ahhhhh!!!!” He runs away.

“Hey, wait!” I say. I pick up the little white piece of paper. “You’d better take your rhombus with you.”  He snatches it from me and runs off into the sunset.

I look down at my watch.

Ten o’clock. Bedtime. No relaxing for me.

I have been….defeated.

By a rhombus.

Thank you, kindergarten teacher. Thank you.

 

Hoodies will get you extra points

I think that computers and start ups are the only fields where looking like crap scores you points. Actually, it seems to be a badge of honor. No one wears a suit jacket. The guy with the suit jacket sticks out. Everyone wears a hoodie.

I brought my one hoodie–my Grockit hoodie sent all the way from Silicon Valley, and tried to fit in. I may have to rewear it today, unlaundered and all. I think that the crumpled look will get me points with the judges.

Maybe our product will too. It solves a problem in education, one that no one has solved, the fact that entrepreneurs and teachers need to have a way to connect, getting good products to students and classes. The fact that entrepreneurs need feedback to develop these products. For too long, I’ve been looking at unused icons on old computer desktops. Products that students hate. I want these entrepreneurs and visionaries to give students products they love.

They can’t do that unless they meet teachers and teachers tell them what they need. Our creation, BetaMatch, solves that. It also solve some other problems, problems I hadn’t even anticipated. Like, how does investor know if a start up is legitimate? If kids would use it? If it is been proven in front of teachers? It came to my attention that this solves this problem too. If you had told me a year ago that I would be solving problems for venture capitalists, I would’ve laughed at you.

We came to the table with a very simple solution. It seems like it has grown into something more. Sort of like every problem, and every solution, in life. That is my lesson here today.

I never expected to get this far. It’s been a surprise. And fun. I met some inspirational people who are solving the problems of education. There are a lot to choose from. Win, lose, or draw, that’s all that matters. It’s why I came here.

I got to see the inner workings of Socratic Labs, an ed tech “accelerator,” a company that develops some of the EdTech companies you will come to know soon. I waited on the subway platform at 3AM, saw my friend Heather Who Never Sleeps, she sleeping now as I write. I hope she didn’t lose her superpowers.

I met inspirational mentors, like Doug, Ash, and Chris, who helped me add value to our new company.

I even got to meet my West Coast boss, Farb Nivi, who in addition to having done some pretty great things for education himself, is a much better musician than me. That carries a lot of weight in for me.

Most importantly of all, I worked with an amazing team. I got to meet visionaries. People whose companies you will see you soon. People whose companies my company may bring to you. It was synergistic–I loved watching people work together to solve the problems of education,often working together on each other’s products. I met some people who will become my friends. I learned a lot in the process.

That’s what it’s all about.

So now, let me go prepare for our pitches tonight. I have to take some extra time to crumple my hoodie just a bit more.