I had the pleasure of sitting in on some education sessions at the SAS Users Group International meeting in San Francisco over the last few days. SUGI is a coming together of more than 4,000 advanced analytic minds from all sorts of industries, from Amazon.com to the World Wildlife Fund. The folks in this presentation, however, were laser focused on education. John Collins is the Deputy Superintendent from Poway Unified School District, just outside of San Diego. He and his colleague Ray Wilson did an amazing job of talking about how they have worked to bring a culture of evidence to the learning process of their school district. The best thing about their presentation was the “reality therapy” about how the technology may be powerful, the dashboards may be dazzling, but it’s working to create a culture where everyone actually USES the information you put at their fingertips to change how they teach and reach students. For example, they made the case that standardized test scores are sometimes so general as to be useless beyond the broad tracking of kids. Poway tries to bring much more powerful diagnostics right to teachers—daily!—so that when they work with kids they know more about specific challenges and possible strategies to help. Most interesting, however, is the way they have used data to link learning to the budget. Their comment was “the way to get budget in this district is to document that what you are doing, or want to do, will somehow improve learning.” It’s not just about headcount and “fair” allocations; it’s about what will impact the kids. Great stuff from Poway!
SUGI also featured the Extreme Kindness tour. These four guys have worked with Fortune 500 companies, local communities, and non profits with the goal of educating, inspiring, and motivating. I had the good fortune to talk with them for a bit before their presentation—which is a hilarious and humanistic ride on a kindness express. They are the real deal. They are fully engaged in what their doing and loving every minute of it. They certainly make you want to wake up and take on your challenges. The most interesting thing was watching them relate to conference attendees who are mostly IT folks—i.e., a whole lot of introverts. It was almost like watching and extroverted aunt hug an introverted nephew. Still all seemed to have a good time, and connected well with the message. Check out their manifesto, and choose your act of kindness!