Tagged: Community

Principal Note to Self: Thought Bubble Compassion



We live and work in an eventful and complex world. One of the most important things I force myself to remember on a daily basis is that not everything is a crisis. Ironically, one of the most important things that I’ve been learning to understand on daily basis is that some things are.   More importantly I’m learning to realize that everyone has his or her own stuff going on. I don’t always get to know when there’s a crisis at hand because I’m not always involved in it; thankfully so.

What I do know is that just like me everyone I know is complicated and significant. In fact, I’m quite sure that the ones I don’t know are too. Knowing this along with having significant limitations in the area of mind reading makes compassion an amazingly effective leadership tool for me. When I successfully access my capacity for compassion things seem to work out well (with regard to relationship building and positive progress). When I don’t, they tend not to (with regard to the same).

Like you I’m exceedingly busy all the time. Also like you I’m tired and stretched thin much of the time (hazards of the educational leadership/husband and father gig). In order to consistently remember about compassion in the middle of the mix I have to practice intentionality.

Recently I came across the thought bubble as a great reminder. You know, the thought bubble. It’s a graphic literary device used to indicate thinking and consequently suggest the things that someone is thinking about. Cartoonists draw it above the heads of their characters like a cloud with a bubble tail.

I was recently talking to a partner at school about this. She mentioned seeing a training video in which people were walking around a hospital with thought bubbles above them. Unlike observers in real-time, viewers of this video could see the content of people’s thoughts. Some of the featured people were worried about loved ones in various states of critical medical need while others were concerned about grocery lists. There was even a dog in the video thinking about where he hid that elusive bone. The point of the video is the same as the point of this post. Simply put, everyone has stuff…specifically and often times uniquely important to him or her.

Sometimes we don’t talk about that stuff. In fact, I would venture a guess that most of the time we don’t talk about that stuff. Some of it is pretty personal. Some of it seems beside the point in professional context. Many people decide work through their own stuff while trying hard not to let it impact their professional lives; a legitimate practice. Regardless, it’s there.

Compassionate leadership doesn’t require knowing the content of the thought bubbles belonging to those you serve and those you partner with, but I would argue that consistently remembering that those thought bubbles exist is important. I would further argue (much like many who’ve considered leadership and learning from a theory-to-application paradigm before me) that when we’re thoughtful about individuals’ situations and worldviews we’re better equipped to communicate information and focus on solutions while avoiding the potential relationship and organizational hazards of challenge or ego-based messaging.

If you don’t have your own practice already, give it a shot. Picture thought bubbles above everyone’s head. Don’t worry about what’s in them; just know that they’re there. Think about what’s in your own. Understanding that while it’s more than likely yours is different from anyone else’s it’s also more than likely that everyone else’s matters to him or her much the same way that yours matters to you.

Remember that we’re each as complicated and significant as one another. Understand that while everything is not a crisis, some things are. Realize that we don’t get to know every detail driving the energy of those we serve and partner with. Consider that simply framing our individual and internal thoughts in a context of “important stuff” might be useful in the areas of leadership and learning.

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

5 Strategies for Staying Positive at and About School

image1. Prioritize from your core values

There are certain things that each of us believes in emphatically. Things that drive our thoughts, our decisions, our actions, the ways in which we behave in any given situation, how we develop and participate in personal and professional relationships, and so on. These things are our core values.

Some are formed in childhood via modeling from respected adults that we looked to for guidance, while others have been added to our core values bank along the individual developmental paths we each tread. Some are likely still in various stages of development. We’re always learning and growing, but I would guess that most adults have a solid base of core values contributing to their forward progress.

A few of mine are that we should always wish each other well…even and especially when we disagree, that we should work hard to find the good intentions in people’s words and actions…when I do communication and collaboration seem to be enhanced, and that we should forgive with open hearts and minds…even and especially when we have to forgive ourselves (it’s a good way to move forward with learning and growth as scaffolding).

Whatever your core values are, I would suggest that you’re well served to keep them in mind as you work toward positive progress in your school community (and your life in general). You can always feel good about leaning on what you believe to be sound principals.

When we remain true to our core vales we feel good, and when we feel good we project positive energy, even through challenging times. With effective leadership and learning in mind, projecting positive energy can be good for the positive progress of entire populations and potentially spread positivity throughout entire organizations.

