July 30, 2020
This week I did my first in-person meeting with a group of fellow-school leaders as they plan for the beginning of a new school year. Photo by Brad Barmore – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions The team of administrators sat in a room with tables at appropriate distances, and we wore masks. Whenever I wear a mask, my glasses become foggy. So I held my glasses in one hand while we talked through topics on school culture, planning for the upcoming year, supporting teachers in the “new norms” ahead. As we took turns sharing ideas and reflecting together, I noticed how different interactions can be wearing masks. We couldn’t see mouths or full facial expressions. We had to talk talk louder than normal and really enunciate words. But as the session continued, everyone seemed to become less mask-distracted and more focused on discussions and problem solving. In the weeks and months ahead, I don’t know what is in store for you. You may be alternating days students come to school. Or perhaps your district is beginning with all students in remote learning. Maybe you are in a location where in-person is beginning with blended or virtual options together. As I’ve connected with leaders in my own state and across the U.S., I am hearing so many different plans. But all of them have one thing in common: No one has ever done school like this before. We are all Tweeners. In Dr. Anthony Muhammad’s excellent book, Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division (Leading the Four Types of Teachers and Creating a Positive School Culture), he identifies four types of educators who make up the culture of any school. He calls them Believers, Tweeners, Survivors, and Fundamentalists.  Check out PMP202 if you want to hear Dr. Muhammad explain each category in our interview together. But for the sake of this post, I want to remind you that a Tweener is someone new to the profession, impressionable, and looking for feedback. A Tweener is also most susceptible to the healthy or toxic cultures he or she encounters. In other words, Tweener educators most need mentors who are optimistic and encouraging because they are desperately searching for their own identity in their new surroundings. A good fellow-educator can be a lifeline for a Tweener who needs strong role-modeling and encouragement in his or her first year. Educators have a unique challenge this year, however. Even though some are more experienced than others or have weathered crises in the past, no one has weathered a global pandemic of this proportion in our lifetime. Let me be clear. Optimism and hope are essential if we are going to lead forward during the days ahead. It doesn’t mean you cannot be transparent or admit your disappointment or frustrations. But it does require a commitment. The ability for you to lead forward with hope will often be the catalyst that drives your school culture. Don’t get me wrong.
July 23, 2020
One of the biggest challenges for the a new school year is deciding how to mitigate concerns for safety while ensuring ways to still actively engage, support, and reach students. Photo by Kelly Sikkema – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions In this week’s podcast episode, Dr. Jeff Springer shares takeaways from his research on the power of P.L.A.Y. in schools and offers suggestions for school leaders to keep in mind as you serve either in-person or from a distance. Meet Dr. Jeff Springer Dr. Jeff Springer is a former Texas High School Head Football Coach and eleven-year veteran of the classroom. He is also formerly the Principal at Magnolia High School (2002-2016), in Magnolia, Texas. In 2013, he was selected as the State of Texas TASSP State Principal of the year. An educator for 34 years, Dr. Jeff Springer is now the founder of Spring Strategies LLC and the G.O.A.L. TEAM (Getting Others to Achieve Higher Levels), created for helping high school students and young adults to maximize their personal leadership potential. Jeff resides in Montgomery, Texas with his wife of 38 years. They have two children, and two grandchildren. Conversations on P.LA.Y. As a part of his dissertation work, Dr. Springer researched the power of play, especially at the secondary level. In this podcast episode, we explore how he turned those findings into an acronym for leadership takeaways: WDP: Let’s talk about your work with educators on understanding the power of play. What are the four tenets you teach using the acronym P.L.A.Y.? Dr. Springer: First is People. Everyone needs to feel connected. We all need others in our lives. Typically in life and in the workplace the greatest accomplishments have been obtained when a group of people all connected together achieves a common goal. Next is Love: Impressive empathy should be evident in the leader’s relationships. Even in the specific plans to consider team members deficiencies. Every individual should be able to establish their own plan of action with the coaching of the other team members and facilitators as well. “Impressive empathy should be evident in a leader’s relationship.” – as Michael Fullan says. Then Acknowledge: Great leaders find ways to acknowledge success in others and show transparency in their own failures. Transformative cultures thrive on acknowledgment of their most important resources – each other. Finally, Yearn: “Positive deviance” should be an aspect of the leader’s ability to see things differently. Throughout the process, each individual must have opportunities to express their concerns and need for support in the goal areas. WDP: How would you connect these tenets to the principal or school leader who is thinking about engaging his or her students, teachers or community members? Dr. Springer: During my dissertation, I interviewed 12 different secondary principals (assistant and principals) in the greater Houston area. 36 face-to-face interviews about their perspectives and experiences with the elements of P.L.A.Y.  The assumption is that at the secondary level, we don’t always emphasis play. There is also a gap in the research of play in secondary levels. The number one barrier was their leadership style. The challenge for leaders is to give yourself permission to “play”, use your strengths, and operate through engagement. 
July 16, 2020
As you think about your own leadership, I’m curious if you give yourself the kind of scrutiny you may give your own team members? In other words, are you allowing the kind of self-reflection where you first identify your own areas of needed growth before asking others to grow? These are the thoughts and questions I had in mind as I finished Dr. Muhammad’s book, Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division (Leading the Four Types of Teachers and Creating a Positive School Culture), available now in its 2nd edition from Solution Tree Press. In this week’s podcast episode, Dr. Muhammad discusses takeaways from his book as well as his reflections on current events, including responses to racism and COVID-19. Listen to the podcast version for full context and feedback in this important conversation! Meet Dr. Muhammad Anthony Muhammad, PhD, is a much sought-after consultant. He currently serves as the CEO of New Frontier 21 Consulting, a company dedicated to providing cutting-edge professional development to schools all over the world. His tenure as a practitioner has earned him several awards as both a teacher and a principal. When he was principal of Levey Middle School in Southfield, Michigan, his school was recognized as a National School of Excellence, as student proficiency on state assessments more than doubled in five years. His work has allowed him to work with schools across all U.S. states and throughout the world. Dr. Muhammad is recognized as one of the field’s leading experts in the areas of school culture and organizational climate. He is the author of several books on school culture and education leadership. Exploring School Culture WDP: As you study school cultures across the U.S., what do you see as a solution for struggling school systems? Dr. Muhammad: A great book, Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform Revised Edition by David B. Tyack and Larry Cuban, is an analysis of the American public school system from its inception. The infrastructure is solid. It doesn’t need to be dismantled; it needs to be improved. Although many students have great opportunities, those same options are not available for all students. What are the barriers keeping all students from having access to those options? This is where school leaders need to confront the systemic biases that often keep disablied students, second-language students or other margenalized populations pathways to those same opportunities.  WDP: Could you give listeners a quick overview of the four types of educators you identify in your research and the effects they have on school culture? Dr. Muhammad: How can schools with the same challenges end up with such different outcomes in reaching goals or failing to overcome obstacles? The answers are mainly sociological. The competing ideologies are seen in the cultures and sub-cultures within schools. Who carried the weight of influence determined who had the outcome. Healthy versus toxic cultures depend on four kinds of people:
July 9, 2020
On March 17, 2020, many schools across the U.S. began responding to the global pandemic of COVID-19 with school closures. Most school leaders were scrambling to figure out how to keep school communities safe while adjusting to a new norm. Jen Schwanke, Principal of Indian Run Elementary in Dublin, Ohio, was no exception. While her school community swung into action, she put everything else on hold as teachers, students and families transitioned to remote learning. Ironically, this was also the release date of Jen’s newest book, The Principal Re-Boot: 8 Ways to Revitalize Your School Leadership. Recently, Jen and I recorded a podcast episode dedicated to lessons learned during school closures as well as how principals can apply the lessons from her new book to this current crisis. Jen’s New Book In this is episode, we cover several topics, including: * Content helpful for re-booting a principals’ career* What the pandemic did it for us, to some extent* Shaking principals out of a rut* Ideas on rebranding, revamping instructional leadership, re-envisioning teacher potential, reframing data, revisiting operations, relaxing, rediscovering and reviving ourselves* Connecting common experiences* Relying on others’ experiences* Realizing we can’t do this alone! Handling Crisis Next, Jen shares some great reflections on how principals are not new to crisis. School leaders have been forced to manage many of the following: * Social injustice/racism* COVID-19* Natural disasters* School shootings* Illnesses/deaths of staff/students* Addictions* Student anxiety* Facility Issues* Inequities in school funding* Teacher misconduct* Changes in student discipline* Sexual assault* Bullying* Budget cuts* GRIT development* Trauma-Informed Strategies Remember the lessons you’ve learned from these many situations as you look forward to what is next… Cycles of Reflection Jen shares how a cycle of reflection can be helpful in three ways: * React: In every crisis, we first respond with both appropriate policy and emotion to ensure student safety and well-being.* Recover: Afterwards, we debrief and identify areas that need attention, people who need comforting, and practices that may need improvement.* Rebuild: Importantly, we must always move forward in growth and with new perspective, hopefully wiser and better able to serve students and school communities. This cycle of learning for leadership is essential if we are going to take care of ourselves and those we serve in whatever happens next. Recovering also means not going back to the way it was. We must allow what we experience to make us stronger. Leading with Equity Finally, Jen and I share personal reflections as school leaders are responding to new calls for eradicating racism and equity. We talk about the importance of loving those who are hurting most in our school communities. Lets’ Wrap This Up As you think about the common lessons you’ve learned in the past several months, allow yourself time to reflect on ways you plan to rebuild. What ways can you help your teachers and students through what lies ahead as you have helped them through other difficult times? You will not do it perfectly, but by keeping their best interest in mind,
June 25, 2020
Now that the dust has settled from distance learning, school leaders are asking: what worked, and what didn’t work? Photo by frank mckenna – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions How did you stay connected to people, or what important milestones did you miss? In this week’s podcast episode, Principal Jen Schwanke shares reflections on ways school leaders can look back at lessons during distance or remote learning. Making a list First, Jen talks about ways that leaders can reflect with a two column list: What we lost vs. What we gained. As you look back at lost opportunities like school parties, graduations, and human connection, it is important to acknowledge the loss. This also helps you continue to be real with your students, teachers, and community members while also remembering what others love about your school. At the same time, ask yourself what you gained. Perhaps your list includes: * An opportunity to do a new kind of job…* A break from discipline and angry conflicts…* An increase in gratitude for the small things…* A new way to look at challenges/opportunity… Options for next year Then we discuss options principals are considering for next year, differences in state and district guidance. School leaders must consistently ask: What is my role? Remember that one of your responsibilities as a school leader is to value ALL view-points: parents, teachers, students, community members, etc. Ask yourself, who are we trying to please? As always, you must keep asking what is best for students. But also, how does any plan you are considering also affect laws, parents, teachers? Your community members need to know you are not passing judgement on their different levels of response to pandemic restrictions or openings. They need to know you respect all opinions while doing your job to care for all students. Let’s Wrap This Up Finally, Jen shares a new motto she is adopting for the summer and semester ahead: Stop saying, “Yeah, but…” Instead start thinking, “Yes, we can.” Your school community will need someone who is willing to keep leading with optimism and positivity no matter what challenges are still ahead. Now It’s Your Turn Listen to this entire conversation for more perspectives, feedback and ideas on hybrid plans for the months ahead. What are some ideas you would add to the conversation? Email with your feedback, and thanks for doing what matters!
June 18, 2020
Last week, my guests William Stubbs, Marlena Gross-Taylor, and Don Parker shared feedback on their personal and professional reflections around equity, racism, and inequalities. Panelists share powerful feedback on equity and racism. See YouTube version here. They each gave suggestions to help you decide how to respond in your own school community. In Part 2 of this discussion, they dive even deeper as they share several strategies, examples, and resources. Meet the Panelists: Marlena Gross-Taylor is the founder of, and provides education consulting and publishing services across the U.S. She serves as the Chief Academic Officer for Douglas County School District in Denver. William Stubbs is the Middle School Managing Director at UpLift Education in Dallas, Texas. He is a former Instructional Leadership Director, K-12 Principal, Dean of Students and Upper School Literature Teacher. He is also a co-moderator for the Twitter chat #BMEsTalk, each Tuesday night at 8PM Central Standard Time. Dr. Don Parker is a highly sought-after speaker and professional development provider. He is the principal of Posen Intermediate School in Posen, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He is also the author of the new book, Building Bridges: Engaging Students at Risk Through the Power of Relationships with Solution Tree Press.  Discussions on Equity and Racism In this episode, we discuss three additional questions with summary responses below: What advice would you give to school leaders who are trying to reconcile the tension of leading as “neutral authority” while also leading with courage? William: * Leadership is not for the faint at heart. Your core values and mission must align with calling out injustice and inequities when you see them. First, make sure of your own awareness of implicit bias and power structures. Being prepared begins with being a learner yourself. Your public and private beliefs and practices must align. That begins with family and friendships. When you’re having these discussions there first, you’ve exercised the muscles you’ll need for leading public conversations. Next, create safe places by relying on others who are experts in social justice discussions. Marlena: * First, let’s call a spade a spade. Most leaders try to lead through appeasement. But compromising on your values means losing who you really are. There is no space to be neutral when it comes to racism and inequality. Be strong enough to say where you stand. Doing what is right for students always places you on the right side of a conversation. Make sure you are educating yourself in the literature and research. But this also includes having a leadership coach who can help you navigate organizational and situational roadmaps. Don: Being a leader is tough and having these conversations is challenging. Without challenge there is no change. Comfort and growth do not live in the same space. Yes, teachers have initiative fatigue, but cultural competency is not going away.
June 11, 2020
No community has been immune to conversations surrounding equity, racism, and inequalities. Panelists share reflections and ideas for school leaders. Go here for a video version via YouTube. As Marlena Gross-Taylor, one of the guests on this week’s podcast episode explains, these conversations have been going on for at least four hundred years. It seems this time, however, communities have reached a tipping point – with vast majorities of Americans expressing outrage, grief, and demanding change. How should school leaders be responding? What conversations, resources, and reflections can help you navigate these important conversations in whatever kind of community you serve – whether that is urban, suburban or rural? This week my guests, William Stubbs, Don Parker, and Marlena-Gross Taylor take time to provide powerful reflections, suggestions, and advice. Listen-in as they explain perspectives from their own personal responses as well as professional guidance. Meet the Panelists: Marlena Gross-Taylor is a dedicated and successful EdLeader with a proven track record of improving educational and operational performance. In addition to education consulting, she serves as the Chief Academic Officer for Douglas County School District in Denver. Originally from southern Louisiana, Marlena’s educational experience spans several states allowing her to have served K-12 students in both rural and urban districts. She has previously served as a Director of Secondary Schools, and has been recognized as a middle school master teacher and innovative administrator at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. She is a proud Louisiana State University alumnus and the founder of, that provides education consulting and publishing services across the U.S. William Stubbs is the Middle School Managing Director at UpLift Education in Dallas, Texas. He is a former Instructional Leadership Director, K-12 Principal, Dean of Students and Upper School Literature Teacher. William holds an M.S.A. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a B.A. in English from Shaw University. He is also a co-moderator for the Twitter chat #BMEsTalk, each Tuesday night at 8PM Central Standard Time, where educators from across the U.S. share ideas, research, and feedback on ways to encourage positive outcomes. Dr. Don Parker is a highly sought-after speaker and professional development provider. He is the principal of Posen Intermediate School in Posen, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Previously, he was the principal of Lincoln Avenue School, a K–8 school in Dolton, Illinois, where he improved the culture, implemented a resilience program, managed the implementation of restorative justice, and increased attendance and student achievement. He is also the author of the new book, Building Bridges: Engaging Students at Risk Through the Power of Relationships with Solution Tree Press.  Question #1: As you observe what is happening right around the world and in your own communities, what have been your thoughts and reflections both personally and professionally? Marlena:
June 4, 2020
Starting a new school year is like preparing for a marathon. Photo by Nadine Shaabana – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions The journey begins with training long before the race begins. And once the race starts, you need a lot of endurance for the road ahead. School leadership is the same. As you enter summer, the ways you “condition” in the weeks ahead may help set the pace for the year ahead. A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a listener, D.J. Klein, from Jackson, Mississippi. He had just accepted his first position as an Assistant Principal and emailed me the following (that I’m sharing with permission): May 20, 2020: Good evening Mr. Parker, I hope all is well. I started listening to your podcast about a year ago and just wanted to say thank you for all of your hard work and insight. I wanted to reach out to you to ask your advice. I am about to start my first full time administrative role as an assistant principal at a local high school. I was wondering if you have any resources or tips for my first year? I have started Jen Schwanke’s book “You’re the Principal [Now What?]…,” and it has been great so far. Thank you in advance! When I reached back to D.J. to share ideas, I asked him if I could record our conversation to share with other potentially new administrators. For the next 35 minutes, we talked through several ideas that may be helpful for you or someone you know who is stepping into his or her first year as an assistant principal: Book recommendations First I shared a few book suggestions. Although I haven’t read the newest book by Principal Kafele, I’m hearing great things about it. The Assistant Principal 50: Critical Questions for Meaningful Leadership and Professional Growth by Baruti K. Kafele is a popular read among many new assistant principals I follow online. And based on the feedback I’m hearing, you should also check out his free weekly virtual meetings discussing the book. I also sent D.J. a complimentary copy of my book, Principal Matters (Updated & Expanded): The Motivation, Action, Courage and Teamwork Needed for School Leaders 2nd Edition by William D. Parker, with new school leaders. Although I cannot give it away to everyone, I like sharing it with many of the principals I coach. I began this book as I was finishing my ninth year as an assistant principal and was stepping into my first year as a high school principal. It’s a practical reflection on the meaning behind leadership plus practical how-to lessons. In addition, here are two non-education reads that may help you re-think approaches to organizational leadership: Good to Great : Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t  by James C. Collins is a study of the common traits among highly successful leaders – what they focused to lead successful organization and what...
May 28, 2020
Even in uncertain times, it is good to remember that positive ideas can come from even the most difficult situations. Photo by Júnior Ferreira – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions Juan David Campolargo, a seventeen-year-old high school student from Chicago, is no stranger to difficulty. Immigranting to the U.S. from Venezuela at age 14, he began to learn English for the first time, and over the past three years, he has become fluent in four languages, written his first book, and is preparing for college. Meet Juan David Campolargo Juan David Campolargo published his first book, Generation Optimism: How To Create The Next Generation of Doers and Dreamers, in December 2019. He was compelled to share his own story after reading an article about how Gen-Z students and millennials are generally described as pessimistic.  Based on his own story of overcoming the tragic murder of his father, he says, “The world will always have difficulties, adversities, and challenges that have never existed before. With all the negativity and pessimism, we may not be able to solve them. Unless we proactively create and encourage more people to be optimistic…we will never solve them.” When he’s not writing books, he’s playing soccer, running, volunteering at the Museum of Science and Industry, or learning about science at America’s particle physics and accelerator laboratory. When Juan David reached out to me by email about his new book, I reached back with an invitation to be a guest on this week’s podcast to share about: * How students like Juan can learn to turn difficulties into opportunities. * What school closures have been like for him and other students, and the benefits of project-based learning.* Ways schools could better serve students by finding and encouraging them to purse learning through their own interests. * Reminders to educators that their positive or negative influences have exponential affects on the lives of students. Let’s Wrap This Up Another favorite quote of Juan David’s is: “A smart person learns from their own mistakes, but a wise person learns from other people’s mistakes.” Talking to him is a great reminder why we can all be optimistic about this generation of students. As you wrap up this semester of school, be encouraged that students like Juan David are still eager to make the most of difficult situations. Now It’s Your Turn You can find out more about him or check out his weekly newsletter at his website here. What students do you know who may benefit from hearing a student’s story of overcoming adversity? Check out his TedxTalk here and share it with others!
May 21, 2020
During school closures and remote learning, maintaining connection with students has been an enormous puzzle to solve. Photo by kenteegardin – Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License When 8th grade teacher Jena Nelson, from Deer Creek Middle School in Edmond, Oklahoma, switched to online delivery, she looked at this new difficulty as a new opportunity. Digging into her arsenal of costumes from her previous years as a drama and theater teacher, she decided that her students would have a surprise guest every day when they logged in for her composition lessons. These characters included a duchess, judge, detective, viking, and more. Meet Jena Nelson Jena Nelson is the 2020 Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year. She teaches 8th-grade composition and academic enhancement at Deer Creek Middle School in Edmond, Oklahoma. Jena is a 15-year educator and formerly taught theatre, musical theatre, and stagecraft.   A long time advocate for career-based curriculum, Jena has helped her students earn over 4 million dollars in scholarships and incorporates career readiness in all of her classes.  She has been selected twice to direct at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland and Jena was also chosen as a presenter at  International Music Festival in Campina Grande Brazil. This year she was selected by Congresswoman Kendra Horn to attend the State of the Union Address in Washington, D.C.   Exploring Ways to Stay Connected In this week’s podcast episode, Jena discusses several topics that will inspire your own service as an educator, including: * Lessons in distance instruction from a teacher’s perspective, and words of encouragement for all educators facing similar challenges.* Examples of engagement in the normal classroom settings and how those ideas transfer to distance learning.* Why education is an inspiring career, and why Jena left performing arts to become a teacher.* The power of a trusting relationship to save a child from traumatic childhood and place her on the path to graduation.* How the partnership of relationship-oriented principals and teachers can create schools families. Let’s Wrap This Up As the fall semester begins, Jena Nelson will have the opportunity to travel her state as an advocate for Oklahoma teachers. She is thrilled to start her “revolution of morale” as she represents the profession she loves. But until then, she recognizes what sacrifices teachers, students and families have all made to finish out the school year. Staying connected has not been easy, but every effort to cultivate relationships has been worth it as everyone realizes the value of doing school. Now It’s Your Turn What ways can you encourage your teachers to give themselves a pat-on-the-back for rallying together in such difficult times? What ideas from distance learning do you plan to embed into your school practices even after anticipated returns to school next semester? If you’d like to follow Jena Nelson on Twitter, you can find her at her handle @oktoy2020.
May 14, 2020
School leaders share a common bond – whether you lead in an urban, suburban or rural setting. Photo by ChrisGoldNY – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License During the last two months, I’ve also been thinking a lot about another common bond all school leaders now share: caring and serving from a distance. Whether your school is public, charter, or private – you wear many hats, including guiding instruction, ensuring school safety, or communicating with your community members. Although stories vary across the nation and world in managing closures and remote learning, many principals also have learned how to respond to students whose families have lost grandparents to COVID-19, parents who are sick, and students who are hospitalized.  Meet Patrick McLaughlin Principal Patrick McLaughlin This week I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Patrick McLaughlin. He is Principal of St. Francis Preparatory School, the largest, private, Catholic High School in the country. Located in Queens, New York, his school community has been at the epicenter of New York’s battle with COVID-19. For some perspective, at the date of this recording, May 8, 2020, the U.S. had seen 1,248,040 cases of COVID-19 with 75,477 deaths. New York state alone has suffered 321,962 cases with 26,120 deaths. That means Patrick’s state has experienced almost 21% of the deaths that have occurred across the U.S.  Patrick is a frequent listener of the Principals Matters podcast, and two weeks ago, he sent me this email I’ve reprinted in part here with his permission: “So many of our people have experienced death, illness, trauma and heartache here in New York… I have been doing videos to our school community once or twice a week. In between I send them written updates. Communication is such an important tool for us right now and I try to make both upbeat and informative. I am actually running out of spaces in my house to shoot the videos from. One was actually from my laundry room. My parents and students and faculty are very appreciative of all the times I have reached out to them. Communication is huge!” I was touched by his email and reached back to him. Later we set up a time to share a conversation about the lessons he’s learning during distance learning. Patrick has been fortunate to have spent his entire career in the same school, first as a student, teacher, coach, department chairperson, assistant principal and now principal. St. Francis Preparatory School is a highly diverse school in a highly diverse community. In this week’s episode, he shares how his school has learned to come together through diversity. He also explains ways his students serve and work together with students from their neighborhood public elementary school. Throughout this episode Patrick also explains: * How COVID-19 cases have touched his school community and his own family* What steps he and his team members have taken to stay connected and communicate with students and famililes during school closures* Lessons he is learning that may help other principals trying to stay connnected to their own students* Advice he has for principals who may be facing similar scenarios in the weeks or months ahead* Lessons in grace he is learning to show himself and his teachers in these new ways of doing school* The dreams he has for the future when students and teachers can one day reconnect and be together
May 7, 2020
I don’t know about you, but it seems like every waking hour has been spent adjusting to a new normal, and the idea of relaxing almost seems unkind when you think of all the sacrifices people are making during times like this. Photo by Tadas Mikuckis – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions In Oklahoma, school leaders have been managing distance learning for more than a month now. I know it’s the same wherever you are. School leaders are wrapping up their semesters this month or next. Many are still unsure what the summer will bring. Some states are lifting restrictions on social distancing while others are still responding to rising counts of hospitalizations or deaths. During times like this, it’s hard to keep perspective. Most days I find myself pulled between two extremes… On the one hand, the quiet and solitude of working from home means less travel, more walks in my neighborhood, and more time to practice music – one of my past times. On the other hand, I find myself fretting over a crippled economy, knowing that budget failures in states across the nation will equal fewer dollars for schools on tough times ahead. Staying Focused on What You Can Control When I hit this crossroads in my own mind, I have to remind myself of two truths: One, it’s important to understand possibilities, data, and projections so that you are aware of what may be ahead of you. Two, it’s important to remember what you can control and what you cannot. Although you are able to affect the moment you are in, you have very little control of what will happen in the future. Having said all that, I just want to remind you that what you’re doing today still matters. As Jen Schwanke shared in one of our previous episodes, be careful not to spend so much emotional energy on what may happen in the future that you miss out on the needs of today.  Your students, teachers, and community members still need you in the present to reach out, stay connected, and provide necessary supports. Taking an Emotional Break But leading from a distance can also be tiresome. And this week I have been growing a little weary talking about uncertainties. In some ways, conversations on COVID-19 become circular – like the 24-hour media stations that keep rehashing the same themes over and over again, looking for new spins on the same stories. It’s not that the news is not important. It is. But sometimes you just need a break from it.  That’s why I decided today to take a break from COVID-19 in the rest of this post. In what follows, I’m going to talk about something absolutely disconnected from COVID-19 or even school leadership.  Instead I’m going to share with you some samples of music recordings I’ve been creating the past couple of weeks.  Free Resources for School Leaders Now, the last thing I want to do is become the strange uncle you wish you had not invited to dinner because he wants to show you every photo from his last vacation. So if you don’t want to hear anything about my music, you can stop reading (or listening) right now!  In the meantime, please check out the nearly 200 other free podcast episodes on school leadership at, or find Principal Matters Podcast on iTunes
April 30, 2020
When storms roll across my home state of Oklahoma, residents here have a few common reactions. Clouds over Owasso, Oklahoma, April 28, 2020 by William D. Parker First, we listen to the weather station. Oklahoma has the best storm-tracking radar systems in the world. Second, we check our storm closets or shelters to make sure we have a good place to hide if severe weather turns to tornado warnings. Third, we step outside to look at the clouds – an Oklahoma tradition that surprised me when I first moved here, but I now I’m like everyone else. Finally, we take shelter at the appropriate time, and when the storms pass, we go back outside to look for cool cloud formations or rainbows. The photo above is one I took after a recent storm. The colors and clouds were so stunning! As I think about my state’s storm season, I’m reminded that we also have school traditions this time of year. This season normally includes field trips, baseball games, soccer matches, proms and graduation ceremonies. But this spring 2020 none of those traditions are common. The COVID-19 pandemic has left us with a storm of changes for which we had not prepared any common practices. In this week’s podcast episode, Principal Jen Schwanke and I continue a conversation about leading from a distance. We discuss what it’s like to be a school leader in a time where norms seem to be constantly changing. Here’s a summary of topics we cover together: What are you doing for self-care? Starting something new is always hard. Jen explains how caring for horse reminds her that when things get difficult, you pull her up, adjust, and start over. As you are managing school and your own self care during these closures, take time to stop, adjust and start over as needed. How are you helping teachers adjust? Just as you have had to adjust to a new normal, your teachers (especially those with small children or dependent loved ones) have an especially difficult task. So give them permission to be flexible and be okay with what is possible, not what is perfect. Right now the mental health of your staff and students supersedes their academic progress. At the same time, there are lots of resources to support your teachers in preparing and creating diversified, differentiated instruction. Give yourself and others plenty of grace. Just like you are helping others accept a new norm, stop trying to everything perfectly. Find what works for your situation, talents, gifts and resources available, and do what works for you! When working with your community, show them grace too. Ask parents what works for them. Keep expectations fluid and rubrics flexible. It’s not the student’s fault this is happening. So this cannot be punitive. What about the gaps in learning? Stressing about the gaps is not giving your students or teachers enough credit for their resilience and ability to still learn. Let go of what you can’t control. Instead of worrying about what is next, focus your energy on what is happening now. Yes, you have to plan ahead as a leader, and you will face learning gaps when the time is appropriate. But don’t underestimate the abilities of your teachers to remediate and students to catch up when we again have the opportunity for face-to-face instruction.
