Thursday, October 1, 2015

Don't Worry, Be Happy

This week, I am honored to have two amazing educators wrote a guest post for my blog! I have the opportunity to work with this awesome team each and every day - Allison and Marissa, otherwise known as the Levlons here at #Cantiague! They are our 5th grade co-teachers and they wrote a piece about the ways they go about creating a happy classroom in honor of our #YearOfHappy! I think this is a MUST read for all educators...

Perhaps Winnie the Pooh said it best when he stated, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” 

Dr. Sinanis has declared the 2015-1016 school year, #yearofhappy. We have been thinking a lot about this phenomenon and realized some important things about what motivates our students, what motivates us, and about our classroom environment in general. It is really quite simple. Kids perform better when they are happy. If they look forward to coming to school, have positive learning experiences while they are here, feel connected to their teachers and peers, and leave each day with a smile, they WILL be more successful. They are more open to learning, they are motivated to succeed, and their confidence soars. After all, don’t you perform better when you are happy? 

So now that we know happiness promotes success, how do we make it happen? Let’s begin with our morning meeting. The Levlon morning meeting has been compared to the Kelly and Michael show (LOL). We bring humor to the meeting, engage our audience, and make sure student voice is heard and valued. Each day our students look forward to this casual and comfortable experience. A benefit to co-teaching is that we are able to model positive social interactions all day every day. The Levlons take this opportunity to model compassion, kindness, and humor. We are constantly laughing at ourselves, and WITH each other and our students. 

We also work hard to create a safe and happy environment for our kids. We often refer to math instruction in our classroom as “group therapy,” which lets our students know that we are “all in it together.” They feel comfortable making mistakes, and this motivates them to try harder, and enables them to be more successful than they believed they were capable of. 

Our students also really enjoy our daily read aloud. After lunch is a sacred time in our classroom where we read books to our kids strictly for enjoyment. There is no mini lesson attached or hidden agenda. We simply read to read! We choose relevant books that we know the kids will relate to, connect with, and enjoy hearing. During these read alouds, we laugh together, cry together, and definitely grow together. 

Another happy time in room 26 is Genius Hour. This is a time each week, where the kids can explore their passions and interests. It enables EVERY child to be successful and feel good about what they’re working on. We all look forward to this special weekly experience. 

Most importantly, throughout each day we talk to our students. Not just about what we are learning in Social Studies or Reading Workshop, but about what’s going on in their lives. We make connections with them and follow up with them about how things are going. We’ll ask how a new soccer team is working out, or if they received that special robot for their birthday. We also share information about our lives; our kids and our weekends. It’s not a surprise when our students follow up and ask us about what’s going on in our lives as well. We care about each other and respect each other as individuals. 

So, if you ask us what makes our kids so happy, we can list a whole bunch of activities and experiences that occur in our classroom on a daily basis. We believe it really boils down to the way we treat our kids. We make every decision with their best interest at heart (and they know it!). We listen to them and empower them. We hug them and love them. The best part is that in return, our kids love us back and add so much joy to our lives. We come to work HAPPY every day and we are motivated to be the BEST we can be for our kids!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Curse

Being a school principal can make me feel like I have the curse. That’s right - I said it - being a principal can be a curse… especially when you also happen to be a parent.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. In fact, I think I have the best job ever - I get to hang out with amazing kids, educators and families every single day and have fun at the same time. I get to greet kids in the morning as they enter our building with music blasting over the PA (a new thing we started this year thanks to a suggestion from Lisa, a reading teacher in our school); I get to sit on the rug during whole class meetings/lessons and see things through the eyes of my kids; I get to watch passionate educators try innovative instructional techniques to best meet the needs of kids. Is it always sunshine, roses and rainbows? No but it is pretty awesome the majority of the time and as great as that is, it also makes other aspects of my world a lot more complicated and difficult - especially when it comes to parenting.

I have heard some educators who are also parents refer to this phenomenon as the curse… the curse of looking at things through your parent eyes as an educator. No matter how hard I try, when it comes to Paul and his educational experience, I can’t separate the parent from the educator and invariably I compare what I see in Paul’s school to what I see unfolding in our school and that can be tough at times. I am not saying that our school is better or that his school is inferior but what I do know is that I am often thinking things like… Oh, we don't do things that way at our school… or… If Paul was a student at Cantiague we would have done this to best meet his needs as a learner… or sometimes I am just left scratching my head and asking WHY?

