Friday, August 31, 2012

The iLearn School

Our campus theme this year is 'iLearn'. Many people want to know what the purpose or meaning of the theme is.  Obviously, our theme is based on the iPad which is a tool that we are beginning to implement in our instruction, but for our campus it is much deeper than that.  I hope that this post will do justice to what our leadership team meant when they decided that this would be our theme for the year.  Before we discuss our theme, let's analyze the company that we modeled our theme after, Apple.

We asked to answer the following question: "What does the 'i' in iPhone mean?"

"As announced for the very first iMac that came out in 98', the "i" stood for "Internet, Individual, Instruct, Inform, and Inspire".

and another answer:

"the original imac, released in 1998, was marketed around the concept that it was the easiest computer to connect to the internet. in '98, the internet was still something that most people didn't use regularly, and so the idea of a computer that was "internet ready" was hip and new. the i stood for internet, but it also stood for "I" as in "me". the imac was designed to make the personal computer feel more personal, and make the user feel like the computer was working for them, not against them."

And another answer:

"The term iPod (according to Apple) simply stands for Interactive POD. The POD in the name stands..."

So for our campus, what does the 'i' in iLearn mean?  What does it represent?  As we ponder these questions, it is extremely important that we reference and analyze the answers from our wiki search.  While the answers are very different, they have some great similarities to education and more importantly, the idea that we would like our campus to emulate.   Here are the adjectives that the describe the 'i' in iPad and my thoughts on how they apply to the goal of learning on our campus.

Internet-Ready: The world that our children will inherit will require navigational skills on the Internet with a variety of tech-tools.  Students must be able to research and use the tech resources that are ever changing.  Most importantly our students must be prepared to use these tools without any training on them.

Individual: Our curriculum must meet the unique needs of each and every learner. The 20th century conveyor belt model of learning will not prepare our kids for the 21st century; therefore, we must individualize instruction. In addition, students must learn in an environment where they own their learning.

Instruct: Our instruction will lay the foundation for kids' learning. Our teachers must create innovative, challenging and engaging instruction that will guarantee that every student is successful in learning.

Inform: Every day, the results of our learning must inform our instruction, not only for the teacher, but for the learner also. Formative data aligned to high leverage skills must be used to measure growth and guide our daily actions for both the teacher and the learner.

Inspire: In order to ensure that every child is successful, we must create a culture that inspires students to believe in themselves and in the power of their learning. Inspiring all kids and one another is a 21st century skill.

Interactive: Teamwork is one of the most critical 21st century skills. This means that students must know the value of good character and respect for self and others. The skill of working together is a skill that can only be developed through frequent interactive learning situations.

'I' Stands for Me: The iMac was designed to make people feel like the computer was working for them, not the other way around. This is Apple's mantra and defines why iProducts are so popular. In an iLearn school, one must pose the question, does our school make students feel like it was designed especially for them? Learning experiences and structures must meet the learner where they currently are and engage them in such a way that the learner deepens their knowledge with the 'apps' provided by the school. A school can gauge if their 'apps' are effective by reviewing discipline, attendance and academic data.

So now, we ask the question, "What does the 'i' in iLearn mean? There are so many good choices listed above for what it could mean. Apple has thrived on constantly reinventing itself based on the needs of the market. In learning, we must thrive on constantly exploring and reinventing ourselves to make learning meet the needs of our kids. So again, what does the 'i' in iLearn mean? The answer to that question can only be one answer and that is an emphatic YES!  The 'i' stands for every descriptor listed above because the iLearn school is exactly what the learner makes it for themselves. I look forward to hearing your comments on what you think it means.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Twitter, the Exponent of Learning

Twitter has been the most mind blowing learning experience I've ever had. If I compare it to my previous experience of traditional PD, which has been great by the way, there are some vast differences. Here are some reasons why you should consider using Twitter to enhance your current PD.


Traditional PD requires you to be there for at least a day, and that would be great if you had nothing else to do. I thoroughly enjoy going to workshops. Some of the greatest ideas I ever received came from a workshop, but I typically attend one or two a month.  There's not enough time to attend traditional PD. Twitter exponentially increases the frequency of PD because I can learn any time of day for short or long periods of time.


Going to a workshop takes time, and you have to dress up. You have to drive there, and you are sometimes limited to the ideas from your region. On Twitter, I get ideas from California to China and all points in between. Seriously, I do. Cutting edge ideas are found in links, blogs, videos, chats and tweets from around the world, and it is overwhelmingly awesome to learn from people around the world.  Most importantly my geography is unimportant because I can learn from the comfort of my couch or anywhere that I am.


