Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology

The marketing of mindsets is everywhere. Grit, growth mindset, project-based mindset, entrepreneurial mindset, innovator’s mindset, and a raft of canned social-emotional skills programs are vying for public money. These notions jump straight from psychology departments to aphoristic word images shared on social media and marketing festooned on school walls.

Our elementary school has moved (mostly) from Leader in Me marketing to growth mindset marketing. Instead of being relentlessly peppered with synergy and Franklin Covey’s trademarks and proprietary jargon, we’re peppered with growth mindset. Like every marketed mindset going back to the self-esteem movement, these campaigns are veneers on the deficit model that ignore long-standing structural problems like poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, and childism. The practice and implementation of these mindsets are always suborned by deficit ideology, bootstrap ideology, meritocracy myths, and greed.

Mindset marketing without structural ideology, restorative practices, and inclusion is more harmful than helpful. This marketing shifts responsibility for change from our systems to children. We define kids’ identities through the deficit and medical models, gloss over the structural problems they face, and then tell them to get some grit and growth mindset. This is a form of gaslighting. It is abusive.

Canned social-emotional skills programs, behaviorism, and the marketing of mindsets have serious side effects. They reinforce the cult of compliance and encourage submission to authoritarian rule. They line the pockets of charlatans and profiteers. They encourage surveillance and avaricious data collection. Deficit model capitalism’s data-based obsession proliferates hucksterism and turn kids into someone’s business model.

Instead, acknowledge pipeline problems and the meritocracy myth, stop bikeshedding the structural problems of the deficit model, and stop blaming kids and families. Develop an authentic school culture based on diversity & inclusion, neurodiversity, the social model of disability, structural ideology, and indie ed-tech instead of propagating the latest deficit/bootstrap fad. Inclusion and structural ideology are the way forward. Growth mindset, as commonly implemented, is just another bootstrap metaphor that excuses systems from changing and learning.

Fix injustice, not kids.

A growth mindset isn’t just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort.

Recently, someone asked what keeps me up at night. It’s the fear that the mindset concepts, which grew up to counter the failed self-esteem movement, will be used to perpetuate that movement. In other words, if you want to make students feel good, even if they’re not learning, just praise their effort! Want to hide learning gaps from them? Just tell them, “Everyone is smart!” The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. It is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.

I also fear that the mindset work is sometimes used to justify why some students aren’t learning: “Oh, he has a fixed mindset.” We used to blame the child’s environment or ability.

Must it always come back to finding a reason why some children just can’t learn, as opposed to finding a way to help them learn? Teachers who understand the growth mindset do everything in their power to unlock that learning.

Maybe we originally put too much emphasis on sheer effort. Maybe we made the development of a growth mindset sound too easy. Maybe we talked too much about people having one mindset or the other, rather than portraying people as mixtures. We are on a growth-mindset journey, too.

Source: Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’ – Education Week

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t like just about every five year old have a “growth mindset?” I mean, depending on parents and other circumstances, I’m sure even kids that age can see themselves as limited. But most of the tail-waggers I’ve seen in kindergarten feel like they can conquer just about anything. They’ve already got a “growth mindset.”

The reason we need all sorts of “growth mindset” books and workshops is not because we need to develop that in kids. It’s because we’re now in the business of trying to restore  that in kids, something that by and large schools strip away.

We really think ranking and sorting with grades are good for kids? We really think that telling them that they can’t continue to pursue their interests is good for their “growth mindset?” Or that focusing on problems with one answer makes them more confident in their potentials to achieve?


It would make more sense to focus simply on nurturing and supporting the learning mindsets that kids already bring with them, rather than forcing them to adopt a “school mindset” that has little connection to their real lives.

Source: My Problem With a “Growth Mindset”

There is no path toward educational justice that contains convenient detours around direct confrontations with injustice. The desperate search for these detours, often in the form of models or frameworks or concepts that were not developed as paths to justice, is the greatest evidence of the collective desire among those who count on injustice to give them an advantage to retain that advantage. If a direct confrontation of injustice is missing from our strategies or initiatives or movements, that means we are recreating the conditions we’re pretending to want to destroy.

Source: Paul C. Gorski – Grit. Growth mindset. Emotional intelligence….

Similar to the popularity of “grit” and “no excuses” policies, growth mindset has gained a great deal of momentum as a school-based inoculation for the negative impact of poverty on children.

However, the media, the public, and educators often fail to acknowledge two significant flaws with growth mindset: (1) the essential deficit ideology that focuses all of the blame (and thus the need for a cure) in the individual child, and (2) the larger failure to see the need to address poverty directly instead of indirectly through formal education.

Any person’s success or failure can be traced to a number of factors, but in the U.S., our blind faith in the rugged individual defaults to ascribing credit and blame at least initially if not totally to the individual’s character traits such as “grit” and a growth mindset.

The entire traditional approach to formal education in the U.S. is a deficit ideology, but the hyper-emphasis on children living in poverty, and black/brown students and English language learners, has increased the power of deficit approaches through growth mindset, “grit,” and “no excuses.”

Despite the enduring power of the rugged individual and meritocracy myths, the burden of evidence shows that privilege (race, class, and gender) continues to trump effort and even achievement in the real world: less educated whites earn more than more educated blacks, men earn more than equally educated women, and so forth.

But research also refutes the claims of growth mindset and “grit” that achievement is primarily the result of the character of the individual. The same person, in fact, behaves differently when experiencing slack (privilege) or scarcity (poverty).

In other words, if we relieve children of food insecurity, home transience, etc., we are likely to find that those students in poverty who appeared to lack “grit” and growth mindset would then demonstrate those treasured qualities.

We are currently misdiagnosing growth mindset and “grit” (as deficit ideologies) as causal characteristics instead of recognizing them as outcomes of slack (privilege).

Source: Failing Still to Address Poverty Directly: Growth Mindset as Deficit Ideology | the becoming radical

By now, the growth mindset has approached the status of a cultural meme. The premise is repeated with uncritical enthusiasm by educators and a growing number of parents, managers, and journalists — to the point that one half expects supporters to start referring to their smartphones as “effortphones.” But, like the buzz over the related concept known as “grit” (a form of self-discipline involving long-term persistence), there’s something disconcerting about how the idea has been used — and about the broader assumption that what students most need is a “mindset” adjustment.

Unfortunately, even some people who are educators would rather convince students they need to adopt a more positive attitude than address the quality of the curriculum (what the students are being taught) or the pedagogy (how they’re being taught it).

An awful lot of schooling still consists of making kids cram forgettable facts into short-term memory. And the kids themselves are seldom consulted about what they’re doing, even though genuine excitement about (and proficiency at) learning rises when they’re brought into the process, invited to search for answers to their own questions and to engage in extended projects. Outstanding classrooms and schools — with a rich documentary record of their successes — show that the quality of education itself can be improved. But books, articles, TED talks, and teacher-training sessions devoted to the wonders of adopting a growth mindset rarely bother to ask whether the curriculum is meaningful, whether the pedagogy is thoughtful, or whether the assessment of students’ learning is authentic (as opposed to defining success merely as higher scores on dreadful standardized tests).

