by Dr. Scott Andersen in

I do a lot of activities outdoors. I love the outdoors! I live for the outdoors!

I use apps on my cell phone to help me when I ride and hike. The apps share with me milestones of distance, time and pacing. When I am hiking, it shows me where I am on the map, where I am on a trail and where I need to go to complete the hike. The apps are super handy and they work great.

I feel safe when I use these apps while hiking. The key word though, is “when.” Sometimes the apps do not work. This typically happens when I am in deep into the mountains. The technology may not work...but sometimes it is due to my choosing. Sometimes I choose to get off the trail and explore. If I do that for too long or for too far, I can get disoriented. 

With this disorientation comes the need for help to get back on track. If my app is working, I can usually use it to directionally find my way back on to the trail. But if the “deadly duo” happens, if my app is not working and I stray too far and, as a result, get disoriented, then I am in big trouble. Even if I had a paper trail map, it wouldn’t do any good because, if I don't know where I am, the map is not going to be much help.

 Hiking without direction can be scary and dangerous. Photo by Richard Barron.

Hiking without direction can be scary and dangerous. Photo by Richard Barron.

So the most important thing is for me to know where I am at all times.

For instance, imagine I pick you up in a helicopter, blindfold you and fly you out to the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. Before leaving you, I give you a map of the state. I fly away and leave you on your own. How useful is that map going to be? The answer is NOT AT ALL USEFUL.  Why? Because you have to know where you are on the map to plot the course to where you want to go. You can see Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau on the map, but you will not have any clue where to take your first step.

You have likely seen this symbol on maps in shopping malls or when you seek online directions. It is usually accompanied with the words “You Are Here.”

The concept of knowing where you are in crucial in just about every component of our everyday lives. It’s true at work, at home, at play and in our spiritual journeys.

In business, this is important because you want your business to grow, to achieve success for you and those associated with your business. You have to have a very good understanding, a fact-based understanding, of where your business is. I mentioned fact-based because when considering where we are, we do not need to include how we FEEL about where we are. It is also not about where we THINK we should be. It is about the observable facts that exist. These observable facts should be things that others would be able see and know without question.

People in successful businesses ask lots of questions about where they are: What conditions exist? What challenges you have and will have? Is the business truly successful and performing at optimal levels? What do you do well and what do you need to do better? Where do you stand in the marketplace? Do you have the right talent? Do you have the right employees? How does your business stack up against the competition and market conditions? 

In our personal lives the same types of questions hold true. Relationships are a good example. We can and should frequently assess where we are in our marriage and our other familial relationships. Improving on your relationships is challenging if you have no idea of the true FACTUAL conditions that exist in the relationship today.

Finally, the same is true in education. If you are teacher, leader or policy maker, you have to know the facts about your current state before you can adequately design a plan to help each student find their unique pathway to success. Speaking of that, you also have to know the same about the students with whom you work. This is an essential component to personalized learning.

So, here is a fact: YOU ARE HERE. 

Yep, as you are reading this, YOU ARE HERE.

Look around you. Look inside you. Take stock. Take notes. Be honest. If possible, seek feedback from trusted advisers. Don’t drink your own Kool-Aid. Lay out the facts. Respond accordingly.

When you have that clear and honest self-picture, then you can truly start mapping your next steps and begin to map your journey to your desired destination.

Regardless of where you are on your personal journey, every day you can wake up and say, “YOU ARE HERE: and repeat the process of honest assessment and well-informed planning of your next steps. It works in hiking and it works in all aspects of life.

See you on the “trail.”

Another Brick in the Wall

by Dr. Scott Andersen in , , ,

I can still remember the day vividly. I am not sure of the exact date, but I remember it was in November of 1979. I was in 10th grade at Intermediate High School in Broken Arrow, OK. I had a 1-mile (or so) walk home from school that took me by our local K-Mart.

I had heard that the British rock group Pink Floyd had just released the album “The Wall.” I really didn’t know much about Pink Floyd at the time, but I knew I liked one of the songs on the album, “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.” Of course, as a young high school student, I loved the following lyrics from the song, “We don’t need no education.

On this day, I stopped into the K-Mart, forked over about $10 and bought the double album on vinyl. Yes, I am that old!

I walked home quickly so I could listen to the whole album and it instantly became my favorite all-time album. Funny thing is, that at that time, I did not fully understand that song, or the entire album.

As I write this today, I can’t help but reflect and be amused by the irony that I have worked in education for over 25 years.

