Sunday, December 29, 2013

Embracing the Break Part 2 - Lead vs. Manage

Over the past few days I have had the chance to relax, soak in the river of twitter, read the news and even catch a few pages of a couple different books.  I have been doing all this while playing with some rambunctious kids, the youngest being four, and trying to maintain a healthy life style (I enjoy running) while taking in some of the most delicious food ever.

I pledged to myself, and therefore to my family, that I would embrace the break. Now that I am into the second week I can see that I have done just that!  Visiting family from NY to the Midwest and now getting ready to head back home I can reflectively say, mission (is being) accomplished.

In addition, in the last 24 hours I even managed to commit myself to a complete group of strangers in a #500in2014 challenge.  I think, and therefore I hope, I have decided to run 500 miles in 2014.  What a creative way to stay connected with people over the year and share the passion of running and also create a PLN of educators from across the globe.  I am excited to see where this endeavour takes me!

As I reflect back over the the past few days and weeks and recall the readings I have done, the concept of leading versus managing has consumed me.  As I gear up for the return to the new semester and work with colleagues from within my building and across the district, I will challenge myself to be reflective of my own style and that of others.  

Below is an excerpt that I came across that I can use as a guiding tool:

Three tests that will help you decide if you’ve made the shift from managing people to leading them:  
Counting value vs Creating value. You’re probably counting value, not adding it, if you’re managing people. Only managers count value; some even reduce value by disabling those who add value. If a diamond cutter is asked to report every 15 minutes how many stones he has cut, by distracting him, his boss is subtracting value.By contrast, leaders focuses on creating value, saying: “I’d like you to handle A while I deal with B.” He or she generates value over and above that which the team creates, and is as much a value-creator as his or her followers are. Leading by example and leading by enabling people are the hallmarks of action-based leadership.  
Circles of influence vs Circles of power. Just as managers have subordinates and leaders have followers, managers create circles of power while leaders create circles of influence.The quickest way to figure out which of the two you’re doing is to count the number of people outside your reporting hierarchy who come to you for advice. The more that do, the more likely it is that you are perceived to be a leader.  
Leading people vs Managing work. Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control. (from Vineet Nayar, "Three Differences Between Managers and Leaders")

As you read your way through your second week of break, find a measurement for what you will determine your style of leadership, or management, and then determine your course of action for a phenomenal second half of the the 2013/2014 school year!   

Off to work on the 500!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Embrace the Break!

For the past few months we have all been burning at both ends working with our staffs, our students and our communities in the hopes of having the greatest success possible.

Our teachers have given countless hours to their planning.  They have worked through the first round of observations and have answered the call of their school district and its community to provide an outstanding academic experience from August to December.

Parents and the community have stood by their schools and participated in countless learning and social opportunities.  Friday night football was their passion as was being a part of back to school activities, parent-teacher conferences and hours of support for their students as learning was extended into the homes each night.

And our students, who for the most part, took away more knowledge through the use of more resources than ever before.  They fought through the fears of the system, embraced their teachers and the work they placed in front of them and were inspired along the way.  My students, your students, had experiences like never before.  The implementation of technology embedded even further into their learning is happening at a record setting pace.

And for the administration, they (we) too have given of themselves at a time when the world of education is expanding faster than we can get our arms around.  The use of the Internet, the countless ways to incorporate its river of resources and the pure passion that we bring to the buildings is breathtaking.

So as you begin your winter break, embrace it.  Focus on what matters most.  Clear your plate and prepare your mind for a second semester of greatness.  It is those students, your staff and your community that helped you to this point today.  We owe it to them to come back better than ever.

Happy Holidays everyone, we are blessed.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Flipping Out!

For the past few years I have been working with my staff at Weaver Middle School on one of the most exciting best practices in all of my years of service.  For those staff that were interested, and those that were drawn into the experience along the way, the work has brought with it some amazing results.