April 23, 2020
If you’re like me, you’re probably still adjusting to a new normal. Photo by Andrew Neel – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions Each morning I still wake up, walk the dog, or go for a run around the neighborhood. I login to my email and check my calendar for the series of meetings via Zoom or Google Meets. But life still doesn’t feel normal yet. School has always been a place marked by milestones. Normally, high school students would be celebrating prom and looking toward graduation ceremonies. Elementary students would be enjoying Spring field trips. Leading those same students from a distance is not the kind of “normal” anyone expected when this school year began. And like you, I’m still trying predict what’s next. I’m also curious what it has been like for you to lead from a distance? A Chat with Jen Schwanke In this week’s podcast episode, I had a chance to catch-up with Jen Schwanke, Principal of Indian Run Elementary, and the author of the books, You’re the Principal! Now What? Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders and The Principal Re-Boot: 8 Ways to Revitalize Your School Leadership. We spent time reflecting on what it is like to lead from a distance, including challenges, encouragements, and ideas for staying connected.  Here is a quick summary of our conversation that may resonate with your own experiences: 5 Challenges with Distance Leading * The falling price of oil and spiraling economy will mean difficult choices for state governments, which in turn means schools, in months ahead. How do we stay positive even when anticipating more difficult times?* Distance learning has taken away what most students love about school but left them many with what they hate most about it. How do we still encourage them?* Educators are grappling with the reality of what it’s like to be given a completely different job for fourth months. Are we giving them the credit and grace they deserve?* Schools are presently unable to be on the front-lines of protecting student well-being. What can we still be doing to reach out to those most in need?* Communities are relying on food services and facing technology inequities – we’ve taken the lid off of essential supports schools provides. How can we advocate for those services to continue for all students? 5 Encouragements in Distance Leading * Educators have done amazing work delivering services in a very short time frame. We should be celebrating them.* Teachers are shining with their professionalism during distance learning, especially when leaders choose not to micro-manage.  Let’s remind our teachers they are still the most valuable asset for student learning.* Teachers must be trusted, and this time is no different. Yes, accountability still matters but leaders must show trust if you expect trust. * Look at your students and what they need, and let that be your focus in leading. When unsure what to do next, keep that focus in mind.* Do not compare your remote learning to someone else. Do what works for your school community and fits your strengths and abilities. 5 Ideas for Staying Connected with Students
April 16, 2020
This morning I was running a three-mile track around my neighborhood. Photo by Tikkho Maciel – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions As I passed the houses and occasional drivers, I felt a sudden kinship to my neighbors I’m not sure I’ve felt before. We don’t just share the same zip-code; we now share a common experience. And this experience spreads beyond our cities and states. We share a common bond across the entire world. If you think about it, we have only been in this distance learning journey a relatively short time. But it doesn’t feel that way. The first case of COVID-19 worldwide was reported in January. But none of us had any idea what would happen in the ensuing weeks. By early March, U.S. cases had been reported. Washington state was the first to close schools. And as the virus spread into a pandemic, U.S. schools across the nation responded with closures and implementation of distance learning.  In my own state of Oklahoma, March 25 marked the announcement from our Oklahoma State Department of Education that schools would close the rest of the year with distance learning plans beginning April 6. As I write this post on April 10, 2020, my family and I are in our fourth week of safer-at-home activity. And my children are finishing their first week of full-time distance learning lessons from their school.  Just as we all share a common bond with one another worldwide, as leaders, we also share common lessons during these times. When schools began closing and making plans for distance learning, my calendar quickly filled with Zoom meetings and phone calls from other leaders. As executive director for the Oklahoma Association of Secondary School Principals (an affiliate of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration), I have had a front-row seat with leaders across my state.  I also coordinate with other state leaders through NASSP, the National Association of Secondary School Principals. And as a Solution Tree author and speaker, I also have colleagues across the nation and internationally with whom I collaborate. What lessons am I seeing from leaders during these uncertain times? Here are a five: 1. Relationships still matter now as much as ever. For principals with small and large school populations, I’m hearing the same feedback: Reach out to your people. Make sure they know you care about them and their safety and well-being. Above all else, assure your teachers, staff and students that you care and want to be available to help however you can.  Chris Legleiter, Principal of Leawood Middle School, Blue Valley Schools, just outside Kansas City, Missouri, talked to me by Zoom and said, “I’ll be honest that is the hardest thing I think for most educators. We are all about relationships, and it took me a few days to really understand those relationships are still there. Now it is all about understanding how do I adjust to still connect with people.” He explained more, “As the building leader, I have used videos as one way to connect.  I spent some time calling families one-on-one by phone. You can still write a note and mail it to someone’s residence. I think connecting relationships are still important, but I think that looks so different now in the virtual world. That’s what I’m trying to stay focused on what I cando, not what I can’t do.” 2. It still takes a team! Don’t carry the burden alone.
April 8, 2020
When Don Parker was a Dean of Students, he knew his students were struggling – especially those with high risk factors. Photo by Anders Jildén – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions Don’s passion became simple and challenging: Find the best ways to help students be more successful. Through his doctoral dissertation and his practice as a school administrator, he narrowed his focus to two approaches: 1. Building relationships. 2. Providing authoritative counseling. Meet Don Parker Dr. Don Parker is a highly sought-after speaker and professional development provider. He is the principal of Posen Intermediate School in Posen-Robbins School District 143.5 in Posen, Illinois. Previously, he was the principal of Lincoln Avenue School, a K–8 school in Dolton, Illinois, where he improved the culture, implemented a resilience program, managed the implementation of restorative justice, and increased attendance and student achievement. He is also the author of the new book, Building Bridges: Engaging Students at Risk Through the Power of Relationships. In this week’s podcast episode, Dr. Parker covers several takeaways for serving serving all students: * How his school has responded to the COVID-19 closures and distance learning challenges. * How you must develop a relationship building mindset. * Why it is important to take an ecological approach in leadership.* Ways to promote “opening up” for yourself and those whom you serve. Building Relationships First, Dr. Parker explains practical strategies that will benefit teachers in building relationships and helping their students be successful in school and in life. These actions begin with mindset: a relentless effort to never give up. And this mindset is grounded in hope. As he explains, “Student must have hope that life will get better. And a leader must have hope that no matter how much resistance, my efforts will make a difference.” Don explains his own story as a college freshman and how his uncle convinced him to hold on to hope and see why his degree would help him acheive his dream of teaching and coaching. He also challenges leaders to “burn your ships” if you’re going to make signficant changes happen. Taking an Ecological Approach Dr. Parker also encourages an ecological approach, a term he discovered in his reseach. He explains how researchers view student behavior under three lenses: Lens 1: Epidemiological approach – This approach looks at DNA, physical or mental states that impact outcomes. Lens 2: Social constructivist approach – School practices, for instance, can be constructed to help students become more successful. Lens 3: Ecological approach – “Eco” means environment, and “olgy” is study of – and describes the culture and interventions that happen inside and outside of school. By working through an ecological lens, schools can address the whole-child. In Don’s experience, he found one out of twenty-five of his students came from a two-parent household family. Most children, especially boys, did not have positive male role models. Thus, Don started a mentor program for students and adults.
April 1, 2020
This week I had the privilege of capturing a few minutes with Chris Legleiter, Principal of Leawood Middle School, Blue Valley Schools, just outside Kansas City, Missouri.  Photo by Amelie & Niklas Ohlrogge – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions The state of Kansas has closed buildings for the rest of the school year, and like principals around the world, Chris is learning what it means to still connect with his teachers, students, and families while isolated during the COVID-19 crisis. In the introduction to this week’s podcast episode, Chris shares how his school is responding to distance learning for their students. Listen for feedback, and think about how your service to students is matching the unique needs of your own school community. Principal Reboot, Maintaining Balance Continued Later in the show, Principal Jen Schwanke and I discuss finding balance, with thoughts inspired from her new book, The Principal Reboot: 8 Ways to Revitalize Your School Leadership. Here are some takeaways: Where are you finding inspiration? * How can you stay inspired so that you can inspire others?* Jen shares a story on riding horses as a reminder of her own free, wild, delicious childhood. Her horse stories introduced her daughter to caring for a horse and passing on the inspiration.* What ways are you finding balance by doing things way outside professional world?* Think about things you loved as a child – how can you reconnect?* Take inspiration from the people involved in your world/process.* Consider activities like photography, fitness, music, dance, movies, books, coaching (athletics or otherwise), pets, animals…. whatever it is, pick one thing! Let’s talk about health: * How can you eat right, sleep, and walk away from email/texts?* Learn how Jen loves “hot yoga”.* Discover Will’s love for running with his dog.* Understand not beating yourself up for missteps. Give yourself grace!* Purge and clean out…* Set limits of what others can take from you.* Learn to ask for help if needed. Ask: what needs updated? * Re-imagine your actual workspace – understand how to make your place somewhere you want to be.* Update your resume in order to battle the “imposter” syndrome. * Dust off your relationships, and embrace the concept of value added. * Learn Jen’s husband takeaway: ‘What value does this person bring?’ Let’s Wrap This Up In their book, Creating a Culture of Reflective Practice, Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral share how educators must embrace the “Continuum of Self-Reflection” if to keep growing. These stages include: * Unaware Stage – recognizing we all have areas we don’t even know where we need to grow.* Conscious Stage – becoming aware of the process and learning happening in front of us.* Action Stage – taking steps based new knowledge and taking risks.* Refinement Stage – reflecting on what we’ve learned in order to tweak, then try again for improvement. Life-long learners realize and repeat this cycle anytime you want to learn from an experience and improve. When you dig deeply into what you are learning from your experiences,
March 25, 2020
As schools across the nation continue closures because of the Coronavirus pandemic, this week’s episode includes an update from listener, Terrence Simmons, Assistant Principal at Floyd Elementary, in Nye County, Nevada. Photo by UW-Colleges / UW-Extension – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License Their team has already launched distance learning for their students, and the district website serves as a great resource for parents wanting guidance and digital tools. Nye County educators reached out to every parent to determine distance learning options, which include both online services for those with access and lesson packets for those without digital access. Floyd Elementary Staff are providing curb-site pickups for parents whose students did not have access to digital learning. The district is also serving meals through pickup locations as well as bus deliveries to locations around the county. Listen-in to the first 7 minutes of this week’s podcast for Terrence’s update and some encouraging words he shares for other leaders facing these same challenges. Maintaining Balance in Leadership In the remainder of this week’s podcast episode, Principal Jen Schwanke, from Indian Run Elementary in Dublin, Ohio, discusses her newest book, The Principal Reboot: 8 Ways to Revitalize Your School Leadership. We talk about how school leaders must reflect on their motivations as they lead others by considering the following: *  Why are you here in the first place? Understanding your ‘why’ must be more than a paycheck, position, or power.* Instinct – recognize the possibilities you have through your natural abilities.* Desire to lead – embrace your desire to help others improve.* Desire for change – learn to embrace your abilities to influence others.* It’s okay to cultivate your natural prowess for learning, leading, getting along with others.* Recognize the complexity of the work, and learn to lead people through it. * Choose joy in the work.* Laughter – It’s therapuetic!* Celebrate the silly.* Connect with students, staff, and community.* Jump on a committee… or start a new one (no, not kidding). Learn about Jen’s motto-mascot committee which turned into a new school song and motto, “What begins here will change the world.” This also led to a new logo and marketing for the school.* Do something brave and bold. Try the six word memoir. Instead of one book, one school, Jen tried a school-wide writing project that inspired all students to participate.* Travel with students – Use these opportunities to connect, learn and have fun.* Equanimity – Cultivate your mental calmness, composure, possession of self so you can model these behaviors for others. Let’s Wrap This Up Talking about balance in leadership may seem unrealistic during crisis management or while implementing major changes with your school, but you must keep taking care of yourself in order to have the motivation to keep taking care of others. Now It’s Your Turn What are some ways you’re taking care of yourself even in the midst of managing difficulties? How would you describe your own motivation for leading?
March 18, 2020
Throughout the world, schools are managing the challenges of school closures in response to news of the spreading corona virus or COVID-19. Photo by Chris Benson – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions As a school leader, you are expected to manage difficulties, but sometimes you are managing in uncharted territory. Also in the midst of helping others, what can you do to make sure you’re caring for your own mindset in leadership? As you consider solutions for your school, let’s stay connected and share best practices. I’d love to hear your ideas and encourage you to email me at with ways your school is supporting learning and services to students. This week’s post, however, is not specific to the current crisis. Instead this week, I’m sharing an interview with Jen Schwanke about her newest book, The Principal Reboot: 8 Ways to Revitalize Your School Leadership. In this first in a new series of episodes together, Jen and I talk about how school leaders can reinvest in their own abilities to be “lead learners.” Questions to ask as a Lead Learner: * What content are you taking in on a regular basis through reading, audio or podcasts? Suggestions include…* Focus on issues reflecting struggles of people we work with.* Use reading as way to stop, slow-down, and reflect. * Focus on books that describe experiences other than your own. * Look for books on issues you don’t understand. * What on-going professional learning are you engaging in? Keep in mind…* Learn to really listen to others.* Tour neighborhood schools and look for evidence of best practices.* Talk to colleagues about ways they solve problems you’re encountering.* Attend workshops or professional development* Start a podcast or begin a webinar series.* Teach a graduate level class. Ask yourself: What ways can I be sharing with others and stretching myself? And take time to advance others in their growth and learning staying connected with your tribe. Discover what amazing groups of other people are doing the same work, and learn from them! Let’s Wrap This Up One of Jen’s goal each day is complimenting others with true, authentic feedback. All of us want feedback and to feel valued. Mindsets like this help you to stay a life-long learner and model the kind of curiosity you want to encourage in your own learners. No matter what you are managing the days ahead, stay committed to supporting others, building them up, and discovering ways to keep learning in the process. Listen to this week’s entire podcast episode for many more take-a-ways, and pick up a copy of Jen’s book that comes out this week! Sign-Up For Free Updates and Ebook You can automatically receive my newest posts and a free Ebook, 8 Hats: Essential Roles for School Leaders. Let’s keep learning together!
March 11, 2020
What stories have shaped your own leadership journey? Photo by nic – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions I recently finished reading, Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, Tara Westover grew up in a rural Idaho with parents who embraced radical ideologies, including not giving their daughter a birth certificate, not vaccinating her, and not providing her with any formalized education. It wasn’t until she decided she wanted to attend college in her late teens that she began to teach herself so that she could pass the ACT with high enough scores to qualify for entrance. To her surprise, she made it into college, and her university experience revealed a world of new revleations, including hearing stories of the Holocaust, exposure to classic literature, and the opportunity to study abroad. Eventually, her studies led to her to a Ph.D. in history from Cambridge. But her formal education came with personal cost. Her relationship with her parents would not survive her newfound freedom nor would they acknowledge the neglect, trauma and abuse she had experienced growing up. Even as her eyes were open to a world of knowledge through education, her ties to her parents crumbled. As I finished the story, I was struck by Tara Westover’s deep sacrfices. To gain understanding, she also had to reconcile with the brutal realities of her past. And even though much of her childhood involved trauma, there were also moments of beauty and poetry in the rugged landscapes that shaped her youth. I was also touched by the deep loss she experienced.  As I’ve thought about her story over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking of how our stories shape us. Do you ever wonder what others would think of your story if it were in ink the way Tara Westover told hers? What I’ve discovered about most people is that their stories don’t seem unique or novel to them. Their stories are familiar. But when you take time to share your story with others, they find a new perspective that is not their own. At that moment, they have the privilege to see the world through another set of eyes or experience, and that provides perspective. The truth is that you have a unique story. It may seem familiar or unintersting from your perspective. But to others, it may provide insights into life that help them see their own story better. 8 Stories Shaping My Journey This week I’ve decided to share a few stories from my own journey. Perhaps it will give you a glimpse of my own past and provide some perspective of the world that may influence your own leadership. Sharing personal stories always comes with a risk of vulnerability or being misunderstood, but we don’t grow without risk, so here it goes: Story 1: Free and Reduced Lunch Kid I’m waiting for my bus at the end of the gravel driveway with my older brothers and little sister. A storm had blown over trees by the road, and the twisted roots of a large root has left a large mound of dirt.. So we decide whoever stands on that mound will be King of the Hill. I am the youngest boy, so my attempts to be king mean I end up on my backside in the wet dirt and grass. That morning Mom packed a lunch for me, including my favorite chocolate oatmeal cookies in a plastic baggie. For some reason, I decided to carry that baggie in my back pocket. During the bus ride to school, I pull out the baggie and look at the flat, dark, mushy contents.
March 5, 2020
Why is hiring such an important part of your responsibility as a principal? Photo by Jony Ariadi – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions First and foremost, because the students, teachers, and community members deserve high quality education experiences. And secondly, because the people in your school often reflect on your own leadership. Although we cannot judge ourselves by the way others behave, school leaders are responsible for how others behave under their leadership, and hiring plays one of the most crucial roles in the kind of culture and environment a school provides. Part 2 of Hiring & Retaining High Quality Teachers This week we dive into Part 2 of Hiring & Retaining High Quality Teachers. You can check out Part 1 here.  As my guest Jen Schwanke and I share in this week’s podcast episode, there are several important ideas to keep in mind. Listen to the podcast version as we unpack the following: 3 Tips for Hiring & Retaining Talented Educators * Know the difference between talent and skill.  You can teach skill. You can’t teach talent.  Enough said (but you can listen to the podcast episode for more).* Value your candidates. The way you treat candidates reflects on your leadership, and you never know when someone may be re-applying for a future position if this one isn’t offered. So remember: * Show respect, kindness, and professionalism (Show the same courtesy you’d want to receive.)* Remember others are out there talking about the experience* Be open to working your schedule around candidates, not vice-versa.* Keep in mind a number-2 candidate may later come back as a number-1. So treat everyone with dignity and respect.* When possible, follow-up by phone with every candidate so that even those not chosen feel honored.* Showcase your school’s vision, culture, and offerings. This IS a sales job for hiring the most excellent candidates.* When the candidate pool is shallow, be creative: visit job fairs, go online, use social media, be open to interviewing remote candidates via video-chats. 3. Keep them on your team. * Check in often (but don’t hover!) – New hires deserve your attention but also the autonomy to learn and make mistakes.* Morale/culture – Fostering positivity is an important part of attracting and retaining talent.* Support new teachers and watch out for exhaustion, confusion, loneliness.  Give them a break when need.  * Remember seasons that come with life – raising children, new marriages, caring for older parents, experiencing a crisis — all these times can be tough seasons, so be supportive.  * Create a cadre of friends/colleagues for new hires. Then get out of the way.* Provide resources (many teachers leave because they had illusion of what it was like…then they find it was harder/lonely/etc.) Make sure they have the resources they need.* Act quickly when there are problems. Following-up shows you are paying attention and care.* Teach and model balance. Your teachers don’t need emails from you at 10PM. Model a good work/life balance.* Let them go, fly, and succeed. Everyone has a different personalities, gifts, and ideas. Encourage these unique talents.* Foster leadership. Allow new hires to develop skills in serving others, and look for potential future school leaders among them too.* Provide key responsibility areas or helpful lists of key people, resources, and information so new hires aren’t left to guess where to find help.
February 27, 2020
One day the teachers at Indian Run Elementary, in Dublin, Ohio, organized a “Flash TACO bar” – a spontaneous buffet meal where they shared great food and fun together. Photo by rawpixel – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions As principal of the school, Jen Schwanke reflected on the joy and creativity of her teachers: they not only love teaching but they also enjoy working together. How do you attract and build strong cultures of educators who find joy in teaching and just being together? In this week’s encore episode, Jen Schwanke, author of You’re the Principal, Now What! Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders, and I discuss the importance of hiring high quality teachers. Across the nation, principals are facing teacher shortages. In my state for instance, Oklahoma has felt that burden especially strong. The reasons vary: Whether it’s lower teacher pay in some states or the stress that comes with compliance or class sizes – fewer people are choosing education as a college major and career. This means that more than ever principals also have a competitive field in recruiting and retaining excellent teachers. We first discuss reasons hiring teachers is a huge responsibility, including: * The implications of your hires that go on for years and years (decades), either positive or negative* How your hires represent your school (beliefs, philosophy, attitude, etc.) Applications & Interviewing Takeaways Next, we talk about some important hiring priorities to keep in mind: * Depending on the size of your faculty and staff, your strategies for outreach may vary, but it’s important to determine ahead of time what your application process will look like and ensuring it is easy to understand. This means your district or school website must be updated with easy-to-locate applications.* Consider soliciting applications before openings exist. In other words, if you keep general applications available, you may already have applicants available when openings occur.* As you have openings, dig through applications and resumes looking for the qualities you want in a candidate. Open up applications inside and outside your district.* Spend time on social media investigating possible candidates as you want someone who would be the right fit for working with students.* If possible, it is best to interview by committee. Include a small group of teachers, administrators, or counselors so that you have a diverse representation. Clarify roles, and if your district allows you the responsibility, let the ultimate decision be yours.* Remain open to changing your mind as your colleagues may have different perspectives from you. Determine what you are looking for, and remind committee members that feelings/emotions are not hiring criteria: “I really like her! She’s so fun!” cannot be the driving-force of whom you hire. Common Missteps to Avoid Hiring is not necessarily about being “right” or “wrong” in your choices, it is about “fit.” As you’re looking for the right fit, keep these pitfalls in mind: * Don’t fall for a beautiful resume: just because you see a great resume doesn’t always mean you have a quality candidate.* Don’t fall for versed, rote answers: Universities train candidates in how to interview.  Avoid robotics and explore answers for motivation and practice.
February 20, 2020
It goes without saying that in order to lead you must have followers. Photo by Luke Porter – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions But taking others to a destination doesn’t just mean accomplishing all the to-do’s on your checklist. Leadership requires relationships. And meaningful relationships do not happen by accident; they are intentional and purposeful. Part of building meaningful relationships involves understanding yourself and the core values of those whom you are leading. How can you cultivate those kinds of meaningful relationships so that you have the right conditions for healthy teamwork? Meet Jeremie Kubicek Jeremie Kubicek is CEO of GiANT – the leader in Scalable People Development. He is the best-selling author of several books that focus on effective leadership including Making Your Leadership Come Alive: 7 Actions to Increase Your Influence. He has co-authored two books with Steve Cockram: 5 Gears: How to Be Present and Productive When There is Never Enough Time and 5 Voices: How to Communicate Effectively with Everyone You Lead. And his latest book is the 100X Leader: How to Become Someone Worth Following. His other accomplishments include creating the Leadercast global simulcast, partnering in several current start-up organizations, former CEO over the national Catalyst conferences, former CEO over the John Maxwell brand, and developer of The Prairie at Post, a, modern niche real estate development in Edmond, OK. When I reached out Jeremie Kubicek after reading his book on 5 voices, he was generous to provide the following feedback for Principal Matters listeners. Here’s a summary of our Q & A, but listen-in for even more takeaways! Can you give a quick overview of the 5 voices and how they have helped you and others lead teams? 21st Century learners require different styles because we are now more visual. If our content is not scalable, it is not usable. The secret of the 5 voices is simplifying how to understand the wiring of yourself and other people into five categories. They are: * Pioneers* Connectors* Guardians* Nuturers* Creatives If you know yourself, you can lead yourself. You can know your strenghts and your weaknesses. The Golden Rule can be used or mis-used, but to lead, you must do to others as they would want to be trea...
February 12, 2020
“When is a time you have used grit, and what lesson did you learn?” Photo by Adrian Pereira – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions This is just one of 100 questions you find included in the Table Talk Cards that come as a bonus with the book Generation Z Unfiltered: Facing Nine Hidden Challenges of the Most Anxious Population by Dr. Tim Elmore and Andrew McPeak. In Part 2 of our interview, Andrew McPeak and I discuss this question and more as he unpacks the nine challenges faced by today’s students, which include: * Empowerment without Wisdom * Stimulation without Ownership* Privilege without Responsibility* Involvement without Boundaries* Individualism without Perspective* Accessibility without Accountability* Fluidity without Integrity* Opportunity without Resilience* Consumption without Reflection* Individualism without Perspective In the second half of this conversation, Andrew unpacks the last area in that list: Individualism without Perspective. First, he explains how most people today are experiencing a lack of community. Even with the dawn of technology connecting us, people are spending more time alone than ever in human history. In fact, we have an epidemic of loneliness. As a result, we see two negative trends among our youth: * Selfishness or narcissicm * Polarization This is not their fault, Andrew explains. Our youth have adapted to a world we’ve created for them. For instance, adults often schedule every minute for students.  One solution is to create margin for students in their day like spending more time outside, taking time for reflection, engaging in unscripted play, etc. Generation Z research is also seeing a growth of “ego-centralization”. This results in focusing more on internal than external identities. Family, school, religion, work are being replaced by hobbies, interests, gifts, experiences. Egos are being influenced then by “me” rather than “us.” McPeak explains that social scientists describe what is happening as a “tribal switch” –a phenomenon that often happens to survivors: when someone is forced into a group, he or she will always first act to protect those in their perceived tribe, even if their actions are sometimes immoral. Instead of “flipping switches” to protect the good of all, we are prone to protect those most like ourselves first. What are some solutions? Individualism must come with perspective. Andrew uses examples from the book The Road to Character by David Brooks, which describes Resume virtue vs. Eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are outside accomplishments that demonstrate our accomplishments. Eulogy virtues, however, are how you really want to be remembered by others; how others were influenced by you; how your life was a service to the ones you love. He also discusses the importance of “Learning to Draw Larger Circles”: spending time knowing people unlike ourselves, instead of excluding other; finding what we have more in common with people than differences. What is the virtue that links us, not separates us? How are we more similar than different? This creates the grounds for more civility.  Go here for Part 1 of this inte...
February 6, 2020
Students today face newer and different challenges than students of the past. Photo by Joaquin VillaverdePhotography – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlikeLicense Although many of the skills or values they need to be successful remain the same regardless of time and place, they also have unique challenges that make them one of the most anxious generations in history. If we “take the filters” off our students, what would they really tell us? How can school leaders understand these unique challenges while also finding strategies for guiding students? Meet Andrew McPeak Andrew McPeak is a next gen researcher, speaker, and curriculum designer for Growing Leaders, in Atlanta, Georgia. He works with schools, universities, and sports teams on implementing Habitudes, teaching tools for life and leadership skills. He is also the co-author of two books, including his newest one written with Dr. Tim Elmore, Generation Z Unfiltered: Facing Nine Hidden Challenges of the Most Anxious Population. In this interview, Andrew shares a story from his own background and why he is passionate about generational research. During college, he read Tim Elmore’s book, Generation iY: Secrets to Connecting With Today’s Teens & Young Adults in the Digital Age. That book caused him to fall in love with the concepts of generational trends in leadership. Fast forward five years later, and he is now the Vice President of Content for Growing Leaders. (Andrew was a guest on PMP, Episode 089, if you want to check it out for more information on his work and background.) Here are questions and takeaways from our conversation: What background research and info did you find for writing this book? Andrew: We used focus groups of young people across the country, including sponsoring two Harris polls, one in 2017 and another in 2018. These were surveys of students born since 2001, most of them 17, 18 years old. What makes them distinct? As we removed the “filter” from kids, here’s what we found… Nine Challenges Youth Face Today * Empowerment without Wisdom* Stimulation without Ownership* Privilege without Responsibility* Involvement without Boundaries* Individualism without Perspective* Accessibility without Accountability* Fluidity without Integrity* Opportunity without Resilience* Consumption without Reflection Can you unpack one of those for us? Let’s talk about “Stimulation without Ownership”: Andrew: We were interested in both the problem and solution. And we were committed to making this book “Prac-ademic” – practical strategies that fit student needs. One problem we are seeing is a lot of pre-scriptive goal-setting. By giving students both the goals and exact steps to young people, we rob them of individuality, discovery and ownership.  What’s the outcome? Students tell us they don’t feel like they are in control of their own lives. This leads to a condition or term called “moral hazards”… I, the student, can make riskier decisions because an adult will rescue me.  What’s the solution? We must move to de-scriptive leadership. This means helping them identify goals and encouraging them to discover and design their ow...
January 30, 2020
I am digging into the archives of Principal Matters to bring you an episode from January 2018, when I had the privilege to interview Dr. Judi Barber. Photo by Craig  Whitehead – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions First, let me tell you a story. During the previous Christmas break of 2017, I had taken my family to see the newest Star Wars movie. In the opening scene, Jedi-in-training, Rey, has journeyed to the planet where the retired Luke Skywalker, has hidden himself away from the universe and its troubles. She climbs the heights to his hidden village and finds him meditating on a cliff overlooking the sea. Rey introduces herself: “I’m from the Resistance,” she says, “Leia sent me. We need your help.” To her surprise the elder Luke refuses to help and walks away. And thus, begins the most important conflict of “The Last Jedi” as Rey must find a way to convince Luke to train her and help her save the Rebellion. Thankfully, Luke finally begins training her and then takes the steps necessary to save the universe. You can see the movie for yourself, but I had that opening scene when I traveled two hours from Tulsa to the backroads in Grove, Oklahoma, in January 2018, on my way to see a Jedi-master-in-education. I wound my way up a long driveway to beautiful home nestled on a bay above Grand Lake. After greetings on the front porch, we moved into the house for a cup of coffee and some catching up. This was her 50th year as an education leader, and I had sat under her teaching and coaching in my early years of school admininstrator. Dr. Barber had agreed days before to letting me capture an audio recording of our conversation. Meet Dr. Judi Barber Judi Barber has just finished her 50th year as an educator. She has been a Teacher, CurriculumInstructor, Arts-in-Education Coordinator, Principal, and Director of Curriculum and Instruction, in Norman Public Schools. Since her retirement she has continued work as a Special Instructor and Adjunct Professor at the University of Oklahoma and the President of her own school district consulting company, Collaborating for Results, Inc. You can also see her bio as an Oklahoma Education Hall of Fame Honoree in 2005. Asking for Excellence Here is a summary of the questions and takeaways from our talk. Listen to the entire podcast episode to unpack these bullet points: What would say are timeless truths that apply to education just as much today as at the start of your career? * Parents love their children.* A strong education in the basics of reading and mathematics are essential AS ARE science, social studies, and the arts to build the capacity of curiosity. The 9 essential elements of school are the rubric of effective schools * Curriculum* Evaluation and Assessment Strategies* Instructional Strategies* Learning Communities* Family and Community Connections* Professional Development* Leadership* Organizational Structures and Resources* Comprehensive Planning What ways do school leaders need to be adapting with the changing times? * Understanding digital communication* Becoming open-ended thinkers* Applying shared leadership If you could go back in time and talk to yourself as beginning school leader, what advice would give? * Be consistent in the way you follow the 9 essentia...
