Sunday, December 12, 2010

Teach Don't Tell

“Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; 

involve me and I'll understand.” 

-  Chinese Proverb

There are several philosophies/practices that guide my daily work. Most of them I've picked up from my good friend and mentor.  The philosophy of "Teach Don't Tell" has really been running through my mind quite a bit in my travels.  We tend to do a lot of telling in education.  I see it happen everywhere I go.....

  • District Administrators tell Principals what they should be doing.

  • Principals tell teachers that they should be instructing differently.

  • Teachers tell kids that their answers are incorrect and to do it again.

We are all teachers yet we spend very little time teaching.   We have all spent countless hours in meetings and professional development opportunities where we are told what best practices to use and which manipulatives are best.  

How often are you actually taught how to do things?  I would venture to say rarely because it is easier to stand and deliver.  I am proposing a different way of leading from wherever you currently reside.   Take the time to teach somebody the next time you have the urge to tell them what to do.  There is a simple process to employ that is guaranteed to yield greater results than the typical "I'm going to tell you what to do method."

The Gradual Release of Responsibility Model (Pearson and Gallagher, 1993) is used in many classrooms with students and also in coaching situations.  What if it became the way we did business all the time?  What if it became the way we led?

It begins with the expert demonstrating and it ends with the participant practicing independently.  The shared and guided components are the ones that are typically missing.  This model can be applied to many different situations with all stakeholders.  The process can be differentiated by experience, comfort, skill, etc.  

This is where true change and growth will occur.  What if leaders began employing the best practices that we expect teachers to utilize? 

Friday, October 8, 2010

What is Good Teaching?

“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution.
- William Foster
I participated in a workshop recently where everyone in the room watched the same videotaped classroom lesson. We were then asked to rate the lesson on a standard A-F scale. The room consisted of administrators and curriculum supervisors. This is the group of people that evaluates and coaches teachers in their respective districts. The grades ranged from an A to an F with everything in between. How could this happen in a room full of highly qualified educators?
First, I would almost guarantee the same grade distribution would happen in your district. It comes down to the simple fact that everyone has a different view of what quality instruction looks like. It is very difficult to move an organization forward without a sense common vision of quality.
I have been reflecting on the walkthroughs, learning walks, and instructional rounds going on in schools every day.  I spend a great deal of my time out in schools coaching principals through learning walks and reflective conversations.  How effective are these practices without a clear framework of what quality looks like?
Try a similar activity with your staff. Simply view a videotaped lesson and have each teacher grade the lesson. The data is astonishing and the conversation that results from this activity will move your school forward on the journey of defining excellence.
How can we begin to come to a common understanding of what quality teaching is? It begins with a conversation.
How would you define good teaching?  What would you look for?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Are You Surrounded?

It is better to have one person working with you 
than three people working for you.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

My best friend always tells me that you should surround yourself with people that make you a better person.  This is a principle that effective leaders have always employed.  Great leaders surround themselves with a diverse group of people that push them to grow and develop.

Many leaders make the mistake of surrounding themselves with people that tell them what they want to hear which essentially stifles growth.  No one person has all the answers and the concept of group think just leads organizations down the wrong path.

This is an important concept to remember whenever you have the opportunity to hire, add, or remove people from your team.  How can you build a team that pushes you to be a better leader?  B

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Do The Unthinkable

It always seems impossible until its done. 

How often have you encountered the million reasons why you shouldn't embark on an endeavor/adventure?  This happens to us all in both our personal and professional lives.  People line up to tell you the reasons why you shouldn't do something.  The next time this occurs take a look at the doubters to see how they are approaching their work and their life.  
  • Are they attempting to do the impossible?
  • Are they moving in the same direction as you?
  • Are they happy just going day to day?  
Nothing great has ever occurred without risk.  Most people settle because it is easier and safer.  Greatness is always one step away even if we can't initially see it.  It often takes faith to make that first step.  The first step always leads to something greater in the long run.  

We spend far too much time worrying about what other people think and not exploring our passion and unleashing our potential.  The world is counting on people willing to take risks, explore new territory and do the impossible.

A new year is rapidly approaching for leaders everywhere.  It is time to rid yourself of the noise that doubters bring.  It is time to do the unthinkable.  It is time to show the true greatness that is within.  

