Friday, September 22, 2017

#DotDay Reflections

Recently, while visiting classrooms, I was invited to participate in a project alongside our students in Mrs. LaRoche's 4th grade classroom. This had me reflecting...

It was September 15th. That's International Dot Day, the "holiday" that celebrates the book that Peter Reynolds wrote, The Dot. Mrs. LaRoche was introducing a Dot Day activity with her students. I should mention that The Dot is (at least one of) my favorite picture book(s). So I was honored that the Mrs. LaRoche invited me to stay longer AND participate with her students.

Taking a break from the busyness, which is the norm for school principals, was time well spent.

This was an investment in regards to the relationships that I have with this teacher and these students.

So as I sat in the classroom, designing my dot(s), I was showered with praise from the students telling me how good (and other adjectives) my creation looked. The celebration of my creation didn't come as a huge surprise. This is my sixth year as an elementary school principal, I'm aware of the celebrity status that I have with kids. Nonetheless, their praise had me thinking.

My experience in Mrs. LaRoche's classroom
mirrored this page from The Dot.

Like Derek Sivers claims in the video (above): what's obvious to you, is amazing to others. I didn't think that I was creating anything special, but the students in Mrs. LaRoche's class thought it was kind of special. This had me thinking, it is imperative that we find ways to share our work with others. You never know, it might be just what someone else needs.

The other thing is, until fairly recently, I never considered myself to be the creative type. I certainly did not think that I was much of an artist. It is just easier this way. I can just say, "I can't (insert art skill here)" or "I'm not good at (insert any skill here)."

But those responses are a cop-out. It's easier to say that you can't. It voids yourself of having to make any effort. It strips away any responsibility that you would have to take-on. It is a safe response, but no risk equals no reward. It is a weak response. It's represents a fixed mindset.

I take pride in regards to embodying a growth mindset. I believe that when we practice, we get better. I believe that when we give our best effort and persist, we can produce results that we might not have thought possible.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Dear Linda Sue Park

Dear Linda Sue Park,

Hi, I am Eric Ewald, and I am the Principal at Van Allen Elementary School in the Iowa City Community School District. I believe, before I was the Principal here, that you’ve actually been to our school as a visiting author in 2012; however,  I don’t know if you remember us (although, I think that we’d be hard for you to forget). We are a great school with great facilities, a great community, a great staff, and an especially great group of students.
In fact, one of our great students is co-writing this blog/letter with me. I’ll let her introduce herself.
Hi, I am Jaelyn Perry, and  I am 10 years-old and in fifth grade. I live in Coralville, Iowa and go to school at Van Allen Elementary. Earlier this year I read your book A Long Walk to Water. After I read it, my dad and mom both read it as well; we immediately decided we had to do something for all the people who do not get clean drinking water. We thought that other people should read the book so they could help, too. We ordered books for my whole class, my teacher, and my principal.  
Jaelyn gave me the book on the last day of school. I assumed that she had read the book as a part of a reading group, or something. Regardless, when a student gives you a book. You read the book. I did. I was inspired on multiple levels.

Then on June 2nd, 2017 (we finished the book on the 27th of May, 2017), we had a lemonade stand for two hours. We raised almost $600 to help the people in South Sudan build wells!  
Over the summer, I found out that Jaelyn’s teacher had nothing to do with this. She had read the book, and then bought a copy for each of her classmates, her teacher, and myself! My mind was blown. Then I heard how much money her and her family raised at their lemonade stand. As impressive as these acts were, I knew that we were just beginning to scratch the surface in regards to what we can potentially do.

During the summer my principal sent me an email saying that we should do something about this as a school project. On Wednesday, August 30th, we had a school-wide assembly. We have seven big water jugs that we plan to fill up with coins during the school-year! Every Friday, we are going to do “Caps for Coins” - where you donate coins and get to wear a hat at school. We will do this as a part of the Iron Giraffe Challenge. We hope to raise more than $1,000!
We’d love any opportunity to reconnect you with our school as we make these efforts for this good cause. A letter back, a phone call, a Skype, a Google Hangout, a Tweet a visit, anything. We’d love your support.

When I read this book I knew we needed to do something. It made so sad to think that all these people around the world get almost no water while we waste hundreds of gallons of water everyday! So even though I might be little, I know I can do BIG things!


