Friday, February 2, 2018

4 Ways to Start Your Friday and Tie Up the Week

The week is wrapping up. Lessons taught, lessons learned. You have enjoyed the week and now it is time to tie it all together. Until Monday, that is.

As you start your day today, consider these four tips to ensure you maxed the week coming to an end and you can get your students thinking about the week coming up.

1. Turn and Talk (with the Teacher). Find time today to connect with as many of your students for a brief interaction of a take-away from the week of instruction. Think of all the material you covered, the goals of each day and strive to have that exchange with your learners. Teach 150 students throughout the day? No worries. Create a google spread sheet and each Friday have a plan get to a new bunch of students to connect with. By the end of the month you will have reached all of them.

2. Target Time. Speaking of goals, what lies ahead? Create a space in your course so that before students head off for the weekend they can make a quick note of a goal for the week ahead. It could be something as straight forward as being prepared for class, studying for an assessment or even paying better attention. Again, have that space for students to jot down what they are thinking. By the end of the quarter, share with them their goals for the nine weeks and encourage them to reflect on whether or not they attained the mark they set.

3. Share a Story. Working in the middle school I have a true appreciation for the ups and downs of the interactions of todays student. They are pulled in a thousand directions and asked to do a thousand different things. And many of those "things" are at once. At the end of the week, and throughout the week, take just a moment and have your students connect with a classmate. Share a story, a piece of work, a success. Kindness prevails - always.

4. Be the Planner. Whether the teacher in the classroom or the leader of the building, be prepared for Monday. It is a great feeling to walk out of the of building Friday afternoon and having your plans ready for the week ahead. Before you walk out those doors this afternoon, make sure you are excited to come back Monday. Because if you are not excited, they won't be either.  Have your lessons ready and enjoy the next two days for family, friends and time for you.

As educators we have the opportunity to set our day and week how we want it it to go and how we want our students to receive it. We have the standards in front of us but it is our own creativity and passion that will drive what each moment looks like. Fridays are as powerful as Mondays. So, make it count.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

4 Ways to Get a Pulse on Your Leadership

As leaders, much of the pulse of our work is done through the simple observation of our organization. We look for obvious signs of what is working and what may not. Often due to the lack time, we find ourselves asking surface level questions of our parents, staff and students to get an idea of the good or not so good. Hurrying to begin the day of tasks, we try to conduct random walkthroughs that can give us general sense that the organization is sailing relatively smoothly. While the attempt may genuine the results are obvious.
As an educational leader in todays schools, we can not settle on being average. 
The achilles heal of a leader can be the inability to look deeper into the organization and have intentional and purposeful conversations of the community they serve. While the lack of time can often be an excuse to getting some of the essential work done, leaders can also get comfortable, complacent and even flippant if they aren't careful and consistently (not to be confused with constantly) checking the pulse of their community.
As an educational leader we must commit ourselves to our own professional growth to support the growth of those we serve.
Here are four ways to get a pulse your leadership and ensure that you are not settling on average:

1. Leaders ask for and get feedback towards growth. When you ask for tough feedback from your staff about your leadership and they don't hesitate to give it to you, you are growing. When you ask the right questions and have the commitment to your culture, the feedback you get will be genuine and productive. Feedback can come through face-to-face conversations, staff surveys and from walking the halls and engaging the community. We know how walls can talk. We just have to be intentionally listening to them.

2. Leaders know the importance of active listening. Tim Kight of Focus3Culture recently tweeted this, "Listening is hard, real listening is real hard". As leaders, we need to spend more time actively listening rather than actively speaking/directing. More often than not, teachers approach leaders and the leaders take over the conversation. Instead, press pause and listen. An effective leader will be able to find balance. Don't get caught up in your response if you are not taking the time to hear what is being said.

3.  Leaders know how to facilitate to promote growth. Instead of directing traffic (managing teachers), effective leaders will lead by facilitating staff collaboration without the need to give an agenda or direction. A defining moment in your role as leader is when your leadership has transformed to one of facilitator. When you become a part of the conversations and are not expected to lead the conversations, you are leading. Leaders build leaders. Are you?

4. Leaders value and lead with relationships first. When leaders have teachers that know the importance of relationships and therefore lead their classroom environments in the same way, you have a healthy pulse on the culture of your building. When we build trust and we believe in our staff, we will excel as leaders and can focus on the work that really matters. Creating an environment with relationships at the core is easier said than done. Stay focused, stay driven.

As you work through the remainder of the year, check the pulse of your leadership. The actions of those you serve are a direct response to how you lead. Make sure that you ask for feedback, listen to your community, facilitate conversations and put your people first. And, stay connected. When you stay connected you provide yourself ongoing conversations about effective leadership and others can support the journey with you.

Friday, January 5, 2018


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.