What are you  waiting for?  The only thing you don't have is time?  Today is the day. How will you embark on this journey towards everything you ever wanted?  B

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Moving Mountains and Making a Way

Aut Viam Inveniam Aut Faciam 

(I'll Either Find a Way or Make One)

Moving Mountains

There are many times where it feels like you have to move mountains to get where you truly want to be.  I find that it often looks insurmountable because you are standing too close to the problem.  This happens professionally when you are working intensely on a project or just managing your daily duties.  It occurs just as often personally with relationships, decisions, etc.

The best advice is to just take a step (or two) back.  Decide what you truly want the outcome to be and relentlessly go after it.  You may still see a mountain but you will often see a path that will lead you across.  If no path appears; you just have to make one.   Either way you will find yourself on the other side.  B

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Year

July 1st brings in a new year for many organizations.  It is the beginning of the fiscal year and it is the beginning of the school year for administrators.  This new year is especially exciting to me as I transition into a new role.

I am leaving my role as Elementary Principal to become the Executive Director of Elementary Education.  In this role I will directly work with elementary school principals in my district in an effort to transform all schools.  This new role is extremely exciting and daunting.

It will certainly provide new challenges and new material to write about.  It will also be the first time that I am not in a building working with students.  I will be on the edge of the work trying to push leaders to make the changes necessary to prepare students for success.

How can you transform multiple schools at varying levels of the continuum while coaching principals?  I'll keep you posted.  B

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

No Excuses

Success is a tale of obstacles overcome, and for every obstacle overcome, an excuse not used.  ~Robert Brault

This is one of my favorite videos because it illustrates the fact that there are a million excuses for not starting something new or making a change.  These excuses tend to be the gatekeepers to greatness.  Figure out what you truly want and go after it.  The worst thing that could happen is that you fail and learn a different way not to proceed.  The terrible thing about making an excuse is that you never TRULY know what could have happened.

What would be possible in education/life if we worked from the framework of making moments happen instead of making excuses?

What is keeping you from greatness? B

Monday, May 31, 2010

Just Start!

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. 
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” –Goethe

I believe that we let obstacles and excuses get in the way of our dreams.  Pay close attention to conversations about change.  The focus is typically on "what could be?" or "why we cannot do things differently".    Very little time is spent on the actions that need to take place.  We can debate the change that should occur in our world, lives, education, etc.  The unfortunate thing is that nothing changes unless someone is bold enough to begin it.  I have a couple of questions to ask as we wind down the present school year and plan for the next.  
  1. What are you bold enough to change?
  2. What actions are you willing to take to accomplish the change?
  3. How can we change conversations to focus on what truly matters?
The most important thing is that we opt to be bold, take action, and enjoy the moments that follow... B

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Is Being in the Majority a Good Thing?

"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, 
it's time to pause and reflect."

- Mark Twain

Somebody recently said that they begin to get nervous when people start to agree with them.  I love this quote because it reminds me to continually reflect no matter what side I find myself on.  Complacency can easily occur when you are on the side of the majority.  It is the downfall of many people/organizations.  You have to continually reflect on your practices, beliefs, etc.  How do you do this when the majority of people are telling you that you are doing great and headed in the right direction?  I have two ideas that I find helpful.

1.  TIME - Set aside daily time for reflection.  It is the first thing to get cut out of a busy day but you cannot let it.  Decisions, initiatives, etc. should be continually assessed to determine the effectiveness.

2.  THE VOICE OF REASON/INSANITY - Find someone who gets the work that you do and the direction that you are moving in.  This person is easily identifiable because they never just tell you what you want to hear.  You can also identify this person because they have the innate ability to ask questions that will challenge your thinking.  This person/people will be critical to your continued growth in your journey to be who you were meant to be.

I don't find myself on the side of the majority often.  I think it has a lot to do with setting aside time and having that 'everything' person.  Keep in mind that you really aren't changing/challenging anything if you aren't making someone upset.  How do you continue to push yourself forward? B

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Creating the Future

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." -Albert Einstein

How does it happen? 
When does it start? 
Where does it go wrong?

