Encouraging Words From My Late Father

Brian Shulman Punting Auburn

Below are my thoughts on a Washington Times article that a great friend of mine, Dr. Colby Jubenville from MTSU, recently posted after he heard the story and read a letter from my late father.

31 years ago this fall David Housel was kind enough to post my father’s letter in the game program of the Auburn-Georgia game. As we approach another football season, I’d like to take a moment and thank David.

David has been officially been a part of Auburn for more than 40 years. I have no doubt that he was just born Auburn. He has been the Director of Athletics Emeritus at Auburn University since January 2006. While at Auburn I knew him as our Sports Information Director from ’81-’94.

His lesser-known title was Host of the TNDC… but we’ll leave that one alone for now.

Before I get to my personal thanks, I want to thank David for his years of commentary through his columns in the game-day programs and on the pregame shows. We all enjoy the great stories from yesteryear that help keep the connection to the history and tradition of Auburn football with today’s new generation of Auburn people. For me, this is incredibly special.

A bit the backstory — I walked-on at Tennessee in 1984, it didn’t work out, and I transferred to Auburn. It was one of the best decisions I made in my life, but it wasn’t easy. Shortly after I transferred my father and best friend passed away suddenly at 53. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. The only way I made it through was with the support of my Auburn family.

While at Tennessee the coaches didn’t think I was good enough to play for the Vols. My father wrote me in a letter to offer encouragement and keep me focused on my goal. It was the last letter my dad would ever write me. I had forgotten about it until my mother sent it to me a few years later, before my first game against Tennessee as the starting punter for Auburn in 1986.

My mom called Coach Dye that week and sent him the letter. H read it to the team the night before the game.

Here is where David comes in. Without my knowledge, he published my dad’s letter in the program of the Georgia game. I got to the locker room early on game day and flipped through program placed in all of our lockers, killing time like I always did, and then saw the letter. I was stunned.

The AP picked up the story, and both David and I received hundreds of letters from people all over the country that read the story about losing my dad and the letter he wrote.

I have a copy of the program page framed in my house. It is one of my most treasured possessions.


David, I know I’ve thanked you before, but as I get older I realize that I can’t thank you enough for that gesture. To honor my late father and the relationship we had with the rest of the Auburn family is one of the greatest events of my life and YOU made that happen.

I’m sure there are hundreds of other players with similar stories.

I hope you are enjoying your coffee and breakfast at the back booth at Chappy’s right now, reading this post over a second cup.

We probably need at least one more TNDC…don’t you think?

War Damn Eagle!

brian shulman ‘89

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Seven Steps to Success in Punting, Business and Education

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a local high school football team as they prepared for the upcoming season. As I reflected on what I wanted to say, I remembered moments when former players spoke at events or practice while I was playing and how much that meant to me. Each perspective was something I could not only use in football, but also in life.  I wanted to be sure I something that would be just as impactful.

Seven Steps to Success

Over the years through countless hours of research and even more hours of trial and error, I developed seven steps to success. These steps worked for me and hopefully will help you as well. This plan was developed from the struggles I created for myself and also ones that were created for me. From these struggles I learned that I can think more critically, communicate more clearly and make informed decisions. Initially these things were taught to me by my late father and then reinforced and tweaked through researching and modeling others and their success.

So here are my seven steps to success. I’ve provided 2 examples for each — one relates to my initial goal of punting in the NFL; the other to my business career founding LTS Education Systems (acquired by K12 Inc. in April 2016) and healthcare investment business Princeton Capital Partners.

1) Pick a huge goal.

Don’t pick their goal, pick your goal.  Own it by writing it down and visualize it every day.

Punting: At 15 I decided that I wanted to be an NFL punter. Everyone laughed because I am only 5 feet 9 inches tall and was not a very good punter even in high school. But I never wavered from that goal.

Business: At 34 I left a lucrative healthcare IT career and founded an education company because I wanted to help students to learn by creating exciting and highly motivating educational video games. I had no experience in the education industry but had a clear vision of where I wanted to go.

2) Become the smartest person in the room. Research, read and develop a plan or process to reach your goals.

Punting: I spent hours and hours watching TV and taping all the games I could on an old VHS recorder so I could learn how the great NFL and SEC punters did it. Contacting numerous professional punters and college punters, I asked them tons of questions, and even traveled to visit with the ones who would let me. I discovered that leg speed, strength and explosiveness were key traits so I trained my body in those areas. Spending 30 minutes everyday visualizing great punts trained my brain to be successful and overcome any pressure I might feel in big games. I studied every single aspect of punting to give myself the best opportunity for success, and I continued that research throughout my career.