This is the most amazing part of Twitter. At workshops, you have little time to network with the people you come in contact with. On Twitter, you find new contacts and they are experts in specific areas. Teachers, principals, lead teachers and central office staff come together to share their experience as well as gain new ideas from others, but what's great is that everyone forgets about the hierarchy of their position. How utopian is that? Tweeps organize themselves into chats and lists based on where each Tweep is interested in growing in their own learning.

Ideas flourish and interests change based on the needs that each person has each day. Learning is personalized daily because everyone is part of a PLN (Personalized Learning Network). This is what PD should be all about.

Twitter and Traditional PD

Twitter does have its limitations in that traditional PD can take learning much more in-depth on broader topics.  The simple fact is you just can't replace a face to face PD. I always leave a traditional PD inspired and motivated to do an even better job. Twitter's role is to solidify my thinking in between the traditional PD opportunities as well as connect with other educators on issues that I currently face. I need both to be the best educator that I can be. Twitter exponentially improves my learning, but coupled with traditional PD it goes even further.

Special thanks to members of my PLN for playing a part in this post and taking my learning to a newer and higher level: @Cowpernicus, @DCulberhouse, @Mandery, @ChrisStogdill

Friday, August 24, 2012

'How' Leaders Support PLC's

PLC work is a complex beast with many variables. Personalities, varying levels of experience and beliefs about education are just a few variables that PLCs must consider when building collaborative teams. Leaders must guide teams to come together to be the best for kids. Leaders set expectations for 'What' teams must do to provide the best instruction and supports for all kids. In the leader's desire to push the campus toward alignment and synchronicity in the ideals of being a PLC, leaders are prone to make a critical mistake by going one step too far. They will succeed in clarifying the 'What', but will cripple teams by telling them 'How' they want the 'What' to be done.

Leaders that want teams to succeed must support teams in figuring out the 'How'. The 'How' is the pathway in which teams will work together to get the 'What' accomplished. Leaders can't possibly know the 'How' for every single team. They do not have the same vantage point, experiences, educational tendencies or language to design all of the learning structures necessary to accomplish the mission and vision of the campus.

So, what do leaders do to empower teams to decide 'How' they will do the 'What'?

Honor the Different Starting Points and Needs of Each Team

Leaders must take steps to recognize and respect the different needs and starting points at which teams begin to incorporate the 'What' into their daily work. Teams need to know that the pathway on their PLC journey is based on the collective experiences of the members. If leaders tell teams 'How' to do the 'What', leaders will set a bar that is beyond the reach of the PLC or set the bar so low that teams will feel the need to abandon their current work to meet the leader's desire of 'How' the work must be done. Either way, teams will lose valuable time and confidence because of confusion caused by the leader.

Example - A kindergarten PLC with a strong foundation will be much further ahead than a 2nd grade PLC with half of the team new to the school; therefore, their starting points and needs will look and sound much different to begin working together. Leaders must provide vastly different levels of support to each PLC.

Offer Options

When leaders define the 'What', they must realize that teams need a variety of options to help them process 'What' it looks like. Format for submitting work, structures for making plans or instructional designs are just a few of the major road blocks that many teams encounter because it locks teams into a specific way of thinking about the 'What'. Leaders must provide teams with several examples of format options and graphic organizers. These options must be presented by the leader with the explicit understanding that the options represent possibilities for the starting point rather than the proverbial box to fit into. In offering options, leaders must intuitively know the tendencies and thought processes of each team. When leaders know the work styles and team mindsets, options can become more personalized to the needs and thinking of each team rather than the "One Size Fits All" mentality.

Example - The way that a high school English PLC will go about implementing Tier 1 interventions will look much different than interventions in a high school Algebra PLC because of the nature of their content. A leader will know this and offer different options to each team so that they can have the autonomy to make intervention plans centered around the students' learning needs within each given content.

Warrant Autonomy

A Professional Learning Community is a team of professionals that must work and learn together to reach learning goals. Leaders impede the team's professionalism and culture for learning when they fail to articulate that it is the team's responsibility to find the best way to meet the goals of the campus. This means that leaders must warrant or charge teams to design 'How' they will go about the work of being a PLC. Teams must have the autonomy to select actions that will help them meet campus goals or initiatives, and leaders must create the environment for this autonomy by giving them guidance and support in creating team values and norms.

Example - When teams ask for the way in which the leader wants a given task to be done, the leader must resist the urge to answer the question and provide guiding questions to help the team create the best method that they will work together in a way that is effective and efficient. This action fosters trust in the team and stability in its work.

