Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Love What You Do

Recently, family, friends, and co-workers have asked, "Are you working over break?" This seems like a loaded question. But the simple answer is yes, I am working over break.

As educators, continuous learning is our work. And if you love what you are doing, that can sometimes make it difficult to qualify it as work. So over the break, I am engaging in my own personal Genius Hour, Passion Project, Google's 20% time, or whatever title you'd like to apply. I am reading, I am writing, I am connecting, and I am playing. And I am enJOYing all of those things.

Reading - I forget where I read it, but if we (as adult educators) are asking our students to read (outside of school), shouldn't we be reading, too? Yes, we should! So I have a goal of reading five books over the break.
  • Embracing a Culture of Joy, by Dean Shareski (already finished!)
  • Reimagining Literacy through Global Collaboration, by Pernille Ripp (already finished!)
  • Your School Rocks, by Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe (already finished!)
  • Tribe, by Sebastian Junger
  • The Best Man, by Richard Peck - this is on my list because earlier this year, we had a teacher, Ali Houselog (6th gr.), who asked me to read a book and do a book review via podcast (check out her blog that contains all of her book review podcasts) to share with her students. I did this, and then donated the book that I read to the classroom. I really enjoyed doing this, and I hope that the students enjoyed it, too. So I wanted to do it again...

Blogging - I love writing; I always have. It's therapeutic, and it's a great way for people to have an insight into what I am thinking. I've got this post, and another one (Pause to Reflect, link coming...) that I am simultaneously drafting. Stay-tuned...

Connecting - I value so many people in my PLN. Over winter break, I've had extended time to reach-out to those who I learn from and with via Twitter and Voxer. These people (too many to name) are a) a primary reason for my inspiration and motivation to continue innovating, learning, and growing, AND b) a key source of my positive outlook. Thanks!

Playing - I have made time to experiment (play) with several new tools that have appealed to me.
  • #BookSnaps - what a great opportunity to engage our (especially older) students in their reading (a couple of my examples are below)
  • Stop motion videos - what a great opportunity for our students to create, summarize, and/or tell a story
    Thanks to Andrew Fenstermaker for telling me about the app to use, AND thanks to my son for engaging in this activity with me!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Our First Penguin Award

When penguins jump into the water where there are predators, one has to go first.
Or that penguin might get first dibs on all the tasty fish in the ocean. Take the risk.

"Failure is not just acceptable, it's often essential." - Randy Pausch
Inspired by the The Last Lecture, I heard about this idea - to recognize an individual for taking a risk. Admittedly, I was hesitant to do this. How were teachers going to receive this? What would it do to the culture and climate of the building when we were going to recognize and single-out one staff member with an award. Regardless, I did it anyway. I took the risk.

We want to create a culture that encourages risk taking. Where risk taking not only becomes the norm, but it is also something that is regularly recognized and celebrated. Because that's how you learn. That's how you grow. And eventually, that's how you get better.
We awarded our first ever, First Penguin Award at Van Allen Elementary School to Lisa Hildebrand (@vanallen_PE), our PE Teacher on Thursday, December 8th, 2016. Congratulations! I've used the word inaugural in this post because this is something that I plan on becoming a ritual at our school. It is something that we will do at the conclusion of each (or near the conclusion of each) trimester. Eventually, I want to be able to individually recognize ALL of our teachers for the risks that they take.

Taking risks has to be more than something that we just talk about. Taking risks has to be more than something that we just do. Taking risks has to be something that we celebrate!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


For the past couple of months, I've been telling people that, professionally, I've never been happier. Now, with Thanksgiving right around the corner, this seems like an appropriate time and place to elaborate on the why that has led to my happiness.

I am thankful for the six years that I spent as an educator in the Davenport CSD. After growing-up in West Branch, the diversity that I was able to experience for the first time was life changing. It was during this time that I realized the value of relationships. I am also thankful for being allowed the opportunity to work with Marianne Corbin while I was in Davenport. Her positive attitude and willingness to try new things had a huge impact on me. Thank you.

I am thankful for the opportunity that Chris Armstrong and the Highland CSD gave me as a 29 year old that had never worked in an elementary school to become an elementary school principal. I am also thankful for the opportunity that I had to serve as principal in the Marion ISD, last year. I was fortunate to work with some really great people in both of these districts. Furthermore, these two experiences were vital in shaping me into the educator that I've become. Thank you.

And I am especially thankful for the opportunity that Steve Murley, Amy Kortemeyer, Matt Degner, Jim Pedersen, and the rest of the Iowa City CSD gave me to join their team. I'll never forget that phone call from when I was offered this job; it felt, it still feels too good to be true. Iowa City is where I've always wanted to be, and working in this District has not disappointed. Working in this District has been a GREAT! Thank you.

