Thursday, December 31, 2015

A New Year's Resolution

Prior to the beginning of  this school year, I started to use Voxer. And it has been great. I know that I've shared this sentiment before, but the benefit I've gained from this application that is downloaded onto my phone is worth repeating.

  • Connecting with principals, coast-to-coast, regarding a myriad of topics that principals encounter on a day-to-day basis
  • The convenience of these connections taking place on my terms, anywhere and anytime
  • The ideas that other principals share that I am able to tailor and make my own
  • The positivity that we inspire within each other.

Two groups that I am a part of have been especially motivating. Principals in Action is one of the two groups. The focus of this group is simple. Principals being out of their offices, and instead spending their time in classrooms working with kids. Work. Life. Balance. is the other group. This group focuses on helping us (principals) find a balance in life; we talk about how we (principals) can maintain a commitment to our job that allows us to be effective while at the same time making enough time for ourselves, our families, and our friends.

I wholeheartedly believe in the messages that both of these two Voxer groups communicate.

As a principal, I believe, that I need to be in classrooms and I need to be working with kids. That being said, a principal has many additional obligations. Like most jobs, there is never enough time to
do it all. This is an internal battle that I struggle with, daily. I want to be a great principal. But I don't want to let my work consume me. I want to be a great husband and a great father; I want to go home
and be able to comfortably disconnect for a few hours so that I can spend quality time with my wife and our young kids.

This brings me to a few school related New Year's resolution that I want to share.
  • I plan on recommitting to being-in classrooms in 2016. I felt good about how I was doing with this to begin the year. However, as the year has gone-on and things have come-up, I'm no longer where I want to be in this regard.
  • Something that I've never done, previously, but plan to start doing is taking my laptop (and/or iPhone) into classrooms and doing a little bit of my own work alongside students who are doing their work. This was an idea that was shared in our Work.Life.Balance. Voxer group (thanks!). This idea that became my primary New Year's resolution was the inspiration for this blog post, as I am hopeful that this resolution will help me find a better work-life-balance in 2016.
  • I still plan to talk with kids whenever I am in classrooms. 
    • Last year, I was at a school (that I'd been at for three years) with approximately 250 kids. I was very proud of the fact that I knew ALL of their names! This year I am at a new school. This year I am at a school with approximately 375 kids. I am embarrassed to admit that I do not know all of their names. I need to get into classrooms, more and increase the amount of students that I am able to refer to by their first name. This matters.
    •  Also, as a result of being in classrooms more often, I will be able to do a better job of sharing our school's day-to-day celebrations. It is my job to tell our school's story. If I am not doing this, someone else will. I want to be the one that frames our story. We have Facebook page and a hashtag (#StarryShines); I want to do a better job in 2016 of promoting ourselves through those platforms.
    What are your school related New Year's resolutions for 2016?

    Monday, December 21, 2015

    12 Days of a Starry Staff Christmas

    A big aspect of leadership is giving. Giving responsibility to others so that they can assume leadership roles; giving autonomy to others so that people can pursue their own curiosities, interests, and strengths; giving feedback in a way that will facilitate growth; giving trust so people are empowered to take risks, giving a listening ear to allow others to vent and reflect, giving advice and opinions when and where others are stuck and needing assistance, giving confidence to others by celebrating what is working well for them.
    I enjoy being able to give to others. 

    This year, during this holiday season, I have been giving the staff at Starry the following. It is not much, I know; and I wish that I had more to give, but I am hopeful that these small gestures can enhance moods and reduce stress just a little during this hectic time of year.

    And while some may applaud me for my creativity/originality, the idea was borrowed. I've seen it spread across my PLN from people like Jay Posick (@posickj) and Amber Teamann (@8Amber8) and others. They gave me the idea and the structure - thanks! I just tweaked it to make it work for me.

    Happy Holidays!

    Tuesday, December 15, 2015

    Second Grade Q&A

    Last week one of our second grade classroom's was working on writing questions as part of their Work on Writing station during their Daily 5 rotations. The students have been working hard to include capital letters and question marks, while making sure their questions make sense. Their teacher allowing them to ask me questions was an extension idea from our Journeys story for the week entitled Schools Around the World

    Upon hearing this, I asked their teacher if she would allow her students to email me their questions. I then took that email and published their questions along with my answers on my blog to give our students a larger and more authentic audience. 

    The students had a great time thinking of and generating questions, their teacher had a great time reading what they had come up with, and their principal (me) had a great time responding to them. We hope that you enjoy reading about our students' curiosities in regards to their principal.

    Andrew: Who is your favorite teacher? 
    Growing-up my favorite teacher that I had was in third grade, Mr. P

    Trinity: What's your favorite thing about being a principal? 
    I love being able to be around so many cool kids everyday.