Small wonder that this idea goes down so easily. All we have to do is get kids to adopt the right attitude, to think optimistically about their ability to handle whateverthey’ve been given to do. Even if, quite frankly, it’s not worth doing.

A substantial research literature has shown that the kids typically end up less interested in whatever they were rewarded or praised for doing, because now their goal is just to get the reward or praise. As I’ve explained in books and articles, the most salient feature of a positive judgment is not that it’s positive but that it’s a judgment; it’s more about controlling than encouraging. Moreover, praise communicates that our acceptance of a child comes with strings attached: Our approval is conditional on the child’s continuing to impress us or do what we say. What kids actually need from us, along with nonjudgmental feedback and guidance, is unconditional support — the antithesis of a patronizing pat on the head for having jumped through our hoops.

Thus, the challenge for a teacher, parent, or manager is to consider a moratorium on offering verbal doggie biscuits, period. We need to attend to deeper differences: between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and between “doing to” and “working with” strategies. Unfortunately, we’re discouraged from thinking about these more meaningful distinctions — and from questioning the whole carrot-and-stick model (of which praise is an example) — when we’re assured that it’s sufficient just to offer a different kind of carrot.

Source: The perils of “Growth Mindset” education: Why we’re trying to fix our kids when we should be fixing the system – Salon.com

Briefly, deficit ideology is a worldview that explains and justifies outcome inequalities— standardized test scores or levels of educational attainment, for example—by pointing to supposed deficiencies within disenfranchised individuals and communities (Brandon, 2003; Valencia, 1997a; Weiner, 2003; Yosso, 2005). Simultaneously, and of equal importance, deficit ideology discounts sociopolitical context, such as the systemic conditions (racism, economic injustice, and so on) that grant some people greater social, political, and economic access, such as that to high-quality schooling, than others (Brandon, 2003; Dudley-Marling, 2007; Gorski, 2008a; Hamovitch, 1996). The function of deficit ideology, as I will describe in greater detail later, is to justify existing social conditions by identifying the problem of inequality as located within, rather than as pressing upon, disenfranchised communities so that efforts to redress inequalities focus on “fixing” disenfranchised people rather than the conditions which disenfranchise them (Weiner, 2003; Yosso, 2005).

At the core of deficit ideology is the belief that inequalities result, not from unjust social conditions such as systemic racism or economic injustice, but from intellectual, moral, cultural, and behavioral deficiencies assumed to be inherent in disenfranchised individuals and communities (Brandon, 2003; Gorski, 2008a, 2008b; Valencia, 1997a; Yosso, 2005).

And this is the surest sign of deficit ideology: the suggestion that we fix inequalities by fixing disenfranchised communities rather than that which disenfranchises them. This, then, is the function of deficit ideology: to manipulate popular consciousness in order to deflect attention from the systemic conditions and sociopolitical context that underlie or exacerbate inequities, such as systemic racism or economic injustice, and to focus it, instead, on recycling its own misperceptions, all of which justify inequalities (García & Guerra, 2004; Jennings, 2004). It deflects our scornful gaze from the mechanisms of injustice and the benefactors of these mechanisms, and trains it, instead, on those citizens with the least amount of power to popularize a counter-narrative, just as the dominant “achievement gap” discourse draws attention away from underlying systemic conditions, such as growing corporate control of public schools, and pushes it toward “at-risk” youth from “broken” homes whose “culture of poverty” impedes them from “making it.” Deficit ideology defines every social problem in relation to those toward the bottom of the power hierarchy, trains our gaze in that direction and, as a result, manipulates the popular discourse in ways that protect and reify existing sociopolitical conditions (Brandon, 2003; Yosso, 2005).

Source: Unlearning Deficit Ideology and the Scornful Gaze: Thoughts on Authenticating the Class Discourse in Education

This image is actually a great example of deficit thinking — an ideology that blames victims of oppression for their own situation. As with this image, deficit thinking makes systemic forms of racism and oppression invisible. Other images, like the one of different animals having to climb a tree, or of people picking fruit, suffer from the same problem. How would we make these root causes more visible in our “equity vs. equality” image?

Well, if we began with the metaphor of the fence, this would require making clear that the reason some people have more difficulty seeing than others is not because of their height, but because of the context around them.

Source: The problem with that equity vs. equality graphic you’re using | Cultural Organizing

This is the centrist’s promise about education: getting an education will save your life; education will be the difference between success and failure. If your house, which also serves as a private daycare, catches fire — and you’re a single mother and have to work twelve hours a day — school will provide a way out. If your company lays you off after thirty years of service, don’t worry, you can get an education and switch careers.

Of course, King’s narrative never questions why Donahue had to work twelve hours a day, or why Randolph’s employer laid him off after thirty years, leaving him without the ability to make ends meet. The centrist ideology of education is so brazen that it holds out such stories as inspirational proof that education will be the force that saves people’s lives by putting them on a path to opportunity.

But education cannot guarantee opportunity — it’s government policy and economic practices that increase or decrease the likelihood of success. The centrist promise of education is a false promise. This doesn’t mean education cannot be a force of positive social change, just that in its current incarnation, US education discourse simply works to release those with influence from the responsibility of making a social system that supports working people.

Millions of new workers will enter the job market in 2017, graduating from their “paths to opportunity.” Yet the path to opportunity might not end up anywhere in the face of sluggish to moderate job creation. The number of graduates doesn’t correlate with the number of available jobs. It’s like saying if we teach people how to play musical chairs well enough, everyone will get a seat.

Whether rooted in notions of democracy or technology, both versions of the promise promote the notion of a compensatory education: that schools can compensate for unequal distribution of resources, rights, and recognition in American society.

They articulated a more critical position on education, arguing that public education is part of a broader process of social reproduction: schooling activities correspond to existing echelons of social hierarchy and opportunity, preparing students for positions within that hierarchy. Schooling does not lead to opportunity in the sense that it creates opportunity; it simply prepares students to exist (or not exist) within the opportunity structure that the government and economy create.

Race and class, they argued, define the positions students come to occupy in society, which largely correspond with their parents’ social positions and available opportunity. Overall, more and better schooling in an unequal society reproduces those inequalities, acting as a neutral institution, rather than a compensatory institution that equalizes them.

Schooling cannot control the number or kind of jobs available in an economy.

Everyone knows that income inequality has increased exponentially between the 1970s and today. Yet at the same time that income inequality has skyrocketed, so has schooling. United States citizens are more educated than they ever have been. More people have graduated from more kinds of schools than at any point in history.

If the centrist promise were true, then greater educational attainment for the broader US population should have coincided with more economic success for more people. If schools create real opportunities for socioeconomic success, there should have been decreasing income inequality as the general population became more educated.

This is clearly not the case.

These data show that wealth goes to the wealthy, not the educated. At the macro-level, there is no relationship between socioeconomic success and schooling.

But just because getting a job requires having a degree doesn’t mean that more and better schooling will cause there to be more available positions society-wide. To get a job, you have to have a degree. But you don’t have to get a job because you have a degree.

This causal sleight of hand is symptomatic of the centrist promise. Schooling will not cause economic equality in an unequal economy, but it will certify people to find positions within that unequal economy. It may successfully lead folks to positions within society, but it won’t necessarily lead them to social success.