Flipping a classroom was not something that we had conjured up, rather it was something that we had been exposed to by the educational system, by colleagues, by time.  Teacher interest drove the decision to implement the concept and it was our turn to give it a go.  Teachers dabbled in videos, activities and power points for their students to watch and to practice and then come in the next day to apply.  The teachers were amazed at the early results.  Many of the original group stayed in tact to the present day.  We lost some and picked up even more.  Great conversations came about as we discussed the Flipped classroom as compared to the Traditional.  Powerful.
What we did though was make it better, just like you have.  It was refreshing to stumble upon this post from Jon Tait who shared the results of his flipped classroom.  He, like us, had done our work with effect size and the work of John Hattie and new how to get the best return on our investment.
A portion of his findings (which we conquer with in our own work) are below:

An effect size for the class of 0.86 is extremely positive and would rank this intervention strategy 6th in terms of its impact out of the 138 different interventions that John Hattie tested. It is also double the average effect size (0.40) from Hattie’s research. This is extremely pleasing and backs up what I have seen week by week in the class itself. The work rate of the students, along with their engagement and enthusiasm has lead to significantly better output. Given that I’ve spent a lot of time both researching flipped learning and then recording my videos, I’m over the moon with it’s impact in such a short space of time!

The entire blog can be found at:

As we continue our work at Weaver and evolve in what a flipped classroom should look we also stay committed to its purpose and we find affirmation that the work we are doing is not going unnoticed.  We are feeling validated that our students needs are being met and for that we are continuing on the path of implementing this practice.

We have now moved into the next phase of our work and have tackled our websites ( ensuring that they are more than just a listing of our assignments.  Instead, our teacher webpages need to become an interactive location to share all parties knowledge and ask questions and expand on our learning from the school day itself.  It's a work in progress and one we are determined to refine.

So in the end, keep finding creative ways to flip.  And, try to find another practice that needs an innovative spin.  It's worth it!

Monday, December 16, 2013

9 out of 10. Defining Success.

If you want something bad enough, 9 out of 10 times you will get it.  There is, on that rare occasion, the one time that, regardless of the amount of effort you put forth, it is out of your reach.  That is something that we have to accept. Maybe.

Let's stay focused on the 9 things you did want, and got.

Try to go back as far into your personal and professional life and think of that one "thing".  For most it was a materialistic object, an item that you saw someone else have either at the park, at school or when out in a common area.  You knew that no matter what it took you would find a way to have that one item, that same object, that same experience.  It was one of your first experiences at determination and persistence.

Fast forward to your college years.  For most, it was during those years that you can think of something, or someone, that was in your cross hairs.  It may have been a course that you wanted to earn an "A" in, an intern position on the Capital or at the University as you completed your graduate studies or landing that first job, post graduation.  Regardless, each of those moments in time fell into your 9 out of 10.

For those of us that are well in to our careers think about your professional path and what has been accomplished.  Think about those moments in your life in which you wanted the opportunity to be successful, enriched with an experience or do something that you knew would make you a better person, a better professional.  Attaining those 9 out 10 "things" has made your career that much more rewarding.  

What separates the 9 from the 1?  If they say that "anything is possible" is that truly the case?  If we hear "at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is there really an option of not being successful?  If "failure is not an option" then how do not have all 10 things?

As you work through this week, think about your 9 out of 10 and remind yourself of all the work that you had to put forth to be as successful as you are.  If you are feeling like you have fallen short and not in the place you envisioned to be, then there are some tough questions to be asked.  And, if you are only averaging 4-6 of the 10, what can you do to change that and increase your percentage?  Often times it is taking the moment to reflect on your work that makes all the difference in the world.

Keep up the good work.  Celebrate the success and be reflective in all that you do.  Go for the 10!

Friday, December 13, 2013

You Better Get Busy!

"You better get busy!"

That phrase is echoing in my ears over and over and it is not because I do not have my holiday shopping done yet.  If that were the case, that would be a quick fix.  It is one that I will complete this weekend.  Promise!

Rather, it is an expression that is being heard as I walk through the halls and stop into classrooms.  Some how, unbeknown to all of us, the end of the first semester is five days away and a sense of panic is setting in.  It’s a good panic, but still a panic.  Teachers know they need more days to get done what they didn’t complete.  What now?