    Kolby: Do you like Christmas? 
    Yes! It is one of my favorite times of the year.

    My two kids - Olivia and Ryne
    Jozie AND Lydia: Do you have any kids? 
    I have two. My son, Ryne is five and he is in pre-school, and my daughter, Olivia, is a year-and-a-half.

    Koven: When will you go to the Hawkeyes game? 
    We used to have season tickets to the Hawkeyes football games, but now we just go to one or two each year. My Dad has season tickets for the Hawkeyes basketball games so I go to some of those.

    Odyn: Where were you born? 
    Iowa City

    Raelynn: Will we build robots in art class? 
    That would be a good question for Mr. Thornton.

    Patrick: Do you like the Iowa Hawkeyes or Iowa State? 
    Iowa Hawkeyes! I do NOT like Iowa State.

    Devin: Do you like the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Seahawks? 
    I like the Iowa Hawkeyes! I'm not a Seattle Seahawks fan.

    Jordan: What kind of cookies do you like? 
    Chocolate chip

    Bryker: Do you have pets? 
    I've never had any pets

    Oliver: Have you ever been to another school? 
    I've worked in four different schools. I've visited a lot of different schools.

    Brooklyn: What did you eat TODAY? 
    I usually eat cereal or oatmeal for breakfast; I don't usually eat lunch during the school day, but I'll eat small snacks throughout the day, and for dinner I eat whatever my wife cooks - she's a great cook!

    Stella: How old are you? 
    16+16 = how old I am

    Delaney: What is your favorite holiday? 

    Evan: What is your favorite football team? 
    Iowa Hawkeyes and Chicago Bears

    Aubrey: Do you like pizza? 
    It is my favorite food

    Jayden: Did you have a job before you were a principal? 
    I used to be a teacher

    Jameson: Do you have a cousin? 
    I have quite a few cousins, but I don't see them very often

    Kaleb: Do you remember when I helped Skyler and Grady?
    I do remember that. It's one of my favorite memories from the year.

    Annie: Have you ever been a principal? 
    Yep, I was a principal for three years at a different school before I became the principal here at Starry.

    Skylar: Do you have a wife? 
    Yes. She is a first grade teacher in Solon
    Mrs. Dunne: Do you think the Cubs will win it all in 2016? 
    I hope!

    Mrs. Tank: Will you come into our classroom and share your answers with us since some of us don't have computers at home?
    How about if I come-in before I am scheduled to read aloud to your class this Wednesday?

    Tuesday, December 8, 2015

    Why I Became an Educator

    Let's face it. Despite the fact that this may be the most wonderful time of the year, it can be a pretty stressful time of the year, too.

    We must fight back, and attempt to reduce our stress. If we do nothing, stress will engulf us and stress will win.

    Recently I read a blog about things that educators can do to actively combat the stress that is associated with the holiday season.

    One of the suggestions was to reflect upon why you became an educator.

    Here I go.

    Growing-up, the thought of becoming an educator never once crossed my mind. I vividly remember dreaming of two possible professions upon entering adulthood. One, I wanted to be a professional athlete. And two, I wanted to be some sort of sports journalist and/or sports reporter.

    Like many, I went to college not knowing what I wanted to do once I finished college. In fact, I selected my college (Cornell College) because of the opportunities that I was presented in regards to
    playing football. I gave it a shot; I played football in college for one year, but it wasn't for me. As a result, I decided to transfer to the University of Iowa - still not knowing what I wanted to do after college.

    I started college at Cornell as a business major, for no particular reason. At Iowa, I started as a health, sports, and leisure studies major (or something along those lines). And as much as I loved taking courses that had to do with sports, I realized that this may not be the most marketable major for me to possess upon graduation. At the same time, since I was no longer playing football, I had taken up coaching youth (it was either third and fourth or fifth and sixth grade) football. I loved it. I loved working with kids. I loved being able to help kids. I loved the opportunity that I had to teach kids something that had been such a passion for me. I loved it so much that I decided that I wanted to get into coaching for the rest of my life. So...I figured that if I became a teacher, I would have many opportunities in the coaching field.

    I applied, and was accepted into the University of Iowa's College of Education. It was a great move - not only was it the start of a career that I love, but more importantly - the College of Education was how/where I met my future wife.

    Fast forward to graduating from college. I got a job! I was going to be a sixth grade language arts and literature teacher in Davenport, Iowa, I was also going to be coaching some high school football, and I was going to be coaching both the 7th and 8th grade junior high boys basketball teams. I loved it. I loved the competition. I loved working with the kids. I loved trying to teach kids some of the same values that sports had taught me. I loved being a positive role model for kids. I loved helping them become better both athletically and as people.