For example, Paul recently started middle school and they were having their Meet The Teacher Night event, which started at about 5:30pm on the fourth day of school (after a four day weekend). Unfortunately, according to Paul, they did not send home a notice about the event until the day it was taking place. I am not sure if this is how most schools conduct business but I kept thinking that this type of communication alienated some families and that is not how I am used to doing business as an educator. How would the working parent even find out about the event if they didn’t get home until after it actually started? How would the single parent arrange child care with such short notice (granted, a middle schooler could probably stay home alone)? How would the parent who didn’t speak English be able to arrange for a translator to join them with only hours notice? The questions went on and on and ultimately I found myself judging the school for how they handled everything because I was comparing it to our Meet The Teacher Night event at Cantiague. Even though I felt like I could offer the school some feedback on how they could have tried things differently I didn’t want to be THAT parent… the educator parent who thinks they know better. Hence the curse… you can see things from both sides but you can’t always affect the same type of change as a parent as you do as an educator because you don’t want to be THAT parent… the educator parent who thinks they know better.

This has never been more difficult for me than it has been over the last few weeks. And to be honest, it has been incredibly frustrating because for the first time I felt like the fact that I was a school principal was a curse… I wish I knew less… I wish I was uninformed… I wish I could just assume my son’s school was doing its best and move on… Ignorance is bliss, right? Well, it’s too late for all that because I know too much - I have been an educator for 20 years and I have seen a lot in that time. So, I am going to try hard not to get frustrated moving forward; instead, I have made the following decisions about how to manage being a parent who sees things as an educator first…

  1. I am going to be THAT parent when necessary and advocate for my son if his needs as a learner are not being met because I want him to have access to the best educational experience possible;

  1. I am going to support Paul at home as a parent… help him with his HW when appropriate… discuss books with him when possible… push his thinking when necessary… offer him feedback on his writing to help enhance his craft. I am going to do my best to support the efforts of his school;

  1. I am going to support Paul in his efforts to advocate for himself and to express himself if he feels an injustice has occurred;

  1. If I feel like Paul’s school should have handled something differently, I am going to offer my feedback… not all the time but when I think it could be helpful to the entire school community;

  1. I am going to learn from Paul’s school… I am going to try and replicate the awesome things I see (I am hoping there are many of these opportunities this year) and I am going to make a list of what not to do at Cantiague based on things that I would have handled differently.  

Although I am sure I will add to this list as the year unfolds, I am going to embrace the fact that being a parent and educator isn’t necessarily a curse; instead, it is going to be treated as an opportunity!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

On The Carpet

This post is co-written with Adam Welcome who is Principal at Montair Elementary School in Danville, CA.

As the educators in a school building, it is often easy to focus on the adult issues and needs within the community because that is the lens we use to look at things on a regular basis. Are our kids at the center of what we do? Yes. But, are we really looking at things through the eyes of our children? Are we getting down to their level (literally) and looking at things as they see them so we can better understand and appreciate their needs? Do we know what they see? What they feel? If not, then the time has come for us to refocus our lens and reconnect with our kids… possibly by getting on the carpet!  

How do you connect with kids? How do you get to know your staff? Building relationships with students and adults (teachers, aides, custodians, secretaries, etc.) on your site is paramount.

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First off, visit classrooms every single day (assuming you are in the building) and have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening. You can’t support teachers in their work and students in their learning from your office while responding to email. You must be present and that starts with classroom visits. With that being said, visiting classrooms is the first step - a critical one - but just the first one!

Step two involves understanding the difference between being visible and being engaged as educational leaders. Just walking in and out of classrooms to be seen without much interaction does not contribute to the building of relationships - does it make you visible? Sure… on some level. Does it make you an engaged leader who is advocating for the needs of your students and staff based on what you learn from seeing healthy relationships rooted in respect and trust? No because just being visible isn’t enough to really connect with kids and staff!  

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We need to ask questions; we need to listen to what is happening; we need to be engaged; we need to connect; we need to offer feedback and not in a judgemental/evaluatory way… no, no, no - that is not going to work. We just need to connect and build those relationships and the healthiest way to do that is to be present, to be visible, to be engaged and to be a good listener. Stronger relationships will take the work deeper and farther in the long run, investestment now pays huge dividends later!