Final Thoughts on the Leader's Role
Leaders have intense pressure placed upon them from federal, state and at times, local expectations. The task is daunting to say the least. In order for leaders to meet these demands, they must look beyond the trap of short-term data-based targets to focus on creating the conditions for empowered PLCs. Once leaders create these conditions of trust and professionalism, they can focus on their primary task, leading, guiding and supporting PLCs to create their own path of student success and isn't that 'What' leaders should be doing?

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Surgical Leader

I was driving down the road the other day, listening to the Message on Sirius XM, and I heard a song by 10th Avenue about how God breaks us to bind us. The song talked about how he uses our pain to heal us, and it made me think of what a surgeon does to heal his patients.

A surgeon is a great healer. He is extremely knowledgeable about the human body. He is able to use information to decide what is causing the pain or illness, and then he makes a plan to go in and perform a surgical procedure to remedy the problem. This procedure invariably causes much pain to the patient, but it is necessary so that the patient doesn't continue to ail or worse, end up dead. Last, the surgeon schedules follow up appointments to ensure that the surgery was effective and if it wasn't effective, he repeats the cycle all over again. In essence, he breaks his patient to bind him.

Leaders must have the same surgical skills to be effective at solving problems that ail people, teams, systems and the school as a whole.


Knowledge of the Body

In order for the leader to have surgical precision, he must have a great knowledge base about the body or the school and its systems. Knowledge of curriculum, instruction, assessments and interventions are critical. The leader must know in specific detail how the organization must run to be effective and efficient. Last the surgical leader must know the people within the organization and the strengths and weaknesses that each brings to the organization.  Knowledge of the people in the organization guides the leader to design how they must work together to keep the organization healthy.

Gather Information to Diagnose

Leaders must know the pulse of the organization and gather data to chart progress of the school. Data can't be just limited to tests or benchmarks. Standards-Based Rubrics as well as teachers' perceptions are invaluable data that the surgical leader can use to pinpoint the source of the problem within the organization. Constant communication with the staff will also help the leader decide what is actually causing the system to hemorrage.

Pre-Operation Plan and Surgery

Now that the leader is able to diagnose the source of the problem, it is time to make a plan for surgery.  The leader must decide what changes need to be made but more importantly must know what the anticipated results of the surgery will be.  How the organization will respond must be predicted and that can only happen if the leader has a close relationship with the staff.

Surgery requires conflict, difficult conversations, institutional change, philosophical change in the staff and ultimately a whole lot of discomfort to the part of the system that is being operated on.  Leaders, like surgeons, do their best to minimize the effects of the surgery (change) so as not to disrupt other organs or areas of the system.  Surgeons use tools that are most effective in the surgery and don't cause unnecessary problems with the patient.  Leaders use different tools to make the change as painless as possible.  Having emotional intelligence and situational awareness are the two most effective tools that the leader uses to perform surgery.

Post-Operation Appointment

After the surgery, the surgeon will always see the patient to conduct some follow-up tests and talk with the patient about how they are doing.  Leaders often leave this part out.  The staff or group that went through the surgery must have time to reflect and evaluate with one another and with the leader.  The staff will always reflect with one another because they are the ones going through the surgery.  The leader must monitor and evaluate how the change has affected the organization and if things are not going well, the leader must be self actualized to know that the change did not produce the intended results; therefore more surgery or a different procedure may be required.

No one looks forward to going through the pain of surgery, but everyone looks forward to the long term effects that benefit the patient in the end. That is because the surgeon communicates to the patient what he can expect as far as the pain from surgery and the recovery time.  He goes even further to always communicates the benefits from the operation and the surgeon's guarantee to make it happen. Leaders must do the same before operating on their organization.

Analyzing the Attack

Being attacked is a regular occurrence in leadership. Someone is always upset and blames leadership for their frustration. Sometimes it's justified. Other times its not. Either way, leaders must avoid the natural reaction to defend and embrace the opportunity to analyze the attack.

Let's walk through a typical scenario. Someone is negatively impacted by a decision from the leader or from an organization procedure. They obviously become upset or frustrated by the decision; therefore,  a natural response is to complain about the decision, the organization and/or the leader.

Sometimes the complaint is grounded in understanding, and sometimes it is due to a lack of information. Obviously, when the complaint is grounded in complete understanding, the leader knows that something needs to be addressed. But when the complaint is completely unfounded, it is natural for the leader to become defensive toward the complainant.

When there is a lack of information, this leads others within the organization to develop negative assumptions. Negative assumptions lead to negative beliefs that the leader approves of the current situation. If the person has enough confidence in the leader, he will confront the leader, and leaders must recognize the strength in this action. If someone is willing to confront the leader, that means that they believe in the leader and his ability to listen and resolve difficult issues.

