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

 

Standards

 

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 New Focus

As you can see by the new header for the site, I’ll be changing the focus of the Ed Tech Journeys blog, from leadership and technology, to the teacher’s path.

At no time in my life has teaching been under such pressure. To me, teaching is more than a job, it’s been a calling. Education has always been about teaching the whole child, heart and mind. The great teachers and coaches I’ve been lucky enough to have in my life have always made me feel special, connected, and loved. They encouraged me, and nurtured me; as they’ve done with all their students.

But times have changed and we’re in the midst of downsizing the educational workforce, while adding the demands of high stakes testing, the Common Core Curriculum, new professional evaluation processes, more mainstreamed students, more paperwork, more angry parents, and more professional development with initiatives from anti-bullying to new technology. Stress levels are at an all-time high. Even the best teachers in the best schools are feeling the weight of an educational environment that is permeated by a culture of scarcity, a fear-based system of accountability, union demonizing, and teacher bashing. Add a growing number of students with emotional, language, and behavioral challenges and it isn’t hard to see why nearly 50 percent of teachers leave the field within their first five years.

We can do better. We can maintain teaching as a path with heart without abandoning academic standards. In fact, the research shows that it’s a teacher’s personal attributes, ’soft’ skills, and presence; not their IQ, that makes the greatest positive impact on student achievement. So, by focusing less time on the external elements of teaching, and more time on the inner life and well being of the teacher, we can create classrooms that produce academic success AND nurture our students’ personal growth and special gifts.

This blog will be the first of several endeavors I will launch to support teachers as they walk the path to mastery. If you’re one of those on the front lines feeling the pressure, hang in there. What you do matters! It’s important…and so are you!

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The Calling

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I’m back after several years of an amazing journey. Welcome my friends. I hope you are all prospering, and that you’re letting your gifts shine bright in this world. There are lot’s of changes coming to this blog, but I want to offer you an excerpt from my latest book, “A Path With Heart: The Inner Journey to Teaching Mastery.” I hope you enjoy it, and I hope we get to re-connect soon. With gratitude, Pete

The Calling

Consciously, or unconsciously, when you chose a career in teaching, you chose a ‘calling,’ a ‘path with heart;’ for teaching is an invitation to a world of possibility… for your students, and if you’re open to it, for yourself. Though it may sound grandiose, it’s no less true, that who you are, your personality and character, are at the root of good teaching; for teaching is about big things, not little. And it’s by turning your own promise into practice that you’re able to unlock the potential of your students, and make a difference in the world.

Human beings are born with hearts that yearn for meaning. We want our lives to count for something, and our daily work to provide us with a life, as well as living. The classic story of three stonecutters helps us see that the true impact of our work goes far beyond the day to day tasks that consume so much of our time and energy.

One day a traveler came across three stonecutters working in a quarry. Each one was chipping away at a block of stone. Curious, he asked the first stone cutter what he was doing. “What? Are you blind?” the stone cutter shouted, “Can’t you see, I’m cutting this stupid piece of stone.”

The man walked near the second stonecutter, who seemed a little happier and asked him the same question. The stonecutter replied, “I’m cutting this block of stone so that the mason can build a straight wall.”

Finally, he approached the third stonecutter, who seemed to be the happiest of the three, and asked him what he was doing. “I’m building a cathedral,” he replied with a smile.

Like the third stonecutter, knowing that the work you do can make a positive impact on a child’s life, and sometimes, through that child, on the world writ large, makes your personal sacrifice and toil worthwhile. As an educator, you have the opportunity to build cathedrals, not just chip stones.

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pete

Stress 2.0: Getting Out From Under

If you read my last post, you understand that the first step on the path to reducing stress is to acknowledge that you are the only person on earth that can change things. The world will do what the world does. You can’t control it. You can, however, change how you do things.

So, what is the next step?