Have you ever had that Principal that stood in the back of the room with a clipboard? Didn’t talk with anyone, wrote notes down furiously and then left the room? That’s not the best way move a school forward and build an innovative mindset. Leaders must be on the ground floor of their school, hanging on the carpet with kids is the place to be. There really is no better vantage point than that of the children. We see what they see; we hear what they hear; we feel what they feel; and most importantly, we understand what they need and what they get as learners. Ultimately, that is our job - to be the person who removes the roadblocks and helps the students and staff best meet their needs by providing them access.

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Don’t be that disconnected evaluator in the back of the room with the clipboard! We are not dealing with factories, conveyor belts and widgets… we are dealing with learners and teachers… we are dealing with people who are looking to learn and grow… we are dealing with our community who needs to trust us as the educational leaders who are seeing and understanding things through their eyes!

Be that leader with your smartphone in hand, taking photos of students in action. Tweet those moments to share with your community and make each day at school open house. Flatten the walls of your school and create high levels of transparency between the school and the surrounding community! When parents see you engaged, see you on the ground floor connecting with kids on the carpet, they can see how much you care and how your focus is on the children. A stronger community with everyone on the same page sharing a common vision, is a more powerful team for our kids.

If not us, then who? If not now, then when? The leader of a school must innovate, bring new ideas, modeling that learning comes first, see where the gaps are, fill those gaps with solutions and move the team forward.

Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry in the early 1900s! By being involved, being hands-on, being innovate, not listening to the naysayers, by breaking away from the mold and building his own road. Henry Ford was on the ground floor of his production line, his hands were dirty, he communicated with his employees, and he built a massive enterprise. He wasn’t sitting in his office disconnected, he was the change, he made the change, he was on the “carpet” connecting with people and igniting the change!

Check out the new #principalsinaction hashtag happening on Friday’s. Leaders from around the country will be Tweeting and sharing what they do at school! Be on the ground floor, be engaged, be involved in teaching/learning and watch your school grow!

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Monday, September 7, 2015

What's The Point?

While having lunch with my son the other day, I brought up the subject of school because the start date was only a few of days away and he was about to enter middle school. The whole notion of middle school is somewhat unreal to me... where did the little baby who fit into the palm of my hand go? Was he really ready for middle school? Am I ready for middle school? Would he be successful in middle school? Would kids be nice to him in middle school? There were literally dozens of questions swirling in my mind - most of them stressing me out a little bit - so I wanted to see what he was thinking and feeling about the whole situation. 

I started by asking him what he was most excited about and he said... "Seeing my friends! That is definitely the best part of school - getting to see all my friends in one place." He went on to explain that he wasn't particularly stressed out about starting middle school but in general was sad about the summer ending, which I guess is consistent with the way that many kids at this point in the year feel... dreading the end of summer and the start of school and all that comes with it. 

Still, as the educator who loves school and has devoted much of my life to learning and teaching, I had to push the conversation further. After an exchange that was somewhat like pulling teeth Paul finally said, "Dad, I know you are a principal and you like school and everything but I am a kid and I just don't love it. I feel like I can learn a lot more while I am not in school. The truth is, I don't understand the point of school. What's the point? Everything that I am interested in and connects to my world doesn't ever come up in school, so what's the point?" 

Needless to say, I was kind of speechless (which, if you know me, doesn't happen often). I didn't know what to say or how to respond. I didn't want to be that parent who simply said... "School matters because I said so and you have to go to school because that is the law...blah, blah, blah!" or something along those lines. That would not work with Paul. Would he accept the answer and shrug his shoulders in passive agreement? Yes, but would he really have the answer to his critical question... what's the point? No. That was a hard thing for me to accept because I believe a good education is the gateway to whatever it is an individual wants to pursue in life but if Paul fancies himself a YouTuber right now (his current obsession - check out his two channels here and here) or a future movie director (or chef depending on the day you ask him), then I am not quite sure that I can give him the best answer to his simple question... what's the point?

As I reflect on this experience it made me think about the work that we do each and everyday within our schools and how we go about helping our learners understand the point so they can answer the question (what's the point?) themselves. The truth is, I am not sure if we have given that as much thought as it deserves. Yes, we can talk about project based learning and growth mindset and "real life" learning situations but maybe for one minute we just pause and think to ourselves... what's the point? What's the point of the lesson? What's the point of our teaching? What's the point of the learning? What's the point? Maybe instead of trying to come up with fancy exit slips for the purposes of formative assessment, at the end of the lesson we just ask our kids... what was the point of that learning experience? If we can push them to reflect critically on a learning experience maybe they won't be left scratching their heads and wondering themselves... what's the point?