Look at it this way:  Think how much you DID cover!  Teachers should keep in mind the lessons and learning that they did share.  And, if nothing else, remember that every moment of every day is a teachable moment and kids took away a lesson a day, every day.  The great teachers taught.  They inspired and they helped kids achieve new heights.  Goals were set and now they can be measured.  Celebrate your success!

As you go into this final week before your winter break, think to yourself if you need to get busy or if you were able to accomplish all the tasks you set for yourself back in August.  This is a great time of year to do a Goal Inventory and take measure of what has been done, or not.

In the end, because we are who are and we do what we do, we will probably be busy right up until the final bell. 

And we too, need to celebrate our successes and our accomplishments.  Make sure you do just that!  Promise!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What is your digital footprint?

What is your digital footprint?

At this point in my career I have determined that without an impressive digital footprint my professional goals will come up short, way short.

So next steps are simple, build my digital footprints.  Do so professionally, of course, and work with those around me along the way.  Lean on those that are more experienced and give credit where it is due.

As a professional having an impressive digital footprint it is a must.  Today that point was made vividly clear. At a seminar for aspiring Superintendents, a spokesperson for a search committee stated that Boards of Education go straight to Google (and other search engines) in an effort to find all that is good, or bad, with a candidate. Imagine that, Google is the beginning, or end, of my administrative future.  Not my ability to inspire, empower or lead.  Not even my skills that I have refined over time of listening and motivating. Surprised?  No, not really.  

For many being LinkedIn, Tweeted, Blogged or Cited is a part of our routine, our practice.  We are hooked, and therefore connected.  We have placed our feet in the digital plaster and the mold is forming.  It takes years for it to dry and we have the opportunity to shape it each time we turn to our keyboards.

So in the end I remind myself that I control it.  I am my connector.  I am making my digital footprint one day at a time.

Monday, December 9, 2013

In the Middle - An Opportunity!

Now that we have reached semester break, there is an expression that comes to mind more often than not: In the Middle.

Investing of ourselves as educators in this range of adolescence comes with rewards that I would argue are unlike that of teaching any other range of students.  It is these students, the ones in the middle, that I truly find amazing in all of their unknowns.

One of the experts in working with this band of students is Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli).  Rick is one of the first national certified teachers who has written books that include the award-winning Meet Me in the Middle: Becoming an Accomplished Middle Level Teacher, the best-selling books Day One and Beyond: Practical Matters for New Middle Level Teachers and Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom.

Reading many of Ricks books and being inspired by his writing and hearing him speak, constantly brings me back to my own work as a middle-level administrator.  It is the work that I see my teachers do that excites me more now than ever of all the possibilities of teaching and learning for this band of students. Middle-level teachers truly have invested themselves in understanding the process of retention and success.

It is one of Mr. Wormeli's books (Fair Isn't Always Equal) that has taught many in education on how we need to assess and grade our students.  We have learned about differentiation and how we can serve our students by meeting them at their needs.  We have learned that how we grade our students can make all the difference in the world when it comes to retention and development.  And, as we work towards meeting our students needs through working with staff, we implement the greatest of strategies and work towards an environment of best practices.  As we strive towards this goal and when working with teachers, we should follow Stephen Covey's advice: Seek to understand, then to be understood (2004).  Taking this approach helps all of us in the middle reach a common goal.

