Friday, January 5, 2018

Pivot.


A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit the Philadelphia 76's corporate office and learn about their culture and their way of doing business. Getting a guided tour filled with an intense amounts of information I was quickly and powerfully engulfed in the atmosphere and collegiality of the organization. It became apparent rather quickly why and how they are leading the way in how a professional sports organization can thrive regardless of wins and losses. 

Scott O'Neil, president and CEO, has a clear vision for his organization and has an intense passion for being successful on the ice (New Jersey Devils) and on the court (76'ers). However, being the leader that he is, he has meticulously dedicated himself to the power of relationships, knowing his people and driving the collective culture of the teams he oversees by being present in all that he does. He defines leadership.

Reflecting back on that unique experience, there was a word shared that day that has remained in mind and has been ingrained through my thoughts of leadership ever since. That word is PIVOT. Shared in that meeting by a young executive, he described pivot this way:
Decision making. Make decisions that impact the organization to make us better, adjust and adapt quickly, fail forward, we need to pivot, don't keep doing things that are not working, PIVOT right then. 
Thinking through this description and having had the experience, I reflected on how this could translate and possible evolve into my One Word for 2018. 

My words have been: Finish, Purpose, Intentional and Push these past four years. All powerful and timely in their respective way, this year will be different for me professionally. It will be full of different experiences and new opportunities. A job change, new colleagues, creating a culture in a new space. Leading, organizing and guiding others I will be in a constant state of change. I will need to PIVOT day in and day out throughout the year ahead. 


My adaptation of PIVOT is this:
Remaining grounded to what is at the core of what is most important in teaching, learning and leading (culture) while recognizing the need to pivot to take your organization to "the edge" and strive to become ELITE. I will need to be present and be prepared at any given moment as I guide the organization in the work ahead. PIVOT as I, and we, fail forward and always be ready to pass, dribble or even drive the lane. To pivot is to embrace all that is around you. 
And with that, my OneWord for 2108 is PIVOT. My gratitude goes to Mr. O'Neil for his model of leadership of an impressive organization filled with passionate and loyal stakeholders. Thank you Michael for sharing what may have seemed to be a simple lesson in culture and climate and since then has morphed into much more. And, with equal gratitude, to the colleagues I see each day that have helped me thrive and succeed in what I get to do day in and day out. I serve. And I do so with great pride.

In the end, pivot throughout your journey in leading and learning. It is a game-changer and success will come on and off the court.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Looking In the Rear View Mirror. A Reflection on 2017


It has been quite a while since I took to the keyboard and posted my reflections with teaching, learning and with life. For me, these past 6 months have been about discovery of who I am and finding my purpose. Whether as a principal, a parent, a spouse or simply a friend, I have committed myself to the powerful art of reflection.

With that in mind, each of us takes our own journey. We also stop and take inventory of the work we are passionate about, the families that engage us and the friendships that we thrive upon. As each of us moves ahead in our journey it is an essential part of the ride that we take a moment and look in the rear view mirror. Often times it is what we have accomplished that will give us direction in the days ahead. This creates a constant state of growth.

And, even though I have been silent from posting here on my page, I have been anything but silent in understanding the powerfulness of being connected with educators near and far. Whether learning from the blogging group "The Compelled Tribe" or being a part of the twitter chat #Ohedchat or learning alongside colleagues from the Hilliard City Schools, this academic year has pushed me in my understanding the greater good, the awesomeness of learning and importance of leaning on others.

With that in mind, here is a reflection of my 2017:

1. Struggle. Ending the 2016/2017 school year meant learning from mistakes. At times it was stressful and finding resolution with various situations was difficult. However, in the end, it came down to trust and understanding. The Power of the Team (as we share where I work) was never as important as it was in the spring. With that, the year concluded and students, teachers and friends geared up for what would be a fantastic summer ahead.

2. Balance. The summer of 2017. Memories made and moments cherished. We often lose balance as educators and families and friends are put on hold as we give so much to the educational institution we each work for. For me, the summer of 2017 was about reconnecting and keeping it that way. Embrace each moment and remember that life is a series of experiences. My goal is to ensure that the experiences shape my journey. No looking back here. Friends and family were my focus.