If you want most people to be successful in the economy, the economy itself has to work for most people. It won’t matter if most people work harder in school, or if we reform school ad inifinitum. Schools will largely reproduce the existing conditions of the economy, not serve as compensation for the economy’s faults.

While researchers still use reproduction theory to understand certain specialized aspects of school’s role in inequality, the theory’s radical core has been somewhat lost in educational thinking in the public sphere. It should be revived in a way that absorbs and utilizes the critiques laid out in resistance theory.

Blending the lessons of the reproductive view and resistance theory provides a crucial, materialist reality check on the centrist view of school. We must fix the social structures which create inequality and poverty in the first place.

In their report, Downey and Condron argue that focusing on the compensatory qualities of schooling distracts the public from understanding the need for a functioning welfare state in the United States.

Education’s real promise is that it is one site among many others in the struggle to transform the social structures that create inequality.

Source: The False Promise of Education

But the idea that building schools and getting every kid on the planet inside them is a solution to the problem of global poverty, for example, is a real whopper.

The dirty underside of our system is that schools as we know them today are structurally designed to fail a reliable percentage of kids.  Interestingly, they reliably fail a much higher percentage of kids in low-income areas than they do in affluent areas, and this is true from Detroit to Gilgit-Baltistan. When we put children from traditional rural areas into school, what we’re doing is transitioning them from a non-cash land-based economy where nobody gets rich but nobody starves into a hierarchical system of success and failure in which some lives may get “better,” but others will get much, much worse.  Guess which club has more members?

The reality is that there are few better ways to condemn a child to a life of poverty than to confine her in a bad school, and a very high percentage of schools in low-income areas are and will remain bad schools.  Many NGO’s as well as international programs like “Education for All” are focused on the body count, on getting more and more children into classrooms.  What happens to those kids in those classrooms is harder to quantify or to track.  One thing that seems clear is that an awful lot of them learn very little.

A World Bank Policy Research working paper indicates that, contrary to popular belief, money spent on education often increases inequality in a country. This is partly because those who already have substantial assets are better positioned to take advantage of educational resources than those who have their hands full trying to get food on the table.

But it’s also because from its inception school was designed as a sorting mechanism, a rigged competition where only one form of intelligence is valued, only one way of learning is permitted, and one child’s success means another child’s failure.  We forget that the structure of schools as we know them today was developed during a time when people believed in racist eugenics and Social Darwinism; modern schools were structurally designed to perpetuate a hierarchical class system, and –– despite the best efforts of many dedicated teachers –– that’s exactly what they still do, through the non-democratic, hierarchical ranking of children which is hard-wired into our entire system of grading, testing, and one-size-fits-all standards.  Until we change that –– at home as well as abroad –– education will continue to reproduce and justify poverty, not to ameliorate it.

The planet doesn’t have the physical resources to sustain a middle-class lifestyle for a white-collar world, and in any case, who will mine the coal, collect the garbage, and work at Walmart when all seven billion of us have college degrees?  China now has millions of unemployed college graduates, and it turns out they are as free to work in sweatshops as everybody else.

Of course, even if everybody succeeded at school, you would just run into the fact that the current structure of the global economy does not provide enough good jobs for the growing number of graduates.

Which brings us to terrorism.  If we want to look for links between education and terrorism, we should look hard at this cycle of raised expectations, inevitable failure, disappointment, unemployment, and poverty, which fuels crime and violence all over the world.

But if you confine large numbers of children in low-quality schools for years, brand them as failures, make them feel stupid, incompetent, and inferior, and then turn them loose without marketable skills into a country with high unemployment, what exactly do you think is going to happen?

We need to have a serious conversation about the shame and humiliation that young people experience in school –– and the crummy opportunities available to them afterward –– as a trigger for violence.

It’s commonly assumed that lack of education in developing areas is a risk factor for trafficking, but apparently the evidence suggests the opposite; according to the Strategic Information Response Network, vulnerability to human trafficking correlates with more schooling and the migration to urban areas in search of money that usually follows it.

But according to the BBC , the Mumbai area records a teen suicide almost every day, and there is a “general agreement between psychologists and teachers that the main reason for the high number of teenagers taking their own lives is the increasing pressure on children to perform well in exams.”

The bottom line is that the modern school is no silver bullet, but an extremely problematic institution which has proven highly resistant to fundamental reform, and there is very little objective research on its impact on traditional land-based societies.

We need to acknowledge that no system that discards millions of normal, healthy kids as failures –– many of them extremely smart, by the way –– will ever provide a lasting or universal solution to anything.  We need to innovate with learning here at home and abroad, to put our resources into developing the many promising models that already exist for sharing knowledge, skills and ideas without humiliating children or branding them as failures.

But most of all, we need to stop falling for the popular fiction of schooling as a cure for everything and recognize that a romanticized idea of education is being used as a PR device and a smokescreen to obscure the real economic issues at play for powerful nations and corporations – which extract natural resources and cheap labor from weaker nations, and then turn around and tax their own citizens to provide “aid” and “education” to help “end poverty.”  It’s an elaborate shell game, a twisted road to nowhere.  It should be clear by now that the “rising tide” does not “float all boats” –– that’s another fairy tale –– and it’s time to start talking seriously about the underlying global economic structures which are creating poverty, so that people everywhere can educate their own children in the way they think best –– without charity.

I just hope the Kyrgyz remain unschooled enough to continue to be able to tell fact from fiction.

Source: Three Cups of Fiction — Carol Black

As a softer but misleading and more publicly palpable form of school choice, charter schools represent a microcosm of the larger accountability era of education reform. In many ways, charter schools have been defined by embracing Teach For America (TFA) and rejecting tenure and unionized staffs, focusing on standards and high-stakes testing, promising to close achievement gaps among vulnerable populations of students (black, brown, and poor), and identifying strongly with “no excuses” ideologies and policies such as teaching “grit” and growth mindset, as well as enforcing zero tolerance disciplinary agendas.

Once popular among educators and the media, both “grit” and growth mindset have lost favor as well, particularly as useful approaches to addressing vulnerable populations of students. As Paul Gorski, Associate Professor of Integrative Studies in New Century College at George Mason University and founder of EdChange, warns: “No set of curricular or pedagogical strategies can turn a classroom led by a teacher with a deficit view of families experiencing poverty into an equitable learning space for those families.”

Source: Resisting Fatalism in Post-Truth Trumplandia: Charter Schools and the End of Accountability

The trouble, instead, was that a majority of the students had been socialised to fundamentally misunderstand poverty and its impact on educational outcome disparities. As a result, despite good intentions, the strategies they were capable of imagining – trendy instructional interventions, the cultivation of grit in students experiencing poverty, programmes designed to encourage higher levels of parent involvement by economically marginalised families – sidestepped completely the causes of the disparities they felt desperate to redress. The trouble was not dispositional or practical. Instead it was ideological, borne of faulty belief systems that, if not reshaped, would undermine their potentials to be the equitable teachers they hoped to be.