Business: I contacted every person that would spend time with me, read every book and article I could find, and even sought out non-traditional aspects of the space to see if I could bring something to the business that no one else ever had. Most importantly, I spent time with customers (teachers) and users (students)  aggressively listening to how we could improve their experience. After starting the business, the rest of the great ideas about the products came from those interviews. If you listen, customers and the market will provide you the road map for success. But you have to listen every single day to every single conversation.

3) What you focus on is what you become.

Map out daily, weekly, monthly goals from your plan. Move your focus to those daily goals, visualize them daily and monitor your progress and celebrate each small achievement.

Punting: I learned quickly that if you focus too much only on the long term goal, like getting into the NFL, you can become overwhelmed and discouraged. I created monthly, weekly and even daily goals for every aspect of my game. On Sunday night I would write out the week’s plan and have a definitive goal for that Friday. It helped me to stay focused and really master the foundational techniques, knowing that the big picture would come together if I got the little things right.

Business: Today in my healthcare investment firm, I have weekly and daily goals. Each day I try to learn about a new company, a new aspect of a healthcare sector or a unique feature of a product or business. Focusing on the smallest of details can often lead to major discoveries. Each week I plan this out and this helps me to clearly see that even though we may not make an investment, we are making progress toward our goals.

4) People will tell you that you can’t.  Those are not your people.

Do not listen to anyone who is not supporting your goal. Remove them from your environment and only use them as fuel.

Punting: When I was younger I was initially disappointed and disheartened by the reaction of others. They laughed at me, questioned me and provided zero support. I didn’t understand why an adult wouldn’t be supportive of a kid trying to reach a seemingly unattainable dream. Later in life I realized that their reaction was not about me, but rather how they viewed themselves. Their insecurities were at the forefront of their behavior toward me, and it was key to remove them from my life. Some of these folks in your life might be very close friends, or even relatives — but you have to remove any negative attitudes from your life.

Business: A similar, but maybe even more complex situation occurred in my education business. When you’re older and have a family you have responsibilities beyond yourself. You take a risk but inevitably there will be challenges and difficulties and you don’t want that to impact your family. When it does impact them, it hurts at a much a deeper level, but you have to push that aside and stay focused and positive. Don’t let the detractors near you and don’t listen to them. Stay positive. This is admittedly much easier said than done.

5) Fall in love with practice and the process. Enjoy the journey.

Punting: For some reason, this one has always been very easy for me. I love practice, I like being alone, I like sweating and working hard. Any great artist, painter, musician, athlete, scientist, etc. will spend a great deal of time alone and working on their craft. Finding a way to enjoy practice improves the journey.

Business: Reading and thinking have been key aspects to my success in business. I’m constantly thinking about where the business and industry is going and how I can use this to better position myself for success.. Taking time alone to honestly reflect and analyze your situation is critical.

6) Don’t ask “why is this happening to me?”  Ask “what is this trying to teach me?”

Seek out, expect and embrace the challenges that will come, and use them as opportunities for growth.

Punting: I walked on at the University of Tennessee and was told that I wasn’t good enough to play there. I was crushed but took a step back and accepted the setback and criticism, and then decided I would use this as fuel in furthering my resolve to play in the NFL.

After transferring to Auburn, my father suddenly passed away. I was devastated, but again, used the setback to further my effort to make it. At that point I started to look for these setbacks and challenges and whenever they showed up, quickly turning them into teachable moments to help me grow. It is not easy, but if you can embrace the challenges and face them as teaching moments rather than run from them they will become incredibly valuable.

Business: There have been thousands of instances where I’ve had setbacks in business. My experience in the education business challenges ultimately dealt with two factors: were students and teachers benefiting from the program? And were we solving the right problems?

Initially we were lucky. When we had major a setback, something positive would happen in a school that would tell us, this is working, keep going. Later, I would actively seek these positive aspects out and travel to schools and spend time with teachers. Something negative would happen in one area, but then I would go to a school and hear or see all the great feedback and know that we needed to listen to the problem and use it to ultimately create the one of the most unique online education programs in the K12 space.

7) You are the sum total of what you eat, drink, and the people you surround yourself with.

Exercise, diet and supportive people matter greatly. Despite being last of the seven steps to success, this one is not to be overlooked.