2. Engage intentionally

There are lots of opportunities to engage with others during any given school day. Also, there are lots of opportunities to get buried in paperwork behind your desk, which can be draining and foster a disconnected feeling after a while. I’ve started to put 15 minute “human connection rounds” on my calendar. On top if that I’ve been using my calendar much more effectively in general. At the risk of coming off as obsessive I can report that I’ve seen some real positive progress by way of diligent scheduling, from e-mail checks, to snacks, to classroom visits, to phone calls, to anything else I know I need to get done over the course of any given day. This style of scheduling not only reminds me of tasks and projects, but it reminds me that the whole is made of parts, each critical for positive progress but none more important than the people I serve.

I don’t always get it right. Occasionally things draw me away from even scheduled interactions, but when I make engagement a priority and attend to it with intentionality I find that my relationships with all stakeholders are enhanced, which builds on a positive culture of trust and collaboration.

3. Take your time

I’m now in my fifth month of working to resolve some lower back issues that have been plaguing me for some time. One of the growth catalysts that led me to the wonderful progress I’m making was the realization that I was working in wrong ways for the first three and a half months. During that period I was listening to my body, but at the time my body was only telling me about each moment as it was unfolding. It neglected to tell me that while I was experiencing momentary relief from tight muscles, I was exacerbating the core problem by bending, flexing, and stretching in the wrong directions.

Turns out I needed some doctors and physical therapists to tell me that. By the time the pain became bad enough to ask the experts I had gone and driven my injury to new heights with some wonderfully well intentioned but holistically uninformed self care. Also, it took a couple of weeks for the right, expert-approved ways to prove relief and subsequently, hope.

First I had to understand why I needed to change my course of action, than I needed to change it, and then I needed to stick with it for a while before the benefits showed up. Finally, I needed (and still need) to stay on top of things during setbacks. It’s been a patient coarse of action to say the least. So is leading and learning.

We can stay positive with the knowledge that our work will take time and potentially many turns along the way. We will understand things tomorrow that were foreign to is yesterday. When we stay the course with our core values and a common drive to enhance the lives of children in mind, we can appreciate process over a desire for perfection…and that can land us in positive mindsets.

4. Look through an organizational lens

Anyone who works in a field that has anything to do with customer service works with people. People who are being served have needs. I know, deep thought…but stick with me.

Educators are charged with caring for the most important things in the lives of the families we serve…their children. It’s a charge that requires internal and external partnerships, an ever-expanding collective knowledge base connected with the targeted and adaptive implementation of that knowledge, and effective communication with and between all involved. Each of these things requires dedicated effort, patience, compassion, a willingness to learn, grow, and even change, and occasionally…forgiveness (for ourselves and others). Seems like a lot of stuff, but when viewed through an organizational lens it’s quite doable.

The fact is, it’s never about you. It’s never personal. Everything we do is about a community working together on behalf the safety, well-being, and achievement of the children in that community. Looking though an organization lens allows us to step away from emotions that might otherwise threaten or deteriorate our positive progress. When done with resolve it can foster a culture in which positive progress is highlighted over momentary setbacks.

5. Don’t sleep in the wagon Educators could think (and talk) about education 24/7. In fact, it sometimes seems like we do. Have you ever been to a dinner party with an educator? What do they talk about? Education! Better yet, if you’re a married educator just think about what your spouse endures on a daily basis by way of edu-talk!

It’s true that our work is challenging in unique ways and must be processed with intention, but it’s also true that we need balance in our lives. I’ve found that when achieved, a balanced life is among the most powerful positive contributors to my learning, growth, happiness, and maximized capacity in each of my roles…professional and personal.

I’m better when I take breaks from thought and action. I’m sharper when I allow myself time to rejuvenate. I’m more in tune when I turn away at times rather than fixating. Staying mentally, physically, and emotionally heathy is critical for effective leadership and learning. Balance fosters comfort and contentment, which in turn contributes to an enhanced capacity for positive progress.

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Reflecting on #ocep15: Building Our Collective Capacity for Excellence in Education

Capacity BuildingWhen I attend a conference I’m looking to do three specific things: 1) connect with people, 2) learn stuff, and 3) get fired up. The Oakland County Effective Practices Conference gave me opportunities at each.

Over the course of two days I connected with many familiar colleagues from around the county and met many others who I hope to collaborate with further. I learned more about building capacity for effective teaching through shared leadership and professional learning, and I was introduced to a unique look at standards based grading that I’m excited to continue exploring.