3. Celebration. What a start to the school year! The @wmscats started the year off with #1st3Days for the 2nd year in a row. We focused on relationships first. No content allowed. Our charge was to focus on getting to know our learners and our learners getting to know us. I had the pleasure to share this work with over 25 educators that have reached out via social media for our template this year. The power of being connected proved itself time and time again. Not to be outdone, the #OHedchat team kept it rolling each Wednesday night at 9PM EST with awesome conversations and professional growth. I am a better educator thanks to this experience.

4. Purpose. As 2017 wraps up, I was offered a new opportunity in my journey of serving others. Starting next year, I have the exciting opportunity to open the extension project of the Innovative Learning Center (soon to be Campus) for the Hilliard City Schools. Entering my 25th year of education in the fall, I will take all that I have learned in serving others and embrace this change.  Innovation, collaboration, growth mindset and design thinking will drive what we do for students. We each need to be "pushed" (my OneWord this past year) and this will do just that. I am excited to be pushed out of my comfort zone and take on this new role.

5. Hope. This reflection is essential. Whether it is the mistakes we make, the accomplishments we are blessed to be a part of or the people we encounter, there is always a sense of hope going forward. Leaning on others and being on this journey together makes us better. It has made me better. By no means have I reached an end. Rather I am in a constant state of reinventing who I am. I have fully welcomed the understanding that it is the team, and the attributes of each member of that team, that will give me hope and courage in 2018 and beyond.

Here is to your journey, your struggles, your successes and your story. Share it. Let others hear your passion for the work you do and the communities you serve. Pledge to yourself that you will push yourself in the year ahead. Find balance and above all else, celebrate.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

4 Essentials to Start Your School Year


Writing alongside those in the #compelledtribe, we commit ourselves to reflection through writing. Personally and professionally each member of the tribe has had their own takeaways on how it has, and will, impact their teaching, leading and learning.

Blogging is not about self-promotion. It is not intended or suggested to be a platform for ones agenda. Rather, blogging is about growth. As we consider the profession we are in, it should be apparent that we blog to become more skilled in what we do. The writing we share and the time and mental consumption of our words are merely intended to be a part of the bigger journey.

As I think about the time away this summer and the experiences I have enjoyed, I immediately find myself connecting these back to my school, my students and the community I serve. Simply stated, life is a series of moments and experiences that will shape and define ones own story. If that is the case, then the opportunities these past few months have me prepared for the weeks and months ahead and are setting us up for some great successes.

Here are some things to consider as you head back-to-school and how your experiences this summer may become a spring-board of excitement and direction for the path you are about to embark down.

1. It starts and ends with relationships. A summer of various events could not, and would not, have been as enjoyable as they were if it were not for the genuine care and support of the people that were on the journey together. Whether immediate family or close friends, the better we knew each other, the more value there was in the experience. As you head back to school, put this first and keep it there. Know your community of learners and leaders. As the year progresses, do not lose sight of the importance of those relationships from the first day all the way until the last.

2. Get out of your comfort zone. Personally I like my comfort zone. Two feet on the ground, routine and planned events are my norm. This summer I put that mindset on the back burner. One could say that I adopted a growth mindset for adventure. Whether a ride to the Grand Canyon high above the ground, sailing across Cayuga Lake or spontaneous outings with the family, it was invigorating and rewarding to push myself out of my comfort zone. Thinking of your staff and students, consider the same. Mix it up, try something new and expand your boundaries of teaching and leading.

3. Model the way. As my kids grow older I find them leading the way in some of our adventures. Where I would normally stick to that above mentioned schedule, I found myself pushing away from that and as this summer demonstrated, I modeled the way. As the summer moved on, I embraced the notion of having to model what is not only expected but also what is encouraged. Whether in the classroom or the conference room, do the same. Model what you want and what you desire to be attained and you'll be instantaneously amazed on the results you get in return.

4. Trust (and hold others and yourself accountable). Early in the summer the leadership of the district had an opportunity to continue our journey in building our culture by working alongside Tim Kight of Focus 3. Within his message something hit home in a way that I needed to here. He spoke in great length (but in simple terms) about the significance of trust in our profession. Heading back to the office this past week I am excited to have a greater understanding of how trust will be a focus of my leadership. Of course, as we lead others and observe those that we serve (and identifying when trust is broken) tough and direct conversations will follow. In your classroom this coming year consider how trust will play a role in your work with your stakeholders. If a building or district leader, do the same. Set levels of trust with those around you. Encourage them along the way.

The list could, and should, continue as you apply your summer lessons to the work you are about to embark on. Remember that growing is part of what we do as teachers and leaders. Whether you do so through reading maybe even blogging, make a pledge to yourself that you will continue to push yourself and apply your life lessons, your series of experiences, to your daily work.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Summer Lesson. Surf's Up.