Jaelyn Perry and Eric Ewald

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Your Volume Doesn't Define You

An elementary school age version of me gets an autograph from former NFL quarterback, Erik Wilhelm
Jim, "Don't call me Chris," Everett pauses to take a photograph with my brother and me
What do the above pictures have to do with education and/or leadership?

Throughout my childhood, I accumulated a fairly impressive collection of autographs from my favorite professional athletes. I was relentless in regards to the letters that I wrote and sent to them. And I was strategic with how I would maneuver myself to the front of any crowd to acquire the autograph that I wanted.

I've tried to pass-on some of these same strategies to my son.
Here he is, as a four-year-old, after acquiring Alex Rodriguez's autograph during a spring training game.
I didn't have to be loud, which is good because I consider myself to be a quiet person. Typically, I prefer a rather introverted lifestyle. This has always been the case. 

You don't have to ask everyone. But you have to be willing to ask one person. And you have to be persistent to get what you want.

Currently, I'm trying to link-up with Arizona Cardinals head coach, Bruce Arians, for a #DadsOnDeck podcast that #DadsAsPrincipals and #MakerDads are creating (see previous blog post, linked). Connecting with him is a long shot (although, I have received an initial email response from his assistant!), but it's kind of fun trying. It will probably go nowhere and if that's the case, I'm out nothing but my time. But what if it does go somewhere?

There is a lot out there for our taking. In regards to this, social media is amazing. The doors that it opens for us, throughout the world, are limitless. We have tools at our fingertips that allow us to connect with anyone.

I've done that. And I'll continue to do that. I've connected with educators from coast-to-coast and everywhere in-between to grow my Professional Learning Network (PLN) in-order to benefit the staff and students within our school at Van Allen. Going forward, I have BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) to connect with authors and other individuals that can lead to impactful experiences for our school. It's a brave new world.

So don't call me shy. Don't call my kids shy. Don't call students shy. Don't call people shy. That's a label. Labels are judgments that people make; they're not helpful.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

My Leadership Shelfie

If you're gonna talk the talk, you better walk the walk.

So I am following-up my last post #LeadersAreReaders with My Leadership Shelfie - I stole all of this inspiration from Beth Houf (her post, My Leadership Shelf UPDATED, linked).

What I'm Reading Now:
My office door shows what books I've read,
and lists what I'm currently reading

  • Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning, by John Spencer
  • Lasting Impact, by Kostya Kennedy
What I'm Reading Next:
  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson
  • Collaborative Leadership: Six Influences that Matter Most, by Peter DeWitt
  • Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull
  • Ditch that Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom, by Matt Miller
  • Social LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership, by Jennifer Casa-Todd
  • Teach Like Finlad: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms, by Timothy Walker
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, by Michele Borba
What I've Recently Finished Reading (over the course of the summer):
  • Uncommon Learning, by Eric Sheninger
  • Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable, by Tim Grover
  • March: Book One, by John Lewis
  • A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park
  • Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that's Transforming Education, by Ken Robinson
  • My Cubs: A Love Story, by Scott Simon
  • The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown
  • Starting a Movement: Building Culture from the Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities, by Ken Williams
  • Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
What's in My Cart at Amazon:
  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah
  • The Kickstart Guide to Making GREAT Makerspaces, by Laura Fleming
  • Lead Like a PIRATE: Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff, by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf
  • The Quarterback Whisperer: How to Build an Elite NFL Quarterback, by Bruce Arians
A collection of (most of) my favorite professional books that I've read. 
Read. Inspire Learning.

#LeadersAreReaders and Readers are Leaders.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


"Yes, we have very busy lives. We have time for exactly what we choose to make time for." 
I'm pretty sure that it was Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd) who spoke those words during a session at the National Principals Conference this past summer.

We all have the same amount of time. Yet, we all prioritize our time differently. What are your priorities?

Two books recommended to me by my friends:
 Jessica Cabeen and Lindsy Stumpenhorst
We can probably ALL agree that reading should be a priority for our students. Few would argue that kids need to read. However, students aren't the only learners in schools. In schools, learning starts with us - the adults, the educators.

Reading is a way of learning. Reading is how we grow. Reading is a way to develop empathy. Reading is how we become inspired. Our kids must see us as readers. Our kids must see us as learners.