With this in mind, my purpose is to argue that when it comes to issues surrounding poverty and economic justice the preparation of teachers must be first and foremost an ideological endeavour, focused on adjusting fundamental understandings not only about educational outcome disparities but also about poverty itself. I will argue that it is only through the cultivation of what I call a structural ideology of poverty and economic justice that teachers become equity literate (Gorski 2013), capable of imagining the sorts of solutions that pose a genuine threat to the existence of class inequity in their classrooms and schools. After a brief clarification of my case for the importance of ideology, I begin by describing deficit ideology, the dominant ideological position about poverty that is informed in the US and elsewhere by the myth of meritocracy (McNamee and Miller 2009), and its increasingly popular ideological offshoot, grit ideology (Gorski 2016b). After explicating these ideological positions and how they misdirect interpretations of poverty and its implications, I describe structural ideology, an ideological position through which educators understand educational outcome disparities in the context of structural injustice and the unequal distribution of access and opportunity that underlies poverty (Gorski 2016a). I end by sharing three self-reflective questions designed to help me assess the extent to which my teacher education practice reflect the structural view.

Growing out of the notoriety of grit theory (Duckworth et al. 2009), the idea that there are particular personal attributes that enable some people to overcome adversity that might overwhelm others, grit ideology differs from deficit ideology in one important way. Unlike people who adhere to deficit ideology, who must wholly ignore structural barriers in order to attribute outcome inequalities to the mindsets of the targets of those barriers, adherents to grit ideology recognise the structural barriers. However, rather than cultivating policy and practice to eradicate those barriers, they enact strategies to bolster the grit of economically marginalised students (Gorski 2016b). The most obvious trouble with grit ideology is that, of all the combinations of barriers that most impact the educational outcomes of students experiencing poverty, which might include housing instability, food insecurity, inequitable access to high-quality schools, unjust school policies, and others, not a single one is related in any way to students’ grittiness. As Kohn (2014) has noted, adherents to a grit ideology are grasping for amoral solutions to inequity and injustice, which are moral problems. Kundu (2014), who warned of the ‘relentless focus on grit’ as a remedy to educational outcome disparities, explained how the grit view is a cousin to deficit ideology. ‘By overemphasizing grit’, Kundu wrote, ‘we tend to attribute a student’s underachievement to personality deficits like laziness. This reinforces the idea that individual effort determines outcomes’ (80). It also ignores the fact that the most economically disadvantaged students, who show up for school despite the structural barriers and the inequities they often experience in school, already are, by most standards, the most gritty, most resilient students (Gorski 2013).

Like deficit ideology, grit ideology is no threat to the existence of educational outcome disparities. In the end, it only can lead to strategies that sidestep the core causes of those disparities, requiring students to overcome inequities they should not be experiencing.

No set of curricular or pedagogical strategies can turn a classroom led by a teacher with a deficit view of families experiencing poverty into an equitable learning space for those families (Gorski 2013; Robinson 2007).

Source: Poverty and the ideological imperative: a call to unhook from deficit and grit ideology and to strive for structural ideology in teacher education

Next, you must resist fatalism in two forms: (1) the fatalism at the root of “grit” being racist and classist—that life for black/brown and poor people is going to be hard so we need to make them extra “gritty” to survive and excel (washed through by the racist/classist assumptions black/brown and poor people are inherently less apt to have the effort and engagement we associate with white privilege), and (2) the fatalism of life is inherently unfair for black/brown and poor people so why bother to try at all?

Finally, to that second form of fatalism, the key is to honor effort and engagement as ends unto themselves and not means to some other ends or as a magic elixir for overcoming social inequity.

The very ugly consequence of championing “grit” with uncritical missionary zeal is that the students most often targeted—racial minorities and the poor—are soon to learn that their “grit” will get them less than the gift of white privilege for other people who show even less effort and engagement as they have worked to acquire.

The “grit” movement is racist, classist, and counter to the very effort we seem to be making to support the value of effort and engagement in a meritocracy (which isn’t even close to existing).

Source: Rejecting “Grit” While Embracing Effort, Engagement | the becoming radical

On the path to becoming a teacher, I had learned to shed all elements of my teenage self. Not being able to smile till November robbed me of the opportunity of seeing myself in the students in front of me. Instead, the structures of schooling forced me to devalue anyone who brought any semblance of my teenage self into the present-day classroom. Today, with thousands of hours of teacher observations under my belt and having spent innumerable hours reflecting back on my own teaching, it is clear to me how teachers develop and maintain a deficit view of students. This is particularly evident when I think of how teachers of color have been taught to manage the behavior of students who do look like them, despite knowing that their neoindigeneity requires their voices being heard and their ideas validated.

The work for teachers becomes developing the self-reflection necessary to deconstruct the ways that media messages, other teachers’ negative (often exaggerated) stories, and their own need to be the hero affects how they see and teach students. The teacher must work to ensure that the institution does not absolve them of the responsibility to acknowledge the baggage they bring to the classroom and analyze how that might affect student achievement. Without teachers recognizing the biases they hold and how these biases impact the ways they see and teach students, there is no starting point to changing the dismal statistics related to the academic underperformance of urban youth.

Source: Emdin, Christopher (2016-03-22). For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education (pp. 42-43). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

“We are asking students to change a belief system without changing the situation around them,” he said. It can be irresponsible and unfair to talk about grit without talking about structural challenges, he said, referring to the recent interest in interventions tied to the concepts of grit and perseverance.

So, what are those challenges? If a hypothetical classroom of 30 children were based on current demographics in the United States, this is how the students in that classroom would live: Seven would live in poverty, 11 would be non-white, six wouldn’t speak English as a first language, six wouldn’t be reared by their biological parents, one would be homeless, and six would be victims of abuse.

Howard said that exposure to trauma has a profound impact on cognitive development and academic outcomes, and schools and teachers are woefully unprepared to contend with these realities. Children dealing with traumatic situations should not been seen as pathological, he argued. Instead, educators need to recognize the resilience they are showing already. The instruments and surveys that have been used to measure social-emotional skills such as persistence and grit have not taken into account these factors, Howard said.

The transformative potential in growth mindsets and social-emotional skills such as grit may be more applicable to students whose basic needs are already met. When asking the question of why some children succeed in school and others don’t, he said the educators and administrators tend to overestimate the power of the person and underestimate the power of the situation.

Schools can do a better job of talking about the extent to which student trauma exists, teaching children coping mechanisms, and providing mental-health services.The conversation about growth mindsets has to happen in a social and cultural context, he said, because cultural, institutional, and historical forces have an effect on individuals.

Source: When the Focus on ‘Grit’ in the Classroom Overlooks Student Trauma – The Atlantic

  • Structural inequities matter.
  • Culture maters. It significantly influences cogniton and subsequently learning.
  • Trauma and mental health matters.
  • Appropriate supports must inform school reform and student outcome efforts.

Source: Student Culture and Learning: What’s the Connection?

Intertwined with the push for “personalization” in education are arguments for embracing a “growth mindset.” The phrase, coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, appears frequently alongside talk of “personalized learning” as students are encouraged to see their skills and competencies as flexible rather than fixed. (Adaptive teaching software. Adaptive students.)

The marketing of mindsets was everywhere this year: “How to Develop Mindsets for Compassion and Caring in Students.” “Building A Tinkering Mindset In Young Students Through Making.” “6 Must-Haves for Developing a Maker Mindset.” The college president mindset. Help wanted: must have an entrepreneurial mindset. The project-based learning mindset. (There’s also Gorilla Mindset, a book written by alt-right meme-maker Mike Cernovich, just to show how terrible the concept can get.)

