Professional aspirations and musings.

I am proud to announce that I have been selected by Education Influence as one of the education influencers in the United Arab Emirates.  I join the ranks of one hundred other professionals around the world in a virtual collaborative community of practice. If you are you a parent, teacher or school in UAE needing guidance on education, I am in an ideal position to be of service to you.

Founded by Gavin McCormack, principal at Farmhouse Montessori School, Education Influence is a non-profit community of practice that connects teachers from all walks of life to resources, courses, and each other to bring about educational change on a global scale. The organization acknowledges those who are making innovations in the classroom and beyond to provide a network of highly accomplished teachers who can pave the way for others.

Each country has a highly skilled representative willing to go that extra mile to bring high quality education to those who need it. All influencers have access to a huge database of resources for teachers and schools. Educators need help, assistance, and resources; we want them to get answers. Equality in education for everyone is the greatest gift we can offer the future of the world; together we can make this dream a reality. If you need help or you know someone who does, please contact your nearest influencer.

The organization just launched a robust website to provide teachers, schools and parents a place to find support and help. As teachers we are all striving for the best foundations for the children in our care, but do we all have the resources to make this happen? We do now! Many months were spent building the site so that others can find assistance easily. When you visit the website, you can:

There is a revolution happening in the field of education and Education Influence is here to help make positive change happen. The organization unites teachers, schools and parents from all corners of the earth to find resources, advice and support as they strive for equality in education.

I invite you to join us on this journey and encourage you to visit EducationInfluence.com for free teaching information, advice, and resources!

“Hey, hey, hey, hey-now. Don’t be mean; we don’t have to be mean, cuz, remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” — The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Four years ago today — on September 8, 2014 — I stepped off a United Airlines 777 at Dubai International Airport (DXB) and took the first step on my journey as an expat in the United Arab Emirates. The 1,461 days since have been filled with exponential personal development as I have continuously challenged myself to be a better version of me. Not every lesson has been successful; some took several tries to get right and others are still a work in progress.

Nevertheless, I am progressing personally and learning to reframe a challenging situation. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have plans to improve my present state, but it means I work towards achieving them while embracing the “art of possibility.”

Being in Dubai has also allowed me to develop professionally in ways that would not have been possible in the United States. After teaching marketing and management classes for the past three years in the College of Business Administration at the American University in the Emirates, the start of this academic year marks my shift into the College of Education. I will now teach five sections of the following three courses:

  • HAP 200, Happiness Studies
  • INV 300,  Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • TOL 200, Tolerance and Diversity

In related news, the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education selected me as one of 30 educators from a pool of more than 400 applicants to join “Cohort 3” of the “UAE Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program.” The program provides curriculum, programs, and networks to equip the next generation of UAE leaders with an innovation and entrepreneurship mindset to ensure the country’s ongoing economic achievement (this is directly linked to the INV 300,  Innovation and Entrepreneurship course I am now teaching).  It also included an educational visit to Stanford University this past July 10 to 13, 2018 for specialized training in design thinking, the conceptual foundation of the initiative.

Unfortunately, while being overseas opens opportunities that were not possible for me in the United States, it minimizes the time I can spend with my two amazing sons, Jacob and Max. Despite being far from my sons physically, they are always close to my heart. It is my sincere hope that one day I can make amends for my physical absence in their lives. For now, I make enthusiastic efforts to participate in their lives virtually while maximizing the moments we can share physically.

Overall, I remain grateful for my expat experiences in Dubai. I also look forward to the future with optimism and excitement, despite not being fully clear about what it has in store for me.

If you want to learn more about my expat adventure, I suggest the following posts:

On May 31, 2018 I learned that I was selected by the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education as one of 30 educators chosen from a pool of more than 400 applicants to join “Cohort 3” of the “UAE Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program.” Some background on the program:

What is design thinking? According to Coe Leta Stafford, Managing Director of IDEO U, “design thinking is a process for creative problem solving.” When we think about design thinking, the first word that comes to mind is human. Design thinking encourages organizations to focus on the people they’re creating for and leads to human-centered products, services, and internal processes. The core of design thinking is getting actionable and knowing your questions; it’s about simple mindset shifts or ways of asking questions differently—a new way to look at problems.

According to the Stanford d.school publication. “An Introduction to Design Thinking: PROCESS GUIDE,” the design thinking process includes the following five stages:

Empathize: Learn about the audience for whom you are designing. Empathy is the centerpiece of a human-centered design process; it is the work you do to understand people, within the context of your design challenge. It is your effort to understand the way they do things and why, their physical and emotional needs, how they think about world, and what is meaningful to them.

Define: Construct a point of view that is based on user needs and insights. The Define mode of the design process is all about bringing clarity and focus to the design space. It is your chance, and responsibility, as a design thinker to define the challenge you are taking on, based on what you have learned about your user and about the context. After becoming an instant-expert on the subject and gaining invaluable empathy for the person you are designing for, this stage is about making sense of the widespread information you have gathered. In a word, the Define mode is sensemaking.

Ideate: Brainstorm and come up with creative solutions. Ideate is the mode of the design process in which you concentrate on idea generation. Mentally it represents a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes. Ideation provides both the fuel and also the source material for building prototypes and getting innovative solutions into the hands of your users.

Prototype: Build a representation of one or more of your ideas to show to others.The Prototype mode is the iterative generation of artifacts intended to answer questions that get you closer to your final solution. In the early stages of a project that question may be broad – such as “do my users enjoy cooking in a competitive manner?”

In these early stages, you should create low-resolution prototypes that are quick and cheap to make (think minutes and cents) but can elicit useful feedback from users and colleagues. In later stages both your prototype and question may get a little more refined. For example, you may create a later stage prototype for the cooking project that aims to find out: “do my users enjoy cooking with voice commands or visual commands”.

A prototype can be anything that a user can interact with – be it a wall of post-it notes, a gadget you put together, a role-playing activity, or even a storyboard. Ideally you bias toward something a user can experience. Walking someone through a scenario with a storyboard is good, but having them role-play through a physical environment that you have created will likely bring out more emotions and responses from that person.

Test: Return to your original user group and testing your ideas for feedback. Test mode is when you solicit feedback about your prototypes from your users and have another opportunity to gain empathy for the people you are designing for.

Testing is another opportunity to understand your user, but unlike your initial empathy mode, you have now likely done more framing of the problem and created prototypes to test. Both these things tend to focus the interaction with users, but don’t reduce your “testing” work to asking whether or not people like your solution. Instead, continue to ask “Why?”, and focus on what you can learn about the person and the problem as well as your potential solutions.

Ideally you can test within a real context of the user’s life. For a physical object, ask people to take it with them and use it within their normal routines. For an experience, try to create a scenario in a location that would capture the real situation. If testing a prototype is not possible, frame a more realistic situation by having users take on a role or task when approaching your prototype. A rule of thumb: always prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong—testing is the chance to refine your solutions and make them better.

For additional information about design thinking you are invited to view the following 90-minute video, “d.school Crash Course in Design Thinking.

The main priority of the Year 3 project is to ensure the sustainability of the innovation and entrepreneurship curriculum in the UAE, with an additional focus on developing a core group of Program Ambassadors to deepen the impact of innovation and entrepreneurship education in the UAE. Year 3 program components are organized into 3 categories:

  1. Create and Develop an I&E Curriculum
  2. Support the Teaching of the I&E Curriculum
  3. Facilitate the Growth of the I&E Ecosystem

It is my honor to represent the American University in the Emirates during this initiative and I am excited to contribute to innovation and entrepreneurship educational efforts in the UAE!