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?