So if we're asking our kids to read, which we are (or probably should be), we better be reading. I believe that we should never ask our kids to do things that we aren't willing to do, ourselves.

Are you assigning your students independent reading for X amount of minutes throughout each week? This is an assignment for most of our Students. I am not questioning this assignment. In fact, I think that this is one of the more logical homework assignments that we give our Students.

However, what I do question is the educator that assigns 20 minutes of reading, each night, to his/her students...or 100 minutes of reading, each week, to his/her students, but then claims to not have the time to read him/herself. We're busy. Kids are busy. We're all busy. If it is important, we'll make the time for it.

So when do you read? When do you learn? When do you grow? When do you develop empathy? When do you become inspired? And how do you do it? Wake up a little earlier. Listen to an audio book.  Figure out a way to consume books while you commute and/or exercise. Be creative, and share your hack for how you make time.

This image was taken from Chris Doyle's Twitter feed.
He is constantly inspiring learning through his sharing the books that he is reading.
Read. Inspire Learning

#LeadersAreReaders and Readers are Leaders.

Friday, August 4, 2017

ThingLink - Summer 2017

After seeing a blog post written by Melinda Miller (@mmiller7571) - A Non-Traditional Back to School Letter - ThingLink (linked), I was INSPIRED to TRY something NEW. Here is the interactive image that I CREATED, which includes some highlights from my summer.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

#DadsAsPrincipals - Dear Coach Arians:

Dear Coach Arians:

First off, I am a football fan. I love it. It was my first love (see the strand of pictures at the bottom of this post). Throughout elementary school, middle school, and high school football was my priority. Football was what motivated me to perform adequately in regards to my academics. Football kept me out of trouble. Football was what inspired me to adopt a lifestyle of health and fitness that has continued into my mid-thirties. Football taught me character traits that I credit for shaping me into the adult that I've become. Football, and the possibility of coaching football, is why I got into education. I owe football. I love football.

But this letter isn't about my love for football.

This blog post is about my love for something that I love even more than football. Being a Dad.

Recently, I stumbled across an article (linked) that quoted you from a recent Sirius XM NFL radio (linked) interview as saying,
"For our coaches, I tell them, if you miss a recital or a football game or a basketball game, I'll fire you. You can always come back and work."
Thank you.

You see, I'm an elementary school principal. I stay pretty busy with work. Probably not quite as busy as you, however. My job is important, nonetheless; children's futures are at stake, which coincides with our society's future being at stake.

If I let it, I could be consumed by my work. It's a struggle because I love my work.

Anyways, thank you for making it okay to prioritize being a father and a parent. I am involved in a couple of newly created movements made-up of educator Dads that are working to keep this focus in the forefront of our minds as the school year gets underway. Traditionally, the narrative only allows us to be great at one or the other - home or work. That isn't something that we're okay with. That isn't something that we'll settle for - we want to be great in both roles. We think that it is possible.

So I know that you're extremely busy as the football season is getting underway, but if you're interested, we'd love to connect with you.

On behalf of the #DadsAsPrincipals, #DadsOnDeck, and #MakerDads - thanks in advance for reading this, and good luck with your upcoming football season.


Eric Ewald

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

#DadsAsPrincipals - Legacy

Last summer, my friend, Hamish Brewer shared a book, Legacy, with me.

I think about that word, Legacy, each and every day. What do I want my Legacy to be? How do I want people to remember me?

My son doesn't (and my daughter won't) attend my school. We (my wife and I) entertained the idea (me maybe more than her), but the appeal of the neighborhood school was just too strong. I'm good with that. He ended-up at a school down the street from me; in a building with a principal and a staff that I highly admire. Eventually, he (as well as my daughter, who isn't school-aged (yet)) will end-up in a junior high and a high school with all of the Students that I serve at Van Allen Elementary.

His (their) friends will be the Students that I serve.

My family is my inspiration. It's what drives me to be the best possible Principal that I can be. To make them proud to say that I'm their Dad, I'm her husband, etc.

I am not a perfect Dad, just like I'm not a perfect Principal. I sometimes work too much and don't always devote enough time to my family. On the flip side, I sometimes put off work in-order to spend time with my family. There are times when I multi-task in an effort to get it all done, only to short change everything that I am doing. I sometimes get distracted and don't focus on the right things. I sometimes struggle to truly engage in the individual moment. I sometimes struggle with being present.