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Over the last couple of months I have spent some time traveling and talking about the importance of celebrating our students, telling our school stories and thinking about our brand as educators and especially educational leaders. As these presentations, discussions and conversations have unfolded, I keep coming back to one word... transparency! It is clear to me that being transparent and developing high levels of transparency are critical to successfully telling our school stories and creating a brand that is rooted in a positive culture and identity that permeates the entire community.

This is my theory... hear me out for a minute... I believe that educators who are highly transparent (I am just focusing on the professional world at this point because high levels of transparency in one's personal world can go either way) tend to engage their students, colleagues and families in the community on a different level because they are often powerful storytellers; 

I believe that educators who are highly transparent (assuming it is authentic stuff... remember, the brand experience must match the brand promise) tend to connect with the students, staff and community around them on a deeper level because what they share is consistent and visible to all; 

I believe that educators who are transparent can develop relational trust with and within their community because their message will be loud, consistent and visible to everyone! The message these educators are sharing will be rooted in their beliefs and the non-negotiables that are in the best interest of children... that all leads to trust! Kids, families and colleagues will trust you if they know what you are doing, why you are doing it and that it is best for kids!

I believe educators who develop trusting relationships (thanks to Melinda, Amber, Pernille, Todd, Leah, Curt, Jay, George, Jimmy, Eric, Tom, Jeff, Jessica, Lisa, Vicki, Peter, John, Brad, Tim & Tom to name a few for reminding me of this each day) and within their communities then build a significant amount of social capital... and that is the proverbial gold mine... social capital!

Social capital is defined by Google as... 

  1. the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.

When we, as educators, amass social capital within our communities we have the foundation for enacting change, trying new things and telling our school stories because there are trusting relationships at the core that were developed by being consistently transparent!

So, are tech tools such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook important for telling our school story and branding our space? Absolutely because technology allows us to amplify our school story beyond the four walls of our school and accelerate the building of healthy relationships within our community and beyond! Are pictures of students and staff in action important for telling our school story and branding our space? Absolutely because pictures are engaging and allow us to go from "information sharers" to storytellers who are shaping the narrative of our community (thanks Joe for helping me learn and understand this notion) and contributing to the developing healthy relationships. 

Yes - there are many pieces that must be in place to successfully tell our stories and celebrate our students but at the core must be a positive culture and identity that is developed through high levels of transparency and built on healthy relationships! So, as we kick off the new school year, I implore my fellow educators to embrace the notion of being highly transparent (at least on a professional level) because...

leads to
Relational Trust
which helps build
Social Capital
which must be in place to be

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Coming To Terms

It was the most difficult period of my personal life and for the first time sadness started to consume me. Was I sad in the past? Yes but I was always able to reframe things and see the positive - maybe not right away but eventually. But this sadness didn't just last a few minutes or hours... it lasted for days... in fact, it lasted for months. 

Those six months changed me forever. Those six months felt like a lifetime. Those six months were some of the darkest in my life. I was struggling internally with my emotions and feelings and I was unable to verbalize the struggle to anyone. I didn't want people to judge me. I didn't want people to be disappointed in me. I didn't want people to feel angry with me. I was so consumed with what others would think that I started to withdraw because it seemed easier to just deal with it alone.

Eating was difficult on a daily basis; being around people was painful sometimes; sitting alone in silence was deafening and would stress me out; and anticipating what people would say or think raised my level of anxiety to a place I had never experienced before. It was such an incredibly stressful time but I tried hard each day to put a smile on my face and step into my world. I acted as if everything were "normal," even though I knew that nothing would ever be the same moving forward.

I guess it came down to expectations. Expectations I had of myself and the expectations I thought the people around me had of me too. From my perspective it seemed that I filled certain roles in my personal and professional world and I felt compelled to try and keep everything the same. I wanted my family to think everything was fine and that my world was stable because that is who I was in our family. I tried to be the positive and supportive person at school because that is who our staff was accustomed to dealing with each day. I tried to be the happy and light hearted principal because that is what our students needed and expected. I tried to maintain normalcy even though I could barely define it.

What people didn't know at the time was that I was coming to terms with my sexuality and it was an incredibly challenging and difficult journey. I was going through that alone. I needed to figure it out alone because I needed to understand myself before I could share myself with the world. Was I really wired any differently? No. Was my personality going to go through some drastic change? No. But, I did realize that I am gay and that although my sexual orientation would not define me, it would, on some levels, redefine my world.   