“Mindset” joins “grit” as a concept that’s quickly jumped from the psychology department to (TED Talk to) product. Indeed, Angela Duckworth, who popularized the latter (and had a new book out this year on grit), now offers an app to measure “character growth.” “Don’t Grade Schools on Grit,” she wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times. But there are now calls that students should be tested – and in turn, of course, schools graded – on “social emotional skills.”

Promising to measure and develop these skills are, of course, ed-tech companies. Pearson even has a product called GRIT™. But it’s probably ClassDojo, a behavior tracking app, that’s been most effective in marketing itself as a “mindset” product, even partnering with Carol Dweck’s research center at Stanford.

Ben Williamson argues that ClassDojo exemplifies the particularly Silicon Valley bent of “mindset” management:

The emphasis … is on fixing people, rather than fixing social structures. It prioritizes the design of interventions that seek to modify behaviours to make people perform as optimally as possible according to new behavioural and psychological norms. Within this mix, new technologies of psychological measurement and behaviour management such as ClassDojo have a significant role to play in schools that are under pressure to demonstrate their performance according to such norms.

In doing so, ClassDojo – and other initiatives and products – are enmeshed both in the technocratic project of making people innovative and entrepreneurial, and in the controversial governmental agenda of psychological measurement. ClassDojo is situated in this context as a vehicle for promoting the kind of growth mindsets and character qualities that are seen as desirable behavioural norms by Silicon Valley and government alike.

ClassDojo is, Williamson argues, “prototypical of how education is being reshaped in a ‘platform society.’”

Platforms insist that, through data mining and analytics, they offer an improvement over existing practices, existing institutions, existing social and political mechanisms. This has profound implications for public education in a democratic society. More accurately perhaps, the “platform society” offers merely an entrenchment of surveillance capitalism, and education technologies, along with the ideology of “personalization”, work to normalize and rationalize that.

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: Education Technology and the Ideology of “Personalization”

The inequalities that I’ve chronicled above – income inequality, wealth inequality, information inequality – have been part of our education system for generations, and these are now being hard-coded into our education technologies. This is apparent in every topic in every article I’ve written in this years’ year-end series: for-profit higher education, surveillance in the classroom, and so on.

These inequalities are apparent in the longstanding biases that are found in standardized testing, for example, often proxies for “are you rich?” and “are you white?” and “are you male?”

My own concerns about the direction of education technology cannot be separated from my concerns with digital technologies more broadly. I’ve written repeatedly about the ideologies of Silicon Valley: neoliberalism, libertarianism, imperialism, late stage capitalism. These ideologies permeate education technology too, as often the same investors and same entrepreneurs and the same engineers are involved.

Source: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2016: Education Technology and Inequality

There is a time and place for grit. However, praising grit as such makes no sense because it can often lead to stupid or mean behaviour. Duckworth’s book is filled with gritty people doing things that they, perhaps, shouldn’t.

Why don’t these people ever stop to think about what they are doing? We should not celebrate the fact that ‘paragons of grit don’t swap compasses’, as Duckworth puts it in her book. That might signal a moral failing on their part. The opposite of grit, often enough, is thinking, wondering, asking questions, and refusing to push a boulder up a hill.

Democracy requires active citizens who think for themselves and, often enough, challenge authority. Consider, for example, what kind of people participated in the Boston Tea Party, the Seneca Falls Convention, the March on Washington, or the present-day test-refusal movement. In each of these cases, ordinary people demand a say in how they are governed. Duckworth celebrates educational models such as Beast at West Point that weed out people who don’t obey orders. That is a disastrous model for education in a democracy. US schools ought to protect dreamers, inventors, rebels and entrepreneurs – not crush them in the name of grit.

Source: Teaching ‘grit’ is bad for children, and bad for democracy | Aeon Ideas

These novel apps, bearing names like ClassDojo and Hero K12, promised to help by collecting students’ behavioral data and encouraging teachers to project the stats onto their classroom’s interactive whiteboard in order to keep students “on task.” It is, they claim, all part of a push to create a “positive classroom culture.”

The apps come with the assurance of making schools operate more efficiently. But such management technologies don’t simply reflect Taylorism, schoolwork monitored and fine-tuned; they are part of a resurgence of behaviorism in education, and in education technology in particular.

But of course, that has always been the underpinning of behaviorism—an emphasis on positive reinforcement techniques in order to more effectively encourage “correct behavior.” “Correct behavior,” that is, as defined by school administrators and software makers. What does it mean to give these companies—their engineers, their designers—this power to determine “correct behavior”? How might corporate culture, particularly Silicon Valley culture, clash with schools’ culture and values? These behavior management apps are, in many ways, a culmination of Skinner’s vision for “teaching machines”—“continuous automatic reinforcement.” But it’s reinforcement that’s combined now with a level surveillance and control of students’ activities, in and out of the classroom, that Skinner could hardly have imagined.

Source: Dunce’s App | Audrey Watters

Digital technologies used in schools are increasingly being harnessed to amplify corporate marketing and profit-making and extend the reach of commercializing activities into every aspect of students’ school lives. In addition to the long-standing goal of providing brand exposure, marketing through education technology now routinely engages students in activities that facilitate the collection of valuable personal data and that socialize students to accept relentless monitoring and surveillance as normal.

Source: Asleep at the Switch: Schoolhouse Commercialism, Student Privacy, and the Failure of Policymaking | National Education Policy Center


The Open Schoolhouse

The Open Schoolhouse is a candid story and practical guidebook for school administrators and educators seeking affordable and powerful technology programs. Follow Penn Manor School District’s open technology journey from the server room to the classroom. Learn how open source software and values helped the district cut costs, design a one-to-one laptop program, and create an internationally recognized student help desk.

The Open Schoolhouse tells the story of collaboratively iterating a school district toward open, 1:1 technology.

We believe this act of human collaboration across an open platform is essential to individual growth and our collective future.

I think of Moodle and WordPress as fraternal twins. Passionate and ingenious founders with ardent beliefs in free and open source software created both software platforms. Global communities of programmers, designers, and end users drive the development of both platforms. They use similar web technologies (LAMP), and subscribe to principles of simplicity and ease of use. They are credited with creating, and disrupting, entire industries. And they made dramatic impacts on our students, teachers, and staff.

Locked-down technology is a symptom of an education model designed for student compliance and defined by the incessant measurement of learning. A factory-like school system values what a student has purportedly learned on a linear path, as demonstrated by a standardized test score. Technology device restraints and restrictions lock students on the assessment assembly line, at the cost of a child’s curiosity and intellectual freedom. Computers were once the spark for a child’s imagination. Now, they are a testing apparatus for assessment monarchs.

The destructive confluence of decimated school budgets, neurotically locked-down technology, and lockstep assessment mandates is taking a toll on progressive educators—and disempowering students.

There is also a deeper ethical problem: reliance on closed source proprietary software teaches students a lesson of dependence on secret technology they are powerless to examine, study, share, and improve upon. If the social mission of schools is to amplify student potential, disseminate knowledge, and prepare students to have an impact on the world, then schools have a duty to help kids be free thinkers and self-reliant architects of their futures.