When do you start using the phrases... 
"This is how we have always done it."  
"That will never work here."
"Things are just fine the way they are"

You encounter these phrases often when you are trying to implement change or move an initiative forward.  If you do not encounter these phrases, you really aren't moving anything.

Many organizations attempt to use the same logic that caused a problem to solve it.  The concept of recycling is alive and well in many organizations as the same ideas continue to be implemented year after year.    

Unleashing creativity will be the key to sustained improvement in tomorrow's organizations.  How do you unleash creativity and stop recycling ideas?  Here are a couple of suggestions.

1. Lead by Example - Take chances, publicize failures, and model the thinking that leads to improvement.

2. Incubate Ideas - Give new, different ideas a safe place to be tested.  Successful ideas can then be scaled up and implemented effectively because people have a visual of what it should look like.

3. Reward Forward Failure - Forward failure can be defined as any effort to make improvement that doesn't work as planned but gets you closer to the end goal.  Provide opportunities, supports, and incentives for people who dare to be different.

Fostering failure and risk-taking will lead to a brighter future in the end. How are you creating the future where you are? B 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Humility, Blinders, and the Impossible

"You can't go back and make a new beginning, 
but you can start today and make a new ending "

What role does humility play in trying to do the impossible?  This is something that has dominated my current thinking.  Success can be contagious and can easily lead you away from your mission.  In an effort to do impossible things, you can end up becoming an impossible person.

I recently read a post entitled "Blinders".  I even passed it on to a good friend because I thought the message was important.  The post focused on keeping your blinders on.  I believe that there are times to put on blinders but there are also times to remove them.  This post explores both.

Blinders are critical when it comes to focusing on your mission.  It is very easy to get wrapped up in what other people are doing/not doing.  This can absolutely overwhelm you and make you lose sight of what is important.  There are times as a leader that you need to put on your blinders in an effort to stay focused on the things/people that are truly important.

There are also times to remove your blinders.  Blinders can be detrimental when it comes to how you are perceived as a leader.    Leaders must be cognizant on how their message is delivered and more importantly how it is received.  Leaders must take the time to remove their blinders in order to conduct a 360 degree evaluation.  It is important to get honest feedback from all levels of the organization about your performance, attitude, etc.

Leaders can easily fall into the trap of putting on blinders when it comes to themselves and removing blinders when it comes to the work that everyone else has in front of them.  Exceptional leaders understand when to put on blinders and when to remove them.  It is this type of situational awareness and self awareness that separates good leaders from great ones.  I've realized recently that I haven't been using my blinders very effectively.  This realization (with help) has me focused on exploring the relationship between humility and leadership.  Here are two important things to know about humility.

  1. Humility can go a long way in a leader's journey towards success.  It is important to remember that you are always part of something bigger.  A leader typically falls when they put themselves before the mission/organization.  This is an easy trap to fall into when you encounter success. 
  2. It is also important to remember that every member of the team brings something unique to the table.  Great leaders capitalize on each individual person's talent in order to move the organization forward.  It is very easy to get caught up in focusing on shortcomings and deficits.  This will not get a leader very far because organizations are only successful if we all move forward.  
Great leaders lead from a place of influence, not position.  This influence begins with a strong sense of humility and the proper use of blinders.

Stay Focused. Remain Humble. Do the Impossible.  B

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

When Nothing is Certain, Anything is Possible

“In dreams there are no impossibilities.” Janos Arany

What if nothing was certain?  What if you had unlimited possibilities and opportunities?  How would you act?  What would you do?  Who would you involve?

Things change rapidly and nothing is truly certain.  We have to stop operating from a place of "No" or "This is impossible" because it is keeping us from the truly remarkable things that are out there.

You will be amazed at the outcomes when you shift your thinking towards possibilities and away from obstacles.  Take a step towards that dream and the obstacles will begin to disappear.  Who knows....That possibility could end up being a "history in the making" moment.

How can you start operating like anything is possible? B

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Kids Can't Wait!