I am thankful for the staff, students, and school community at Van Allen Elementary. Transitioning into a new job is difficult; there is always a learning curve. This has been less overwhelming because Van Allen is such a great place to work, to learn, and just overall a great place to be. Thank you.

I am thankful for all of the positive feedback that I've received from staff, students, and school community members during my first five months on the job. This is never why we do the things that we do, but it is always nice to have our work acknowledged. Thank you.

I am thankful to work and live in the same community. I know that my family is thrilled with my reduced commute to and from work each day (and I am happy about that, too). I believe that the school community probably appreciates me being "one of their own" in regards to where I reside. North Liberty, Coralville, Iowa City - this area just feels like home. It's a feeling that is hard to describe. Nonetheless, it feels great. Thank you.

I am thankful for having such an amazing Professional Learning Network of people for support. Through platforms such as Twitter and Voxer, I've been able to connect with wonderful educators from coast to coast. These connections have inspired me with not only ideas for things to try, but also inspired me with an attitude and a mindset that is always in a positive place. Thank you.

I am thankful because I love what I do. Working as an educator, there isn't a lack of purpose for our work. I can't imagine doing anything else that (I could/would be qualified to do) was as rewarding and enjoyable as being an elementary school principal. In fact, it doesn't feel like work most of the time due to the enjoyment and the passion that I have for what I do. Thank you.

I am thankful that my family circumstances are not a burden to me while I am at work. For that I am lucky. I realize that not everyone is as blessed and fortunate regarding what you leave at home when you come to work and what you come home to when you leave work. Thank you.

It's not all sunshine and rainbows. I've got issues that I have to deal with and work through. I have days that aren't as good as others. But I know that perspective is a key; my bad days aren't as bad as some people's bad days. And I also firmly believe that the more positives that we look for, the more positives we will find.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

One Pitch, One Inning at a Time

My son and I with our new hats!
Sports are my first love. I am a passionate fan. Among the teams that I follow, loyally, are the Chicago Cubs. Some of my earliest memories include going to Wrigley Field with my family as a young boy. As a result, I've been totally engulfed in the 2016 Chicago Cubs World Series run. I've cherished being able to enjoy their historical run with my son as I make my contribution to raising the next generation of Cubs fans.

I was in Chicago when they lost game four of the World Series to go down three games to one. That night, as their lead evaporated and then their deficit grew, the life was sucked out of Harry Caray's Seventh Inning Stretch (where we were watching the game).

But the story that has been told of what happened in the locker room after that game is one of the reasons that makes sports great.

The atmosphere within the locker room was gloomy. Players heads were down and the mood was of despair. Nonetheless, a back-up catcher, David Ross, took the responsibility to change that. Based off of stats alone, he's not your prototypical leader. But leadership is hard to quantify. So regardless, he picked the team-up.

Ross reminded the team that they'd won three games in a row before, lots of times, throughout the season. He assured them that they were going to do it again to finish the season. They were going to do it one pitch and one inning at a time. And then they did it again; they won three games in a row in the most historic of fashions. The Chicago Cubs became World Champions! (I love saying that.)

Photo from Chris Doyle's Twitter account: @coach_Doyle
One pitch, one inning at a time. This is something that we aren't always very good at in education. We look at the big picture, the macro, and it is enough to overwhelm ourselves. It makes us crazy. It keeps us up too late, it causes us stress, it makes us irritable, and it is simply unhealthy. We think about the end-of-the-year (or even beyond) too often. We need to think about one class, one day at a time. Trust that we are making a difference - like the story of the stonecutter. Keep moving forward, and enjoy the moment.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Connecting Part 2...#SAVMP

What are some ways I connect with my school community?

When I think about connecting, I think about building relationships and communicating. These two things are reliant on the other in order to be effective. These are both two things that I've always tried to make a priority as a school leader.

A big part of building those relationships is done via my attempt through a consistent stream of communication. That being said, I need to do a better job of soliciting feedback re. my communication. Is it too much? Am I communicating the information that my parents, families, and other stakeholders are seeking?

