Was challenged by my good friend and cousin Pedro Torres to the "10 books that have stayed with me" challenge (if it is such a thing). So, here are 10 somewhat randomly that come to mind, although as you get to the bottom of the list those are some the "best" books I've read. I'm sure I have missed a couple of important ones, but just to get 10 out there. 


10. Killer Angels - This was my first real "book" of substance read when I was a teenager out touring around civil war sites with my challenger, one Mr. Torres. I think it mostly sticks with me because it was first but also because it does bring back great memories on several fronts including reading in front of the fire in my parents house (although the subject matter of the book was not so great). 


9. Ignore Everybody - I love this little book of thoughts and sketches on the back of business cards. My buddy Scott McLeod gave me my first copy and, like him, I've made a habit of giving this book out to others whom I deem worthy. There are some others in this space, like the small books by Seth Godin


8. The Third Teacher - This is not really a book you read as much as consume. It will change the way you think about books and learning and spaces and design. Groundbreaking in execution moreso than content. 


7. Illustrated Brief History of Time - Like Pedro and so many others I'm sure, this book opened my eyes to a love of both physics and space. I've not randomly read a physics book lately, but I've read several others since this one and while I enjoy them, this is the one that sticks with me (plus, not really sold on the whole string theory concept yet). Interestingly, I listened to The Elegant Universe on the way home from Pedro's wedding in Minnesota. 


6. The Kite Runner - In my adult life, I am not really big on novels but this one stands out. It was just a beautifully told story and I appreciate the talent. 


5. The Bottom Billion - There was a phase when I was reading a lot about other parts of the world but this one stands out as memorable for me because it put concepts like poverty globally into the proper perspectives (which is probably different than you are imagining). 


4. The Castle by Kafka - This book with haunt me forever. It was so truthfully artistic about our societal structures and my mind finds the winding streets of the village frequently as a struggle in my government job. K? 


3. What Technology Wants - This book changed my relationship to the concept of "technology" and since I run a technology center ... that was sort of important. Since "technology" can sort of broadly be defined as anything that is not natural invented by humans ... it really covers a LOT of territory. 


2. Code is Law (and V2). This book has done more to shape my philosophy of government than any other. Once I had a great handle on all the different ways that society regulates, it really let me put the law in its proper place within society, particularly our in our quite techy world. However, the conceptual structures in this book extend far beyond. 


1. Long Walk to Freedom - The best book I've read in my life. Was life changing for me. It was such an honor to visit S.A. this past summer. 

AuthorJustin Bathon

One thing I have learned working or studying in various aspects of the education and legal system now for decades is that what people seem to think of as "rules" are rarely that. We self-govern on the basis of these "rules" more restrictively than any actual set of statutes, regulations, policies, or procedures would ever have us comply. This self inflicted straight jacket of rules is suffocating the American education system from preschool to graduate school. It is a straight-jacket based almost entirely on norms, not laws. Tightly adhering to laws is the implementation of democracy; tightly adhering to norms is the implementation of culture. While these two obviously mix together, they have extremely different implications. Both laws and norms can be changed, usually without that much difficultly, but through different approaches. While law is typically changed from the top down, culture is typically changed from the bottom up. There is a lack of understanding, though, that the "rules" that bind the education system are mostly cultural, not legal. Thus, most people labeled as "education reformers" like to spend their time trying to change policy (without much effect) when spending time trying to change norms can be much more effective. As a result of failing to understand this distinction, we are seriously limited in our potential for actual reform across the entire education system. 

On this Leadership Day #2014, it is worth sharing this insight because it is central to what I have seen as a distinguishing variable while watching both leaders that are successful in implementing reform and those are have not been successful. When leaders that have not been successful have found themselves bound by what they perceive to be some "rule," they nearly subconsciously assume it must be a form of law and, thus, out of their hands. When leaders that have been successful face that same "rule," they assume it is only cultural unless it is proven that it is legal. Even then, they are questioning of the true nature of the legal basis (because it does matter, and there is a sliding scale of how seriously one needs to take education laws, but that is for a different post). Assuming the "rule" is cultural, though, immediately changes the reformers approach. They think bottom up, not top down. Instead of what policymakers must be involved in reform, they think what teachers or students must be involved in reform? The understanding is not "it's out of our hands" but rather "this is our decision to make together." From this initial assumption, different approaches to reform follow and there is a different likelihood of changing the actual situation for students (which is the goal, changing a law is not an end in itself as some policy-types seem to believe). This understanding between the real power behind the "rules of education" seems to be an absolutely critical component of effective transformational leadership. 