    I don't remember what exactly inspired me to pursue my administrative degree, but I did. I enrolled in St. Ambrose University's Master's of Educational Administration program (in fact, my testimony for their program is still live on their website; funny/interesting to look back at what I said, six plus years ago). I wanted to become a principal (the following is a quote that I found on the St. Ambrose website (linked, again) that explains my rational).
    "As a teacher, you can influence your class and those students, but as a principal, you can do it at a greater level. Instead of guiding 30 students, you can guide 30 different teachers with 30 kids each."
    Fast forward again, and I became an elementary school principal in the summer of 2012. And while it is busy, and at times it can be stressful (like any job), it is the best job in the world. I can't imagine doing any other job. I love my job. I get the opportunity to work with kids; I get the daily opportunity to have a positive impact on a child's life. I get to work with adults, too, to help them have that same impact. It is why I became an educator. It is why I remain an educator.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2015

    A Minion Reasons to Be Thankful

    It is important for anyone who enters our school to immediately feel that it is a positive environment.

    • Positive school environments promote adults that are in charge of the students to take pride in what they do
    • Positive school environments promote better student achievement and behavior
    • Positive school environments promote better teaching and better teacher behavior

    Because of the above mentioned reasons, I was very excited when I was approached by two of our teachers at Starry about all staff and all students to express what they are thankful for within our school and then making it visual for all to see.

    I am thankful for having the opportunity to work in a school (alongside a great staff and student body) where I can have a positive impact on staff and student learning.

    The more you focus on what's good, the more good you will see.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2015

    If a child doesn't know how to behave, we...

    Who has students that can't read?  We all do. What do we do? We try everything under the sun. We try different resources, we bring-in additional people, we make instructional changes, we set-up interventions - the list goes on and on.

    Who has students that can't behave? Again, we all do. What do we do? Punish? That doesn't work. Verbally scold and berate a student? That is the single most commonly used, but least effective method for addressing undesirable behaviors (Albetro and Troutman, 2006). So what do we do? Throw our hands-up in exhaustion?

    This is something that I've been thinking about, a lot, lately. I'd heard the words on the image before, but recently they've been coming-up more and more frequently in conversations at school and on Twitter and Voxer. It is a pretty powerful message.

    We teach academics; we expect behaviors. That isn't really fair to a growing population of our students. We value academics more than the emotional needs of our students due to the pressures of testing our students. That doesn't really align with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

    It is crucial that we continuously revisit and reteach our expectations and procedures. We must practice patience and persistence. We have to be aware that ultimately it is the environment that we create that can and will change student behavior. And to steal a line from one of my favorite YouTube videos, "You can't expect a kid to change, you gotta touch his frickin' heart,"

    We can't allow ourselves to become cynical; and this, unfortunately, is easy to do as there are land mines all around us. We have to remind ourselves as to why we got into the education field because as Todd Whitaker and Annette Breaux say in the The Ten-Minute In-Service, it is one of the "noblest and most influential professions on earth."

    We have to find ways to remain positive. How do we do that? I don't know what works for everyone else, but I know what works for me. I try to surround myself with as many positive people as possible. I try to engage in meaningful conversations that enhance my learning via my professional learning networks (PLNs) on Twitter and Voxer. I try to take care of myself; I eat relatively healthy, I exercise regularly, I TRY to get an adequate amount of sleep, and I TRY to find work-life balance. These things are important, they mater.

    Our frame of mind, our mindset is our greatest asset. It is something that we have the power to control every. single. day. There is no tool more powerful.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2015

    Patrolling Our Beat

    Last week, my grandfather in-law passed away. This week, I had plenty of time to reflect upon various topics during his visitation and funeral. He was a retired Davenport police officer. It 

    A while back I was listening to a podcast. I forget who the host(s) were and what the episode was titled, but I remember the topic. The podcast talked about how as a result of events that have transpired throughout our country, post-Ferguson, there was a need for police work to be altered. It was time for the pendulum to swing back to the idea of beat cops.

    As a school principal, I've listened to students compare me to a cop.

    I'm okay with that, IF they are thinking of me as a beat cop.

    According to, the definition of a beat cop is:
    A beat cop is a police officer who walks, rides, cycles, or drives in a specific neighborhood, known as a "beat." Because the officer routinely patrols in the same area, he or she becomes well-known in the community, creating a positive relationship between law enforcement and the community.
    I am not okay with that, IF they are thinking of me as a cop that catches bad guys. Unfortunately, this is sometimes people's perception of us as principals. You see, at our back-to-school night, I was introduced to a kindergarten student by his mom as the principal. I was the one who the "bad kids"  had to go see.
    I quickly tried to explain to the incoming kindergartner and his mom that I didn't see "bad kids," but instead I saw kids that made bad choices.

