Saturday, August 10, 2013

Educational Philosophy: All About Heart

As we enter Week 2 of the incredible #SAVMP (School Administrator Virtual Mentoring Program) we have been challenged to reflect on our philosophy of education as it relates to our roles as leaders and what our schools should look like for our students. Well, in order to best answer this question, I dipped into an old blog post that speaks to my philosophy!

The root of my educational and leadership philosophy is rooted in my role as a father. From the moment our son, Paul, was born almost eight years ago, my goals as an educator began to evolve, grow and expand. I instantly wanted to do whatever I could to keep Paul safe, happy and fulfilled on every level. Initially it was difficult to see how this unconditional love for Paul would manifest itself in my classroom and shape me as an educator. However, six months later, after I began my first building administrative position, that parental love quickly molded me, impacted me and became the anchor for my approach to being an instructional leader... a leader with heart! That is very much at the core of my philosophy - my heart and soul!

I made it my goal to keep my students safe, happy and fulfilled on every level. I made it my objective to keep our staff safe, happy and fulfilled on every level. I made it my mission to blend all the theoretical stuff I had learned in "educational administration school" with what I knew made sense to me - yes, being logical, practical and rational were all critical keys to my success as a leader (they help me shift those monkeys and put out those fires) but without heart, soul and passion, my success, our success as an educational community, would be non-existent.

So, what does leading with heart look like? What are the little tangible things that leaders with heart do on a regular basis? How does a leader with heart differ from the typical building leader? Although I am certainly no expert on the matter, I share with you the little things I do because I love being an instructional leader and leading with my heart is all I know how to do (sometimes it can make things challenging)...

1) Know the names of every one of our students; these children are so incredibly important to me and I feel that if I can say hello to them by name when I pass them in the hallway or sit next to them in their classroom or play handball with them at recess, they can begin to understand that they are valued and appreciated!

2) Know as much as you can about each staff member (whatever they are comfortable sharing) and their lives beyond the school building; as a parent it has become crystal clear to me that many of the things that happen in my personal life directly shape and impact the decisions I make in my professional life; by knowing our staff, on a somewhat personal level, I am better able to understand each person's perspectives, decisions and needs, which are critical to the success of our school! For example, if one of our teachers gets a call from her child's school that her son is sick, then my priority becomes arranging coverage so she can go be with her child, which is the priority!

3) Make special announcements each morning - keep them short but try and personalize them! For example, I announce the birthdays of each student and staff member during our daily morning announcements. Although this is not a big deal, I do believe it means something to our community- people feel special, acknowledged and connected.

4) Be visible everyday to everyone (at least that is my goal until the administrative stuff gets in the way - but I limit that too and will address that later). Be in the classrooms, the lunchroom, at recess, in the gym and in the hallways all day. I literally avoid my office because I want to know what is going on in our school, in our classrooms, in the lives of our students and staff. By being connected to the daily happenings in our building, I am able communicate our successes from within certain spaces to the community at large!

5) Maintaining honest, clear and consistent communication are critical keys to leading with heart!

  1. I write a weekly newsletter for the staff, Fast Friday Focus (thank you Todd Whitaker for this amazing idea and many others that I learned from reading What Great Principals Do Differently - a must read for all instructional leaders - check out these other materials), where I spotlight all the amazing things happening in our school. I spotlight varied instructional techniques and approaches because that type of sharing helps foster a professional learning community.  
  1. I also maintain this type of communication with the families of our children. Our district has gone paperless and 99% of our communication is via email so I email the parents at least 2-3 times a week. I quickly realized this regular email to the parents (known as the Cantiague Daily Update) could be a powerful vehicle for spotlighting all the amazing things our kids were learning each day with their teachers! This information has garnered a lot of feedback from the parents - many of them have thanked me for sharing the specifics of the teaching and learning happening in our building because they are now able to engage their children about these experiences.
6) Try and bring people together on a regular basis. In regards to the kids, we are fortunate enough to have an auditorium that holds about 450 people and since our school has only about 400 kids, we are able to be in that space at once. This builds community. Familiarity. Belonging. Although we don't have whole school assemblies regularly we do them periodically and they are critical to helping build community and fostering connections across grade levels! In regards to the staff, host a breakfast or luncheon during the year to bring everyone together in a comfortable and relaxed space. The daily pressures of being an educator, especially in this day and age, can be brutal so coming together to just eat, chat and laugh are crucial to sustaining the emotional well-being of each person in our building. It also helps nurture those common visions and goals.

