Sunday, June 10, 2018

MakerRecess Session - The WHY

One day I was walking out to recess duty and saw an awesome teacher- we talked about how there were so many opportunities at recess that we had failed to utilize.

Primary educators understand the value of environmental print. Gifted Education Teachers understand that connecting learning to the real world, to movement, to cross curricular connections deepens learning.

So what could we do better? George Couros (a educational reformer and thought leader) says,
"We must be willing to look with fresh eyes at what we do and ask, 'Is there a better way?

So- is there a better way to design school play?

What does your particular student population struggle with? Multiplication? Geography? Science?
What if you created a way to enhance their experiences through a small changes in your play spaces?

Environmental print- putting a decal on your slide that says, "Inclined Plane"... 

Creating a student team to design new games (Think Hunger Games but much safer) that emphasize the skills needed. For example- they can have a basket ball game where points are multiplied and each quarter the number gets higher? 1st Quarter x2, 2nd x 4, 3rd x 5, 4th x 6...

If kids could jump around the world and land on capitals- or play Mancala like they do in Africa where there are actually holes in the dirt and rocks used to play. 

The point is- the innovations on our play spaces are limitless- because everyone reading this has unique contexts and needs to address. It is what makes our work fun- we learn from each other!

So I am using the Launch process by Spencer and Juliani- spiced up with a little of Snyder's Hope Theory and a touch of the Knoster Model. 

Mu hope is that by the end of our session- each participant will walk out with a plan they are excited about. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017


What a journey the last three months has been.
A 9 word sentence that will never capture the true meaning- the true metamorphosis- the true measure of what has happened.

Educators are familiar with the term, "Life-long learners." For some of us- we just threw up in our mouths a little. Cliche' or not- what if we modeled this in our own lives.

Even principals can learn and grow. When we embrace feedback (even the kind that has a bitter, ugly taste to it) we can find power to move. Move up... or as my immediate supervisor says, "Rise Up." She leant me a book by Brene' Brown called Rising Up. In my morning read today I came across this passage:

"When a group of team first comes together (form), it's often rocky for a time while members figure out the dynamics (storm). At some point, the group finds its groove (norm) and starts to make headway (perform). Storm occupies the middle space. It's not only a dark and vulnerable time, but also one that's often turbulent. People find all kinds of creative ways to resist the dark, including taking issue with each other." She says- we need to acknowledge it is coming and "STAY THE COURSE.... the middle is messy, but it is also where the magic happens."

Our school uses the Fill The Bucket metaphor by Wrath and Clifton. In their book they attribute a toxic, negative culture to what they call "Active Disengagement." When times get tough, in that storming stage, it is easy for all of us to actively disengage.

I received some feedback this year that showed evidence of our storming stage. I could have pulled back and become actively disengaged. It was tempting. Instead- I listened- and made some adjustments. I engaged more. I put time into reading, reflecting, and listening. The result- I matured a little more- I gained new perspective- and I am leading differently. There is a joy that fills my insides when I see how far I have come... if you are a school leader or a future principal- maybe something I learned here can help you on your journey. I have the staff at Vera Scott and Falcon Elementary to thank for my growth. Here are some specific things I have learned (so far):

1. You are a driver- no longer a passenger. When you are in a car and shift from the passenger to the driver- everything changes. You need situational awareness. Speed, fuel levels, other cars, laws, hazards, road conditions, passenger needs (bathroom, siblings fighting, hungry passengers), and more enter the picture. Gone are the days of watching the cows or prairie dogs on the side of the road. When we walk down the hall of the school- we must have strong situational awareness.

2. Lead in a way that people's brains can follow. Clarity, Focus, eliminate distractions... you can't ask people to juggle lots of initiatives... so prioritize and focus then help others keep the main thing- the main thing. Leadership Blueprint Trainers (The Flippen Group) taught us that clarity reduces social anxiety. So communicate and limit the number of new ideas we are bringing in. I have created three committees that each have one question to address- One focus.

In addition, the brain shuts down in socially toxic environments. We must not tolerate or give permission for folks to sabotage our community. In my case- I needed to create avenues for folks to vent and share concerns in a way that they felt valued and safe. I used back door channels like Today's Meet to set up concern retrieval anonymously. I also created a weekly voluntary huddle for folks to come together around things that they wanted addressed.

