Practice What We Teach

We spend a lot of time preparing for the coming year and planning our future.  And following this year’s process that was more detailed and thought through than any of the previous 17 years, I realized just how blessed I am to work with an outstanding team of leaders.  Individuals who are all working in collaborative teams, focused on a common goal.  Sound familiar?  If you know Solution Tree and PLCs it should.


Lots of what we do is based on the tenants of PLCs, because PLCs are not just for schools.  They work in businesses, non-profits, social organizations, and in life itself.  I certainly have reflected on the aspects of PLCs many times as a husband and a parent.

So this past Fall I reflected on what our authors, associates and staff do to help schools implement PLC to a high level of success.  Following a review of the Three Big Ideas, I spent a lot of time thinking about the four corollary question of PLC.

  1. What do we want kids to learn?
  2. How will we know if they are learning it?
  3. What will we do if they don’t?
  4. What will we do if they do?

Then I rephrase that question just a little and ask each of our Department Leaders:

  1. What are the outcomes you desire?
  2. How will we know if you are on track?
  3. What will we do if it seem you will fall short?
  4. What will we do when you achieve and exceed?

Now put them into any department’s goals and you have a framework for building a solid business plan.

Most companies are good at questions 1 & 2, but to be a high performing company, one that reaches and exceed expectations, we must focus on question 3, and celebrate when question 4 becomes a reality!

We spend a lot of our professional lives at Solution Tree helping to implement PLCs into schools.  Why not practice what we teach?

It is going to be a GREAT 2015!



Details, details, details

One of the things I believe Solution Tree Events does well is, well, everything. Seriously.  We have all heard the phrase “The devil is in the details.” So I will announce to you that our Events Team is “Devil Slayers”.  This point was made clear to me at a resent three day event we held at the Marriott in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in which we had no say in the details.

First a little background. In Saudi we have some inherent complications that we do not have in the State.

  1. Translation.  All of the attendees, and the presenter, are wearing headphones to understand each other.  The translator sits in a booth in the back of the room.
  2. Visuals:  There needs to be two different screens, projector and two different computers so that you can display the presentation in Arabic and in English.  The presenter needs to see the English.
  3. Staffing:  We need someone to change slides on the Arabic computer to keep in sync with the presenter’s slides.
  4. Gender:  Women cannot be in the same room as men.  They are in a room next door, so besides the two content screens (one in English for our female co-presenter) there is a third for the video link of the presenter.

So now add in some site-specific complications.

  1. The facility we were in only provides the sound.
  2. A film company only does filming to project into the other room.
  3. Our host has a film crew recording for their purposes.
  4. Everyone feels as thought their role is most important
  5. There is no on-site project director from hotel or host.
  6. English is nobody’s primary language, besides the presenter’s.

So to my point about Solution Tree Events being devil slayers.  In 2014 we hosted 27 Summits/Institutes giving us around 90 keynotes and somewhere around 550 breakout sessions.  That is 640 different sessions that all need projection, sound for computers, materials distributed, projecting our presenter on one to three screens, and audio for every presenter in each of the 640 sessions.  Then throw in the 25 workshops hosted around the country and we are talking details.

I can say with the exception, each and every event session this past year came off without a hitch.  Now our team may have been the proverbial l duck, smooth on the surface paddling like crazy below, but all inevitable problems were fixed before presentations began.  Meaning all presenters and attendees had a technologically unencumbered event.  Our staff, and the contractors in which we hire and oversee, are ROCK STARS when it comes to event execution.  Unparalleled!

In Saudi we had subcontractors changing from day to day, audio squawks and shutdowns, headset malfunction, cameras unplugged during presentation by camera men, video projection one day but not the next, then back the third, projection quality dramatically different from hour to hour, cameramen more interested in texting then tracking, etc.  So imagine the frustration of the presenter and the attendees who were having a hard enough time with translations and brand new concepts.  Then throw in my attitude and temperament…my Christmas Card list did not expand.


