Thursday, August 25, 2016

Not Your Ordinary Start to School

We are tired, we are spent and we could not be more excited to be both. The past week has been a whirlwind of emotions. Like many of you, school has resumed and we are already on a pace to accomplish so many great things on behalf of teaching and learning.

This year, we started school a bit different. Check that, we started school like we had never began before! Our "rule" for the first few days was to focus on relationships. You know, the kind of relationships between students and teachers and with teachers and students and with the students and each other. You know, the interactions between people, young and not so young, that drive us to achieve and succeed. Our focus was simple: relationships first. Our plan was something unique.

With that, as a staff of 80+ educators who serve 950 7th and 8th graders, we came up with a plan. A mighty grand plan! What did we do? Well, we agreed last spring that we would place a hold on content for the first three days of school. We agreed that we would follow the lead of educators like Dave Burgess, Alan November and George Couros (among others) and we would center all of our energy and all of our efforts around getting to know one another. We would embrace the straightforward concept that if we get to know our learners (and they got to know us), all of the days that follow will build upon the foundation that we had created within our community. 

Simply put - if you get to know me and you will believe in me and if we will have trust in one-another, then there will be a commitment to the growth of each of us in all aspects of our learning experience. This will include the critical components of the social and emotional elements of our journey this year. We would be invested in each other. 

We would be a team, a family. 

And with that, our #1st3Days took off. What began as a simple idea, a concept, built around the belief that our relationships, community and culture drive our success, turned into three solid days of devotion to the art of building those very relationships. In those three days we formed a bond that will lead us down a path of honest, real, and at times difficult, moments in our learning this year. 

We know that we believe in one another. We believe in our team. Our passions are real. Student, teacher, parent, community. We are a collective unit. We have many directions but we will move as one. We will have a year like no other.

As you reflect on your back-to-school experience, I would encourage you to be intentional with how you welcome both teachers and students back through your doors of your classrooms and buildings. Through conversations with others, using social media and simply hearing from colleagues near and far, there are great things happening this month of school in each corner of education. Borrow ideas, reach out to those in which you see great things happening and be courageous in all that you do. You get one chance to start your year. The more energy and effort you put into that, the days and months that follow will only magnify in opportunities to learn and grow. 

And remember to do the following each step of the way:

Have a vision.

Overcome obstacles. 


Have purpose.

Be intentional.

Your drive will determine your fate.

Your will is powerful. Believe in it. 

Find your "why". Answer it.

If you would like more information about the #1st3Days at Weaver Middle School, please contact me at: Phone works too: 614.921.7700. I would love to share the step-by-step plan of how a building this size pulled off an experience like no other. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Back-to-School Checklist for Administrators

The first days of school are closing in and it is time to welcome back your school staff, district administration and your school community. You are about to begin another year in their journey of teaching, leading and learning. Without question, it is the most exciting time of year!

As we begin our year as administrators (I am the principal at Weaver Middle School in the Hilliard City School Distict in Hilliard, OH) we are fully aware of the many hats that we wear. Pulled in various directions at any given time, our positions are not for the faint of heart. Like your staff, we too are fortunate to shape the minds of others. Our leadership is essential to those that work with us and for us. They look to us for direction, support and encouragement each and every day. We have a role and responsibility like no other.

As you begin your year as a school administrator, regardless of what position that might specifically be, I would encourage you to consider the following essentials for a successful year. 

Here is a back-to-school checklist for administrators:

1. Putting Relationships First. Recently I wrote A Back-to-School Checklist for Educators in which I emphasized that the relationships you create, foster and maintain with others will be the backbone to your success. As administrators this is the same. If you stay true to getting to know your teachers, your Central Office team and all of those that look to you for your leadership, the results of your organization will be limitless. Likewise, if you do not invest in those you turn to for their expertise in the classrooms and the buildings then do not be surprised when the climate of your building turns cold and the culture takes a dive toward dismal. Relationships with all stakeholders should be priority one as you begin the year.