Today, with a few more miles under my belt, I am even more impressed with the album and that particular song. As a classroom teacher, a principal and a superintendent, I worked very hard to implement, to the best of my ability, a student-centered and individualized approach to teaching and learning. I met resistance from “the establishment” at each level of my educational career. The resistance was not necessarily against meeting student needs; it was more about stepping outside of the “system” in order to do so.

While I originally was enticed by the song because I viewed it as a revolutionary anthem, it was much more than that.

It is actually an anthem about reclaiming one’s individuality.

It is also a criticism against educational systems that would not address the needs of an imaginative child for thinking uniquely and expressing that in writing.

And that brings me to the present day.

I am still as passionate as ever about the need for educators to recognize and act upon each student as a individual. We must recognize each student as an individual, and by so doing, create their own unique pathway for them to learn and prepare for their future.

Personalized learning is growing in its reach in our country. More and more teachers, schools and districts are stepping away from the status quo and finding ways to meet the unique needs of their students.

In a study called "What's Possible with Personalized Learning? An Overview of Personalized Learning for Schools, Families & Communities" that was just published by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), a teacher identified as Rebecca, said the following:

“I don’t think that what children want from school has fundamentally changed. I think they want to be inspired, engaged and motivated. They want to learn new things, to be challenged and to do things differently. Whereas we were happy to sit at school and have information given to us and copy that down, learning by rote, children now don’t want this and won’t accept this at school. They like working with each other and finding things out for themselves. I think this is also what we need to be doing as responsive teachers. We need to be giving children the skills to think for themselves and be active learners who take responsibility for their own learning.”

The great news is there are ample and continually evolving resources available to help educators personalize the learning experience for their students. Many are outlined in the iNACOL report and I highly recommend reading the report.

I also recommend that if you feel the need to begin a journey, improve upon your existing journey, or learn more about personalized learning, that you start by reading, asking questions, talking to colleagues, parents, and most importantly, to students.

Together we can create pathways for students that are engaging, powerful, effective and that prepare them for further life success. The worst thing we can do, is to treat them like “another brick in the wall.”

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We Can Achieve Success Even in the Presence of Failure

by Dr. Scott Andersen in , ,

Failure doesn’t have to always end badly. I had an example of that today when I decided to spend my Saturday traveling from my home in Vineyard, UT to visit the Spiral Jetty, a very unique art project.

Spiral Jetty is an earthwork sculpture constructed in April 1970 by American sculptor Robert Smithson.

Built on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah entirely of mud, salt crystals, and basalt rocks, Spiral Jetty forms a 1,500-foot-long, 15-foot-wide counterclockwise coil jutting from the shore of the lake.

A professional photographer friend from Oklahoma recently told me about it and challenged me, since I live in Utah, to go visit and photograph it. I decided that today was the day to go see it. So I packed all my camera gear and drone for aerials shots, and made the 140 mile journey to the jetty.

The first 100 miles were on interstate highway. The last 40 would be a journey through the “boonies” of northern Utah. All that I could see on the drive was mountains, snow, animals and more snow. Did I mention snow?

As I was getting closer to the jetty, I was getting excited about seeing it.

However, at about mile 131, I ran into a roadblock. Or should I say no road at all.

When my GPS was telling me it was time to turn right, I was driving up to the sign you see here in the photo. I was excited for just a very brief moment when I saw that the sign said I only had 9 miles to go. But, I quickly realized there was a BIG PROBLEM.

There was no road on which to turn.

I had driven all this way only to be foiled by mother nature and a very snow-heavy winter. The dirt road that makes the final 9-mile leg of the drive to the jetty, is not maintained. When I stepped off to the side of the road, I sunk into the snow up to my waist.

There would be no “free-styling” or creating my own path in this deep snow.

As the same time I was out of my car standing by the sign and looking incredulously at the lack of a road, a couple drove up to the sign and were just as surprised and disappointed as was I upon discovering circumstance. They were grumbly and complaining.

It was at this moment that I made the decision that this journey was not going to be in vain. So I greeted them, laughed about it with them, and made the decision that I was going to still take pictures today, even if there weren’t of the jetty.

So I turned my car around on the snow-packed road and began driving back. As I did so, I paid particular attention to all of the beautiful scenery that I had missed on the way there because I was so focused on getting to the destination.

I was able to see wild animals, a couple hunting on the side of the road, the Golden Spike monument where the easterly and westerly railroad met, and I found an amazing mineral stream that had beautiful rich colors.

So on the drive home, I took my time and I stopped several times to makes some beautiful pictures. It is even possible that these pictures could have been better than what I would have been able to make at the jetty.