Saving grace was our lead presenter Dr. Tom Many who has the patience of a SAINT.  He changed directions, adlibbed , and modified to engage attendees.  All this without being able to add or change slides.  Translations were already done.  Also, the attendees were fantastic.  They were very engaged in the content and Tom’s delivery, and very gracious with not displaying their frustrations with the technology.  Specifically the women who had to endure more issues than the men…but we all know they are basically more patient and tolerant than men.

The devil is indeed in the details.  If the experience is hampered by poor technology, the event suffers dramatically and the experience is not what it should or could be.  If the technology is flawless, the attendees don’t notice and they focus on the content. But we know, and more importantly the presenters know, when execution by the hosting organization sucks.  If we can perform our jobs well, nobody should notice and all the presenter’s hard work of preparation and planning culminates in a truly positive experience for everyone.  And that is why we do what we do.


What’s In A Name?

When we began running Solution Tree in 1998 the name of the company was National Educational Service, NES.  NES has been started in 1987 and somewhere around 1995 a trademark infringement happened with National Evaluation Systems who owned NES.  They worked out how to live together with both having the same acronym and went about their merry ways.  Problem is the previous owners kind of forgot to tell us.   So in 1999 I stepped in it knee-deep, and then in 2004 when we were really getting some traction, and they were being acquired, they stalked until they found two infractions and sued us for $5,000,000.  Heck, it could have been $5 Billion, made no difference. So we joyfully embraced the option of choosing a new name.

We were certainly not in the position of hiring a firm like Michael Cronan and Associates whom you pay big bucks to help you pick company or product names.  One of their biggies is Amazon’s Kindle.  So we went about it in a much more fun and collaborative way. Internally.

We bought a naming software, we surveyed staff, authors, associates, family and friends. We narrowed and re-surveyed, and voted, then realized we need to start all over again, and eventually we had consensus among the staff to re-name and re-brand the company Solution Tree.  A two word name, not easy to become another educational organization acronym, and one that truly fits who we are and what we do.

There is a lot in a name.  To launch a new book, event or digital product you real need to think it through, have fun, shelve the discussion and come back, and possibly go with your initial instinct.  You will know when it is right.  We did with Solution Tree.  Hope we are equally as successful with the upcoming launch of Global PD.  We’ll see!

Our Values – A big part of the How

The last two weeks I wrote about our Mission and our Vision.  This blog is about our Values.

  1. Mission
  2. Vision
  3. Values
  4. Goals
  5. Guiding Principals
  6. Strategies

We have five Core Values at ‘The Tree’.  Here they are, and a little about each one.  What’s important for us to remember is that our Core Values are the primary standards for doing business.  These values direct our judgements and the decision for what is important for us to do if we are to fulfill our Vision.  These are different from our principles that I will write about in a couple weeks.

  1. Passion for our purpose:  There may be no stronger emotion than passion. Passion is that barely controllable emotion we have all had, create by a very strong desire for something. Often the something is our partner, a sport, our kids, or to just flat achieve a goal. But at Solution Tree our passion is for our purpose, or our mission.  Advance the work of our authors.  If we do not have passion for our purpose/mission, then we can NEVER EVER accomplish our Vision of Transforming education worldwide to ensure learning for all.
  2. Dedication to quality: I would put our quality up against anybody’s!  And I mean that with all sincerity.  Product Development: Nobody in our sector of education does more developmental work with an author to make certain their work is articulated in the most productive way possible.  Professional Development:  There is not a better more monitored system in education than the one Shannon Ritz and her team have built in PD.  Our software is customized and intense!  We screen and educate all of our presenters on best practice.  We evaluate each and every PD event (3,000+ annually), and share the evals with the presenters.  We live the phrase continuous improvement.  Events:  There is not a better run event business than Solution Tree’s.  We have a STEM (Solution Tree Event Management) tool that walks us step by step through everything that needs to be done for an event.  When it needs to happen, who is responsible, who is the process handed off to next, and so on.  It beginning with the event concept approval to the AAR (After Action Review).   Evaluations are collected at every session and shared with the presenters within an hour of their last presentation.  No that is immediate feedback.
  3. Develop individual potential: This not only means helping our Authors and Associates reach their potential, but also our staff.  We challenge, encourage and help them reach their goals.  This is something that can not be perfected, because I don’t believe that very many of us really know what our potential truly is, but I do know that none of us can reach it without help.
  4. Profitable growth:  We can easily have growth at the expense of profits.  But then we would be looking for jobs as Solution Tree.  We can Increase profits by cutting expenses to dangerous levels, by not caring about all the quality measures we have establish and enforce, but then our priorities would be out of order and we would not be taking care of our duties to advance the work of our Authors, and also ignoring Value #2.
  5. Integrity – period:  The period says it all.