January 23, 2020
This week I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with a team of new assistant principals. Photo by Matteo Vistocco – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions As we talked about their first semester, they shared the lessons they’ve learned in time management, communication, and problem solving. They are finding their unique places on new teams, understanding their new roles for the first time, and learning new lessons every day. Being a school leader involves an overwhelming number of daily tasks, requests from teachers for help, and situations with students that require thoughtful intervention and assistance. It’s no easy task. And it’s certainly not one for the faint of heart. At the same time, it is not one you can accomplish alone. No amount of self-determination or grit will accomplish as much as what happens when you understand the power of others on your team.  Lessons from Rowing Champions As I talked to these new leaders, I was so impressed with their courage and determination. But I was also reminded of lessons in teamwork I’ve been learning from the book, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (2013). Brown follows the life of one rower, Joe Rantz, whose struggles match the difficulties of so many during the Great Depression. Rantz led an especially difficult childhood, losing his mother at a very young age, and being left on his own for much of his youth and teenage years. His older brother helped him finish school and enroll in Washington State University. But the only way he could afford to attend college was if he could make the rowing team, which would allow him to work a part-time campus job as a janitor at the YMCA.  Throughout his training, Joe was noticeably talented. He was strong, intelligent and tenacious. But he was also a loner. As a result, he and his team struggled to find just the right chemistry to be a champion rowing team.  Brown describes the ultimate goal of any rowing team is to experience what rowers call “finding their swing”.  But this only happens when rowers understand and execute their own individual roles while also relying on the other rowers to execute theirs with such trust and precision that they reach optimal rowing efficiency and speed – discovering the ultimate beauty, joy and glory of rowing. Why is developing teamwork one of the most important, but difficult tasks of school leadership? How do you learn to execute your own role as a leader while building a climate where others are willing to rely on each other to use their combined skills toward accomplishing something beautiful?  What Makes a Great Rowing Team? In Chapter 10 of the book, Brown gives a description of the teamwork required in rowing that is so poignant, I want to quote a couple of paragraphs in full: “…the greatest paradox of the sport has to do with the psychological makeup of the people who pull the oars. Great oarsmen and oarswomen are necessarily made of conflicting stuff—of oil and water, fire and earth. On the one hand, they must possess enormous self-confidence, strong egos,
January 16, 2020
What does it take for small actions to produce big results? Photo by Blake Lisk – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions Over Christmas break, I listened to the audio-version of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference and learned some value lessons we can apply to our schools. Let me quickly summarize by saying that Gladwell painstakingly details the phenomenon and players involved in what happens when products or ideas become social “epidemics” – in the best sense of the word. Why do certain shoe brands, books, or companies find success in such extraordinary ways? And what, you may be asking, does this have to do with school leadership? I’d like to connect those dots in this post. First of all, products, ideas or companies become social phenomena by starting with something worth promoting – something Gladwell calls a “sticky” idea. Whether it is a great book, a fashionable shoe, or a line of plastic accessories for unique car brands — people (or customers) have needs that someone (creators or innovators) provide.  Those ideas must be “sticky” enough for others to want to adapt and participate. This is where Gladwell’s descriptions of certain types of people may be helpful to discuss because turning sticky ideas into social phenomena frequently involves the following players:  Mavens– These people identify or adopt a new trend and have the influence to model and teach others how to adapt and apply those same ideas. They are early-adapters and innovators who recognize new trends emerging; they buy-in first or are willing to take risks in testing out new ideas. Connectors– These types understand sub-cultures and new trends and have relationships within various social spheres in order to bring new ideas and larger audiences together. They love to be the glue between new ideas and groups of people who can benefit from them. A connector may not be the creator of a new idea or product, but he or she becomes a champion for it. Sales Persons– People who watch mavens and connectors and decide not only to adopt their ideas but become the story tellers for that idea. Sales persons can tell the stories of what’s trending in such convincing ways that others want it for themselves; they help growing numbers of people become consumers of the new product, trend or action. When you combine a sticky idea with a community of mavens, connectors and sales persons, it will often begin a movement, a tipping point, when a small idea grows into something contagious and transformational.  Can School Leaders Have Tipping Points? Let’s apply that to school and assume you understand the mission and purpose of your own. Your mission may be to educate and equip a future generation with the ideas, tools, values and social capital necessary to live full lives.  Having a vision for a great school and actually nurturing that kind of community, however, is where good ideas must become “sticky” actions. And for ideas to become actions, you must convince others to share those values and act on them too. 
January 8, 2020
Last week my family and I traveled back to Tennessee to see my parents and extended family. Photo by Kelly Sikkema – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions My parents both turned 79 this past year. Life has slowed down a lot for them now. One of my mother’s favorite past times, for instance, is walking the woods — gathering treasures like small rocks or interesting plants. When my fourteen year old son, Jack, joined her for a stroll during Christmas break, they found their way to a leafy spot above a natural spring and talked so long the rest of the family thought maybe they were lost. Later that night, Jack told me, “Dad, sometimes I’m jealous of Grandma.” “Why?” I asked. “She finds so much joy in the smallest things,” he explained. “Today she found a small leaf, and held it up saying, ‘Oh, look how beautiful and fragile it is.’ I wish I could be more like that.” “Me too, Jack,” I said. As I think back over the past year and look at the year ahead, I want to stay thankful for the small things. For instance, I’m thankful for another year of marriage. This was the twenty-sixth year my wife and I am grateful we’re still crazy about one another. I’m thankful for our two daughters who are successfully completing college: one junior and one freshman on the same campus. I’m thankful for weekly dates I’ve had with my two kids still at home during 2019: Watching sunsets with my sixteen year old daughter, Katie. She’s obsessed with sunrises and sunsets. One morning, I woke up early and saw the front door open. As I headed down the stairs to see what was wrong, Katie came bustling back in the door. “You won’t believe the sunrise!” she exclaimed. “It was so beautiful I had to run out into the front yard for a better look.” I’m thankful for the quiet moments with my son Jack. When he decides to talk, it can be worth the wait. A few weeks ago, he began telling me about the book he’s reading in English class, Night by Elie Wiesel – how it has convinced him that all of us are capable of allowing horrible deeds if we refuse to listen to the experiences of history. It is these small moments throughout the year that remind me of what is really important. And I’m sure, you have your own small moments that have built your most important memories this past year. I’d also like to tell you that I’m thankful for you. Whether you know me through my posts or in person, I’m thankful that you trust me with your time. You have a lot responsibilities in your work and families, and I value the opportunity to share ideas and learn along with you each week through these posts. In the lines that follow, I want to celebrate some of the small wins I’ve seen in the Principal Matters community with a quick re-cap of 2019. And as a token of gratitude for you, I want to provide you with a free professional development resource (at the end of this post) – something that may help you lead your team with more focus on their mission, vision, and goals for 2020. Another Year of Growth In 2019 the Principal Matters Podcast topped 345,000 unique downloads! It excites me that each episode averages more than 2,000 listens. Although this audience is modest in comparison to other nationally known podcasts,
December 24, 2019
Just like you, I can think of many reasons to worry about the future or raise concerns about trends that have developed over the past decade. Photo by Kelsey Knight – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions  :// Whether that includes increases in school shootings, soaring health care costs, rises in the costs of education, the number of children experiencing trauma, growing concerns in climate change or global and domestic political unrest — the list of negatives can be pretty overwhelming and depressing.  At the same time, as important as it is to confront the harsh realities of the world with possible solutions, I want to keep the dangers of this world in perspective with the amazing achievements of this last decade. As we draw 2019 to a close and officially end the 2010’s, I’d like to pause for a moment and celebrate 10 remarkable changes that have taken place in our world – and the lives of those whom we educate: 1. Technology has connected more of the world. Although Facebook began as a clunky social media website for Harvard students in 2004, and the first iPhone was introduced to the world in 2007, these technologies have only exponentially grown during the past decade. Pew Research estimates that 5 billion people around the world now have access to a cell phone. With the world’s population estimated at 7.7 billion, consider the implications of 65% of the world connected through technology. Never before have more people had the opportunity to interact, discover, and influence others with such speed and accessibility.  2. Access to information has increased learning potential. Just as the printing press revolutionized the modern world during the 15th century, we have opened new territories of learning with access to information in the past ten years. Khan Academy, which began in 2008, for instance, has now become a staple for young people around the world who need immediate examples of lessons and examples in most major subject areas of school. In addition, self-starters use YouTube for example, to access lessons or tutorials everything from repairing plumbing to installing camera systems. Since its start in 2005, YouTube’s first video to ever hit a billion downloads happened in 2011. This has also been a game-changer for education as schools have introduced blended learning options, 1-1 devices, and more virtual options for student learning. In many ways this has flipped the roles of educators from experts in conveying information to facilitating and guiding students in how to interpret information. 3. Innovation has changed the job market and our work. According to Alice Murray from, new jobs during the past ten years now include App developers, Uber drivers, social media managers, user-experience designers, Airbnb hosts, drone operators, data scientists, genetic counselors and anything involving cryptocurrency.
December 18, 2019
A few weeks ago, I was sharing with a group of principals one of my favorite video-clips from the movie, The Incredibles. It’s the scene where Lucius, aka the superhero, Frozone, is watching as his city is under attack from his apartment window. He pushes a button on his remote control to open a wall in his living room. When the secret compartment opens, the space is empty where his supersuit should be hanging. Thus ensues the following dialogue: Lucius: Honey? Where’s my super suit?Honey: What?Lucius: Where – is – my – super – suit?Honey: I, uh, put it away.Lucius: Where?Honey: Why do you need to know?Lucius: I need it!Honey: Uh-uh! Don’t you think about running off doing no derrin’-do. We’ve been planning this dinner for two months!Lucius: The public is in danger!Honey: My evening’s in danger!Lucius: You tell me where my suit is, woman! We are talking about the greater good!Honey: ‘Greater good?’ I am your wife! I’m the greatest *good* you are ever gonna get! After watching this clip, I then asked the principals to reflect: How does this scene remind you of the tension you sometimes feel between your school responsibilities and your home life? After we talked about their responses, I then shared three ideas for them to keep in mind as they feel the tension of managing crisis while also managing all the other important duties of their school leadership: 1. Staying mindful: Really seeing the great learning moments happening around you even as you take care of business. 2. Staying intentional: If you don’t schedule and prioritize what’s most important, it probably will not happen. 3. Moving the needle: At the end of everyday, reflect on one step you took toward reaching your targets or goals. And make sure you’ve done at least one action to move in that direction. I then asked them to repeat back to me the three takeaways. Based on their responses, I summarized and reminded them that school leadership allows involves a balance of putting out situational fires while also focusing on the many other important tasks of building a school community.  And then I asked an important follow-up question: Now, can you unpack the instructional methods I just used in this short mini-lesson with you? They were quick to respond: We began with an attention grabber. They had given feedback and input. We engaged in reflection and dialogue. We discussed three actions to consider in their leadership. I had checked for learning. We summarized our learning. After this quick lesson, I reminded them that the cycles of learning happen in every setting. Whether you are leading a faculty meeting, a small group discussion or covering a classroom lesson, this cycle is important for us to model for our teachers as much as it is for us to encourage them to use it in their own teaching. How Do You Make Learning Stick? As you think about the ways to make learning meaningful, I am excited to introduce you to this week’s podcast guest, LeAnn Nickelsen, as we discuss her newest book co-authored with Melissa Dickson, Teaching With the Instructional Cha-Chas: Four Steps to Make Learning Stick. In her book and our discussion, LeAnn unpacks the learning cycle and provides practical ways for educators to increase learning for all students. LeAnn’s Bio LeAnn Nickelsen LeAnn Nickelsen is the Founder and CEO of Maximize Learning, Inc.
December 12, 2019
Have you ever felt overwhelmed in trying to balance priorities? Photo by Stephen Leonardi – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions If you’re like me, you can probably think of more than once where student discipline, parent concerns, and teacher feedback provided you more tasks than you could complete in a day. No matter whether you are a new principal or a veteran leader, here’s a quick truth: you will never reach the point where you “have it all together.” That’s because you will always have room for growth. At the same time, how can you build strategies and good habits for better balancing priorities? Jen Schwanke This week, author and principal Jen Schwanke and I continue a series from her book, You’re the Principal, Now What? Strategies and Solutions for School Leaders. As we discuss ways for school leaders to balance priorities, we focus on nine helpful takeaways so that you increase your capacity to manage the demands of school leadership. These include: 1. Acknowledging your limitations.Every leader must admit he or she has limits, and it is a healthy practice to anticipate what you will do when overwhelmed with tasks, requests, and responsiblities. 2. Refusing to be a martyr.Tuck in your cape. You are not a super hero. And your teachers and students do not need a leader who sacrifices his or her well-being to serve. 3. Watching your attitude.At the end of the day, you set the tone for the optimism and hope of your school. You are not in it alone, but your attitude will convey to others how they should be handling pressure. 4. Staying organized.Yes, there are strategies, plans, and tips that can help. But these must fit your work style and personality to be effective. 5. Leaning on support.You were made to work with others. Don’t be afraid to model humility, ask for help, and rely on others for the tasks of leading a school. 6. Connecting with colleagues.Other principals and school leaders can provide a safety net for you. They provide perspective and support that can make the load feel lighter. 7. Putting students first.Yes, you have a lot on your plate, but always ask yourself how your actions, words, and plans are helping students. 8. Learning the cycle of leadership.Believe it or not, principals sometimes reach points of peace. When you have these rare moments, don’t feel guilty. Learn to draw strength from them for the next difficult moment you’ll encounter. 9. Embracing unpredictability with humor.It will be difficult to survive leadership unless you embrace pressure as part of the journey. It’s even more satisfying when you learn to find joy and laughter even in the crazy moments. Let’s Wrap This Up Among these helpful takeaways, Jen and I also discuss several ways leaders can organize and prioritize tasks so that they are fulfilling their duties and honoring those whom they serve. This includes creating a scheduling system that works for you, taking time to prioritize, and keeping track of tasks and crossing them off the list. Many of these great tips can be found in Jen’s helpful book, You’re The Principal! Now What?. 
December 4, 2019
In October 2018, William Stubbs, an instructional leadership director at Oklahoma City Public Schools at the time, entered and won the Teach for America’s Shark Tank OKC as a contestant in the city’s Shark Tank competition. Photo by Got Credit – Creative Commons Attribution License He was awarded $10,000 to implement stronger partnerships and mentoring opportunties for the city’s young men of color with educators and community businesses. His idea was borne from a conviction that black males, in particular, need more access to men of color as role models in education and business. A January 29, 2019 post on the website by Chandra Thomas Whitfield explains that only two-percent of teachers are black men. Although student populations are much more diverse, minority students do not always see themselves reflected in their teachers or school leaders.  Recently, I had the privilege to interview William Stubbs, and he shared several takeaways for principals to keep in mind as they consider how to create stronger environments of diversity and equity. William’s Bio William Stubbs is the Middle School Managing Director at UpLift Education in Dallas, Texas. He is a former Instructional Leadership Director for the Oklahoma City Public School District. Before his Oklahoma tenure, he served as the K-12 Principal at Kennedy Charter Public School in Charlotte, NC. Before joining Kennedy Charter Public School, William was the Dean of Students and Upper School Literature Teacher at Kestrel Heights School in Durham, NC. He has also been a Principal Intern at Reedy Creek Middle School – Wake County Public Schools in Cary, NC. William holds an M.S.A. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a B.A. in English from Shaw University. The Life of an Educator William Stubbs has always been passtionate about learning and growing, and he wanted to be an educator from a very young age. As an undergraduate at Shaw Univeristy, he was a part of the Breakthrough Collaborative that allowed college students to teach and mentor middle school students. Later he was a Teach for America educator and taught high school English. Much of his experience has been working between district public schools and charters. He is also a co-moderator for the Twitter chat Black Males Educators or #BMEsTalk, each Tuesday night at 8PM Central Standard Time, where educators from across the U.S. share ideas, research, and feedback on ways to encourage positive outcomes for black male educators. Important Trends in Education In this episode, William shares about how diversity matters, especially in settings where demographics are shifting. An important question for school leaders to consider is: how can you closely allign your student population and your staff represented there? Many black male educators did not have black male educators in early-childhood. More black male educators are seen in high schools but fewer in college settings. Teachers of color can often connect with the learning of students of color. One example addressing the need is the Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) Initiative , which is currently available at 13 universities throughout the U.S. Suggestions for School Leaders District and school leaders must be clear on what diversity ...
November 27, 2019
Do you remember what is was like to be a middle school student? For many people, memories of those years often bring back stories filled with anxiety and awkward physical, emotional, and social changes. According to Phyllis Fagell, however, those years can be good ones. “Probably what people might be most surprised to know is that I actually had a positive middle school experience, and I was really inspired to write because of my experience as an educator and seeing how dramatically different childhood is today than when I was growing up.” A school counselor and authorPhyllis Fagell has insights for middle school students and their parents. “A lot of people have difficulty anticipating their own child going to middle school because they bring negativity to the table,” she explains. “I like to reassure parents that their own memories actually are inflated because they too were going through puberty. Actually those experiences weren’t probably markedly worse than any negative experiences they had at other times when growing up.” In this week’s podcast episode, Phyllis Fagell, makes a guest appearance and shares about the skills middle school students need to develop. She provides an overview of ten skills, and she unpacks a few key areas where school leaders can provide stronger guidance. Phyllis’s Bio Phyllis Fagell Phyllis Fagell is a lincened clincal professional counselor, certified professional school counselor, author, and journalist. She has worked in both public and private schools with students in grades K-12, focusing on middle school for the several years. She currently works full time as the school counselor for Sheridan School in Washington, D.C. As a journalist, Phyllis writes for a number of national publications and is a frequent contributor for Washington Post on counseling, parenting and education. She is the author of the new book, Middle School Matters: The 10 Key Skills Kids Need to Thrive in Middle School and Beyond – and How Parents Can Help.  10 Skills for Middle School Students At the start of our conversation, Phylliss provides an overview of the 10 key skills kids need to know to thrive in middle school and beyond, which include the following: * Make good friend choices* Negotiate conflicts* Manage a student-teacher mismatch* Create homework and organization systems* Consider others’ perspectives* Self-advocate* Self-regulate emotions* Cultivate passions and recognize limitations* Make responsible, healthy, ethical choices* Create and innovate Responsible and Ethical Choices She also unpacks areas where school leaders can better understand those need areas for their students, including how principals can help students develop responsible/ethical choices. She shares how a veteran principal used meaningful responsibilities as a way for students to build positive identities at school and decrease behavior challenges among his middle school population.  Finding ways to engage students in building their own strategies also helps them own their learning and empowers them to support school practices. With cell phones, for instance, Phyllis argues that most students want a break from technology but want the rules enforced consistently – if everyone is complying, they avoid Fear of Missing Out or FOMO.  The more we treat students with respect, she explains, the more likely they are to participate in fulfilling expectations.
November 21, 2019
Every person in your school is at a different level of growth. Not just students, but teachers are also at stages of growth. Leadership is not any different. Photo by mikecohen1872 – Creative Commons Attribution License Some educators are just beginning the journey. Others are finishing their first few years, and some are experiencing years of mastery in certain strategies or subjects. Over time, you find some areas where you have deep understanding, but you always discover new areas where you need growth. How do you continue to grow with intentionality? This week, veteran principal Chris Legleiter shares ten powerful takeaways from his years of experience as an instructional and building leader. Chris’s Bio Chris Legleiter has been in education for 24 years, including the last 13 years as an administrator. His experience includes teaching and coaching at the high school level and building administrator experience at both the middle school and high school levels. Chris has worked in rural schools and suburban school districts. He currently serves as the Principal for Leawood Middle School of the Blue Valley School District in the Kansas City Metro area. Chris has a “lead-learner focus” that places a priority on continual growth that includes helping others to collectively grow and learn from each other. This work includes growing as a leader in his position and supporting others in our profession. His interests include spending time with his family, reading, exercising and writing. He also blogs at where you can read great posts on leadership.  In today’s conversation, Chris shares “10 areas to focus on for growth as a leader,” including: * Mindset – Your growth is dependent on importance you place in cultivating a mindset of growth and continuous improvement.* Core beliefs – Your non-negotiable drive your decision-making.* Challenging status quo – Your leadership is more than putting out fires; it is helping others see where to grow next.* Influencing others – Don’t aspire to the best on the team, aspire to be the best for the team; develop the confidence of capacity of others.* Be Intentional with your efforts – Build rapport, share your vulnerabilities, model, and be a servant-leader.* Reflect on your experience – Have a constant cycle of reflecting on experiences for yourself and your teammates.* Broaden you learning – Understand the power of Professional Learning Networks in your own growth.* Model your work – Be an example of strong instruction for your teachers, how to handle mistakes, and vulnerability.* Know your why – Stay centered in what matters most – helping others.* Positivity – Your attitude is contagious; celebrate others and set the right tone for change. Let’s Wrap This Up Chris asks the question, “If everyone in our school had your attitude, what kind of place would it be?” He hangs this sign in his school as a reminder to himself, his staff and his students. Listen-in to the entire conversation to be encouraged in your own leadership goals! Now It’s Your Turn What is one or two of the above areas where you can focus this next week? What goals can you help your staff or teachers set for continuous growth? How can you encourage and celebrate the work of your team members when they show growth? Sign-Up For Free Updates and Ebook You can automatically receive Principal Matter posts and a free Eboo...
November 13, 2019
When I was in college, I had a blue 1981 Toyota Celica that overheated on the long trip to Oklahoma, and the engine burned up. Photo by Mantas Hesthaven – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions It was my first car. I had bought it with the money I earned over summers as a shell diver in the Kentucky Lake area. But now it was toast, and I became a car-less college kid. On my next summer break, I talked a friend into driving me back to Tennessee on his way home to North Carolina. Any money I earned that summer I had to save for school. Before long, it was time return to college, and I had planned to catch a Greyhound bus back this time. The morning of my trip, I began packing my bag for the long road between Paris, Tennessee and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Shoving in all my belongings, and holding the bag down with my knee, I pulled the zipper closed around it. But as I did, it suddenly broke. The zipper threads spread open like long, jagged lines of opposing soldiers. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t weave them back in line, and the broken metal clasp was now in pieces. I had an idea. I found my dad’s toolbox and retrieved some plastic wire-ties. With a pair of sharp scissors, I started cutting holes along the edges of the zipper hemming, and inserting the plastic ties, then pulling them tight. It worked. I had found a makeshift solution.  But as I dug the scissors into the next hole with my right hand, I didn’t think about my left hand as I was clenching the fabric beneath, and I quickly sliced through my left index finger. As I stared at the oozing blood, I knew I’d need stiches. Not only did I have a long bus ride ahead of, but now I’d be traveling with the fresh sting and throb of a sewed-up finger. Mom gave me a ride to the ER. This was 1989, and 21-year-olds were not covered by their parents’ insurance in those days. And I han’t bothered to look for any other coverage. So mom talked to hospital staff, and they agreed to break the cost into a series of small payments. She wrote them a check for the first installment.  A few hours later, I was standing at the truck stop where Greyhound buses boarded passengers. Mom gave me a hug and kiss, and as she drove off, I wondered how long the 500 miles ahead would feel with my wire-tied traveling bag and my throbbing finger I had to keep elevated to prevent swelling. A bus schedule was posted on the side of building. The next pick up time was 6PM, and I had a couple of hours. So I sat on my bag, ackwardly pointed my wrapped finger in the air, and waited. One hour turned into two, then three. No bus came. No one inside the truck stop had any explanation. As the evening darkened, I found a pay phone (yes, they had those back then too) and clumsily dialed the number to my grandmother. My parents didn’t have a phone at their house (I know, you can’t believe that either), so Grandma told me she’d drive down to tell them I needed help. As the evening darkened, I waited, and finally, one of my older brothers pulled up in his pick-up truck.  “Man, you’ve had a hell of day, haven’t you,” he said as he threw my bag in the truck bed. “You sure you don’t want to stay back this semester and farm with me?”  It was midnight by the time we made it to the house, and mom and dad already were in bed. I knew Dad would be the first one up in the morning, and I needed him to drive me back to the bus station before he headed to work. I’d lost a day of travel, and I couldn’t afford to another day, or I’d miss the start of the semester.
November 7, 2019
Whenever you think about your best teachers, I’m sure you think about the ones who make learning engaging, meaningful and memorable. Photo by Mervyn Chan – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions I often call these “magic teachers” because it seems they can hold the attention of any group of students. But when you unpack what makes an effective teacher, you discover a mix of procedures, expectations, relationships, creativity and levels of learning. These master teachers understand that consistent practices can be taught and implemented for stronger student learning. John Wink is a veteran teacher and school leader and the author of A Teacher’s Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom: Creating Support Systems for Student Success (Creating support systems to increase academic achievement and maximize student success) (Nov 15, 2019 Solution Tree Press). In this week’s episode, John and I discuss ways that teachers and leaders can optimize student learning with strong processes, meaningful engagement, and understanding mastery in learning. John Wink Bio John Wink currently serves as the superintendent of Carthage ISD in Carthage, Texas. Prior to that, John served as the director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the Tatum Independent School District in Tatum, Texas, and principal at Gilmer Elementary School (2011–2014). With over 20 years experience in education, John has served as a choir teacher at Longview High School, principal at the Gilmer Elementary School, Hallsville Middle School, and Hallsville High School, and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Tatum ISD in Tatum, Texas, and superintendent of Blue Ridge ISD in Blue Ridge, Texas. You can also check out his first book: A Leader’s Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom: Creating Support Systems for Teacher Success – explore what it means to be a self-actualized education … and how to inspire leadership in others (Oct 31, 2016). This week we discuss his newest book for teachers… Questions & Answers with John Wink: In his new book, John cover several topics, including classroom management, relationships, student engagement, and rigor/mastery. In a lot of the professional development I’m attending, it is refreshing to see educators embracing the importance of positive relationships on culture and learning environments.
October 31, 2019
Six years ago, on October 31, 2013, my son Jack was eight years old. Photo by Will Montague – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License We had just finished an amazing day of trick-or-treating, and he asked if he could change back into his normal clothes. This was a big deal because he had been wearing a hosptial gown for almost ten days. On this Halloween, we did not go door-to-door as we normally did each year. In 2013, Jack was dressed up in his Star Wars Jedi costume and enjoyed trick-or-treating in a wheelchair as we pushed him through the St. Francis Children’s Medical Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When bad things happen, it is sometimes hard to see the good in our difficulties. My son’s battle and recovery from an infectious disease known as Kawasaki, was one of those times. In addition to the amazing support of our friends, church and community, during those days, I was also astounded at the phenomenal care he received from his nurses, techs, doctors, and interns that literally saved his life. Each year at Halloween, I think back to that time with gratitude. The medical team who cared for him was an excellent example of teamwork. In fact, I’ve often thought how their actions apply to the work we do in school — or anyone interested in developing a team, organization or even as family. I’ve shared about Jack’s story in a previous podcast episode. But in honor of this special anniversary, I wanted to reflect on the our experience with my son’s medical team again and share four takeaways that may help you in your own service to others: 1. A common goal unites a group of diverse people. To give you some context, when our son was first admitted, he was in terrible shape: high fever, rash, swelling, etc. When they diagnosed him with Kawasaki and began treatments, his condition worsened. Then he went into shock. His treatments had to stop while they stabilized him for the next twenty four hours. Then they began treatments again, and this time the symptoms began to disappear and he began to heal. It was obvious during the entire time that his medical team had one goal in mind: to save our son. No matter their backgrounds, gender, differences in job titles or compensation, each team member was focused on that one outcome. Every decision was weighed against its effect on him, his condition, and well-being. In Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, he studies the most effective businesses in America–ones with the longest track record of success. And one of many contributing factors was the ability of great companies to focus on a specific area where they can be most effective and work toward that goal. Lesson learned? When we focus on a common goal, not allowing ourselves to be distracted by secondary ones, we are more strategic and effective. What is the common goal you are working toward with your team? A common goal can unify the most diverse of people into positive action. 2. Great team members know their roles and execute them well. Whether it was the nurse tech assigned to check my son’s vitals, his RN who was determined to bring his fever under control, his physicians prescribing treatments or the pharmacists or lab techs we never met but who were prescribing or analyzing–each one played a pivotal role in his healing. And each one performed the role assigned. The nurse did not attempt diagnose. That was the doctor’s role.