The following list is a sampling of some of the platforms that I've used for communication:

  • A school Facebook page, a school Twitter handle, and a school Instagram account. I try to share at least one thing, daily, on these platforms.
  • A hashtag (#RocketsRock) to organize all of our Tweets and social media posts
  • Digital signage that streams in our office for all of our guests to see
  • I am going to attempt to utilize Storify (this week, yet) to share our social media posts with our families that don't utilize social media
  • I create a newsletter via Smore and send it out to families, every-other week
  • In the past I have used Remind to send families text messages
  • Birthday Selfies with students on their birthdays - thanks Brad Gustafson!
  • #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay - thanks Mark French!
And don't ever discount the positive effects of being present and being visible. Being around for arrival and dismissal are crucial. Getting into classrooms, routinely, is our job. Spending time connecting with students, informally, at lunch and recess allows us to create more authentic and personal relationships with the students that we serve.

These are things that kids go home talking about. And when kids go home talking positively about you that is proof that 1) you've made a connection with a student, which then proves that 2) you've given yourself the benefit of the doubt with parents due to the connection that you've made with their child(ren).

Relationships + Communication = Connections

Connecting Part 1...#SAVMP

What are some ways I connect with my school community?

I would NEVER question a leader for not living in their school community. There are many circumstances within our lives that have the potential to prohibit this from happening. Prior to this year, at the end of the day, I left my school community and I went back to my community. These different scenarios certainly provide their own unique set of pros and cons. However, my experience tells me that working in the same community where you live provides a definite set of professional advantages.

For the first time in my five years as a school principal, I am living in the community where I work. And it is amazing. Aside from the fact that my wife and young children definitely enjoy it, there is just so much connecting that happens naturally. And it happens All. The. Time.

I have a much better idea of what everyone is talking about. I'm walking, running, and biking through their neighborhoods. We are eating dinner at the same restaurants. We are standing in line together at the same grocery stores. We are going to the same little league games. They are able to see me as a husband, as a father, as a person. The opportunity for connections is everywhere.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Tech is the Vehicle

I was at a technology and education conference, earlier this week. But as I reflected on my learning from the conference, I came to the conclusion that it didn't seem like a technology conference.

Instead, it was a mindset conference. It was an innovation conference. It was a conference about the power of connectivity. It was a conference that encouraged people to shift the way they think.

It was amazing!

I even got a little Selfie 101 from George Couros
One presenter at the conference, the keynote, George Couros, went so far as to discourage participants from applying the "tech" label to themselves. What?! He was talking to a room full of the "tech" people!

I have had/still have this tech label applied to myself. It is probably because I tweet and I blog, The fact that I communicate with our school stakeholders via various social media platforms probably adds to this. My enjoyment of the latest and greatest Apple (I have an Apple Watch and an iPhone, and I used to be dependent on my iPad) devices probably contributes, too.

Like my friend, Adam Welcome, I like computers. They have the ability to enhance our lives through a multitude of ways (they also have the potential for a negative impact, but I like to focus on the positives when I'm looking at things).

My son, like most kids, likes tech, too. He is in kindergarten. He has his own iPad and he has since he was two-years-old. In fact, if you ask him what his most valuable possession is, he'll probably tell you that it is his iPad. He uses his iPad more than my wife and me wish that he did. We'd prefer that playing with his Legos or going outside, or looking at books would trump his iPad. But that's not our reality. Now I could be like a lot of adults and tell you that this is detrimental to him and detrimental to the future of our society, but I won't. I disagree with that line of thinking.

Instead, I like to think about the possibilities that his interest in his iPad allows. I like to think about how he consumed YouTube videos to completely self-teach the concepts of Minecraft. I like to think about how interested he has become in making his own YouTube videos to share his own knowledge of things for the benefit of others. This is a valuable tool with a lot of potential.

Not many people will argue that engagement is a negative. Tech leads to engagement. Engagement leads to learning. Learning is a good thing.

Tech is the vehicle. It's a means to an end. It's not about the tech. It's about creating. It's about connecting. It's about breaking down the traditional classroom walls, and not allowing them to constrain our teaching and/or learning. It's about about giving students experiences, and providing them with a broader audience. It's about getting our students excited about their work, making it meaningful for them, and ensuring that they are producing their highest quality. It's not about the tech.

I like technology. In fact, I like it a lot. But I don't want to be the tech guy because tech's not the destination. I want to be an innovative guy. I want to be someone who is known for thinking a little bit differently. I want to be someone that is willing to push the envelope. Most importantly, I don't want to be someone who thinks about the limits that we have upon ourselves; instead, I want to be someone who thinks about all of the amazing things that we have the potential to do.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Because I Said I Would

Recently, in a conversation with a couple of other administrators, it was discussed how culture won't change itself. We have to be intentional about it. We have to talk about it.  We have to talk about what we're going to do about it. And then, we have to do it.