If a school were a car- leading so brains can follow is like having a clean windshield. We can see where we are going. Sometimes you need good wipers to push away distractions. Some headlights for when it is dark- some cleaner and fluid when stuff tried to stick that is just blocking our vision. And as a driver- we need to push those buttons and turn things on and off when they are useful.

Leaders have to manage clarity and focus. Clarity is also a part of our "Dashboards." Keeping focus on the right metrics and measures. Maybe there is a fuel gage to check on morale- maybe there is a data wall measuring our key initiatives.

Brains can't function in stressful, toxic environments. Like a car- moving parts create friction. Engines create exhaust like teachers feel exhausted right before a break (If you are married to an educator you know what I am talking about).
Cars have systems to take care of the heat and friction- they have systems to take out the exhaust in safe ways.

We can create systems in our schools to also manage friction and exhaustion. We can make safe pathways for hot communication and burning topics.

Intentional school cultures have some pillars that make the place thrive:
1. Loyalty- they commit to each other through thick and thin.
2. Clear Vision- always led by the organizational mission... that builds momentum to get past the smaller conflicts. Vision is KING!
3. Long term thinking... we are part of a long journey- we need each other... our students need us to think about 2,5,6 years out.
4. Joy- We know how shot life is- and we want to enjoy the journey with the ones we have.

So- I am committed to the wonderful Falcon Elementary staff and community. I am pushing myself to lead in ways that brains can follow- to confront the behaviors that do not fit our cultural expectations of active engagement and positive interactions... and to keep the main things the main things...

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Something Small but Huge at the Same Time

Something Small but Huge at the same time.

This is Mikayla. She is small. She is 10 months old. She can't walk, stand, or crawl yet. She can't really talk to us either. Yet she can demonstrate leadership.
Huh? You ask...
There are HUGE lessons I learn everyday about leadership from being a dad. This is one of them.
See that little pink box in the picture? It has one button. When pushed it starts music and lights up the ceiling.
She decides when to push it.
She owns the room- when she hits the button- things happen.
(I didn't have cool stuff like this when I was a baby- we didn't get indoor playgrounds at McDonalds. But I digress.)
Mikayla chooses to push the button. Momma and Daddy are not setting up a plan- we don't tell her the windows of time to push the button. She chooses to- often we hear it in the middle of the night. Maybe she was scared and it soothed her? Maybe she was bored and it entertained her? We will never know. We love seeing her develop a sense of independence and ownership in her life... now its not like we are out of the picture.
Who bought that pink box? Who set it up? Who changes the batteries? Who set it in the crib in the first place?
Maybe leaders set the conditions and design the environments so that others grow? Can we replicate something about this scenario in our schools? What buttons have we designed for students to own?
Personalization promises to offer this for our students. I would love to hear a conference between a teacher and student where the student looks at the data, sets goals, and creates a pathway to reach those goals in the context of this supportive, warm, constructive teacher.
I can see those synapsis firing already. I can predict the exponential growth too.
Something small- but when we turn over some of our power as educators- it can be huge!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Walmart Schools and How to Fix Them

Over the past several months I have been able to visit a lot of schools. There are so many things that begin to look the same- so many things that become identifiers... kind of like Walmart.

No matter what city you travel to- you know where to find the candy and the car batteries in that store. The milk will always be in the back.

When schools start to look like that- feel like that- even sound like that- there is a problem.

Our students deserve intelligent and adaptive design.

So- what are some things that show that kind of design thinking are taking place? Perhaps playgrounds that are vocabulary rich? When was the last time you saw "INCLINED PLANE" on the side of a slide? What if we enhance the place with a small stage/amphitheater so kids can pretend performances?

What about halls that are buzzing with Shakespeare and student-run stores? What about lobbies with interactive maps and a learning target arrival board?

Student produced books in the library?
A recess design team where student leaders invent new games and experiences.

No more students in time out at recess.

Maybe no principal's office... she is too busy being in classrooms to get stuck in the office.