    This is an image that we, as principals, need to change.

    As principals, we need to be instructional leaders. We need to be in classrooms. We need to be talking with teachers about what they are teaching, and with students about what they are learning. And then we need to celebrate all of the great things that are being accomplished in our schools that we see when we are patrolling our schools (our beat), thus creating positive relationships among our school community.

    Sunday, October 25, 2015

    The Other Side of the Table

    As educators, for the last eight/nine years, my wife and I have always sat on one-side of the table for parent-teacher conferences. However, this past week, for our five-year-old son's first conference, we had the pleasure to sit on the other side for the first time.

    It was a little strange. We didn't quite know what to expect.
    Our son, Ryne, ready for school

    We assumed that he'd do well in school. We knew that he liked school. We were confident regarding his academic progress. But we didn't know for certain. And as a parent, unfortunately, it seems be human nature to worry about your kid(s).

    Ryne with his pre-school teacher on his birthday
    That is why it was so nice to hear his teacher tell us how well he was doing. And I apologize, but I'm going to stray for a just moment to brag about the specific takeaways that we heard at his conference:

    1. His peers want to be friends with him because he is so caring
    2. Even when his peers are maybe not making the right choice, he is responsible enough not to follow suit
    3. Academically, he is at/or above what is expected at this time for a pre-school student
    Previously, in my educator's role, I maybe failed to always see the significance of a parent-teacher conference for the parents whose student is doing fine. I'd like to think that I now have a better understanding for the magnitude of this event for all parents.

    Kids spend a lot of time in schools. In fact, by my math, they spend approximately 6,300 hours in school each year. Parents want to know what is happening during that time. We want to know the bad. We want to know the good.

    And I can't imagine that this gets old. I can't imagine no longer wanting to hear positive things about my child. I will still want to hear about the positive things that he does throughout his time as an elementary school student, and then as a middle school student, and eventually as a high school student. I will still want to hear about the positive things that he does when he is an adult (I know that my parents still enjoy hearing about my accomplishments as a professional).

    As parents, we never get tired about hearing the positive things that our children do while they are at school.

    As educators, we need to continue to point-out to our students ALL of the positive things that they do while they are at school and then we must share that information with their parents. That needs to be our obligation.

    Monday, October 19, 2015

    School Principals in Action: Getting Creative on Voxer

    The following blog was originally written for and published by Voxer.
    It can also be seen on Voxer's blog.

    Adam Welcome: “Hey bro, are you on Voxer?!”

    Me: “No...but I probably should be, huh?”

    Adam Welcome: “My man, yes, like yesterday! Trust me! I’ll plug you in :)Sign up ASAP and send me a msg, will totally open up your PLN! awelcome”

    That was the Twitter conversation that Adam Welcome and I had this past summer.

    I proceeded to download Voxer, create an account, and began enhancing my connections with principals and educators across the country. These connections, which generally started on Twitter, are extended on Voxer on a much more personal level.

    As I drive my daily 30-minute commute to and from work, I get the chance to get caught-up on my Voxes. Voxer allows me to reflect on my practices as a principal. It gives me the energy and motivation to push myself to be better and do more each day. It excites me to go to work and make a difference each day, and it rejuvenates me on the way home after what may have been a more difficult day.  After  hearing other principals share first hand on Voxer the celebrations and successes that they are having in their schools, Voxer has convinced me that I can do better that I can do more..

    Voxer has been great! I owe a huge thanks to Adam for introducing me to Voxer, and I owe a huge thanks to Voxer for the continued passion that it has provided me towards my profession. It has made a positive impact on my practice as a school principal.

    As a result of the Principals in Action Voxer group, the following are some of the things that I’ve been pushed to create and/or implement as a result of the Voxer conversations that I’ve been a part of include:

    • Birthday selfies - Justifiably, kids love celebrating their birthdays. In an effort to enhance and personalize the birthday celebrations for our students at school, I’m attempting to find them on their birthdays, and take ‘A Happy Birthday Selfie with Mr. Ewald’ that I share with Mom and/or Dad. The feedback that I have started to receive from these has been amazing.

    • Home visits - I’ve never done these before, now I have a couple on the horizon in an effort to improve the relationships that we have with some of the students that we struggle to connect with at school

    • School hashtag - I’ve been on Twitter for several years now. Each year my Twitter presence has grown. I’ve always wanted to have a school hashtag. Now we have one! #StarryShines

    • School podcasts - I haven’t done these yet, either. But I want to do them. After listening to other principals talk about their experience with school podcasts on Voxer, I, too, want to conduct podcasts by our students that would allow them to share some highlights from within our own school from a student’s perspective.