Despite these struggles, I'm trying. I'm aware of them, and I'm working on them. Unfortunately, it's not linear. Fortunately, #DadsAsPrincipals is a movement to help remind me of this focus.

I want to be the very best Principal for Van Allen Elementary. I want to be a positive influence and a difference maker for the kids that I serve at school. I also want to be the very best Dad for Ryne and Olivia. I want to leave a Legacy so that my kids will be proud to say that I am their Dad. That's what #DadsAsPrincipals is about for me. It's striving to be great in both roles. It's forKeeps.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

#DadsAsPrincipals - A Movement

Being a Dad is hard. Being a Mom is hard. Being a Parent is hard.

Being a Principal is hard. Being a Teacher is hard. Being an Educator is hard.

Life is hard.

But life, and being all of these things is also great! In fact, I might argue that the struggle that these things entail is one of the reasons why they are so great.

This movement - #DadsAsPrincipals - isn't about celebrating Dads over Moms, or Principals over any other position.

This movement - #DadsAsPrincipals - is about creating a community of people that all have commonalities that don't only need shared, but instead need celebrated.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

#DadsAsPrincipals - Work or Fun?

(In my best ESPN Films 30 for 30 narrator's voice...) "What if I told you that work is fun?"

In a recent conversation with my six-year-old son, we were talking about my trip to Philadelphia for the National Principals Conference. And he asked me, are you going there for work or fun.

Why does this have to be an either/or question? Why can't it be both? Why do some people look at me like I've got  a third eye when I tell them that I think work is fun?

I like working. I think that it is fun. And I am being 100% honest when I say that.

I feel bad for the people that don't have fun at work. We spend a lot of time at work. We spend a lot of time still at work even when we aren't physically at work. Life is too short. You've got to be passionate about what you do. You've got to love what you do. Love it or leave it.

This is especially true when it comes to working in schools.
"Adults need to have fun so children will want to grow up." - Erica Bauermeister 
Back to my experience in Philadelphia at #npc17...

My experience attending conferences is a whole lot different than what it was when I first started as an educator. No longer do you need to attend the conference to acquire the learning that is being presented (see my post re. #DadsAsPrincipals - Our Prequel). The primary purpose of the conference is to connect, and then learn from and with those connections. This is accomplished through the relationships that we build before, during, and after the conferences that we attend. And if building relationships isn't fun, then what's the point in anything?

Going to Philadelphia, it was for work. But it was also fun. A lot of fun.
This was my tribe from #npc17 - #DadsAsPrincipals
(L to R): @_AndyJacks@tsschmidty, @Brewerhm, Me, and @Nick_Proud

The quote is from the closing key note via @kckatalyst

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

#DadsAsPrincipals - A Prequel

We're connected educators.

We Tweet, we Vox, we write, we talk, we blog, we share. We're not hiding our best strategies. We're not saving our best ideas. We are a communal economy. And we are better because of each other.

@PrincipalsConf (the '17 National Principals Conference) only solidified things that I already knew:

  • There is power in the conversation that takes place over a meal, walking across town, etc.
  • There is power in the connection.
  • There is power in the relationships.
  • There is power in the inspiration.

So you want to know what happened next,? At #npc17, while connected with some amazing friends and principals (my guys - @brewerhm, @_AndyJacks, @tsschmidty, and @Nick_Proud) an idea was born. Check-out the post #DadsAsPrincipals

Monday, July 10, 2017


When the content lacks meaning and/or is presented in way that doesn’t connect, learners disengage. Adults are NO different than kids.

It happened while sitting with not only four of my favorite principals, but four of my favorite people - Hamish Brewer, Todd Schmidt, Andy Jacks, and Nick Proud. Hamish simply snapped a selfie of our group. The photo was shared and a hashtag was born.


I don’t think we expected much of anything besides a little joke with the #MomsAsPrincipals group that we are connected with.

But all of a sudden, it was game-on. Next thing you know, we’d created a Voxer Group, Twitter and Instagram pages, and a flood of other ideas were born. We got a profile picture taken as the "Founding Fathers" in the "City of Brotherly Love." We put-out a challenge on Twitter for people to share a picture of them with their kids using the hashtag #DadsAsPrincipals - and tweets have been streaming in for the past several hours!