Finally, I got fired up indeed! I left the conference energized and ready to apply/extend the learning and connections. It was a good way to start the summer. It helped me frame the wrapping up of another exciting school year as a kick off rather than a finish line. This reflection is meant to keep me headed in that direction. If you’re a reader I hope that some of the thoughts and ideas herein are meaningful and motivating as you move along whatever learning path you’re on this summer.

Building Capacity in Individuals and Groups. As a building principal I work hard to support the adults I serve in positive progress and meaningful development. It’s a part of my job. In considering ways to do that part of my job well I think about strategies I use to support my own positive progress and meaningful development.  How do I target and address my own potential? In what ways do I work to maximize my teaching, learning, and leadership chops? In extension, and with the same in mind for those I serve, what can I do to make sure that my school community is firing on all cylinders as we move continuously through persistent change (a standard in education)?

On the opening day of the conference I attended a workshop featuring Michael Fullan during which he highlighted a focus on internal measures, teamwork, and pedagogy as a viable triad for leading meaningful development through impending change. He reminded me that targeting external measures, individualism, and tools (rather than pedagogy) as comprehensive solutions moves us away from accountability, diminishes our individual and collective ownership over growth, and clouds the heart of the matter – positive progress in teaching and learning, and even more specifically, the ongoing wellbeing and achievement of kids!

What is it that we should be looking at as we seek to enhance our classrooms, our schools, and our districts? The complexities of school leadership can seem daunting at times. There’s lots of stuff to do outside of targeted professional learning. Fullen suggested that we focus, but how can we when there’s so much to do? Does focus have to come at the expense of task fulfillment? How do we narrow our attention to a singular or moderated frame of progress while maintaining crossed “t’s” and dotted “i’s?” In what ways can we identify connected and meaningful internal measures, bring individuals together for genuine collaboration, and zero in on teaching and learning while getting it all accomplished along the way? This is were the ideas of shared leadership and delegation come in.

Generating v Celebrating. I want to do a good job…a great one even. I want my students to have an engaging and joyful environment in which to learn and grow. I want the parents I serve to feel valued and feel able rest assured that their children are getting a world-class education. I want the teachers I work with to be comfortable with confidence; I want them to love their jobs, to thrive on learning and growth, and to understand that they’re trusted as professionals and experts. I suspect that all educational leaders want the same; to make sure that everything we do leads to great stuff for kids. We all want to do a good job. Though my consideration of shared leadership and collaborative progress I’m starting to understand a distinction between doing a good job and fostering a culture in which a good job can be done.

The fact is if I’m doing a good job we’re doing a good job. Better yet, if we’re doing a good job I’m doing a good job. The ideas don’t have to be mine. In fact, any idea that’s going to drive positive progress in any school community is going to eventually have to become shared. Without widespread and collective ownership over ideas they’re likely to end in ashes. Even when ideas are implemented with fidelity by individuals in pockets, what good are they for the benefit of the organization? I left Fullen’s workshop reminded that it’s more important to support and celebrate progress than to be the one generating it. Real and sustained progress is made with opened hearts and minds through a lens of collaboration by way of genuine partnerships.

Fostering Ownership/Sharing Leadership. Some things are easier said than done. How do we connect multiple ideas and visions to a common, focused, and connected purpose and direction? On the second day of the conference I heard a riveting keynote address from Tom Shimmer in which he spent some time addressing the idea that we each learn ways unique to our individual backgrounds, styles, and abilities as defined by a myriad of other factors. He offered his insights as they relate to the connection between standards based instruction and traditional vs. standards based grading. I found a meaningful connection to learning and leadership as it relates to the adult learners that I serve.

One of the great and ever-present leadership challenges in educational leadership is generating and maintaining buy-in for programs, initiatives, thoughts, and ideas. Teaching and learning is a highly researched and continuously developing field. We’re constantly exposed to updated information about what works and what doesn’t. Ironically, some of that information is cyclical. With regard to best practices we often see assertions coming down the pike that have come in and out of the educational lexicon repeatedly. How can I take into count the learning styles, readiness, and abilities one each teacher in my building as I work to help them decipher this cycle of information from learning through implementation and adaptation?

