An Interview with Berj Akian – CEO ClassLink Inc.

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Join me for an interview with Berj Akian, CEO and founder of ClassLink Inc.. Berj set out to improve education by creating world class technology tools for students and teachers. What started out as an effort to help one local school integrate a cutting edge technology environment became a stepping stone that led to the establishment of ClassLink, Inc. Prior to paving a new foundation for technology in the educational realm, Berj was with Technology Crossover Ventures, a leading venture capital firm. Previous to TCV he specialized in restructuring and attest services for large technology and educational publishing clients with Arthur Andersen. Berj graduated cum laude from Baruch College in New York

See The Entire Interview at A Path With Heart

Berj discusses a wide range of topics including:

The Key Elements of Effective Leaders


The Teacher’s Burden




See The Entire Interview at A Path With Heart


What is ClassLink?  ClassLink solves the problem of too many passwords, and too many files scScreen Shot 2016-03-04 at 1.16.40 PMattered about. It’s a one click single sign-on solution that gives students access to everything they need to learn, anywhere, with just one password. Accessible from any device, ClassLink is the perfect tool for ensuring the success of a 1:1 or BYOD initiative.


A Daydream: One to One Computing

I closed the cover of my Chromebook, tucked it into my backpack and headed off to English class. I skipped lunch today so I had time to see the MIT lecture on Mitosis and Miosis because we were going to be covering Mitosis and Miosis in Science class this afternoon. Never hurts to get a head start.

Lucky for me, Mrs. Woodruff’s English class was just around the corner from the cafeteria where lunch was just finishing up. Anyway, I wanted to get there early to ‘text’ Jamie Milledge who was helping me build out my “Fahrenheit 451” wiki.

farneheit_451.jpgJamie would be up by now. I live on the East coast and she goes to school in Torrence, California. She’s a major Ray Bradbury fan. We met up about a month ago when I found some of her science fiction writing on the Fan Fiction web page. Turns out she’s the same age and studying “451” in her English class the same as me. We FB each other all the time now.

I get to class and whip out my computer.

Jamie wassup?
Getting dressed.
Did you find the movie?
Yeah. Not easy to get.
What part do we want to use?
I love the RR tracks scene.
Where they all become their favorite books?
Yeah. So cool!
OK. I’ll upload it at lunch today.
You’re the best.

We chat until the class is ready to start.

Mrs. Woodruff is already leaning over a student helping them with whatever project they’re working on.

Last night I searched out some blogs that deal with “451″ and have added them to the RSS feeds in my aggregator. They may come in handy as we go through the book.

“Okay class, you can get into your teams now.”

Mrs. Woodruff speaks over the discussions that have already begun. I don’t know why she feels she has to say this every day because we never wait for her. We’re already in our groups.

Our group project is to build out a vocabulary blog for “451” . We each take a few chapters, find the more difficult words, and look them up online. Usually, when we do this we create a team blog where we post the sentence from the book that contains the word, as well as the definitions of the words. We organize it all by chapter. Here’s the vocabulary blog we did on our last book, “The Outsiders”.

This time, in addition to what we usually do, we decide to add some online photos from Flickr, drag them into Comic Life, and write the words used in funny contexts. Michael, our team leader is really good at coming up with the funny stuff.

(This example courtesy of Jim Coe and Tom Woodward of Bionic Teaching)

After a bit, Mrs. Woodruff asks us to close our computers and report out on how we are doing. One group has done research on all the books that have been banned over the years. Marcy plugs into the projector and shows the Censorship website they’ve created. They’ve worked with the school library media specialist, and a number of outside organizations who are very anti-censorship. I’m surprised at some of the titles on the list. I copy the URL. I want to check it out when I get to study hall later today.

Another group shows the product they are creating in response to the “451″ WebQuest they were working on. (Courtesy of Mr. Dan Thompson)

The other groups plug in to show their particular projects; but Terry’s group gets into trouble because they havn’t done much since the last time they presented. Terry says that they have been doing a lot of the work after school; but they havn’t had an online work session this week because a few of them had late sports practices. Terry’s team always has an excuse. The truth is they put in no effort. They do what they can during free time in school, but they almost never hold group work sessions at night. They’ve got to get themselves a better leader or they’re gonna get creamed at the end of the marking period.

I can’t wait to show the vocabulary site we created. Everyone laughs at Michael’s funny comments that are in the Comic Life bubbles. I also take a moment to show the “451” wiki site that Jamie from California and I have been working on. Believe it or not, Jamie has already uploaded the last scene from the 1966 movie. I click on it and play a minute or so.

Mrs. Woodruff claps her hands, “Great job! guys. Now, let’s get to our writing projects.”