Punting: This seems obvious now, but back in the 80’s there wasn’t nearly as much information about diet’s impact on performance. What you eat can be as important as anything else in physical performance.

Business: It seems counterproductive to leave the office so you can go work out, or actually write down what you are going to eat each week. But those habits are huge. I have had my best ideas for new features or solutions to big challenges while working out. Something happens to your mind and body when you work out. No matter how stressed you are at work, make time to work out.


There are many plans like this available today. I encourage you to read them all and then create your own. There is no single correct approach. My plan above might change as I learn more from others, including you. Good luck in your journey, whether it be in athletics or in business, and please post helpful tips on this blog so we all can become better.


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Inspiring Leadership: An Interview with Raymond McNulty, Dean, School of Education at Southern New Hampshire University

brian shulman and raymond mcnulty

Brian Shulman sits down with Raymond McNulty to discuss education. Raymond is the dean of the School of Education at Southern New Hampshire University, serves on the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network Board of Directors at Clemson University, is a long time speaker and partner at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) and was a senior fellow at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he worked with leading educators from around the country on improving high school education. He has held numerous teaching, principal, and superintendent positions in Vermont.

Brian Shulman: From your experience consulting and speaking in the K12 space, what do you see as the major concern right now in K12 education?

Ray McNulty: When asked this question most people would say the greatest concern is “change” or “fear of change” and reluctance to accept the new ideas and systems that surround us in education today. But I don’t see change as the biggest concern. I see educators as generally accepting of new ideas and systems. Most educators know they need to change and most welcome the new ideas. The greatest concern or challenge facing K12 education at this time is not letting go of the old ideas and practices. No one is talking about letting go of things; instead we just keep adding things to the system.

When I work with schools and educators to plan and evaluate their systems and strategies, I sort them into three categories: 1) things we should stop doing, 2) things we should continue doing, and 3) things we should begin doing. We seem in education to not let go, and we need to stop doing things to make room for new strategies we should fold into our systems. For example: we spend a lot of time in education today teaching basic skill acquisition and educators can’t seem to find the time for higher levels of rigor in our schools. What’s the solution? Technology is much better at teaching basic skill acquisition, so using technology supported by our educators provides time for our educators to use their skills to increase the rigor in the learning. Let go of teaching basic skill acquisition!

Brian Shulman: Now that we have a new administration and a new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, what changes do you foresee coming?

Ray McNulty: First and foremost, as a former commissioner of education I can tell you this: No matter who the secretary of education is, when we find a great school doing amazing things with their students it generally isn’t because of who the secretary of education is! Great schools and great learning are a result of the teachers, administration, staff and community all working together to educate their students well. So we shouldn’t use the secretary or any commissioner as a reason for the success or failure of a system.

What I can say is that as we look ahead under the new administration, we will likely see a more competitive environment where many more new models for educating students will emerge. My hope is that across the board—both in public and private systems—we see more freedom in all schools to create new and interesting models for learning.

Brian Shulman: Are you seeing the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) online model becoming more accepted among students and even high school counselors in 2017?

Ray McNulty: I think we see enormous acceptance in education today for not just SNHU online models, but for many online learning systems. Many states now require students to take online courses in order to graduate because that’s what is happening in the workforce. Most companies today train their workers using online systems. The real drivers for these new models of learning are competency-based learning—anytime, anyplace and any pace—and these factors weigh heavily in favor of online and hybrid systems. Here again, I must cite the strength and maturity of online systems these days. Online education is not new; it has been around for a very long time and the systems used today to manage the learning are highly sophisticated. When you match a great online system with a great teacher, together they represent a powerful learning system for our students.

Brian Shulman: In the model schools that you and Dr. Bill Daggett work with, is there one key element that you see in high performing schools that is missing in other schools?

Ray McNulty: Yes, and both Bill and I would answer this the same way. If we had to point to one thing, it would be the culture of the school. When we find schools that are working very well, we find these schools to be places where students, teachers and staff are not at odds with each other. They work as a community devoted to helping and appreciating each other. When I wrote my book for the International Center for Leadership in Education, I interviewed many hundreds of students in model schools. I asked the students in small groups: “What makes a teacher worth listening to, and what makes a school worth going to?” Their answers could be summed up in this one statement from a student at Brockton High School. He said, “At this school it’s not us against them!”

In great schools, culture trumps strategy. The places are safe, fun, and engaging, and because of that they have very few discipline problems and even fewer rules. When those in the system have a “voice,” learning happens.

