Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Review and Reflect

The final weeks of school can be some of the best days of the year. We are celebrating a year's worth of growth and we are proud of all of the accomplishments. It is exciting! With that, I challenge you to take some time to reflect on the year coming to a close and also prepare your students (and yourself) for the summer months just a few hours or days away. Face it, you have worked hard and acheieved so much. Be excited and celebrate. And, have a plan for moving forward.

1. Review Your Goals. We all started the year with both personal and professional goals and with the best intentions hopefully we achieved them. Take a few moments and reflect on what you have done this year. Here is a letter I send to my teachers along with a copy of their goal sheet. From there, it is up to them to do a review and plan for the year awaiting.

2. The Power of the Team. We are better at what we do because we work together, we collaborate. These jobs on our own would be daunting and overwhelming. As you wrap up the year, reflect on the power of your team and where things could be tweaked, refined or improved. Check out this document that we used this year with our middle level teams as the wrapped up their work. Our goal was to share with them this template and then come together to process.

3. Check the Pulse. If you truly want to know the direction of your staff, you better ask them. Literally. Don't be afraid to hear the straight talk from you teachers and seek feedback from all aspects of the school year. We should expect feedback from our staff so that we can grow and ensure we are meeting the needs of those we work with. It is essential and this is your chance as a leader to get the information you need to be that much more successful.

4. Plan for Personal Professional Growth. If you expect your students to grow in their knowledge then you better expect the same of yourself. You have put in countless hours this school year in planning and delivering best practice. Now it is time to take care of yourself. Check out this list of resources for your summer learning. Whether reading a good book, attending an EdCamp or blogging, there are some simple and powerful ways to grow as a learner.

5. Balance is Essential. The saying goes that if you work hard you should play hard. The same applies for us as educators. As you think about all of the work you have accomplished this year, take an opportunity to give yourself a break. Spend time with friends and family and power off. Find balance in the days and weeks ahead. 

Remember, some of the best learning can happen away from the classroom. You have worked tirelessly to prepare your students and your staff for the next chapter in their learning. Reflect, celebrate, be purposeful and enjoy your today as you work toward being ready for tomorrow and beyond.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Home Stretch

You have made a difference. 

You have worked hard.

Celebrate the work achieved by your students and what you have accomplished yourself. 

You are better for pushing yourself. You have learned so much.

I am inspired by your dedication to your teaching. I am moved by your willingness to try new things. You have faced obstacles and overcome failure. Your students are better for your efforts.

I am humbled by your graciousness. I am in awe of your passion to give unconditionally.

The school year ends. Lessons are wrapping up. The learning within your walls will cease.

Know that you have instilled within your students a desire to be better. To be thinkers. To be reflective. To take action.

We have learned so much. We have cared and we have listened. Now it is time to send them on their way. They will face new opportunities, new challenges, new growth.

We are better off for having the encounter that we have had this year.

You have made a difference.

You are on the home stretch.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Small Fish, Big Pond

For weeks I have been stuck on these four words; Small Fish, Big Pond. And, the more I reflect on this year's journey of my growth and my learning, I am brought back to the simple notion that I am that fish in that really big pond. And there is so much YET (my mindset) to do in order to continue to grow as a leader and a learner. (Which is the inspiring part.)

In my journey in education I thought (for a brief but significant moment) that I had entered the deep end of the pond. Yet, (there it is again) I am reminded how big the pond really is. The fact is that the pond is enormous. As for the fish within the pond (that is all of you) I have been fortunate to learn as much as I have. The unthinkable (but realistic) part is that there are so many more (fish) I have yet to encounter and so much more to learn.

This part I know for a fact - within this pond there is at least one thing that we each have in common. We all want to grow. And with that growth we know we will be better for ourselves and for those around us. Those we serve. We need to swim. We need to meet more fish. We need to continue on this journey of learning.

So, as you and I swim within this pond of knowledge and interact with the other fish near and far, here are some things to remember when we are looking to grow professionally:

1. Avoid the Predator of Time. Don't allow the trap of time (and energy) take you away from your work and your passion to grow as a leader and learner. It is a common enemy that you must thoughtfully work to avoid. Therefore, get organized, set a schedule, carve in minutes for you, and your growth. As a fish within the pond you have to be intentional with your day. Make it happen, no excuses.

2. Explore. Don't Always Stay with the School. Professional development is often offered to the group. We sit and take in best practices with our colleagues within our school community. While that method can be powerful, also consider exploring other resources to add to your growing list of tools. Many of us use twitter, blogging and other platforms such as a good book and podcasts to help us in our development. Find an EdCamp, reach out to a Voxer group and explore on your own. Sometimes your separation and reflection can help you grow the most.