We all pull our desks back a few feet from the groups we were in so we can work on our own for awhile. I pull up the draft of the paper I have been writing from my virtual locker storage space. I’m working on an essay topic from an old Regents exam. I figure it’s good practice. We write in silence, saving frequently as we have been taught to do. Mrs. Woodruff walks around giving some individual advice to different folks. I run my paper through the online Writing Evaluator. I like this because it picks up most of the simple mistakes I tend to make when I write. It saves Mrs. Woodruff some time, too.

“Class!” She says. We all look up. She walks to the SmartBoard in the front of the room and taps on it a few times. Up come the notes from last week. She enlarges the words THEME and PLOT.

“I see a number of you are getting theme and plot confused. What’s the difference between the theme and plot?”

A few brave souls raise their hands.

“You know what? Rather than doing this verbally, I want you to create a Screencast that describes the difference. Include the basic theme of “451” . I don’t need you to rehash the plot.”

Man, more homework.

Mrs. Woodruff continued, “We’re getting close to the bell, so just a reminder that I will be online for extra help on Thursday from 8:00pm till 9:00pm. Terry, I expect that at least one member of your team should be there. Your team needs lot’s of help.”

The bell rings. I sling my Chromebook into my backpack and dash out of the room. My science class is at the other end of the building; I’ve gotta hustle.


This is a daydream. I’m sure there are many more creative ideas out there. What’s important is that…

The learning is active:
Engaged and empowered students AND teachers, learning both in school and outside of school, formally and informally, collaboratively and individually.
Learning partners that extend outside the classroom.

The technology is transparent: 
The Chromebook is one of a number of sub-$500, mobile, wireless computers.
There is wireless access from everywhere in the school.
There are Virtualized desktops with access to all school applications and files from anywhere, including the home.
The students and teachers have access to appropriate software.

*The Chromebook and other products used in this post are for illustrative purposes only and not an endorsement.

*Special thanks to Tom Woodward and Jim Coe, two groundbreaking educators who are making the daydream reality.

An Interview with Peter Luzmore – CEO Synthesis

peter luzmore head shotIn 1999, Peter Luzmore founded the highly successful global consulting company Synthesis LLC, which specializes in mobilizing leadership teams to produce increased levels of productivity, satisfaction and value. He is a Certified Master Somatic Coach with Strozzi Institute and has been published in an anthology entitled, “Being Human at Work”.

Peter  has held various positions in the areas of organizational design and human development. Peter started training people as a workshop designer and leader with Young & Rubican, an advertising agency with offices worldwide. He also has held the position of Director in the Consulting Division of Action Technologies working on strategic accounts for companies such as General Motors and Bankers Trust in Europe and the United States. In 1994 Peter founded Innovative Business Design which specialized in education and consulting in Business Process Redesign.

Watch the entire interview at A Path With Heart

 Mood Management


Enrolling Students in the Process


Dealing with Stress

Watch the entire interview at A Path With Heart

Contact Peter or find out more about Synthesis LLC. 

Thanks Peter, for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

An Interview with August Turak – Author of “The Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks”


monks coverJoin me for an interview with August Turak, author of “The Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks”. Augie discusses his spiritual quest, how it led him to Mepkin Abbey, and eventually extraordinary business success. We discuss how selflessness and a total dedication to service can produce both a transformation of being and success in the workplace. His words are especially important for those of us who work in schools on behalf of children.

August Turak is a corporate executive, entrepreneur and award winning author who  attributes much of his success to living and working alongside the Trappist Monks of Mepkin Abbey for over 17 years as a frequent monastic guest. After a corporate career with companies like MTV, August Turak founded to highly successful software businesses, Raleigh Group International and Elsinore Technologies.  In 2000 he sold his companies to an Identify Software and the combined firms were eventually acquired by BMC Software for $150 million.  In 2004 Turak won the $100,000 grand prize in the John Templeton Foundation’s Power of Purpose Essay Contest for his essay Brother John.   He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and the New York Times, and is a popular leadership contributor for and the BBC radio show, Money Matters.  Turak lives on a 75 acre cattle farm outside Raleigh, NC.


Watch Augie’s entire interview at:  A Path With Heart


At its heart work is a spiritual endeavor. Educators spend much of our waking lives in the classroom or at school. It’s a place where our values and beliefs are revealed and manifested for no matter how hard we may try to compartmentalize our work lives from our home lives, in truth we have only one life…and one self. August Turak takes us far beyond the typical leadership tips and techniques so common in business books to examine the mysterious inner currents of successful organizations.

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At the heart of Augie’s book is a deep rooted belief that life, and therefore work, is a spiritual quest, a yearning for transformation. He describes how “transformational organizations” …those that pursue service and selflessness as their main goal, (I would argue that schools should be exemplars of this) reap success as a by-product. By embodying our values and beliefs and pursuing spiritual growth…and selflessness, we can find meaning and professional success.