2. Providing Ongoing Feedback. We ask teachers to provide feedback to students and students use feedback to grow as learners. As administrators we ask for feedback for the evaluation process. With that in mind, do not wait for an evaluation or a scheduled moment to provide feedback to your teachers and your colleagues. Having worked under a variety of superintendents, the one I have the most respect for is the one who provided me constructive feedback within my role within the moment. Whether you realize it or not, teachers and administrators crave feedback to their work. That is what drives us to be better.

3. The Art of Listening. My teachers often remind me when to "turn it off". I am fortunate to have a rapport with my staff that they are open enough to tell me when enough is enough. Taking the time to listen to your teachers and your staff is essential. Whether a scheduled conversation or just a moment in time passing through the halls, listening to the good and the bad of your organization is essential. Soak in their ideas, opinions, feelings, emotions and experiences and know that the art of listening goes a long way in building a successful school climate and a community of learners.

4. Having Accountability. If there is one area in administration that I believe takes more effort than any others aspect of leadership, it is the practice of holding ourselves and our leaders accountable. It is not an easy aspect of our jobs. However, we know what is best for kids and we know best practice. And, we know what sound instructional experiences should look like. With that being said, if you observe something occurring in a classroom or a building that is not aligned with your districts vision, mission and goals then use your leadership skills to address it. We are the administrator. We hold others accountable just as we hold ourselves to that same standard and expectation. Be supportive but be direct.

5. Serving Our Community. The word leadership means one thing above all other to me. My role as a leader is to serve. Serve my teachers, my colleagues, our students, their parents and the community in which we live and attend our schools. It is a role that should not be taken lightly. Serving others is the foundation of what we do. How we act and how we model our work in education is essential to our growth and our success. As you begin your school year make sure that you are committed to this essential component of your position. To lead is to serve. Do so with humility and with pride. 

As I shared in my last post, think about all of your back-to-school items on your checklist and remember the amazing responsibility we have as educators. There is so much that will be accomplished as long as we are intentional and purposeful in how we return. And, if you are dreading your return to school, then please weigh your options and consider not coming back at all. We need administrators that are overflowing with anticipation and excitement to welcome a new school year. Be ready to make a difference in the life of a child and an educator and your community.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Back-to-School Checklist for Educators

For many of us, the first day of school can not come soon enough. For those in the northeast, no worries, you still have until Labor Day to get in the many important summer outings. However, for those across the midwest, the south and to the far west, we will heading back to school in the coming weeks. And, we are getting excited to do so!

Back-to-school means so many different things to students, teachers and leaders alike. It is a new opportunity to explore new experiences. Relationships will have an entirely new starting point, slates are wiped clean and the learning that will take place is endless. We are our only obstacle and we can control how the year begins and where we will go throughout the months ahead.

Now that back-to-school is closing in, here is a checklist for educators to start the year:

1. Relationships First. The excitement heading into this year is powerful. The staff I am fortunate to work with has committed to starting their year like never before. We are committing the first three days of school to forming, fostering and embracing the relationships with our students, parents and community. "The content can wait", is what we have agreed to and is our slogan out of the gate. Investing every ounce of energy in to getting to know the community of learners we are going to work with for 180+ days can not. I look forward to sharing out about our #1st3Days in mid-August. We challenge you to hold off on diving into specific content. Instead, get to know those that you will spend an amazing amount of time with in an intentional and meaningful way.

2. Bring Patience. Just as much as this is a reminder for you as the teacher and leader, this is also to be kept in the forefront of your mind as students and parents enter the building. Whether a first-time kindergarten child or parent, a high schooler heading off to their freshman year or a teacher just starting their career, the first days of school can be full of angst and stress that we can collectively work together to ease. Deep breaths, lots of smiles and the sounds of laughter abound should fill your first days of school. Be patient and find the bright spots even in the most difficult of moments as the stresses of back-to-school arise.

3. Think Foundation. Whether working with staff, greeting parents at open house or standing by the front doors on the first days of school, the back-to-school experience means the start of a new journey in teaching and learning. Each moment of each day should build upon the next. What you do today will prepare your audience for tomorrow. Very little of what we do happens in isolation so think foundation as you begin to build those essential relationships. It's worth starting one brick at a time and being the mortar that holds it all in place.

