Design Hierarchy of Needs

Today I learned about a “design hierarchy of needs” that essentially maps onto Maslowe’s hierarchy of needs, which is one of my favorite teaching tools when I’m helping students understand novels. In an informative article, Steven Bradley explains all the connections between Maslowe’s hierarchy and his own, and he then offers some analysis and application. What I like best about Bradley’s presentation is that he doesn’t shy away from presenting the key criticisms of these hierarchies.

But then he does a nice crossover, basketball style, placing responsibility back on the user in a way that any pragmatist would appreciate: “These hierarchies are not absolutes that you must follow. As with all design, look at your success criteria to determine your design objectives. Your audience may well prefer an aesthetically beautiful website that has occasional hiccups to a boring website that is perfectly reliable.”

Here’s a screen grab of Bradley’s hierarchy. The idea is, to get to the top, you have to work up from the bottom, satisfying each step. As with all the terminologies I present, I suggest that you now go looking for it IRL. See if it applies to your work or your play. See if it helps you to solve problems. See if it, somehow, makes things lighter or better or more useful. Happy Friday.

Pearl Rock Kane. Rest in Peace

I woke this morning much earlier than usual. And I broke one of my fundamental rules — I checked my email on my phone.

This is how, before 5 a.m., I learned that one of my pals and mentors — one of my teachers and spurs and chief instigators — passed away last night.

Pearl Rock Kane. Rest In Peace.

“I’d do it for a daisy,” she once told me. And what she meant was, “I’d fly across the country and speak about education, just to help a friend.”

“And why do you think that?” she asked me, the first time I met her, in the aisle of a conference center. I loved that . . . the way she listened and challenged. I loved that and heard it, dozens of times, and hear it still.

“You should take your family and move to France,” she once encouraged me, “it’s the perfect time.” This led to a serious conversation at home because, if Pearl was suggesting it, it must be a good idea.

And then there was a lot that she told me that I’m not going to share for the same reason that, when I’m working on an article or book, I don’t like to talk about it. “The work’s important,” she might have said, “guard the fuel.”

I will. I will.

Celebrating 10 Years of Klingbrief

Here’s a letter I wrote to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Klingbrief, a publication of the Klingenstein Center of Columbia University. If you’re interested in the archive, which still contains a lot of evergreen content about education, click here. And if you want to become an official subscriber to the publication (it’s free, peer reviewed, and arrives once a month) click here.

February 2019

Today, this 10th Anniversary issue of Klingbrief arrived in the inbox of 5466 educators. We imagine that, in yours, it joins a letter from your head of school and a note from an advisee. It sits alongside a meeting agenda, an email from a concerned parent, your child’s sports schedule, or a reminder for an upcoming dentist appointment. It competes for your time, in other words, with the business of school and of life.  And we are grateful to you for making time in your days, busy as they undoubtedly are, to join us in pursuit of ongoing professional learning and growth.

Klingbrief was introduced 10 years ago, in February 2009, with a short note from Pearl Rock Kane introducing “[t]his free, monthly publication of carefully selected articles, books, blogs and videos . . . intended specifically for independent school educators.” The very first “brief” addressed teen suicide, offering “three sources . . . that might be of use in the face of such devastation.”  

Then and now, Klingbrief places student learning and wellbeing at its core, and like its very first entry, it aims to cut through the fog, making clear what’s important in independent schools. For the last decade, it has been assembled with much care, thought, and love for the schools — and their programs, policies, faculties, and students — that make up the tangled, prismatic, idealistic, and aspirational community that the Klingenstein Center aims to serve.  

Behind the scenes, not much has changed in a decade, except the growth of the editorial board from five to ten members. The editorial board is tasked with the stewardship of Klingbrief. Each month, we read all submissions and collaborate to determine which to publish. Editors suggest cuts and fight for what they believe should be in that month’s issues, including the “Of Note” feature. Sometimes we agree completely, but some of our best arguments reveal our deepest goals for our publication.  

We consider whether to include the popular book that seems to have already “made the rounds” or to favor the lesser known work. We want each Klingbrief to introduce our audience to as much new thinking and as many new voices as possible. Or, when there’s an issue in the news and on the minds of the sharpest school people we know, we wrestle with our own theory of coverage. Should we always publish articles that respond to current events that are stirring debate and action? Should we push for more or less balance? Should we editorialize? We aim to be organic and to honor the floating conscience of our schools. Sometimes, this leads an issue to be almost entirely “of its time.” And sometimes the entries feel more timeless. More often than not, we publish a bit of both, showing how one can be the other and the other, one.