This past week I had the joy of watching my two youngest at surf camp. For the past three years they have each awoken before the rest of the house so that they can master the skill of riding the waves. Now in their third year of camp, I am impressed with their dedication and passion for a hobby that they only do for 5 days out of the year. Waves are hard to come by in Central Ohio.

Throughout the week as I was watching them surf, I paralleled what they had invested into their learning of how to surf as to the work that we do in education. And as a part of any summer vacation of embracing learning throughout the year, I was quick to realize the parallels and the challenges.

This time around I have been watching them catch wave after wave with a different lens. Yes, as a father but also as a teacher, leader and learner. What I was witnessing and what they had accomplished didn't happen just through showing up, it took much more than that. Here is what I learned by watching my boys riding the waves.

Surf's Up - Know Your Learners. Before even taking to the water, the surfers were coached in basic water safety and given an appreciation for the craft of riding the waves. In addition, the camp counselors learned who their campers would be before setting out to the ocean seas. The counselors learned names and took an interest in their campers. The coaches were building trust. Educators, like surf coaches, recognize the need to know their learners. Going well beyond names, and well before instruction, we must know who it is we will be pushing and what knowledge they bring with them. We take assessments of their skills and come to know who they are. Like surf camp, trust is essential. Relationships first.

Catch the Perfect Wave - Learn the Basics. One of the most challenging things for educators to do each year is to come back to "zero".  With surfing, each week the camp counselors have to start "over" with a new crop of eager vacationers. I watch in awe as they skillfully go back to the beginning of their week just coming off of getting the last week of learners to a skilled, maybe even an accomplished, level of catching the waves. As educators, one of the most  rewarding moments of each year is watching our students get to the level they do as a school year wraps up. Like camp, we too must recondition ourselves to go back to the beginning. For many, that is the ultimate draw to the profession. Going back to "zero". That is, taking our learners on a journey toward success even when it means starting from the basics of the beginning of the year.

Point Break - Fail and Fall Again. As a parent it is not easy to watch your young surfer fall over and over into each passing wave.  The struggle can be painful. Salt in the eyes, the smack into waves and the sheer reality that it is harder than it appears can bring the desire to quit and move on. However, they get back up and hit yet another wave. Through coaching and trust, each surfer is willing to try another wave in the hopes that this will be the one that sets them on a path of continued success. For educators, it is not much different. Failure will occur. Our role is to ensure they have an environment where risk taking is encouraged and students feel safe in their journey. Whether in a classroom or on the waves, keep going after what seems to be impossible.

Hang Ten - Reaching Your Goal. Riding the Waves. Toward the end of the week, my little surfers were not so little. They had worked tirelessly each morning through trial and error, building confidence and learning from their mistakes. Likewise, as educators we provide an atmosphere where hard work and determination are praised and those that need additional support are provided such. We teach to the whole surfer/student and meet them where they are at and grow them from there. And above all else, just as we do in school, our surfers celebrate what they have accomplished.

What a powerful week to watch two city slickers from the midwest learn and explore the art of surfing. This was more than just spending each morning in the ocean. They showed their resiliency and their determination as they persevered in the face of frustration and disappointment. For every fall into the water they hopped back on to their boards and set out to try again. As a parent, this was a powerful lesson for me as well. While I value the time our children are within a classroom setting, I have an appreciation for this worldly example of teaching and learning. Equally as amazing to watch was connecting how our youth work with our children as the teachers they are. The classroom is endless as our are opportunities to grow.

Here is a quick slideshow of the 7 year old. His expressions speak louder than any words on a page. The look of amazement and accomplishment are all the measurement that is needed to assess his efforts.


And, check out THIS MUCH WATCH VIDEO of his older brother (14) as words and actions take him from failure to success and how determination and grit get him to achieve the ultimate surfing goal. Hang ten, kid!

Monday, June 12, 2017

A Summer of Learning. 5 Ways to Reflect and Grow


With the ending of another year of leading and learning, I push myself to take the pulse of the year completed. While there are many different moments that I am extremely proud of I know there are just as many moments in which I stumbled. The truth is I rarely take the time to revel in all that was positive. I would say we celebrate and move on. In the same vein, I don't labor on the events that may have crumbled and been obstacles on our path to success. Instead, I give each the attention they deserve. Like you, I learn from the successes we have and the failures we experience.