So those are our Values.  They were identified and articulated with great thought and care, and they can never be forgotten or neglected.

Our Vision – the Why

As I posted last week, we’ve entered into our 17th year of leading Solution Tree (formerly National Educational Service, founded in 1987), and it is once again important to understand who we are, what we do, how we do it, why we do it and where we are heading.  Last week I wrote about our Mission.  This blog is about our Vision.

  1. Mission
  2. Vision
  3. Values
  4. Goals
  5. Guiding Principals
  6. Strategies

These blogs are primarily written for the Solution Tree Staff, Authors and Associates.  We have a growing company with many new Authors, and like any company that hires a lot of young people, we have a good amount of turnover. So the intent here is to help keep us all on track.

Vision: The ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.  A vivid mental image of what the future could be.

Transform education worldwide to endure learning for all.

Now that’s ambitious, and yes it is possible.  I believe, we believe, in our heart of hearts that Solution Tree is as capable as anyone organization in the world to transform education. For a couple of basic reasons:

  1. Our Mission Statement make us unique.  We are author-centric.  We publish the best and the brightest.  Their strategies, applications and innovations work!
  2. All of our authors’ work can be bridged together to build a unique school improvement plan for a variety of unique school scenarios.
  3. Our Authors and Associates customize plans for schools.  We don’t own a cookie cutter!
  4. The Solution Tree staff is THE BEST STAFF IN THE WORLD at helping Authors and Educators.
  5. The US is looked at as the foundational education country for K-12 innovation.  Other countries may have higher scores in some areas, and different graduation statistics, but we are all fighting the exact same fight, so why not collaborate and figure out what works. That is why we are now co-publishing in five other countries and distributing in another 14.  And we’re just warming up.
  6. “If not us, who? If not now, when?” A regular quote from Becky DuFour when I am luck enough to be her doubles tennis partner, and we are starting another comeback.  Her quote certainly applies here!

This is why we do what we do.  I can get all soft, mushy and passionate here when I think about my own kids, but there is no greater asset than our students.  There is nothing more important for us to do collectively, and world wide, than to give our children the best education possible.  It truly is life or death.


Our Mission – the How

As we enter into our 17th year of leading Solution Tree (formerly National Educational Service, founded in 1987) it is important to reflect and understand who we are, what we do, how we do it, why we do it and where we are heading.  in the next six blogs I will address:

  1. Mission
  2. Vision
  3. Values
  4. Goals
  5. Guiding Principals
  6. Strategies

These blogs are primarily written for the Solution Tree Staff, Authors and Associates but will give anyone interested a look into the heart of Solution Tree.  We have a growing company with many new Authors, and like any company that hires a lot of young people, we have a good amount of turnover. So there are a good number of Treedwellers who aren’t well versed on these six topics.

On August 15, 2013 I wrote about our Mission and on August 23rd I wrote about our Vision.  I am writing the next two blogs on the same topic without reading the old blogs first to make certain that I have a consistent understanding.

Here we go.