In each issue we hope that Klingbrief helps us to step out of our schools, which often engage us almost entirely, to hear from others. Before we return to that work, and as we turn 10, I’d like to thank the editors past and present and the schools that inspired them to model lifelong learning. I’d like to thank Dr. Pearl Kane, who, time and time again, helped us to stay true to our purpose. I’d like to thank Dr. Nicole Furlonge, who has continued to support Klingbrief as she begins her tenure as Director of the Klingenstein Center. And most of all, I’d like to thank you, our passionate readers and writers, who consume and contribute to and share Klingbrief each month. With you, we intend to go on, for at least another decade, to meet the challenges and the opportunities, the timeliness and the timelessness, the prose and the poetry of our schools.  

Thanks for reading, writing, and thinking with us!

Stephen J. Valentine
Coordinating Editor, Klingbrief
Montclair Kimberley Academy

Interpret, but slowly

I’ve met with a lot of students over the years to discuss their writing, and often they tell me the same thing: “I don’t understand how to write a literary interpretation. I’m just not good at it.”

After some probing, I find that many of them have trouble with interpretation–of literature, of art, of music, of nonfiction–because they skip a very important step.

They either rush through, or fail to ever attempt, the part where they simply notice. They either rush through, or fail to ever attempt, the part where they allow their eyes to see what they see, their ears to hear what they hear, their minds to think what they think.

Then, and only then, after noticing, should they attempt to find patterns and anomalies in what they’ve seen, heard, and thought. Then, and only then, should they attempt to make meaning.


Volley is a “tool” that Reshan Richards and I use to write collaboratively.

It’s very, very simple, and perhaps because of that, it’s incredibly useful to our partnership.

If we have to write something that we’re planning to ship together — whether it’s a program description, an email to a potential client or customer, a post for our website, or a short article — one of us emails a quick idea to the other and writes “SERVE + a title” in the subject line.

When the other person opens the email, he sets a timer for 5 minutes and tries to improve the contents. When the timer goes off, he emails the new version to the other person and writes “VOLLEY + the version number + the title.”

This goes on and on until one of us feels that we can no longer improve the text. At this point, we respond by saying something like, “I think this is finished” or “game over.” And then we move the text into its final state, which sometimes requires additional, focused editing or layout time from one of us, before shipping it.

Obviously, we can’t produce long texts this way because they would take more than five minutes to read, digest, and improve. But Volley is the simple and easy process that we’ve used to write dozens of short things together over the years. You can always find five minutes.

[If you’re still reading, and if you’re interested in the meta-game, I’m planning to serve the above post to Reshan as a variation on the Volley technique. He’ll then convert it into an artifact for our website’s Toolkit page. Stay tuned.]

From Teaching to Selling

The following story explains how Reshan and I slowly bridged the gap between work we were doing in schools and work we were seeing / experiencing / doing in the business world. It was an early indication that we should write the book that became Make Yourself Clear. It’s written in the third person because it was originally included in that manuscript.


In their book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, three professors devoted an entire chapter to what they call “illusions of knowing” (Brown, Roediger III, & McDaniel, 2014). Steve picked up this text, and this chapter in particular, because he was preparing to teach the play Oedipus to a group of 9th graders.  He wanted to skip the usual fare — plot, character development, poetic structure — and dig into the ways in which the main character’s ego and bias blinded him to what he clearly should have seen. Increasingly, for Steve, this seems to be a lesson worth teaching and learning.

Oedipus, the main character, begins by setting out to find a murderer and bring him to justice. Oedipus is known as a person who invests his considerable resources and competencies, first and foremost, in being a good citizen of Thebes. He wants to serve the people of Thebes and be known as a first-rate fixer. This behavior is important to the story others tell about him, and perhaps more critically, to the story he tells himself about himself.  

The main problem is that Oedipus, himself, is the murderer he seeks. So it’s a mystery story wherein the detective is seeking himself. However, it is also a story about human psychology, because Oedipus can’t find himself (back in roughly 430 b.c.) for the same reasons that some professors must still write a book for teachers (back in roughly 2014) that exhorts them to help students avoid illusions of knowing.