    • Some blog posts - The Principals in Action hashtag and Voxer group started as a challenge for each principal to complete over the course of a week. One challenge had to do with going into classes and reading to students; I blogged about this - Everything Circles Back Around. Another challenge had to do with blogging about all of the things that a principal does during the course of a random/typical day; linked is my blog on this topic - A Typical Day.

    • Twitter challenge - Like I mentioned, my Twitter presence has grown bit by bit the past couple of year. I’d like to think that my presence on Twitter has encouraged others to use Twitter as a learning tool. After a Twitter challenge (a task or tasks intended to increase someone’s Twitter presence) was shared in our Principals in Action Voxer group, I simulated something similar in my own school in an attempt to get more staff using Twitter as a communication/learning tool. The initial results of this seem to be very positive.

    I plan to continue to use Voxer as a way to discuss issues with those in a similar position, motivate myself as well as others, and to share and replicate ideas. However, in an effort to become more efficient, I plan on starting to use Voxer to provide teachers with feedback after visiting their classrooms.

    Traditionally, educators have operated in the isolation of their school and classroom. But Voxer has brought educators together, on our individual terms and time.

    Wednesday, September 30, 2015

    A Typical Day

    Regularly, I am asked, "What did you do at work, today?" Embarrassingly, I'm not always able to answer that question. And it isn't because the nature of my work is top-secret. Instead, there are more days than not that are so full that they are over before I've ever had a chance to come-up for air. Education is busy work.

    That's is why I'm glad that Adam Welcome (@awelcome) posed the challenge - pick a day and blog, via a list, about everything that we (principals) do during a given day - to our #PrincipalsInAction Voxer group (check out Adam's blog on the topic, which will be released via Ed Week). This would be a good opportunity for me to try to slow down, reflect on what it is that I am doing, and think about how I spend my time in-order to best meet the needs of our staff, students, and other school community.

    So, as a principal of a K-2 elementary school, what do I do all day? I should warn you, there is a lot here; this is a long post, much longer than I had initially imagined.

    Anyways, here is a little bit of an insight as to what I do on a typical day (this typical day just happened to be on Monday, September 28th, 2015).