Leaders must avoid the temptation to defend themselves and seek to understand the animosity. By seeking to clarify, leaders can find communication gaps, inefficient procedures or systemic breakdown. Through analysis of the complaint to a deeper and impersonal level, leaders can close frustrational gaps and ultimately build stronger relationships between the complainer and the organization.

In the end attacks are rarely about the leader, but a frustration about the organizational environment. When leaders come to a place where they embrace this mindset, they can truly begin to do what they were hired to do, lead.

The ABCs of All Kids can Learn

All kids possess the ability to learn. If you don't believe me, then how in the world did we learn to walk?  How did we learn to talk?  How are you able to read the words in this sentence?  Scientifically speaking, the human race is genetically engineered to adapt physically, emotionally, socially and yes academically. 

Education figureheads promote the mantra, "All Kids Can Learn". It's on the banners of our schools. Most of you reading this actually believe all kids can learn. But here is where the rubber meets the road. Some educators believe all kids can learn; therefore, some educators do not prescribe to this rhetoric. What's worse is that some educators say all kids can learn, but their actions and interactions fail to match their words. 

So here is today's test to see if we truly believe all kids can learn.  Do we possess the ABC's of All Kids?

Action - Do your actions give up or try harder when kids fail to learn?

Belief - Do your inner judgments of kids change because of a child's background, parental support, economic status, language barrier, disability, race or behavior?

Commitment - Does your commitment depend on the response of the child or the parent or the level of support you get from other educators?

Determination - Is your will power to ensure that all kids succeed stronger than all of the obstacles you will have to endure to get them there?

Effort - Does your planning, preparation and reflection get down to the specific needs of each kid?

Fearlessness - Do you experiment with new and innovative instructional strategies or do you let your comfort level dictate which new things that you will try?

Grit - Do you have the intestinal fortitude to overcome the difficult times you face in meeting the needs of kids.

Honesty - Are you honest with yourself when you fail to meet the needs of kids or do you blame others for failure?

Ideology - Do you believe that kids must walk in the door and meet you where you are in your instruction, or do you believe that you should walk through the door and make your instruction meet kids where they are in order for them to learn?

Justice - Do you see the potential in your role which is to guarantee that all children take advantage of their unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Knowledge - Do you seek out new ways to be more effective in meeting the needs of all kids?

Love - Do you truly have a love for all kids no matter what issues and baggage they bring in the door?  Do you love all the things that you do for kids, or do you do only the things that you love? That answer could have an effect on all kids.

Mindset - Is your mind fixed on guaranteeing that some kids will master all content or that all kids will master the most critical content?

Nobility - Do you do things for kids because it's what's popular or comfortable, or do you do what's best for kids because you know that it will guarantee that they learn?

Opinions -  Do you allow the bias of your opinions to drive your decisions about students?

Purpose - Does your moral compass drive your actions toward supporting all kids, or do your reactions take you further away from that purpose?

Quality - Do you focus on ensuring that your work guarantees high quality results for all kids or do you justify your work by the quantity of things you get done?

Resolve - Is your belief in all kids dependant on the success or failure of the students, or is your commitment to your belief strong no matter how students perform?

Spirit - Is your attitude about kids dependent on their behavior or how they respond to you, or is it cheerful in all weathers?

Tenacity - Are you passionate about your belief in all kids to the point that you are willing to fight for and defend your beliefs to anyone regardless of title or position?

Understanding - Do you accept the fact that learning is a process over time and that there will always be setbacks and successes within that process?

Vulnerability -  Do you reveal your weaknesses to others so you can learn how to get better at meeting the needs of all kids?

Wisdom - Do you seek to broaden your understanding and your depth of knowledge about all of the needs that children have in their quest to learn?

aXiom - What is the unquestionable truth that people see in your actions and your words? Do these things reveal to every observer a deep rooted commitment to every child and their learning?

Yes - Can you answer yes to the following question? No matter how difficult the task is, will I never cease to believe that each and every child deserves my best every day?

Zest - Does your attitude set the tone for every child to do his best regardless of the circumstance?

"All Kids Can Learn" is a cliché that is easy to say but hard to do. All kids deserve more than our words. They deserve our best. If you believe in all kids with the passion of the ABC's, then all kids will learn and achieve success. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

PLC - A Summary of our Cultural Recommitment


Today, our staff came back ready to work and learn.  We started out by welcoming back all of our staff and having our new members introduce themselves to the campus.  After our introductions and welcome back, we moved into celebration mode and honored all of the hard work that our teachers and staff accomplished last year:
  • Built a new and innovative curriculum aligned to the new standards,
  • Implemented our new PLC philosophy with the 3 Big Ideas,
  • Created a positive CHAMPs behavior system,
  • Piloted iPads in 10 classrooms,
  • Motivated our students with fun activities centered around our learning targets, and
  • Made outstanding improvements in our students' learning.
After our campus celebrations, each staff member took a moment to write about a personal celebration that was special to them last year. To see the pride in our campus team's eyes was truly an inspiring moment for me.  Our hard work was recognized, honored and celebrated. 