An exert from a blog written by Laryy Ferlazzo (  sets the stage for the second half of the year when it comes to our work with our middle-level students. Larry shares the following story as originally shared by Rick:

He (Rick Wormeli) writes of the $5 bill and I would encourage you to share this story with your students the next time you hear someone in the class say "that's not fair".
Fair Isn’t Always Equal: $5 Bills on the Wall Technique 
Rick Wormeli, September 2012 
Many of us tell our students, “Fair isn’t always equal,” in response to their claims of justices miscarried, but we need to find ways to make the principle clear and meaningful to students.  While working at a middle school in Naples, Maine years ago, one teacher shared this wonderful technique with me, and I’ve used it successfully with both students and colleagues on repeated occasion ever since, augmenting as necessary:
Place two $5 bills, or anything your students would find prize worthy, high up on a classroom wall, so high up, only the tallest student in the class, leaping, can reach them.  Ask for volunteers: “Anyone who can leap up and reach one of those bills, can have it for free, no strings attached.”   When the hands of volunteers go up, choose the tallest student.  He, or if in middle school, more likely, she, goes up to the wall, jumps, grabs one of the bills, and returns to her seat.
Ask for another volunteer to go for the second bill.  This time, choose the shortest person in the room.  He makes his attempt to grab the bill, but can’t quite reach it.  He moves across the room to grab a chair, but stop him from doing so: “You may not use a chair; that would be unfair. Your classmate did it under her own power, without any assistance. You must do the same.”
The class erupts in complaint: “That’s not fair! He should be allowed to use the chair! He can’t help how tall he is,” they say.  Act like you’re pondering their argument, then say, “Okay, give me your best reasons for allowing him to use a chair or any form of assistance in reaching that $5 when your other classmate did not use any assistance. How can that be fair?”
Let students confer with one another, then offer their rationale. After listening to them argue their case, relent, which is what you were going to do anyway, and let the student use the chair and grab the second $5 bill.
After this demonstration with my students, I never again have to explain why I’d do different things with different students in order to get everyone in the class to the same high standard set for the class, and that includes changing deadlines, levels of support, rates of learning, tools used, and varying assessments. They get it: fair isn't always equal, and thank goodness the teacher is fair.
When using this technique, make sure to choose someone for the second volunteer who is good natured and accepts his shorter height without issue.  If necessary, talk with the student ahead of time, inviting him to play this role in the class lesson.
Thank both student volunteers for being good natured and helping you to make the point in the lesson.  Make sure, too, to have a classroom culture where differences are considered strengths, not weaknesses. ‘Easy to say, harder to do, I know.  With students, build an expectation and skill set for perseverance and problem-solving, too.  A culture of students assisting with instruction and affirming differences as positives limits the chance of negative feelings at being singled out for something so important to students (physical growth) yet beyond their control.
If using students is uncomfortable, ask adult volunteers to assist you in the demonstration, or choose a situation that focuses on a trait of less personal nature or different category altogether, such as a specific skill or knowledge base.
The goal is to be so vivid and clear with the message that all students are engaged and see the value of differentiating instruction when needed.  We need to clear their heads of the notion that always equal means always credible, or that standardizing learning experiences are always effective.  With experiences like this one, students build community and advocate for one another.  With both, the path to learning is a little clearer.
So, as you think ahead to the second half of your year, remember your passion for your students that are in the middle and how your passion drives you to do the work you do.

Coming to the Easton Hilton in Columbus, OH on February 20th and 21st, Mr. Wormeli will bring with him that very passion for the middle child in a 2-day conference offered by the Ohio Middle Level Association.  

Go to register TODAY!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Getting Away From Routine. Be Inspired.

Taking in each moment of each day is such an important part of the work we do.  However, we often find ourselves hurrying out the door each morning knowing that our office awaits as does all of the tasks that go with a "typical" school day.

For many though, having a routine is something of an anomaly.  We make time to grab our cup of coffee, sit at our computers to clear the morning email and touch base with the office staff.  From there, it is a crap-shoot.  Most days, and many days, can be quiet when it comes to the check list of tasks.  Tending to paperwork, approving purchases, signing off on requests, etc. is a part of our day that we can not avoid.  As administrators we complete that routine, if there is one, and then prepare for the events as they unfold.  We know that students are busy with teachers in classrooms with learning.  And, of course, teachers are working diligently to provide meaningful, lifelong lessons, to strengthen the skills that students will apply in their journey.