October 24, 2019
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to spend a few hours sailing on the Chesapeake Bay with Dave Sandowich. Photo by Bobby Burch – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions He commanded his 42-foot sailboat, Charis, with the skill of a man who has spent the past forty years on the water anytime when he wasn’t leading his school or his family. Dave, a 65-year old father of three and grandfather of eight, had relocated to Kent Island, Maryland seven years earlier, renovating a 120-year old farm house – a house with a very important accessory – access to a pier for a permanent home for  Charis. Although he still consults younger principals, he spends his spare time with his boat or entertaining guests and family members who visit through the sailing season May through October. With sleeves rolled up, he showed me how to handle the jib sheet, trim the main sail , navigate through changing depths  and mark distant points for reference. His graying hair blowing in the wind, Dave’s deep voice rattled like a coach patiently giving orders. “Keep the wind at 30 degrees and head for the red buoy ahead.”  “Sailing is a lot like leadership,” he explains. “On a sailboat your destination may be directly from where the wind is coming from. A sailboat can’t sail directly into the wind but it can work its way up wind by sailing at angles off the wind and working its  way up wind to the destination. It is more work and will take more time but you will get there if you stay the course, apply your sailing knowledge and get the feedback from your instruments and instincts and adjust along the way.” Dave’s Bio David Sandowich is a retired principal from Kent Island, Maryland. For 21 years, he was the principal of Haddon Heights High School in Haddon Heights, NJ.  Although he still consults younger principals, he spends a lot of time focused on his favorite hobby – sailing. His experience as a teacher, coach, principal, father, mentor and as a sailing-enthusiast has given him a unique perspective on leadership. During our time together, Dave was a great listener and a teacher. I’m honored to share the lessons and metaphors we discussed about sailing, and how they nay help you rethink the way you lead. In this conversation, we talk about the following: * Physics in sailing and leadership* First order changes, vs second order changes* Backwards design* Advice for new leaders and experienced leaders* Book and leadership recommendations I thought about Dave’s words a day later when I was attending the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Joann Bartoletti, NASSP’s Executive Director, was introducing State Principals of the Year in a ceremony recognizing principals from across the country.  First of all, Bartoletti pointed out recent research from the Pew Research Center showing 84% of respondents trust principals over every other public servant-leadership role for caring about others and working ethically on behalf of their communities. “If we want great schools,” she said, “we need great principals. And the consensus is clear that principals matter.” Schools can only grow to the capacity of their leaders, she went on to explain, And research shows what qualities effective principals possess for effectively leading schools. Using the Wallace Foundation’s research into effective prin...
October 17, 2019
If you are like most school leaders, time management can be one of the most difficult parts of your work. Most new school leaders I meet explain how overwhelming the list of to-do’s can be. What are the solutions? Well, Kim Marshall and Jenn David-Lang provide a wealth of information on resources and practices that work in managing your time. Kim Marshall and Jenn David-Lang are the authors of the new book: The Best of the Marshall Memo, Book One: Ideas and Action Steps to Energize Leadership, Teaching, and Learning. In this week’s podcast episode, we discuss their chapter on Time Management with valuable takeaways, tips, and strategies. Kim & Jenn Bios: Kim Marshall Kim was a teacher, central-office administrator, and principal in the Boston Public Schools for more than 30 years. He now leads workshops and courses, coaches school leaders, consults with schools and districts, and produces the weekly Marshall Memo, summarizing ideas and research from over 60 publications. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation. Jenn David-Lang Jenn has worked in education for more than 25 years as a teacher, administrator, and consultant. She now designs and provides workshops for principals and teachers, coaches leaders, and conducts school evaluations. Since 2007, Jenn has published The Main Idea, a service for busy school leaders that provides summaries of compelling education books, accompanied by suggestions for professional learning. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. Kim Marshall and Jenn David-Lang are best know as “designated readers” for busy front-line educators, curating the best ideas and research from scores of magazines and books. In their new book, they identify the most thought-provoking and helpful article summaries from the Marshall Memo archive and add professional learning suggestions. The book aims to help principals, teachers, superintendents, consultants, and researchers address the most pressing issues they face every day. Check out the new book here! Time Management Takeaways In this episode, we explore one area of their research and practice: How Leaders Can Grow in Time Management. Principals and school leaders share a common frustration with time management. How can you accomplish so many responsibilities and tasks? Kim and Jenn share lessons they’ve learned from your research and practice, including: * Understanding your time while knowing you’ll never check off all the blanks * Studying the “rock analogy“: Big rocks first, then gravel, then sand, then water… (When you prioritize important tasks first, you can add much more that matters to your day.)* Examining Stephen Covey’s 4 Quadrants: * Important/Urgent* Important/Not Urgent* Not Important/Urgent* Not Important/Not Urgent * Avoiding the useless: useless feedback, useless meetings, useless evaluation processes, and time-consuming emails* Utilizing Justin Ba...
October 9, 2019
Last week was the first time (except for a rare Christmas holiday) that I have not shared a blog post or podcast episode update in almost five years. Photo by Josh Calabrese – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions At first, I thought it was because I’ve been so busy. Last weekend I flew to Florida for my nephew’s wedding. Then on Monday, I flew from there to Washington, D.C. for a national meeting. When I was back home late Wednesday night in Oklahoma, I had one day in my office on Thursday before traveling to a university on Friday to sit on a panel discussion for education interns. Throughout my flights and driving, I kept rummaging through my mind for what I wanted to share next. I have some interviews scheduled but not recorded. So maybe I should talk about takeaways from my advocacy visits. Or maybe I could share about common struggles I see in education students trying to find their first school positions? I just finished listening to the audiobook No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodman. Perhaps I should share leadership lessons from the remarkable lives of Franklin and Eleonore Roosevelt. But frankly, I didn’t feel inspired to write about any of that. And I think I may have discovered why. For one, I had some lagging doubts: What if what I have to share isn’t really that valuable? What will people think?  In fact, I found myself becoming more and more concerned about the process of posting and my self-imposed deadlines for posting something, and my concern of not having something meaningful to say. The result? I just decided to not share. Why am I telling you this?  Why I Blog and Podcast Let me back up a few years. Whenever I began blogging in 2012, I had one goal: to write a weekly reflection on something I was learning that might also help others in their own lives and leadership. When I turned that weekly content into podcast episodes three years ago, I had the same idea. From the beginning, my desire has been to capture the stories of school leadership and apply lessons from the stories.  Stories are the ways we rehearse, interpret and understand the meaning of our lives. Storytelling is an act of metacognition. For instance, I could talk to you about the importance of being a good listener. However, a better idea may be to tell you the story of Kristin: As an 8thgrader, she had lost both her parents in one year, moved into a foster home, and came to high school the following year having failed every class the previous year. When we surrounded her with a mentor team, including a caring teacher an older student, she found an accountability group who followed her grades and provided feedback. Although Kristin resisted help at every turn, eventually she began to listen and pass her classes. But she still struggled. One day, when she skipped school, I brought her back to my office and assigned her to the in-school placement room. She wasn’t happy about it, but she finished her work so quickly,
September 25, 2019
This week I’m sharing another episode from the road as I have been traveling across my state, Oklahoma, visiting principals at schools or in regional meetings. Photo by Karsten Würth (@karsten.wuerth) – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions Recently, I visited Texhoma, Oklahoma, with High School Principal Connie Miller. After touring her school that serves students grades 5-12, she drove me one mile across the community to see the elementary school, which sits on the Texas side of town. Although both school buildings serve the same community of students, the funding these schools receive is based on the allocations provided by their respective states. In fact, in Oklahoma’s Panhandle schools, competition for high quality teachers is intense. From Guymon, Oklahoma, for instance, you can drive thirty minutes in any direction and find yourself in Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, or Texas. As I’ve spent time with rural principals, in particular, I’ve been reflecting on some of their unique challenges: Challenges Rural Principals Face: * Many rural schools still face teacher shortages in specialized classes or advanced coursework. Across the nation, and especially in rural areas, principals are finding it difficult to fill specialized positions like art, music, foreign language, and advanced mathematics or  sciences. Teachers with these specialized areas are heavily recruited into other career options.* Many rural schools often have limited resources for students seeking career technology, concurrent or Advanced Placement coursework. Although Oklahoma has more opportunies than many other states for career technology courses, some rural schools in western Oklahoma, for instance, have no technology center classes. Offering Advanced Placement courses also requires teachers who have been trained in AP coursework, and these classes tend to be offered less often in rural settings.* Some rural principals have increased student populations of second language speakers. Agriculture and oil and gas industries tend to attract immigrant families for work, and their children need additional supports as English language learners. For instance, Guymon High School, a school with 800 students in the western Panhandle of Oklahoma, currently has more than 30 languages spoken by English language learners at the school. Advantages for some Rural Schools: At the same time, many of these rural schools have strengths that give them advantages in serving students: * Strong culture and shared values. Connie Miller, Principal of Texhoma High School, shared with me how her teachers and staff focus on shared values that they teach throughout the school year so they are focusing on academic and character growth with students. These shared values build a positive environment for learning.* Positive student behavior and safe learning environments. One of the advantages of a smaller school is the ability to manage student behavior with high expectations on safety and participation. Principal Miller, for instance, shared that she remembers only one long term suspension situation in her school in the past four years.* Innovation and blended learning opportunities. Technology does provide opportunities to connect with resources and information. And many school are introducing Chromebooks or other devices that provide students access to online options, including blended learning options.* Teachers and staff committed to a family atmosphere. Finally, the most important element is the committment of teachers and staff to giving students an atmosphere where they feel supported and lo...
September 19, 2019
Several years ago, I was standing in our school lunchroom watching hundreds of students eat breakfast. Photo by Ryan Tauss – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions I was positioned in the middle section of the room, and the front doors of the school were about one hundred feet across the room from me. Dozens of students were entering when I saw one high school boy who caught my attention. He was so far away, I could not see his facial features, but his demeanor and walk gave me a quick pause. I decided to follow my hunch. I walked across the room, and as I approached him more closely, he tried to avoid eye-contact. But I casually stepped closer and asked him if I could talk to him in private for a minute. Once he was in my office, I invited another administrative team member to join me, and my hunch proved accurate. The boy was under the influence of marijuana and was also in possession. Later that morning as we worked through meeting with parents and school discipline procedures, he suddenly looked up at me and asked, “How did you know I was messed up from all the way across the room?” I didn’t know how to explain how I knew. I had been a school administrator for more than ten years, and a lot of my observations came second nature. This summer I enjoyed reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. In the book, he explains the importance of understanding your adaptive unconscious — the small ways we discern situations and make decisions that often happen in a split second. Throughout the book, Gladwell uncovers three main takeaways:  * Decisions made quickly can be as important as ones made over a long period.* Sometimes our instincts betray us.* Our first impressions and snap judgements can be educated and controlled. Slicing Information Gladwell explains that experts often “thin slice” information for quick judgements. For instance, he talks about the ability of experts in ancient artifacts to be able to tell the difference between a fake and an authentic piece of art by just glancing at the work. He describes the work of social scientists who can predict whether new couples will stay together long-term just based on a few minutes of watching them talk and interact. The lesson? Over time, you develop abilities to “think slice” large amounts of data or information that help with decision-making. Instincts That Betray Us But he also explains ways that our unconscious ideas can infiltrate or manipulate reality. One startling example is the way we perceive gender and race. Gladwell cites numerous studies where the majority of people (even people of diversity) will misjudge or assign more negative emotional levels to people of color, men who are shorter in stature, or to women in general.  Gladwell is the child of an integrated family. He shares how he participated in a scientifically designed computer programs that required participants to assign emotions to photos. To his surprise and embarrassment, he inevitably assigned more negative emotions to minorities. These blind-spots in our unconscious can be dangerous if they cause us to make biased decisions we are unaware we are making. In schools, this often happens in the ways we unconsciously pay more attention to the behavior of boys.
September 12, 2019
Photo by Trey Ratcliff – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License These last couple of week, I’ve been on the road a lot visiting schools and principals across my state. For the next couple of weeks, I plan to share some thoughts from the road – literally. This week’s episode I recorded while driving (after safely cuing my recorder before starting a long drive). 5 Takeaways for New Principals I reflect on thoughts I’ve been having while talking to new principals: * Building culture as the foundation of your school experience* Understanding your past, building new procedures, and maintaining momentum* “Chunking” your schedule to prioritize instructional leadership and focus on important vs. urgent tasks* Expressing appreciation to teachers in creative ways they help choose* Remembering why your leadership matters to your students, teachers, and community members Normally, I include a longer written summary, but this week, I encourage you to listen to the podcast episode if want more details, examples, and reflections. (Plus, I can’t write as much when driving long road trips.) Finally, I want to give a shout-out to Jen Shwanke’s book, You’re the Principal! Now What? Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders, which I reference extensively in these reflection. This book has been a wonderful resource for new principals, and I highly recommend it. Now It’s Your Turn I’d love to hear ideas from you on ways you’ve invested in culture, prioritized your schedule, or planned appreciation for your team members. As always, thanks for learning together, and thanks for doing what matters! Sign-Up For Free Updates and Ebook You can automatically receive new posts and a free Ebook, 8 Hats: Essential Roles for School Leaders. Let’s keep learning together!
September 5, 2019
Recently, I have been answering questions from listeners on a variety of subjects in school leadership. Photo by Nicole Honeywill – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions This week I am joined by my friend, Jethro Jones the host of Transformative Principal Podcast as we tackle three questions together from our listeners. Jethro is an administrator with elementary and middle level experience and currently lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. In 2017 he was recognized by the National Association of Secondary School Principals as a National Digital Principal of the Year. I’ve known Jethro for years from connecting online and have had the privilege of meeting him in person. He was first a guest on my program for PMP Episode 74, where you can hear a longer introduction to his work and check out conversations about why it’s important to embed digital practices in your school.  3 Questions from Listeners This week we are tackling three questions that principal listeners have shared with us from our podcasts, covering these topics: * What do you do if or when your teachers give you the cold shoulder about learning something new?* How do you manage differences in student dynamics within competency-based instruction?* What ways can you measure student growth in Social Emotional Learning? Listen-in for the complete conversation, and let’s jump right in… Question 1. My teachers give me the cold shoulder when I try to introduce them to new ways of teaching. What should I do? Jethro and I discuss the following: * Modeling for teachers* Observation of other teachers* What is he/she doing well already? Praise first, then instruct.* Lead with the question, “Where do you want to grow?”* Creating an enviornment where teachers ask for help* Celebrating innovative teaching* Learning to say yes before saying no Question 2. How do you make sure that students who struggle don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed that they aren’t working with their peers? When competency-based, what happens? We discuss these suggestions: * Defining expecations so that students measure against standards, not other students* They are already in different places! Your expectations matter in their perceptions…* Help them identify where they are good. And celebrate!* It’s not about competition with peers, but competition with themselves.  Question 3. How can Social Emotional Learning success be measured? We discuss several takeaways: * Discover the importantce of self-reflection. It’s okay to embrace different standards for everyone. * Resilient students don’t really need more resiliency training. They need something else. * A student with trauma needs different things than a student without. * Creat an environment where you want your own chidren* You can measure the indicators like discipline, attendance and graduation/completion rates * We share examples of SEL through FOMO — karaoke cafeteria — from Principal Kim Coody’s High School in Okahoma and Amy Fast’s emotional learning practices in Oregon* Recource recommended: Barb Sorrels –
August 28, 2019
Author David Weinberger once said: “The smartest person in the room is the room itself.” Photo by redcharlie – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions In other words, the collective power of our thinking is always more powerful than working in isolation. By connecting with others, we can stretch our thinking and be motivated to take new actions. This week I’m thrilled to bring back Danny Bauer to the podcast to discuss the power of community building for leaders. A former Chicago and Houston school administrator, Danny Bauer has dedicated the past five years to building resources, interviewing leaders, and facilitating Masterminds for school leaders. He is also the author of The Better Leaders Better Schools Roadmap: Small Ideas That Lead to Big Impact. Danny was a guest in episode 71 of Principals Matters Podcast, and you can hear that previous episode here.  In this week’s episode, we discuss why connecting to a community of other leaders is essential to your growth. We talk about the growing online community platform he has launched for school leaders and cover several topics. Listen-in to learn more of the following: * What is your superpower? Discover how this school leader has turned his superpowers of community building into full-time support for other leaders. * What is your main struggle? Reflect on the common struggles or themes Danny’s hear from men and women leading schools all over the world.* Why is leading in isolation so dangerous? Discover how Masterminds can be your place to discover authentic, vulnerable, courageous conversations about yourself and your leadership.* Where can you find a safe place for school leaders online? Explore Danny’s new online Go-Community for a confidential, exclusive social community of like-minded school leaders.* What is your number one priority this school year? Listen to what Danny thinks is the most important priorities principals should consider when starting this school year. (His answer will surprise you!) Here’s a summary of offerings included in the new Go! Community: Go! Community Danny calls it the “Greatest Place on the Internet for School Leaders” … and you’re invited. The Go! Community is an online community for school leaders to level up. Connect with other school leaders from around the globe in this private, elite membership community. Here is what you get: * General Discussion on Topics You Care About* Online Courses* The World’s Best Virtual Book Club* Weekly Prompts* Podcast Transcripts* Exclusive Webinars & Coaching Opportunities* Pitch Free Zone* A Safe Place to Practice For a reasonable monthly fee, you can join an exclusive online community for access to conversations, video-tutorials, and other recommendations for Go! Community members-only.
August 15, 2019
Last week Jen Schwanke and I answered questions from podcast listeners. Listen to Part 1 here. Photo by Helloquence – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions 1DE-9D20-806E6F6E6963} This week we take three more questions from principals on parenting, women in leadership, and professional growth. Here’s our feedback, or you can listen to the entire conversation on the podcast: Question 1: How do you manage being a parent and a principal both? I had a serving principal tell me “It’s impossible!” Jen and Will’s responses: Nothing is impossible! Principals are known for managing a lot and being an education leader and parent is possible with planning and forethought. Let’s get practical. There are several Life Hacks you can use to help. For me (Jen) that includes making meals ahead, living by a calendar [with down time scheduled!!], and asking for help. Focus on efficiency, not perfection. If possible, use others for help. Some principals hire out extras like cleaning to free up time for other tasks. If grandparents are near, rely on them. Think of what’s making it impossible and remedy that area (commute, impossible professional self-expectations, Netflix binges, for instance.) Find joy by embedding both worlds of leading a school and parenting children. When you do, you’ll be a more compassionate leader for others on your team doing the same. Question 2: How do I most effectively lead as woman admin? Jen‘s response: I’ve never made my identity about a woman administrator.  I’ve made it about being a good administrator. At times, I’ve felt it was an issue, but I tried to really think about why and put that “why” in a zone. Never, ever let being a woman be an excuse or an explanation. Go where you’re wanted and don’t lose your purpose.   Will’s response: As I travel to other schools, I’ve noticed men still outnumber women in many leadership roles. But as someone who has served under several women leaders, I echo Jen’s statement. The women whose leadership I have respected have been persons of integrity, consistency, courage and compassion. These are important qualities in every leader. Serve with those qualities and you will earn the respect of others. If those around you can’t follow that kind of leader, you may want to consider finding a place where you will be more appreciated. Question 3. I’m so busy. How do I maintaining professional growth? Jen’s and Will’s responses: Identifying needs you have (i.e. data, assessment, Title) and focus your learning on where you want to learn as you don’t have time to read everything others recommend. It’s important to remember how your personal balance and professional growth coexist: when you are personally growing, you’ll find yourself sharper professionally. Learning hacks listen while commuting: listen to podcasts of other leaders or education leaders. Build a social media following of like-minded leaders and check out their recommendations. Pick up the phone and call another principal or eat a meal together. The professional ideas you can share face-to-face are powerful! Reflect on what you learn in leadership, and write it down or share with others. Every day you are learning something that could someone else...
August 8, 2019
Recently, several questions came from Principal Matters community members. This week, Jen Schwanke, principal and author, joined me to answer several questions from principals or aspiring principals. Photo by John Schnobrich – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions Here are a three questions we take time to discuss and respond to: Question 1: Finding my first principal position… Hello! I have just completed my masters program to be an administrator for a school and I was curious what your advice would be on how I can be noticed more during the application process. I’ve applied to quite a few places and never heard anything back. So all in all, what would your advice be to any teacher leaders seeking out their first admin job? –Question from an aspiring school leader  Jen’s ideas: * Do the math. Schools only have selected openings for administrators. Just because you haven’t been considered may be a reflection on the limited number of openings availalbe.* Apply and network. Don’t stop reaching out and applying. And connect with other school leaders. Those relationships pay dividends later when openings occur.* Go where you’re wanted. You want to be in a place that is a good fit and where you will be valued. If your current district is not that place, consider a move.* Don’t let desperation lead you. Make the right choice for you and your family. A bad leadership position is worse than no position at all. * Think of your negotiables and non-negotiables (moving, grade level switch, pay cut) and don’t waver. Will’s ideas: * Lead where you are. Don’t forget the best way to interview for a future opening is by leading and excelling where you are right now.* Be an incredible teacher/teacher-leader. Principals are not made, they are developed. And your actions as a superb instructor and leader among teachers sets the tone for your future work as an administrator.* Get the word out. Tell others your looking. My first opening came when a friend saw a post for an assistant opening in a neighboring district and told me about it.* Interview anyway. One of the best ways to train for a future opening is interviewing – even for positions you may not get. When I moved from assistant principal to principal, I interviewed in locations where I was not offered the position before I found the right fit. Question 2: Student discipline… I’m struggling to want to stay consistent in disciplining students largely because I know that they are acting out due to what’s going on at home. I find that my heart is going out to these kids, and I want to show them some grace. It’s draining having to suspend the same kid yet again when you know there’s no follow through at home. At the same time, I can’t overlook these behaviors. I also feel like teachers come to me regarding my “frequent flyers” expecting me to be able to “fix” them. I guess I’m still searching for my magic wand. Any suggestions or words of advice? Does discipline from the AP role ever get easier? –Question from an Assistant Principal Jen’s ideas: * I don’t think it gets easier, and if it does, that’s because you’ve stopped caring, or gotten numb.* Just do the next right thing. * Follow your relationships (with kids, families, teachers).* Think of alternatives. You should be working on a menu of options for student discipline, not just a one-size fits all approach.* Teach teachers.
August 1, 2019
Jesse Haynes is one of those rare people you meet in life who has dared to make his dreams come true. Photo by VooDoo Works – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License He is a recent graduate from the University of Tulsa who has reached audacious personal goals, published multiple books, and created podcasts with millions of downloads – just while in high school and college. In this week’s podcast episode, Jesse shares some of his own story as a high school student with a dream to publish his first book. Since then he has signed a book-deal for four upcoming novels, he has published his own podcasts, and he’s finished his first college degree in media studies.  Schools are full of young people, like Jesse, who have untapped creative ideas. How do we give them the support and point them to the resources they need to take risks? Jesse shares the challenges he’s faced in becoming a published author, the rejections and struggles along the way, and then the practical steps he has taken to move forward and reach goals. Free Resource for Leaders Jesse also shares an excellent resource for any growing leader (or leader of leaders) in his latest free-ebook, Leaderphors, where he provides the essentials for a mindset of leadership. In addition, he shares practical group exercises and questions so others can immediately explore, discuss and apply the lessons learned in six areas: * Leaders Build Bridges – When you see a goal to be reached, you can either perceive the end as unattainable or takes steps to reach your destination.* Leaders Sow Seeds – Just a farmer sows and grows plants, the small steps and actions you take are what create bigger results later.* Leaders Score Points – Every situation provides you with the opportunity to take risks. When you take risks, you have the potential to “score points” and build momentum toward your goals.* Leaders Stay Connected – Relationships matter. Never underestimate the power of those people around you to help you achieve goals.* Leaders Quilt – Leaders involves looking for the odd or unique attributes in others that can lead to their success; it also involves helping others take incremental steps “patched together” to turn ideas into creative outcomes.* Leaders Fall – Taking risks means you will fail and succeed. You cannot have one without the other so embrace the fact that you’ll skin your knees along the way. You can check out his “Leaderphors” publication to share with your teachers or student leadership groups. It also includes lesson and hands-on actives for group discussions with students on each leadership metaphor.  In our podcast conversation, Jesse also unpacks the processes he has followed to tackle big projects: the steps he takes when writing books or creating podcasts. Most importantly, he shares thoughts for school leaders who want to encourage students to reach big goals. Listen in to this week’s entire podcast episode and be inspired! If you want to connect with his free ebook here or find more resources at his website. Connect with Jesse via Twitter @realjessehaynes. Let’s Wrap This Up When I asked Jesse for a parting word of advice for principals, he said,
July 25, 2019
In 2017, Justin Baeder, from Principal Center Radio, invited me as a guest on his show to talk to me about my book Messaging Matters: How to Inspire Teachers, Motivate Students, and Reach Communities. Photo by Joe The Goat Farmer – Creative Commons Attribution License Justin was gracious enough to allow me to repost the interview with my readers and listeners. This week I want to share that encore episode with you. Why is messaging so important? In every setting of school, amazing learning and moments are happening every day that not a lot of people know about. In the humility of our service as educators, we are often hesitant to brag about our schools. On a national scale, this has created a crisis with a political landscape that now assumes many schools are failing. Many school leaders have decided to take back the narrative. When you are talking about policies and resources that schools need to matter, then your messaging matters on how elected officials and the general public perceive whether schools are worth supporting. Instead of telling educators to “stay out of the newspaper,” we should do the opposite. How do we increase our messaging with students, teachers, and our communities? We must adopt new habits of looking for moments of celebration and then embedding practices to consistently share that out. School leaders must be first in making a commitment to celebrating the positives so often that those moment drown out the negative ones: You are the astronaut! Messaging first begins with mindset. Just like you can only see one side of the moon from the surface of the earth, others can only see a limited perspective of your school. As a school leader, you often have a wider perspective of what’s happening in school because you have access to so many locations, classrooms, and conversations within the school. Since you can “see more of the moon,” you have a responsibility and a privilege of sharing out that perspective with the rest of the world. 7 Ways to Maximize Messaging * Commit to a daily and weekly broadcast of amazing moments. As you walk through your school, look for moments to celebrate. Capture these moments on your phone and then share them out. It’s that easy. But it begins with a mindset of looking for the positives that are outshining the negatives. Encourage teachers and students to adopt that mindset as well. * Practice and schedule messaging so that you build momentum around those messages. Your students can take positive messaging further than anyone else. One year some of my students decided to begin a movement of kindness at our school. Their decision to share positive notes on a girls’ bathroom mirror, for instance, became a story our school shared on Facebook and was shared on TV news. Positivity is contagious when you encourage it.* Be present and mindful when you are with students. Instead of just doing walkthroughs or observations by using a tech tool, look into the faces of students and teachers and identify what kind of learning is happening. “Being in the moment” means actually watching, listening, and feeling the relationships and learning around you. This mindset will help you connect with others, and you’ll find lots to celebrate.
July 18, 2019
A few nights ago I was sitting in a theater with my wife watching the movie, Yesterday, starring Himesh Patel and Lily James. Photo by Oana-Maria Sofronia – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I do want to say I was completely affected by the nostalgia and its focus on the legacy of Beatles music. In fact, it brought back some vivid memories of two great men I admire and whose love of music influenced me – both who died prematurely. One was my oldest brother, Harvey, and the second was a veteran teacher colleague, Brooks Walton. I’d like to share some reflections and memories from their stories that may influence how you think about your own story: Memory #1 : Learning Guitar There is a scene in the movie where the main character, Jack Barth (played by Himesh Patel), is given a guitar as a gift after his was destroyed in a bus accident that almost killed him. When Jack opens the guitar case and pulls out his gift, he begins playing the iconic single, “Yesterday.”  It’s a poignant moment in the movie, but it also brought reminded me of my first guitar lessons. When we were boys, my oldest brother, Harvey, found a guitar that had been gifted to another sibling who had never used it. He tuned it without knowing how and taught himself make-shift chords. One day a friend of his heard Harvey playing and taught him how to correctly tune it, and he learned chording all over again. Later my brother taught me to play, and music has been one of the most important constants in my life. Even in junior high, I remember thinking if I had to lose a limb, I’d prefer not walking to the loss of my hands because of how much I enjoy playing piano and guitar. In 2009, my oldest brother died of a heart attack. He was only 46-years old. The morning after his death, I was sitting at the old piano in my parents’ living room. I tried to pick out a melody but the sound of the notes reminded me of all the music we had played together: the long nights of jamming with friends, sitting around with family for sing-alongs, listening to one another share songs we had written. It was the moment when I cried the most bitterly that he was gone – not because I didn’t believe I’d never see him again in eternity – but because the world still seems lonelier and less spectacular in his absence. Memory #2 : Using Music to Teach History The second memory that came to me was of a teaching colleague, Brooks Walton, who passed away shortly after his retirement while I was principal at Skiatook High School. Mr. Walton was a legend among students and the entire community. He taught U.S. History, and for several years, he taught an elective on the 1960’s that was one of the most popular classes in the school. Brooks Walton taught students that history has meaning, and he introduced many of them to that meaning through the songs of the Beatles. Each year he took students on a field trip to Dallas, Texas, where they toured the 6th Floor, a museum located on the very corner of the place where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. At his retirement party, Mr. Walton hired a live band. I’ll never forget seeing him in his T-shirt and jeans, hands in the air, leading the entire room in “Hey, Jude.” When he died two years later, our school board changed the name of our newest building to the Brooks Walton Activity Center. His funeral was a standing-room-only event with friends and students whose lives he had so richly influenced.