Adults are similar to children in the sense that we’re each moving along unique learning paths. I can’t imagine a space and time where a group of adult stakeholders in any organization are comprehensively in line or holistically “bought in” to common programs, initiatives, thoughts, and ideas. Is it possible that buy in exists along a spectrum defined by a spark of curiosity at one end to a deep understanding and appreciation at the other? Should I look at buy in as a series of milestones rather than a end point? Could I? Am I doing a disservice to positive progress by wanting to everyone to buy in at the same time? Would it not be more meaningful to look for progress by seeking to understand, respect, and support the varied paths that each individual is taking? Might I even discover new and potentially enhanced pathways for myself along the way?

The Bottom Line. Some of what I’m grappling with as I process this conference into connected and applicable learning is how to comprehensively remove the message of speed from my communication and efforts related to progress in my school community. Along with so many of my colleagues in organizational leadership I talk about going slow to go fast. I need to continue finding impactful ways to put my money where my mouth is.

I know that learning and growth takes many forms and that collective development must bear individual nuances in mind. I know that my leadership practices must honor that people are on different developmental paths? I know that as a manager, a coach, a mentor, a leader, a learner, and a partner I must strive to increase the level of optimism among my stakeholders.

I’m committed to continue giving all of it my best efforts, and as I learn how to do it better by engaging in ongoing learning experiences like this conference, I’m committed to meaningful reflection and connected adaptation. Where is your leadership and learning path leading you?

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Culturally Competent Schools: A Focus On Learning About What We Don’t Know


This past week I facilitated a workshop called “Exploring Culturally Competent Schools.” I came equipped with some thoughts and ideas, a bit of experience working through those and ideas in practice and in reflection, and lots of questions that continue to drive my development along an intentional path toward the target of cultural competency as an educational leader.

I began the session with an activity that came to me from a colleague who had recently attended a shared leadership conference. At the conference there was extensive dialogue about the power of story sharing. It turns out that in this overly-busy, lighting-fast world, taking that time share our stories with each other is an excellent way to get to know one another. Furthermore, it seems that the time spent engaged in intentional relationship building through the sharing of stories has potential to save us loads of time on the back end by perpetuating genuine and positive individual and collective progress. Who would have thought?

Educators work in a business of relationships. I can’t think of a more important piece of the educational puzzle than forming and maintaining genuine, collaborative relationships with all stakeholders. Through my focused work on the subject, I’m coming to understand cultural competency in education through the acronym ARC. The idea that we must move through awareness and responsiveness in order to get to sustained cultural competency is coming increasingly clear with each step along the path. Also, I’m coming to understand that we must be consistently asking ourselves some essential questions.

In what ways do we drive the development of partnerships with all stakeholders, including and especially students, in our schools? How do we dig at deep and meaningful connections in and outside of our classrooms? What relationships or communication challenges are we facing at the moment? Can we anticipate other related challenges down the road? If so, how might we adapt? What collaboration triumphs have we experienced? My experience, albeit relatively limited, tells me that open sharing of stories consistently enhances dialogue surrounding each of these, and other related questions. What questions might you ask yourself to dig at your cultural competency ARC?

Among the many rich discussion points that emerged at the workshop last week was the idea that we all have complex lives, rich with both personal and professional experiences actively contributing to our individual and unique worldviews. Indelibly linked to the Culturally Competent Schools dialogue is that it would take a lifetime of completely transparent and unencumbered dialogue to truly understand the complexities that contribute holistically to any persons’ worldview, and then another lifetime of the same to link those complexities to their outcomes. In other words, there’s a ton that we don’t know about one another. Even so, we often mistake our inlaid assumptions for real-time and accurate knowledge.

What happens when we maximize time spent on unfolding the stories that connect our experiences to our worldviews? What happens when we listen with intent and compassion? What happens when we’re purposeful with targeted efforts to preempt even some of the academic, social, and emotional challenges that lean on bias and misunderstandings as fuel? What happens when we truly take the time to get to know one another?

The next time you find yourself frustrated with confusing or convoluted communication highlighting an assumptive path, consider the ARC of Cultural Competency, and consider that digging into understanding through the sharing of stories could serve to enhance situational and long-term learning outcomes for everyone involved.

Bottom line…get to know people, it might just be the best way to serve them with genuine compassion.

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.


Good Thing It’s Not Pointy or Spiky: The Importance of Well Wishes

Some people think about ants as pests and annoyances. My son’s think about them as potential friends. Sure, an ant is capable of ruining a perfectly good picnic or giving you the creepy crawlies, but as you know, beauty…and as it turns out, friendship, is in the eye of the beholder.