It's easy to talk about school culture in the summer months of June and July. It's fairly easy to continue those conversations into the start of the school year during the months of August and September. But the school year is long; it's a marathon, not a sprint. Circumstances arise that try our patience, test our spirit, and challenge our best intentions. How do we plan for that? How do we respond to that?

The promise cards that we asked each of our staff to inscribe with a personal commitment

At Van Allen, we are focusing on our culture this year. We are talking about it. We are trying to be intentional in regards to what we do about it. In fact, recently, we asked everyone to make one commitment, one promise for something that they could do, individually, to have a positive impact on our school culture.

The Board in our teacher lounge/work room that displays all of our promise cards
My commitments. My promises. 
(They stem from the four principles of the FISH! Philosophy.)
My own two kids

Be there - I will disconnect from my phone for stretches of time (at home) because work-life balance is important and my own family has to be my priority
Thanks, Adam Welcome! I love your idea of putting your phone on Airplane Mode. I need to do this more.  

My view from the pitcher's mound
Play - I will engage with students at recess and/or eat lunch with students on a weekly basis.
Thanks, Admins In Action! Everyone in this Voxer group has helped me redefine what a principal should do...and it all started with a simple challenge in the fall of 2015 of going down a slide!

Make someone's day - I will write a daily thank you note to someone to let them know they are appreciated.
Thanks, Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis for your book Hacking Leadership and the Voxer group led by Todd Schmidt over the summer that studied this text. This isn't a new idea, but the practice  is something that I've committed to this year as a result of the book and book study.

Choose your attitude - When asked how I am, I will ALWAYS respond that I am doing great (or a similar answer.
Thanks, Hamish Brewer. You introduced me to these three simple words - choose your attitude - and you recommended the FISH! book.

I'm sharing my promises with the world, or at least the couple of hundred of people that will read my blog, in hopes that this act of making them public will strengthen my commitment. So help me out, because we're all in this together. It is all of our actions that will ensure that our school is a place where staff LOVES coming to work, kids LOVE COMING to school, and parents and community members LOVE visiting. We don't want to settle for anything less than those feelings.

Tee-shirt worn by one of our students at Van Allen.
Culture Wins

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Failure...How Do You Embrace It?

This is a post written by two school leaders; Jeff Kubiak, current Head of School at The Gardner School of Arts & Sciences in Vancouver, WA, and Eric Ewald, current lead learner and chief storyteller at Van Allen Elementary School in North Liberty, IA.


  1. lack of success, nonfulfillment, defeat, collapse,

lack of

Failure, in EDUCATION....Must not only be an option, but a certainty.

Remember the phrase from Blockbuster Movie “Apollo 13”? titled, “Failure is not an option”?  I just found out it was written in by scriptwriters for the movie, not actually said by anyone from NASA. But wow, let’s use NASA as the example here. If NASA had never NOT failed, what would
our space program look like?  How many iterations of rockets, spaceships, spacesuits and MARS rovers would they have NOT gone through?

As educators, the term FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION  does NOT sit well with us.
As you look at today’s world and challenges, the educational institutes,our model companies, and especially some of our most inspiring heroes and athletes, one common trait holds true: Failure is a must. A given. A for sure. An absolute. A 100% guarantee to growth, success and beyond.

Next, let’s just look at a guy named Michael Phelps: 5 Olympic Teams, 28 Olympic Medals, 23 of them GOLD! Not everything was all roses for our fine dolphin-esque friend. Two DUI arrests, a viral photo of him smoking a bong, failed swim sets, bullied at school, diagnosed with ADHD and mental illness AND struggled in school. Now, he has a fiance, a baby boy, a great coaching job and endorsements galore. Seems to me that he learned from every one of those misfortunes we call failures and became without a doubt, the History’s Greatest Olympian Ever!

“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
  • Thomas Wayne in Batman Begins

It’s okay to fail. It’s going to happen. We’ve got to embrace failing. We have to encourage failing as a part of the process. And then we have to get back up. We have to keep going. We have to relentlessly persevere. If/when we do these!

Failure + Perseverance = Success

Michael Jordan and Nike created one of my all-time favorite commercials that they titled “Failure.”

The commercial begins with Jordan stating, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.” What if Michael Jordan had given up after his first missed shot? What if he would have quit? We would have been robbed of witnessing one of the greatest clutch athletes of all-time!

Failure is ALL around us. So why are we, as a society, (sometimes) ashamed to fail? It’s okay. We have to make it okay. As educators (and parents) we have to ENCOURAGE OUR KIDS TO FAIL; we have to ENCOURAGE OUR KIDS TO LEARN FROM THEIR FAILURE; and then we have to ENCOURAGE OUR KIDS TO TRY AGAIN, AND AGAIN, AND AGAIN while cheering them on along the way.