    • I arrived at school just before 8am, in-time for the mini-PD sessions that some of our Grant Wood Area Educational Agency consultants were leading for our teachers in the areas of Google Docs/Drive and Twitter. I participated in the Twitter session.
    • At the conclusion of our Twitter PD, I went outside to greet our students on the playground/on their way into the school. 
    • I then led the morning announcements over the intercom with the help of some of our second grade students.
    • After the announcements, our superintendent arrived; I joined him in my office as we visited with one of our tech consults who was sticking around for the day, making herself available to our teachers via a format similar to a college professor's office hours. She was explaining to us the items that she'd brought to demo - Bee Bot and Blue Bot, Dash and Dot, and a Sphero Ball (all programming robots), a Little Bits circuit set, a mini drone, and an Osmo. 
    • We took the drone out to the hallway where a kindergarten class was walking by on their way to the library. One student was struggling to follow along with his peers; fortunately flying the drone down the hallway serves as a pretty good motivator to get him to the library. 
    • Back in my office, our superintendent, our tech consultant, and myself had a conversation about technology in education.
    • Quickly I checked my voicemail, and returned a phone call.
    • I headed out of my office and into a classroom to grab a student who I've been trying really hard to connect with; I brought this student to my office to let him demo one of our programming robots.
    • I was called down to a classroom to assist with a student. That student and I had a conversation, and he went back to his class.
    • I had a conversation with our school counselor in regards to a student that we've both been spending quite a bit of time working with.
    • Stopped-in, quickly, to two of our second grade classrooms while I was down in that end of the hallway.
    • On my way back down the hallway, I checked-in with a student who had been sent-out of the classroom. We had a conversation, and with my support he re-entered the classroom.
    • I returned to my office, to have a brief conversation with our tech consultant about some follow-up to the Twitter PD that we'd done this morning/
    • A student was brought to my office as a result of him failing to stay on task and complete his work. Together, we went back to his classroom, and with my assistance, he completed his work requirements. 
    • A student had earned a break so he came to my office where he was able to experiment with Little Bits circuit set.
    • Again, I walked down the hallway seeking-out one of our special education teachers to discuss some recess options for one of her students.
    • Back in the office, I checked-in with our nurse, upon hearing of a multitude of students not feeling well throughout the building.
    • Back out in the hallway, I stopped into a classroom where students were reading to self. I sat with two students for a moment listening to them read and reading with them.
    • I went to find two students to check-in with. One of the two students was reading to self; I praised this student for doing such a good job of being on task. The other student needed some help getting started with a spelling/word work activity so I sat down and helped her get started.
    • Quickly, I glanced at my email noticing that there was an email needing a reply regarding confirmation of a meeting scheduled for later in the day. So I responded to that particular email, and I left the rest for later.
    • Again, I touched-base with our school counselor regarding the same student that we'd discussed earlier in the morning.
    • I was called to a classroom to assist with a student. I spent some time with this particular student waiting for him to calm-down to the point that he could have a conversation with me. Once he was ready, we role played a better way to respond when told that we have to wait to use the restroom.
    • Our tech consultant and I took our drone outside to the playground, but...the battery wasn't cooperating. It didn't fly.
    • I came back inside and checked in with a class/student.
    • Upon exiting that last classroom, I happened upon a student who wasn't willingly transitioning back to his classroom. I had a conversation with the student, and we went back into his classroom.
    • Again, I quickly checked my email to see if any emails needed an immediate response.
    • I found a student in the hallway who was working on finishing the writing prompt, "This weekend, I..." I sat with the student and helped him finish his writing. While working with this student, I showed him a picture of the work that my son had done at his school. The student remarked, "Where you proud of him?" I replied by saying, "I was! Just like I'm proud of you for finishing your work!" I thought that this was a really neat moment. I then helped transition this same student back into the classroom where I sat with him for five minutes.
    • I went back to my office where I attempted to make a positive phone call home in regards to one of our students. No answer. I shared the minor celebration via voice mail.
    • Back in the hallway, I walked a student down to the gym so that he could join the rest of his class for P.E.
    • Back in my office, while attempting to eat lunch, I had to prepare a CPI form to be sent home and to our administrative office.
    • I checked-in with our secretary to find-out what my crossing guard duties would be while I filled-in for one of our associates who was out for the day.
    • A second grade student, probably the biggest Green Bay Packers fan in our school, brought me a picture that he had drawn for me of the Chicago Bears (he knows that I am a big Chicago Bears fan).
    • I replied to a teacher's email where she was inviting me into her classroom to watch her students graph their progress; unfortunately, I had to decline the invitation (this time).
    • I left the office to do a couple of classroom walkthroughs.
    • I was told about a student struggling to come inside from recess so I headed to the playground and worked on getting him back inside and into his classroom.
    • Our tech consultant found me to tell me that the drone was charged so I got to fly it for a few minutes in the hallway.
    • Shortly before 2pm, I had to cross town to go to our district's other K-2 building to have a meeting regarding our School In Need of Assistance plan
    • At 3pm, I returned to school in-order to perform my crossing guard duties at dismissal.
    • After my crossing guard duty ended, we had a building leadership team meeting scheduled from 3:45 to 4:45.
    • My day wasn't done yet. For the next two hours I caught-up on email, had a cup of coffee, made copies, signed forms and requests, and sorted some papers.
    • At 7pm, I was present for our school board meeting.
    • After the board meeting, while driving home I was able to return a couple of phone calls and get caught up on some of my Voxer groups. 
    • A little before 8:30pm, I arrived home...just in time to read my son a book as he was getting ready for bed.

    Monday, September 21, 2015

    Everything Circles Back Around

    When I first became a principal, my new principal mentor gave me the idea to read to classes. So I did. Each week I would go into some of our classrooms to read to the classes that asked me to visit. The teachers were responsible for selecting the books that I read. And it went okay. I think that the students really enjoyed it; it might have been more of a hassle for the teachers that participated.

    Last spring, on his blog (linked), Adam Welcome (@awelcome) shared the model that he uses to read to classes. His process gave this much more purpose and structure. It was an idea that I planned to steal and implement.

    Fast forward to the present. I've just finished reading The Dot to all of our classrooms. It went really well. I timed this to coincide with International Dot Day (September 15th-ish), and after I read our students had the opportunity to make their own marks and create their own dots.

    But something happened as I sat down (not on the time #principalsinaction) to read The Dot to one of our first grade classes. The students knew that I was going to be reading to them, they seemed excited about this, and they began to share some things with me. Some of the students, proudly, began telling me how they could read. However, one little girl spoke up and said, " I can't read."

    I corrected this little girl and told her that "She can't read, yet." I then went on to tell her how glad I was that she shared this information with me because this is exactly what The Dot is about. It's a book about not being able do something, yet, and then what happens when the right steps are taken.

    I am convinced that everything circles back around to Carol Dweck's theories of mindset. I am also convinced that developing a growth mindset is crucial to all that we do. If we don't believe that we can accomplish something, then the writing is already on the wall in regards to how it is going to turn-out. Our actions, as educators, must model the belief that we can accomplish anything with the right amounts of effort, practice, and support. We must model this for kids. We must convince kids that they, too, can accomplish anything. If kids don't believe that they can do something, how will they ever do it?  We have to change their mindset. It is one of our most important jobs; to instill this growth mindset in our students. It is a game changer.