Mission & Vision

Our new campus theme, 'iLearn', was unveiled, and the concept set the tone that our campus will thrive on a low threat / risk rich environment to ensure that learning occurs within every child and every staff member (more on that in a later post).  We then reviewed our compelling reasons to recommit to the mission and vision of the campus which was based on a Did You Know video as well as research that illustrates the consequences for students who fail to get an education (via Daggett, DuFour, and Mattos).  The challenge was posed of each staff member to take one word from our vision that meant the most to them and write in their journal about how the word described the campus that we hope to become. The word led us to our values.

Linking Values to Norms

Teams  reviewed our values and collaborated using Twitter #geschat (as an integrated PD activity).   Each team selected one value that meant the most to them and summarized it in 140 characters or less, and each tweet elicited some poignant thoughts about our campus values.  We then took a moment to reread each tweet from our projection screen, and I asked the campus to pick one word that stuck out the most in their minds.  These are the patterns that described our campus values:
  • Trust - We must have an environment where we can count on one another and be vulnerable with one another, especially in our times of difficulty and failure.  Trust is foundational to collaboration.
  • Safety - Our teams must create safe havens where team members know that their flaws, failures and mistakes will not be judged, but supported. Safety is essential to learning.
  • Relationships - "Great relationships precede great performance", and we believe that we must never allow conflict to jeopardize our trusting relationships.
  • Celebration - We must celebrate every achievement both great and small, campus-wide and individually, because we believe that celebration is the fuel for learning.
After watching Rick DuFour's video on Groups vs. Teams and a couple humorous videos to further illustrate his point, we learned about values and norms and how they are linked.  Values are beliefs, used as a blueprint for improvement and they support the mission and vision.  Values define the attitudes that each member must display each day to reach our vision, but values are useless if our behaviors do not reflect them.  We must have norms that define our behaviors and how we will go about our day to ensure that we are self-disciplined and focused on learning from one another.  Norms make teams effective, efficient and ultimately accountable.  Teams took their new learning and began the work of developing their Recipe for Success.  They revised and updated last year's norms ensuring that Trust, Safety, Relationships and Celebration were supported by every norm.

As teams came back ready to have lunch, the atmosphere was electric.  Our campus was pumped about the upcoming school year and ready to set our SMART Goals.  Teachers shared stories of how far they came last year and about dreams of what our campus could accomplish this year.  The stress our new STAAR test didn't have a place in this room because the staff released themselves from the fear of accountability.  They were recommitted to something bigger, something bolder and the real reason that they were called into the profession of education.  They were recommitted to a culture focused on guaranteeing the very best education for every child, every day in every way.

Thank you, GES.  It is going to be an amazing year!!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

10 Principles to Principal By

Culture drives the structure and ultimately the performance of a campus.  If teams are to succeed at meeting the true mission and vision of the campus, the campus culture must be positive and united to attain the goal.  Leaders, new to a campus, make the tempting error of solidifying structural elements before cultivating the culture of the campus.  When this error occurs, the culture can turn toxic because the leader hasn't established an environment for structure to excel.

Each time I began my new role as an elementary, middle and high school principal, I spent the entire summer getting to know the staff through one on one conferences. The purpose was two-fold: learn about the culture of the campus and find out what the campus' expectations were for me and my fellow administrators.  In meeting with the staff, I made sure that I had a pad and pen and wrote down key points from each conversation. In my principal work with my first assistant principal, Donna Clark, she developed the term, 'Principles to Principal By' and ever since she introduced me to the concept, I have been committed to finding them on every campus that I have led.  These are the discussion points that I used with every staff member:

1. Tell me about yourself.

This statement communicates that I want to know more about the people on the campus and their personal lives. I am interested in hearing about family, experiences and anything that is important to the employee. From this discussion point, I want to be able to build a personal connection with each employee because it is a priority that I know my fellow staff members personally.

2. Tell me something really great about the campus that you want me to continue.

This statement helps me identify the campus work that I must honor and not change. The answers tell me what actions and traditions they are proud of and the work that the staff wants to continue doing. These answers also reveal the positive aspects of the campus culture.