July 10, 2019
Jenny is a returning student at her high school. She has a part-time job which keeps her up late most nights. Photo by JESHOOTS.COM – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions When she arrives late to school, she has already missed breakfast and she’s tardy. She stands in a long line at the counseling office until she is given her class schedule. She reads it quickly: First hour, Mr. Samuels, room 125, Algebra II. She doesn’t recognize the name. Maybe he’s one of the new teachers.  She heads down the hall. She’s flush with frustration but holds her head high, turns the corner and steps into the classroom. She finds an open seat in the back of the room. As she glances around the room, she does not see the teacher’s name anywhere. By this time, she’s too embarrassed to ask, and the teacher is so involved in his first-day-of-school speech that he hasn’t paused to ask Jenny for her name, schedule, or given her any other leads. As he talks on, she realizes this is Language Arts, not a math class. She must have entered the wrong room or misread her schedule.  Jenny endures the discomfort for the remaining minutes. Then she rushes from the class as quickly as possible, frustrated and hoping the rest of her first day of school is not this confusing. Keeping students in mind As important as it is to keep your responsibilities in mind as you start a new school year, it is even more important to keep the end-goal in mind: serving students. You have students returning from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences. You also serve teachers, staff and parents with questions and concerns. How can you be ready for all of them? Questions every student is asking on the first day As you know, how we prepare for students can either help or hurt their first-day experiences. Harry Wong, author of The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher, reminds us of seven questions every student asks about his or her teachers: 1. Am I in the right room? 2. Where am I supposed to sit? 3. Who is the teacher as a person? 4. Will the teacher treat me as a human being? 5. What are the rules in this classroom? 6. What will I be doing this year? 7. How will I be graded? Questions every teacher and staff person asks on the first day But students aren’t the only ones who need clarity. Your teachers and staff also want to know some questions that only school leaders an answer. So I’ve re-written Harry Wong’s questions to reflect what your teachers and staff will be asking: 1. What is my schedule? 2. What extra duties, assignments or activities might I expect? 3. Who is my administrator as a person? 4. Will he/she treat me as a human being? 5. What are the expectations, procedures, policies in our school? 6. What am I expected to accomplish this year? 7. How will I be evaluated, mentored, graded or coached?
July 3, 2019
When my family recently visited the Rocky Mountain National Park, we enjoyed drives through snow-peaked mountains. Photo by Tobias Mrzyk – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions But my 13-year old son, Jack, was most excited about hiking and climbing. One morning, we gathered the family by Shadow Mountain Lake, and began a hike along the lake that eventually led to a 3-mile ascent to a lookout tower on the summit of nearest mountain. At first, we were excited and full of energy. But as we climbed, the ascent became more difficult. Soon we were stopping for breaks, and at times, I began wondering if the climb was really worth it. At times, we were so tired, no one was talking as we trudged up the hills — sweating and panting as we climbed the steeper inclines. But when we reached the top, it was so worth it. Spread below us was a panaroma of mountains and lakes. We sat down and soaked in the beauty. Soon we were laughing, taking photos and making new memories. Whenever I think about school-wide changes, I like to remember the lessons of a long hike. Most changes begin with a vision of the end-goal in mind. You gather your team, your map out plans, and you begin implementation. But along the way, people begin to push-back or resist. Others may grow tired or overwhelmed. Some may decide they don’t want to participate any longer. But if you can help others reach successful destinations, the hard work is worth it. How do you lead and manage changes so that your school community can reach the goals you set together?  This week, author and principal Jen Schwanke serves as co-host as we discuss several takeaways for school leaders to keep in mind for implementing and managing school-wide changes: Introducing and Managing School-wide Initiatives or Change 1. Slow down and take the time making sure the change is necessary. Before you can lead anyone through the change, you must first answer this important question: “What problem are we actually trying to solve here?” If there is no problem, don’t introduce change just for the sake of change. People must know the “why” involved in change.  2. Be careful of introducing too much change.  If possible, start conversations about change the year before they will happen (if possible). Your teachers and staff already have a lot on their plats. So start small. Include teachers or interested team members in exploring change, taking teachers on trips to see models that work, and anticipate how to mediate the anxiety others have with change. When possible, beta-test or pilot models in small groups or in isolated settings before fully implementing.  3. Find what your school needs vs. what you have seen/heard from others.  If you are reading books, attending conferences, or visiting with other schol leaders, you may be tempted to want to adopt every great practice you observe. Before introducing change, however, anticipate mindsets. People like to feel like they’re coming home after summer break. So Introduce change in small ways. Find those on your team who can help lead change, rather than trying to lead change alone. And as you do so, hold on to the meangingful practices in your school that already work and your school community already enjoy. 4. Anticipate resistance.  In Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong: How the Abili...
June 26, 2019
Two years ago, my oldest daughter graduated from the high school where I was principal. Photo by Dakota Corbin – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions When she headed off to college that fall, it was a mix of celebration and grief on my part. Recently, Jen Schwanke and I co-hosted two podcast episodes on Parenting as Principals. You can check them out here: Part 1 and Part 2. This week I wanted to share an “encore post” I made when my daughter headed into the new chapter in our lives. In it, I share four tips for parents who want to make the most of the years you have left… August 2017…I’ve been thinking a lot about fatherhood this week because my oldest daughter just went to college. Eighteen years ago, I was standing by her hospital crib when she been delivered prematurely. She was six and half weeks early and weighed a healthy 5lbs, 11 ounces. But she struggled to breathe, so nurses asked me to push her cart and follow them to the NICU. Here they moved her into a crib with a ventilator and connected her to wires and leads. For the next two weeks, my wife and I spent our days at the NICU or the “NIC-unit” as the nurses called it. At first, we could only stroke her and hold her little hands. Then she was able to try nursing. Eventually, they gave Missy a room where she could sleep in the same room with Emily at night. It was Thanksgiving Day when we brought her home. My wife’s family had spent so much time out-of-state visiting her in the hospital and helping us prepare for her arrival, they had all returned to their homes to give us space. We forgot that it was Thanksgiving so I ran to the store and we had a simple dinner and just basked in the joy of having our first baby safely home. During the two weeks of her hospitalization, the hardest part was sleeping at night without her there. It’s odd how I could live my whole life without knowing I would someday have an Emily to love, but the moment she was born, I could no longer imagine a world without her. We had bought a CD of Michael Card’s Sleep Sound in Jesus. So, we’d play it at night as we held one another and prayed for her. This week our 18-year old went to college. It was a delight to see her filling the house with shopping bags and watching her organize books and clothes. The night before she left we gathered all four kids in the living room. I brought out a bottle of sparkling grape juice, and we all made toasts to Emily, and then we prayed for her. The next day, her mother was the hero of the day when we moved her in, and she helped her unpack and settle in. We are so proud of her for the full-academic scholarship that allows her in the school’s honors program. But the last few days have been harder than I imagined they would be. It’s a different feeling than I’ve ever had before. I know she will come home again for breaks or long weekends. I know we’ll have her home for the holidays and talk her into vacation getaways. But there is more than an empty bed in our home. I’ve tried to compare it to finishing one of the best books you’ve ever read. You turn the page, and it’s over, but you still want more. And you find yourself grieving that you don’t get to be there for stories of the characters that must keep going on. And I’m having all these memories of Emily. The nights we snuggled in the blue chair to read books.
June 19, 2019
This week’s post is an encore episode I shared a couple of years ago. Since I’m enjoying some vacation, I thought I would remind you why your time away from school may help you better serve your school. Photo by Holly Mandarich – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions Regardless of whether someone is an educator or not, or whether your vacation time is long or short, taking time away from work is healthy for a number of reasons. Here’s why: 4 Reasons Why Your Vacation Matters 1. Vacation reminds you of who you really are. Sometimes it is too easy to identify ourselves completely by our work. When we introduce ourselves to someone new, we almost always end up explaining what work we do. That’s not bad, but it also exemplifies how common it is to build our identities around our work. Getting away for personal or family time allows us to come back to some of the priorities motivate us to do good work. For me, it gives me time to see my children play, to explore together, to read books, to have longer conversations with my wife, and to pray. All of these connections can help you rediscover what is important and ultimately give more meaning to your work when you return. 2. Vacation allows you mental and emotion detox. There is something healthy about days of not accomplishing work-related projects, reading emails, answering questions, solving problems, attending meetings, etc. Like exercising different muscles in your body helps you discover where you need to gain strength, vacation allows you to exercise different mental and emotional muscles. It gives your brain and emotions a break from the normal “work-out”. 3. Vacation stimulates creativity. For me, I find myself having more time to write, play music, travel, or spend time with friends and family. Suddenly, I am finding time for those areas I love that may often get ignored.  For instance, one morning during a Colorado vacation, I was able to reflect on my surroundings and write the following: This morning the panorama of mountains is breathtaking. Peaks in the distance show ridges still covered with snow. The jagged, gothic, jutting, massive gray of a 14-er hides behind the closer green aspen covered hills. Mountains to my north and east alternate with colors of green and exposed red dirt and bare rock. And meadows below them all are covered with wildflowers: brilliant yellows, whites, and purples. As I write this, humming birds are alternating between feeders nearby. Shimmering greens, browns, and ruby-throated buzzing back and forth. Yesterday morning, I saw a deer bouncing away in the meadows below. And two nights ago, we watch as a copper colored fox prowled around looking food treasures. These kind of reflective moments are possible outside of vacation too, but getting away is also a great time to experience them. 4. Vacation creates great memories. One of my teammates at work has a great practice of putting his vacation photos on his lap-top computer as a screen saver. He keeps it nearby his desk during the day. When he has time to work at his desk, vacation memories consistently greet him.  Although we should never live simply for the pleasure of playing, vacation is a great way to rediscover your priorities, detox mentally, stimulate creativity, and create new memories.  So as the new school year is about to begin,
June 12, 2019
When I was in junior high school, everyone on my basketball team wore Converse high-tops. Yes, that means I’m officially from the 70’s! I’ll never forget mine: Photo by Oliver Hihn – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions They were the color of golden-rod, and I was so proud of them that I never wore them outside the gym because I didn’t want to scuff them up. For a thirteen year-old boy at the time, Converse was the only brand to wear. But a few years later, when Michael Jordan came on the scene during my high school years, Nike soon became the new must-have shoe.  Sometimes I think about the brands I like to buy, but it’s easy to forget that schools are also brands. Because schools are learning communities, they are much more than products; at the same time, students don’t just attend our schools, they experience them. When is the last time you thought about the feelings people have when they experience your school brand? This week I want to share a conversation on school branding from Marlena Gross-Taylor, a dedicated and successful education consultant, speaker, coach, and presenter.  Marlena Gross-Taylor Interview A Nashville transplant originally from southern Louisiana, Marlena’s educational experience spans several states allowing her to have served K-12 students in both rural and urban districts. She has been recognized as a middle school master teacher and innovative administrator at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.  She is also the founder of #EduGladiators and has been recognized as a middle school master teacher and innovative administrator at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Her professional development expertise has garnered both state and national attention. After hearing her present on “Why You Should Brand Your School,” I asked her if she would join me as a guest for Principal Matters. Listen in, and I know you will enjoy Marlena’s optimism, insights, and practical tips on ways you can promote the wonderful things happening at your school. Branding Your School Q & A: WDP: Why do you believe it is so important for school leaders to think about branding? MGT: School is also a business. If a business is not reaching its customers, its story will never be told. Schools must take control of their own story. Branding is about marketing. You should be able to tell your school in such a positive light that everyone wants to be a part of it. You must think about yourself as a brand if you plan to stay competitive. Also you need to think about yourself as a brand! Here are some platforms schools are using for promoting their brands:TwitterFacebookInstagramLivestreamYouTubePeriscope WDP: What should school leaders keep in mind about the different stages they will have in branding their schools? MGT: Learn to understand and be aware of your messaging. Your story should be focused on driving awareness and establishing place in the market. Just like the company Lyft if taking the place of Uber in marketing awarene...
June 5, 2019
A few years ago, we had a lockdown drill at the high school where I was principal. Photo by Dane Deaner – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions Local police had called to say they were aware of a potential threat against our school on social media. They were locating the person of interest in a location outside the school community but wanted us to lockdown until they had isolated and confirmed the situation at hand. When we announced that the school was going into lockdown, my cell phone buzzed. It was my daughter, a sophomore at the time.  “Dad,” she said, “What’s going on?”  “Listen to the announcements like everyone else,” I said, “I need my phone open so that I can talk to police.” As I hung up, I was annoyed. She knew my role as principal meant I could not stop in the middle of managing a security situation to answer her questions. But I also felt guilty. I realized some important thoughts. First, my daughter was scared.  Second, the rest of my students probably felt the same way she did. Third, I had done a poor job communicating to my school community. So, I made an all-call on the school intercom saying something like this:  Students, I want to let you know that we are conducting our lockdown procedure because local police are investigating a situation off-campus and have advised us to lockdown until they are finished investigating. We are monitoring the situation and your teachers will continue instruction and supervision while the campus continues in lockdown until we are cleared. Please know you are safe, and the situation of concern is off-campus. Thank you for your patience and we will keep you posted. I also sent a quick email blast to parents and guardians with a similar message. Later that day and the next, I received thank-you emails or comments from parents who said their high school students told them my announcements calmed them and kept them feeling safe. This week, Jen Schwanke, author and principal, continue our podcast discussion of what it is like to be a parent and principal of your own child. Wearing both hats can be both rewarding and stressful at times. We discuss understanding the teachers’ perspective in having your child, things to avoid with a child in your building, and priorities to keep in mind. From the teacher’s perspective: It’s important to acknowledge the natural stress teachers may have when they realize they have a principal’s kids in the class. Keeping this idea in mind means you protect both relationships. An important goal is to honor that relationship by presenting all your teachers in the best light to your child. Even when you are aware of situations that may require correction in your building, don’t gossip about teachers. Protect confidentiality. And teach your child to be the first advocate for himself or herself. Every child is unique, and parenting him or her through school requires wisdom, but be patient and work to protect and honor your child and his or her teachers. Things to avoid: Don’t use your position to try to change the trajectory of your child’s journey. He or she should be encouraged and supported but learn to engage in activities or interests that fit his or her personality, gifts, or interests.   Don’t make sweeping changes to your school based on one child (your child’s) experience. Schools are communities,
May 30, 2019
Oklahoma has experienced its share of storms and severe weather this spring. Photo by Lonely Planet – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions The other day, our family was sitting in our storm closet as sirens were sounding at 6:30AM. Afterwards, I was driving my seventh-grade son, Jack, to school. As we approached the school, I began to predict how his principals would manage the morning. “Most likely, several teachers will be late because of the storms,” I said. “So, you’ll probably wait in the gym until staff have reported and then students will be sent to class.” “Dad,” he interrupted, “I have good principals. I think they’ll know what to do.” I started laughing. I realized at that moment I was parenting and being a principal at the same time. At that moment, he just needed me to be dad. As the father of four, I had the privilege of being the principal of my two oldest daughters. For my younger two children, I have been their dad but not their principal.  With my older two, I had to maneuver the landscape of both leading a school and being dad in their school.  Regardless if your children attend the school of which you are the principal, or they attend a different school, being the principal and a parent is a tricky balance.  Each person has a complicated balance with these two roles, so this will speak to different people in different ways. This week, Jen Schwanke, author and principal, co-hosts podcast episode 154 to discuss the dynamics of parenting from both the principal’s perspective and the child’s perspective: From the principal’s perspective, here are four questions to ask: * What do you do when we see poor instructional decisions being made by your child’s teacher(s)?* When do you to step in to advocate for your child?* How do you balance the privilege and responsibilities of your leadership?* Are you advocating for YOUR child or ALL children? (The wisdom is to know the difference between the two.) Just like every child you raise is different, the way you respond to the above questions is as complex as each child and situation. Be aware, be involved, and listen well so you have the most information possible for making a good decision. Things to avoid saying: Also, when speaking to your own children’s teachers, avoid saying comments that you HATE hearing from other parents: “My son would never do that.” “My daughter does not lie.” “My daughter does not lie.” “My child is gifted that’s why he’s bored.” “Can you please make an exception?” “I’m going to have to go higher up than you.” Here are some pro-active thoughts to keep in mind instead: * When working with your child’s teachers, assume best intentions (always listen to both sides of the story).* Attend meetings: whether it’s an open house or parent conference nights, be present and communicate that you’re wearing the “parent” hat.* Communicate: Look at your school from the perspective of a parent and improve your communication accordingly. From your child’s perspective:  Helping your child navigate the role of being the “principal’s kid” means understanding your child’s individual development and personality traits.
May 22, 2019
When Principal Jen Schwanke was talking to one of her teachers about the importance of balance, her teacher asked an honest question. “Why should I do this when you don’t?” Photo by Mpho Mojapelo – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions Jen realized then that she had been modeling bad habits for her teachers. For instance, when she sent emails to teachers at 10:00 PM, she was demonstrating that work was happening when her teachers should have been resting. All of us are guilty of not practicing or modeling the good habits of maintaining balance. And frankly, none of us will ever achieve perfect balance. But you can focus on areas of your life that need attention in order to keep those essential areas (your health, mindset, family, personal interests, etc.) of healthy and growing. This week, Jen Schwanke and I explore Part 2 of Maintaining Balance and Focusing on What Matters/ Self-Care. Jen Schwanke is the author of You’re the Principal. Now What? Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders. She is also the Principal of Indian Run Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio. You can check out Part 1 here for last week’s 10 Tips on Maintaining Balance. Part 2: 10 (More) Tips for Maintaining Balance 1. Model what you expect.  Othersare looking at us for the expectation we set for ourselves. So when you ask teammates to plan ahead, be in the moment, and “work smarter, not harder,” you must consistently reflect on your own practices and adjust accordingly. 2. Learn when it’s time to walk away.  You can’t be everything to everyone, so don’t kill yourself trying. Yes, many situations and people will require investments of time, energy, and emotion. At the end of the day, however, you cannot control every outcome. Learn to accept that and turn your focus back to those areas where you can make a difference. 3. Recognize seasons.  Certain times of year and seasons of life affect the stress of life and school. Be aware of new marriages, strained relationships, teachers as new parents, or those caring for aging adults. Just as school has seasons, so does life. So let others be vulnerable and honest about the seasons they are facing, and give them (and yourself) grace and support during the harder times. 4. Get help when you need it.  One of Jen’s administrator friends relates a story about how hiring a cleaning lady completely relieved her of the stress of housework at a time when she was trying to manage too much. Sometimes you need to be willing to ask for help or seek therapy to talk through anxieties. Tuck in your cape and don’t pretend to be a superhero.  5. Accept you are not always in control of your time.  Yes, we can set priorities, but accepting the ebbs and flows of school and life will help you maintain poise when situations happen that detour of time and attention. Part of the challenge (and joy) of school leadership is the unpredictability of leading school communities. So embrace it. 6. Acknowledge when others need a break. At times, your teachers need you to simply acknowledge they are overwhelmed. Perhaps you need to cancel a scheduled meeting to give them s...
May 15, 2019
We just celebrated Mother’s Day. This time of year is a good reminder that our families play such an important role in our lives outside of school. Photo by Bruno Nascimento – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions No matter how many principals I visit, one conversation comes up often: how to maintain balance and stay focused on what matters even while leading a school. Although I think it is naïve to believe you can achieve perfect balance, I do believe you can take time to reflect and focus on important areas of your life – other than just your leadership – that lead to healthier self-growth and stronger care for others. This week, co-host Jen Schwanke and I jump into a conversation on maintaining balance. School leadership is something you do with your heart, not just your mind. When you pour your heart out at school, how can you also have heart left for caring for your family, your health, and other life priorities? The answers are not easy, but just paying attention to your need for self-care is the first step. As you reflect, remember you’re not alone. People in all professions face struggles in keeping healthy priorities, but principals are often like first-responders: managing situations that are often intense and emotionally draining. Consider these 10 tips for self-care we discuss in this week’s podcast episode (next week, we’ll cover even more): 10 Tips for Reflecting on Your Own Self-Care * Put family first. Whatever your family looks like, make sure the ones you love don’t only get the “leftovers” of your time and attention. Give them priority with your time and attention because they are the ones who need to be there when work no longer exits.* Stay connected to colleagues. Even if you are often working alone as a principal, you can still avoid loneliness but staying connected to others. Find what supports and uplifts you in your work, and take time for that connection. Maybe that means getting out of the office to spend more time in classrooms. Perhaps it’s taking a few minutes to eat lunch with others and stop eating while reading emails. You need others.* Exercise. Your body was made to move, not just consume energy-drinks. Yes, staying active is a commitment, but when you take time to exercise, you will actually find more energy, not less, for your work.* Drink coffee. Ok, this is my own personal indulgence. Whether it’s tea, coffee, or a smoothie, little rewards are okay and can boost your day and help provide boosts of energy. Plus, my wife tells me I’m a better husband and dad when I’m caffeinated!* Find activities outside of school you enjoy. A few weeks ago, I met Principal Ian White at Freeport Intermediate who is building his own paddle board after school. I love podcasting, which is something I did while leading a school because it gave me a creative outlet for sharing about my school’s success. Whatever it is you love to do, find time to enjoy those activities too. * Balance technology. Learn to turn off technology and have face-to-face conversations, or go for a walk. Or use technology in a healthy way rather than a way that depletes your energy.* Don’t eat like you work in a school. In other words, commit to good nutrition. Yes, your grandmother was correct: healthy food and lots of water makes you feel better.* Sleep. It is not weakness to rest. And research has confirmed this. You need good sleep for your overall health and peace-of-mind.* Make regularly scheduled sacred time. Whether that is a Sabbath rest, a designated time for something you love, or a vacation-time with your family – protect these sacred times to...
May 8, 2019
Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting Norman High School, in Norman, Oklahoma. Photo by Ian Schneider – Creative Commons No known copyright restrictions Dr. Scott Beck was recently named Oklahoma’s High School Principal of the Year, and I wanted to touch-base with him and tour his school. From the moment I entered the building until I left, I was impressed – not just with Scott’s leadership and connection with students, teachers, and team members, but also at the quality and professionalism of his team. We walked hallways, observed classes, and visited with busy office staff. Office workers, counselors, librarians, teachers, teacher’s aids, and assistant principals – all of these team members were busy serving students, parents or colleagues. Parents were being treated with professionalism. Students were given ownership over their learning in classrooms. And Dr. Beck was demonstrating the same kind of excellence that I saw in his teachers and staff. Why is hiring such an important part of your responsibility as a principal? First and foremost: because the students, teachers, and community members deserve high quality education experiences like the ones Scott’s school enjoys. And secondly: because the people in your school often reflect on your own leadership. Although we cannot judge ourselves by the way others behave, school leaders are responsible for how others behave under their leadership, and hiring plays one of the most crucial roles in the kind of culture and environment a school provides. Part 2 of Hiring & Retaining High Quality Teachers This week, we dive into Part 2 of Hiring & Retaining High Quality Teachers. You can check out Part 1 here. As co-host Jen Schwanke, author and principal, and I share in this week’s podcast episode, there are several important ideas to keep in mind: 3 Tips for Hiring & Retaining Talented Educators * Know the difference between talent and skill.  You can teach skill. You can’t teach talent.  Enough said (but you can listen to the podcast episode for more).* Value your candidates. The way you treat candidates reflects on your leadership, and you never know when someone may be re-applying for a future position if this one isn’t offered. So remember: * Show respect, kindness, and professionalism (Show the same courtesy you’d want to receive.)* Remember others are out there talking about the experience* Be open to working your schedule around candidates, not vice-versa.* Keep in mind a number-2 candidate may later come back as a number-1. So treat everyone with dignity and respect.* When possible, follow-up by phone with every candidate so that even those not chosen feel honored.* Showcase your school’s vision, culture, and offerings. This IS a sales job for hiring the most excellent candidates.* When the candidate pool is shallow, be creative: visit job fairs, go online, use social media, be open to interviewing remote candidates via video-chats. 3. Once you have hired a quality educator, here are some important tips for keeping them on the team: * Check in often (but don’t hover!) – New hires deserve your attention but also the autonomy to learn and make mistakes.* Morale/culture – Fostering positivity is an important part of attracting and retaini...
April 24, 2019
Recently, the teachers at Indian Run Elementary, in Dublin, Ohio, organized a “Flash TACO bar” – a spontaneous buffet meal where they shared great food and fun together. As principal of the school, Jen Schwanke reflects on the joy and creativity of her teachers: they not only love teaching but they also enjoy working together. How do you attract and build strong cultures of educators who find joy in teaching and just being together? In this week’s podcast episode, Jen Schwanke, author of You’re the Principal, Now What! Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders, and I discuss the importance of hiring high quality teachers. Across the nation, principals are facing teacher shortages. In my state for instance, Oklahoma has felt that burden especially strong. The reasons vary: Whether it’s lower teacher pay in some states or the stress that comes with compliance or class sizes – fewer people are choosing education as a college major and career. This means that more than ever principals also have a competitive field in recruiting and retaining excellent teachers. We first discuss reasons hiring teachers is a huge responsibility, including: * The implications of your hires that go on for years and years (decades), either positive or negative * How your hires represent your school (beliefs, philosophy, attitude, etc.) Applications & Interviewing Takeaways Next, we talk about some important hiring priorities to keep in mind: * Depending on the size of your faculty and staff, your strategies for outreach may vary, but it’s important to determine ahead of time what your application process will look like and ensuring it is easy to understand. This means your district or school website must be updated with easy-to-locate applications. * Consider soliciting applications before openings exist. In other words, if you keep general applications available, you may already have applicants available when openings occur. * As you have openings, dig through applications and resumes looking for the qualities you want in a candidate. Open up applications inside and outside your district. * Spend time on social media investigating possible candidates as you want someone who would be the right fit for working with students. * If possible, it is best to interview by committee. Include a small group of teachers, administrators, or counselors so that you have a diverse representation. Clarify roles, and if your district allows you the responsibility, let the ultimate decision be yours. * Remain open to changing your mind as your colleagues may have different perspectives from you. Determine what you are looking for, and remind committee members that feelings/emotions are not hiring criteria: “I really like her! She’s so fun!” cannot be the driving-force of whom you hire. Common Missteps to Avoid Hiring is not necessarily about being “right” or “wrong” in your choices, it is about “fit.” As you’re looking for the right fit, keep these pitfalls in mind: * Don’t fall for a beautiful resume: just because you see a great resume doesn’t always mean you have a quality candidate. * Don’t fall for versed, rote answers: Universities train candidates in how to interview.  Avoid robotics and explore answers for motivation and practice. * Don’t use questions you found from the internet: Instead, use nonstandard interview questions–ones that really reflect what you need. * Don’t forget to ask “why”: Take time to ask why do you want to be here? Check References Don’t ignore references: This is one of the most important steps to not forget. * Who is not on the list?
April 17, 2019
A few years ago, I sat across my desk from a student whose father had abandoned him and left the state. A family in our community had taken in the young man, and our school had been in contact with the Department of Human Services on what to do next. That morning I had been watching a video by Josh Shipp called One Caring Adult. On a whim, I asked the student if he would watch the video on my computer with me. In his story, Josh Shipp shared his own story of abandonment, foster-care, abuse, and eventually finding stability and hope. His story was a powerful reminder of how one caring adult can change the life of a young person. After watching the video-clip, I asked the young man if he’d ever had one caring adult on whom he could depend. He said, “Yes, my adopted mom who lives out-of-state. But I left because I didn’t want to follow her rules, and I don’t know if she’d have me back.” After several calls and other conversations, his adopted mom arranged a flight for him, and he flew back to her home to start the next chapter in his life. Josh Shipp has a powerful story that inspires educators and students alike. Earlier this year, Josh spoke at the Oklahoma Middle Level Educators Association annual conference. Later, I was able to sit down with him for an interview. You can listen to our podcast interview or watch the video of our conversation. Who is Josh Shipp? Josh is a best-selling author, global youth empowerment expert, and acclaimed speaker. A former at-risk foster kid turned youth advocate, he is known for his documentary TV series Teen Trouble on A&E, that followed his groundbreaking work with teens. Josh has spoken at universities such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT & UCLA. He is a recognized teen expert for media outlets such as MTV, CNN, FOX, The New York Times, ABC 20/20, & Good Morning America. He’s worked with groups of parents, educators & mental health professionals plus has spoken to more than TWO Million teens and parents live. His ultimate goal is to help as many young people as possible. He trains other speakers through Youth Speaker University and his online mentoring program One Caring Adult has a world-wide reach. Questions for Josh In this interview, Josh answers the following questions: 1. Can you share some of your own story with us, and why you are dedicated to reaching today’s youth? Josh shares about the influence of a foster parent named Rodney, an educator from Yukon, Oklahoma, who provided him with unexpected stability, firmness and fairness. After being arrested for writing hot checks, Josh has an important conversation with Rodney who tell him: “We don’t see you as a problem, we see you as an opportunity.” As Josh shared, “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” 2. Can you share one or two strategies on ways to have conversations with youth about uncomfortable topics? Some strategies that Josh uses when working through difficult conversations include: A. Be vulnerable. Vulnerability leads to vulnerability. Just like you catch a ball when it’s thrown your way, when you go first in taking risk, students will often reciprocate the appropriate vulnerability you model. With a half million foster kids in the U.S., Josh believed he was the only one. As he has learned to see life from the perspective of others, he has also learned that we must operate from the position of “Heal the wound, reveal the scar.” B. Give them a sense of control. When talking to a young person about a difficult topic, name the topic. Don’t avoid the obvious. Address the elephant in the room by saying,
April 10, 2019
Spring time is here, and the landscape is green with new growth. Ironically, my wife told me that by the spring of each school year, she has decided that our marriage is falling apart, our kids all need counseling, and we have chosen to the wrong places to live, work, etc.   In other words, she has finally realized that this time of school year is often the most stressful time. Thankfully, by summer break, life seems more balanced again. This may be no surprise for you. Right now, you may be busy with testing, sports, activities, and planning for assemblies or graduations this time of year. Along with stress, we often see an increase in conflicts, and even with conflicts among our teachers, parents, or other community members. Last week, Jen Schwanke, and I hosted an episode dedicated to managing difficult conversations with adults. You can check out that post HERE. This week, we recorded a follow-up episode to talk more about this important part of your job. 10 Reflections for Managing Adult Conflict Whether you are managing conflicts with parents, teachers, or other adults, here are some thoughts to keep in mind: 1. Recognize your own bias. Believe it or not, sometimes you don’t clearly see a conflict because of your own biases. This may be the way you perceive others or even behaviors or words that “set you off” in conversations. You may unknowingly have “favorites” among your staff, and this can also make it difficult to stay objective. Recognize these realities, and then approach each conflict with an openness toward understanding and finding solutions. 2. Be open to listening (on your timeline when possible). People want to know they are understood. So the first step to resolving conflict is validating the need for others to be heard. This doesn’t mean, however, that you cannot set boundaries. On the contrary, you want to invite people to talk when it can be most productive and with limits on time. This creates a sense of control for all involved. 3. When meeting in person, be aware of body language. Don’t cross your arms or clench your fists. Keep an open posture and engage with good eye-to-eye contact. These small gestures go a long way in assuring the other person that you are open to listening and don’t feel threatened by their conversation. Of course, if you have a person who is escalating or becoming aggressive, you want to set the ground rules for a good conversation and have back up plans for those especially tricky scenarios. 4. Think about the physical environment. Your office should be a professional setting where others feel welcome and respect that you are someone demonstrating competence, not chaos. Most people don’t like “going to the principal’s office,” so keep that in mind so that yours is a welcoming place. Others should feel like a guest, not an intruder, when meeting with you. 5. Don’t let your ego get in the way. The goal in conflict resolution is finding solutions, not being right or wrong. Don’t let your pride become a stumbling block for active listening and service to others. 6. Keep the others’ perspectives in mind. This happens in many ways: You will want to articulate what you know about their feelings. Take notes on what is being said. Repeat back what you hear others saying. And provide ideas on solutions in line with your normal policies and practices. With adult conflicts, you may simply need to provide a safe place for people to express their thoughts and feelings, even if there is not a final solution that works for everyone. 7. Be an ally. Don’t fall into the trap of taking sides. The goal is to help others find solutions. When is the last time someone offered you criticism with goal of helping you grow and improve?