"If you don't like the way the world is, you change it. 
You have an obligation to change it. 
You just do it one step at a time."
 - Marian Edelman

There has been a lot of talk about reform and what needs to be done in education.  I spend a lot of time thinking about next steps in the field of education.  I'm a strong advocate for reform and I believe that we need to make some major changes in the way we approach learning, assessment, etc.  While I believe that change needs to occur; my kids can't wait for it to happen on a national level.  As a teacher and a leader I have an obligation to make it happen today.  We need to make it happen locally and grow it nationally.

We are committed to showing people what education should look like.  We will continue to aim for targets that are much higher and more rigorous than any standardized test score.  My kids deserve that today.  Don't wait for national reform.  Start a movement today! What would be your first step? B

Monday, April 12, 2010

Separate Yourself

"Don't Try To Stand Out In A Crowd; Avoid Crowds Altogether"

I've been reading a lot lately about reform efforts, innovation tactics, and fostering change.  Reform typically doesn't work because it is aimed at fixing problems in the present and not looking towards future learning .  The key to me is not about trying to keep up with the curve.  The key is to actually set a new curve altogether.  This must be an intentional, daily practice to truly be effective.  

People are talking about becoming 21st century schools a decade into the 21st century.  We should really be looking at the future and stop striving to be something we should have been ten years ago.  

The following quote by Maria Robinson best sums up my feelings on reform, change, and innovation.  

"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but  anyone can start today and make a new ending." 

Today is definitely the day to make a new ending. What would that ending look like?  How would we get there? B

Monday, April 5, 2010

Priorities, Passion, and a Podcast

"A Great Leader's Courage To Fulfill His Vision 
Comes From Passion, Not Position." 
- John Maxwell

I recently had the privilege of recording a podcast for ASCD on "Examining the Blueprint for Reauthorizing the Elementary Secondary Education Act".  You can read more about it by clicking on the following link.

The podcast airs on April 8th but I thought I'd post a preview of some of the topics that will be discussed.

1. Priorities: The proposed blueprint provide a greater emphasis on administrator accountability.  As an administrator I believe in accountability at all levels.  I've always been open to the idea of a 360 degree evaluation by all stakeholders.  I currently have a boss that conducts my evaluation but my students and our community are the ones that truly count on me.  I believe that all parties should have a voice so why not have a voice in my evaluation.  

2. Passion:  Standards need to be the floor that we walk on and not the bar that we are trying to clear. Schools should be places of passion and not test preparation centers.  We know that all kids are different and yet we try to measure them with the same instrument.  That makes as much sense to me as using a fork to eat soup because it does a good job with other food.  Passion, pride, and performance are the ingredients that have made us a successful school.  We take pride in the things that we are most passionate about.   Embed the essential learning opportunities/standards with a passion-based learning approach.  Engagement will soar along with the minimum standard test scores.

These are just two of the topics that we talked about in the ASCD podcast.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on the proposed changes and their impact on the work that we do.  B

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Power of Expectations and Attitude

"High Achievement Always Takes Place In The Framework Of High Expectations"
Charles Kettering

I am very fortunate to work with some wonderful teachers who do amazing work with kids.  My interactions with these teachers always leave me with the following questions.  
  1. Why is it that you can put any student in a particular teacher's room and you know that the child will be successful?  
  2. Why is it that certain behaviors will vanish as soon as the student steps foot in a certain classroom?  
  3. What factors do these unbelievable teachers have in common?
  4. How can I replicate these factors in others?

The two common factors that are present in every classroom like this are expectations and attitude.  The expectations in these classrooms transcend subgroups, standardized tests, and where a student resides academically.  The expectation is that every child is successful every day.  Why would we come to school with a different expectation?  The attitude is that I'm going to do whatever it takes to make sure every child is successful.  Why would we come to school with a different attitude?  How do we replicate these traits in other people?  I believe it begins by involving them in projects that they are passionate about. B

"Often Attitude Is The Only Difference Between Success And Failure"
John Maxwell


Monday, March 22, 2010

Where Are You Going?

Follow what you are genuinely passionate about and let that guide you to your destination. 
- Diane Sawyer

"Where are you going?" is a question that I often ask people in my daily role as a school principal.  The answers I get vary depending on the person and their interpretation of that very question.  Most people often tell me their destination without much hesitation.  Students tell me that they are going to the cafeteria, bathroom, classroom, etc.  Staff members tell me that they are going home, to a training, or back to their classroom.