A good place to start is to get everything on the table. If you are a Director of Technology, surface all your commitments and write them down. Go to each building and solicit every tech support call that is still outstanding. It’s not uncommon for some teachers or administrators to stop putting in tech support issues if they have stopped believing that they will be taken care of in a reasonable time frame. They say to themselves, “What the heck. Why bother?” Get these issues too. They are important.

By the way, no matter what is causing your stress, even if you are not a Director of Technology, collecting every tiny item that is outstanding in your to do’s and writing it down in a single place, is an important step in reducing your stress.

You might be thinking, “Wait a minute. Won’t seeing all my outstanding to do’s and commitments in one place make my overwhelm and stress worse?”

No, not really. Sometimes the stressful weight we carry is heavier because of what we don’t know, because of what we imagine. Seeing it all on paper in front of us can be shocking; but it actually puts boundaries on things. It’s all there. Nothing is hiding. Nothing is imaginary. We can see clearly the scope of the problem.

Now, with the scope clear, we can begin to take control. Which items can be handled relatively easily? Which items have no time frames on them? Why not put new and realistic time frames on them, rather than letting them hang out there without any commitment of a date? Which items are long overdue and should be considered high priorities? Which items can be renegotiated? etc.

I love the story of the man waiting for an elevator that had no floor indicator. He wants to go UP so he presses the UP button. He waits for what he thinks is a reasonable amount of time for the elevator to come, and when it doesn’t, he walks back over and pushes the lit UP button again. Intellectually he knows that pushing the button again will do no good; but he does it anyway.

He continues to wait and grows more impatient. Still no elevator. He loses his cool and presses the DOWN button. Because he doesn’t know what is going on, he has decided to go all the way down to the Lobby in order to go up to his destination floor. If everyone waiting for the elevator does this, it cripples the system and things slow to a crawl.

The solution, make a Floor indicator available to those waiting. Once I can see that the elevator is making its way towards me, however slow it may be; at least I know it’s coming. I won’t be pressing the DOWN button in order to go UP

Let’s go back to the Director of Technology who has collected every outstanding item in each of the buildings. She can make a plan to “catch up” over some reasonable period of time. Maybe she feels it will take a 3-6 month period, for example. She can go back to each building and lay out this time frame for taking care of their issues. I guarantee that this will make things better for them and for her.

“Well, doesn’t having this new ‘catch up plan’ add to her stress?”

Not really for she is in control. She has surfaced the issues. She has developed the ‘catch up plan’. She has laid out the time frames she feels are reasonable. She might even be able to say, “I’ll need some short term help to take care of this backlog.”

The issue of control is paramount in understanding stress. One of the foundational features of stress is feeling overwhelmed and not in control of events or issues, even our lives. Laying out all our challenges allows up to see the scope of the problem and creating a plan to meet those challenges, is a first step to putting us back in the driver’s seat.

Of course there’s much more to this; but acknowledging our role, surfacing the issues, and creating a plan to resolve things is a great way to get started.

pete

Stress 1.0

It’s not news that careers in educational technology have become increasingly complex and generate high degrees of stress. Many ed tech professionals feel the effects of this stress in their work, as well as at home. They spend longer hours at work missing out on the life of their families. When they come home, they bring the job with them. They spend many restless, sleepless nights. They live with the feeling that they can never keep their heads above water. They’re drowning in ‘to do’s”. It’s not a good feeling. It’s not a healthy state of being for one’s psyche or one’s body. The connection between stress and illness is well established in medical research.

The path to relief from this kind of chronic pain always starts with taking accountability for the problem. By taking accountability, you shift from being a victim with little power to change things, to someone who can do something about the problem.

This first step is probably the hardest for most people. They argue with all their being that their situation is not their fault. They argue that they have tried everything to change their plight but nothing works. They will try to prove that every suggestion for improving things won’t work in their situation, even if it has worked somewhere else. In short, they are fully committed to being victims, to keeping things as they are.