Source: Reisinger, Charlie (2016-09-29). The Open Schoolhouse: Building a Technology Program to Transform Learning and Empower Students. Kindle Edition.

Charlie Reisinger (@charlie3), author of The Open Schoolhouse, is a good resource on open learning, service learning, 1:1 laptop programs, student help desks, school IT, and WordPress in education. In his school district, Penn Manor, student IT apprentices write code, write documentation, image laptops, and provide helpdesk support. Their code and docs are open source and available on GitHub.

Here are some videos on Penn Manor’s approach to the open schoolhouse.

Mr. Reisinger poses the vitally important question, “Which side of the command line should our kids be on?”

Indie ed-tech such as that proposed by The Open Schoolhouse is powerful and freeing. We must move away from locked-down, unethical, mainstream ed-tech that treats kids as a business model and go indie. We’ll save money, be more inclusive, and control our destinies.

Locked-down technology is a symptom of an education system designed for student compliance and defined by the incessant measurement of learning. A factory-like school system values what a student has purportedly learned on a linear path, as demonstrated by a standardized test score. Technology device restraints and restrictions lock students on the assessment assembly line, at the cost of a child’s curiosity and intellectual freedom.

Source: How leveraging open source solutions helps give students in-demand skills | Opensource.com

Given unfettered permission to revise, remix, and redistribute curriculum material, teachers are trusted to become active agents in the creation of high-quality learning materials.

At Penn Manor School District in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Linux and open source software are the foundations for more than 4000 student laptops, classroom computers, and district servers. We’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by going open source in both the server room and the classroom.

To #GoOpenSource means more than simple cost savings for underfunded schools. Like openly-licensed education material, open source values invite collaborative and participatory learning. When a school culture honors learning by doing, students become active agents in their education, and they contribute to the school community in innovative new ways.

Source: Schools that #GoOpen should #GoOpenSource

For more on the open schoolhouse and open technology, see my vision for indie ed-tech: Communication Is Oxygen.

To conclude, here’s another handful of favorite quotes from the book.

Open-minded teachers like Christa gave our apprentices an opportunity to build self-esteem and leadership skills that would transfer to a myriad of careers, whether related to technology or not. Most compelling, I think, is that a whole new school culture emerged. The roles of student and teacher blurred. The classroom hierarchy flattened. We were becoming an open schoolhouse.

Project-based learning? Check. Everything the student apprentices created was part of an authentic technology project. Challenge-based learning? Absolutely. We had four months to do something the high school has never done. How about 20 percent time? Certainly. Innovation was encouraged 100 percent of the time. Hour of code? Plural. Our apprentices were about to log hundreds of hours of programming time. We had created a paradise for student hackers.

Without a course rubric, curriculum, or end-of-unit test, they created software destined to impact 1,725 of their peers, and eliminate hundreds of staff hours typically wasted on manually sorting and scheduling students into sessions.

What if our classrooms pushed aside lecture and standard curriculum, and reorganized as a community of practitioners working toward a common goal? What if every high school junior worked just like a journalist or technologist?

The flat-world technology revolution asks us to rethink our notion of what it means to be educated and literate in the 21st Century. However, one traditional skill remains unchanged: the ability to artfully and effectively self-express through writing. Blogs, reports, essays, and Tweets; writing across multiple modalities is learning made visual–and a full keyboard is still the most efficient tool to hone this skill.

Schools, it seems, are holding computer policies upside down. They shackle incredible, open-ended learning technology in digital chains. An air of distrust hangs over the device and the student. The practice cripples learning and students’ autonomy. Repressive computer device management policies crush learner agency and intellectual freedom.

What I love so much about open source philosophy, and what I strive to replicate on the help desk, is the participatory, inclusive environment where traditional power structures dissolve and students are empowered to act, contribute, express, learn, and think. Together as a team, students and staff shape the world around them. Once we stop treating students like data banks waiting for downloads, once we trust students as equal partners in their education, and once we empower students to contribute to their school community, the open schoolhouse emerges.

Use what you make and default to open

My team at Automattic, Flow Patrol, is ”building testing culture in continuous delivery”.

More and more, we work in places where continuous development is championed, MVPs are common, pre-release testing is limited, and the pressure is on to constantly redefine features in newer, faster, better ways. Updates happen constantly, without notice, and the way things work shifts under our feet more often than not. This kind of fast-paced, constant change moves the web forward and challenges traditional testing practices. Let’s talk about how testing is changing and how we can build a better, stronger culture of testing.

The Flow Patrol team continuously dogfoods what we make with our own creaking humanity in mind. Universal design, design for real life, neurodiversity, and the social model of disability inform us as we continuously confront what we make as users, as people with lives and backstories, aches and pains, and bad days. Continuous development requires continuous outspoken humanity. We’re designated dissenters, public editors, and ombudsfolk advocating for users.

A few years ago, I stepped back from coding and my role as a lead developer of WordPress. I did so to let new perspectives control the levers, to recover mind and body after stressful years in a public hot seat, and to become a user again. Knowing the gory details behind the making is asymmetrical information that can distance you from your audience. With expertise comes callouses and desensitization. I shed my old roles and their privileges and experienced what we wrought anew.

With relentless coding out of my life, I became a relentless user of everything we make. As a developer, a lot of my usage of our products was testing. Test flows aren’t the same as authentic user flows. They’re shallow and canned. Real outcomes aren’t on the line. Although we run our company using what we make, our flows are particular, ingrained, and augmented. I jumped out of our company flows and immersed myself in the flows of our users. I sought authentic user flows and experiences in the field and brought them into my daily life. I made those patterns mine. I made those frustrations mine. I made those goals and outcomes mine. I immersed myself in perspective and bashed myself against our products and processes. I documented everything along the way, down to individual screenshots and interactions. I shared my dogfooding sessions live with my coworkers, frankly communicating my frustrations as a user. I shared how my neurological disease, chronic pain, and autistic operating system affected my relationship with the things we make.

Microsoft, SAP, Automattic and others are investing in neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and design for real life. We’re hiring for diversity of perspective and trying to actualize the aspiration of making inclusion the new normal. We’re humans making things for and with other humans. When our teams reflect the real world and we use what we make, we build better products and reach more people.

Much of what Flow Patrol does at Automattic and WordPress is public to the world. When we share and collaborate in the commons, we create serendipity. We are responsible for humanizing flow in the systems we inhabit. We do that best when we default to open.

Using what you make and defaulting to open are useful not just in tech and industry, but in education as well. Agile, inclusive, self-organizing teams designing and making for the riot of diversity that is real life is a future for both work and education. The best of inclusive hacker culture coupled with the social model for minds and bodies is powerful. To fulfill the promise of a public education that is “free, life-changing, and available to everyone”, adopt a hacker mindset of flexible improvisation and passion-based maker learning and a social model mindset of inclusion and acceptance.

Embrace the open schoolhouse; use what you make; and default to open.

Agile and Scrum in Education

Scrum is an iterative and incremental agile software development framework for managing product development.

Source: Scrum (software development) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Agile software development describes a set of principles for software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams.