Brian Shulman: Is there a strategy that you believe schools should begin to work with as we see a push toward more personalized learning models as opposed to large group instruction?

Ray McNulty: I don’t believe there is one thing or one strategy that will help the push toward more personalized learning. I think you just need to look around at a room full of people and realize that not one person is the same as the other! So, what works for Brian in class will not likely work for Ray or Mary. And what works for Brian in math class will not likely work for him in English class. So we need to have schools and learning systems that offer multiple models and multiple pathways for all of our students. This is why technology and learning management systems will be critical to the success of the systems we design for the future.

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Inspiring Success: An Interview with Über Personal Coach Colby B. Jubenville

Colby B. Jubenville, PhD is an accomplished author, speaker, professor, business advisor, entrepreneur and inventor. He holds an academic appointment at Middle Tennessee State University as Special Assistant to the Dean for Student Success and Strategic Partnerships in the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences and is Principal of Red Herring Innovation and Design, an agency specializing in helping people and organizations become better known, better understood, and better understand the unique value they deliver.

In 2015 Jubenville accepted an invitation from the Washington Times to write about self-reliance, developing an entrepreneurial mindset and teaching people how to “go their own way.” In that same year he received the Nashville Emerging Leaders Impact Award presented by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and YP Nashville. The award honors one of Nashville’s top leaders who has made a significant impact on Nashville’s YP demographic. I interviewed him for insight into how college graduates can reach their career goals in this challenging time.

Brian Shulman: Even after earning a degree, many of today’s college graduates continue to struggle to find meaningful work after graduation. Why do you think that is, and how can we fix it?

Colby Jubenville: The most important word in your question is “meaningful.”  Especially when you consider how the “meaningful” is viewed from the student perspective.  I believe students make a bet with their time, money, and energy that higher education has the people, resources and networks to help them become gainfully employed. Gainful employment is not simply trading time for money.  Gainful employment is where you find some kind of psychological benefit (meaning) for the work you do.

Today’s students are taught to select a major or a course of study for a career without becoming self-aware about their ideal career—the one they are most suited for and would most enjoy. Because of this, many students end up seeking or gaining employment in a career that is not the right fit for their talent, their passion, or their conscience about specific needs in their world.

The 5 to Arrive program here at Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Student Coaching and Success begins with self-reflection in the application process, and this reflection process continues through each individual coaching session.  Also, the Center has partnered with Harrison Assessment Technology. Harrison Assessments not only assist the students with uncovering their ideal career, they provide an opportunity for students to understand their strengths, challenges, enjoyment and interest levels, and provide a roadmap of next steps to help navigate the discovery process. The data gathered by the assessment helps our students really get to know themselves through detailed reporting and one-on-one coaching.

From an employer perspective, while a college degree is crucial, the top personal qualities employers seek are transferable, competency based skills. Organizations today are aware that in the past they have hired for eligibility (the degree and experience) and fired for suitability (the transferable people skills). The cost of a bad hire or a hire that is not the right fit for the position or the culture of the organization is costlier than finding a candidate that is the right fit and teaching them the eligibility skills needed to be successful in the role.

In addition to supporting students’ academic development, it is also imperative that we prepare our students to demonstrate certain competencies for a successful transition into the workplace. Today’s employers are looking for workplace competencies like critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, collaboration, leadership, emotional intelligence, professionalism, work ethics and career management. Our 5 to Arrive model and the Harrison Assessment help us to measure and develop these competencies.

Brian Shulman: What are some challenges that students have when they come to your program? How could high schoolteachers and/or college professors of freshman classes help better prepare them?

Colby Jubenville: The key is becoming self-aware. From my vantage point, students typically have not yet been given the opportunity to truly discover their ideal career, their priorities, values, strengths, life themes, what’s important to them for career success or how to articulate who they are.  If we can start earlier in helping students become self-aware, we can assist them not only with finding  gainful employment in their chosen career path, but prepare them to navigate the world of work and self-manage the career building process.

Brian Shulman: What do business leaders say they want to see in new college graduates?

Colby Jubenville: Many of the business leaders that provided feedback on our 5 to Arrive program confirmed that a college degree is no longer enough to guarantee a graduate a satisfying career and life. Our graduates must be able to attain and demonstrate the competencies for a successful transition into the workplace. Business leaders and employers are looking for critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, collaboration, leadership, emotional intelligence, professionalism, work ethics and career management—all of which the 5 to Arrive Model addresses.

Brian Shulman: How can today’s parents help prepare high school students and support them when they come to college?

