Fata ‘Magana’

(Joshua Nowicki – Photography)

NOTE: This post is a follow on of my review of Sonny Magana’s book. The previous post entitled Not So Hot for Teacher?


A Fata Morgana is a mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. Early associations of the effect were said to resemble “fairy castles built in the air.”

A Fata Magana is a mirage suggested that by making tweaks to how they teach, teachers can disrupt all of the highly interdependent status quo fixtures of “Education” itself and double student achievement. Like the Fata Morgana, it is suggestive of fairy castles built in the air.


TLDR: Polymath believes his interpretation of Hattie’s meta study of technology’s effect size on student achievement afforded him insight into creating a framework that doubles student achievement while requiring far less teacher effort. This is purportedly achieved by combining “high probability teaching strategies” and tracking student emotions about their work solving “wicked problems” using whatever technology they deem appropriate. While there is no shortage of dramatic descriptive detail, Magana leaves out how the framework integrates within Education’s core subjects.

Magana’s Entry in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, Education

I learned a great deal from this experiment of doing research, writing a critical review and then seeing the author speak about the work in person.

The first jolt of the process was the instant feeling of camaraderie and collegiality walking into an education conference with a hundred and fifty other people. Seeing all the smiles ostensibly all there to “educate better” it was hard to imagine being critical of anything or anyone in that initial moment. As humane and comforting as this feeling was, I noted this is also related to why it is so hard to maintain an independent voice in a school.

Sonny’s Session for Teachers

I went to Sonny’s presentation for teachers first. There were about ten of us. I was familiar with his sessions as I’d seen and read so much online already, nonetheless I was surprised just how exactly the session went like a copy of what I’d seen online. His message discipline was remarkable.

He has obviously read Dale Carnegie and made sure to have everyone introduce themselves upfront so he could immediately begin using our names. As in his writing, he comes off as a clearly intelligent practitioner, of…? His background is somewhat hard to parse; he told us he was a “researcher”, but didn’t let on that before that he spent seven and a half years in various sales roles for Promethean, a whiteboard company, and before that an unexplained three year gap on his profile, and before that a principal of a “Cyberschool”, and so on.

A “difficult” child in his own youth, he related that his career took the path it did after taking on kids who were failing in “the system” and helping them to succeed. Once you understand his “alt-school” background, it makes his approach towards traditional teachers and schools much more understandable. You can see why he formulated a framework that fit much better outside “the system,” given his previous roles had effectively allowed him free reign to design his courses and assessments as he pleased.

After hearing about his bona fides, he moved to the story of how he came to the seeds for the book. It all started when he was around a campfire in his teen years, strumming open chords on a guitar until for the very first time he heard…BLANG!!!!! Magana queues Eddie Van Halen’s song “Eruption” to play as if he did not know it would be coming on.

Magana uses Van Halen’s frenetic guitar to demonstrate his framework and how its three stages culminate in transcendant learning, as in the type exemplified by Mr. Van Halen. It was an effective demonstration of the core pillars of his framework and Magana would (effectively) come back to music concepts and clips again and again to explain and his work.

Beyond music analogies around the genesis of his thinking, Magana is less clear….How to lead the transcendent pursuit? How does each kid learn how to learn?  Can it be generalized? All great questions and where those answers fit into a school’s curricular program is a mystery that Sonny does not speak to.

Sonny’s first session activity for teachers was to set the four tables off reading a couple pages of his book summary. Fair enough, but when he asked us to not only come back with three “things that made us think Aha!” from two pages of his writing but also at least one thing we’re going to implement in our own classes, the presumptuous/pretentious request immediately made eyeballs both dart and then roll slightly between teacher attendees.

While he waited for us to read, he noodled in the background on an acoustic guitar while his favorite classic rock jam band tunes played in the background. It was a bit much given only once briefly in about 15 minutes did he walk around among the tables, but even then he did not engage. Next, when we had finished, instead of just discussing the work as a group, he had us type our work into our digital tool of choice and send it to him on email, which seemed bizarrely overcomplicated until later you realize this was to goose the next step in his book promotion/sales process.

When we pulled back together, the responses were not what he was intending. I think with so much of his work being with public schools in the US, he was not at all used to the depth and experience that Tier 1 international school teachers who self select into a technology session possess.

In other words, things got awkward.

A 10th grade social studies teacher politely but firmly told him she was already aware of the strategies he referenced and used most them at different times with her classes; there was nothing new under the sun here. Sonny quickly moved on, and the rest of the responses were tepid at best.

Sonny then went in to describe the stages and reached the final goal of the T3 Framework, Social Entrepreneurship.

Sonny holds “Social entrepreneurship” as some kind of deep, universal human desire that all students will want to participate in at every opportunity if we would only just let them. Sonny’s framework also assumes that changing the world and making money doing it is viable in 6-8 different classes each day. Even if this was the only worthy goal for students (and it is not) I would argue there are not as many kids with the kind of endless creativity and drive Magana assumes. Not every student is Elon Musk, nor should they feel they need to be.

Magana came up to me during a break after the first session for teachers ended and asked about me. I was the most engaged in his sessions in some ways. I said I was a former teacher, involved in digital integration most recently who would really like to see a framework like his work, but that I was concerned that it had a lot of earth to move in terms of the status quo. Sonny interpreted that to mean I was talking about teachers and he did what I was wondering if he would do– he gently threw teachers as a whole under the bus.

Sonny said “You know, so many teachers, like we had today, say that they are doing the things in the framework, but they are not.” He then indicated he had to go, and later in the day he sent me an email with a copy of his Oxford Research paper as a gift to share with my colleagues. Not really a good look at a teaching conference. I felt relief that my initial judgements had born out.

Sonny’s Session for Administrators

I attended Magana’s session intended for Administrators on the final day of the conference. I was not surprised that his presentation to teachers and admin was nearly identical, but what was different was telling. Instead of Van Halen, he used the Beatles and US President Kennedy’s “Moonshot” speech along with a stirring video montage to relate his framework as Education’s “moonshot”.

Again, as in the first, he glazed over the details on the studies; let’s just all assume Hattie’s massive meta-study is a stone tablet from on high. The rest of the presentation steps were generally the same, only without any reading activity and collection of emails for his marketing machine. It was less on explaining the framework and more on selling the whole package…the association with Hattie, the book, the classroom walkthrough Google form tool, the T3 Leadership Academy. Interestingly, none of the non-theoretical practical tools were beyond early iterative stages of a basic Google sheet and form.

I asked what he felt the top three or four things administrators would need to do to implement or encourage the implementation of the T3 framework. Here’s what he said:

  1. Belief in collective efficacy.
  2. Have to talk about it. You need a common language for transcendent learning
  3. Common set of strategies to establish examples
  4. Need to evaluate it

I thanked Sonny when it was over. I then took a seat, went into the initial blog post/book review, added a question mark in the title and let the rest stand.

About Matt Brady

Matt Brady has been creating digital ecosystems that organize, inform and inspire for two decades. He writes as a curatorial journalist- connecting related stories across disciplines often beyond “Education”- to examine and understand educational leadership in a more adaptive and predictive way. His side project is conceptualizing and building an autodidactic launchpad for his daughter and her friends.
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