Dissertation in Practice Award

Although I thought the journey documented through this blog was over, it was not!

This October, in St. Louis, Missouri, Shawnya, Angie and I traveled to the Carnegie Project on the Educational Doctorate conference to receive the 2014 Dissertation in Practice Award! Our dissertation project for Chesterfield County Public Schools completed with Derrick Deloatch was chosen as the first group dissertation award for a capstone style project that we completed at VCU.

Our thanks go to Dr. Shakeshaft, our capstone advisor, for coming to St. Louis with us and continuing to support us. She has been a great mentor and guide through the process and we are fortunate to have been able to work with her.

John at CPED

As part of the award came a cash prize and a really cool “trophy.” The three of us also got to present about our work and project to members of CPED in attendance at their fall convening.

We also were happy to know that Dr. Martin Reardon was in the audience and we were glad he could see us present. Dr. Reardon was our professor in the first two years of our VCU experience and was the one who lit the fire for us in even thinking about applying to CPED for their dissertation award. This was an awesome ending in our doctoral journey and I’d recommend future teams or individuals to consider sharing their work for this type of recognition.

Our thanks go to CPED for the opportunity and it was so nice to dialog with education professors who had the kindest words about our work and presentation. As we shared with the CPED community here in St. Louis, our technical document is available as an interactive eBook in the iBook Store from Apple for iPad. It is also available in PDF format through the CPED website.


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And then it was done…

It feels good to be done, but the change in pace is a little strange. There has been a lot to reflect upon from this program, and soon enough, the caps and gowns will be put away and what remains, really, is what was gained.

table of contents

I am not sure any of us had any idea about what our final assignment might look like, be about, or “feel like” to research and write… the extra challenge that many folks I talk to don’t realize was that our project was for another audience other than ourselves or professors. So on one hand, we pass that along, and just maybe that research will be useful to us down the road. I feel fortunate to have gotten to work on something I was really interested in, and likewise, I had the opportunity to work with a great group of colleagues who were wonderful partners.


But beyond the tables, the figures, and the references, I think, is the learning that came from the experience of responding to an authentic research need, discovering what might both make a client happy and providing something that will be useful, and then coming together in a team without any appointed leader and making it all happen. Within a year.

Derrick, Angie, Shawnya and I of course didn’t just create a big paper in the end. We had slides, presentations, a mini-website, and five site visits with–and I hope they correct me if I’m wrong–but interviews with 44 participants through both individual and focus group interviews. By the time we graduate, we will have met together just about 100 times. Exactly. And if it goes over, we’ll probably never tell anyone (we seem to like big round numbers).

I think we had a great guide in Dr. Shakeshaft for reminding us more than once that this experience was for us–it was a learning experience. Sometimes that meant going into a new direction and forging into new territory. And that would be my advice for those in the cohorts that follow us: make choices that aren’t necessarily the easy ones, but the ones that will help you grow as a student, as a leader, and as a researcher. Those roles will intermingle, not to mention your roles as an educator, and possibly a husband, a wife, or a parent.

Doing a research project like this in just a year has its tradeoffs. We would have loved to have repeated a few visits with follow ups. Done classroom observations. Talked with students and parents. And we know how to do that and how it could be done. But in the end, despite me knowing it can never be “perfect” (which is, I admit, one thing I’ve learned about myself in this program is that I have a preference for things being perfect), I am proud of our work, our finished products, but none of it was as impressive as the teamwork it took to put it all together.

Thank you, Drs. Deloatch, Kim, and Tolliver for the great experience.


(If you’re looking for more content after this post, I plan to continue my professional journey online back home at johnhendron.net.)

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The Key of G

One of the projects I’ve worked on recently was a little different than what I am used to. I was asked to make a “commercial” to help promote our county’s new strategic plan. And as it turns out, it needed a soundtrack.

I had recently seen a promotional video for a new app for the iPad that used a soundtrack I loved, by the pianist/composer Nils Frahm. I kept visualizing my ideas with his soundtrack. But even though I owned the album, I didn’t have the rights to use the music without permission.

After capturing footage and working with a script that was mostly written by one of our assistant superintendents, I felt that the original song was too intense. So I set about to create something myself. Coming up with the music was interesting. I worked out some harmonies I liked on the piano, and then set about to make a repetitious pattern, and recorded several “takes” of it. This was one of takes (MP3).

I had a lot of fun making the video, to be honest, but it did take a lot of time. We had the fortune of collaborating with John Ogle from WCVE news to record the narration, which gives the whole thing a little professional edge that it might not otherwise have.

The reason I wanted to share this experience is because I was deeply involved in the process of deciding what to promote about our schools, and doing so was a very helpful exercise. It forced us to decide what was important. We had just come off of an intense exercise of developing a strategic plan that we actually plan to follow, with bold goals for ourselves. But most of all, I’m proud of what the video represents. Because even if I had nothing to do with production of the video, or even working where I do, the “pitch” works for me. I’m really happy that we’ve made the decisions to focus our energy where we have, and to do what we have planned to do.

Throughout music history, there’s been examples of composers who have attributed a “feeling” to certain keys in music. There’s several reasons for explaining why a piece written or played in a different key might have a different character, but for the purposes of this post, I chose the key of G. Both G major and minor are favorites of mine, and they feel comfortable in the hand on a keyboard. And, come on, our logo is a “G.”