As we work through the start of each day and routine is established, we have to remember that one of the most important parts of any day should be taking in the events that happen between the bells.  I am often inspired by the educators that are a part of my PLN and enjoy reading their moments in their classrooms and what their take-a-ways are from those experiences.  The stories that you write are often my motivation and my inspiration to spend even more minutes inside the classroom. 

For further encouragement, and as was shared recently with my administrative team, we must focus on the greatness that surrounds each of us, each day,  and find our inspiration within our own walls.  Listening to that, and reflecting back on the articles that I read, reaffirms the need to constantly break away from routine and create our own paths for each day.  We are the Instructional Leaders and with that comes the responsibility to model not only for our teachers but for our students and our community.

It was refreshing to hear, and simply be reminded, that as administrators we need to be afforded the freedom, and encouragement to try to new things, to push ourselves to the educational limits and expand our horizons in what we do for kids.  And, without reservation, we need to make sure we are sending that message to our teachers and supporting them in that effort.  They too are often consumed by the same practice of each day.  If we do not get away from "typical", we will be consumed by routine.  Routines have their place, and are needed at times, but do we want that to be the focus of our day?

Therefore I post this on my office wall as to be reminded each morning:

To be Inspired - of extraordinary quality, as if arising from some external creative impulse . 

This is my new "typical".  This is my reminder of my routine and the role it plays as a leader. 
Be Inspired.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Almost Perfect

Have you ever had one of those moments when everything that involves your work was next to perfect?  Of course asking for "perfection" might be a bit much to ask.  But think about it.

When is the last time you sat down behind your desk, put your hands behind the back of your head, fingers locked of course, leaned just far enough, taken that deep breath and taken in that moment?

We, as educators, rarely have time to sit in that chair and even try to fathom finding that moment.  I would, however, challenge you to ask yourself, and your colleagues, to find that moment in time.  Just like we teach our students when it comes to goal setting, make it attainable.  Have that professional development moment with your staff when you ask them to sit in their chairs, rock back, ever so carefully as not to tip, and take that moment in.  It is to often that we get caught up in the urgency of our position.  We, like our students, have to set the goals, work towards them and celebrate the success.

I share this today, of all days, because it happened.  I was able to experience that moment in time when all of the planets aligned.  For a moment in this day, there was perfection*.

All be it brief, it was a snapshot of the big picture.  It was that moment when all the students where in their learning environments and all of their teachers were on their proverbial "A Game".  It was simply, amazing.

So, the next time you have a moment to sit, just for a moment, try to do so when its possible that Mercury through Neptune are one behind the other.  For of all of the feelings in our day and for all that we have to accomplish, we as educators, need to rock back in our chairs just far enough.

Time to run, back to work. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Inspired, Again. Doing What is Best for Kids

Walking through the halls and stepping into classrooms on the return of break,  I found myself once again, yet again, inspired and in awe of the teachers in front of our students.  Throughout the first few months of school our teachers have been given the task of working through the changes in education.  They continue to modify instruction, work through mandates and initiatives and plow forward in the face of change.  And as the saying goes, change can be good.
To step into a classroom and see how teachers have made these adjustments, while keeping students needs at the forefront of their work, is simply amazing.  The saying, doing what's best of kids is sometimes over stated, yet at the same time, understated depending on the role you play in the process.  This line, this expression, those words, have become a motto, a pledge, an oath by the teachers with whom I work.
Since the first day of my academic career, officially this marks 20, I can attest to that .  As I lead, and follow, that phrase has taken on a life of its own.  While working with parents and the community I have been inspired by those words and pledged to those with whom I answer to that doing what is best for kids is the only way to do this business.
Reaching December and having another milestone of the school year arrive, I revert to those moments that I walk into classrooms and I see the great things that are occurring every day.  Giving teachers feedback to their work, being a part of the conversation of instruction and looking at various forms of data are all a part of the process.  And watching students responding to the lesson of the teacher through thier actions and their passion.  Each of these being a vital part of the process of learning and dependent of each other.
So as you walk your halls and step in to classrooms, look for what inspires you and what you recognize as great teaching and learning.  Look for all the evidence of teachers doing what is best for kids.  It is everywhere!