After coming to terms with my sexuality and having a better sense of self, I was starting to see the light at end of the tunnel. I started to shake the sadness that hung over me for months. I started to understand that my happiness was just that - mine; mine to find; mine to define; mine to celebrate; mine to share; and mine to cherish. Thanks to some much needed therapy, I was finally ready to share my story with the people in my world who mattered most - my family, my friends and the people who I respected. 

In the end, everyone who mattered was incredibly supportive and understanding. They listened to my journey and offered love, support and encouragement. The people who mattered and cared about me did not judge me - they just wrapped me up in their love and helped me see that things were going to be ok. 

I don't know why I thought the end result would be any different (I should never underestimate those around me) but I realized that going through the initial part of the journey alone, where sadness and anxiety became the norm, was a necessary part of the process for me. I needed to come to terms with myself before I could share my story with those around me. I needed to define my own happiness and emotional well being before I sought support from those around me. 

Those six months were the most difficult time of my life. Coming to terms with my reality was not an easy journey but it was the most important one of my life. Does sadness still enter my world? Yes. Have I experienced challenges and difficult situations that make me anxious (it is happening right now as I write this post)? Yes. Is life all sunshine and rainbows? No. But, I feel emotionally healthy for the first time in a long time and because of that, I know that I am a better me. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tale Of Two Conferences

It was the hottest of times... it was the coolest of times (thanks to the air conditioning); it was the busiest of times... it was the quietest of times (thanks to the end of the school year); it was the most connected of times... it was the most disconnected of times! Over a three day period at the end of June I had the opportunity to experience two amazing conferences - Model Schools in Atlanta and ISTE in Philly. The experiences were vastly different yet the end result was quite similar... I had social interactions with people that resonated with me on a personal level and will potentially impact my professional practices moving forward.

In some basic ways these conferences could not be more different... one was full of connected educators while the other featured very few connected educators... one featured a heavy focus on technology while the other featured some technology but by no means did it have a strong presence... but in the most important way, these conferences were exactly the same because they were both filled with thousands of educators who were giving up their "free" time during the summer to enhance their craft in the hopes of meeting the needs of children (at least that was my goal). 

With that being said, the experiences were incredibly different for me but equally as important for my personal and professional development (I see the two as interconnected and intertwined). While I was in Atlanta at the Model Schools conference, the conversations were mostly focused on professional practices and pedagogy where the majority of the people I was connecting with were new to me - they weren't part of my PLN and I had never been to Model Schools before. I have to say that I LOVED every minute of it because it helped push my thinking in the professional realm and it gave me a space to discuss the things that I am most passionate about as it relates to leadership, learning and teaching. It was awesome and there was something liberating about being in a space where most people didn't know me and thus didn't necessarily "expect" anything of me.  

That all changed when I got to Philly. You see, ISTE was full of connected educators and many of them were my friends as a result of being part of my PLN. I was excited but nervous at the same time... would I see everyone I wanted to see? Would I get to meet some of the people I have never met face to face? Would I be able to steal a few quiet moments with a couple of special people? What were people expecting from me if we did have a chance to speak? I was totally stressed about it even though I knew I was going to be seeing dozens of my friends. Well, after presenting on a panel with some of the amazing authors from the Corwin Connected Educators Series, I ended up hanging out in various small groups throughout the day with some great friends. There was food, laughter and some powerful conversations with people I consider some of my dearest friends. The discussions and interactions weren't necessarily about the same types of professional practices that I had the chance to discuss at Model Schools but they were equally as important because they met some personal needs. I was able to talk about balancing life and work; I was able to pick someone's brain about how they manage the whole presenting thing with their real life; and I was able to get a hug from a friend just at the right time. You see, for me, ISTE was filled with the emotional deposits that I needed on a personal level in order to sustain myself and maintain a positive frame of mind at a moment when I was feeling quite overwhelmed. Now, was I able to spend time with everyone I was hoping to see (no #educelebrities in my world - just friends but that is a whole other post)? No. Was I able to meet everyone I hoped to meet? No. But, I was able to engage in those important personal interactions that would be the catalyst for growth in my professional world. I needed ISTE in the worst way but not because I was going to learn about the newest tech tool or website but because I needed to be surrounded by friends who could relate to my professional world but could appreciate me on a personal level at the same time. 