3. What is one thing that you would like me to change?

This question can be difficult because it takes courage for an employee to answer this to the new principal.  Open body language, direct eye contact and empathic listening communicate a desire to know how you can help the campus. Responses will guide you to the structural problems and cultural undercurrents that exist on the campus. The more frequent that specific issues come up in the responses, the more urgent it is for you to further investigate and address the problem.

4. If you were my supervisor, what is one directive that you would give me?

This is the boldest question of the meeting, but the most important one, too. The answer to this question will tell you the most important thing that your staff wants you to do on the campus. Make sure that you write the answer down.  Every staff has one specific directive for the principal and this question will ensure that you know what your #1 priority is.

Pattern your Answers into Principles

After you finish meeting with the staff and synthesize the answers, identify reoccurring answers to your questions. Identify the most important actions that the staff wants you to continue as well as change.  Find the most important action that the staff wants you to do more than anything else from the fourth question.

Finalize your Principles

From the answers, create expectations for you and your administrative team, post them and share them with your administrators. At the beginning of the year when you meet with your staff, present your 'Principles to Principal By' to the staff and clearly state that these expectations were derived from individual conversations with every staff member. It is also important to convey that you and the administrative team are committed to following them.

By going through this process, trust will be established, the culture will be positive, and staff members will know that you are sincere about supporting and serving them. 'Principles to Principal By' in essence sets the stage for a positive and productive culture, and if leaders follow these principles, their campus will later celebrate great and amazing achievements.  This will come to be because open communication and commitment to the campus were the first two 'Principles' that you demonstrated one person at a time.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Teamwork between Leadership and Management

Soccer helps me synthesize so many things that I do. Today's epiphany comes from the roles of defense and offense. The best offense is a great defense, but you can't win games if you don't score. So how does the teamwork between offense and defense relate to the relationship between management and leadership? Both are essential and either one in isolation will not help a school improve.


The best offensive players are the ultimate risk takers. They stand on the edge of the limits of the rules of the game because they know they can't break the rules. They excel in the areas of ball handling skills and shooting abilities.

Take for instance David Beckham, arguably the best soccer player in recent history. He can bend a shot in amazing ways to score for the team. As a result he is looked to in times of need when the team needs the win, and he delivers. He is respected by his teammates and feared by his opponents. Most importantly, he is a very good defender and is committed to helping the defense succeed.

Innovation, risk taking and change are the offense of your team. Without it, you can't score and you're destined to lose the big game. Teams need leaders who will inspire others to take risks, model leadership behaviors by taking the big shot and rally the team toward victory. The players on the team look to the leader to guide the team to make changes to the game plan if they are behind. Leaders motivate others to jump out there and try new things to help the team score, and they are the first one there to lead the celebration when another teammate scores for the team.


Defense can make or break the team. If you don't have a strong defense, your offense has to expend a lot more energy attempting to score more goals to keep the team ahead. Teams can't win if the defense can't defend against the opponent.   Defense is also the foundation of the organization. It gives the team shape so that the offense is in the best position to do its job. When the defense fails to perform, the offense will have to abandon its job of leading the attack to help protect their own goal.

Great defenses have a great captain to keep the defense organized and prepared to protect the goal. The defensive captain is often overshadowed by the leading goal scorer because others do not see the tangible results of their job, protecting the team's goal. One thing is certain, the defensive captain is extremely critical to protect the team from the attack by the other team or from within. 

Expectations and protocols comprise the defense or management of your organization. These structures protect the organization by keeping the team in tact so that effectiveness is preserved and efficiency is improved. The defensive captain is the manager, and they ensure that everyone knows what to do and supports them in getting the work done. They also hold others accountable in a positive and tactful way when members of the team fail to uphold their end of doing a good job. In essence, they sustain the initiatives or improvements that are brought about by the leader.

The Relationship between the Leader and Manager

This relationship is codependent. One can't be successful without the other. The manager needs to know where the leader is guiding the team, and the leader must know the status of the organization before he can lead the team through the next venture. Communication is critical and trust is paramount to the relationship. Adversarial relationships between managers and leaders will cause the team to lose because the link between offense and defense will be based on competition or confusion rather than collaboration. Managers and leaders with a strong commitment to each other support one another in times of loss or failure. They come together to learn from each other with the explicit goal of guiding the team to victory.

Role Reversal

Successful partnerships between the leader and manager are fluid.  Leaders and managers with relationships forged in respect take turns leading and managing.  Situations dictate who should lead and who should manage.  Position in the organizational hierarchy exists but does not have to limit the positions from leading or managing.  In fact, some of the best leaders are managers and vice versa.  The decision of when to lead and when to manage is based on the strengths of both parts, prior experience and the issues within the given dilemma.