April 3, 2019
One of the biggest surprises for school new school leaders may be the conflicts that arise with adults. Whether you are encountering conflicts with parents, colleagues or community members, these situations can be difficult to manage. Even experienced principals will tell you that managing conflicts is one of their most challenging but important responsibilities. In this week’s episode, author Jen Schwanke and I discuss the “why’s” and the “how’s” in managing adult conflicts — many of the ideas she shares in her book, You’re the Principal, Now What! Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders. The “why’s” of managing adult conflict First of all, let’s talk about the motivations adults have when bringing conflicts to the principal’s office. As you are encountering scenarios, keep these ideas in mind: * People really do care about students and issues. Just as you care deeply about students, so do other adults. Assuming best intentions is a better place to start than assuming the worst. * People want to be heard and understood. Always seek to understand first before being understood. People often need to feel heard before being offered a solution. * People need mediators to help keep the focus on what is important. You often have the 1,000 foot view of your school because you have the responsibility to keep the big picture in mind. This places you in an important role as a referee and mediator. * It’s never “done.” There is always another coming… Dealing with conflict often means embracing that part of your work that is unpleasant. It will continue to be a role you play, so learn the skills and patience to become better — even while understanding you’ll never be perfect at conflict resolution. * There’s no measure of success. Sometimes everyone leaves unhappy. Even if you cannot help others reach a solution they like, you can still be a strong listener and advocate for what is right. In the end, the goal is not happiness, it is reasonable and wise guidance. * We are “evaluated” by how well we help other people solve problems. Like it or not, your ability to manage and resolve conflict helps the entire school community and district in its service. Learning to do this well also helps you make the jobs of your superintendent or supervisors a lot easier. The first-steps in managing adult conflicts Principals manage a lot of discipline scenarios, and some adult conversations can turn ugly. Here are some general ideas for managing tough conversations: * Know your district’s policies and procedures. When relying on the guidelines provided by your district, you have a measuring stick that is often objective and will be supported by your upper administration (in the best case scenarios). Either way, it is essential to let your policies be the primary guidance for consistency in decision making and mediation. * Keep your cool. It may be hard to keep your own emotions in check, but in order to provide objective feedback, it is a must. Your ability to gauge the emotions in a room and provide clear, calm responses will often help guide the outcomes. * Meet in person. When possible, it is best to meet face-to-face with someone who is upset, angry, or emotional. You will rarely resolve conflicts through texts or emails. People tend to be less defensive or volatile when face-to-face, and scheduling a meeting offers some time to collect your thoughts and calm emotions. * Filter out gossip vs. truth. Yes, people will often try to find ways around policies and procedures by diverting ...
March 27, 2019
When you think about providing professional development, do you feel stressed or excited? For many principals, providing professional development can be a daunting task. The good news is that professional development can become something that is meaningful and enjoyable when you realize you no longer have to be the expert. Instead, together with your school team, you can select topics, share expertise, and learn together how about topics where teachers really care about. In this week’s podcast, Principal Jen Schwanke and I discuss Providing Focused and Budget-Friendly Professional Development. She has been serving co-host for this series on “Strategies and Solutions that Work for School Leaders.” Jen is also the author of You’re the Principal. Now What? Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders, and the Principal of Indian Run Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio. Consider Your Background for Professional Development Here are some ideas to keep in mind before developing a Professional Development Plan: * Size of school * Size of district * Previous professional development * The level of your learners * What the data say * The resources available * District priorities It’s important to keep this context in mind so that you can design PD that works for your setting and context. Recommendation for supporting teachers in PD Once you have this background, consider these steps and strategies: * Gather history about what your teachers have done previously * ASK THEM what they need (surveys, conversations, responses to school initiatives) o Provide choice and voice (just like the kids) o It needs to be applicable to their daily work * Find time (creative solutions for finding time) * Plan short-term and long term (sketching out a vision) * Spread about the work (Delegate! The principal doesn’t need to be the wisest guy in the room) * Use internal experts, but know when to outsource * Vet your PD (don’t just jump on the first vendor that sounds good) * Use your principal colleagues * Follow through with what you promise!! * Make profession reading an expectation (cheap, easy, and applicable– book study groups) * Use resources (more and more available online) Finally, at the end of these conversations and planning, develop a shared professional development calendar. At the end of this week’s podcast, Jen shares a sample of how she and her school team build their own. Listen-in this week as we also add some bonus-conversation at the end to remind you that it is better to choose fewer priorities than overwhelm yourself and your teachers with un-focused professional development. Let’s Wrap This Up You need to remember there is no way to include everything you want to cover in professional development, but you can learn to share the learning and increase the joy of focused PD. It is more important to go deep in one or two areas than to overwhelm your teachers with too many initiatives at once. Be a leader who listens AND protects those whom your serving – while also inspiring learning. Now It’s Your Turn What is one new way you can begin approaching professional development that involves input from your team? How can you protect time in your calendar so that time is prioritized for ongoing learning for your teachers and staff? What is something you’d love to learn more about? Ask your teachers that question and begin planning professional development...
March 20, 2019
Have you ever felt overwhelmed in trying to balance priorities? If you’re like me, you can probably think of more than once where student discipline, parent concerns, and teacher feedback provided you more tasks than you could complete in a day. No matter whether you are a new principal or a veteran leader, here’s a quick truth: you will never reach the point where you “have it all together.” That’s because you will always have room for growth. At the same time, how can you build strategies and good habits for better balancing priorities? This week, author and principal Jen Schwanke and I continue a series on Strategies and Solutions for School Leaders. As we discuss ways for school leaders to balance priorities, we focus on nine helpful takeaways so that you increase your capacity to manage the demands of school leadership. These include: 1. Acknowledging your limitations. Every leader must admit he or she has limits, and it is a healthy practice to anticipate what you will do when overwhelmed with tasks, requests, and responsiblities. 2. Refusing to be a martyr. Tuck in your cape. You are not a super hero. And your teachers and students do not need a leader who sacrifices his or her well-being to serve. 3. Watching your attitude. At the end of the day, you set the tone for the optimism and hope of your school. You are not in it alone, but your attitude will convey to others how they should be handling pressure. 4. Staying organized. Yes, there are strategies, plans, and tips that can help. But these must fit your work style and personality to be effective. 5. Leaning on support. You were made to work with others. Don’t be afraid to model humility, ask for help, and rely on others for the tasks of leading a school. 6. Connecting with colleagues. Other principals and school leaders can provide a safety net for you. They provide perspective and support that can make the load feel lighter. 7. Putting students first. Yes, you have a lot on your plate, but always ask yourself how your actions, words, and plans are helping students. 8. Learning the cycle of leadership. Believe it or not, principals sometimes reach points of peace. When you have these rare moments, don’t feel guilty. Learn to draw strength from them for the next difficult moment you’ll encounter. 9. Embracing unpredictability with humor. It will be difficult to survive leadership unless you embrace pressure as part of the journey. It’s even more satisfying when you learn to find joy and laughter even in the crazy moments. Let’s Wrap This Up Among these helpful takeaways, Jen and I also discuss several ways leaders can organize and prioritize tasks so that they are fulfilling their duties and honoring those whom they serve. This includes creating a scheduling system that works for you, taking time to prioritize, and keeping track of tasks and crossing them off the list. Many of these great tips can be found in Jen’s helpful book, You’re The Principal! Now What?. Listen-in to this week’s conversation to hear more reflections on these takeaways so that you increase your capacity to manage the demands of school leadership. Now It’s Your Turn The good news is that over time, school leadership does provide seasons of stability, where you can breathe, reflect, and re-prioritize. Good habits do lead to better results. This week, choose one good habit you may want to implement or enhance for balancing priorities. What is one step you can take today to rethink your a...
March 13, 2019
When is the last time you heard the following words? “We do what’s best for kids.” Of course, we want school leaders to do what is best for students. But we also want to provide a place where adults feels supported and encouraged in bringing joy to students. Those priorities are not in opposition to one another. And if you are going to encourage a culture of trust, collaboration and interdependence, you must value the input of your entire school community. That’s why I’m so excited to continue our conversation with author and principal Jen Schwanke as she co-hosts Part 2 of promoting a school culture of trust. In Part 1, we discussed the three kinds of culture school leaders may face: cultures of isolation, cultures of distrust, or cultures of teamwork. In Part 2, we talk about how to cultivate a culture of trust or teamwork by promoting positive outcomes for everyone – students, staff, teachers, and community members. Jen discusses some key questions for exploring your culture. Think about the following when seeking the input of your school members: * How do you feel about what’s happening in your classes and our school? * What is it that you see happening within our school that we can work on? * Tell me why you think this challenging situation has happened? * What do you think we can do about this? * Is there anything you’d like to share? Listen to the history of your school, try digest information without passing judgement, and don’t commiserate with criticisms. Also, in this episode, Jen and I talk about other scenarios like: * Does your school enjoy plenty of laughter? If not, it is possible students and teachers are not finding joy in their work. * What philosophy drives your leadership? Embracing a philosophy that what’s best for students = every member of the school community feels valued. * How do you encourage openness instead of isolation? Having open conversations vs. talking behind the back of the others. Don’t miss out on the entire conversation for takeaways and encouragement in the way you are building culture as we continue our series on Strategies and Solutions for School Leaders. Let’s Wrap This Up Ultimately, when everyone feels valued, you are doing what’s best for kids. When you study cultures at Chick-fil-a, Southwest Airlines, or Starbucks Coffee and other successful companies, each of these organizations focuses on a commitment to employee satisfaction as much as customer satisfaction. And a focus on serving all helps lead to school-wide cultures of trust. Now It’s Your Turn What ways can your commitment to “What’s best for students” involve all members of your school community? What is a way you can embed open-ended questions into conversations with students and teachers in order to more deeply understand the “why” of your culture? What is one step you can take this week to model trust in others? Sign-Up For Free Updates and Ebook When you enter your email address below, you will automatically receive my newest posts and a free Ebook, 8 Hats: Essential Roles for School Leaders. Let’s keep learning together! #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; } /* Add your own MailChimp form style overrides in your site stylesheet or in this style block.
March 6, 2019
Cultivating a positive school culture is a lot like tending a garden. When you have tilled the soil, pulled the weeds, and watered your plants, your work is not finished. You will need to take the same steps again soon in order to keep a healthy environment for growth. School culture requires the same care. In order to build and maintain a positive school culture, you must identify challenges and promote positives. In the book, You’re the Principal, Now What? Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders, author Jen Schwanke shares three kinds of school cultures to keep in mind: two negatives to combat and one positive to promote: * A Culture of Isolation * A Culture of Distrust * A Culture of Confidence, Understanding, and Teamwork This week, Jen Schwanke joins Principal Matters Podcast to co-host a new series on Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders. During this episode, we discuss the following strategies: 1. Gauging the past: This includes researching your school’s history and staying impartial when gathering information. 2. Building from the ground up: This requires establishing trust, showing appreciation, staying positive, leading by example, asking the right questions, taking one step at a time, and not expecting perfection. 3. Keeping momentum: Throughout the year, you must relentlessly take stock, be visible, make a goal of “every kid, every teacher, every day”, get personal, and be personable. Let’s Wrap This Up No matter what time of the year, cultivating positive school culture involves promoting work within and outside the classroom, gathering people together, seeking ideas and input from others, building teams, and rewarding evidence of positive culture. As you do the consistent work of building a culture of confidence, understanding, and teamwork, you promote a healthy environment for student growth. Listen-in to this week’s podcast conversation to learn more! Now It’s Your Turn What is one step you can take today to engage “every student and every teacher” in a positive school experience? Whether you increasing visibility or sharing out student happenings on social media, keep cultivating the “good soil” of your school culture this week. Sign-Up For Free Updates and Ebook When you enter your email address below, you will automatically receive my newest posts and a free Ebook, 8 Hats: Essential Roles for School Leaders. Let’s keep learning together! #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; } /* Add your own MailChimp form style overrides in your site stylesheet or in this style block. We recommend moving this block and the preceding CSS link to the HEAD of your HTML file. */ Subscribe for free weekly updates and receive free e-book! * indicates required Email Address * First Name Last Name (function($) {window.fnames = new Array(); window.ftypes = new Array();fnames[0]='EMAIL';ftypes[0]='email';fnames[1]='FNAME';ftypes[1]='text';fnames[2]='LNAME';ftypes[2]='text';}(jQuery));var $mcj = jQuery.noConflict(true); Principal Matters–The Book! School leaders are very busy,
February 27, 2019
When Garth Larson was asked to move from secondary administration to become an elementary principal, he was curious if he could be an effective leader at that level. But his work in early-education combined with his years in secondary education gave him a unique perspective of the K-12 experience. Later, when he moved into a district leadership position, he and his teachers began asking lots of questions about their own K-12 grading practices: * Were students being graded on their work or on their proficiency of learning standards? * Were teachers more focused on instruction or on all students learning? * What practices would ensure that students reached the targets set for targeted learning standards? Slowly, the grading practices of his entire district began to change from a traditional model to a target-based (or standards based) grading model. As a result of these targeted practices, within four school years, his district moved from a ranking of 120th among districts in Wisconsin to second in the state. Meet Garth Larson Dr. Garth Larson is the President of FIRST Educational Resources, based out of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He previously worked as the K-12 Director of Learning for the Winneconne Community School District in Northeast Wisconsin. He also served as an elementary principal and high school speech and English teacher. He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. He sits on the Board of Directors for ASCD Wisconsin, serves on the K-12 Advisory Council for Education for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and also serves as an adjunct faculty member for educational courses offered through Dominican University of California as well as the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Garth currently consults to school districts around the country and provides customized professional development around a variety of school leadership topics. He Garth is also the author of Grading for Impact co-authored with Tom Hierck, and Collaborative Systems of Support: Learning for ALL with co-authors Tom Hierck and Chris Weber. Target-Based Learning In this week’s podcast interview, Dr. Larson explains the leadership lessons learned in his experience with target-based practices. Together we discuss: * What motivated Dr. Larson’s teachers and administrators to move from traditional grading to target-based grading instead. * How target-based grading reflects proficiency more than completion or practice. * Models of target-based (or standards based) grading at the elementary, middle-level, and high school levels. * Lessons Dr. Larson learned in managing change: how leaders must listen, respond to real and perceived challenges, and walk “into the tunnels” with teachers to find solutions. * Finally, Dr. Larson shares about his journey as President of FIRST Educational Resources: his transitions from building leadership to district leadership and then to working with more than 1,500 districts across the nation. Let’s Wrap This Up Grading practices are often embedded parts of our school culture and tradition. As you study the learning practices of your students and the grading practices of your teachers, where do you see the focus and priority in student grades? As you lead others toward a focus on all students learning, what practices may need to reexamined for reaching those goals? Now It’s Your Turn When is the last time you have asked questions about grading practices? Would you say your students are graded primarily on proficiency? How can you ensure your school learning practices are focused on competency r...
February 21, 2019
It’s that time of year again for hiring and job searches! Whether you are conducting an interview or being interviewed, I have found some common expectations anyone should have when walking into an education interview. If you are looking for sample questions specific to principal interviews, let me encourage you to check out the post, 30 Questions from Principal Interviews. But if you are in transition or you know someone preparing for their next interview, I want to share some tips to keep in mind for a solid interview experience: Takeaways from years of conducting interviews As hard as it is to work through the hiring process, nothing is more important to the success of school than finding quality educators. Although I haven’t kept count, it is safe to say that during the last twelve years, I have interviewed over a hundred individuals for staff or teaching positions. I have also sat on teams interviewing for principal or director positions. In my school leadership roles, I have seen many great and not-so-great interviews. Likewise, I have delivered some of both myself. Because I am a teacher at heart, I sometimes visit with candidates afterwards about ways they could improve their interview skills. Since I find myself coaching the same consistent themes, here are the 10 of them: 1. Write a solid resume. This should go without saying, but a good resume should be neat, concise, and without errors. Display a heading with all your contact information. Skills most pertinent to the position should be prominent and experience should be listed chronologically with most recent experiences first. If possible, limit your resume to one-page. Long resumes are tedious to read and usually unnecessary. 2. Use pre-emptive email or phone call. My advice is to send a short, friendly email to the person(s) you believe will be responsible for the hiring. This is usually pretty easy to figure out by visiting school websites or just calling and asking school staff for contact information. Make sure your inquiry is brief, professional, and without misspellings. If you choose to reach someone by phone or leave a voicemail, rehearse what you will say ahead of time. By all means, do not ramble or give the impression that you are desperate for a job.  School leaders want people who are passionate about teaching or leading, not about just finding a job. 3. Research your prospects. With the ease of finding information via the web, there is no excuse for not understanding in advance the lay-of-the-land in respect to the school or community you have targeted. More helpful still is finding someone you may know who lives or works in that community as a source for information. Coming into an interview knowing a few names and faces helps to put you a step ahead and gives you some context for the discussion you will have. 4. Rehearse your introduction (and deliver with a smile). Almost all interviews begin with the opportunity for you to introduce yourself personally, professionally, and in regards to your education. First, express thanks for the opportunity to interview; then, follow-up with a brief introduction of who you are personally and professionally. Sit up straight, smile, and make good eye contact. Avoid crossed arms, clenched fists, or rambling which usually show signs of anxiety. Appearing cool under pressure is important because that is what you will be expected to do every day in a teaching or school leadership position. I can’t tell you how much more attractive candidates appear when they smile, so don’t forget your most powerful persuasion tool, which is often your expression. 5. Play to your strengths and come with your A-game. I won’t stay long on the point, but it is very important.
February 13, 2019
Dr. Douglas Casa began his study of student athletic safety in 1985 when he suffered an exertional heat stroke while running a 10K race. As he explains, “I was fortunate to receive amazing care on-site from the athletic trainer; the EMT’s in the ambulance; and at the hospital from the emergency room physicians and nurses. I only survived because of the exceptional care I received. I was just 16 years old at the time, but I have been driven by this experience since that day.” Whether you a leading an elementary school or high school, school activities and athletics play such an important role in the lives of your students. These programs also contribute to the overall culture and climate of your school community. As positive as these opportunities can be, it is equally important that best-practices are in place for activities, practices, and games. This includes knowing ahead of time how you or your staff will handle emergency situations. Meet Dr. Doug Casa Dr. Douglas Casa is a Professor at the University of Connecticut and the Chief Executive Officer for the Korey Stringer Institute. Additionally, he is the editor of a book titled: Preventing Sudden Death in Sport and Physical Activity (2nd edition, 2017), published by Jones & Bartlett in cooperation with the American College of Sports Medicine. His new book titled Sports and Physical Activity in the heat: Maximizing Performance and Safety will be published by Springer soon. The Korey Stringer Institute In August 2001, Korey Stringer, an All-Pro offensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL, died from exertional heat stroke. In April 2010, Kelci Stringer (Korey’s widow), James Gould (Korey’s agent), and the NFL asked Dr. Casa to develop and run the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) at the University of Connecticut. The mission of the KSI is to provide research, education, advocacy, and consultation, to maximize performance, optimize safety, and prevent sudden death for the athlete, warfighter, and laborer. For the past 18 years, Dr. Casa has worked toward his goals at the Department of Kinesiology, College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, University of Connecticut. You can read his entire bio here. Interview Takeaways In this podcast interview, Dr. Casa explains several important ways schools can be prepared with sound prevention policies and procedures: * Find out where your state ranks in comparison to other states in the rubric provided for KSI on safety and prevention. (See KSI’s State Rankings page here.) * Discover best practices for the four H’s. (Explore KSI’s website under the tab, Emergency Conditions for information on): * Heart * Heat * Head injuries * Hemoglobin, sickle-cell trait * Explore affordable and practical ways to be prepared for heat-related incidents. * Be prepared with written emergency plans for multiple settings on and off campus where students practice or perform. * Understand the sickle-cell trait tendencies so that student athletes are appropriately rested and treated. Let’s Wrap This Up Dr.
February 6, 2019
Recently, I had the privilege of talking to Dr. Kyle Palmer about the lessons he has learned in his years as a teacher, principal and district leader. As we talked about the successful professional learning teams his teachers have led, Kyle commented that when our hearts hurts when students fail, then we are willing to do whatever it takes for them to learn. His commitment to building strong cultures was a good reminder of why your school leadership matters. Meet Dr. Kyle Palmer Kyle Palmer is currently in his second year as Executive Director of Human Resources for the Center School District of South Kansas City, MO. Before this transition, Dr. Palmer spent the previous ten years as principal of nationally recognized Lewis and Clark Elementary in Liberty, MO. Kyle began his career as a 4th grade teacher in Ankeny, Iowa in 2000. In 2013, he was named the Distinguished Principal for the Clay-Platte region of Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals in 2013. Under his leadership, Lewis and Clark Elementary was designated as an “National Model PLC School” by Solution Tree in 2013 and 2015 as well as an “ICLE Model School” in 2015, 2016, and 2017. In his “spare time” Kyle consults with the ICLE (International Center for Leadership in Education), Solution Tree, and as a certified John Maxwell Speaker, Trainer, and Coach. Interview Takeaways Here are some of the topics we discussed together in this episode: * After years of leading a school, Kyle talks about the changes he experienced leading from a district level. * He explores why some leaders fail when they focus on so many tasks that they fail to accomplish any well. * With a unique perspective on both building and district leadership, Kyle offers thoughts on what challenges or pitfalls that principals may want to avoid. * Kyle discusses the research he has done into Professional Learning Communities: why some work better than others. * As he thinks about partnering with parents, Kyle also discusses lessons he want principals to keep in mind about keeping perspective. Let’s Wrap This Up Kyle is a passionate believer in the power of Professional Learning Communities (PLC) and transforming schools to be more future-ready. Kyle’s research and dissertation on the “Existence of a Knowing-Doing Gap in PLC Implementation in LPS” led him to a deeper understanding about the power of establishing a culture that focuses on the practices of people working in a collaborative culture focusing on student learning. In the end, each of us can benefit from remembering that positive cultures drive positive changes. Now It’s Your Turn How can you seeing your school from another’s perspective to refresh your own? How can you stay focused on the main goals of your school so that you are not sidetracked by its many other urgent demands? What is one step you take today to stay connected to heart of education – helping all students learn? You can stay connected with Kyle via Twitter @drkylepalmer or by email at Sign-Up For Free Updates and Ebook When you enter your email address below, you will automatically receive my newest posts and a free Ebook, 8 Hats: Essential Roles for School Leaders. Let’s keep learning together! #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; } /* Add your own MailChimp form style overrides in your site stylesheet or in this style block. We recommend moving this block and the preceding CSS link to the HEAD of your HTML file. */ Subscribe for free weekly updates and receive free e-book! * indicates required Email Address * First Name
January 31, 2019
Next week, I have the privilege of gathering together with educators and school leaders for a Leadership & Learning Conference in Norman, Oklahoma. Guest speakers Jeff Zoul, Jack Berckemeyer, and Christine Handy will be on hand to share best practices. I’m looking forward to circling up with other educators who enjoy being life-long learners. Gearing up for this time of learning reminds me of last year when I heard a presentation by Will Richardson, educator and author, who shared stories about new ways students are interacting with learning today. Here are three examples he shared: * He talked about Nate Butkus, a 7-year-old boy who has started his own science podcast. * He shared the story of a young man in India, Siddarth Mandala, who is beta-testing self-protecting “shock” shoes for women to protect them from rapists. * He showed photos of students who are building tree-houses in their school cafeteria to replace traditional furniture. The common thread among all of these students is the new ways they can learn today: their abilities to find resources, access information, and see examples that feed and inform their passions. If we are living in a new world of learning where students constantly have access to create, design, connect, and produce inside and outside of school, Richardson asserts we must rethink three areas: beliefs, contexts, and practices. Here’s are three questions Richardson explores: * How does this change our beliefs? We must be willing to rethink what we believe is effective learning; we cannot simply base this on tradition. Instead of making “student-driven learning” an elective or encore period, let’s completely design school around their passions and interests. * How does this affect our contexts? Research shows that more students are actively disengaged rather than engaged; and technology often places us in “echo chambers” where we only access information from others with whom we share common interests. We must rethink how to keep students engaged in learning that is truthful, discerning, and meaningful. * How does this influence our practices? We must become “skill” centered instead of “content” centered if students are to demonstrate mastery. We must move from the ever-increasing world of assessments for knowledge toward a world of application for learning. If students are really learning, they should be mastering new skills, not simply memorizing information they can easily access via a Google search. Another Example of New World of Learning Richardson’s presentation reminded me of a former student of mine, Jesse Haynes, who is now studying at the University of Tulsa. As a college communications major, Jesse’s professors have allowed him to begin podcasting as an independent study. Last year his podcast, The Others,
January 25, 2019
I’ll never forget the semester I transitioned from assistant principal to principal. Even though I had been in school administration for nine years at the time, the move to a new position brought back the old feelings of isolation. I also felt the creep of anxiety I had experienced as a new administrator almost a decade before. As the pressure mounted, I finally asked myself and important question: What lessons did I learn as an assistant principal that I should remember as I face the new pressures as a head principal? One lesson I had learned was that the best moments of my leadership normally involved asking my teachers, staff or fellow administrators for help. Instead of trying to solve problems and reach solutions by myself, I began to reach out to team members to ask for help. The more I practiced collaboration, the more support I found. Eventually, collaboration helped secure more stability and peace of mind. And I began enjoying – instead of dreading – the new tasks involved in my new role. Meet Jen Schwanke Every school leader has the responsibility of carrying the weight of hard decisions or final calls. With that responsibility also comes the opportunity to ask for help. Whether you are a new school leader or a veteran leader, it is safe to say you’ve hit hard times in the tough decisions involved. That’s why I’m excited to share this interview with author and principal, Jen Schwanke. Last semester I was introduced to Jen Schwanke, the author of You’re the Principal. Now What? Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders. Jen began her career as a language arts educator in 1998, and is currently Principal of Dublin Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio. She began her career as a language arts educator and also served as an assistant principal at the middle school level. A graduate instructor in educational leadership, she has written frequently for literacy and educational leadership publications and blogs about her experiences in learning and leading at In her book, Jen shares so many practical takeaways, scenarios, and role-playing scripts for the real-life problems that principals face: meeting a new staff, developing solid professional development, managing discipline, implementing change, and so much more. I encourage you to listen-in to the topics we cover in our podcast interview, including: * Why new school leaders need mentoring and leaning on one another for support and growth * The pressures faced by both new and veteran school leaders and the power of admitting you need help or sometimes hate parts of leadership * How a discipline-scenario gone bad helps gain perspective for the work ahead * Practical suggestions for new school leaders wanting to lead effective professional development for teachers * The power of relying on team members and working collaboratively for strong outcomes Let’s Wrap This Up As the saying goes, ‘You are no Superman, so tuck in your cape and ask for help’. When you do, you can also enjoy the rewards that come from shared knowledge and expertise. Whether you are a newer or older leader, you serve with perspective and strength when learn to you rely on others. Now It’s Your Turn What are ways you are relying on the strengths of others to help serve students? How can you reach out to other leaders in order to support their work as well as enhance your own? Think about ways to engage your teachers in the important tasks of teaching one another best practices and commit to not doing the work of leadership alone. You can find out more about Jen at her website, ,
January 17, 2019
Great teams understand the importance of depending on one another. With the many roles of a school leader, one of the biggest challenges is moving from independence to interdependence. In other words, how do you shift from a school culture with teachers isolated from one another to a place of shared ideas and teamwork – a culture of strong collaboration? How do you practice teamwork that works and improves student outcomes? In a recent webinar presentation, Ms. Diana Lebsack, Principal of Yukon Middle School and Oklahoma’s 2018 Middle School Principal of the Year, shares her experiences in leading stronger collaboration. Meet Diana Lebsack For the past four years, she has served grades 6-8 with a school population of 2,000 students and 130 teachers. Prior to Yukon, she spent ten years in school leadership as a high school and middle school principal in Putnam City, Oklahoma. In 2018, Diana was named Oklahoma’s Middle School Principal of the Year. Her school has a strong commitment to shared decisions and professional learning communities. In this conversation, Diana shares three main takeaways: 1. Define Expectations for Collaboration Defining expectations starts by setting the stage early. One way is by modeling collaboration through hiring with teams. When interviewing, frame your hiring questions with PLC samples, beliefs, and models of collaborative learning. Ask questions like: What experience do you have in PLC’s and what have you learned in the past? This allows you to identify where candidates have strengths or need growth before they join the team. Ask yourself if they have the capacity to work collaboratively? If so, they will be a good fit for a school committed to collaboration. Explain your beliefs and discover how a candidate’s values match those of your school. 2. Set Clear Frameworks for Collaboration Do teachers know the cycles, evidences, and resources for collaboration. Consider these questions from Solution Tree’s All Things PLC flowchart: • What do you want students to know? • How will we know when they learn it? • How will we respond when they have not learned it? • How will we respond when they already know it? Every PLC meeting should be focused on one of these tenets based on where you are in the cycle of learning. Also, you can share docs via Google Drive. Set schedules and dates when evidence is due from each of your collaboration teams. Use your faculty handbook to include an index of resources including Every SMART Goal form, and include a form shortcut sheet, and a weekly email to touch base on PLC focuses. In other word, provide the resources teachers need to succeed as teams. 3. Define Healthy Collaboration with Checkups How are you modeling collaboration for your teachers? Are you openly talking about PLC’s throughout the year? Share these four quadrants with your teachers and ask them to self-reflect their teams by identifying where they fall in these areas: • Quadrant 1: High Productivity/High Relationships • Quadrant 2: High Productivity/Low Relationships • Quadrant 3: Low Productivity/High Relationships • Quadrant 4: Low Productivity/Low Relationships Once teachers have reflected and identified current practices, you can have honest conversations about how to move forward toward Quadrant 1 as the ideal. Let’s Wrap This Up As you begin a new semester, don’t let the process of learning overwhelm you. Moving from independence to interdependence is hard work, but it is worth it to see teachers grow as teams and students meeting shared learning standards.