Today a student asked me that same question.  My answer was that I'm not sure where I'm going but I'll definitely know when I get there.  The polite student just kept going and is probably still wondering what in the world I was talking about.

I do believe that by following your passions you will end up right where you were supposed to be.  I know for me it is currently in a place that very few thought was ever possible.

I'm very passionate about dispelling myths and proving people wrong in regards to the student achievement of  high poverty students.  I believe strongly that the amount of money in my pocket and the color of my skin have never determined how much I could learn or what I could do in this life.  I'm really not sure where I'm going but I plan of following my passion wherever it leads me.  The journey for me has always been far more exciting than the destination.

What are you passionate about and where is it leading you?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Building Schools in the Air

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.

Henry David Thoreau
We tell kids every day to reach for the stars and that nothing is impossible.  I've even written a previous post about the whole concept of "I'm Possible".  Thoreau's quote speaks volumes to the approach that schools should take towards educating all children.  We should be building castles in the air while providing a strong foundation for all students.

I'm willing to guarantee that not one of my students' dreams include being proficient on a standardized test or learning a skill in isolation.  Why do so many schools do exactly that and wonder why students are not engaged? This approach does not provide the type of foundation for success in my opinion.  Why would we settle for building a dwelling with no view when we can have a castle in the air?  We must move beyond minimum proficiency goals and start building our schools in the air.  The view from there will be amazing! B

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Service Learning and Saving the World

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, 
committed people can change the world.  
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

"Which part of your school are you most excited about?" This is a question that I get all of the time.  The answer is often surprising because it isn't directly related to the Interactive Whiteboards, Mobile Computer Labs, Wireless Slates, etc. that our school is known for.  The answer is always related to our service learning projects. 

Service Learning is a powerful teaching and learning strategy that integrates instruction with meaningful community service activities.  Our version of service learning incorporates the tools/technology that students love with the service activities that they are passionate about.  

Some of our service learning projects occur right in our own backyard.  Our third graders are currently working on a courtyard garden project that will not only beautify our landscape but also provide food for the local food bank.  The students are engaged in various concepts from the parts of a plant to determining area and perimeter.  These concepts take on a greater meaning when it is taken off of a worksheet and shown in a real landscape.

Other projects span the globe like our recent "Pennies for Peace" campaign.  Fourth grade students are required to learn about natural disasters.  This type of required learning typically occurs in isolation.  This year our students have been engaged in a wide variety of activities from researching the impact storms have on the economy to student-created digital stories focused on preparedness.   The students have also reached out to various countries that have been devastated by recent earthquakes.  This student-led campaign brought in over $1,500.00 for earthquake victims in under four weeks.

Service learning makes the curriculum and essential skills relevant.  The projects are rigorous and the level of learning is much higher than had it occurred in a traditional sense.  Students work together to solve real problems, develop a level of expertise in their area of study, and share their newfound knowledge with classmates, teachers, community members, and the world (via our SchoolTube channel).  

One of the keys to engaging today's learner is to tap into their passion.  Service learning is a way to teach citizenship, academics, and the important belief that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. B

Monday, March 8, 2010


On Saturday I had the amazing honor of being named ASCD's Outstanding Young Educator.

I believe that any award with the word "young" in it is a great thing but this award was truly special to me.  ASCD is an amazing organization that exemplifies the philosophy and approach needed to transform educational practices across the globe.  I had the opportunity to speak at this year's conference and I've been asked many questions about the speech.  The Jay-Z quote/reference has definitely been the topic I'm asked about most.  I thought I'd post the speech in both Wordle and text form.  This way you can see that Jay-Z was always part of the plan and also see how grateful I am to have received this honor. B

The theme of this conference is “Critical Transformations”.  Critical Transformations occur in life at the fork in the road.  I believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best when he stated…
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. “

As I reflect back I see that the critical transformations in my life have led me to where I am today.  I could have been led down different paths like my friends, siblings, etc.  I am the first person in my family to graduate college.  I have my master’s degree and am currently pursuing my doctorate.  Not bad for a kid whose second grade teacher said that “There must be something wrong with him”.  In the words of another hero of mine (Jay Z)….I’m not sure that’s how teachers should speak to kids…she’s on my list.