And while I was not able to complete my original goal for the day, I was able to make it a great journey. I also have something to look forward to. When the snow melts, I will make the journey again and be able to finally see and photograph the jetty.

While this is a light-hearted example, it does remind us that we do not have to let failure reign. We can look it straight in the eyes, chuckle, and then make new decisions that can positively impact our situations.

Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” 


by Dr. Scott Andersen in ,

If you are a Democrat you are likely frustrated with what is happening tomorrow: the unlikely inauguration of Donald Trump. Since election day, many of you have been grinding your teeth and bemoaning the outcome.

I hear things like, "Why didn't Hillary win?" and "Comey ruined it for us" or "the Russians hacked us to help Trump."

Those may all be legitimate questions and comments, but they miss mark. If the Democratic Party wants to rebound, it really needs to be asking a different question:

Why didn't Bernie win?

This is the real question for the FUTURE of their party. Instead of many in the party trying to point the finger at everyone outside the party, that finger needs to be pointed inside the party along with the question of how they became so out of touch with the American people.

They are NOT going to get the answer from Putin, Comey, or any other conspiracy theory. They answer is staring at them in the mirror. The Dems must now open their eyes and face the reality that THEY THEMSELVES BLEW THE ELECTION.

No one else did it.

Taking responsibility is a good first step to getting back on track. Until you recognize you have a problem, then YOU are THE PROBLEM.

So far, I do not see ample evidence that the party if waking up to that reality. Bernie and few others are trying. Unless throngs join in, the Republicans will continue to "lead" the country in the direction of their choice. 

Some are fine with that. Some are not. Both need to advocate and take strong relevant actions to win over the American people...or at least enough of them.

And if what is going on right now with the Dems is indicative, this is going to be a very long dry spell replete with frustration, lack of power, and most importantly, an ongoing inability to resonate with many Americans.

In full disclosure, I am NON PARTISAN.



The REAL American Dream

by Dr. Scott Andersen

What do you think of when you think of attaining the American Dream?

I feel like we may have lost sight of what it really means, at least to some degree. Let’s take a look at the origin of the this dream.

epic of america.jpg

In his book titled, The Epic of America, written in 1931 during the Great Depression, James Truslow Adams wrote, “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstance of birth or position.”

It was in the book that the phrase “American Dream” was coined.

On a similar vein, American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote, “to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining, golden opportunity …. the right to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him."

I have previously written about my affinity of the book The End of Average by Todd Rose. I actually was inspired to write this based upon his writings in this book. He wrote the following, “The original formation of the American Dream was not about become rich or famous; it was about having the opportunity to live your life to the fullest potential, and being appreciated for who you are as an INDIVIDUAL, not because of your type or rank. Though America was one of the first places where this was a possibility for many of its citizens, the dream is not limited to any one country or peoples; it is a universal dream that we all share.”

end of avg small.jpg

According to Rose, Adams wrote the book in an environment during the Great Depression where there was “no regard for the individuals.”

I am actually getting to a point that relates to education and I am going to share one last quote from Rose’s book. It provides a terrific segue to my role and commitment as an educator. He wrote, “We live in a world that demands we be the same as everyone else, only better, and reduces the American Dream to narrow yearning to be relatively better that the people around us, rather than the best version of ourselves.”

This last quote exposes a major weakness of our mainstream educational system in our country: it was not designed for the individual student.

We are still founded on an antiquated educational system that was based upon Frederick Taylor’s industrial model. Both in business and in education, his model did not consider the individual to be an important component of success.

Today, in classrooms all over this country, we are still struggling as a result of an educational system that uses set curriculum, pacing, sequence, content and instructional methods that do not take into account the individual student.

Using an assembly line, where parts move synchronously down a belt and workers make some type of modification to that part as it makes its way, served industry well. However, that same approach, which is still used today in many school districts, where we deliver the exact same experience to children regardless of who they are, where they are, and what they can do, simply does not work. And we have decades of results that prove that over and over.

This model does not just fail our “lower performing” students. It actually fails any student if their learning is not matched to them individually. A gifted child loses on the “assembly line” as does the “low performing” child.

There is a saying that goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, when education comes to mind, I think, “If it is broke, we MUST fix it.”

There is a big movement afoot now pertaining to personalized learning. I work in a field that addresses a key solution that helps with personalizing learning: the use of online and blended learning that can be tailored and adapted to individual students. I love the work that I do and I know that work that I do, along with my many colleagues, is making a huge difference in the lives of many students and families.