4. It is a Story. Just like the first days are the foundation of your year, each day there after is a part of the story that has yet to be written. Different characters will take shape as the story unfolds and the setting will be your classrooms and school buildings in which we learn collectively. As the teacher and the leaders in our respective buildings we hold the key to whether our story and the story of our school community is a best seller or not. Just as an author has to make revisions to their work, we too have an opportunity to make corrections in our teaching and learning. Be inspired by the story you are writing.

5. Celebrate Day One. In our #1st3Days we are not only going to focus on relationships and think foundation, we are also going to celebrate our students and our staffs return to school. What many educators think to be end-of-the-year activities, we are putting them at the beginning. Instead of sitting and hearing syllabus upon syllabus, we are going to set a tone of expectations and excitement to our journey together. Nervous middle school students will be welcomed by eager teachers ready to explore endless learning opportunities. We will celebrate day one and every day there after.

As you think about all of your back-to-school items on your checklist, don't lose sight of the amazing responsibility we have as educators. There is so much that will be accomplished as long as we are intentional and purposeful in how we return. And, if you are dreading your return to school, then please weigh your options and consider not coming back at all. We need teachers and leaders that are overflowing with anticipation and excitement to welcome a new school year. Be ready to make a difference in the life of a child and an educator.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

So Much to Learn

Later this week I head off to Boston to present at the November Learning, Building Learning Communities Conference on the invitation from Alan November. This is an amazing opportunity to share with a fresh audience of educators about my passion for teaching and learning.

I often ask myself how I have ended up in the place that I have. A kid growing up in upstate New York and having attended a small university in Ohio, I feel like I have finally found myself as an educator. I take great pride in being fully invested in my school community and that is essential for me. Also, I am fortunate to work in the school district that I do that not only embraces innovation, it demands it.

The reality is, however, I made some significant errors along the way to get where I am today. In fact, for a period of time I felt like I had mastered the art of "failing forward". Without that period in my life, however, I would not be heading off on a jet plane this morning to connect with passionate educators from across the globe to share my story.

My learning has been powerful. My story is about how I picked myself up, recognized my errors, accepted my need for growth and how I bought into the notion that I needed to increase my own learning which in turn would evolve me into a better practitioner, a better leader and a better person.

Keep the following in mind as you fail forward:

1. Embrace the uncomfortable. Just 4 years ago I was having some tough conversations with my colleagues about my direction in this field. While in my seat in, I sat and squirmed and felt like the walls were closing in. Those were some rough days in my journey. My decision that day was a simple one. Instead of running from this tough moment, I embraced it. I looked it dead in the eyes and demanded more of myself. The growth began immediately.

2. Own it. When failing forward the hardest part of the process is to own the errors. If your colleagues, community or even harder to accept your superiors are giving you the impression that you are losing your way, you can respond in one of two ways. My advice is simple. Own that there are improvements to be made and commit to seeing it through. The sooner you own it, the quicker the path to success.

3. Let down your guard. Too often when we fail we build up a wall of trust, or lack there of. That is natural and instinctive. As hard as it is, try not to leave that wall up. You can't get better on your own just as you didn't fail forward on your own. No, you were not pushed. However, at some point others may have stepped away on your journey. I understand being cautious just don't be resistant. Allow others to be a part of your improvements.

4. Have a plan. Now that you are owning your errors, moving forward to being a better educator and embracing the reality of your situation, make sure to know the direction you are heading. For me I had to reach out to my most trusted colleagues and friends. I owned my missteps and dove in to seeing my improvement. I created a plan, set some goals and put my eyes forward to the potential that was there to be had. For me, the plan is what made all the difference. Going in blindly just leads to more failing. Having a plan is essential.

I am not finished with my journey in teaching and learning and especially leading. I have more to do and there is a passion within me to share my story with each of you. We are unique. Our paths in life are independent of each other. However, at the end of the day, we have one goal in common. Simply, we want to be better today than we were yesterday. There is so much to learn.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

You Can't Fake It

Either you lead or you don't. At the end of the day, you can't pretend and you can't fake it. People are looking toward you with all that they've got. They have chosen this profession to make a difference. The last thing they need is someone with a title that can't make a decision for the sake of the organization. Educators need a leader who can be honest and transparent and a leader that embraces all that comes with the role.