As a child that grew-up in the 90’s, I get fixated on anything Michael Jordan fairly easily. Fortunately, for me, with this topic he is all over the place. He was featured in another great Nike commercial, titled “Maybe It’s My Fault.”

We all want to ‘Be LIke Mike.’ But let’s remember this message, from Mike, “I’ve failed over, and over, and over again in my life. And that is why, I succeed.”

Hey! How about a dude named Thomas Edison? You may have heard his name once or twice. Well, Thomas was called “too stupid to learn anything” by his teachers and classmates. He had over 1,000 failed attempts at inventing the lightbulb...Can you imagine? Talk about resilience, grit, tenacity and focus. Other non-winners, such as miining methods, cement companies, cabinetry, pianos...the list goes on and on didn’t work either for our friend TE. I think one of my most favorite quotes of his is “I have not failed 10,000 times, I have found 10,000 ways things did not work. Where would we be today without a light bulb, phonograph and motion picture camera?

(Jeff) In my lifetime, I have failed over and over again in school ( yes, there were some D’s), sports ( missed the ‘88 Olympic Team by .12), relationships, music playing and arts to name a few.But I have to say, the BEST teachers and coaches I have had lead me to believe in myself, to try again and again, improve, and not give up...ever.

As leaders (we all are, by the way), this is what we MUST do everyday for all of our students, workers, friends, and family. Be there. Show them. Lead them. Encourage them. Cheer them on. Push to greater heights. Mentor. They ALL deserve it...and so do you and I.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Unlimited Together

This post was co-written with Lindsy Stumpenhorst, an amazing educator who is Team Kid all the way.

Previously, I (Eric, a principal in Eastern IA) wrote a blog borrowing the title and including Nike’s commercial, ‘Unlimited You.’ (Nike always puts-out great commercials. And, right now, they are on fire with their advertising. That blog resulted in some back and forth Voxing with my (Eric’s) PLN/Admins In Action friend, Lindsy, a principal in Northern IL. Our conversation resulted in the decision to co-write a blog. An idea was born. In addition to ‘Unlimited You,’ Nike also has ‘Unlimited Together.'
Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 7.57.00 AM 
Phrases from this clip spoke to the both of us, if you have a few spare minutes to watch you won't be disappointed. 

We Need Glory for a While…. Doesn’t it feel great to receive recognition? When my own children do something special, I (Lindsy) always point it out, because chances are...if I recognize it, they will do it again! We expect teachers to do a good job, care about our kids, and go the extra mile. I hear often “That’s part of their job!”...but let me tell you about teachers. Teachers send you a photo of your child smiling on the first day (because you cried at drop off), Teachers create a memory book of your child’s school year so they can remember how amazing 3rd grade was, and Teachers spend hours writing notes to every student in their class so they always remember how special they are. Teachers go above and beyond their job everyday, because they love kids. Let’s give them thanks, we all need a bit of glory. 

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 7.57.22 AMWherever You Go, I'm Right By Your Side...I (Eric) told teachers that some things might take a little bit longer to get done during this first year in my new position because I was going to heavily invest in relationships. As a result, I’ve been forced to wait until after dark to begin checking, sorting, and replying to email. This has been when I am dog tired. But these past couple of nights, I have been absolutely blown away by a couple of the emails that I’ve received. I’ve received a couple of the kindest, most encouraging emails from some of our teachers. Reading those emails is like the equivalent of drinking an entire pot of coffee. It is re-energizing. It feels great. Heartfelt, positive encouragement is the best resource that we have at our disposal. And it is unlimited. We can give it out whenever, wherever, to whomever. What are we saving it for? Let’s make an effort to make someone’s day, everyday. We are all in this together. We have to be. 

We Want Some Heroes In Our Story… Yes! Of course we want heroes and happy endings in all of our stories. A hero doesn’t have to wear a cape, though, either. Like Batman says in the The Dark Knight Rises, “A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulder to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.” Heroic acts happen ALL OF THE TIME in our schools. But too often we take those acts for granted. We only feel the urge to celebrate the monumental accomplishments and/or events. Let’s change that; let’s work really hard to acknowledge our heroes, daily, for their amazingness. I’m (Eric) guessing, if we do this, the heroic acts that we see in schools are going to increase. 

