Tag Archives: LeaderTalk


imagesThis past week I contributed a sort of reprise on my “My I-Phone is Smarter Than Your Kid’s Teacher” post.  Still!

 It went up on Education Week’s “Leadertalk” site  and right away one reader commented that I had articulated the essential problem with teaching (today’s) spoiled rich kids: they need to be entertained.

The funny thing is is I never said anything about the I-Phone as a device for entertaining kids.  I described it as a powerful tool to engage them.  All of them.  Not just “spoiled, rich kids”.  But also kids still climbing out of America’s deep economic chasm, the technology gap, and the great divide.

jugglerjpegSo I wondered whether some educators are unable to distinguish between entertaining kids and engaging them.  Or, put another way, whether they think you have to entertain them to engage them.

By now you know we got our test scores back from last year and we weren’t happy with them.  We got record high gains from several grade levels and that was good.  Our 8th graders improved in every category and that was good.  Our 4th graders and 7th graders had strong results in writing and that was good.  But we also experienced a dramatic decline in critical areas and our English language learners didn’t make the improvement we had worked for.

So we didn’t move the needle.

But sometimes teams learn more when they lose a game than they do when they win.  If you are open to learning as an organization, losing can be transformational.  So El Milagro is twisting through another radical transformation. Precision. Alignment.  Urgency.  


When students are provided with rigorous instruction, transparent goals and objectives, a clear sense of purpose– and the tools to achieve their learning tasks– they become “engaged”.

I don’t know if we are going to be handing out I-Phones to expedite the engagement of our students. It isn’t really the point anyway.  What really matters is that we seize upon children’s imagination and their innate capacity for managing their own journey.  We should be models for that.  We are on that journey too.  

Anyway, you can’t entertain kids if you are not entertaining.  You can’t engage them if YOU aren’t engaged.

Are you engaged?



Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, innovation and change, school reform, standardized testing, technology in schools



I’m invited to guest blog on Leadertalk on the 20th of every month.  I haven’t missed a day yet. Didn’t miss yesterday either.  So I woke up Saturday morning and watched the amazing events unfolding from Tehran and simultaneously tried to organize my thoughts around what was a very busy week for charter schools right here in California.

Check out my June post entitled “Change Gonna Come

Leadertalk is one of several blogs that are linked to Education Week.  It is a good site for tracking the voices of school leaders across the country.  The voices are many and varied:  some innovative, some naive, some courageous, some humorous, some defiant, some just looking for direction.  Some, like mine, seeking to capture El Milagro.

Leadertalk files all posts under each author’s name.  You can see the list of guest bloggers in the right-hand column. Click on Kevin Riley and you find the monthly posts that I have contributed this year.  

My favorite?  My tribute to our new President published January 20th, on the day of his Inauguration.

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Filed under El Milagro, President Obama


Last week Anne and I drove up to LA to see the legendary Neville Brothers at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard. The Neville Brothers have been performing together for thirty years. They started playing their own brand of New Orleans funk in the clubs on Bourbon Street and now play at jazz festivals and concert halls and venues all over the world. Wherever they want. If you have been to a Neville Brothers concert you know that they start with loyal followers standing around talking about where they last saw them play:  “I saw them with Carlos Santana” and “I saw them in a little club on the east coast” and “I saw them the last time they played at Preservation Hall.”  

And if you have seen them perform you also know they don’t leave until Aaron Neville closes the show by singing Amazing Grace.  And when Aaron Neville sings Amazing Grace, or anything for that matter, you are reminded that if all the angels in heaven channeled their voices into one human being… like some kind of celestial karaoke…  it would sound like Aaron Neville.  

I look for metaphors for excellence everywhere and of course if you can consistently make music like the Neville Brothers it’s more than just a metaphor. But as I watched them I thought about what we could learn from them.  Maybe we over-engineer our school organizations.  Maybe Mark Sanborn is right when he describes the “encore effect” in his book by the same title– “The Encore Effect: How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Everything You Do.”  

• What keeps these people coming back to watch the Neville Brothers perform? • What makes them so loyal?
• Why do they go away and tell their friends about this near-spiritual experience?
• Why are they so enthralled that they don’t notice the little mistakes… if there are any.
• Why can you hear the same song a thousand times and never experience it the same way?

Sanborn talks about five traits associated with high level performance: 

passion, preparation, practice, presence & polish

Aside from the obvious alliteration and convenient formula, Sanborn may be on to something. Schools–like so many organizations–  have complicated the process of creating consistency and excellence.  I saw a post on the same topic on Leadertalk  the other day and had to read it five times before I got the point.

As a Baldrige alumni examiner and a Six Sigma supporter, I thought I really understood processes. Our school system had flow mapped over 100 processes. We have in-process measures linked to strategic measures. However, what I am discovering is that I knew just enough to be dangerous. I have a number of examples where working on the measures of one process have actually negatively impacted other processes. Working on processes while continuing to manage the organization through a function based organization chart often leads to fragmentation, lack of alignment, and unintended consequences.

With a process management approach, our school system is moving away from a traditional function centered organization into a process centered organization. 

Holy smokes. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Just listen to Yellow Moon and recognize that people have a thousand compelling choices of what to do along Sunset Boulevard on Saturday night. And given all of those choices they are right where they want to be. And what they are hearing, however sophisticated, is not a by-product of Six-Sigma methodology introduced to the bayou. It’s passion and polish.  

Likewise, Mueller Charter School is a school of choice. We are El Milagro or nothing at all. Parents come back or they do not. They stand for the encore and take pictures with their cell phones and scream until the musicians come back out on to the stage. Or they walk away. And they take their children with them.

So prepare as if you are scheduled to play at the House of Blues tonight. You have to enjoy your own music. Play for the fun of it. And sing like the angels approve.  


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