What would schools look like if a group of counselors designed everything? I would love to get a room full of compassionate and smart counselors just to see what they come up with...

Maybe the morning announcements are more like a morning show- DJs and sound effects.

Maybe the lunch room has a performance stage- so students can sign up and perform.

What if there was a student bank- where they learn financial literacy and learn online ways of saving and spending?

What if there was a service Wall of Fame- where students are making an international impact?
What if there were more maps (Big Wall Maps) and geography was a huge part of the learning?

What about building Maker Spaces and nurturing the Entrepreneurship spirit?

Enough of the copier rooms and worksheets lining the halls. Enough with adult centric designs and environments.

We can do better- we can think about ergonomics theory and develop customized schools. We can make environments that inspire and develop leadership in our students.

I want more than the same old, boring, industrial/factory model.

Think like a kid- get on their level- build something they like. Every day we have the opportunity to take one more step in that direction.

Just wanted to share that little thought today.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Teachers: How to Avoid Becoming Stale

Think about it... you know what you know. You went to study during your era- the professors gave you what was in their bag of tricks. The teacher next door may have gone to school during a different era- and the young teachers coming out today may have even a different experience than both of you... What are you doing to stay fresh?
Here are some tips:
  1. Cultivate the Growth Mindset. Carol Dweck writes about this Growth Mindset- and one way to keep fresh is to browse the latest literature in education and learn. There are several ways to keep growth in your life:
  • Subscribe to innovative podcasts. You learn from people all over the world that are doing wonderful things! I learned about Anastasis Academy- went to visit the school- and met the founder Kelly Tenkely. I found inspiration! I listened to the Getting Smart podcast and learned about Placed-Based Learning (awfully close to the school design I am developing).
  • Search Twitter. You learn to use hashtags well and you will open a door to more international innovators and mentors that you could have ever imagined. I had a teacher try this and the next thing I knew he had a teleconference with a class in Minnesota (we work in Colorado) so students could share their genius hour project together (#geniushour)...
2. Develop the Shared Classroom. This involves two-way communication. List all the ways in which your students can give you input, feedback, or any communication in your classroom. We become stale when we are not responding to our audience- we need fresh ideas- there is the word again- "Fresh".
Here are some ideas you can use to help build the shared classroom:
  • Create your class mission and vision together. I usually start off with giving them a copy of all the vision statements under which they sit... on one sheet they read the National Department of Education vision, the state Department of Education vision, the District vision, and the School vision. We look for common themes. We identify WHO is important in these visions... and it all points to the kids. They are valuable- worth millions and worth thousands of hours from all these employees. I even point out that there are hundreds of building built just for them. They then look at the standards for their year and develop a mission for the class.
  • Create a feedback routine after lessons. So typically we would end the school day with a plus and delta chart- with a third column for the prescription. Ask the students- how did we do today? What lessons helped us accomplish our mission? Is there any part in the day we can improve to better meet our vision? They share ideas.
  • Create a Class Dashboard. This has academic goals and data showing progress. We usually put this up below the mission- front and center. Write to me if you'd like an example- in any case. The data becomes a catalyst for two-way communication. "What does this graph tell us? What can we celebrate? What opportunities for improvement do you see? Then we brainstorm action plans together.
  • Create a wonder wall and open the planning up for student voice. A wonder wall is a place where students can put any ideas they think are interesting. These become catalysts for student projects. If you decide to use the genius hour structure- students will develop projects based on their interests that will bring new ideas into your classroom. One student began to work on the urban farming project that Caleb Harper started at MIT. I learned so much from this project. When teachers are learning- there is no room to get stale!
The influx of new ideas from students and from what you are reading- from podcasts and what you are tweeting... all of these things can keep you from becoming the stale teacher. The side effect is this- you gain joy. It is fun to learn- you having joy makes our whole school a joyful place... and that is what you and our kids deserve...

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Power and the Promise of Personalized Learning

Hope came for me when I found a school that let me work at my own pace. That tiny bit of autonomy saved my life. I was a Navy brat- grew up all over the country. Saw teachers from coast to coast. These systems failed me like they are failing thousands of students today. But I found hope- it is not as difficult as it may seem. It was a systems change that helped this salt water fish get out of the fresh water tanks...