Leadership is an art. It takes more than just a few courses at the local university or through an online class or two. It is not for the faint of heart and it is not intended to be a responsibility that just gets you on more notch in the belt. If you want to be any good at this thing called leadership, then you should consider the following:

Get Off the Fence. For every book I have read, meeting I have attended or conversation I have been exposed to, one sure way to find a leader that has their head in the wrong place is one that can't make up their mind. Yes, there are times for pause, for reflection and for ensuring you are doing what's best for kids and your community. However, when push comes to shove leaders have to know when to get off the fence and make a decision. Due diligence is one thing. Procrastination is another.

Follow Your Gut. Leaders have been given hours of upon hours of life experiences in the real world. We don't get these positions lightly. Believe it or not, whether you want to or not, someone actually looked at you, handed you the keys to that building and said something along the lines of, "You'll be great. Now go lead your staff and students to do amazing things!" Now that you have that shiny key and walk those academic halls, remember that the thing on your shoulders and that pit in your stomach actually can go hand-in-hand. Follow your gut and do what's best for kids, for your staff and for your community. It's not always going to be easy, but it will always be worth it.

Surround Yourself With Really Smart People. We have all heard the expression in regards to "the smartest person in the room is the room". Well, if that is the case then I will darn well make it a priority to surround myself with super smart people when it comes to teaching and learning. They will be at the door, peering in the windows and clamoring on the roof. Many of us fall under the umbrella of "jack of all trades and a master of none". My honesty puts me there. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I would like to think that knowing this is half the battle. At the end of the day, I find those that are not only smart at what they do but also a compliment to how I lead. Too many of the same minds leads to little progress. Get out of your comfort zone and find others that will help you be a better leader yourself.

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due. Truth - most of the really great things that I do in my leadership role in my building I had very little to do with when it comes to the inception. Truth - most of us get our ideas from the endless amount of resources in this global, digital age. If you come across a great idea or concept and want to implement it in your own institution, do us all a favor and let us know where the idea came from. As a leader who depends on trust and honesty, don't get caught with your pants down when a colleague learns that your "brain child" of an activity or lesson really came from someone up the street or across the globe.

Be a Closer. If there is one thing I have learned on this leadership journey it is that you have to close on your ideas and your desire to lead others. Charm and charisma works for a while. However, when the smile no longer does the trick and the handshakes have worn out their welcome you had better be able to close when it comes to all things in leading others. Holding others accountable, being transparent with your staff and being committed to your community are just a few examples of how you can close in on your relationships with others. Build the connections and do the right thing(s).

When it comes to leadership, you need to be "all-in" or you need to get all-out. The reality is that when push comes to shove and teachers are in the trenches or administrators are in the buildings you need more than just a shiny key to the front doors in order for others to believe in you and buy in to you. If you can't lead in a way that does so, move over, let someone else give it a go. and as always be truthful with yourself and don't fake it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Follow the Leader

It is a saying that as children we were well versed in. Our parents and our teachers taught us at a young age the concept of following in the foot steps of our peers. We were encouraged to observe, mimic and maintain all of the behaviors that were in essence, the actions of what was being asked to be done and therefore doing it correctly.

To that end, I can remember as if it where yesterday being in my elementary classroom and the energetic and lively Mrs. Moore would begin to gather us up to head off to Art class, or lunch, or recess. She would say in her somewhat scratchy, yet ever so sweet, first grade teacher voice, "students, let's line-up so we can head to lunch. And remember, we are going to "follow the leader" as we go."

In today's academic world of being a lead learner, the notion of following the leader has come full circle. I realize that it is this very behavior and intentional action that has catapulted me to where I am today. This past week as I have read the tweets and blogs from those attending ISTE in Denver and the Model Schools Conference in Orlando, I am impressed with so many of my global colleagues that have found their niche in both following and also leading others. We have grown to recognize that we are better at our craft in large part due to the friendships (both personal and professional) we have formed.