We went to lunch and met up with Danny Bauer, who we had just met for the first time earlier in the conference. After sharing our idea with Danny, we did an impromptu episode with him for his podcast, Better Leaders Better Schools, talking about being a principal, a dad, a husband, and how to ATTEMPT to balance all of those things. Check-out the podcast, which Danny told us would probably release sometime next week.

It has been an exciting afternoon. Between the Tweets, the podcast, the ideas, and in-general conversation - it has been energizing!

I don’t know what this will evolve into. I don’t think any of us know. But I do know that it is exciting to talk about these two topics that we are very passionate about and are deeply personal to us. We don’t think of ourselves as being great Dads and/or Principals. We know we are not perfect. We’re aware that we all have areas to improve upon - and we want to! Which is why it is so much FUN to talk about these topics - being a Principal and a Dad with such a great  tribe of like minded friends.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Un-Slumping Yourself is Not Easily Done

At the conclusion of the school year, I read passages of Oh, the Places You'll Go! to our graduating Sixth Grade Students. I love that book.

I also love writing. I love blogging. I love the feeling that I get after I've completed a draft and put all of my thoughts out there. I compare the feeling to that of a runner's high - that feeling that you get just after a long run when your body is producing all of the endorphins.

But I haven't blogged in a long time. I last hit Publish on May 12th, 2017. And that was simply a repost of something that I'd written previously for a different site. I haven't published an original post since April 14th, 2017.

It might sound foolish, but this has been weighing on me. I told myself get through May, get through the school year, and then start writing again in June. The school year has been over. June has passed. I haven't written much other than To Do lists. I feel as though I am in a slump.

I LOVE the parallels between sports and life. In sports, and let's use baseball for an example since it is baseball season, how do you un-slump yourself? Well, if you are in a hitting slump, you Just. Keep. Swinging.

So this is my post. Published on July 7th, 2017. The post about nothing. But it's how I will un-slump myself. It's my commitment to resume blogging about relevant topics regarding my learning and sharing. I've got ideas. I've go a list of them. I just need to write. I need to Just Do It.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Visiting the Capital #KidsDeserveIt

*This post was originally posted to the Kids Deserve It blog on March 9, 2017.

My name is Lucy Nolte.  I am in 4th grade at Van Allen Elementary.  My school for the day on February 15th, 2017 was the Iowa State Capitol.   

When you first walk into the building a feeling of amazement surrounds you! It’s like you’re in a palace or a castle. I’ve been to the Captiol a few times before to visit my great-aunt Mary Mascher, a State Representative.  Today the Captiol was busier.  I was in the company of nursing students and people involved in education who were there to express their concerns about changes to the collective bargaining law.

I was surprised by the number of people that came to the Capitol to talk to legislators.  My Nana, Chris Rohret, was one of them.  Together, we attended two education meetings, and spoke to the legislator who represents her district.  

And I am Eric Ewald. I am the Principal at Van Allen Elementary. Coincidentally, I joined Lucy at the Capitol on February 15th.

This was my first time visiting the Capitol as a lobbyist. And Lucy is right, it is an amazing place. Then when you think about the far-reaching implications of what transpires, the sense of astonishment is heightened.

Here we are with State Representatives Vicki Lensing and Mary Mascher
This is so important. In reality very few people vote, and even fewer people reach-out to their elected officials to advocate for what they want. We can’t be silent. We have to make sure that our voices are heard.

“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” David Lyons

I, Lucy, learned that making laws takes time, effort, and patience.

This is a process. Change doesn’t always occur instantaneously. Don’t get frustrated. That won’t help. Don’t give-up. That won’t solve anything. Don’t think that your voice and/or vote doesn’t matter. It does!

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the blow that did it - but all that had gone before.” Jacob August Riis

That’s politics. And that’s life.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

One of the concerns I, Lucy, had about education was that teachers might not have as much input about their jobs (like salary and health care through collective bargaining). Well, not anymore, the only thing that they can possibly talk about, in terms of bargaining, is their salary.  These laws affect education, teachers, and students. We want teachers to be the best they can be.  