    Sunday, September 20, 2015

    What Our Students Need

    You can Google Brett Greenwood's story. It is rather remarkable.

    Last night, after months and years of rehabilitation, he was able to lead the Iowa Hawkeyes football team (his former team) onto the field. Embedded, below, is the inspirational clip of that happening.

    He is flanked by his former strengths & conditioning coach, Chris Doyle, and one of his former teammate's, Pat Angerer.

    What I really LOVE about this clip is seeing the constant encouragement that Greenwood receives. For the 45+/- seconds while Greenwood is walking, Angerer and Doyle are constantly in his ear to give him words of encouragement; telling him how he can do this.

    This is what our students need. Our students need someone, multiple people, constantly giving them that same level of encouragement. They need someone telling them that they can do it. They need someone praising them that they are doing it. And this needs to be happening all day long for our kids.

    Saturday, September 5, 2015

    We Can Be More ,We Can Be Much More

    A couple of summers ago, at the annual School Administrators of Iowa conference, Angela Maiers shared the following video - "It's Time for TED" - TED2012 remixed

    I LOVE this video.

    Last month, I shared this video with our teachers at Starry Elementary School. As they watched the short video, I asked them to think about the implications that this video has regarding education.

    These were the responses that staff shared as their exit slip that afternoon:
    • We can always do the impossible; we can always do more for the kids
    • When we are teaching students we need to accept other ways of thinking. We need to let students think differently. Our job is to facilitate knowledge. We didn't create it, and we shouldn't limit it.
    • Look towards the future, not the past. Focus on the child's future and where they are going, not where they have been. Look forward to tomorrow, don't dwell on the past.
    • Work together, think bigger, create, change the world, think of the problem differently, miracle of your mind is that you can see the future differently
    • Think outside the box, empower everyone, don't give up
    • Education is always changing for the better. Working together, we can make a positive impact on our students education and lives
    • We are all here for the kids and if we think BIG we can help them think outside the box to change the world.
    • We hopefully teach imagination to be someone or somewhere else, to put their minds to a place that is better than where they are now.
    • Believe in the impossible! Be creative!
    • The TED talk was inspiring us to look for the positives, be a believer, and that we need to use the miracle of our mind!
    • Makes me think about how important education and knowledge is to change our world into something different and awesome.
    • Teachers are not the key to this knowledge...we are the guide. The key is our students. How can we help them to make a difference? How can I make a difference for them?
    • Always believe in your students. Never doubt their abilities because they can always go beyond what you think.
    • We as teachers need to help kids to first dream big and second help lead them to their dreams through education.
    • In relation to using your mind to imagine the world as it isn't, our job is to inspire creativity and imagination just as much as we teach them facts
    • I will try my hardest to give the tools that each kids needs to be successful! I believe that every child can succeed; each child has a special gift to share!
    • We have the ability to see what students can become, the ability to help students be more than what they are now, the ability to change the future through how we teach and connect with our students.
    • Creativity is used around the world in every career and pursuit. It is needed for new ideas and ways of thinking. What better place to nurture this than the art room and the specials.
    • Believe in your students; they can imagine, invent, think big thoughts, and learn by tools we as teachers give them
    • Kids are able to imagine things without limitations we as adults place on our ideas. We all need to work together to change the world - or the lives of our students.
    • In relation to working together, I find that it is not only important for teachers to work together and share ideas and suggestions, but also getting kids to work together.
    • Imagine, ideas, and the drive to make a difference
    • We can be much more; we can be better learners; we can imagine a better future for our learners
    • Believe, the miracle of  your mind, ideas, think differently; be open to thinking differently and sharing ideas
    • This video helps us think about our goals and how to reach them. We should be open to new ideas to achieve our goal. We need to try new things to think of ways to reach all students.
    • Our students have lots of ideas. We as teachers need to use the tools we have to unlock their full potential of learning.
    • Teaching is a huge responsibility that you can't do alone. We are in it together and we must stay positive. We are building the future and we need to make all students, staff, parents, administrators, feel like they are important and that they are rock stars!
    I LOVE these responses. All students deserve to go to schools where the educators think and act in a way that reflects what is captured above. Words can't express how excited and proud I am to be working with a group of educators that share these mindsets about students, learning, and teaching. We can be more, we can be much more.

    Sunday, August 23, 2015

    What I Want School to Provide

    Sometime this summer, in-between packing up one office and unpacking in a new office, I came across a particular sheet of paper that caught my attention.

    The paper was from an activity that Mike Mattos had done with the attendees of some Response to Intervention (RtI) professional development that he'd delivered in Cedar Rapids several years ago.