With that, what has following the leader done for you? My guess is the following:

Your Knowledge has Expanded. It is without saying that the depth in which I now lead is greater than ever. Whether 140 characters or being a click away from a blog post or story about best practice, I am smarter today than I was yesterday. I often talk about my four walls of learning and my professional growth. Later this summer I will be attending and presenting at the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston under he watchful eye of Alan November to share about this very notion of how global collaboration has made me a more effective leader. In this case, following the lead of others has expanded my four walls well beyond my reach. The knowledge I bring to my day-to-day interactions with others is immeasurable.

Your Relationships are Stronger. For those that know me, it comes with great ease to strike up a conversation with a stranger or even hop into dialogue while riding from point A to point B. However, through following the lead of others, I have truly come to recognize how to build and foster relationships in a way that amplifies all of the talents and expertise of others. We know that relationships are at the core of what we do. Being connected through social media and reading the work of those like Casas, Zoul and Whitaker, I know now more than ever the effort it takes to ensure relationships are at the core of how I lead.

Your Patience has Grown. Something that I have struggled with during various times in my professional life, patience has been a thorn in my side. Following the lead of others and reading and listening to the work that they do, I have come to appreciate the need for patience in my work. Not only has it impacted my work world, it also helps around the house.

Your Reflection has Purpose. Part of the process of the evaluation tool that we all use as building leaders to measure the ability and effectiveness of our classroom teachers (and that very same tool that we are measured by our supervisors) is the component of self-reflection. Regardless of your location and the system in which you work, it is guaranteed that one of the essential questions you ask during your post-observation conversation is, "How do you think the lesson went?" With that, following the leader is at its finest when we embrace the fact that it is reflection that helps us grow as educators. For the countless tweets and blogs that I have read, each one has been an significant piece to my own growth. I often write for one simple reason, to reflect on something I have learned or have taught.

Your Efforts are Validated. As we follow the leaders in the world of education, there are many ways to find validation in the work that we do. Whether it is #CelebrateMonday or reading the work of #TheCompelledTribe, the great things that are happening in the parallel universes in which we work often times have an uncanny resemblance to the teaching and learning taking place under the watchful eyes of the global audience. Make those connections and be sure to point them out to those that you work with. Our teachers and our community of learners need to celebrate the amazing things that are happening in education.

As you continue to explore the path that you are on, remember that there are times in which you will take the lead but also know that there are just as many times that you will need to follow the leader. Just as Mrs. Moore taught our class over 35 years ago, learning by example and observing the modeling of others can drive us toward great things in our passion for education.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Ten Surefire Ways to Keep Your Cup of Mojo Full This Summer!

Mojo is the moment when we do something that's purposeful, powerful, and positive and the rest of the world recognizes it.
-Marshall Goldsmith

Summertime is the perfect time to fill your cup of mojo! Here are TEN surefire ways from the Compelled Tribe to keep or get back your mojo this summer.

Exercise - @Jennifer_Hogan
I find that when I get to exercise, it keeps me motivated, energized, and confident. Exercise is a time when I can disconnect from the world and just be “inside my head.” It allows time for ideas to percolate without interruption... time that I value and appreciate. It also provides the whitespace I need as an introvert. For me, it encourages creativity and problem-solving while the endorphins are being released! Done consistently, it’s a true mojo-maker!

Connecting - @jon_wennstrom
For me, I draw energy from being around positive people. Connecting with educators during summer learning sessions, sharing and learning from others on Twitter about books we’ve read, and of course blogging and reading blogs. I’m definitely an extrovert and being around other educators helps inspire me and always leads to new ideas to implement and helps me keep my mojo!

Theater- @sandeeteach
I love Broadway musicals, plays, and other theatrical productions. It’s a way for me to escape and immerse myself in a story. One of my favorite theaters spoofs popular shows. For example, this year two of the shows will be “Indiana Bones Raiders of the Wal-Mart” and “Captain American Fork The Worst Avenger”. (American Fork is the city where I grew up.) The actors and actresses are masters of improvisation which makes for a night of laughter. Another favorite theater performs in the round which is always a delightful experience. There are beautiful theaters in downtown Salt Lake City for Broadway musicals and outdoor shows in many local communities. For a few hours, I can lose myself in another world. But upon further reflection, I always relate the experience to teaching because that’s just what teachers do. We get ideas that benefit our students from everywhere.