The topics on this day’s agenda are far-reaching, and they have a direct impact on me as an educator, as a boss, and as a father. They have a direct impact on Lucy as a student, as a learner, and who knows maybe as a future educator, too. These are some scary things that are being discussed regarding public education. A lack of school funding, striping public workers of their collective bargaining rights, and the possibility of issuing school vouchers are a sampling of the issues that have us, educators, feeling a little uneasy.

I, Lucy, want to be a teacher (grades 2nd-5th)  because I like helping people and I love kids.  I’m most excited to teach kids about writing, reading and acting with empathy towards one another no matter what color your skin is.  

Nobody goes into education for the money or the benefits. We go into education because we love kids. We go into education because we want to make a difference. And we do make a difference. We make a difference in the lives of kids each and every day. But that’s no longer enough. We’re at a crossroads, where it has become critical for us to step outside of our comfort zones. We have to advocate for ourselves. We have to advocate for our profession. We have to advocate for our kids.

Spending a day with legislators at the state Capitol was a fun way to learn about making laws.  
Some of the laws that are made have to do with teachers and education. Some laws do different things to harm or help education. We want our teachers to be the best they can be.

The day reinforced the fact that we, as educators, need to advocate on our behalf. Pick-up the phone. Share a post or a Tweet. Write a blog or a letter. We all have a voice. And we have an innumerable amount of tools at our disposal to ensure that our voices are heard. There are no excuses for remaining silent. Too much is at stake. #KidsDeserveIt

Friday, April 14, 2017

Parent Camp Reflection

Recently our school hosted a brand new event. It was our version of a Parent Camp, which is an event modeled after EdCamp professional developments for educators. I introduced the idea to our staff as an opportunity to do something new, something different, something better than what we’ve always done.

Schools need to continuously evolve in regards to how we communicate and engage with our parent communities. This is something that I am passionate about. I know the value of people’s time. From a parent’s perspective, especially, I understand. As a result, when the parents of our students are giving us their time, it should be our obligation to find ways to make that time as meaningful as possible.

Our intention was to have different conversations with our parent community once we had them within our school walls. We didn't want to talk at them; we wanted to talk with them. We didn’t want a monologue; we wanted a dialogue. We didn't want everyone to hear the exact same thing because not everyone needs and/or wants to hear the exact same thing. We wanted to differentiate for our parents like we know we need to differentiate for our teachers and differentiate for our students.

We’re a school of over 500 students. Assuming that the majority of our students have two parents, that is approximately 1,000 parents within our school community. Prior to our event, I’d thought about what number I’d be pleased with in regards to attendance. 150 parents. That was my goal.  A head count during the evening totaled 28 parents. I was dejected. At the conclusion of the evening, I was visibly dejected.

I know better. Rarely do I wear my emotions on my sleeves. But I’m human. I slipped-up. It took me a good night’s sleep and a multi-mile run in the morning, but within ten-hours I had re-embraced the positive attitude that I preach. Choose your attitude. My bad.

I'm a leader, and if I want staff and students to exhibit a positive attitude and a growth mindset then I need to model what I expect. Always. To F.A.I.L. is simply the First Attempt in Learning. Failure is a requirement when we’re talking about the process of learning. It’s NOT a reason to be ashamed.

During the Parent Camp, the conversations that I had with parents were amazing! Upon further reflection, I realize that if our Parent Camp was beneficial for one parent (and/or teacher) then it was a success. We solicited feedback from those that attended (and those that did not attend) our Parent Camp. Our feedback was positive. We received some really good ideas about the advertising, content, and timing of any future Parent Camp that we’ll host.

We’re going to try again. The positive impact that this event has the potential to produce is too great. It wouldn’t be fair to throw in the towel after just our first attempt.

“Try something new. It's OKAY to fail.” Oskar Cymerman via Educators Lead Podcast

Sunday, April 2, 2017

I Don't Like Making People Unhappy

It's hiring season.

Recently, I was in-on an interview where the candidate was asked a typical question about what do you do when a colleague, parent, etc. is unhappy with a decision you've made/something that you’ve done?

The candidate started to answer: (Pause…Smile…) “I don't like making people unhappy.” (...Awkward laughter)

Some people might not like this response. This candidate lacks the backbone needed for this job. They've got to be tough. They've got to be able to confront difficult situations. Those are some of the things that they might be thinking.

Maybe, but...maybe not. Who wants to make people unhappy? Do we want to hire someone that enjoys making people unhappy? NO!

