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My Life as an Innovation Consultant: What Will 2016 Bring?

It's the start of a new year, and I'm re-organizing my professional life, setting goals and reflecting on nearly six years as an independent innovation consultant.

People often ask what I do and the answer is complicated. I have many professional interests revolving around innovation, educational technology,  social media, and global education. Perhaps the best title to give me is non-traditional educator.  I am an advocate for students and teachers, yet I am not employed in a traditional school setting. Instead, I partner with a variety of people, schools, organizations, and companies to lend my expertise and to promote educational change. Often educators are considered out of touch and less relevant if they leave school settings for consultancies. I would argue that my knowledge base has been greatly expanded because of my experiences.  I love what I do. 

Here's what's going on for me this spring and this may give you an idea of my current projects:

  • I attended FETC last week, gave a presentation on global project-based learning, and participated on a panel moderated by the US DoE's Zac Chase on closing the access gap.
  • Check out my blog post  on Participate Learning (formerly Appolearning) that highlights their unique Participate Chats feature. I've worked with this group off and on over the last years. 
  • The Waukegan Public Schools is hosting their annual Google N'More conference. I'll be there Saturday to talk about global project-based learning.
  • I began working with Edmodo to help guide their thought leadership around connecting to teachers. Stay tuned for more artifacts from this work. 
  • The annual Student Technology Conference run by Marymount of New York students takes place on January 30th. Proposals are still being accepted from students in grades 6-12. All are welcome to attend to learn from a great group of young technology leaders. 
  • Project Tomorrow runs a career exploration program for high school students in California and I'll be designing flipped modules for these students to learn about technology integration this winter. 
  • The Illinois Computing Educators conference takes place at the end of February and I'll be there as a conference committee member and as a presenter. Join us! It's really a fun and engaging professional development event. Note that there is a pre-conference free EdCamp After Dark event on Wednesday evening of the conference week among other special activities.
  • In March, I'll be attending the SxSWedu conference in Austin, Texas to learn and network. This conference has proven invaluable during the last few years.
  • The CUE National Conference takes place in mid-March and I'll be reprising my role as the official #notatcue ambassador. This means that I strategize with CUE and virtually monitor social media for this event. I've done this for their past two conferences, and it's really fun. I learn a lot and get to help out with an incredible conference. 
  • Don Buckley, Brandon Wiley, and I will be conducting a workshop for NYSAIS at Rye Country Day School in New York on April 16. Entitled Developing Global Connections in Your School, this experience will help participants apply the design thinking process to coming up with a plan for globalizing their school. We are also doing a mini-version of this workshop at the CoSN annual conference earlier in April. 
  • Finally, Steve Hargadon and I are gearing up for another round of  Globaled Events, pushing the global education agenda beyond our annual Global Education Conference. We are starting a publication on Medium and a webinar series in February. Soon we will announce Global Leadership Week which will take place at the end of April with a face-to-face event in Silicon Valley and a virtual mini-conference focused on inspiring action in the global education field. We also will be reprising our Global Education Day at ISTE meetup in June. All of these events are free for teachers; if you're interested in connecting to highly motivated, tech-savvy educators through our work, consider getting involved as a sponsor. Contact Steve Hargadon at steve@hargadon.com for more details.

The aforementioned list of activities shows the range of workin which I engage. I really enjoy this variety as well as getting to know people through these projects. During the last few years, I've had the opportunity to serve as an innovation coach in several schools including Mercy High School in Michigan, D230 in Illinois, Falconer School in Chicago, and the Dwight School in New York and I've conducted several customized technology audits at schools for Educational Collaborators (EC, by the way, is a great community of ed tech leaders who can be deployed for any project). I really love helping schools strategize around innovation and this work has been immensely professionally satisfying. It's exciting to see schools move forward and tackle pressing issues, and I can help with providing resources, connections, and ideas for infusing innovation into their culture.

During my last innovation gig, I partnered with Don Buckley, formerly of the School at Columbia and now with Tools at School, to tag team the innovation process. Don turned out toe be a great thought partner; he worked with faculty using the design thinking process and advised the school's leadership team while I focused on professional development and overall management of the year-long project. This school is now positioned to take on this work themselves, and it's exciting to see new growth within this school. 