Augie’s premise is insightful and extremely relevant for educators. His amazing life story takes us behind the scenes at Mepkin Abbey, MTV, and his two highly successful software businesses, Raleigh Group International (RGI) and Elsinore Technologies to see how service and selflessness can help one thrive professionally and at the same time bring meaning to our personal lives.

Watch Augie’s entire interview at:  A Path With Heart

The Invisible Meeting

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 3.40.47 PMI used to prepare for important meetings by writing down the key points I wanted to convey. I’d try to anticipate what people’s responses would be and prepare for those as well. In a sense, I was trying to do as much as I could to ‘script’ the conversation. I did this whether I was planning for a ‘one on one’ or team meeting that I felt was particularly important or potentially emotional. Preparing like this made me feel safer and reduced the prospect of me being surprised. Being unprepared made me feel vulnerable.

The problem was that invariably the conversation or meeting would take an unexpected turn. Because I was so locked into my own agenda I’d get thrown off and become clumsy and stiff. I’d do everything I could to bring the meeting back to where I wanted it to go rather than pay attention to what the folks in the meeting were trying to address. Over time, forcing my own agenda on folks and ignoring their concerns eroded my team’s trust in me.

There’s nothing wrong with preparing an agenda or being clear about what we want to achieve at meetings; but I was ignoring the deeper, more important part of the meeting; the part of the meeting that was not cognitive; but affective…consequently, my ability to lead effectively was diminished.

You see there are things going on at meetings…silent, under the radar things, that are really important…whether we’re aware of them or not. Think back to a meeting you participated in that didn’t go well. What was it that made you feel that way?

Perhaps, like me, the leader…

  • was so concerned with sticking to the agenda that he cut off some important discussion without resolution.
  • had an agenda and was clearly pushing it at you
  • wasn’t really listening to you.
  • seemed to be frustrated with you when you brought up an issue that wasn’t on the agenda.
  • stated that he wanted a dialogue and conversation on the topic but did most of the talking
  • was condescending

By the way, bad meetings can happen for other reasons:

  • the meeting leader has no agenda and the conversation flails all over the place.
  • there’s no commitment to any action after a long discussion.
  • even when there is a commitment to action there’s no follow up.

The list is truly endless.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our team is making assessments about us and our leadership even if they never verbalize them. Our team’s mood is affected by how trustworthy we’re perceived to be, our tone, how well we listen, and how we show up as people.

Today, I realize there are two parts to every meeting. The overt content that generally dominates our agendas, and the under the radar assessments and mood of the team. I’ve  learned to prepare for both parts of the meeting; but with much more emphasis on the silent dynamics.

When I prepare for a meeting I list the outcomes that I would like to achieve at the meeting…but now I include things like:

  • I want the team to develop trust in me and/or the team itself.
  • I want to be open to what others have to say and not allow my personal agenda to close off possibilities.
  • I want to be a good listener.
  • I don’t want to be judgmental.

Once I prepare my desired outcomes I spend a few moments preparing myself.

If I want to engender trust or be open to others, I prepare by spending a few moments letting go of all my thoughts and plans and do a bit of mindful breathing, or I might engage in a personal practice I have to open my heart. I might reconnect with my life’s purpose, my beliefs, my values, and my commitments. I do my best to feel the goodness in my own core and in so doing feel the goodness of others.

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Preparing for meetings by creating an agenda using my strategic mind to identify the content that needs to be addressed; AND preparing an affective agenda that builds trust and team coherence…using my heart to see beyond the words…

…has made me a much more effective leader.


The Call of the Wild

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 12.21.44 PMI was born and blessed, as are each of us, with a natural curiosity. There was a great wildness in it. As a child I’d see a shaft of sunlight illuminating a world of dust and delicate objects floating in air and I’d stop whatever I was doing and begin to explore this tiny universe. It was magical. I was called to learn. Curiosity was my birthright. It was in my DNA. It’s in yours.

My natural curiosity was like a wild animal and it hunted where it needed to in order to satisfy its deep hunger. As a child, I awakened each day with an insatiable appetite to explore, to discover, to learn. In my early years I was a voracious “wolf of learning”.  I believe deep in our DNA there’s a relationship between curiosity, learning and survival. We might call it “the burning relevance of an empty stomach”, because in past millennia our ancestors needed to be voracious learners in order to survive.
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Over the centuries, learning has become institutionalized. Vast school systems and local and national curricula are now the norm. And as these institutions have grown, they’ve pushed aside much of the wildness of our natural curiosity. Looking back I realize that as I worked my way through the educational system I became more tame and more timid. I can see now that in many ways I was being domesticated. I was no longer a “wolf of learning”.