Colby Jubenville: I think it starts with understanding the blurriness, the noisiness and the distractions of life today. This is significantly tied to a combination of parenting, technology, impatience and environment.  Parents need to teach their kids to become an “active participant in their own rescue” and help provide them with opportunities to build confidence, learn patience, learn social skills, build relationships and find a better balance between life and technology.  Maybe start simple.  Ask their kids to live by the following: show up on time, do what you say you will do, and if you can’t do what you say you will do—explain why and use manners.

Brian Shulman: How do you plan to take the 5 to Arrive model and scale it to impact more students?

Colby Jubenville: We want to help as many students as we can transition from education to employment. The 5 to Arrive programming is a turn-key package that includes all the tools and a step-by-step playbook for educators and coaches to guide their students through the journey to becoming gainfully employed in their chosen career path prior to walking across the stage at graduation. Right now we are focusing on refining the model and getting feedback to help MTSU students do just that.

Brian Shulman is a pioneer in educational technology, healthcare services investing and youth sportsmanship initiatives. Follow him on Twitter @brianmshulman.

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Why Self-Directed Learning Belongs in your Blended Learning Program

Blended Learning

Blended learning is a staple in education today, but years ago it was a new concept. We define blending learning as having two components: face-to-face instruction with a teacher, intermingled with collaborative group work with peers, and online learning that is personalized and self-paced.

Lately, when I read about the online learning portion of blended learning programs, the emphasis seems to be heavy on personalization. Specifically, how online programs make it easier for teachers to identify individual student learning gaps, customize curriculums, track progress and differentiate instruction. Personalization is key; but I don’t seem to read enough about another important aspect of online learning, which is self-directed learning.

 My good friend and education mentor, Raymond J. McNulty, who is Dean of Education at Southern New Hampshire University and author of It’s Not Us Against Them: Creating the Schools We Need, often presents on “The Rise of the Self-Learner.”

Last year, at Dr. Bill Daggett’s annual Model Schools Conference, Ray asked: “What do we mean by learning? If learning is about productive learning, ‘students wanting to learn more,’ then it suggests a transfer of power over the learning from the teacher to the student.” He also tweeted: “A teacher who teaches a student to learn without them, prepares the student for success in the 21st Century.”

We created the Stride™ online learning program 16 years ago with the same basic tenet in mind – we have to motivate students to learn on their own in order to thrive in this 21st Century world. It is overflowing with knowledge readily accessible to them. We spent countless hours of development and discovery by partnering with schools in all socio-economic settings to refine Stride as a toolkit for learning that students would willingly and eagerly engage in. At the same time, we ensured the program supported the academic outcomes desired by educators.

By definition, self-directed learning occurs where students have a degree of control over the time, pace and place of their learning. Students begin to feel ownership of their learning, begin to self-evaluate, reflect on their progress and set goals for learning more.

We created Stride with dashboards that show students a live monitor of how they’re performing, and academic badges awarded for milestones. Equipped with this real-time information, students can assess what they know about their progress and make decisions to keep pressing forward at the same pace – or slow down and take time to dive deeper into the supporting resources that are available in the program.

Because students have access to Stride online all the time, they have to be the ones to initiate it at home or outside of school hours, instead of doing something else.  After-school statistics show they willingly dedicate their time to learn in Stride.

This brings to light the other key to self-directed learning, which is sheer motivation. Teachers who support self-directed learning in their classrooms or in virtual courses will typically investigate their students’ personal interests and design activities that relate to those aspects of their daily lives. This makes learning more relevant and engaging for them. Stride takes what we know to be a common interest for all school-aged students – video games – and integrates that into the learning process to make it enjoyable.

Use technology to assist teachers.

Many educators wonder why in Stride, we choose to use games that are more mainstream than they are learning games. My response is that students are picky about what they like, much like educators. So it is critical that an educational technology program delivers in every key area that is important to both parties. After all, the classroom experience is not one-sided.

We learned very quickly that if we could provide students with a highly enjoyable experience, then they were more motivated to work harder on the academic portion. Then we discovered demonstrably better academic outcomes. It was transformative that if we focused effort into creating better games, the students were willing to work independently and on their own time. That is the true essence of a self-directed learner.

To learn more about Stride, click here.

To view Ray McNulty’s presentation on self-directed learning, click here.

Brian Shulman is a pioneer in educational technology, healthcare services investing and youth sportsmanship initiatives. Follow him on Twitter @brianshulman1, and on Facebook.

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