My experiences at ISTE were the perfect compliment to my time at Model Schools because the personal and professional development happened almost simultaneously (the Perfect Storm if you will) and when I came back home to NY, I was ready to tackle both my professional and personal challenges. You see, based on my experiences and research, professional development doesn't happen in isolation and it is very much dependent or connected to personal development and I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by educators who helped me develop in both areas and that was my tale of two conferences!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Want To Lead?

I recently started preparing to teach a graduate course for aspiring educational leaders. All the students in my class are currently working in education in some capacity - most are classroom teachers while some are specialists or pseudo administrators already. As part of the introduction to the course, which starts in a couple of weeks, I asked them to fill out a quick Google Survey so I could get to know a little about them. One of the questions I asked them was...

Why do you think you want to be an educational leader?

Although only a few of the students have completed the survey thus far, their answers got me thinking about myself when I was an aspiring administrator (a little over 10 years ago). My mind was quickly flooded with the romantically idealistic notions and aspirations that dominated my thinking at the time. I thought I was single handedly going to change the world of education and be the catalyst for creating a school that was the panacea of teaching and learning. Well, guess what? That didn't happen; in fact, almost the opposite happened. I failed pretty miserably at my first administrative position and was a pretty crappy leader - I literally cringe when I think back to some of the things I said and did during those first couple of years as a building administrator. 

Why did I fail so miserably? It wasn't for a lack of trying or lack of work ethic; it wasn't for a lack of passion or lack of enthusiasm; in fact, in retrospect, I can honestly say that nothing really could have prepared me to be successful for that first job... except if I could get some insight from my future self. So, in an attempt to share some knowledge with the aspiring administrators I will be teaching in a few short weeks, and reflect on my own journey (reflective practice is a critical element to learning and growing), I humbly offer the following 3 tips on being a successful school leader... or as I like to call myself, a Lead Learner:

1. It is all about you and not at all about YOU at the same time... the position of school principal is a critical one that literally impacts every person in the educational community. From students to staff to families to colleagues, the principal's impact is felt by all. The principal can control and shape and dictate the culture, tone and climate of the entire community. As Todd Whitaker taught me... When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold! Well, that is the truth - so sneeze into your arm and carry around lots of tissues (just kidding). The principal can be the one who models learning; can be the one who offers an open ear when someone is struggling; can be the one who enacts a spirit day when it's been a long month and the students and staff need a little fun; the principal can be the one who advocates for the needs of the students and staff; the principal can be the one removing the barriers and obstacles so that the staff can maximize their teaching techniques by taking risks. The principal can meet with the parent who feels that their child has been wronged; or can be the one to sit with the superintendent and present a sound case for why a specific child might need a teacher aide in the classroom. The principal can do a LOT so on some level it is all about you as the principal but it is NOT about YOU the individual. Please, do NOT take yourself too seriously; do NOT see yourself as reaching some sort of pinnacle and not needing to learn and grow anymore; do NOT sit in your office all day and dictate to everyone around you; do NOT employ a fixed mindset or allow institutional biases to continue because of your personal position or thinking... be the principal who takes their work seriously and pours their heart and soul into their school community but at the same time understands that it is not about them.

2. There are a LOT of politics in education... so, take the time to develop and nurture relationships with all members of the community. Know your boss; know your board of education; know your colleagues; know your staff; know your kids; and know your families. Know what those around you want, expect and need. When you invest the time in nurturing relationships with members of all constituent groups, you slowly amass social capital and social capital becomes your "Get Out of Jail" card when navigating a particularly political situation. Truth is, most people in an educational community have an agenda (even the principal) and it is the principal's responsibility to gain the trust of those around them so they can better understand the individual agendas and help align them in the best interest of children and the community at large. Is everyone going to like you? No so don't waste your energy on being liked (at some point in time, EVERY member in the community will not like you for some reason or another but that's ok) but instead, expend energy on gaining people's trust and confidence because they are the keys to healthy relationships. Remember - it is not about you but it can be all about the politics so healthy relationships must be at the core of the community!