How did this happen? To start with I had virtually no control over my education and whatever natural curiosity I had was replaced by a structured and scripted curriculum. I was rewarded for following directions and doing what I was told and reprimanded if I let my curiosity wander too far from the prescribed lesson. I was chewing on someone else’s agenda and not mine so I simply worked in “compliance mode”, putting forth minimum effort. Fear of retribution and bad grades become my prime motivators, not the excitement of discovery and learning.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 12.26.02 PMThus I became a ward of a system that trained me to expect to learn without going on the hunt. Like a domesticated pet I was offered bland processed learning, laid out in prescribed amounts, at certain times of the day. A pre-set curriculum guide that had little to do with me, my interests, my needs, or my gifts, decided what I was fed, how much, and when. I rarely experienced learning by my own wits, my natural curiosity, or even the magic of serendipity. I was no longer the wolf who’d gorge on learning and fight over the scraps until my belly was full.

I became so domesticated that I would’ve rebelled if asked to use the natural gifts for learning with which I was born. It would have been like releasing a pet house dog into the wilderness…the odds of survival would’ve been small, and within hours I’d have been back in front of the door begging to have my master serve dinner to me in a dish.

Now, rediscovering my own power, wildness, curiosity, and love of learning is my lifetime pursuit.

For the sake of our students,

may each of us find our own ways to foster the wildness and thrill of learning…

…and answer the “call of the wild”.

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Administrator or Leader?

I believe that each of us has a leader within and that educational leadership is not the sole domain of school administrators. I’ve see classroom teachers step up and lead incredible school transformations without the authority of a title or degree. But that’s a topic for another day. Today, I want to examine the not so secret, ‘secret’ among educators:

While every school has at least one administrator, few have leaders.

A recent workshop participant paraphrased Peter Drucker and said it this way,

“Administrators do things right. Leaders do the right things.”

While that simple statement captures some of the gulf between leadership and administration, I think it falls far short.

I have a long list, developed over many educational leadership seminars, that outlines the differences between administrators and leaders; but today I’ll start with the one element that seems to encompass so many others…

Leaders deal from their hearts as well as their minds; administrators work almost exclusively from the mental framework.

We’ve all encountered administrators who kick off the school year with speeches stating the districts goals and objectives, or by reciting well meaning mission statements; but it’s rare to find leaders who articulate a vision and inspire their staffs to embrace that vision.

Administrators are comfortable speaking from and appealing to the cognitive domain, hoping others see the logic of their goals and objectives; while leaders want to stir the hearts, as well as the minds of those they seek to lead.

It’s the power of the heart that injects a special energy into the team. Leaders who use their hearts and minds when they speak have an authenticity that creates trust. Administrators who speak only from their heads may say the right words; they may have perfect scripts; but they appear less authentic, less fully committed, and therefore they create less trust.

Without trust it’s difficult to lead effectively.

I remember the Principal at my son’s eighth grade graduation ceremony speaking to the audience of proud parents and students. His first words were,

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here with you tonight.”

Unfortunately, he spoke these words in a monotone with no emotion (heart). Even worse, there was no smile, no crack in his bland and blank façade. He continued this way through the entire speech.

While I have no doubt that deep inside he meant every word he spoke; because he closed off his heart when delivered his words, it destroyed his message. It reeked of an administrator fulfilling his job requirements, when it could have been a leader expressing gratitude to his victorious 8th grade troops and sending them off to the high school full of inspiration and hope.

Not every leader needs to be a charismatic speaker. Even speakers who speak haltingly and uncomfortably, if they speak from the heart, touch the hearts of those around them; their authenticity comes through and with that, trust flows. We feel their commitment.

One of the first steps in the transformation from administrator to leader is to access the power of the heart. Tapping into the heart shows up in every aspect of leadership, not just in speaking. It is a way of tethering ourselves to something deeper than just our ideas and thoughts. It ties us to our purpose, values, and beliefs.

When we work from this place, we’re grounded. We don’t change directions every time the political breezes shift. We are more apt to go the extra mile, even if it seems risky. We walk our own talk. We don’t have hidden agendas, they’re all out there for people to see. When we work from the heart, we don’t make decisions based solely on complicated political calculations; but we factor in our beliefs and values.

Most importantly, when we’re grounded in the heart, we have the courage of a leader. Interestingly, the word courage comes from the French root ‘cour’ or heart. As leaders we don’t avoid difficult conversations, or put off difficult decisions out of fear. We address them because they need to be addressed. The heart gives us the strength and passion to do the difficult things.

The transformation from administrator to leader is largely a journey of the heart.