January 10, 2019
Recently, Education Week shared a post, A Look at How Principals Really Drive School Improvement, with a summary of a study conducted by by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. Researchers studied over 600 elementary and secondary schools over a seven-year period “comparing student test results with surveys from teachers and students about their experiences in school. Then the group conducted 12 deeper case studies, comparing elementary and high schools with rising or declining test scores.” Co-author, Elaine Allensworth, summarized the findings by saying: “We just keep finding over and over again, the more students feel safe and supported in school … the stronger the learning gains and the bigger the improvement in learning gains. It’s easy to get caught up in all the other things you could be doing as a principal and lose sight of the importance of students feeling safe and supported.” As you launch a new semester, consider the way you are cultivating positivity in your school culture. Whatever level you serve, I’m excited to introduce you to the ideas promoted through the Kindness Campaign being led by Daniel O’Donnell. Meet Daniel O’Donnell Daniel is the Director the Kind Schools Network, a national campaign with focused on “teaching kids to practice kindness on a regular basis and manage their emotions, actions, and statements, they become better equipped to navigate our complex world.” Daniel was raised in Springfield, Tennessee, the youngest in a family that strongly valued education. He attended public schools through high school, then graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in Political Science and Music. He joined Barack Obama’s campaign in the summer of 2007, leading efforts to register, organize and mobilize voters in seven states. After the 2008 election, Daniel joined President Obama’s administration as the Deputy White House Liaison to the US Department of Energy. Moved by the love of his hometown and the desire to make a difference more locally, Daniel returned to Nashville in 2012. Among his many responsibilities, Daniel now directs the Middle School Kindness Challenge Campaign. In this week’s podcast interview, Daniel and I discuss the following: * How he became involved in the Middle School Kindness Challenge campaign and why it’s important for school leaders * What influences middle schools currently face that warrant a national campaign to foster kindness * The student outcomes by schools involved in the challenge (over 26,000 lessons have been used by schools across the nation) * How educators can participate in the challenge and see improvements in student behavior and performance * Feedback from schools where the Kindness Challenge is making a difference * How can principals and educators can connect to find out more information Let’s Wrap This Up It is no secret that schools with strong cultures see greater gains in student achievement, but sometimes we need reminders or resources to keep cultivating those cultures. You can sign-up now to participate in the The Middle School Kindness Challenge for this new semester by visiting the website If you’re not serving the middle level, consider how to use these resources in creative ways at your level. And pass this challenge along to someone who may be leading at the middle level.
December 20, 2018
One day I was walking through one of my high school buildings, when I heard the sound of a teacher yelling for help. I sprinted toward the sound, and I found a teacher trying to guide a student into the hallway. He was a special education student I knew – a teenage boy whose development level was closer to that pre-school student. He had become so violent that he was knocking over furniture. Thankfully, when I stepped in, he responded to my request to come to the office. He was crying so much, however, that I had to hold him up as we walked. It was almost like cradling a toddler. I found out later from the teacher that the boy’s mother had been taken to the hospital for surgery. He had very limited verbal skills, and his emotional outburst was closely tied to the fear and concern he was experiencing. As an education leader, I know you also deal with situations that often place you outside your comfort-zone. Sometimes you are managing situations involving students with special needs. But you also deal with students at every level who struggle with emotional or behavioral outbursts for various reasons. This school year I have talked to many principals who recognize the growing number of students living in environments where they may have experienced trauma. This can range from children who are experiencing violence or tragedy to others who live in unsafe or unstable environments. Students touched by trauma can often have difficulty learning. For school leaders, it can be a difficult balance in knowing how to provide a safe learning environment for all students while also finding ways to help students heal. Dr. Barbara Sorrels As I’ve searched for helpful resources, I was privileged to be introduced to Dr. Barbara Sorrels. She is the author of two books, including Reaching and Teaching Children Exposed to Trauma. Dr. Sorrels is also the executive director of The Institute for Childhood Education in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a professional-development and consulting firm for those who live and work with children. She has more than twenty years of child care, kindergarten, and elementary teaching experience, as well as more than five years’ experience teaching graduate and undergraduate students at the university level. In this week’s podcast episode, Dr. Sorrels and I dive into a discussion on ways educators can learn to reach and teach students exposed to trauma. Here are the topics we cover: * How understanding of brain science influences the way you work with students * Advice for teachers or school leaders searching for behavior strategies that work with students who experience trauma * Examples from teachers and schools engaged in learning options that may include manipulates, environmental changes, rhythm, play and movement activities * The challenges or opportunities in managing students with severe behavior or anxiety issues while also maintaining a safe learning environment for all students in the classroom or school I encourage you to listen-in to our conversation and to check out Dr. Sorels’ resources. For my Oklahoma listeners, you may be interested in an upcoming workshop she will leading in Oklahoma City on March 13, 2019, on Strategies for Working with Students Experiencing Trauma. You can find out more information here. Or you can reach out to Dr. Sorrels directly via her website: Let’s Wrap This Up There is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution to working with students touched by trauma. Understanding is the first step. And then exploring helpful strategies,
December 13, 2018
I’ve been on the road a lot lately. And as I travel, I often think about how to reach my destination while also making the experience a positive one. For me, that means trying to learn while I drive by listening to helpful podcasts, audio-books, or news programs. Or sometimes it means connecting with friends or colleagues for phone chats. As we wrap up another semester of the school year, my family is also planning a road trip. During the holidays, we normally travel back east for time in West Tennessee with my parents and family members there. It’s a long road from Oklahoma there, so we try to make the trip as enjoyable as possible: good snacks, and good books, music and movies downloaded on devices. But long road trips can also be difficult when you grow tired of the road or sometimes grow tired of one another. And sometimes the journey through a school year can be a lot like a road trip. You pack up the car with lots of hope and anticipation, but hours into the drive, you grow tired of being on the road, and maybe the passengers grow tired of each other too. How do you keep driving toward a positive destination on the long journey of a school year? Recently, I was presenting at a workshop for Assistant Principals when we began discussing how to manage difficult moments or crucial conversations while also staying focused on the positive. I was reminded of two authors whose work has been helpful when thinking about working with school teams on the destination of completing a successful school year. First, Dr. Todd Whitaker has some great takeaways in What Do Great Principals Do Differently. I’ve heard Todd present several times, and he often reminds principals that if you spend your time focused on the group of negative team members in your school instead of the positive ones, you will inevitably find yourself leading from a mindset of reaction instead of empowerment. Todd’s advice is to keep your eyes on the most positive members as a first priority. As you include them in decision-making and ask what is best for them, you inevitably raise the tide for the entire school culture. I’ve also heard presentations by Dr. Anthony Muhammed, author of Transforming School Culture: How To Overcome Staff Division who explains that school leaders cannot ignore negative culture. When team members are pulling down others, you must be willing to have crucial conversations that threaten positive expectations and remind others of the non-negotiables of your school. When you are willing to confront these “resisters”, you place the focus back on the destination and goals of your school. This is a difficult balance. A couple of years ago, I was sitting in a presentation with Dr. Muhammed when I asked him how to reconcile the need to focus on your positive members while also addressing negative ones with crucial conversations. He explained that it is irresponsible to avoid tough conversations, and the balance of strong leadership is the ability to focus on the positive but not allow the negative to infect your culture. A Road Trip Analogy I’ve been thinking about these lessons as I drive to visit schools and work with school leaders. Just like a long road trip, you manage so many dynamics while you “drive” your school through each day. Several years ago, my wife and I loaded up our children for a long trip to Tennessee for Christmas. When it was time to return home, my kids asked if we could stay an extra day. I had set our return date so I could have some additional time to prepare for the return to school ...
December 5, 2018
In a recent conversation with author and generation expert Dr. Tim Elmore, he shared how many students are affected by “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out). For many young people, this condition is demonstrated by a preoccupation with wanting to constantly know what is happening with peers or social media contacts. FOMO can sometimes lead to levels of anxiety that make it difficult for them to disconnect from social media. (See Psychology Today article by Dr. Elmore here.) When Kim Coody, Principal of Glenpool High School, near Tulsa, Oklahoma told me she was creating FOMO experiences for her student, I was intrigued. She explained that this school year, her staff has committed to increasing engagement with students so that they fear missing out on school. What has this looked like for her school? Kim’s Bio Kim Coody has spent 21 years working with Oklahoma students as a special education teacher, high school assistant principal, middle school principal and high school principal. Kim has 15 years in secondary administration experience at Glenpool Public Schools. She began her administrative career as the high school assistant principal for 8 years. She spent 3 years as the principal at Glenpool Middle School before being named the high school principal in 2015. In 2018, Kim was named Oklahoma’s OASSP High School Principal of the Year and represents the Oklahoma Association of Secondary Principals as President-Elect. Kim prides herself on Glenpool High School’s high graduation rate and her staff’s commitment to building positive relationships with students. Leadership Takeaways In this week’s podcast, Principal Coody shares several ways her school has built a strong culture: 1. Increasing positive “FOMO” with welcome back videos 2. Greeting students as they come to school 3. Developing more engaging lessons 4. Finding real-life applications for learning 5. Shadowing a student for a day 6. Piloting job shadowing and internships for seniors through Oklahoma’s ICAP (Individual Career Academic Plans) As a result, Glenpool students are finding relevant applications for their learning, seeing fewer disciplinary referrals, increasing attendance rates, and making academic gains. Listen-in to this week’s podcast for ideas that can inspire you in your school leadership. You can view a webinar version of our conversation or see Kim’s slides and photos HERE. Now It’s Your Turn How do your students view their experience in school? What are ways your team is enhancing your learning environment so that students are afraid of missing out on school? What ways can you put yourself in the roles of students to see school from their perspective? What is one way you can introduce them to real-life applications of learning? Sign-Up For Free Updates and Ebook When you enter your email address below, you will automatically receive my newest posts and a free Ebook, 8 Hats: Essential Roles for School Leaders. Let’s keep learning together! #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; } /* Add your own MailChimp form style overrides in your site stylesheet or in this style block. We recommend moving this block and the preceding CSS link to the HEAD of your HTML file. */ Subscribe for free weekly updates and receive free e-book!
November 29, 2018
How do engage students while also understanding the unique challenges and strengths of Generation Z students? Several years ago, I was introduced to Dr. Tim Elmore through his curriculum and online resources for leadership. He is known as an expert in researching generational trends and is the author of dozens of books on developing leadership. He may be best known for his Habitudes series, lessons using images to teach leadership principles for students from public schools to university settings. Over the past couple of years, Tim and I have developed a strong working relationship. I have attended and spoken at his conferences, and I have heard him present and speak several times as well. On a personal level, I view Tim as one of my mentors. As I’ve talked to him, read his books, and watched him lead others, I have come to admire him as someone who practices what he teaches. Tim’s Bio Dr. Tim Elmore, President and Founder of Growing Leaders, is a best-selling author and international speaker. Dr. Elmore uses his knowledge to equip educators, coaches, leaders, parents, and other adults to impart practical life and leadership skills to young adults that will help them navigate through life.   He has spoken to more than 300,000 students, faculty, and staff on hundreds of campuses across the country and provided leadership training and resources for multiple NCAA and professional athletic programs. In addition, a number of government offices in Washington, D.C. have utilized Dr. Elmore’s curriculum.   In addition to teaching leadership to cooperate leaders, universities and graduate schools across the U.S., he has also shared his insights in more than forty countries–including India, Russia, China, and Australia.   He has written more than 25 books, including his newest book, Marching Off the Map: Inspire Students to Navigate a Brand New World, released in 2017. For years, he worked alongside internationally recognized leadership expert Dr. John Maxwell. According to Maxwell, “No one teaches leadership better than Tim Elmore.” Engaging Cultures & Developing Gen-Z Leaders Listen-in to this week’s podcast conversation to learn more about: 1. How schools and organizations can create engaging cultures 2. The foundational principles that work in developing engagement 3. The specific differences among generational mindsets 4. Ways to leverage the strengths and challenges found in the emerging leaders of Generation-Z. Let’s Wrap This Up If you are an Oklahoma reader or listener, mark your calendar for June 5-6, 2019 as CCOSA, our state administration association is hosting Tim as a keynote for our state leadership conference in Norman, Oklahoma. In late June 2019, Tim is hosting a Round-Table for Principals event in Atlanta, Georgia. Tim’s team is also offering Principal Matters listeners the opportunity to sign-up for the chance to win a free registration. Visit for more details. Now It’s Your Turn What is one way you can create stronger engagement for your school or team? How can understanding the differences in the emerging generation better inform your practice? Sign-Up For Free Updates and Ebook When you enter your email address below, you will automatically receive my newest posts and a free Ebook, 8 Hats: Essential Roles for School Leaders. Let’s keep learning together! #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; }
November 22, 2018
Five years ago this month, our son Jack was diagnosed with a rare disease called Kawasaki that brought our normal world to a stand still as we circled together searching for answers and praying for his healing. The disease inflames the blood vessel, and if untreated, it can be fatal. As I look back at his recovery years later, I remember how overwhelmed my wife and I were at the time. I remember seeing our little boy in his hospital gown, hooked up to tubes and wires. When he went into shock during treatments, he had to rest for several days while his medical team reevaluated. Eventually his condition stabilized enough for him to receive the helpful IV solutions he needed. After ten long days, treatments normalized his body, and he was finally healed. It was a Thanksgiving I won’t forget as we celebrated having our little boy home again. The good side of this difficult season was that it brought me back to all those areas of life that matter most: faith, family, and friends. I remember during those days, how encouraged we were by the flood of love and support from others: our friends, school, and church. We were thankful for an expert team of doctors and nurses. We were thankful for my school, where my team worked hard to protect me from interruption and sacrificed every day to fill in the gaps. We were thankful for so many prayers and visits. Memories are often good reminders of the many reasons to be thankful. As you start the holiday season, here are three very quick “thank-you’s” to keep in mind today: 1. Your family Don’t forget to thank your better-half who sacrifices for you every day. For little ones in your life who provide you with both encouragement and challenge. For your extended family members who hug, call, or send messages. God gave you your family for a reason so be grateful for the ones you have. 2. Your friends For old and new friends who make time to check-in and visit. For the blessings of meals or just catching up during good and hard times. Give thanks for the community that surrounds you and reminds you that you are not always strong enough alone. 3. Your calling For work that is more than a job but is an extended family. For educators who care more about relationships than they do about compliance or legislation — everyday heroes who unify around what matters. Not everyone has the privilege of working with people dedicated to building better communities. Let’s Wrap This Up This past week as I watched Jack, who is now 13, walking around the house, I was struck by how tall he is becoming. His long legs and arms are outgrowing all his clothes. He is healthy and enjoys running cross country or playing Fort-Nite with you his friends. I’m thankful to watch him grow up. And I’m thankful for the many prayers, visits and supports from our friends, family, and teammates who surrounded us then and still support us today. This week, please take time to reflect on what matters most. And in case you haven’t heard it lately: Thank you for the part you play every day in serving your families, schools, and communities. Happy Thanksgiving! Bonus Songs I also wanted to share some joy from my family to yours. A little background info: My wife and I have four children: three girls and one boy. During Thanksgiving break a few years ago, I took time to record a couple of songs that I wanted to include as podcast bonus tracks. During Thanksgiving, we host family members including cousin, Joy, who is one year older than our oldest daughter. When the girls were little, our two oldest and Joy were very close, and we wrote a song together called “3 Little Girls.” When Joy grew up and attended college nearby, we were singing the song one day when we decided to record it together at the kitchen table with a microphone, their voices, and my guitar.
November 15, 2018
The European Space Agency’s historical comet landing of the spacecraft Rosetta in 2014 was an amazing feat. Imagine organizing a team of scientists and space engineers who design and launch a spacecraft with the goal of intersecting with a comet 500 million kilometers from Earth. Then imagine ten years later, your findings show the spacecraft is indeed crossing paths with the targeted comet. From 500 million kilometers away, your Earth-bound team maneuvers the activation of the spacecraft’s previously inert power source, it orbits around the comet, and it attempts a landing. You must wait a half hour for the data from the spacecraft to transmit back to Earth to even know what its “current” status may be. Finally, the images of the comet’s surface appear on your computer screens, and you know the landing has happened. Let the cheering begin! From 500 million kilometers away, a team’s dream had become a reality. The euphoria, amazement, thrill, and adrenaline rush must have been electric. I get excited every time I think about how many seemingly insurmountable obstacles were overcome to achieve this profound result! But here’s my question for those of us back on earth: What challenges are you facing at school, in leadership or in life right now? Three Reflection Questions for Facing Challenges Here are three questions to keep your own challenges in perspective: 1. What kind of team are you on? No one achieves epic milestones like comet landings by flying solo. Monumental accomplishments require teams of like-minded people who can share a vision, collaborate, and execute. Your ambitions may not be as galactic in proportion, but they are still important. And to reach them, you need others. In your school, what goals have you set for your students, teachers, and yourself? Remember that you cannot accomplish them alone. You need others if you want to reach school-wide goals. Whether that is working in professional learning teams or student advisories, you will always accomplish more with the sharing of ideas and relying on input from others. 2. What kind of commitments do you have? Amazing feats are not accomplished half-heartedly. If you want to reach a goal, you must be dedicated to finishing whatever race you’ve started. I like to remind students, for instance, that school is like a marathon. You can start off with a big rush of energy, but it is maintaining momentum in the mundane, pushing on even during tough times, and holding on to the hope of reaching the end that keeps runners moving their feet. The same commitment is necessary to reach any big goals. It’s not easy or sometimes even probable, but without commitment, it is impossible. For instance, if you’ve set specific learning goals for students, these cannot be reached without being measured. Rocket scientists cannot simply guess on their math when aiming for targets, and helping students learn requires targeting specific learning standards and committing to the hardworking of reaching them. Don’t give up on the commitments and hard work necessary to reach those goals. 3. Are you willing to take calculated risks? If you or your team are going to reach new milestones, then just doing what you’ve always won’t help. For example, a few years ago, I was talking to our high school football team’s head coach. His team was 10-1 and entering the second round of playoffs. It had exciting season. But just three years before, his team had no wins. Zero. What made the difference in three years? When I asked him, he said, “Three years ago after we lost all our games, we asked ourselves ‘What can we control?’ We knew we couldn’t control how we matched other teams in terms of size or speed. But we did know we could control how conditioned our players are.” His boys began systematic routines of work-outs, weights, and running while still practicing drills,
November 8, 2018
During my second year as a high school assistant principal, I received notice one morning that a number of students were missing items from their lockers. Upon further investigation, we discovered that in one hallway of the school, an entire row of lockers had broken into and contents were missing from several. Thankfully, we had cameras in that section of the building, and I began watching tape – rewinding from the time school was dismissed the day before and viewing until the morning of the report. I finally found footage of several students late the evening before, and I could see them breaking into the lockers. It was during evening credit-recovery classes we offered, and the students seemed to be on what appeared to be a bathroom break and had chosen a hallway where the lights were off. For the most part, all I could see were their silhouettes. Throughout the day, I pulled in some of my staff and team members who helped me match descriptions with the names on evening class roll. After our day-time students went home that day, I stayed late to talk to the teacher in charge of evening classes and to meet one-on-one with each student suspected of being involved. Luckily, as I questioned students one-on-one, most were cooperative and admitted to what happened. But one young lady was not cooperative. I’ll call her Lizzy. As I talked to Lizzy about what I had observed on camera, she insisted she wasn’t involved. She certainly matched the physical traits of what I could see in the video, so I switched into “interrogator’ assistant principal mode: “Listen, Lizzy.” I said, “I know it’s hard to admit when you’ve done something wrong, but not cooperating is not going to help as talk about appropriate consequences for breaking into lockers.” Lizzy began to cry. “I promise it wasn’t me, Mr. Parker.” So, I asked her to take a seat in the office waiting area and think about her actions as I still had other students to question. I’ll come back to that conversation at the end of this post, but I was thinking about that day recently when talking to new principals about how to manage student discipline. The Challenge of Managing Behavior I believe student discipline is often the hardest and most difficult part of a school leader’s work. Because I served as an assistant principal for nine years before becoming a high school principal, I spent a lot of time managing hundreds if not thousands of student discipline scenarios. At first, the pressure involved in decisions that were often so emotional for students or parents, was overwhelming. When you are managing difficult discipline scenarios, you also spend very little of that time on other important matters – like classroom observations or scheduled team meetings. Although the tasks of managing behavior never become “easy,” I do believe relying on best practices can help over time. Great Resource for New School Leaders A great resource I’ve pointed principals toward lately is Jen Schwanke’s You’re the Principal, Now What? Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders, published in 2016. In her chapter on student discipline, she shares some helpful and practical tips, including: • Empowering your teachers in student discipline • Clarifying that when problems reach you, you take the lead in deciding discipline • Knowing your districts student handbook and policies • Differentiating discipline • Prioritizing student safety • Investigating situations fully • Letting time be your friend • Getting second opinions • Avoiding group consequences • Involving parents whenever possible (Schwanke, 160-166) I highly recommend
November 1, 2018
On Tuesday, September 25, 2018, I walked into a D.C. high school called School Without Walls, a four-story building interspersed with hallways full of art. I saw hand-built go-carts with bicycle parts lining a floor-way. Sky-lights hovering over walls of exposed brick created a sense of old and new. Expansions to the building allow School Without Wall to serve just over 600 students, grades 9-12. The top floor is home to a library with windows looking across at George Washington University. School Without Wall boasts the following mission: “[To] provide every student with a rigorous, college preparatory, humanities program that incorporates global and local resources in an experiential and interdisciplinary methodology to teaching and learning.” Every senior is required to submit a senior research project and present his or her findings in order to receive a SWW diploma.” Over 1,300 students apply to attend each year with 140 accepted to the incoming freshman class. Every student is required to take AP Language and AP Literature, and each graduate earns an Associate Degree through concurrent credits at The George Washington University. With offers from universities all across American, 84% of School Without Walls graduates finish college. Dr. Ross, the 2018 National Principal of the Year, from Chaplin, South Carolina, had invited me to accompany him there. He graduated from the high school in 1998. Twenty years later, he returned to hug the neck of Ms. Sylvia Isaac, a former teacher and now Associate Principal at the school. We also sat with Principal Richard Trogisch and Assistant Principal Simone Anderson as they shared data and background information with us. Dr. Ross told me he remembers the school most for its commitment to take learning into the city. Every teacher is required to conduct at least two field trips per quarter with the goal of providing hands-on learning experiences for students in every subject. Interview with Principal Richard Trogisch Later, I followed up in a Zoom-chat with Principal Richard Trogisch who has served the school for 13 years. Mr. Trogish has been an educator both internationally as well as in the D.C. area. His philosophy of education was born from the European models he saw committed to the humanities. In this conversation, he explains what makes his school work. As a National Blue Ribbon school, students are not only introduced to a strenuous application process and rigor academics but also they experience a culture of acceptance, safety, and opportunity from teacher and parent partnerships with them. In a follow-up Zoom conversation, we talked about the following: • Embracing and celebrating a community’s culture. • Providing safe learning environments where teachers love students. • Placing high standards on academics and rigor. • Including wraparound programs to support students academically and emotionally. • Partnering with parents, teachers and students in being proud of their school. I encourage you to listen in to the audio-version of our conversation for the full conversation. Let’s Wrap This Up Later after my visit to School Without Walls, I was having dinner at a restaurant called Bantam King on the north side of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. It’s a small shop that serves Raman dishes and incredible fried chicken. The wall across from me was covered in patterns of cafeteria trays glued to wall in blue, aqua green and yellow rectangle patterns. Hanging through the middle of the room were paper lanterns in colors of red, white, and yellow. The ceiling tiles were made from basket weave, and the wallpaper from faded cutouts of newspaper Japanese cartoons. A constant beat of hip-hop played over the hum of voices and the clink of spoons in soup.
October 25, 2018
Several years ago, Oklahoma received one of the worst blizzards I had ever seen in a state that sometimes has no snow fall during winter. As our community was plunged into a blanket of white with drifts of 3-4 feet deep, roads were impassable, and schools were closed. With days of wintery weather, I finally had the excuse I needed to sit and read. That Christmas I had received a copy of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. As I took breaks from shoveling sidewalks and building snow fortresses with my children, I was riveted by the story of a man whose life story was inspiring. And Laura Hillenbrand’s seven years of research and writing produced a book I couldn’t put down. Unbroken has since been made into a movie. And recently, I discovered the audio-version published as an abridged version for adolescents. This past week, as my 13-year old son and I were heading out on a long road trip over fall break to visit family in Tennessee, we listened to the entire story together. The narrative was just as inspiring and moving the second time. As I thought about the lessons throughout the story, I wanted to share a few takeaways that may apply to your leadership and life: 5 Lessons from a Life of Resilience 1. The suffering of others keeps your own experiences in perspective. Louis (Louie) Zamperini’s story is multi-faceted. He was a troubled kid whose ability to run track in high school saved him. In 1936, that same passion propelled him at age 19 to Olympic fame. His dedication to running also provided him with a college scholarship. With the beginning of World War II and the cancelation of the 1940 Olympics, he was motivated to volunteer where he served as an officer and a B-27 bombardier in the Pacific islands. After surviving unbelievable combat conditions, the story turns to tragedy when Louie’s plane is downed on rescue mission. He survives in a rubber raft in the open ocean for 47 days where he suffers starvation, mental anguish, and loss of comrades. Just when you think his suffering as reached its climax, he is captured by the enemy. And the next 18 months of imprisonment, deprivation and beatings only increase his agony. His story of deep suffering brings startling perspective. No matter what kind of challenges you are facing, you may be able to see that from another perspective, your daily struggles may be trivial in comparison. It doesn’t mean your struggles are not important, but it does help to remember that sometimes we stress about temporary or trivial matters in light of the true struggles others may be experiencing. 2. Human dignity is one of your most valuable possessions As strong as Louie was in his suffering, the most brutal price he paid was the threat to his own personal dignity. Although he maintained an inner defiance and commitment to live, he was treated inhumanely by his captors. Frequent beatings, lack of adequate food, and forced slavery brought about incredible mental anguish. His suffering was helped by the quiet, supportive, and often defiant ways he and other prisoners were able to help one another, and he understood that starvation and physical suffering were often more bearable in comparison to the humiliation he suffered. Louie had also been bullied as a boy. In the process, he had learned to defend himself and fight back. But mistreatment in captivity meant he could not fight back without facing death. The indignities he experienced at the hands of one prisoner guard in particular hau...