3. Set Goals. Keep Swimming. Just as time can be the enemy to our productive intentions, not having a set of goals can be defeating as well. Therefore, decide what it is that is most important to you on your journey. It can be anything from learning a new resource to starting the blogging journey to committing to present at a conference or host a workshop. Set your goals, come up with your action steps to achieve them and get moving. You'll be glad you have a plan in place.

4. Grow Your Network. Stay Connected as You Swim. As shared above, there are limitless fish to swim with. And, as you swim, gain knowledge from them. You never know where and when the next great moment may come from. In the same tone, make sure that you share your knowledge with those around you. You've worked hard to get where you are. Share your work with others, get connected.

5. Model. Show Others How to Swim. You are reading this post because you are already committed to your growth to some degree. If you are reading blogs, most likely you are writing as well. That action alone is a perfect example of how we look out for each other on this journey of learning. Whether with your students, your staff or any team in which you work, showcase your growth through modeling what you invested in. Make sure people can observe and learn from your willingness to model best practices.

Take these ideas and add your own as you too process the size and scope of the pond of knowledge. Even though we are simply a couple of fish swimming around, we are a powerful force when we come together. As the school year moves on, keep the learning of yourself alive and well.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


At Weaver Middle School in Hilliard, OH, we truly believe that relationships are at the core of what we do. We also know that relationships alone will not make our students or our teachers successful. As educators we also must build skill, have trust in one another and be open to feedback of instructional best practices.

Below is a letter I wrote to my staff to share the importance of finishing the year strong. The events are precisely as they occurred. The facts, the names and the situation are 100% authentic. Our own lives and the events that happen are often times the most impactful vehicle to help us grow as leaders and learners. Here is an open letter to my teachers at WMS. 

Teachers -

This morning I was dropping Aidan off for school (7th grader at HMS) and he asked me a rather random, and what I thought was an odd question to say the least.

He asked, “Do I have to go to school the last week?” (Meaning the final four days. Keep in mind it is only May 9th.)

I paused. I thought of my reply. I simply said what any parent would say to that question and replied, “Yes, yes you do.”

In the final moments of the drive I went ahead and braved the question I somewhat dreaded to ask, “Why don’t you want to go?”

He simply said, “We don’t do anything. The teachers show us movies and just keep us busy. We don’t learn anything.”

Wow. I thought to myself. That is pretty straight-forward answer from a 13 year-old 7th grader.

There is some back story that adds to this. For those that don’t know Aidan, here you go:
  • When he was in third grade we made the tough decision of treating his ADD through medicine. 
  • With that we have experienced all that comes with it. Appetite, mood-swings and more.
  • What we gained in return though was a clinical case of a focused kid. He went from dreading school to having a new found love for it.
  • He is a straight “A” student. Not one single B the entire year. Impressive, I know. 
  • And, we never saw a lick of homework, ever. (Not because he didn’t have it because he sure did. Instead, he had a sense of time-management. He knew that in order to get the videos he would have to work first.)
  • He is a kid (as awkward has he might be) who found his way to enjoy school instead of avoiding it.
So, why do I share all this with you? Well, I challenge you to this:

First, I strongly suggest that you set aside time to celebrate the year. Celebrating is a must! It gives us a chance to throw our hands up in knowing we have worked hard. And, because we worked hard, we get to play hard. So again remember, work hard, play hard! We have a few events planned for that:
  • 8th grade goes to the park on the 31st.
  • 7th grade teams have their team activity (also on Tuesday).
  • Honors Nights! (Yes, TWO of them!)
  • Author visit on the 18th with Candice Fleming
  • Student-staff basketball game on the 27th
And secondly, and equally important:
  • Stay focused on learning.
  • Avoid the movie trap. Don’t show them. Not even if you can connect it to content. (They watch enough as it is.)
  • Avoid yearbook signing time. (That is our generation more than theirs.)
  • And teach (and learn) until the #lastbell.
I know you need to get grades in and you are excited to start your summer. Me too. But the reality is that kids will come to us until June 3rd. And, we need to teach them up until the final bell, on the final day of the year.

Remember we have lots of other great activities too that you can help promote and be a part of. This year we will be collecting donations for the student-staff basketball game, 8th Grade Leadership Academy kids will be participating in an activity on Wednesday, June 1st  and more. So, on those days, plan accordingly. Suggestions for that final day(s) may include: a goal reflection activity, encourage kids to think about their summer growth, create and play Kahoot review games, and more.

I am truly excited for all that has been accomplished this year and I look forward to an amazingly strong finish!

For Aidan’s sake, and all of the others out there, please continue to share your amazing abilities to connect with kids and teach them all of the lessons you have yet to do so.

With gratitude,


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

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.