Now that the year is complete, this is an educators opportunity to get better at their craft. Summer is the perfect time to grow yourself in all aspects of your work. And even though there may not be students or teachers walking our halls and attending our classes, our learning never stops. This is a summer to grow and deepen our understanding of best practices in education.

As you starting thinking about where your summer growth may come from, here are the ways in which I will grow my learning in order to be a better leader:

1a. Dive into a Book. Get reading and think about how the words on the pages can impact the students and teachers that will walk through your doors in August and into September. Need some suggestions on what to read? There are many. Get on Twitter, stop by your local book store or ask a colleague. There is a vast collection and the topics are endless. Make sure to chose books that push yourself as an educator.

1b. Jot it Down. Post-it-notes, pages, sketch-notes or even take to your blog page. If you are anything like me, writing it down is what makes me better at remembering what I have read and will be more likely to apply in the future. Keep it simple and keep in intentional and you will be grateful you took to paper or computer to recall what you have been thinking about.

2. Head to a Conference. Whether an EdCamp, a conference sponsored by your local educational service center or at the national level, conferences are a great way to connect with educators that are passionate about what they do. Find something that works for your budget and commit to making the trip. I have found that conferences challenge the way in which I approach my work and broaden my lens to what others are doing in their schools and in their communities.

3. Pick up the Phone. Today we rely on social media and email to deliver messages and professional information and sometimes we forget that our "old technology" is just as good as the latest and greatest tech tool. Some educators use "Voxer" to be an integral part of their learning journey. Voxer allows you to send a message to either a group or to individuals and then they can respond as they have time. Of course nothing is more personal than picking up the phone and connecting and sharing your journey in leading and learning.

4. Get Outdoors. Regardless of what you teach or where you teach (or lead), there is much to be gained from being outdoors in your community and taking in the culture and surroundings that define it. If fortunate enough to travel, take pictures of where you have been and plan to use those in the year ahead. Remember, every step you take is a step in growing yourself. Use the outdoors as a way to grow and to rejuvenate yourself as an educator.

5. Find Balance. Press Pause. With all that there is that can be done, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. Clear your head, go for a walk and find the time to decompress from the year that is behind you. The pace we keep is intense and we need to give ourselves permission to catch up. So yes, we do have weeks off that other professions do not so use them wisely. Find balance and press pause.

You may be asking where the reference is to family. I purposefully saved that for last. As I have been reading the work of Gordon and Kight they both emphasize the need for clarity and purpose. For me, it is family that helps me achieve both. Regardless of the company that you keep, embrace the moments you have and spend time this summer growing with them. Family is often the reason you give with the effort that you do. Be sure to give back to them in the days and weeks ahead.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

5 Ways to Finish


Spring has arrived and the final quarter of the school year is here. Whether you live in the northeast or the southwest, students and teachers know that the seasons have changed and this school year is quickly coming to a close.

With each day passing there is an opportunity in front of us as educators that we cannot dismiss. It happens every year and we see it around us. Many times it happens within us. Either we raise our game and put the throttle down and finish strong or we simply take our foot off the gas and go on autopilot and coast until that final bell.

Here are five ways to finish the year that is best for students and best for you. As educators we have invested countless hours in planning, delivering and embracing the opportunities of each school day. Now that the final months have arrived, here is our opportunity to deliver some of the most powerful lessons of the year. With that, consider these tips to stay dialed in.

1. Stay Focused. Seasons have changed and it is getting greener. While we hear the birds chirping and see the flowers blooming, remain focused on the lessons yet to be taught. Make sure your learning targets are clear, your lessons are rich with student engagement and you are intentional with your assessments. Measure learning NOT material. This time of year you can get more from your students than at any other point. Keep yourself focused and the impact you will make will be obvious.

2. Relationships Still Come First. You have spent 8 months building upon the relationships that come to your classroom each day. Your students are hanging on every word that you speak and believe in you now more than ever before. This is your opportunity to dive into some learning and really draw from them their passion to grow. Be intentional in your instruction and use the relationships that you have fostered to push the limits of teaching and learning.

3. Grow Yourself. Recently a conversation arose about teachers and professional development toward the end of the school year. Educators are exhausted and administrators are attempting to find balance between allowing for that space to breath while still expecting best practices and growth among their staff. The reality is this, we never stop learning. As an educator you should be pushing yourself professionally as much in April as you did in August. There is no "down time" and there is no break in learning. Model this with your students. Show them that growth happens year round.