Even so, the work that I do is only one part of the work that needs to be done. We must all do our part. We need to rebuild from the ground up the “traditional” delivery of content, its timing, the assessment, how we use space, technology, and our community, to find as many unique pathways as possible that will meet the individual needs of our students.

To the fullest extent possible, we need to design DYNAMIC components instead of fixed opportunities. I also think K-12 education needs to seriously consider how we “chunk” content. I think we can create smaller learning experiences that can be uniquely woven together to create amazing learning experiences for students.

When I think of the American Dream, I can’t help but think about what we are doing in education. If we are to help each student get on the path to that dream, then we must be committed to what Rose said about it, that we provide each student the “opportunity to live [their] life to the fullest potential, and [be] appreciated for who [they] are as an INDIVIDUAL.”

This can be done in education.

To be a part of making it happen and seeing it happen is my dream.


by Dr. Scott Andersen in , , , ,

It has been snowing a lot here in Utah this winter. This past week we had a most beautiful snow fall. The video does not even do it justice.


Big fluffy flakes floating, falling and finding a place of rest on a pine tree.

Here is a universal truth: Every snowflake is unique. 

From a distance, it is a most beautiful sight to see the snow collecting on the trees.

I started looking closely at the snowflakes as they were landing on a beautiful pine tree. I noticed when they landed softly on the pine needles, they kept their shape, form and beauty.

But as I looked closely, I began to observe something that I would have never seen had I not taken the time to get closer.

The closer I looked, I was able to see that the longer the flakes sat there, the individual snowflakes began to melt into small drops of water. It wasn’t just one flake; it was many.

The drops then tried to cling to a pine needle in one last attempt to survive.

Then sadly, under the force of gravity, the individual drops fell to the ground and were no longer distinguishable.

They had transformed from a most beautiful and proud fluffy flake, to melting and falling to the ground, becoming lost.

Because I am an educator, I could not help but draw a parallel between what I was witnessing with the snowflakes and what I have witnessed with children in education.

Just like each snowflake is unique, so is every single child we teach.

Similar to how the snowflakes float from the sky down to the pine tree with great beauty and potential, so do our children come to us with bright eyes, open minds, eager hearts and with great excitement and capacity to learn.

And from a distance, the vision of what happens in school can be heartwarming for our children. Teachers teach, students learn, play and grow and many of them graduate and are successful.

All of that is true.

But when we look closely at individual children, we can see a different story for some of them. Unfortunately, we can see a different story for far too many of them.

We can see them melting in an environment that is not suitable for their success. Just like when the snowflakes all land on the same tree and even on the same pine needle, when some students land in the same class, the same delivery of instruction, the same sequence of curriculum, the same timing, the same assessment, they can melt, and like a drop of water falling to the ground, become lost.

They are lost for so many reasons: they may not have been equipped to learn like some of their peers, they may have difficulty with their sight, they may have challenges hearing, they may not have adequate food to eat, they may have a learning disability, they could have physical or mental disabilities, they may have different likes and dislikes, and one of the worst reasons they can get lost is they may not have a good school or even a good teacher. I know that is not a popular thing to say, but it can be true.

While from a distance we can see that many students are successful - something we should celebrate, we cannot be truly successful until we have ensured that each student who walks through our doors, is able to achieve individual success.

Just like I was observing the falling and landing of the snowflakes and them melting and dropping to the ground, I believe we must look closely at what we are doing for each child. While looking is important, it is not enough. We also need to be equipped to respond with personalized pathways for children that put them on THEIR UNIQUE road to success.

Many students will thrive in a traditional learning setting. Many will not. Some thrive with direct instruction. Some thrive with hands-on learning. Some thrive working on real-world projects. Some thrive in small or individual settings. Some thrive with self-paced online learning. Some thrive in blended learning environments. Some thrive with combinations of the above. Some thrive in ways that we have not yet discovered.

My purpose of writing this is to encourage all of us to look closer. Even closer. And closer some more!

We need to look closer at our students to truly know them and we must look closer at ourselves and ask if we are really providing pathways and opportunities that help each child thrive or have we unfortunately made decisions based upon reasons that do not relate to students succeeding.

The snow is gently falling again. Students are going to keep coming into your schools. Let’s work together to give them a chance to thrive on the pine needle in their own special way and let’s prevent them from falling to the ground and getting lost.

Let me know if you would like to discuss further.

The Finish Line Does Not Tell the Whole Story

by Dr. Scott Andersen in , ,

The finish line does not tell the whole story. Sometimes the starting line tells a better story. Sometimes the journey in between tells the story. And quite frequently, all three used together, tell the most complete story.

