Leaving the Field: An Idiosyncratic Guide to Reinvention I

Part 1: Two Years a Knowledge Broker

Leaving the Field: An Idiosyncratic Guide to Reinvention

Part 1: Two Years a Knowledge Broker

“Luck is the residue of design”, said Branch Rickey, the most innovative general manager in sport history as well as the smasher of the color line by adding Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. His teams also won three World Series, which suggests that he knew something about both luck and design. His conclusion above has long been my favorite quote in part because I have been exceedingly lucky in my career and my wider life, and in part because it serves as an admonition never to rely on luck alone. My favorite blogger, RJ Keefe, noted a few years ago that “The key to success is being prepared to take advantage of very good luck — being prepared, that is, for very good luck that, in the manner of luck, may never come along.”

My very good luck has come along many times and as I aged my ability to prepare for it improved. Thus, at the previous shift in my ETS career (not the last overall career shift certainly because I am using this series of short essays to introduce the next reinvention), my current boss Ida Lawrence, the brilliant Senior Vice President of R&D and my previous boss Yvette Donado, then the perspicacious Chief Administrative Officer, allowed me to craft a part-time job that would add value to the organization while also fitting my talents and interests. They even let me name it: knowledge broker. That’s some kind of luck.

And in the ensuing two years, I’ve gotten to produce a video series associated with a book about ETS’s history in educational measurement edited by Randy Bennett, which has now been downloaded almost 225,000 times. Ida gave me the plum assignments of interviewing about 30 colleagues to produce an in-depth look at challenges in contemporary assessment, facilitating the group decision-making around coordination of three different units to do the extraordinarily important work of making sure that ETS assessments are accessible, and conducting investigations related to blended learning, user characteristics, and how learners interact with formative assessments, otherwise known as assessment for learning. My own assessment is that these opportunities allowed me to continue learning, which hones the mind to perform important mental tasks like the New York Times crossword puzzle — but only up to Thursday.

With my colleague Angela Pagliaro (soon moving over to a new knowledge management position in another company) we created a compendium of information about domain modeling: something that amazingly didn’t exist. I became a journal reviewer for the first time and that put me in contact with powerful and important work from colleagues like Too Big to Fail: Millennials on the Edge by colleagues Anita Sands, Madeline Goodman, and Irwin Kirsch. My previous 15 years as a Chief Learning Officer put me in a good position to brief researchers about the worlds of graduate school and workplace assessment. Experience in trying to foster new product development allowed me to make connections between R&D and inventive new companies like Nomadic, Orai, and Learnship. My work was not confined to those researchers with whom I was already familiar like Joanna Gorin, Malcolm Bauer and Diego Zapata-Rivera, Steve Robbins, Michelle LaMar, Tanner Jackson, Keelan Evanini, Bob Mislevy, and Larry Stricker. I got to spend time looking at the work of newer yet dynamic colleagues like Michelle Martin-Raugh, Kevin Williams, Maria Elena Oliveri, Jessica Andrews Todd, Steph Peters.

For an example of how interesting and significant this work is, click the previous link on Steph Peters: she and her ETS colleague, Carlos A. Mejía Colindres inquired in their research around how students in kindergarten through grade 12 understand to terms that “are prevalent in (their) daily lives … ‘impossible and certain’” only to find that “Many students would identify ‘certain’ as being synonymous with ‘possible’.” Consider the implications for a moment: mistaking things that are certain for things that are possible struck me as profound and worrisome. This is the kind of research that ETSers do around specific issues that matter very much to advancing quality and equity in education worldwide. When ETS does research, it is almost always available to the rest of the world. I know this seems nerdy, but it has been so very cool for me to be around these people and in some way to fulfill the definition my friend Marga gave me when I started the job of knowledge broker: “a person who builds wide bridges in order to promote the interchange of ideas, promote sense making and foster social connections.”

And building those bridges meant that I also continued to get to hang out — in some cases virtually — with the most interesting people in the worlds of knowledge and learning like Andy Hargadon, Robert Burnside, Carol Gorelick, JC Spender, Joeri Kabalt, Bruce Strong, Michele Rigolizzo, Bror Saxberg, Larry Prusak, Lisa Lahey, David Worlock, Ed Hoffman, Marga Biller, Kelvy Bird, Daniel Wilson, Dylan Wiliam, Tim Powell, Joe Raelin, Nancy Dixon, Stan Garfield, V. Mary Abraham, Rob Cross, Vaishali Jain, and too many more to name-drop here. Thanks to John Gillis, the Conference Board prodded me to organize observations and insights from 20 years of work-based action learning leadership development, which may show up in another one of these series at some point.

And now, I’m leaving the field. Not tomorrow, but by the end of this year. As knowledge broker, you can only break knowledge for so long before you have to take a break. Among the events that I still am scheduled to facilitate are knowledge transfer sessions with Brent Bridgeman and Alberto Acereda on the GRE, John Norris and Srikant Gopal on the newest trends in English-language assessment and learning, and Cara Laitusis and Lillian Lowery on Student Assessment and ETS Professional Educator programs. A particularly intriguing ‘fishbowl’ will convene students and principals from three high schools that have been part of the extraordinary work done with ETS’s Institute for Student Achievement (ISA), which is led by my colleague Stephanie Wood Garnett. ISA supports school leaders in creating schools aligned with what research indicates are the attributes of high performing schools. I meant a lot to do with very interesting people before the end of the year, which proves again that I’m a lucky guy.

Why spend so much time documenting my path into and out of not only the field that I am leaving now but the three or four other fields I have crossed? Perhaps others can learn from these experiences and we all owe that to the world. The generous lessons of others advantaged me. Also, a quote from Maurice Chevalier — advice that he gave to the iconic French entertainer Johnny Halliday when the latter was a young man — struck me as apt for many circumstances: “Look kid, I don’t know if one day you’ll sing. But remember always take care of your entrance and your exit. And in the middle, just sing as well as you can.” I’m just taking care of my exit from this particular show.

And taking care of the entrance (or is it re-entrance?) to the next one, will be offered much more simply tomorrow before embarking upon a five part series considering what might be valuable for others to know about leaving the field contentedly and entering the next one successfully.