Yesterday morning my five-year-old noticed and ant in the bathroom. Actually, we’ve been noticing ants in the bathroom for the past week or so. Springtime in Michigan means that the ants are waking up. So, in the tradition of little kids all over the world and throughout history, my boys have taken to naming our tiny little friends. In particular they’ve named two. One is “Pointy” and the other is “Spiky.” Frankly, I can’t tell the little fellas apart or even be certain that they are who they claim to be in any given moment, but we all know that adults are not nearly as adept as such things as children are.

These ants are almost too small to be seen by the naked eye, so I’m not sure were the names Pointy and Spiky came from. I think that there were some assumptions involved. That being said, my five-year-old has a mealworm named “Whoopsie” and a beetle named, “Silly” at school. Who knows the method to his madness? In any case, Pointy and Spiky have become daily references in the Berg house.

As the big guy was getting ready to flush yesterday morning he called out, “Oh no…there’s an ant in the toilet!” His brother came rushing into the bathroom.  There they stood, two brothers, concerned about their tiny friend. They looked into the toiled, they looked at each other, they looked into the toilet, they looked at each other, they looked into the toilet, and then finally, with a huge sigh of relief, the big guy said, “Oh good, it’s not Pointy or Spiky.” Still looking into the toiled the little guy followed suit by saying “Oh good.” Then, with cleared consciences, they flushed. Pointy and Spiky live on.

A few days ago I was talking with some administrative colleagues about leadership. During that conversation the concept of relationships wove its way through every point. The fact is, while the world of education can occasionally feel somewhat isolating, none of us are ever alone as we work to enhance our abilities to provide a high-quality education for each of our students. We truly are in this together! My sons’ concern for Pointing and Spiky reminded me that when it comes to learning and growth, every relationship matters.

School communities are diverse and dynamic places. Serving them well requires genuine collaboration. In my experience, the healthiest of collaborative relationships are sustained in large part by well wishes. Like my sons and their unlikely bathroom-dwelling ant friends, authentically hoping that good things come to those you spend your time with perpetuates positive progress and trust…even, and especially in challenging times. Sounds simply…but then again, some of the most important stuff is.

So thank you for sharing in my reflections today.  Whether we’ve interacted with one another or you’re simply blog surfing…I wish you well!

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

“Can’t” Deal: Learning to Tolerate Limits

I’m a relatively tolerant person in many ways, but there’s one thing that I’ve never been able to stomach very well, and that’s giving up.  I get even crankier about not trying in the first place.  I almost totally shut down when I hear that someone doesn’t believe in him/herself.  Ironically, I can’t deal with “can’t.”

I’ve always felt good about believing in limitless possibilities, and I still do, but I’m finding that in organizational leadership it does have its pitfalls.  First of all, not everyone does…believe that anything’s possible, that is…and it’s ok.  Some people are pragmatic.  Actually, in many situations those people help people like me stay on track.  It’s a good thing.  The trouble is that when a pragmatist and a dreamer get together in a fast paced environment it can lead to frustration.  A bit of frustration is fine, but the business of public education moves so fast that it’s often difficult to find time to resolve frustrations as the pile up, which can lead to heartily compiled frustrations.  You need a really big shove with a sturdy handle to dig your way out of those.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t’ choose to stop dreaming even if I could, but I’m finding that I better learn to deal with pragmatism as soon as possible, and certainly before my belief in limitless potential and endless possibilities clashes to much with very real and important concerns of the smart and capable pragmatists I serve.  The fact is, I have lot’s to learn, and some of the best learning I’ve done in my forty years has come out of experiences with people who’s ideals all but contradict my own.  In patient times, when I have moments to reflect and process, I deeply value those people’s contradictory thoughts and ideas, especially when I end up understanding them well enough to adopt the ones that end up making sense to me.

Recently I had cause to consider a “can’t” that burned me up when I first heard it.  I was surprised, I was disappointed, I was confused, and I was frustrated.  I wanted nothing more than to shift it to a “can.”  I pushed and I shoved, but there was no give.  That didn’t make it any better.  I was not convinced.  I couldn’t understand that “can’t,” but I think that now I can.

Every person knows him/herself better that any other person possibly could.  As much of a challenges as it is to me on a daily basis, I’m not able to read anyone’s mind but my own…and even that’s pretty exhausting.  Pushing a pragmatist to the brink of frustration by insisting that he/she believe in something he/she doesn’t believe in doesn’t make him/her believe in that thing.  In the best-case scenario it might help him/her consider broader possibilities.  In the worst-case scenario it might cause a rift in what could have otherwise developed into a trusting, collaborative relationship.

