Sent to me by my good friend Garry Carter:

Nearly 400 years ago a group of entrepreneurs (we call them Pilgrims) celebrated the first Thanksgiving.  Although they actually had thanksgiving feasts many times, the first one in the fall of 1621 is the one we remember.

What is often forgotten is that the group of 50 Pilgrims who celebrated Thanksgiving had started a year earlier as a group of 100.  Further, just 4 of the original 18 adult women survived the 1st year (many had lost wives and moms).  God provided an English speaking Indian (remember Squanto?) who taught them how to grow corn and to fish; otherwise their situation would have been far more dire.  (Squanto had previously been a slave in England – go figure)   But in the midst of their struggle, the Pilgrims held a 3-day feast of thanksgiving for what God had provided to them.

I am certain that not many of the Pilgrims at that 1st Thanksgiving felt that the year was a great success…but they rejoiced.  And none of them realized the amazing start that they had given to one of the greatest and most remarkable countries in all of history.

All of us have pressures and concerns, but recalling the Pilgrims reminded to me to be very seriously thankful for the Lord’s abundant provision.

Why go abroad?

As I have said, with almost as much boring redundancy as our Mission Statement, our Vision Statement is:

Transform education world-wide to ensure learning for all.

Here are the group of men I just spent three days with earlier this week in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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There are an equal number of woman at the training, in an neighboring room. The Saudi culture divides the population into separate gender trainings.

Tom & Susan (in her Abaya) Many, are two world class presenters and educators, who kicked off the first of four workshops introducing the PLC process to Cohort #1.  They did a phenominal job of working with translators and dealing with cultural issues.  I can not imagine anyone working harder or being more successful in introducing this work.


At a my meetings outside of the workshop, I was presenting our plans for future professional development in the region, and one high ranking official asked me “Why do you want to expand to Saudi Arabia, isn’t the United States big enough for your company?”  Wow, that one took me off guard. The good news is the honest answer was easy.

“Because it is our vision, why we are doing what we do.  It would be easier to focus solely on the US, and probably more profitable.  But if what we have at Solution Tree truly works, and it does, then why would we keep the secret to ourselves.  Why would we not share what has been proven successful in our country with others, and give our Authors an international platform to help kids succeed all over the world?”

In reality, we could downsize the company and only focus on PLC work, making my life a lot less complicated and the company potentially more profitable.  But the other areas in which we publish and provide professional development are important to real school improvement too.  We truly offer the highest quality opportunities for authors to take their passions and put it into the hands of educators who are begging for tested, proven and implementable solutions. So why wouldn’t we go global?

International work is expensive, it is an investment, and most always takes a long time before we see any significant financial gains, but we do see immediate personal advancement in teachers, schools, and districts which leads to significant gains in student achievement. And THAT is why we do it.


The near death, and rise, of events at Solution Tree

When DG Elmore and I became the new owners of Solution Tree, then known as National Educational Service (NES), nearly all of the events were ‘themed’ events such as Strategies for Reaching Angry and Disruptive Youth.  Multiple sessions built around the at-risk youth theme.  The only exception that year was the first ever PLC Institute to be held at Mt. Tremblant in French Quebec Canada.  Why Tremblant?  Well from what I could tell it was because the previous owner, and sitting NES President, spoke French fluently and it seemed like a cool location…if you could find it.  This PLC event was mostly based on a new book, Professional Learning Communities at Work, and the two authors, Rick DuFour and Bob Eaker, presented the bulk of the sessions to a total of 90 attendees.

Conferences are high-risk endeavors, and in year one they ended up being a huge part of the significant losses NES incurred.  The following summer, after a disastrous Spring Conference season, I terminated all future conferences for the company with the exception of the August PLC Summer Institute, relocated to Hilton Head, South Carolina.  I soon realized why there was considerable conference space in Hilton Head in August….OH MY WAS IT HOT!  I believe it hit 105 all three days, but we still had 76 attendees participate in a very good event due to content, delivery and the TLC given to all.  We managed expenses well and broke even.  At 50 attendees we gave them water, at 55 we added ice, at 60 they got a cookie and an apple, etc.

The biggest concern for the future of this event was the location and how to keep registration costs reasonable.  Rick was very kind and offered up Adlai Stevenson High School as the new host site.  We used some of his faculty for additional breakout sessions, the Lincolnshire Marriott for housing, the Stevenson school buses for transportation and the kitchen to prepare meals for the 130 attendees. Registrations continued to grow, and in 2001 we jumped to 300 attendees at Stevenson, and in 2002 we hosted PLC Institutes at Stevenson and two other locations, all schools.  The rest is history.

From day one I loved the PLC Institute format of basing an entire event around a single book, or author’s work.  And I quickly realized it was critically important to consider the authors as partners, not hired presenters like so many conference providers.   Our authors have always been very involved in what sessions needed to be presented and by whom, and what content needed to be covered in each keynote.

You see, nobody knows the authors work better than the author, and their ultimate goal is to have their work understood, embraced and implemented with a focus on student achievement.  They didn’t get into education to make money; they got into education to make a difference.  To help kids succeed.  An event is just one medium we use so the author can do just that…make a difference.  And that is why we do it.