Source: Agile software development – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Getting started with scrum in a classroom requires only sticky notes and markers. Add masking tape if you want to tape off grids on the wall. With these you can make a scrum task board.

Scrum boards are sticky notes arranged on a grid. Tables are powerful, and masking tape is a cheap, portable table maker. You don’t have to stick with scrum to get value out of the notion of sticky notes advancing across a grid. The technique is handy and adaptable. Some DSISD teachers have been experimenting with task boards for years, spinning the simple notion of marching sticky notes into custom classroom management tools inspired by methods widely used in tech.

This scene from Silicon Valley humorously conveys the gist of the scrum task board (NSFW, depending on your work, due to colorful language).

And this walks step-by-step through the process of making and using a masking tape and sticky note scrum task board.

The rhythms of a scrum board come across in this time-lapse video.

Don’t get hung up on a particular implementation of scrum. The agile principles of self-organizing teams, agency, communication, and feedback loops are more important than a particular framework or variant. Start simple, be attuned to the culture of your teams, and iterate process. Some scrum cultures do one or even two hour daily stand-ups (not my style). Other cultures do brief stand-ups because standups are meetings, which have their morbidities. Distributed teams do their stand-ups online, typically in a chat channel or group video hangout, using online rather than physical scrum boards. The synchronous nature of meetings isn’t a good fit for distributed teams spanning multiple time zones. Globally distributed teams thrive on and require asynchronous communication. Meetings are notoriously synchronous. There’s usually not one daily standup meeting that everyone attends in such environments. Distributed teams have their own communication cultures that adapt meetings to asynchronous collaboration. In a classroom, the synchronous nature of meetings isn’t a problem. You’re in the same room 5 days a week.

Culture is important. Scrum and agile do best in open by default, “communication is oxygen” cultures informed with the hacker ethos of flexible improvisation. In this 2 part video series, Spotify discusses their agile engineering culture and their history with scrum. I highly recommend this as a cultural and philosophical primer on agile and loosely-coupled, tightly-aligned, autonomous teams.

Here are accompanying sketch notes.

The resources below offer the philosophy and principles of agile, scrum, and self-organizing teams. Some, such as the eduScrum guide, adapt scrum to classrooms. To fulfill the promise of a public education that is “free, life-changing, and available to everyone”, adopt a hacker mindset of flexible improvisation and passion-based maker learning and a social model mindset of inclusion and acceptance. Combine these mindsets with the tools and techniques of agile to communicate, collaborate, iterate, and launch as teams. When we use technology to collaborate in default-to-open cultures, we create serendipity and solve the problems of real life.

Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

Source: Principles behind the Agile Manifesto

Modern agile methods are defined by four guiding principles:

  • Make people awesome
  • Make safety a prerequisite
  • Experiment and learn rapidly
  • Deliver value continuously

Source: Modern Agile

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

Source: Manifesto for Agile Software Development

An eduScrum Team consists of a teacher (Product Owner) and Student Teams of four students. One of the four students of a Team fills the role of (Student Team) eduScrum Master. Student Teams are self-organizing and multi-disciplinary. Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team (e.g. teachers). Multi-disciplinary teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work. The students form themselves into Student Teams based on skills and personal qualities. Although the team is responsible for its own results and is in that sense independent, they may use insights and information of other teams. Cross-team cooperation is encouraged. The team model in eduScrum is designed for optimal autonomy, collaboration, flexibility, creativity, motivation and productivity.

eduScrum Teams deliver learning results iteratively and incrementally, maximizing opportunities for feedback and adjustment. Incremental deliveries of “Done” learning results ensure that a potentially good result towards the learning goals is always achievable.

Student Teams have the following characteristics:

  1. They are self-organizing. Nobody (not even the Product Owner) tells the Student Team how they should realize the learning goals.
  2. They are multi-disciplinary, with all required skills and personal development themes to be able to achieve the learning goals together and can develop personally.
  3. Student Team members can have specific skills or focus areas, but the responsibility lies with the Student Team as a whole,
  4. The Student Team members may determine themselves if they want to contribute their qualities, or that they want to develop new areas.
  5. The Student Team tracks its own progress and quality level based on the acceptance criteria and the Definition of Done.

Source: The eduScrum Guide

To build 21st Century learning from the ground up, we look to see how companies like Google, Spotify, and GE build their innovative cultures. Their secret to innovation? Agile. Where focused teams unleash creativity, adapt through fast learning cycles, and iterate towards success. Agile Classrooms is a cross-pollination of Agile with modern learning and motivation research. With Agile Classrooms, 21st Century readiness is built in.

Agile Classrooms self-organizes its own learning, uses visual accountability structures, and are immersed in reflective feedback. It is a structured learning environment that restores the freedom to teach and learn. Where students reclaim responsibility for their own learning and teachers shift into facilitators and coaches.

Source: Agile Classrooms

The Scrum framework in 30 seconds

  • A product owner creates a prioritized wish list called a product backlog.
  • During sprint planning, the team pulls a small chunk from the top of that wish list, a sprint backlog, and decides how to implement those pieces.
  • The team has a certain amount of time — a sprint (usually two to four weeks) — to complete its work, but it meets each day to assess its progress (daily Scrum).
  • Along the way, the ScrumMaster keeps the team focused on its goal.
  • At the end of the sprint, the work should be potentially shippable: ready to hand to a customer, put on a store shelf, or show to a stakeholder.
  • The sprint ends with a sprint review and retrospective.
  • As the next sprint begins, the team chooses another chunk of the product backlog and begins working again.

Source: What is Scrum? An Agile Framework for Completing Complex Projects – Scrum Alliance

Scrum teams constantly respond to change so that the best possible outcome can be achieved. Scrum can be described as a framework of feedback loops, allowing the team to constantly inspect and adapt so the product delivers maximum value.

All work performed in Scrum needs a set of values as the foundation for the team’s processes and interactions. And by embracing these five values, the team makes them even more instrumental to its health and success.


Because we focus on only a few things at a time, we work well together and produce excellent work. We deliver valuable items sooner.


Because we work as a team, we feel supported and have more resources at our disposal. This gives us the courage to undertake greater challenges.


As we work together, we express how we’re doing, what’s in our way, and our concerns so they can be addressed.


Because we have great control over our own destiny, we are more committed to success.


As we work together, sharing successes and failures, we come to respect each other and to help each other become worthy of respect.

Source: Scrum Values | Agile Manifesto | Scrum Principles – Scrum Alliance

Cultural agility requires:

  • Collaboration alongside task commitment
  • Sharing learnings along with individual empowerment
  • Working with consensus toward a common goal via personal autonomy
  • Continuous improvement with failures but also repetitive success
  • Ensuring trust among team members through supportive leadership
  • Value delivery above functional work elements
  • Adherence to processes, but with flexibility and process tailoring

Each system is impacted by its environment continuously; change is constant. For an environment to be productive, it must support production. The essential purpose of any designed environment-in which a productive system operates-is to facilitate production regardless of change. By nurturing self-organization, this becomes possible. Only through self-organization can the means of productivity quickly react and adapt to change.