Again, I don’t imagine that I’ll ever be able to prevent the concept limitless possibilities from tempting me, and frankly I’m not trying to, but I’m finding that as an organizational leader I need to learn how to give each person I serve the space and respect to “can’t” if that’s what he/she feels is best for him/her in any given moment.  Some people want to stay in bounds, and many of them accomplish incredible things doing just that.  They say that there’s a time for everything.  Maybe there’s a time to believe in limitations, and a purpose for holding back…even if I can’t.  People are each different, and that’s one of the things that make collaboration so effective.

Through critical and continuous reflection I’m working hard to learn the leadership lessons that are so conveniently built into each moment of my life.  This has been a tough one to swallow.  Regardless, I intend to master the balance between my belief in limitless possibilities and a healthy respect for perceived limitations before it has me forgetting that there’s nothing more important for the wellbeing of the students I serve than positive partnerships, even…and especially through differences of opinion.

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Thankful Thursday #3: Not Forgetting The Relationship Part

This afternoon my district did a wonderful thing.  We had a meeting.  I know what you’re thinking, lots of districts have lots of meetings all the time.  Indeed, but I’ve never been to a meeting like this one before.

This meeting was led by a group of people who’ve been teaming on shared leadership initiatives for some time now.  Some of those people are our district’s union leadership and some of those people are members of our district’s administrative cabinet.  The group spent some time in Maryland this fall studying an existing model of shared leadership.  They spent an intense four or so days with one another.  By “with one another” I mean to say that they were together day and night for the entire time.  They ate together, they worked together, they walked together, and they traveled together.  During that trip they spent just about every minute together with a group of people?  You get to know one another.

When you spend every moment together, working with one another on common goals, thinking and planning, reflecting, formatting next steps, reaching out in new and innovative directions, and digging into actions that match your individual and collective core values, you run the risk of getting to know one another very well.  Isn’t that how stakeholders in any given school community spend their time?  Turns out getting to know one another very well is really good for organizational health and wellbeing.  In other words, relationships really do matter.

I was talking with Liz Schroeck after the meeting.  Liz is one of the facilitators, a union leader, and a wonderful third grade teacher in my building.  She was on the “together every moment” trip this fall.  She experienced the existing Maryland model first hand.  She understands and firmly believes in the power of genuine relationship building.  I brought up the idea of how fast paced our days are at school.  We talked about some of the challenges involved in slowing down to focus on the relationship part when we’re running around trying to do lots of important things simultaneously.  She reminded me that there’s a balance and that the relationship building process takes time and patience.  Good point!

This meeting was yet another example of the faith that our district’s leadership has in the power of positive partnerships.  Our superintendent, Dr. Shaner, is constantly reiterating that we are, “in the business of hope and inspiration.”  What a cool testament to that notion that a group of teachers and administrators feels comfortable enough to spend their time working on getting larger groups of teachers and administrators together for learning, growth, and collaborative development.  And what a cool testament to the authenticity of that group’s mission that Liz would remind me of the balance that needs to be struck.

I missed Thankful Thursday this week.  It was a goofy one with two snow days, and I got thrown off a bit.  How fortuitous that I had an opportunity to be involved in something today that I’m truly grateful for.  I deeply appreciate the incredible district that I work in and the wonderful people who I work with.  I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to a part of an organization whose core values speak so clearly about the value that we place on the people who make up our organization.

In what ways do relationships and relationship building make a difference in your life?  What role do the people in your school community play for one another?  Where is there room for growth?

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Changing Minds: Respecting “Second Order Change” Stress

I’ve been looking at something all wrong.  It might seem that’s a problem, but in this case I’m thrilled.  In fact, I’m feeling a significant wave of relief.  Looking at something all wrong was a problem until I realized that I was looking at it all wrong, which really just happened about two hours ago.  Now that it has happened, I can adjust the way that I’m looking at it, which is happening even as I writing this reflection.  That’s why I’m thrilled.