Thus, next time you find yourself stymied by a "rule" ask either yourself or your superiors to show you the law (statute, regulation, policy) that limits your ability to change in that instance. If you are asking others, do it in a friendly way, but also in a way that clearly shows your assumption is that no such law governs the situation. Once no law is found (or your superior gives up), as is likely, ask a follow up question to either yourself or your superiors of "who would we need to get on board to change this? or "what would it take to get this done?" If an answer emerges to either of those two questions, now you have a path to real reform. Make it happen and the world will be, perhaps ever so slightly, a better place for it. 

AuthorJustin Bathon

Yesterday, the UK Board of Trustees voted to promote me (p. 14) to an Associate Professor with tenure effective on July 1. 

The sprawling UK campus, currently undergoing a billion dollars worth of redevelopment. 

The sprawling UK campus, currently undergoing a billion dollars worth of redevelopment. 

Six years ago, UK showed a great deal of faith in me by hiring a young, inexperienced professor that didn't know much of anything (honestly, that's about right). I'm happy to have fulfilled their expectations in such a way that has led UK to show even more faith in me by committing to more of a lifetime relationship. It is rewarding beyond measure to know that a public, flagship university feels so strongly about my work and what I can bring in return to the people of this great Commonwealth. I fully intend to continue to deliver on that trust and commitment. 

Thanks so much to the people of Kentucky, the administration of UK, and all my colleagues here.  Also, thanks especially to those that showed me the way: Martha, Tom, Suzanne, Lars, Brad, Rosetta, Eric, and so many more. Of course, my family had to bear the brunt of it all and they already know how I feel about them. 

It has been a journey of more than a decade of schooling, poverty, late-nights ... all with this endpoint always in mind. It occurred yesterday. It is now behind me.

With a quiet satisfaction now, life goes on.  

AuthorJustin Bathon

Yesterday I was in Prestonsburg, out in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, working with Floyd County Schools, a district that has been part of our Next Generation Leadership Academy over the last year. They are laying the foundation for the launch of a very ambitious initiative, the details of which will be released over the course of the next few months, but one that will change the future of that community.  

We must have done something right ... 

We must have done something right ... 

As we were driving back through the beautiful Spring air and greening forests this new sense came over me ... the revolution has started, at least in Kentucky. Exponential changes have been triggered, the result of which will be a revolution of our formal learning system for children. Of that, I am positive.

During my time here in Kentucky, we have been on a journey to lay the foundation for this change. We have journeyed from initial conversations between major stakeholders (I still remember fondly our dinners in the basement wine cellar of Portofino's restaurant with the still very new education commissioner at the time) to now a district like the team at Floyd County blowing me away, somewhat out of the blue. Concepts like mastery learning, performance assessments, standards-based grading, project driven instruction, 1:1 schools, blended learning, and personalized learning were rarely mentioned and not systemically understood by many folks, let alone under active implementation across the state. Now, I am so deeply pleased to report that not only are these concepts being talked about across Kentucky, but these concepts are going wild. If you think of those concepts as plants, we (many of us) have been busy laying the seeds of those concepts and nurturing some plants with a great deal of care and feeding to assure they bloom. But, I am confident that we are reaching the stage now that the seeds are spreading on their own. The ideas are bigger than anything we can control at this point. What a beautiful thought ... and one that will proudly serve the children of Kentucky for generations to come (brings tears to my eyes, honestly). 

Now, the work is still mostly ahead of us. Mastering mastery learning is a far way in our future yet and it will take years of struggle to get there. Technology, while much more of it is entering schools, is still a toy and not a tool in many places. Understanding and accounting for all the implications of these changes, from assessment to course credits to higher education to how to pay for it all, will take decades of additional work. Further, our arguments over petty things will continue to frequently get in the way and we must continue to fight to overcome the massive amount of turbulence we will face along the way (as a pioneer that is joining our team would say).

An "efficient system of common schools" is a goal, laid by our fore-fathers in 1891, that we have yet to obtain for every child. It is a goal, though, to which I am confident we are now undertaking a major new step toward achieving. A new Spring has sprung in Kentucky. 

UK's mens basketball team is in the final four again, so the attention of the national media is on UK this week. That's lovely and we always appreciate the attention, especially if we can translate that into stronger enrollments or other longer term benefits (acknowledging the direct money athletics provides to academics here at UK, which we greatly appreciate). 

Today, the New York Times ran an article on the Big Blue Nation's internet presence, in particular featuring Kentucky Sports Radio (a site that I enjoy myself). Matt Jones, the founder, claims: 

“No fan base has a bigger online presence than Kentucky fans,” Jones, the radio host, said. “That’s college teams and pro teams. It’s just massive.”