3. Make decisions that are in the best interest of children... not ones that are easiest for you or less disruptive for teachers or cheaper for the district... make decisions for children that provides them access to a rich and meaningful learning environment. Of course, decisions should rarely be made in a silo; instead, all members of the educational community should have voice in some way, shape or form and it is your responsibility as the leader to listen to these voices as a way to broaden your perspective and make the best decision possible. Sound decisions generally don't come as a result of reacting; instead, sound decisions come when a leader reflects, deliberates and considers potential consequences. Effective leaders spend more time trying to be proactive and less time being reactive. Often times, when one reacts, the decisions can be influenced by emotion and that could be problematic. So, remember, always try and make the decision that is in the best interest of children because then you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and know you did the best job possible.

Are there hundreds of other tips I could offer my graduate students (or my former self)? YES (please feel free to leave more tips in the comments section)! But in the end, these 3 have been keys to my success as a Lead Learner and I don't think any course, workshop or internship taught me about these ideas when I was first asking myself... Do I really want to lead?          

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Little" Things

While scanning my Twitter feed, I recently came across the following…
One hundred years from now, it will not matter
What kind of car I drove or what kind of clothes I wore.
All that will matter is that I made a difference
In the life of a child!
Upon seeing this quote, I immediately thought of all of the teachers who work tirelessly each day at #Cantiague Elementary. From my humble vantage point, our teachers set the bar pretty high as to what a highly effective educator looks like and have created a space where all children can thrive in some way, shape or form. But, my thoughts didn't end there... I started to think about the thousands of amazing educators who I have connected with on Twitter, Voxer, Facebook and Instragram over the last three years who have devoted themselves to one cause - doing what is in the best interest of children. I have learned so much from our #Cantiague community and from the members of my PLN that I genuinely believe that I am a better lead learner, educator, father and person because of the educators in my life (you all know who you are and I couldn't get through some days without you).

Unfortunately, the current landscape of education is plagued by negativity because of the politics that impact our daily work and the heavy handed way in which certain ideas, veiled as the silver bullets to fix all that is wrong with our schools, were introduced... high stakes testing linked to educator evaluations, the implementation of the common core standards devoid of systemic professional development for educators, the lack of voice educators have in enacting policy and the list can go on and on and on! Since most of our time is spent on data collection or preparing for high stakes tests or giving up days of learning to give said high stakes tests, I felt it was imperative to shed light on the “little” things great teachers do… the “little” things #Cantiague teachers do... the "little" things many members of my PLN do but can’t be qualified by a number or score or test…
helping a child recover from a recess issue;
coaching a child out of the backseat of the car when they don’t want to come to school;
giving the child a device at lunch so they can build their relationships with peers;
letting a child use your sleeve as a tissue when they can’t control their tears;
letting a child do their homework in the morning while others unpack because no one could help them at home the night before;
modifying anything and everything to give every child an entry point for learning;
helping a child in the bathroom after they experienced serious stomach issues;
sharing your personal life and interests to establish a connection with a disconnected child;
give up your lunch period to meet with a child or just hang out with them;

climbing up a tree to save the child who felt they had no escape but to climb 30 feet up a tree;

drive a child home because the family doesn't have a mode of transportation;

hug a child who is having a bad day;

getting to know a child's passion and interests and successfully incorporating them into the learning opportunities;

support a colleague who is going through a difficult time;

hold a crying mom's hand during a conference because of the difficult subject matter being discussed; 

showing empathy and earning trust;
You get the idea… the list goes on and on and although there are no numbers, grades or points for these daily efforts, they do not go unnoticed – I, for one, appreciate our teachers at #Cantiague and the thousands of educators in my PLN who have changed my world with all the "little" things they do. 

So, as we get ready to enter Teacher Appreciation Week, I challenge all of us to take a moment to recognize all the "little" things the educators in our spaces do because although they may not be attached to a score or number, they are the things that impact the lives of children!  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Telling Our Story At The Bammys

In case you haven't heard, Joe Sanfelippo and I will be hosting the 2015 Bammy Awards on Saturday, September 26th! Are we excited? HECK YEA! Not only does it give us another opportunity to poke fun at each other in a public forum but the Bammys are also spotlighting a focus in education that is incredibly important to us... Telling the POSITIVE stories of our schools! Having written a book on the subject and having the opportunity to discuss the topic with other amazing educators on our radio show, we are honored to be working with the Bammy Awards to put the focus where it matters most in education - on our children and all the amazing things they do! 

Check out this video, Breaking The Code of Silence, that presents a quick overview of what the Bammy Awards hope to accomplish this year...

So, we hope you will all join us this year in an effort to change the landscape of education by flooding it with all of the AMAZING and AWESOME and POSITIVE stories of schools!