Today I stand before you as an example of what is truly possible with a whole child approach to education.  I am an example of what is possible when someone believes in you enough to see past your exterior and look inside you to see that greatness lies with.  Greatness is within all of us.  I am here because of a teacher that took an interest in a kid that others had written off.  I am here because of people like you.  I was that student sitting in your class, school, or district that is disengaged, disinterested, and determined to get out of work.  Critical transformations for 21st century learners occur at the intersection of potential and passion.  Find out what your kids are truly passionate about and start the transformation process there.  Every person deserves to have someone that gives them the courage to be the person they are meant to be. 

Nobody is passionate about bubbling in answers.  My kids want to make a difference and save the world using the tools and technologies that excite them.  Our kids are counting on us to prepare them for their future…not ours.  Their successful transformations are going to be dependent on their abilities to communicate, collaborate, create and critically think about global problems.

I have the best opportunity in the world each and every day.  I get to make a difference in the lives of 600 of the most talented kids at Hidenwood Elementary in Newport News, VA.   Our theme at Hidenwood is that nothing is impossible because I’m possible.  To the students and staff of Hidenwood and to the students and teachers across the globe…If I can stand here before you today…anything is truly possible.

We must remember that one determined person can make a significant difference, and that a small group of determined people can change the course of history.” We have the power and potential in this room to change the course of educational history and transform classrooms across the world.  What will your next critical transformation be?   I read recently that schools will change more in the next ten years than they have in the past 100.  That transformation begins today…at this conference…with this group of determined people.

Thank you to ASCD for this tremendous honor.  The Outstanding Young Educator Award will certainly serve as another transformation in my life.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Leadership, Morale, and a Snow Plow

Today we are having another snow day in Newport News, Virginia.  I'm really looking forward to flying out to San Antonio for #gtadmin and #ascd10 tomorrow.

As a 12 month employee I still come in on days like today.  My drive into work this morning had me thinking about the #edchat morale conversation  and how I contribute to it as a leader.  I came up with a snow plow analogy that may or may not work for all but I thought I'd throw it out there.

The snow has prevented my students and staff from having a regular day today.  There are many days that everyone does report to school but other obstacles get in the way of real learning.  These obstacles can include an overcrowded curriculum, high stakes testing, or even equipment that isn't functional.

My role and responsibility as a leader is similar to the snowplow that I saw on the road this morning.  It's job is to clear the road so that we can do the job we need to do.  As a leader I need to be like a snow plow.  I need to clear the road from the obstacles that prevent students and staff from taking chances and transforming educational practices.

One of the keys to morale, performance, and transforming education is to adopt a snow plow mentality in regards to obstacles.  There are others but this one resonates with me most on a snow day.  B

Monday, March 1, 2010

I'm Possible - Critical Transformations

I am heading to ASCD's Annual Conference in less than a week. The theme for this year's conference is "Critical Transformations". We can all look back at our life and identify the critical transformations that brought us to the point we are at today. This is especially true for me since I owe everything I have to an educator who believed in me when no one else did.

Critical transformations for me have always been about overcoming adversity and doing things that others say is impossible. This has certainly carried over into my daily journey in education.  There are people that doubt the students I serve on a daily basis. Many overcome amazing obstacles and do remarkable things. That is why our theme this year is a play on words.

We took the word "Impossible" added an apostrophe and a space to make "I'm Possible". It is the first thing my students see when they enter the building each morning.

You can also view our opening video with the theme and one of my amazing students here.

My students need to know that everything that they want to do in this world is possible. It is up to us to establish an environment where critical transformations can occur by igniting their passion and offering opportunities for all kids.

There are several keys to igniting a student's passion and watching their critical transformation unfold. Here are three that we put into our daily practice and have made a world of difference.

1. Develop a culture of risk taking and forward failure by students and staff members

2. Create opportunities for students to be involved in leadership activities and groups based on interest. Interest ignites passion and increases engagement. Our students are involved in a wide array of activities including chess, recycling, drama, mentoring, and video production

3.Develop a whole child approach to support the development of children who are healthy, safe, engaged, and challenged

This approach has not only allowed us to exceed academic benchmarks but more importantly facilitate critical transformations in our kids.