Save The Day… I (Lindsy), have seen teachers cry, laugh, hug, and celebrate with their students. No, wait...with their kids. They’ve been called “mom”, “grandpa”, “hey you”, and sometimes a not so nice pronoun, but still, they respond with a smile and a gentle word. Life happens for teachers. They have stress, problems, and tragedy...just like the rest of us. Although unlike the rest of us, kids don’t understand adult problems, nor should they. Last year my staff became aware of the tragic unexpected passing of a staff member minutes before the start of the school day. We made the decision to begin the day as usual, greeting students on the playground after first matter how hard it was to be selfless. Teachers swoop in to save the day and rarely do they ever ask for thanks. They have stars in their eyes on the first day of school, and tears in their eyes on the last. 
Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 7.57.54 AM

People, People, We Would Like You To Know We would like you to know this...teaching has never been easy, and it never will be. The future looks bright, because we see the Angels who shape it everyday. We see the life changing impact of our teachers. We’re right by their side...please join us, and be right by their side.    

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Unlimited You

I ran a seven mile road race earlier this evening. The school year started for me, Friday, when teachers officially returned to work. There are quite a few connections that I made between these two events over the course of seven miles.

The race starts down hill. My pace is fast. The school year starts fast, too; there is a lot to get done to get the year off to a seamless start.

Once you get down a hill, you have to come back up a hill. My pace slows down. This is true for the school year, too. Eventually you start to settle in to go at a rate that you can sustain throughout the distance.

My watch beeps. I've run one mile. This is a check-point; you could make the comparison to a benchmark assessment, progress monitoring, the end of a quarter, a trimester, or a semester. How am I doing? What do I need to alter based off of my performance.

My watch beeps, again. I've run two miles. The first mile is usually run at a quicker pace, as I mentioned earlier, the second mile usually slows down a bit. When I look at my watch, I'm almost shocked to see that my pace has increased. It's way too fast. I can't sustain this pace over the course of seven miles. Wait! What? I'm telling myself that I can't do something. That's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can continue at this pace. I WILL continue at this pace.

As educators, we will have enough things throughout the course of the year that will make our jobs difficult. Our own self doubt should NOT add into that mix. Yesterday, I showed the following video to our teachers. It has a GREAT message - we can do anything!

I continue on. And with this new attitude, my pace continues to increase. I am pushed by the pack ahead of me. They are where I want to be so I devote myself to gaining ground on them. I'm not focused on the finish line, but instead I am focused on the next person in front of me. Get to him/her, I tell myself, and then the next, and then the next; eventually, I will get to the finish line.

I am also pushed by the shadow alongside of me. I'm not going to settle for where I am. I have to keep moving forward. I cannot let the shadow behind me catch me.

There is a water station. I stop and get a quick drink. These are the opportunities that we have throughout the year to recharge our batteries - Thanksgiving break, winter break, spring break.

My headphones died! What?! I did not expect this to happen. This, the unexpected, is the norm in education. We just keep going. We deal with it the best that we can, and we try to make improvements while we just keep going. And it is okay; the race continues.

I'll also mention that it was a windy race. I went into today thinking that the heat would be the biggest element that I'd battle for an afternoon/evening race in Iowa, in August. I was wrong. Temperature wise, it was very pleasant, but there was a strong wind. A wind that I didn't expect. I had to deal with that, too. How often does that happen to us as educators? We are expecting A, but then we receive B. It happens all the time. And, again, we deal with it.

It's the final stretch of the race. It's the end-of-the-school-year. I can see the finish line. It's almost summer. Will I coast? Or will I kick? I kick. I set a PR in a race that I've ran four times. I finish strong.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Just Do It (post #3 of 3)

This is the third, and final post I have planned after being inspired from the introduction of Phil Knight's memoir, Shoe Dog. You can read the first two posts here -
Just Do It (post #1 of 3) (linked)
Just Do It (post #2 of 3) (linked)
"Few ideas are as crazy as my favorite thing, running. It's hard. It's painful. It's risky. The rewards are few and far from guaranteed. When you run around an oval track, or down an empty road, you have no real destination. At least, none that can fully justify the effort. The act itself becomes the destination. It's not just that there's no finish line; it's that you define the finish line. Whatever pleasure or gains you derive from the act of running, you must find them from within. It's all in how you frame it, how you sell it to yourself." (p.5)
Again. What does this have to do with education? It has everything to do with education.

I read that passage, and I think student voice. I think about the need that we, as educators, have to empower our students. I think about implementing things such as Genius Hour, or Google's 20% Time, or Passion Projects, etc. I think about giving our students the autonomy to own their own learning. I think about these things because this is what I want for my kids. And if it's something I want for my kids, then it's something I want for all kids.