If a team has a deep desire to win, the big game, leaders and managers must work together. Their roles are equally vital to both improve and sustain the team. If either role fails to commit, the team will deteriorate little by little and eventually fail. Every organization lives and dies by the relationship between the leader and the manager.

In the game of school improvement everyone is vital. The ultimate leader or manager knows this, and if they act with selfless leadership, the school will win everytime.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Light Switch Leadership

Lightbulbs are everywhere. Incandescent, LED, florescent, flood lights, spotlights and even strobe lights all serve one distinct purpose, to illuminate the world.

They range in power required to work properly. From 40 W to well over 1 million, light bulbs use energy to make our world a better place. And when more light bulbs come together within the same fixture, our world gets even brighter.  It's pretty neat what an awesome variety of light bulbs there are and how they serve such unique purposes. 

Sadly, it doesn't matter how many light bulbs we have, let alone how many different types there are.  If the light switch is not flipped on, they are virtually insignificant.   Leadership is the light switch. It is the empowerment each light bulb needs to do it's job. It is the encouragement that everyone needs to illuminate.

Whether we like it or not, leaders are constantly flipping the switch on or off. Our actions, words and attitudes are either flipping the switch on or flipping the switch off for every light bulb in our building. We are either stifling or stimulating growth. 

So as we walk into our buildings each day, we need to ask ourselves this one question. Am I closing the circuit, or in other words am I building strong relationships, so that every person in the building can illuminate the world.  The answer won't be hard to find. We just have to look for the light bulbs that are out and find a way to close the circuit. 

We can close the circuit when we:

  1. Listen intently
  2. Involve all
  3. Genuinely take interest in all ideas
  4. Humor others
  5. Team with all members of the organization

We open the circuit when we...

  • Devalue with our actions
  • Intimidate with our title
  • Manipulate with our words

The lights are on, but is anyone home? If you want to light up your organization, you need to check your own switch first.

How do you flip the switch to engage the people you lead?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Passionate Leader

Passion is a word that describes what I get to do everyday. What I do is not a job or even a career. It is even beyond a calling. It permeates throughout my body, my mind and my soul. As I reflect on my life as an administrator, some basic tenets of my passion surfaced, and I believe they are vital to my daily life as a leader. Hope you enjoy them.


My purpose in life is to help every teacher in every way so they can help every child find their passion in life and become successful at it. If you dig deep into your soul and synthesize why you were placed on this earth, you will discover your purpose as well. Purpose guides your daily actions and keeps you focused on the most important aspects of being a leader.


Passionate leaders possess and consistently display a positive attitude in all situations. Setbacks occur but they don't affect the deep rooted commitment that one has for their work. This undeniable attitude is visible to all, and people will follow this person because his attitude reveals his true heart. After all, one's attitude reflects his altitude.


Passionate leaders live in a world of dedicated service. They are so committed to who they are and what they believe that they will help anyone that they come into contact with. They realize that in order to fulfill their passion, they must help others realize their purpose. Constantly serving others and asking them for their input or thoughts on issues guides the leader to decide how he or she can be more effective servants.

Spirit and Stamina

A passionate leader is hard to catch and their spirit is contagious. He or she is so full of spirit that their stamina outpaces others. The fire inside forces them to constantly move, think and act. A leader with an untamable spirit fueled by a vigorous stamina has the potential to ignite a wildfire of cultural transformation throughout the entire organization.

Infectious Disease

Leaders who are openly passionate about what the organization must do for kids will infect everyone that they encounter with their passion. People will commit to the cause if the leader's actions and words convince them that the cause is noble and morally imperative. Organizations that become infected with a passion of deep substance will do amazing things for kids.


Passion knows no boundaries. Passionate leaders never ask why and constantly ask why not. They view difficulties as opportunities to learn more, and they model this very important skill to their staff. An organization that looks for opportunities is a team purposeful in their improvement.


Passionate leaders constantly build a network of teamwork and support because they thrive on strong relationships. These relationships are forged in the belief in the vision of the organization and what the leader is trying to accomplish. These relationships are also reciprocated by the leader's belief in the people that he works with. The leader depends on the network not only to make the organization successful but also for his or her own personal growth. Passionate leaders will commit to the network and will do anything to help make the network stronger.

I love what I do. Each task that I have has purpose, I firmly believe that what I do makes an impact on the lives of many people. The people that I serve are extremely important to me, and I hold myself accountable for doing a great job of serving them. With every failure and every success, my life grows with ambition and inquiry. After all, I don't have a job. I have a passion.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Recipe for Building Successful Teams

My second indoor soccer game in the past five years ended, and I was exhausted. Monday night I played with my new indoor soccer team. The game was difficult as we had no substitutes to give us relief.  This was coupled with the dilemma that we didn't know each other very well. What was amazing was that our difficulties forced us to become interdependent. We had to take turns getting a break by playing defense while our teammates moved up to try to score with what dwindling energy they had left to muster. Communication permeated the field as we helped one another conserve our energy by telling each other when to make runs or pull back. By the end of the game, our comraderie was high and our teamwork was solidified.