Find a good read, or two - @Vroom6
There are lots of ways to find joy and rejuvenate during the summer months. And, I am all about work hard, play hard. With that, one of the greatest joys I get from the summer months, and a way in which I keep my mojo running full steam ahead, is by catching up on some of that much needed reading that took a back seat during the school year. Often times the days we are in session with students and teachers are filled with more scripted reading and writing. So for me, it is the summer months that I get to find that much anticipated new release on best practices in our field. Whether striving to become a better leader, or a better learner, it is the books that I carry with me to the beach, the pool or the park that I enjoy the most.

Dream big together - @allysonapsey
When my mojo needs a pick me up, I dream about what could be for our students, but I don’t do it alone. Just like everyone else, I find myself focusing on the trees rather than the forest from time to time. When monotony sets in, I push back by collaborating with the amazing teachers I work with. I am astounded after each conversation--we feed off each other, we divide and conquer, and we multiply our creativity for the sake of our students. Through these type of conversations this year, we came up with an amazing service learning project, we started plans for a Makerspace, we piloted new
reading initiatives, we shared professional reading that has inspired us and so much more. While we are dreaming big together, we are building stronger relationships, laughing, and challenging each other.

Pause and Reflect - @KarenWoodEDU
When my mojo needs some rejuvenation, (and it sometimes does), I first take a few minutes to reflect.  I find that sometimes my initial desire to “rejuvenate my mojo” may have my efforts focussed in the wrong areas or in areas which may not be productive for educators or students in the long run.  Reflection leads to focus and clarity.  From clarity goals can be set and then the fun begins!  Once my goals are established I jump in full force and do so with collaborative efforts.  It is very important that the shared vision of success is truly understood by all.  The last strategy I feel is essential for rejuvenating mojos is time to step away from work.  I admittedly do not do this well, however I find when I can clear my head (by going to the beach, going for a walk, kayaking, swimming, or practicing yoga/meditation, etc.) I return refreshed, focussed, and ready to ramp up my mojo and the mojos of others around me.

Get into some music! - @PrincipalStager
I was a music major in college and a music educator prior to becoming a principal. Whenever I need to get my mojo back or need to decompress, I find a piano and PLAY. I play in a group at my church so I have the opportunity to play rather often. I understand not everyone has the ability to sit down and play a musical instrument, but when I don’t have a piano to play, I drive in my car or just put my headphones in and JAM! There is nothing like a great playlist of uplifting and energetic music to get your energy back and your cup overflowing! This is my sure-fire way to get back on track.

Make a “bucket list” - @jodiepierpoint
I decided to make a “bucket list” of things I wanted to accomplish within a year, but I’m finding summer is a perfect time to accomplish them.  Things such as volunteering and baking cookies for friends have been real pick me ups!  Training for a quarter marathon has led into a half, simply because I’m out with great friends chatting while I’m doing it.  I check my list all the time, call a friend, and pick an activity to do - it’s a great way to rejuvenate not only myself, but others too!

What if People” & Quiet Time - @Debralcamp

I do my best thinking when I am with people that like to say “what if”.  There is something about the words “what if” that allows walls to come down.  When discussions are lead with the words “what if” it takes away the threat of there being wrong answers and allows for brainstorming to happen in a way that doesn’t in a lot of conversations.  I find it very motivating to be pushed and pulled by other people’s thoughts and ideas.  Positive energy comes when people work together and create as a group. There is a collective product that is created as well. I find on the flip side that quiet time and reflection after being with “what if people” takes me to a space in my head where more ideas can be generated.  Revisiting and reflecting again with the same group consistently allows for new ideas to develop and to be tried. (They don’t always work but the process sure is fun and motivating.)

Balance - @Abond013
Often times when I am feeling overwhelmed, I find that I need to prioritize. It is important for educators in any role to find time to take care of themselves. We need to give students our best and that is challenging when we are running on empty. Besides exercising, traveling, and spending time with family or friends, I find that fueling my passion keeps me going. For example, if you are passionate about literacy, continue to take interest and learn more. Surround yourself with people who share your passion.