When we love something, we'll climb mountains to get it. When we truly desire something, from within, we'll do more than we ever thought was possible. When we are self-motivated, our commitment level is unmatched.

We have to continue to evolve. We have to flip the script. The education of a child should never be something done to them, but instead something they are a part of. Something they own.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Just Do It (post #2 of 3)

The other day I started writing after being inspired from the introduction of Phil Knight's memoir, Shoe Dog. You can read that original post here - Just Do It (post #1 of 3) (linked).

I don't have an elaborate introduction, other than here is my follow-up post (with still one more post in draft form).
"What if there were a way, without being an athlete, to feel what athlete's feel? To play all the time, instead of working? Or else to enjoy work so much that it becomes essentially the same thing?" (p.3-4)
Choose your attitude, make someone else's day, be there, and play. Those are the principles of the Fish philosophy.

If you don't enjoy your work, find something else to do. Life is too short to do things that we don't give us daily satisfaction.

I feel pretty comfortable/confident in saying that there are plenty of opportunities to play all the time if you work in education. If you work in education, you will most likely spend some time working in a school. And if you spend some time working in a school, you will be in constant contact with kids.

You work with kids. You deserve the opportunity to have fun and play, daily. It should be your professional obligation to take advantage of some of these opportunities. Kids Deserve It.

What are some of the examples of things that I do to play in my job as an elementary school principal? Taking birthday selfies with students, any type of celebration with staff and students, playing with kids at recess, reading aloud to classes, high fives - lots of high fives, wearing Darth Vader or some other type of funky socks, wearing my LEGO bow tie, sharing inspiring/motivational resources with staff, being taped to a chair...I could go on and on, but like Jay Bilas says, "I gotta go to work."

Monday, July 18, 2016

Just Do It (post #1 of 3)

"Why is it always so hard to get started?" 
That's from page one of Phil Knight's memoir, Shoe Dog. I've read the introduction, a whole five pages of text, and I am fired-up. I'm trying to pick a single passage to inspire this post, but there are literally half a dozen that I have marked like whoa.

Where do I begin? I don't know. So, I guess, I'll just keep typing and see where this goes.
"There's a kind of exuberant clarity in that pulsing half second before winning and losing are decided. I wanted that, whatever that was, to be my life, my daily life." (p.3)
I used to be an athlete. As a result, I'll always consider myself an athlete. I remember this feeling. I know this feeling. I, at times, miss this feeling.

When you are an athlete, and you are competing, there is no where else for your mind to be other than focused on the task at hand.

I often think back to that feeling that you get before the game. You are nervous. You are excited. You are focused. You experience a wide-range of emotions. You know what to expect, but you don't know what to expect exactly.
Photo courtesy of the Oregon Daily Emerald
And then the kickoff happens (or the tip-off, or the first patch, or the gun fires, etc.). And all of those feelings go away. You totally immerse yourself in the competition, in the action, in the moment.

In terms of school, I often think about how this relates. On my way to work, driving to school, I feel nervousness, excitement, and a sense of focus on my commute each day. I have a general idea of what to expect, each school day, but at the same time I know that whatever I'm expecting is never how the day actually ends-up playing-out.

But then it happens. Each day, I get to school, I get out of my car, and I walk into the building. The ball drops. We totally immerse ourselves in the situations as they are presented, and we just go. We just do it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Be There

I want to write more.
I want to tweet more.
I want to read more.
I want to plan for the upcoming school year more.
I want to connect with friends more.
I want to exercise more.
I want to spend more time with my family.
I want to be better.
I want to be great.

The above statements can be overwhelming at times.

However, I am quite effective when it comes to advising others to relax, slow down, practice patience, take one thing at a time, etc. I have to remember to do those same things for me. I have to practice what I preach.

And while I want to do all of those above listed things, and more, I can't do them all at once.

Last year, Hamish Brewer introduced me to the FiSH philosophy, for which I will forever be grateful. After reading the book, I instantly fell in love with it and it's principles - Be There, Play, Make Their Day, and Choose Your Attitude. This book and the message that it shares has been a game changer for me.

I think that I do a really good job of always choosing my attitude, appropriately. I've got some ideas and systems in place to accomplish Play and Make Their Day. It's being there where I sometimes struggle, both at home and school. At times, I can be guilty of spending too much time thinking about what has happened and/or too much time thinking about what's coming next. This is the area where I know I need to focus. This is the area where I want to focus.