Our team managed to tie the game against a much better team because of our interdependence. We encouraged one another with positive feedback and constructive criticism and supported our teammates when critical mistakes were made.

Do your teams have all the ingredients for success?  Here is how your teammates can quickly become a fully functioning team focused on student achievement.


Does your team have a solid relationship base? Before teams can build interdependence, relationships must be established around trust and mutual respect for one another's abilities. If the team doesn't take steps to build a foundation of trust, the rest of this post is not worth reading. Strong lines of open and honest communication accompanied by individual selflessness are imperative to make relationships thrive. Listening sets the foundation for relationships.  If the members of the team like one another and have a good relationship before they begin to work together, the chance for success is greatly improved.


Why is your team established? Just like campuses establish a mission and vision, teams must set a purpose for working together that will support the campus mission and goals. Setting team mission and goals gives the team a unified target that all members play a role in supporting. Once the purpose is created, it must be published, discussed and most importantly kept in front of all to guide decisions that are made by the team.  Again, the work has not yet begun.  Teams that clarify the purpose of why they are together add one more layer to their foundation for future success.


How must we believe in each other in order to maintain our trusting relationship and accomplish our mission? Teams must define the beliefs and commitments that each member must demonstrate to reach the goal. Values should include how we will honor and respect one another and how we will make every member and equal part of the team. It would also be important to include how we will learn from everyone in the team.


How will we hold ourselves accountable to our relationships, mission and values? Norming is about behaviors that every member must demonstrate to help the team go about its daily work. High functioning teams hold each other accountable without sacrificing relationships. Members must be selfless in being held accountable because their values and actions can either help or hurt the team. A team without norms will eventually be dysfunctional in its relationships, and ultimately will lose sight of their purpose.

Risk Rich Environment

Does our team thrive on experimenting and celebrating mistakes? In order for a team to be progressive, teammates must support one another in taking risks and celebrate when a mistake is made. A team that cultivates a risk free environment free of negativity when mistakes or failures occur will generate amazing results because learning is constant and fluid. Remember failure means that your team tried something new for the first time and the effort to take a risk must be honored so that your team as a whole will become better.

Teamwork is a difficult thing, but when teams follow the recipe for building stronger teams, student achievement is the focus and isn't that why we are here?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Help your New Teachers Catch their Breath

A couple of weeks ago, I finished lunch and noticed something strange. I was thinking about breathing. That's weird... I've never thought about that before. As I entered my office, I noticed that I couldn't get a full breath. Now, it was a little bit worse. As the afternoon went on, my struggle increased. I just couldn't breathe. 

I thought to myself. "Am I having a heart attack?  What's going on?"  My wife urged me to go to the ER, but my manly pride argued to suck it up and tough it out. My ego battled with my lungs until I finally gave in and decided to go to the ER. When I told them my problem, they rushed me to the back immediately. After all the tests, I found out that I wasn't having a heart attack. I had pneumonia. 


Well how many times does this happen to new teachers to a new job?  They walk in and start busting their humps learning how to do the "work". They slowly begin to sink, but their pride won't allow them to say a word. The demands of the job, the kids, the personal life and everything else slowly start a water-boarding effect. The pressure mounts and mounts until it's too late. They suffocate from the pressure of No Child Left Behind. 

New teachers to a new position struggle every year breathing in the foreign procedures, unfamiliar language and hectic pace, but there are those who never suffocate.   There are some who are drowning under a tidal wave of red tape, but others are tredding water just fine.   

Why is that?

Schools of excellence don't allow any teacher to drown.  They won't let any teacher suffocate.  They are committed to ensuring that every teacher has what they need to succeed.  That means schools are providing additional time and extra support to new teachers.  Extra time is given to explain foreign procedures.  Mentors do more than remind newbies where office forms are.  Schools of excellence believe in saving kids by saving teachers first.   After all, if the teachers die from asphyxiation due to the "work", then who will be left to teach the kids.

When I didn't know why I couldn't breathe, I was scared and my stress level rose.  After the doctor calmly diagnosed my problem, gave me my prognosis and encouraged me to take time to recover, I felt better.  Over the course of a week, I improved tremendously to my previous form.  In essence, that  is what all schools should be doing for all teachers who are struggling to keep up.

What are your thoughts?