As a leadership coach, it’s important for me to realize that the individual needs to want to change, in order for the process to move forward. I can’t want something for the person more than they want it for themselves. This is tricky territory because just about every stressed out, unhappy, ed tech’er, superintendent of schools, or administrative team, that I have worked with, claims that they want to change.

No one says to me, “Pete, I want to stay stressed out and unhappy. I am committed to it!”

So, what’s tricky?

“Talk is cheap.” It’s important for me to observe how folks act, for that shows where their real commitments are.

A good analogy is losing weight. I may say I want to lose weight to my coach, to my Weight Watcher’s group, or whoever; but if I go out day after day and keep eating food that I know is not on my diet and if I continue to skip my prescribed exercise regimen, I won’t lose weight. Now, if I say over and over to my coach, or my Weight Watcher’s group, “I really want to lose weight; but I can’t seem to do it. I want to lose weight but It’s useless. I wan to lose weight but it doesn’t work for me.”

Which matters more? The words or the actions?

It’s important to note that these are genuine feelings. The individual believes this fully. They can’t see the problem by themselves because it is so much a part of them.

Sometimes a coach can be a great mirror to reflect back to the individual or team the gap between their words and their actions. The blind spot now becomes visible. Other times a coach can create a situation, a “breakdown’, that exposes the blind spot.

If there is no coach and the situation persists for years our bodies can get our attention by “breaking down”.

Sometimes, that is what it takes to “wake us up”. A heart attack that almost kills us, may awaken us to the importance of reducing the levels of stress in our lives. A “breakdown” in our lives, like a divorce; may awaken us to the need to spend more time with our families.

These are dramatic; but not uncommon examples of the consequences of living with chronic stress. There are many more subtle ways that stress can impact our lives and we may never have the “alarm” go off, that wakes us up; but that does not mean that we aren’t affected. We are.

I invite you to take some time over the next few weeks. Get off by yourself. Reflect on what you are feeling. If there is stress, acknowledge it. Notice the stories you tell yourself about it. “it’s not so bad.” or “I can handle it.” or “I’ll catch up in a few months and things will get better.”, etc., etc

Life is short.

There are things you can do once you take responsibility and make a commitment to change.

Let’s examine those in my next post,

pete

Teacher Dropouts: Why?

Teachers hold 3.8 million jobs in elementary and secondary U.S. public and private schools, representing approximately 4% of the total civilian workforce. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2006).

On average, a third of the newly hired teachers leave during their first three years; almost half leave during the first five years (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future [NCTAF], 2003).

Here is a table representing how teachers who left the profession, compared various aspects of their current occupation with teaching.

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What an eye opener!

Teachers who left the profession rated only two aspects of the teaching profession higher than their present non-teaching position:

1) Benefits 2) Job Security.

The biggest differences cited?

1) Autonomy or control over workload – (65.2% vs 13.7%)

2) Manageability of workload – (60.4% vs 13.5%)

3) General work conditions – (50.9% vs 4.3%)

4) Intellectual challenge – (51.8% vs 17.4%)

5) Opportunities for professional advancement – (53.9%vs 18.1%)

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bad news….

Check out these disparities:

1) Professional prestige – (57.7% vs 15.8%)

2) Recognition and support from administrators – (46.8% vs 19.7%)

3) Opportunities for Professional Development – (41.7% vs 19.0%)

So, we have overloaded educators, with little autonomy, little opportunity for professional growth, poor working conditions, minimum intellectual challenge, poor support from administrators, and minimal professional development opportunities.

Is it any wonder why the system is failing so many of our kids?

It’s not just failing our children; it’s failing our educators, too.

“..in comparison to the high school student dropout rate, the teacher turnover rate over an equivalent four-year period is greater than the student population dropout rate.” Laird, DeBell, and Chapman (2006)

Will integrating technology into this environment make a real difference or do we need to transform the environment?

pete