I am now just over halfway through my first year as a building principal.  That means a couple of things.  It means that the honeymoon is officially over (or at the very least coming to an end).  Stakeholders are getting to know me in pretty significant ways and I’m getting to know them as well.  The “Howdy!” and “How do you do?” has morphed into “Where are we?” and “Where are we headed?”  It’s good.  I feel like partnerships are solidifying in significant ways, and that the change inherent in new leadership normalizing.  The key however is that is remains overt change, and it will for some time.

I earnestly believe that things are going quite well, it’s just tonight I was reminded tonight that change is change…good, bad, or otherwise.  Parents and students are reporting positive experiences, more and more teachers are expressing deepened understandings of my vision and making connection from it to their own, for the most part we are being patient with one another as we all work diligently toward ongoing progress, and we’re doing a wonderful job of giving each other the space and time we need to learn and grow.  There have certainly been bumps on the road, but all paths are leading lead to a focus on teaching and learning and a solid commitment to student’s wellbeing and achievement.

The thing that I’ve been looking at all wrong is my understanding of the significance that “second order change” has on stress levels and ongoing challenges.  I’ve all but dismissed it.  My community is already experiencing “first order change” change.  Me.  I’m new.  Even if it’s good (and hope that at least some of it is) it’s stressful.  So, anything else is “second order change.”  Any committee, any idea, and program, and suggestion that things might be different tomorrow, is additionally stressful.  It’s extremely reasonable that additionally stressful things would be accompanied buy additional stress.

I won’t stop making every decision that I believe to be good for the children I serve, but I can understand, and more importantly, respect the significant discomfort driven by “second order change.”  It’s not bad and it’s not wrong.  It’s an organic part of the growth process.

I believe that intentionally respecting it will help me better support and encourage those experiencing it.  I now have a deeper understanding that people are going to be emotional, concerned, and even uncertain as we move forward together, but I also understand that maintaining our focus and keeping the “together” part in mind will help us stay on target for continued excellence in education!

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Tweet of The Month: We Love to Learn!

Another wild Saturday night at the Berg house this weekend!  Between the diapers, the bath toys, the tickle fights, and a massive Lego structure that some of us believed to be a castle while other claimed as an airplane, we really cut loose!  After the dust cleared my wife and I ended up in the emergency room with the littlest one (as parents sometimes do).  Ear infection.

If you’re not familiar with infant hospital check-in procedures I can tell you it’s no fun watching a nurse take a two-month-old’s temperature (they don’t go in under the tongue).  So, while my brave little guy got acquainted I turned to a few minutes of catching up with my Professional Learning Network (PLN).  I pulled out my phone and clicked the Twitter icon.  There it was.  It was staring me right in the face.  It was the hands-down, no questions asked, in a league of its own, the tweet of the month!  Check it out:

MBrook at Reading Conference

As you can see, the sender is Colleen Mestdagh.  Colleen is an incredible second grade teacher in my building and the author of Force Field For Good.  As you can also see, there are lots of other people in the picture that Colleen tweeted out.  Specifically, there are two Meadow Brook ASD teachers, one Meadow Brook first grade teacher, two other Meadow Brook second grade teachers, two Meadow Brook third grade teachers, one Meadow Brook Instructional Literacy Specialist, and one recently retired Meadow Brook Instructional Literacy Specialist; each incredible, each immeasurably enthusiastic about professional development, each focused on building capacity for the service of our student population, and each spending his/her Saturday engaged in learning and growth!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard things like, “It must be wonderful to get so much vacation time,” or, “You can’t beat summers off,” over the course of my career in education.  If you are an educator you know that we spend much of our vacation time working, learning, and engaged in personal and professional development.  If you know a teacher, you can concur.  Don’t misunderstand, having the time to spend in those ways is wonderful!  We love it.  We crave it.  We can’t get enough.  Learning is an educator’s life.

The fine folks pictured above spent this past Saturday at a conference focused on literacy learning.  Between them, they have decades of experience and an inordinate amount of knowledge in the area.  Even so, they still can’t get enough.  And look at their faces.  What do you notice?  They’re smiling.  After working at school all week long they got to go to school all day on Saturday…they chose to!  They were like kids in a candy store.  What do you notice about the tweet text?  How about the part that that reads, “lots to share!”  It’s a great part, and very telling.

These amazing people aren’t finished yet.  No, they intend to come back to school on Monday with connected thoughts, ideas, tools and materials (weather permitting).  They intend to spread the learning word though enthusiastic collaboration.  Each one believes that the first step was to work hard at enhancing his/her own practice, and that the next step is to bring that enhanced practice back our school in the form of masterful instruction and collaborative professional development.  Awesome!  Tweet of the month…right?  Indeed!