Each of us is an astounding bundle of perceptual and cognitive abilities, coexisting with the seeds of our own undoing. When it comes to learning, what we choose to do is guided by our judgments of what works and what doesn’t, and we are easily misled. (Brown, Roediger III, & McDaniel, 2014, p. 123)

The very mind that helps Oedipus, and any human being, to thrive also causes him, and us, to stumble, often making thriving a mere afterthought.

As Steve was grasping the combined insight of a Greek poet and modern day learning specialists, he was in the process of making the largest purchase in his life, a new home. And as he went through the buying process, he realized that he wasn’t searching for money, because, with his wife, he had saved what he needed to reach his goal. And he wasn’t searching for time, because he was a school administrator heading into the summer. He was searching for something else.

The teacher in Steve was looking for a teacher outside of Steve. More specifically, in this particular situation, the teacher was looking for a salesperson who was also a teacher and committed, in fact, to the same values as a good teacher. A salesperson-as-teacher would ensure that Steve saw things clearly; a salesperson-as-teacher would not be willing to trade on or exploit the asymmetry baked into the home-buying process.  

Good teachers help us to reduce errors in our thinking, help to bring us closer to reality in ways that help us to see and act with greater clarity and leverage.  In a sales sense, they would do so in a way that would promote symmetry in transactions, allowing buyers to make good decisions (good for us, good for the environment in which we are operating, good for others, etc.).

So when Steve met salespeople and business-people throughout and after the home-buying process — that is, when he met specialists looking to hawk their wares or designated agents looking to hawk the wares of specialists — Steve looked for teachers. Plumbers, attorneys, mortgage brokers, furnace mechanics, ductwork professionals, arborists, electricians, or their agents: there are always dozens of these people from which to choose.  And, at the same time, all these people have dozens of choices when dealing with a client. They can keep the client off balance and even in a position of fear, or they can help the client find balance and make calm and rational decisions. They can move quickly, hoping that speed will cause the buyer to make an emotional decision, using the faulty parts of his/her brain, or they can move slowly, helping the buyer to make an informed decision, using the correct parts of his/her brain.    

Steve didn’t look for a salesperson who could necessarily save him money (although that was always a nice perk). He looked for a salesperson who would make him a more empowered consumer, who would be present for him in human ways when he most needed human counsel. He looked for people, too, who would make him aware of the range of choices in front of him. In fact, anyone who wouldn’t take the time — without being asked — to teach him, to answer his questions, to expose his blind spots, didn’t get his business.  And never will again.

Organization Task

Today’s blog (break) is strictly organizational. Reshan and I are putting together a short e-book about digital etiquette, meetings, and things like that. And in honor of our iterative process, which is the only way we get anything done these days, I’m collecting some links below. We’ll use these when we extract the text in advance of further editing, formatting, beautifying, and shipping. (If you’re a daily reader, there’s nothing new here except the reminder that projects require time devoted exclusively to digging back through files, evaluating past work and artifacts, cutting and shuffling, rethinking, re-seeing, re-seeding, and casting aside.)

Catching Myself Being Lazy

Last week, during text or email exchanges with three separate people, I caught myself being lazy.

“You should definitely come over with your wife. What time does the All-Star game start?”

“What’s the difference between a LinkedIn Post and a LinkedIn Article?”

“I don’t know how to share a Twitter thread, so here’s a screenshot of part of what was said — you should look up the rest.”

Each communication is essentially a different version of the same idea:

“Instead of taking 35 seconds to Google something and learn about it for myself so that I can then share it with you and/or push our conversation into more fruitful and interesting territory, I’m going to assign a chore to you. Once you complete that chore, looking up what needs to be looked up, and get back to me, we can continue this conversation.”

That’s just bad conversational etiquette. In real life (IRL), it would be the equivalent of standing in your kitchen with someone and asking him to do things for you that you could just as easily do for yourself. In the physical world, it would be obvious that you were being lazy. In the digital world, that’s not always so obvious.

From now on, I’m going to try to only ask people questions — or assign people information chores — that I can’t quickly lookup online. At the very least, this will save them time. At the very most, it will honor their expertise and my faith in them.

As a side benefit, I bet that this practice will benefit me personally. I’ll learn more heading into conversations and exchanges and most likely advance those conversations and exchanges more efficiently because we won’t be covering ground covered elsewhere. We’ll be covering ground that only we — together — can cover. What else is a genuine relationship for?