There are certain things that must be addressed. Some of these things require fierce conversations, and sometimes they result in making other people unhappy. But that doesn't mean that we have to enjoy that process. In fact, I would be extremely uncomfortable working with someone who took satisfaction from making other people unhappy. That’s not what we should be about as educators, and that’s not what we should be about as people.

“Don't mistake my kindness for weakness.” Morgan Wright

So this hiring season (and every hiring season), let’s make sure that we are filling our vacant positions with kind people. Let’s make sure that our schools are filled with kind people. #kidsdeserveit

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Van Allen Pride

This is the third of four blog posts that I am sharing to elaborate on our work for re-creating our school’s mission/vision (First blog, linked - Inspire Learning; second blog, linked - Act with Empathy).

As a staff, we identified Happiness and Commitment as core values within our school. As a smaller team, we took those words and created the phrase Feel Pride. Based off of feedback that we received, Feel Pride became Van Allen Pride.

What follows is the thought process (as well as my own elaboration) for how and why we went from Happiness and Commitment to Van Allen Pride.

Pride isn’t arrogance, and it isn’t boastful. Instead Pride comes from feelings of self-respect, satisfaction, and accomplishment. Pride is a good thing. Pride is NOT something that we should ever be ashamed of feeling. Pride is something that we should always have in regards to all that we are doing. Feeling Pride correlates with strong levels of commitment and intense feelings of happiness.

In his book Beyond Basketball Coach K’s Keywords for Success, Mike Krzyzewski describes it (Pride) as, “A feeling you get from being a part of something bigger than you.” We want staff, students, parents, and other community members to have that feeling of Pride from being a part of Van Allen Elementary School. Krzyzewski goes-on to say, Pride is putting, “Your signature on everything that you do - your best.”

At the end of one of my all-time favorite picture books, The Dot, Vashti's character hands the paper to the boy and says to him, “Please...sign it.” That’s Pride. Put your name on everything that you do. Let other people know that it is your work. Always give your best work, knowing that your work is attached to your name. And then feel good about your work. Feel good about your effort. Feel Pride. Feel Pride in Van Allen. Feel Pride in everything that you do that is associated with Van Allen. Feel Pride that you are a part of all that we are accomplishing at Van Allen.

Via The Dot written and illustrated by Peter Reynolds

Friday, March 10, 2017

Act with Empathy

This is the second of four blog posts that I am sharing to elaborate on our work for re-creating our school’s mission/vision (First blog, linked - Inspire Learning).

As a staff, we also identified Kindness as a core value within our school. As a smaller team, we took that word and created the phrase Act with Empathy.

What follows is the thought process (as well as my own elaboration) for how and why we went from Kindness to Act with Empathy.

We thought that Empathy encompassed kindness. If one was Empathetic, they would also be Kind. We didn’t necessarily think that the opposite held true. You could potentially be Kind towards others (at least on the surface), but that wouldn’t guarantee that you were Empathetic. It just seemed to us that you could fake Kindness; you couldn’t fake Empathy.

Empathy is about recognizing, respecting, and valuing other people’s needs and perspectives. It begins with listening, it extends to understanding, and then culminates with making connections. Those are critical skills for today’s learner. Those are critical skills in today’s society.

Now let’s make sure not to confuse Empathy with sympathy. These are not the same things. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is much more than that. According to Mike Krzyzewski, in his book Beyond Basketball: Coach K's Keywords for Success, "Empathy means having the ability to, most literally, feel what te other person is feeling. Then they will never feel alone." What if we could make that guarantee to ALL of our parents? Your child will never feel alone when he/she is in our school. Yes, please!

Marilyn Price-Mitchell, from her Edutopia article Empathy in Action: How Teachers Prepare Future Citizens’ says, "When young people develop Empathy, they not only thrive in school and life, but they also impact their communities in positive, often extraordinary ways.” Who is going to argue that opportunity for their children/students? No one. That is why it is essential that we, as educators and school staff, are continuously modeling Empathy through all of our actions.

“Empathy is the most important back-to-school supply for teachers.”   
- Homar Tavangar (2014) via Thomas R. Hoerr's book, The Formative Five (2017)

From the book Start Right Now by Jimmy Casas, Todd Whitaker, and Jeff Zoul