4. Check Your Goals. Remember when you sat down created your SMART goals to start the year? This is the time to assess where you are and ensure you have put the effort into accomplishing each and every one of those. If you have not been able to complete what you intended to start, time to get busy. Goals are set for a reason and if you haven't reached them, do not abort your passion to do so, simply find a way to get to the finish line and lean on others for support and guidance.

5. Celebrate. We have worked hard. Knowing we have spent hours upon hours of preparation and delivery and now comes the reality that the year is coming to an end. The relationships you have formed have paid off in the expectations you have set of others. Whether as a classroom teacher, a building administrator or a district office leader, find balance in the push to the end while ensuring that there is celebration of the organizations accomplishments. Just like a graduation ceremony for seniors, include the pomp and circumstance for even the youngest of our students. Celebrate your efforts and the efforts of those around you.

Everything we do in education begins and ends with the interactions we have with others. Our role is to ensure that it is those purposeful and intentional relationships that will drive the successes we experience throughout the entire school year. As you wrap up your academic year remember to finish strong. Avoid going on autopilot and make the most of each moment of each day.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Getting Hired. 5 Tips to Being the Candidate of Choice

This post was first published in May of 2016.

Landing that first teaching job, any teaching job, can be a daunting task. The world of teaching is as competitive as it ever has been. Whether spending hours in coursework, months of field study or after years of teaching, securing that coveted role of educator is not for the faint of heart. It will take more than talent. You will need to build skill along the way.

These past three weeks I have conducted three webinars with the Lead Learning team. In addition, I have had multiple Voxer conversations with five educators seeking advice to land their first job, And, I have had four student teachers/tutors sit down in my office and we have discussed what it will take to be the last one standing when the process comes to an end.

The reality is that getting hired is not easy. Separating yourself from the pack can be overwhelming. Knowing what to say, and what not to say, can be intimidating. So, knowing all of that, I have compiled 5 quick tips to assist you on your way to becoming the candidate of choice and becoming the teacher you have so much passion to be.

1. Be Crisp. Whether your resume, your portfolio or your presence, present yourself in a way that you want the community of learners to see you. There is no second impression. Once you walk in that room and shake the hands around the table, that's it. That is who you are and how you will be remembered as they process their choices while you are there and well after you have left.

2. Be Confident. Getting to that interview table was hard enough. Now that you are there it is time to let the team have it. Come out strong. You are asking to be entrusted with other peoples children. Demonstrate to the team through your words and your interactions that you can handle that responsibility. Whether the students are 5 or 15, articulate through your responses that you are ready for the task at hand.

3. Have Vision. A candidate that knows exactly what they believe in when it comes to education is an impressive candidate to put it mildly. This doesn't mean that they aren't willing to learn. Just the contrary. A prospective candidate that is well-versed in best practices like homework guidelines, grading practices, technology, personalization and blended learning speaks to the vision they posses for teaching and learning. You can't be faulted for having vision.

4. Find Separation. This is my personal favorite. For the most part candidates are going to come across with an 80% overlap of skill, knowledge and pedagogy. My advice therefore is simple. bring the "wow" factor. One of my most recent suggestions was to a candidate that asked me about bringing in a portfolio of her transcripts, lesson plans and some pictures. Honestly, as I told her, that does nothing for me. One, portfolios are required by most colleges and universities. It is an outdated practice. However, here was my 2016 spin of a portfolio and how to demonstrate separation:
Take those pictures of the Medieval Festival, throw in some screenshots of your grading rubric, assessments and exit slips, put it to some Jack Johnson upbeat song (see below) and make an iMovie. Then, during the interview when asked about "a lesson that stands out" or "an example of best practices" you have a real-life, technology driven example. That is how you separate.

5. Leave it on the Table. To conclude the interview process most conversations end with the team asking the candidate if they have any questions. If a question didn't capture a strength or you have more you can add about why you are best for the job, you have to use this time to share it out. Don't get in the car driving away and say, "Oh, I wish I would have shared _______!" This is your time to leave it all on the table.

Hats off to those entering the profession. You are what we need. You are passionate, bright and outgoing educators that will do what is best for kids. As the ones doing the hiring (whether an individual or a team) we strive to find the best of the best. To be selected you have to separate yourself. Bring that 20% that no one else thought of before they entered the room. You will be better for it. And, hopefully get the position you seek.