So far, this video has not been shared widely outside of Goochland, primarily in sessions we’re using with staff to “kick off” the strategic plan. In helping to create and promote this plan, I have learned a great deal about how to write a plan (there are no doubt ways of writing a plan that go beyond the methodology we used). If you find yourself in a similar situation soon, seek out a “guru” or two who can lead you through the process. While we had a guide, we mostly did it ourselves, basing the process on a set of values and beliefs. Now the most important process remains, in developing the tactics which will become our day-to-day steps in getting it all done. Our major goals include:

  1. Goal 1: To maximize each student’s academic potential through engaging experiences and deeper learning, preparing our students for the challenges of learning and working in the modern global economy
  2. Goal 2: To improve the climate of our organization and create opportunities for meaningful stakeholder engagement
  3. Goal 3: To maximize resources for instruction by providing safe, efficient, and transparent operations for all stakeholders while effectively managing our facilities and programs

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Break a Leg!

In May, a few short number of years ago, we embarked with some familiar and some unfamiliar faces on a program of self-discovery and growth in education leadership. We knew that some day, far off into the future, we’d eventually be working on a team together, and we’d be responsible for helping some entity outside of VCU with an authentic research issue. I know that time has come, for many of us, to deliver those client presentations, then defend, and then hopefully enjoy a hearty sigh as we reflect on what we’ve accomplished and prepare to celebrate on May 10.


I’ve had some fun times with my colleagues along the way. I hope we’ll do just fine with our last few requirements. We’re almost there! But the purpose of this post is to wish all of our colleagues the best of luck, too! It’s been a journey!

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iBooks Author

It was several years ago at a conference (VSTE in Virginia Beach) that I talked about eBooks, and specifically about them in the context of textbooks. The best format at the time was ePub, which still is decent as a cross-platform format.

iBooks Author

Today I finished work on a small eBook in Apple’s iBooks format. The files are created in a Mac OS X-only program called iBooks Author, and can only be viewed on an iPad or a Mac with the OS X Mavericks operating system. The benefit of these books is that they can be media-rich and typically more interactive than PDFs or ePubs.

Next Friday we will release this book to the public. It’s not a book, per se, in the typical sense; it’s a publication. It’s our district’s strategic plan. We already published a PDF version of the executive summary, but this new version of the plan has a few benefits, as would any document you wanted to “upgrade” with Apple’s tools, that were primarily developed to create textbooks:

  • they are searchable,
  • you can highlight the text (as with a highlighter),
  • you can tap and define words,
  • you can tap and have the device say the text,
  • you can create notes and flashcards,

As the author, you can embed:

  • photos that can be pinched and zoomed full-screen,
  • videos,
  • interactive “widgets”,
  • call-out style, interactive diagrams,
  • 3D objects,
  • hyperlinks.

The creation of the text wasn’t hard; you start with a template and then fill out as many pages as you need. These books do not allow you to change font size as the end-user, but that and changing the color (inverted white text on black) are about the only limitations.

We used several hyperlinks to take folks back to our website, and we opened the book with an introductory video that helps sell our division. Because of the high-quality video, the book is 170MB, but once you download that, you really don’t need the internet unless you’re tapping on those hyperlinks.

The real reason I decided to write about this is because there are several options to get this book on your iPad.

  1. Export to the iTunes Bookstore via iTunes Producer. I found this whole process had a learning curve to it. Why you can’t do all of this within one application is beyond me, but it requires first singing up with an account, the downloading the software, then preparing your book for publication. This is a requirement if you want to actually sell the book, and can also be done for free books.
  2. Export the iBooks file format to your computer. You can then distribute this file by putting it on a web server, or else putting it on the server and listing it in an RSS feed. The feed, you’d hope, would be attached to an iTunes U feed and you could distribute the book either “freestyle” this way, or else embed it in a course (which creates the feed). This is a self-publishing method.
  3. Preview the book. By connecting an iPad to the computer with iTunes, you can send a preview of the book to be viewed on the iPad. This is simply for testing it out.
  4. Export as another format, such as PDF. You can also forgo the fancy stuff and simply export your work as a PDF. This is an alternative for those without the iPad.

Benefits? The Apple ecosystem has some benefits, at least on iBooks Author.

  1. The application is free with OS X 10.8 and 10.9.
  2. It’s super simple to use, really, especially if you’ve used Pages.
  3. The program produces some books that are highly interactive, compared with the competition.

The downsides include:

  1. The books are stuck on a single platform.
  2. The templates might be found limiting, by some, although the customizations I did worked.

Of course, in context of education, it begs to ask the question about textbooks in general. I get the feeling there are no huge fans of textbooks in schools. I think higher education still is holding on tight, but it frankly surprised me when Jobs announced this new tool when he was still alive. Yes, you can create some aesthetically pleasing books. But how important are books today for innovative teachers? I think the hangup, perhaps, is calling these a book. My example is such a case: I have a very nice looking format for communicating an otherwise short document. It’s clearly not a Word file, but made to be consumed, watched, pinched, and tapped.

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Get to the Stratosphere

Stratosphere Music Video from John Hendron on Vimeo.

We had a great time producing this music video to summarize the book we chose to read for EDLP 714 by Michael Fullan. This closed our presentation on his book on October 30, 2013.

“The best presentation I’ve ever seen, bar none…” – Tim Lampe

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Making Learning Fun

One of our focuses in Goochland over the past year has been on student engagement. We know that if kids are turned onto the activities we can do in classes, learning can be fun and invite active participation. I took this to heart in our big assignment for this semester in EDLP 714.


The other thing I took to heart is the great working relationship our capstone team has developed as we work on our research project. Being able to work with these teams for this class was smart. We likewise decided to take on a book that related to making change, but it’s directly tied to our study on ubiquitous computing. Michael Fullan’s Stratosphere is a book we’d recommend, and we’re going to have a lot of fun preparing this weekend to present it in class this week.

We can’t wait!

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