Kris Bryant points to the ground in an effort to stay in the moment.
Photo via the Chicago Tribune
via Zoul's blog.
Fast forward a little while, and Jeff Zoul wrote a blog specific to the Be There principle titled Staying in the Moment. I love this post. And not only do I love this post because it appeals to my liking of sports and more specifically the Chicago Cubs, but it also serves up a strategy, a visual reminder for how we can remind ourselves and the company that we keep to Be There - to be present for each individual moment that we encounter.

This is an area of focus for me, personally, as the 2016-17 school year approaches. Having this awareness will help. Shining a light on this as something that I am working-on/need to work-on will force me to make efforts to improve.

Kids Deserve It tweeted the image pictured, below. I printed it, and it now hangs in my office as a reminder. I want to better. I want to be great. But I have to remember to Be There in each individual moment. Let go of what just happened, and don't worry so much about what's going to happen. Be There. Stay in each moment, fully present and fully engaged. My family deserves it. My staff deserves it. My students deserve it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Every Action Has a Consequence

I admire @SethGodin and his blog for the simplicity and conciseness that he uses to make his point.

Like @JoeMaddon says (which is captured on his Korked Baseball tee-shirt), "Do simple better."

Too often, when I blog, I treat it like I am writing a feature story for The Bear (my old high school newspaper). Old habits are hard to break.

So after that long winded introduction, I'm ready to get to the point of this post. While reading the book, The Leader Who Had No Title (strongly recommend), I was struck by the simple statement:
"Every action has a consequence."


That's a powerful message. Simple. Concise. Very true, and very important.

In the context of school, some consequences come from teachers (or other school staff), some consequences come from parents, some consequences come from the principal, and some consequences come from peers. Some actions have consequences that don't come from anyone; they are just natural consequences of the action. Some consequences take place immediately, and some consequences don't occur until much later down the road.

That's a hard pill to swallow, for some.

Nonetheless, every action (always) has a consequence. Part of our job (potentially one of our most important jobs), as educators, is to teach students this concept. That's why it is vital that we spend ample time talking to students about their actions, and then giving them second chances (plural).

Fortunately, some students come to school already understanding this.  And some students learn this very quickly while at school. But there are some students that just need more time; they need more practice and they need more care. That's our job. #KidsDeserveIt

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Smile :-) #KidsDeserveIt

I was honored when +Todd Nesloney asked me to write a guest blog for #KidsDeserveIt. The following post is what I wrote, which was originally published on Kids Deserve It.

Recently I interviewed for a new principal position. During the interview, one question that I vividly remember being asked is something along the lines of, “What would we see when we walk into your elementary school?”

Great question. What would you see? I would hope that when someone walks into my school, they will see lots of things going on. They would see: innovation, communication, relationships, learning, student work, cultures and diversity not only recognized but celebrated, people taking risks, people failing, people trying again, people working together, students doing, teachers guiding, people having fun.

But what I hope they witness first, and what I hope they witness most frequently is really quite simple. It’s easy, anyone can do it; babies are born with the ability to do it. It’s free; there is no program and/or training attached to this initiative, it doesn’t cost anyone anything.

Smile 3.jpgIn my elementary school, when you walk in the doors, hopefully you’ll see people smiling. Lots of people smiling.

Smiling is easier to do than frowning. The simple act of smiling is proven to boost your immediate mood, as well as contribute to a stronger immune system and overall good health. Your body releases endorphins when you smile, which is a natural stress reliever. Smiles are contagious. Wearing a smile is the most simple way to boost one’s appearance. Smiling is the universal sign of happiness.

Smile 5.jpgI expect this despite the fact that our work as educators is challenging, hard, and at times very stressful. Despite this, we must realize and continuously remember that we are working with kids! We have to be aware that the children we are working with spend more time with us, Monday through Friday than they spend with their parents (usually). We have to understand that kids are looking to us for guidance; they are looking at us to see what is and isn't acceptable. We have to model what we expect, which means we have to remember to smile.

This modeling, smiling, starts at the top. It starts with me. I have to choose my attitude and model a smile if that is what I am expecting from teachers and hoping for students. So I was ecstatic when a student wrote the following note to me, “You are happy all the time.” Wow! Make my day. I’m not happy all-of-the-time. I get upset. I have things that cause me stress. But I try (really hard) to leave that stuff at the door. I abide by the philosophy of ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’

Why? Because kids deserve to be surrounded by happiness. As educators, a big part of our job is to create an environment where students enjoy coming so that their learning can be maximized. This is our obligation. In order to create a happy environment, we have to be happy. In order to be happy, we have to smile.


Who would you rather spend your time with? Who would you rather your children spend their time? We all have circumstances that cause us distress. But we all, also, have a choice. Choose to smile. #KidsDeserveIt