    The task was to fill-in the following blanks -
    What I want school to provide ___________________________________________________


    ___________________________________________________ (Using only 10 words or less).

    At the time, my son, Ryne, was two-(almost three) years old. I filled-in his name in the first blank and the words, "A caring environment that pushes him to his full potential."

    (Mattos, too had his child's/children's name in the first box; he only used two words for his box - "Endless possibilities.")

    Let's return to the present. My son is going to begin preschool in a little over a week. It's funny how your life experiences over time change your perspective and your philosophies. More so now than ever before, as my son is approaching the start of his education career in a school setting, part of my decision making process is to consider things through a parent's perspective. Is this what I would want in regards to Ryne's or Olivia's (my one-year old daughter) educational experience?

    It would be hypocritical for me to expect anything less than what I'd want for my children.

    To close our back-to-school staff  meeting, I tried to convey to our staff my priority of considering a parent's perspective when making decisions. Each one of our student's are another person's entire world, their most prized possession, their heart and soul, their entire life. Parents put a lot of faith in us as educators to care for their children for a large portion of the day, week, month, year. It is a huge responsibility that we must embrace.

    I asked our staff to complete the sheet that Mattos had originally introduced to me. I didn't collect these, I just wanted staff to think about the education that they would want for the children that they love the most. I asked them to keep these, maybe they will even refer to them a time or two as we progress through the year.

    Ultimately, my hope is that wherever I am, my school reflects the expectations that I have for my own children's education.
    My sheet did not look terribly different than it did several years ago. There were some minor tweaks, but a majority of my response (above) was very similar.

    Friday, July 31, 2015

    The Bix and a Real World Growth Mindset

    Every summer, in late July, Davenport hosts approximately 20,000 runners for a seven mile road race called The Bix 7. When Amy (who would become and is my wife) and I moved to Davenport, in 2006, I started to run the Bix.

    Let me share a little bit about my background experience as a runner prior to 2006. I wasn’t a runner. In my opinion, two-miles was the maximum distance that I was willing to run. Most of my running had been done in-order to get in-shape for an upcoming football season. I had participated in track and field in high school, but the purposes were a) the football coaches thought highly of this participation, and b) for socialization purposes. In fact, when the track coach would assign the team a seven mile run, I would (along with a couple of other friends) find a place to hide-out where we could wait out the run before returning at an appropriate time.

    Anyways, my first year running the Bix, in 2006, was grueling. It took me 68 minutes to finish. And I remember thinking that if I could just get through these seven miles that I would never again have to run seven miles. Well, I ran it again that next summer and that next summer I ran it a little bit faster that I had the previous summer. In fact, just last month, I ran my best Bix ever. I finished with a time somewhere in the 53 minute range. I’ve shaved 15 minutes off of my time!

    Professionally, lately, I’ve been very interested in learning about Carol Dweck’s theories of mindset. My experience with the Bix is my real world example of a growth mindset. My abilities as a runner developed and improved over time. Make no mistake, I didn’t just go from dreading running the Bix to loving running the Bix. I didn’t just go from running the Bix in 68 minutes to running the Bix in 53 minutes. There were multiple, crucial factors involved in this transformation.

    • Practice, Improvement, and Enjoyment - I’ve run (and trained) for eight Bix races, five half-marathons, and multiple other 10K, 5K and other road races. I’ve put in a lot of time running. I don’t know how it compares to the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell talks about needing in-order to become really good at something, but I do know that it has been a major time commitment. Committing your time, leads to improvement; experiencing improvement is enjoyable. Because something is enjoyable, you are likely to continue to commit your time to that area.

    • Passion - Not surprisingly, somewhere along the way I became passionate about running. It is great exercise, it is a great form of stress release, and it is a great opportunity to think through new ideas. It is painful for me to imagine not being able to run. In fact, I have become especially fond of spring time when the weather starts to become more favorable to resume outdoor running.

    • Goals - Herman Edwards says, “A goal without a plan is a wish.” I set incremental goals for myself in regards to my races, and I map out a training plan that allows for me to reach my goals. I’m aiming for a number that is a little bit better than what I’ve previously accomplished. I’m religious about my training plan and not skipping any of the runs that will help me reach my goals.

    This is the same model that we need to be aware of in regards to educating our students in our schools. Too often students come to school and just get through it; they do not enjoy it, sometimes even dreading it, which limits what they get from their school experience. Worse yet,  and instead they sometimes dread it. Students can spend their entire educational lives feeling this.
    It is our job, as educators, to help students find their passions. It is our job, as educators, to help students set goals and plans that will allow them to achieve those goals. And it is our job, as educators, to give students opportunities to practice so that they can see incremental improvements that will result in their enjoyment of learning and their enjoyment of school.