Tips to accommodate self-organization:

  • Focus on providing a non-autocratic leadership to encourage self-organization
  • Focus more on mentor and mentoree empowerment to encourage self-organization
  • Make sure that employees embrace change as an opportunity to innovate
  • See customers as team members and allow clients to add freely to backlogs
  • Empower digital agency teams to readily adapt to priority changes.

Source: Self-Organization Within Digital Agency Teams – Axelerant

Scrum is a feedback-driven empirical approach which is, like all empirical process control, underpinned by the three pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

Source: Scrum (software development) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Your Journey From…

Prescriptive → Iterative

Visible cycles of learning.

Making intentions explicit and visible fosters partnerships and allows for a meaningful and relevant education to emerge.

Content → Culture

Learning starts with why … it’s the big story.

The real lessons of life are embedded in experience.

Evaluation → Visible Feedback & Reflection

Nurturing the love of lifelong learning.

Partnering in a learning journey catalyzes continuous growth and ownership.

Control → Trust

Valuing the freedom of discovery.

Providing space for human diversity increases agency and self-direction.

Competition → Collaboration

The power of shared learning.

Sharing the individual perspective develops the social intelligence necessary for solving problems, communicating effectively, and deepening understanding.

Source: AgileInEducation.org – Agile In Education

Takeaways for Educators

“Sprint” and daily “stand up” meetings allow a diverse team of software engineers – including members of the team who may be off site – to develop simple to complex products in relatively short periods of time. Their approach offers a model for educators when it comes to increasing team effectiveness, especially the following seven takeaways:

1. Share daily.

2. Own outcomes.

3. Expect obstacles.

4. Focus on the problem.

5. Prize feedback.

6. Keep learning.

7. Value Diversity.

Source: Cracking The Code To Teams: What Educators Can Learn From Programmers | EdSurge News

Yet many of today’s most valuable firms have come to realize that analyzing and improving individual workers ­— a practice known as ‘‘employee performance optimization’’ — isn’t enough. As commerce becomes increasingly global and complex, the bulk of modern work is more and more team-based. One study, published in The Harvard Business Review last month, found that ‘‘the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more’’ over the last two decades and that, at many companies, more than three-quarters of an employee’s day is spent communicating with colleagues.

In Silicon Valley, software engineers are encouraged to work together, in part because studies show that groups tend to innovate faster, see mistakes more quickly and find better solutions to problems. Studies also show that people working in teams tend to achieve better results and report higher job satisfaction. In a 2015 study, executives said that profitability increases when workers are persuaded to collaborate more. Within companies and conglomerates, as well as in government agencies and schools, teams are now the fundamental unit of organization. If a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work but also how they work together.

As the researchers studied the groups, however, they noticed two behaviors that all the good teams generally shared. First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. ‘‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,’’ Woolley said. ‘‘But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’’

Second, the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues. One of the easiest ways to gauge social sensitivity is to show someone photos of people’s eyes and ask him or her to describe what the people are thinking or feeling — an exam known as the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. People on the more successful teams in Woolley’s experiment scored above average on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. They seemed to know when someone was feeling upset or left out. People on the ineffective teams, in contrast, scored below average. They seemed, as a group, to have less sensitivity toward their colleagues.

In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.

Within psychology, researchers sometimes colloquially refer to traits like ‘‘conversational turn-taking’’ and ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ as aspects of what’s known as psychological safety — a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’

Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,’’ Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999. ‘‘It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

The behaviors that create psychological safety — conversational turn-taking and empathy — are part of the same unwritten rules we often turn to, as individuals, when we need to establish a bond. And those human bonds matter as much at work as anywhere else. In fact, they sometimes matter more.

For Project Aristotle, research on psychological safety pointed to particular norms that are vital to success. There were other behaviors that seemed important as well — like making sure teams had clear goals and creating a culture of dependability. But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

Google, in other words, in its race to build the perfect team, has perhaps unintentionally demonstrated the usefulness of imperfection and done what Silicon Valley does best: figure out how to create psychological safety faster, better and in more productive ways.

Source: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – The New York Times

We’re doing something that works quite well: We rely on cooperation. People talk a lot about Collaborative Economics nowadays. Well, here at 42, we chose Collaborative Education. What does it means? It means putting people together and making them learn together. The knowledge, you can acquire it from the internet. You can type anything into Google, and there’s your answer. So lessons are useless, you’ll find the best lectures in the world on the internet, if you want to learn. But we do not wish to make them learn stuff by heart, we want to teach them how to develop, work, and live together, to build projects together and to make them happen. That’s what we want to teach them.

Adapting, working in groups, are those, in the end, the two necessary elements required to work in the digital world in general?

Source: Xavier Niel explains 42: the coding university without teachers, books, or tuition | VentureBeat | Entrepreneur | by Arthur Scheuer, Ulyces.co

Adapting, working in groups, are those, in the end, the two necessary elements required to work in the digital world in general?

Source: Xavier Niel explains 42: the coding university without teachers, books, or tuition | VentureBeat | Entrepreneur | by Arthur Scheuer, Ulyces.co

Letter to my Representatives on Trump and Confederate Romanticism

With his latest tweets, President Trump openly wraps Confederate romanticism and slavery apologia in a full frontal embrace. Are you with him? If not, establish distance with outspoken condemnation. Subtweets are craven and insufficient.

Many white families are calling out their bigoted members, mine included. This is a time of reckoning with white resentment and grievance. This is a time of reckoning for the politicians those bigoted family members elected.

So, are you with President Trump? Are you with this Nazi sympathizer lost in reverie of a despicable past? With an anguished nation, we watch for your response.

Building creative culture at work and in the classroom

I’ve been working in distributed, self-organizing teams for a couple of decades and change. I’ve worked in startups, big corporations, and distributed open source teams. For the past twelve years, I have been at Automattic. Over the years, we have iterated fully-distributed work and creative culture into a 500 person company that has managed to survive over a decade, have low turnover, and rate well among freelancers.

The Top Companies WNW Creatives Would Kill to Work for Full-Time — Free Range

One of my driving motivations for helping build one of the first distributed companies was accessibility. I wanted a place to work compatible with my autistic operating system and my anxiety. Distributed work where I can work from the comfort of home and communicate mostly via text suits me well. It suits other neurodivergent and disabled folks too. Distributed work is a good base for building a culture compatible with neurodiversity and the social model of disability.

I’d like to share a peek at our culture using the writing of my co-workers and of journalists. The practices of distributed companies have lessons for classrooms, particularly regarding accessibility and inclusive communication. Bring your own comfort, backchannels, and psychological safety are important notions that benefit teams of adult creatives as well as teams of creative kids. We parents and teachers must recognize that kids need digital skills if they’re going to thrive in a digital world. We can develop those skills in an inclusive way that uses technology not for remediation and assessment, but for collaboration. Communicate, collaborate, iterate, and launch. The best of inclusive hacker culture coupled with the social model is powerful. To fulfill the promise of a public education that is “free, life-changing, and available to everyone”, adopt a hacker mindset of flexible improvisation and passion-based maker learning and a social model mindset of inclusion and acceptance. When we use technology to collaborate in default-to-open cultures, we create serendipity.

How we communicate

How we hire

How we organize

How we include

And how we flow

The business world is changing. It seems I’m riding the wave. High.