 Getty Images

Getty Images

Unlike an Olympic 100m sprint, not all of our talent has the same set of starting conditions. For instance, if I were to race Usain Bolt, I would like to start at the 95th meter. Even then, it would be a challenge to beat him to the finish line. But if I were to actually beat him in that unfair race and we were ONLY looking at the finish line, then we might very errantly conclude that I was faster than Bolt. Let me be perfectly clear…I AM NOT!

It means that we sometimes have to look at growth over a time period, as opposed to simply looking at some pre-constructed finish line or business goal.

Another analogy that can be used to illustrate this point is the use of standardized testing to measure student knowledge and/or teacher efficacy. An illustration is below.


Teacher A has a 3rd grade class of students who all read on the 3rd grade level. Teacher B has students who all read on the 6th grade level but are in the 3rd grade like the others. At the end of the year the students are tested again and Teacher A’s students are now on the 5th grade level and Teacher B’s students are still on the 6th grade level.

In this oversimplified example, by only looking at the grade level designation results from the year end test, or the “finish line”, one might conclude that Teacher B’s students are smarter, or on a better track and/or that Teacher B is a better teacher. After all, her students are one grade level ahead of the others.

But that would be totally wrong. 

What teacher would you want your child to have, Teacher A or Teacher B?

As a business leader, as you are identifying, developing, recruiting and retaining the best talent you can, it is important to look deeper than just the finish line results. It requires more thought, insight, analysis, observation, multiple measures and a good look at growth or progress over time.

It is likely that you have both Teachers A and B in your organization. You probably also have a Teacher Z. Whatever that is. 

Since your people are, or at least should be, your greatest asset, doesn’t it make sense to resist the temptation to only look at the finish line? By so doing, the greatest risk is that you’ve spent some time validating that those who crossed first did an excellent job. However, you may also discover that you have some unknown, untapped, or emerging talent that can take your organization to the next level.

Finally and selfishly, we can help ourselves cross the finish line first, or faster than before, by better identifying and recognizing the talent in our organizations. In business and in education, we MUST be able to better recognize talent.


by Dr. Scott Andersen in ,

I am going to repost this news story about Silicon Valley software company Oracle and their plans to open a first-ever of its kind high school on their campus.

I am pasting the text of the original story below. LOVE THIS!

It's never been done before. A Silicon Valley corporation will now build a high school on its campus to help train the future generation of techies and engineers. The school is called Design Tech High School and the company is Oracle. It was an idea proposed 17 years ago by its CEO Larry Ellison.

Ground breaking ceremony for @dTechHS at @Oracle. Designing a future where everything is possible.

— Lyanne Melendez (@LyanneMelendez) August 12, 2016

The land was donated and the building for the Design Tech High School will be paid for by Oracle.

The company knows they will come. It was an idea Oracle's CEO Larry Ellison shared with his staff more than 17 years ago. "To better prepare students for the work places of today and tomorrow and again to be the designers of solutions to people's needs and the world's needs," Oracle education fund executive director Colleen Cassity said.

Before Oracle gets all the credit, we should clarify that the concept and model of the school already existed.

The school had been operating in Burlingame since 2013 when it got the attention of Oracle's education fund.

Oracle knew it had to be part of this new way of teaching, modeled after Stanford's school of design. "It's not a production design or fashion design or interior design. Design thinking is a way to solve a problem," Design Tech High School executive director Ken Montgomery said.

Problems like global warming. "A lot of our programs and how we learn are done through projects. It's not like you are sitting in a classroom getting a lecture, you're doing a hands-on activity to help reinforce what you are learning in the classroom," student Nick Dal Porto said.

The school wants to attract more students of color and girls. While it's open to anyone, families living in the San Mateo and Sequoia Union High School Districts would have priority. "If there are more registrants than there are place in a given year, then there's a blind lottery," Cassity said.

The school will open on the Oracle campus in September 2017. The first lesson will be to design a future where everything is possible.

We Don't Need More Teaching

by Dr. Scott Andersen

We don't need more time for teachers to teach in the classroom. We need better teaching in the time we already have.  

In fact, with significantly improved teaching, we may even be able to REDUCE the time we currently spend with teachers teaching in front of their students. The chart above, from THIS ARTICLE published by Core Education, shows that teachers in the U.S. spend more time in front of students. When you match that up with our less the desirable results when compared to the same countries, it makes us wondering about what is being done during teaching time in the U.S.

Pair that with what I observe to be a plague of AWFUL professional development and training for teachers, and some clarity is provided.

Read the article and let me know your thoughts.