October 17, 2018
This time of year, I’m on the road a lot visiting schools across my state. As I drive across Oklahoma, trees and fields have been brushed with the red and orange hues of fall. Rivers are swollen with much needed rains. And you can feel the first hints of winter’s chill in the strong prairie winds. The change in weather also brings along a change in expectations too. Teachers and students are talking about fall break, Thanksgiving, and even Christmas. Just as our physical environment influences our feelings and attitudes, our school cultures also affect they way we feel about school. And as I visit with school leaders, I am hearing a lot of conversations about the importance of their school culture. Building strong school culture is a tall order but one that more and more school leaders realize is the foundation for building a community of learning. This past year, I was invited to participate in a committee of school leaders who are researching best-practices for encouraging strong school culture. During that process, we have discussed a lot of research that confirms why school culture matters. Heather Shaffery, a researcher from the K20 Center at the University of Oklahoma sits with me on this committee. Although the final report has yet to be published, I wanted to share a conversation we had as we looked closely at takeaways from the research. Specifically, we discussed research from The National School Climate Center (NSCC), which includes multiple case-studies for schools on ensuring positive quality climate and school culture. (See NSCC’s 5-phases for school culture). Heather’s Bio Heather Shaffery is a researcher at the K20 Center at the University of Oklahoma. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Science from Arizona University and a Master’s degree in Science from the University of Pittsburg. Heather was a teacher of middle school science in Oklahoma. Now she conducts research and runs professional development for science teachers. She is also a doctoral student at the University of Oklahoma. The following is an outline of highlights from our talk. Or listen-in to the podcast version for the full-conversation: School Culture & School Leaders What are takeaways for school leaders in understanding how they influence culture? * Research confirms the importance of the leader in a building. If you want strong culture, you need strong school leaders. * Strong school leaders have the the ability to encourage and share leadership. They do not operate in isolation or without input. * Strong school leaders understand the importance of meaningful listening and valuing the ideas of others. School Culture & Teachers What are takeaways for teachers? * Most teachers know what constitutes good culture. But the challenge is an inability or resistance to implementing or practicing what’s best. * When schools practice shared listening with collaboration for leadership decisions, teachers feel empowered toward stronger instructional practice. * When teachers do not feel like their feedback is valued, they will be less inclined toward risk-taking and innovative instruction. School Culture & Students What are the implications for students? * Involving students in shared leadership, not just on leadership teams, but in classrooms, increases student learning and achievement. * Teachers must explore these questions with students: What do they want to learn? What do they care about? How do you leverage their interests and input in their own learning? School Culture School-wide What’s the result for school-wide practice?
October 10, 2018
How can schools integrate technology across all classrooms? Janalyn Taylor, Principal of Nance Elementary in Clinton, Oklahoma, believes that school leaders must be willing to model learning and teaching with technology in order to see teachers and students embracing its innovative uses. In a recent webinar conversation, Ms. Taylor explains how her school has embedded technology into learning, and how parents and community members are engaged with the lessons, activities, and products students are creating and sharing. Janalyn Taylor is Oklahoma’s 2018 National Distinguished Principal. She holds B.S. and M.Ed. degrees from Southwestern Oklahoma State University. She has spent the last 11 years of her 36-year career as principal of Nance Elementary School, a rural school serving a diverse population of pre-K through first grade students. With 83% of students participating in the free- and reduced-price meals program and 29% classified as English Language Learners, Taylor’s leadership is driven by a fierce commitment to equity and her ability to rally teachers and staff to ensure her vision is realized. She will be recognized at the 2018 National Distinguished Principals Program Oct. 11 – 12, 2018 in Washington, D.C., To see her entire biography, visit the National Association of Elementary School Principal website list of National Distinguished Principals. In our webinar conversation, she shares lessons for principals who want to integrate technologies for student-learning in every classroom. You can watch the webinar here, or listen to the podcast version of the presentation. Takeaways for Integrating Technology * Technology must be recognized as a district priority. From the top-down, use in learning must be encouraged. For Nance, this meant introducing iPads 1:1 across the entire school. * Using funding from the OETT Grant, teachers and leaders were trained through the K20 Center at the University of Oklahoma on best practices with follow-up onsite and ongoing professional development. * The school first introduced small groups by developing a model classroom so teachers could pilot and practice before implementation. * By using a Continuous Strategic Improvement Plan, integration became part of the district and school’s core values. * Administrators must stay ahead of or right with your teachers as they learn technology. School leaders must model, model, and model use of technology in learning. * As teachers adapt new practices, it is important they adapt a growth mindset and maintain positive attitudes. * Seesaw is one successful application Nance Elementary has used to virtually share student examples of learning with parents and community members. One father said he loves getting alerts while working showing photos and videos of his son’s assignments via Seesaw. * As teachers train with other teachers, ongoing professional development is shared among colleagues. * Janalyn’s teachers use the SAMR Model to guide technology use: S = Substitution or replacing current technology with a new one A = Augmentation or functionally improving tasks by using technology M = Modification or redesigning tasks by the technology that is used R = Redefinition or a task that cannot be done without the use of technology (See more about the SAMR model at Let’s Wrap This Up Since Nance Elementary introduced Seesaw for sharing student work online, over 53,172 items have been shared with more than 42,108 parent views.
October 4, 2018
When I was in high school and college, my brothers and I worked part-time diving for mussel shells in the Kentucky Lake area. We would sell them by the pound at local markets, and those shells would in turn be sold to Japanese markets. Apparently, the pearly-white cuts from those shells are unique implants for growing cultured pearls in oysters. One day I was climbing across the bottom of an area that was ten to twelve feet deep. The only sounds I could hear were the hissing breaths from my regulator. As I found shells, I placed them in a net-bag I had clipped to one side of my weight belt. Because of low visibility, we didn’t swim with tanks on our backs. Instead my compressor, tank, and filtered line all connected to my boat. I was connected to a 50-foot air hose taped together with a 50-foot line of rope, and my regulator line was connected by a clip-on-hook to my weight belt at one end and attached to the boat and compressor at the other end. As I worked along an even stretch of clay and mud, I swept the surface with my hands while pulling the boat along with me. Suddenly, I came up to a trotline. This was a problem. Above me somewhere, long fishing cords were stretched, weighted, and floating horizontally while in front of my face were the vertical lines interspersed with hanging hooks and bait. I didn’t like cutting these, so I tried maneuvering around this one instead. But a few minutes later, I felt a pressure pulling on my line. I tried to turn around to pull back at my hose in case it was caught on a root or stump, but I couldn’t move it any further than a few inches. As I strained at the line, I finally saw where a few hooks from the trotline had snagged it. For some reason I decided it would better to unhook my regulator so I could hold the line in front of me and take out the hooks by hand. This seemed like a reasonable option, so I reached for the clip and flicked it open. Wrong decision. In a flash, my regulator line jerked forward, and I was left biting my regulator’s rubber mouth piece as hard as I could while the line shook with amazing force. At the same moment, I also realized I couldn’t move forward toward my line because something was tethered to my back. Somehow I had been hooked in the back and my regulator was pulled away from me at the same time. If this is hard to imagine, picture standing in a room with two doors. You are standing with your back stapled to one door while your only source of oxygen is a mouthpiece connected to a hose and tank on the other side of the room by the second door. Someone opens that door, picks up your oxygen tank and is walking away. Only your teeth in that regulator mouthpiece will keep you breathing. Twelve feet under water, in a cloud of mud and clay, I was being pulled from two directions at the same time. With my free hand, I reached for my knife I kept sheathed around my leg and began cutting at any of the tangled trotline I could find. Soon I was free again. I reattached my line to my belt, breathed deeply again and followed the air-hose line back to my boat. 3 Lessons From A Close Call Just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t make lake diving my life-time career. I still made dives for year afterwards, but I realize now how lucky I am to be telling that story. My point is this: If I had not been prepared ahead of time for what do when under pressure, I could have easily never made it to the surface alive. How does this apply to your own school leadership? You may not face life-and-death situations on a daily basis, but you face amazing pressures all the time. Whether that involves managing student safety, resolving conflicts, directing personnel policies, or prioritizing budgets — you lead under pressure (sometimes handling many scenarios at the same time). I remember one day visiting with an elected official in my office. We were talking when I received a phone call that we h...
September 26, 2018
Educators are talking a lot about students in trauma. Although you may not always know when students are stressed or facing a crises, research by the American Psychological Association, shows that today’s students have the same level of anxiety as psychiatric patients did in the 1950’s. Some of this anxiety is the result of increased expectations placed on students. Sometimes it is their unstable environmental conditions. At other times, it may result from unfiltered content they view via social media. As a result, today’s students need schools that provide places of stability and belonging. A first response to the growing number of students with anxiety is awareness. When you have a mindset of anticipating students face emotional stress, you can commit to building relationships of trust so that they feel safe in school. A second response is just as important: practicing social-emotional learning strategies that work well for all students. Interview with Tamara Fyke Tamara Fyke is an expert in social-emotional learning. She is an educator and creative entrepreneur with a passion for kids, families, and urban communities. As the creator, author, and brand manager for Love In A Big World, she equips educators with a social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that is both research-based and practical. She also provides the supporting resources necessary to empower students to be socially competent, emotionally healthy problem-solvers who discover and maintain a sense of purpose and make a positive difference in the world. Tamara is also the editor of Building People: Social & Emotional Learning for Kids, Schools & Communities, a book that brings 12 wide-ranging perspectives on SEL to educators, parents, and leaders. In our conversation, Tamara shares some great takeaways for educators wanting to reach students and move them from risk to resiliency. Here are a few golden nuggets from our talk: Three Essential Needs 1. Students need caring and nurturing environments. When adults understand and relate to students, students find a place to belong. Principals should encourage environments with entrances and surroundings that are welcoming and inviting. Teachers and staff are dedicated to showing up with smiles on their faces, and students know teachers enjoy being with them. 2. Students need high expectations. First, teachers must share a common language that points to good behavior expectations like kindness, honesty, and courtesy. Students need examples of what that behavior looks like inside and outside of class. In addition, students must understand the expectations to learn, to succeed, and to work hard academically. 3. Students need meaningful engagement. This happens in places that encourage methods like flipped model classrooms, hands-on lessons, and active participation from students for real-life learning. Resiliency, Prevention & Intervention These methods become practice that leads toward resiliency. As Tamara explains, prevention is different from intervention. Intervention is important when we see students who are triggered. Just as importantly, we can put measures in place to reduce those triggers: the key is building healthy relationships with students. Tamara’s research and practice confirm that one caring adult in the life of a student can make all the difference. Especially in middle school, students need to be “anchored” through advisory periods, homerooms, or teachers whom they trust. Finally, Tamara shares about the observations she has made of principals and teachers fr...
September 20, 2018
One of my favorite college education professors would often start class with a provoking question. As we would grapple with how to answer or support our positions, he would stand there with his large hands lifted in the air, his voice booming, “Disequilibrium is the beginning of education!” It took me a while to figure out that he was teaching us by example. He was trying to help a room full of future teachers see that the greatest learning opportunities in life first start with challenges that “shake” our normal way of thinking about problem solving. Only by challenging us to think would we ever really learn. And it is often the challenges or resistance you face that help you gain strength for the tasks ahead. Embracing Healthy Tension With that in mind, how has resistance helped you grow as a leader, as a teacher, or in life? How have some of your most difficult moments birthed other great opportunities? Years ago when I felt I was prepared to move from assistant principal into a principal position, I was frustrated that I could not find any openings that were good fits for me. As I wrestled with my own frustrations at my inability to promote, I decided to take some positive steps. I began reading a book called 48 Days To the Work You Love by Dan Miller. Through the practical steps required in the reading, I was forced to re-think my values, goals, and talents. Eventually, the process reassured me that I was in the right profession but needed to keep growing in the knowledge of my own field. At the same time, however, even with my renewed sense of purpose, I experienced the pain of rejection as I applied for openings, interviewed for them and was told no. But that time also birthed some of the most creative ideas I had had in years about my purpose and practices as a school leader–even giving me the idea for blogging and podcasting. Most importantly, I became intimately aware of my own motives and reasons for wanting to be a school leader. Eventually, the right door opened for what I am doing today. I wouldn’t want to go through the difficulties again, but without them, I wouldn’t be leading with the focus I developed through those challenges. Resistance is not always counterproductive. It is often the necessary tension to push us in the right direction. What resistance are you facing today? As you persist, here are five ideas to keep in mind: 1. You are not alone. If you believe you are facing each day dependent on you own abilities and strength, you would be so limited in your possibilities. As a person of faith, I don’t believe we face resistance alone. In fact, that assurance provides immeasurable peace during difficult times. (Here is a great Bible reminder.) I also believe we’re not alone because we have communities of other educators who can surround us with meaningful feedback. 2. Remember others on your team who can help carry the load. Don’t forget to look around at the people on your team who care about reaching the same goals. You are not Superman; so tuck in your cape, and ask for help. School leadership is never effective unless it is shared. And when you’re facing resistance, it is so much easier when you face it with others. So reach out to those right around you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in facing resistance. 3. Be patient with yourself. Experience is a great teacher. Any time you are improving a process, you learn most through trial and error. Be patient. Keep doing what works, and be honest about what doesn’t. One helpful tip I’ve heard in staying patient as a leader is to beta-test ideas you want implemented in your school. Testing ideas gives you room for trial and error.
September 12, 2018
Recently, the United States mourned the passing of Arizona Senator John McCain. Before his death, Senator McCain was asked by a reporter what words he hoped to see on his tombstone. He replied, “I’ve been a small bit of American history, so I think if there’s something on my tombstone, it’ll be ‘He served his country,’ and hopefully you add one word, ‘honorably.’” (Source: How do you judge endings? In his book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel Pink explains research by behavior scientists that study how people evaluate the moral behavior of others. In this study, researchers created two versions of a man named Jim. In the first version, Jim is a successful CEO who for decades is kind to his employees, generous with his time and money, and lives a full life of service to others. However, in the last five years of his life, he becomes greedy, vindictive, and a moral failure. The second version of Jim is also a CEO, but for decades he lives of life of self-interest, takes advantage of his employees, and he is stingy and ungenerous. But in the last five years of his life, this Jim turns a corner, becomes a man of generosity, kindness and benevolence. Which man lived the better life? In the research, participants overwhelming chose the second Jim. Why? Because people instinctively believe that the ending is what counts. Daniel Pink calls this “end coding.” Sometimes we have a tendency to overestimate the importance of endings in the ways we think (Pink, 154-155). I have to admit when I read the accounts, I was confronted with my own mindset about life endings. I am disappointed when a person whom I admire has a failure of trust – especially when it happens at the end of his or life. But I have never paused to ask myself why the ending to me is as (or more) important than the whole. Do Our Experiences Change Us? Part of the reason, I believe, is that people associate a person’s character based on how they are formed by experience, adversity or success. Michelle Obama once said, “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are” (Source: Mrs. Obama’s quote is a good reminder that circumstances often reveal who we are. But with all due respect, I would still argue that experiences can also change you. For example, I remember the first time as a school administrator when I managed a situation involving criminal activity on a school campus. I was a young administrator with little experience in investigating or interrogation. Sure, I had spent more than a decade in the classroom, but it was different managing school-wide policy while confronting street-smart kids–some of whom also had parents who enjoyed calling in powerful attorneys. In the classroom, I had dealt with isolated crisis situations. But in the office, I had new perspective on day-to-day situations that brought me face-to-face with some of the worst cases of human behavior in the school– sometimes involving student misdeeds and at other times when students were victims of their own parents or guardians. As a result, I found myself changing. Whereas, I once thought of myself as a naturally trusting person, I began to form a wariness and distrust of others. When I had once thought it easy to explain the rules,
September 6, 2018
When I was a Language Arts teacher, I would walk my students through a series of practices on identifying their surroundings and writing down the details. You could try it right now. Take a moment and pause to consider the following: What are you seeing? Look up, down, around, and behind you. Are you seeing the glare of sunlight from a nearby window? Or maybe it’s the stained surface of a tabletop. Could it be a yellow painted wall holding a framed photo? What are hearing? Stop and simply listen. Maybe you hear the buzz of a heating or air system from nearby vents. Or do you recognize the distant hum of passing traffic? What do you smell? Are you surrounded by the scent of brewed coffee or mix of aromas coming from a busy kitchen? Or maybe you smell the mustiness of old books. What are you touching? Your body is full of nerves. Can you feel the fabric of the shirt you’re wearing resting on your shoulders? Or how about the press of your shoes against your toes? Are you holding the smooth ridges of a pen in hand? What are you tasting? Maybe it’s the sweetness of gum or the caramel flavorings of your favorite soda? Or it could be the aftertaste of your most recent snack. What are sensing emotionally? Are you anxious, excited, worried? Do you have a sense of confidence or angst for the day ahead? Or maybe you’re tired from a short night of sleep, or hungry for your next meal? It is easy to step into your day with a list of to-do’s and fail to see what is right around you or even what is happening inside your own brain. Sometimes it takes real effort to pause and reflect on your surroundings. But being mindful is important, not just in writing, but in leadership. Defining Leadership Leadership is an interesting and popular word. It is used in a lot of inspirational quotes, as titles for books, in website descriptions, and conference themes. But leadership is much more than a word. Leadership is influence. It means helping others to achieve more. It is taking someone from one location to another, or motivating another to do what she otherwise would not accomplish on her own. There is something else about leadership I’d like you to think about. Leadership is about those whom you are leading. Whether you are leading students, teachers, co-workers, employees or team members, each person you lead is a future leader. Someday, your influence, motivation, presence or input will no longer be immediately present. When that happens, the question will be: How have you invested in recognizing the leadership potential in those whom you lead so that they can in turn lead in their own areas of influence? Being a Person of Influence Think about the people who have been the most meaningful leaders in your life. Maybe it is a parent, a coach, a teacher or another school leader. I bet it is safe to say that he or she paid attention to details you did not see. Maybe that leader had the ability to look at life or scenarios from a perspective that helped you reimagine, redesign, or reprioritize your outcomes. Influential leaders see or hear what others may be missing. That’s why even professionals at the top of their game, like Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, or the NBA star Kevin Durant, hire others to personally consult or train them. Whether you are leading children or adults, you are an influencer. And the ability to see what others are missing is an important quality in strong leadership. 6 Ways to Invest in Future Leaders How can you take an active role in maximizing the leadership growth in those whom you’re leading...
August 30, 2018
This summer my wife and I enjoyed time away celebrating our twenty fifth wedding anniversary in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. One afternoon we drove to Emerald Bay, a cove nestled a mile below the mountain highway there. We hiked down the trail and rented a kayak. When we pushed away from shore, I was immediately struck by the clarity of the water. Gray mountains covered in tall pines and shrubs formed a semi-circle around the cove. As you look across the water, the blue skies shine across the clear, spring-fed surface with a silvery-blue hue. My wife, Missy, was sitting up front, her bare legs and feet extended straight out on the front of the boat as she soaked in the sunlight. We rowed ahead until we approached the round boulders of a small island where we stopped for photos and selfies. This was a happy moment, and we were doing what we loved most – being outdoors together… When I was a junior in college, I had a Christmas party to attend at the end of my fall semester, and bringing a date was a requirement for attending the party. At the time, I wasn’t dating anyone. But I asked myself what I realize now was one the most important questions in my life: “Who would be ‘the perfect girl’ to ask on this date?” I started making a mental list: It should be girl who was pretty and smart. I wanted her to care about her spiritual life and be dedicated to a strong personal vision. It was a tall order. On top of it all, I could only offer a fun, non-romantic evening with no expectations of a second date. My first memory of Missy had been after my freshman year in college. We had attended some summer trainings together, but I didn’t really know her. Over the next couple of years, I would see her at various gathers. She was fun-loving and other girls looked at her as a leader. During my junior year, Missy’s younger brother came to live in on my floor. I remember a photo he kept of her on his desk. One day I stopped to look at it. Wow, I thought. She’s pretty. I started paying more attention. Six weeks before the Christmas party, Missy and I were working together at a campus event. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be the first to ask her. So, after working up my courage, I decided to go for it. What could I lose? “Hey,” I said as I walked up to the table where she sat. She looked up and smiled. “I have a question I want to ask about your…calendar,” I started. “Okay?” she glanced at me curiously, and pulled out a planner from her bag. I thought hard of what say next. “I was wondering what you might be doing on December 6? I mean, I know that’s a long time from now, but I wanted to see if you had anything scheduled then?” “Well,” she paused then thumbed through the pages and stopped. “Actually…I don’t have anything planned on that day.” “Cool,” I said, “Could I…pencil something in for you?” She smiled and handed it to me. I took a pencil from the table and wrote: –Men’s RA Christmas Party, 6PM – Will Parker And then I handed it back. She looked at the page for a moment and then back at me. “Could you go?” I asked. It was the longest moment of my life, and suddenly, I realized how much I wanted her to say yes. “OK,” she said. “I don’t have anything else going on then. So, I’d be glad to go.” It wasn’t the smoothest approach for asking out the perfect girl. But as I walked away, I reminded myself that this was just going to be one date… One year ago, Missy and I stood on the banks of the Illinois River in Eastern Oklahoma. Our four kids were skipping rocks on the water, and we were watching as the sun set orange above towering trees on the opposite bank. I sat down on a nearby picnic table, and everyone gathered around. “I have an announcement to make,” I said. “You know I’ve been offered a new job as an executive director for my principal association,
August 23, 2018
The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who ran track in high school. When he was at his fastest, he could run a mile in 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Even though he was naturally fast, he learned to increase his speed through a strong practice his coach required: wearing a parachute during practice. I was thinking about what it would feel like to run in a parachute. The weight and pull against your shoulders and legs would be almost unbearable. But imagine how fast you would run once the resistance was removed! Sometimes I think managing finances is like wearing a parachute. If you are running with a lot of financial stress, for instance, you may feel the pull and weight of trying to move ahead with life. If you’ve found a level of financial security, however, you may see money as a parachute that is helping you land safely when needed. For most people, money seems to act both ways. When my wife and I first finished college, we began married life with a lot of college loan debt. I realize now that I’m older that we were not alone. Just recently, the Federal Reserve announced that outstanding student debt for U.S. residents has now topped $1.5 trillion. Thankfully, early in our marriage, we discovered some great resources from authors like Ron Blue from and Dave Ramsey and his Financial Peace resources. With a lot of discipline and planning, we were able to pay down debt, save for emergencies, and make a down payment for our first home. Through the years, however, we’ve still had demands on our money that have required us to refocus or relearn some of those same lessons. Money seems to be an area of life most people deal with very privately. You may find it uncomfortable to talk about your own finances. However, your willingness (or resistance) to talk about money will influence the way you think and live. So how does your personal money management influence your leadership? Obviously, when you are responsible for school budgets or managing accounts for others, you must practice strong accountability and responsibility. But in this conversation, I want to focus on how your personal finances — your mindset about managing your resources – influences your leadership. 4 ways your attitude and practice with money matters: 1. Your money management allows you freedom (or lack of freedom) in your career choices. Early in my early education career, I was talking to a friend about how I was struggling with the leadership and support at my school and was unsure what to do next. I no longer felt like I thrive in the work environment there. My friend patiently listened to my struggles and then he said, “Will, we don’t live in communist China. If there’s a better opportunity for you out there, go for it.” That simple statement was a wake-up call for me to remember that I had a choice. But during that discussion, I also realized I had the freedom to look at options because of how my wife and I were managing our finances. By living within in our means and saving for future expenses, we had the freedom and perspective to look at options without fear. Some people worry about their employers knowing they are considering other options for fear they may lose their jobs. Thankfully, I’ve not worked in environments like that. But even if I did, I still believe that a healthy practice in money management allows for a more peaceful perspective when making important career choices. For example, the other day I was listening to a story of a man who lives in an economically depressed area of his city. He gave up a job making $9 an hour in order to work for ...
August 16, 2018
When I spotted the mud puddle, I thought it would be fun to jump it. The dirt road that ran along the edge of the field by our West Tennessee farmhouse was often traveled by trucks or tractors. And the ruts in the sandy, red dirt would fill with rain and create long stretches of rust-colored puddles. I was barefoot and seven years old. My brothers and sister were with me. “Watch this,” I said. And I ran and jumped. My feet landed in the thick mud and streaks of red clay splattered across my legs and shorts. They laughed. And soon, one by one, each of them tried it too. “I think you could paint with this mud,” my sister said. “Oh, yeah? I bet it would look good painted on you!” And the mud battle began. Fists full of Tennessee red clay were thrown and splattered. And we chased one another until my oldest brother said, “You know, in ancient times, people would bathe in mud as a way to treat their skin.” He slowly began smearing it on his arms, his neck, his face, his legs. We followed suit. And before long, we were covered from head to toes in the red earth. How Play Encourages Innovation I was thinking back to this moment after reading the first two chapters of Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. Wagner makes a persuasive argument that without creativity, people lack the ideas, initiative, and motivation for extraordinary achievements. In the book, he looks at the lives of some the most successful people in industry, science, or the arts — people who seem to possess qualities that motivate them to do extraordinary things for rewards greater than pay or recognition. These are people who are motivated by the wonder and joy of learning. In all the attributes Wagner identifies among these most creative and innovative minds, one trait stands out among them: play. Play Influences Student Learning Play isn’t just good for our mental health. It also provides contexts that encourage creativity, teamwork, and a sense of accomplishment. And it’s not just something that motivates small children. People of all ages find motivation by engaging in play. Take this description of the long-standing tradition of pranks at MIT that Tony Wagner explains: ”Joost Bonsen, who is an alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and currently serves as a lecturer in the world-famous MIT Media Lab, talked about the importance of the famous tradition of pranks at the university.   ‘Being innovative is central to being human.’ Bonsen told me. ‘We’re curious and playful animals, until it’s pounded out of us. Look at the tradition of pranks here at MIT. What did it take to put a police car on a dome that was fifteen stories high [one of most famous MIT student pranks], with a locked trapdoor being the only access? It was an incredible engineering feat. To pull that off was a systems problem, and it took tremendous leadership and teamwork.   ‘Pranks reinforce the cultural ethos of creative joy.’ Joost added. ‘Getting something done in a short period of time with no budget, and challenging circumstances. It’s glorious and epic. They didn’t ask for permission. Not even forgiveness.’   [Wagner concludes:] These students were playing — just doing something for the fun of it. Play, then, is part of our human nature and an intrinsic motivation” (Creating Innovators). Why are we not playing more? You would think that play is something all children enjoy, but in a world that prizes protection and safety, many of our kids are missing out on the freedom and space they need to experience play.
August 8, 2018
How are you anticipating the start of a new school year? This week I wanted to share some thoughts from a previous post as reminders for your new school year: Predicting Your School Climate Sometimes my left elbow aches. I have a scar there from when I broke it falling from a horse almost twenty years ago. When it starts hurting, I can usually be certain the weather will turn stormy. My aching elbow reminds me of another story. When I was a boy, I often helped on my Granddad’s family farm. His brother was my Uncle Jimmy. One day Uncle Jimmy and I were driving in his pick-up truck. The windows were down, and I was hanging my arm out of it and playing in the breeze as we rumbled down the gravel roadway. As we passed a nearby pond, the cattle were gathering around for watering, and two calves were prancing about the field, butting heads and chasing one another. Uncle Jimmy pulled the truck to a stop and nodded that direction. “See those calves?” he asked. “Yes sir.” “There’s a storm coming.” “What do you mean?” I asked. The skies were blue, the weather warm. (This was long before the days of GPS or Smart-phones.) “Whenever you see calves acting like that, you can be sure there’s bad weather on the way.” I didn’t argue or ask anymore questions. He put the truck back in drive, and we went onto the next job in quiet thought. The next morning I woke up to the crash of lightening and the rumble of a thunderstorm. Uncle Jimmy had spent all his life on the farm, and it should have been no surprise that he could predict the weather by watching the behavior of his cattle. Predicting School Climate Sometimes I like to remind myself that the ups and downs of a school climate are often predictable. Obviously, plenty of unpredictables happen too, but there are “seasons” we face each year that shouldn’t take us by surprise. One of the those seasons is summer hiring. Another is the start of school. As you approach the start of school, you can expect that teachers, students, and parents will want answers to the following questions: * What is my schedule? * What can I expect each day? * What are the ground-rules in school-wide and in my classes? It seems so simple in concept, but sometimes we forget to keep an eye out for the cues of what is coming next. For instance, from the principal’s office, start of school means tasks like: * Updating/printing faculty handbooks and duty rosters * Communicating with teachers dates of new teacher training and professional development * Updating websites and media outlets with dates for schedule pick-up, freshman orientation, and start of school And as we approach day one, the anticipation, nervous energy, dread, and excitement all mix together for the rush we call beginning the school year. Helpful Start-of-School Questions Whatever season you are preparing to face, don’t forget to take time to study your landscape. One way to be prepare is by relying on those who have been down the road ahead of you. For teachers, I like to recommend, Harry Wong’s First Days Of School for a great reminder on the processes, procedures, and ground-rules students need and expect day one of school. In it, he outlines the essentials for establishing, organizing, and implementing good routines and procedures for students. I call it “teaching with both sides of your brain” or “teaching with one hand while managing with the other.” Harry Wong likes to remind teachers of seven things students will want to know on the first day of school: * Am I in the right room? * Where am I supposed to sit? * Who is the teacher as a person? * Will the teacher treat me as a human being?
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