Whether or not Jones is exactly accurate (the New York Yankees or Manchester United might quibble, perhaps) the fact remains that UK Athletics has leveraged the Internet like no other college program in America. John Calipari himself, last year and probably still, has more twitter followers than all other College basketball coaches combined (and vastly more than college football coaches too, in case you are wondering). The Big Blue Nation can overwhelm internet polls or other online contests, as evidenced by the fact our fans almost put UK football on the cover of a video game even though our football is, let's say, not the best.  Also, the Big Blue (online) Nation is nothing to be messed with politically either as it has shown it can leverage pressure on politicians to advance the program.   

The Big Blue Nation United campaign has been the most effective integration to date of the massive online community supporting UK and our academic interests. 

The Big Blue Nation United campaign has been the most effective integration to date of the massive online community supporting UK and our academic interests. 

UK has leveraged the Big Blue (online) Nation in the past, most recently for renovations to Commonwealth Stadium, which were smartly packaged with campus upgrades to the Business College and a science building. The #BBNUnited campaign was extremely effective in utilizing the UK fan base to improve academic needs. However, once the funding was approved, that effort has fallen by the wayside and has not been used in subsequent funding requests (much to the delight of Frankfort, I'm sure).  

While I think the BBNUnited campaign should be sustained specifically , the larger point is that UK is in the unique position of having fully understood and leveraged the Internet for an element of our campus, arguably better than any other university in the world. While not all of that knowledge and skill in the athletic space is internal to the university (Matt Jones and KSR, for instance), it is part of our larger community here at UK. On the media side, I would argue we are already putting that knowledge and skill to some use on the rest of our campus, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Our Facebook page, for instance, currently has the 11th most followers just ahead of MIT and UCLA, but behind several of our SEC colleagues (although we could be doing a lot better on Twitter).

But, even if we assume our news department is doing a decent job, how are we utilizing the massive Internet presence directly for teaching and learning? I would argue that we are not, generally, putting the Big Blue Nation to work when it comes to our online learning opportunities or programs. In that area, in particular, UK is currently far behind. To put it in Final Four terms, if there were an NCAA tournament for online learning, UK would not have even qualified for the NIT. 

How can a school so digitally dominant in one area be so lacking in another? 

Thus, improving our digital teaching and learning presence is where we must focus. If we can bring the lessons of the Big Blue (online) Nation to bear, we could attempt to position ourselves as a learning resource for the millions of fans of the University of Kentucky both within the state boundaries and far beyond. Thus, as the Big Blue Nation fan base expands, those new Wildcats can be linked directly with academic opportunities wherever they reside on the planet. 

Of course, I must acknowledge, there has been recent movement in this direction. Our Board of Trustees has provided a clear message that online learning will be a priority in the coming years, although not specifically how it will be a priority. Also, we recently launched our first official Massive Open Online Course, in chemistry. Further, our technology unit at UK has quietly begun the conversation of a new structure for accessing online content at UK, including a very serious conversation about the right online learning management system.  

As we begin to think about improving our digital academic presence, though, we must approach it with the same passion with which our fans approach the Wildcats. Perhaps even more pointedly, we must also approach our online infrastructure with the same vigor with which we have approached our onsite infrastructure. Our president's office just announced that since his arrival in 2011, with the latest round of funding from the legislature, over a billion dollars will have been invested into upgrading our physical facilities. Consider if even half of that amount was invested into upgrading our digital facilities. 

When I am out working with local P-12 educators to build "Next Generation" schools, one of the first things we help them with is to understand what "great" looks like so that they may (1) understand how far away from it they might be and (2) consider how to set a reasonable course to get there. Here at UK, we already have an example of what "great" looks like in the digital world through our athletics program. What a lovely place in which to start the conversation about what "great" would look like in our digital teaching and learning world as well.

I LOVE whiteboards. For me they are a place between my head and paper. Things I put on a whiteboard are ideas worthy enough of writing down but not yet worthy of typing up formally. I know people can do this in lots of other spaces, like Evernote for instance, but for me the very visual and multi-colored whiteboard space is just the ideal way to go from ideas to projects. 

whiteboard top.jpg

The question I have is why are there not more whiteboards in schools? Sure most functional classrooms these days have a whiteboard in the front of the class behind the teachers desk ... but why only 1 whiteboard? Why not a whiteboard on every wall? Why not an entire wall of whiteboard? The walls are already white anyway in schools, why not make them both white and functional? Putting a whiteboard on every wall is almost as cheap as painting and is as cheap as drywalling. 

For that matter, why not put whiteboards on top of student desks? In the photo, this is my standing desk at work where I write down thoughts around the projects that I am currently working on. Why not let students build their own desks at school and let that desk customize to their own learning style? 

AuthorJustin Bathon