Passion is the key to transformation.  What kinds of things are you doing to ignite passion and encourage critical transformations where you are?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Forward Failure

"Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street." - Zig Ziglar

Failure is the greatest teacher that I have ever had in my life. I've learned more through my mistakes than I ever have through successes. One of the people I admire and read about often is Abraham Lincoln. Failure was a critical component to Lincoln's success. Here is a short list of the failures that helped him move forward.
  • He failed as a businessman - as a storekeeper.
  • He failed as a farmer - he despised this work.
  • He failed in his first attempt to obtain political office.
  • When elected to the legislature he failed when he sought the office of speaker.
  • He failed in his first attempt to go to Congress.
  • He failed when he sought the appointment to the United States Land Office.
  • He failed when he ran for the United States Senate.
  • He failed when friends sought for him the nomination for the vice-presidency in 1856.
Each one of these failures helped him move forward on his journey towards greatness. The most important thing I can do as a leader is to cultivate a culture of risk-taking and forward failure. This is the culture necessary to help students and teachers move outside of filling in bubbles sheets and into the world of problem solving, critical thinking, and creating new products/projects.

There are three things that we are currently doing to help cultivate a forward failing culture.
  1. Provide opportunities for teachers and students to explore outside of the curriculum to find things they are passionate about and have them tie it into essential learnings.
  2. Provide resources and support when presented with a new idea, approach, or plan to move the school forward.
  3. Show people that forward failure is okay by supporting and assisting people when a project does not go as planned. This will lead to more risk taking and eventually a superior idea/product.
Lincoln is not the only prominent failure that exists in history. The video below shows several more. Keep in mind that Edison failed thousands of times before he revolutionized the world with his invention. Our students hold the key to the next great idea. We cannot continue to try to solve today's problems with yesterday's answers. We need to set up the environment that fosters the surfacing of that idea.

How are you cultivating a culture of "Forward Failure" in your work? Please share so that we can all move forward on this journey. B

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Differentiated Leadership

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." John Quincy Adams

As a classroom teacher I believed strongly in differentiated instruction due to the fact that my 20+ kids came in at all different levels. I always felt I was doing a disservice if I gave them all the same thing, at the same time, in the same way. I've always believed in high expectations for all students. I just knew that some students needed more scaffolding, support, etc. to get to their destination. As I transitioned into administration the concept of differentiation naturally came with me.

Differentiated leadership is really my daily approach/philosophy as an elementary school principal. I have nearly 100 staff members that are all at different levels in regards to pedagogical knowledge, classroom management, technology skills, etc. My approach to each staff member is very similar to the approach I used with students in my classroom. A staff meeting, professional development, etc. for all staff, at the same time, in the same way really just doesn't make sense. This is especially true since I believe strongly in modeling best practices for staff members. That's why the philosophy of differentiated leadership has been a cornerstone for our school's success.

These are the basic components to the differentiated leadership approach that I incorporate into my daily practices.

1. All staff participate in respectful work
2. Conversations, Planning, & Professional Development serve to build a foundation from which staff members can explore and create
3. Planning, Professional Development, and Coaching are based on individual learners and team needs
4. Multiple learning strategies and approaches are used in a coaching framework
5. Assessment and dialogue (formal & informal) occur in a variety of ways throughout the year
6. Administrators and teachers form a learning partnership where strategies are shared in order to move all students forward

You'll see that you can replace the adult in each principle with a student and you have the basic principles for differentiated instruction. There are certainly other principles that you could easily add. Please feel free to comment and add your own.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hello World!

Today is the day that I begin one of my new year's resolutions (better late than never). I was reminded about this resolution when I read @bhs_principal's guest post today entitled "Every Principal Needs A Blog". I agree that the best way to transform a school/education is to model the practices that you expect from your teachers. This is one way for me to accomplish that goal. The other reason is because there are quite a few ideas, thoughts, etc. that I just can't fit into 140 Characters. This is my "Hello World" post, my making good on a resolution, and more importantly a contribution towards moving education forward. We are trying to prepare students for a century that we are already a decade into. Hopefully this blog will provide some food for thought and fuel for change. B