A new experience for me in 2015 was working with the startup Remind conducting teacher outreach. I love this tool, learned a great deal how it can be used in classrooms with surprising creativity, and had time to think about what teachers really need. Partly because of my work with Remind, I've also started to network more and I've particularly enjoyed a Chicago Hive meeting and two dinners with the Chicago DOLS group. I'm looking forward to continuing those activities.  And, perhaps the most out of my comfort zone experience I had in 2015 was attending an IBM data analytics conference as a social influencer and representative of the education field. This event was so different for me and expanded my interest on how data is used and perceived in the education world. I'm hoping to explore this further during 2016 and become a more active and aware data citizen. 

At any rate, I'm grateful for 2015 and am looking forward to what 2016 brings to my professional life! As always, I hope to continue to learn from and by inspired others around me, applying this knowledge to new projects. Professional generosity makes the world go around, and I look forward to working with people who share this vision on initiatives that matter. What's on your plate for 2016? 


What's Wrong with This Picture? Blue Cross Blue Shield and Sunovion, Take Notice!

This is a personal story that I'm taking public because things have got to change. What is happening in our medical system is so wrong, and it's time for people to wake up and take action against pharmacetical and insurance companies. My action steps will be to use the power of social media to educate others and make people aware of the atrocities that could happen to you if anyone in your family has a serious medical issue.

Here is my bottom line: Anyone considering taking Latuda as a medication should think twice because going on this medication will probably bankrupt them or their families. I'm sure you've all seen multiple ads for this drug on TV and if you have a family member with a serious mental illness, maybe you've counted on this as your miracle drug. 

Last spring, my teenage daughter experience a meltdown of some sort that we are still struggling to work through. She became overwhelmed with school and life, most likely due to learning related issues... she has been depressed and has executive functioning issues which includes slower processing speeds and working memory. In addition to this, her body has rapidly changed in the last year or so due to adolesence. She has grown at least 3 inches. A lot is going on with her, and while she has not been diagnosed with bipolar depression or another serious mental illness, she has benefitted from taking a fairly high dose of Latuda each day. We originally had her on another drug that caused her to gain weight; her doctor then prescribed Latuda. He did not indicate that we might have issues with insurance covering this medication at that time.We hope that she can be weaned off this drug eventually if things continue to progress, but now is not the the ideal time. I'm happy to report that things are going better for her in general because we have a great support team in place in and outside of school. She is a great kid, and will come out of adolescence a better person. I will do anything to get her the help she needs.

As of January 1, 2015, we switched to a new insurance plan through my husband's work that we thought would help us save money. My husband made sure that all of our daughter's medications were covered under the new insurance plan (same company, new plan). I went to refill this a few days ago, only to find out that that we need to pay $2000 for a month's supply of Latuda. Until we pay $3600 out of pocket for medications, this medication is not covered. It's one thing if you're paying $3600 over the course of year's worth of medication for a family of four; it's another when you have to shell out the equivalent of your mortgage for ONE MONTH of medication. 

Yesterday, Blue Cross told my husband that the medication is priced this way because it is a new medication. It can't be that new; my daughter started taking it late last spring or in the early summer. 

My husband called Blue Cross today, and they have no record of his conversation with them in November when they said Julia's medication would be covered at a reasonable cost. My husband also has checked the company web site of Sunovion, manufacturers of Latuda, and they do have a program for reducing costs, but only if the patient is over 18 years of age. Our daughter is 16. 

We now have a call into our doctor's office, and hopefully, he will have a solution. If not, I am not sure what recourse we have. I guess it will be a choice between medicating my kid and sending my kids to summer camp, something that is so beneficial to their personal growth. Maybe another option is that I stop consulting work and get a job with insurance benefits that are better than my husband's. That will take me away from my daughter even more. I honestly don't know where to go with this one for help. Perhaps we should consult with a laywer about legal possibilities.

I've been reluctant to talk about my daughter's issues because she deserves privacy, but it is absolutely outrageous what insurance companies and drug companies are trying to do and I will call them on the carpet. At the very least, perhaps our story will educate another family.