7) Leave handwritten notes for staff members on a regular basis. The note may thank them for an amazing lesson or for their efforts in helping a specific child or for sharing with colleagues or it may simply help put a smile on their face when things have been difficult. Whatever the goal or reason, a handwritten note can go a really long way! In an effort to save paper, I often use the Penultimate app to email "handwritten" notes to our teachers while I am in their classrooms or right after I have left! 

8) Lead by example. For instance, I am really passionate about learning, teaching and curriculum so I try and learn something new each day that I could share with our staff. Whether it is the reading and writing workshop models for literacy instruction or the power of using Twitter (check out this great blog post by my friend Brad Currie, who I never would have met without Twitter) for staff development, my goal is always to share what is current, powerful and what could impact our children in the classrooms. I am always reading, learning, exploring and doing because I want our school to be the best one on the planet for each child!

9) Block out "observation" time in your calendar throughout the week and do all the administrative work (the paper pushing, email sending, etc.) either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. It is so important to be visible in the school community and I feel strongly that the last place people should find me during the day is in my office. Ok, so sometimes I "get in trouble" with colleagues or supervisors because I didn't respond to an email fast enough (even though I do see every email on my iPhone) or didn't return a phone call immediately or am running late to a meeting but the bottom line is that our kids and staff come first and the administrative stuff can wait, even just for a little while. (I will say that being late to a meeting is not cool so I am really working on that piece because I need to be respectful of other people's time).

10) Love what you do. Wear your philosophy on your sleeve! Simply put, aside from my family, I live for being an educator and instructional leader and my passion for education is something I wear on my sleeve! I want to be a part of a team that creates a school that any child, family or staff member would be proud to be apart of!

Well, this list could go on but I think the essence is communicated - my philosophy of education and leadership is rooted in my heart. What is your philosophy? Where are the roots of your philosophy planted? Please leave a comment below and share...         


  1. Wow Tony! You gave me something to think about. I regularly communicate with parents but not as much as you do so you have provided me with a challenge.
    Knowing you, I can speak to the fact that you lead with your heart and that is so important. Your students clearly know that you care for them but want to challenge them as well.
    Excellent post.

    1. Peter,
      Thank you so much for the comment - I really appreciate it my friend. The parent communication piece has become a critically important factor for me because it has led to a stronger home/school connection, high levels of transparency and incredible conversations at our family gatherings. I am fortunate enough to work in a community where the families are able to access this type of information and have the flexibility to be involved in school.
      Thanks again Peter - really appreciate it!

  2. There is a very big difference between hearing what people say and listening to them. You listen, make people feel heard; and while everyone may not always get what they want, students and teachers are more apt to buy in to your ideas because they have been heard. We know you have taken our thoughts and ideas into consideration when coming up with the best plan or strategy for the school. A very big part of your leadership philosophy centers around the idea that you may not always have a finished puzzle, but all the pieces are accounted for...and I'm happy to be one of those pieces.

    1. Melissa,
      Thank you so much for the comment and feedback - you know how much I value them coming from someone who I respect so much! Meanwhile, we are so thrilled to have you back at Cantiague - the puzzle is now complete! :)

  3. Tony,

    I love, love, love this and needed to read this to confirm what I do day in and day out. These are tenants that we should all follow as teachers and leaders of schools. Excellent post. Thank you!


    1. Vicki,
      Thank you for the support and positive feedback - you are so great! Glad we are colleagues and friends!

  4. Love what you do...wear your philosophy on your sleeve...Love that. Really great post, Tony. Your parent communication piece is exceptional! We have a goal to send out 8 positive posts (outside of athletics) every week on FB and Twitter. Really enjoy the staff connection you referenced. Thanks for the insight...really well done.

    1. Joe,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and to offer this feedback -appreciate it coming from someone whose work is inspiring to me. I am not sure if I ever want to pursue a position at the central office level, but if I do, I would definitely come knocking on your door for tips!
      Thank you again my friend!