Are you looking for the silver bullet to close the achievement gap? How about I give you a whole arsenal? Build a system of personalization and you can cure our educational organisms of this confounded disease. It takes effort and expertise to build such a system- but there is a network of educators out there that would be happy to help with the process.

To me personalization is about creating a system of learning that is dynamic and adaptable to the learners we care for. Key word- care. To care- have a heart... and that foundation followed by the skills in creating the dynamic system... builds a plan of care that gives every student a healthy academic environment. It all starts with understanding every individual that crosses our threshold. Every unique soul we have the privilege of serving.

This system needs to create pathways- well designed- that produce growth- in every child. 


If you get a chance- visit Anastasis Academy. Kelly Tenkely there built a school on the Learning Genome platform. She dreamed of creating learning experienced that seem to know who the learner is, preferences and all. The ergonomics of these classrooms feel better- to the kids. Personalization lives there.

Sometimes personalization is leveraging tech to bring in a variety of experts... sometimes it is creating choice menus and options... always it involves giving power to the learner. Power of knowing data/ their current reality. Power in goal setting. Power of time usage. And even power in creating the paths of learning.

There is the rub. Power.

Who would have thought that power is such a prominent part of elementary schools? Yet- it might be the invisible root cause for things like the achievement gap- like gifted students dropping out- like untapped potential in this next generation.

Power in the hands of our students gives them the ability to overcome now and in the future. Where better to learn how to make choices than in the care of a compassionate and intelligent teacher? This power in student's hands can close the insidious achievement gap. It can inspire the bored gifted child. It can turn the "bad" kid into your most hard working student. I believe in this- and have seen students thrive in such dynamic learning environments. Students like me- in third grade- when I was given power to set goals and follow my own path.

So tell me why has our profession taken so long to adopt this promising practice? 

Maybe because power may be one of the most difficult things we adults must learn to share...

But when we do we get a reward...

And maybe the surgeon that works on your kidney someday had their start in your personalized learning environment!

Monday, January 23, 2017

"Dear Applicant, We did not select you."

Sometimes when your heart is set on something- then it is crushed with 5 little words... it can be difficult to keep your perspective.

Life is short
Life is a gift-
So with those 5 little words, tell yourself that the chapter to come will far exceed the chapter that just closed.

Sting- it does.

Joy is larger than this news- and if we can keep our heads up- knowing all that we have to offer... there is the vision that you and I will be able to use our talents and gifts where they best fit. We have to remember- doors close for a reason and we might actually be thankful for the news someday.

I once was the 2nd choice for a school that I hoped to get.
A couple of months later- 4 schools listed me as their number one choice! I was able to serve the one I was matched with and it was awesome! I saw the experience and talents in my life come into the arena of making school a place where ALL kids shine.

How did that happen? I believe that leadership starts with heart. A heart for all kids means you put yourself (as the principal) in every child's seat for a day. You ask, "Would I like this? Would I grow in this instructional design?" This happened when I look at our special education department... their classroom was located between the band room and the music room... think about that. drums on one side, singing on the other. What if my child was in there with an auditory processing disorder?
I got to clean that up! Then I put myself in the shoes of the child on a gifted plan. Do you know that GT students often struggle with suicidal thoughts? Perfectionism and frustrations haunt often haunt them... so we created a model where our students have a coach- learning and life... teaching them how to advocate for themselves- how to modify their learning so it fits- and they have an adult to go to when they are feeling frustrated. This is incredible. A principal got to make that happen!

I found my main work was to find ways to produces opportunities for inspiration.
I think that is the magic in the work. We fan the sparks of dreams in the next generation- we get the honor and privilege of serving those dreamers- and equipping them with excellence... I KNOW education can improve as a profession. I KNOW we can bring more dreams from the spark to a bonfire- I KNOW the power we have as educators to make a difference in the world.

I know- because I have seen the spark in kids like Montel, Itzel, Jonathan and Jessica. I know because I have brought the joy back into teaching for educators like Mark, Dixie, and Nancy... I know because a good heart is not to be taken for granted... and mine will make a difference.