I am so fortunate to be working in a field populated by such passionate people.  I am truly privileged to spend my days at a school whose staff gives so much, every day!  I feel extraordinarily lucky that a group of teachers who I work with would be so excited about weekend learning that they would tweet me an update on Saturday evening!  I can’t wait to be shared with when we get back to school!

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Making Thinking Visible #1: Getting Started By Digging In

I have a relatively rich history of working with the philosophies and routines outlined in “Making Thinking Visible” (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011).  I’ve used and adapted the ideas as a fifth, fourth, third, and third/fourth grade multiage teacher, and a middle school assistant principal.  I’ve seen first hand the benefits and consistent positive outcomes of bringing learning to life by way of the critical processing, the deep digging, and the comfortable, expository nature of this program.

I’m thrilled to be working in a district whose leadership has actively embraced the same.  Within Rochester Community Schools there exists a spectrum of readiness regarding the “Making Thinking Visible” philosophies, systems, and structures.  Some of our schools have been focused on learning and implementing the program for a few years now, and others like Meadow Brook, are at the beginning of their “Making Thinking Visible” journeys.  All are in it together, all are communicating about progress and sharing in development, and all are excited about the connected positive outcomes we’re experiencing in the areas of leadership, learning, and growth.

In an effort to prime my community for next steps in our development I will be writing a series of posts on the topic (along with other related initiatives).  Through these posts I intend to expose my own learning process to all Meadow Brook stakeholders.  I’m actively inviting students and parents into the learning journey that our staff is embarking on.  In many ways our community is defined by the partnerships we believe in and work so hard to nurture, this adventure is going to be a collective one.  It’s simply the way we roll!

Even in our building teachers have varied levels of exposure to, and experience with “Making Thinking Visible.”  Some have been using the routines for years, some are just now exploring, and some have not yet dug in.  However, no educator who is learning about the work of Ritchhart, Chrurch, and Morrison, even for the first time, feels disconnected.  The philosophies and routines are adaptations and innovations of tools and strategies that excellent teachers have been using in their classrooms throughout history.  The authors link these traditional strategies with their exiting innovations in an energized, user-friendly way that clearly shows the potential benefits of this type of classroom engagement toward meaningful and long-lasting progress.

Also, through our study and implementation I will be encouraging and working with teachers to adapt and innovate further.  One of the keys to our success as we move forward is that we don’t mistake this work as the only work that needs to be done, or as an isolated stencil for student success.  As we learn together I will continue to encourage all involved to reflect on how this work fits into their classroom paradigms, connects to their styles, and speaks to their student’s needs.     There is no one-way to address the needs of any diverse population of learners.  While we will be maintaining a focus on “Making Thinking Visible,” we will be keeping curiosity and associated exploration in mind.  For example, I will simultaneously be sharing my learning journey with regard to the work of Dr. Mary Howard via her insightful book, “Good to Great Teaching.”

So, welcome to my inaugural “Making Thinking Visible” post!  Stay tuned for regular updates with connected thoughts, ideas, collaborations, challenges and triumphs, and the archiving of some nitty-gritty whole-community development work aimed at enhanced teaching and learning.  As always, your input is welcome and appreciated.

Forward by David Perkins.  In the “Making Thinking Visible” forward, David Perkins tempts readers to think about thinking.  He prompts us to recall times in our lives when we’ve overheard “half a conversation” or wondered what thoughts led to the expression of certain ideas (p. xiii).  He submits that we’re each not always even in touch with our own thinking processes.  He validates that submission by informing us, “Research suggests that most people are not sharply aware of how they go about figuring out a problem or coming to a position on an issue” (p. xiv).  He relates that research to the work of Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison by asserting, “In broadcast terms, these ideas call for externalizing processes of thought so that learners can get a better handle on them” (p. xiv).

Perkins goes on to deal with the difference between “thinking about” and “thinking with” concepts and ideas.  He indicates that when people deeply dig into the process by which they make connections and come to conclusions, they are better able to apply those connections to other thinking and further development (p. xiv).  He suggests that our students are well served when we facilitate processes by which their thinking is exposed.  He implies that “Making Thinking Visible” can help enhance our practice to the end that our students will progress through grade levels with increased abilities to make meaningful sense of the complex world in which they live, and subsequently become increasingly and consistently productive and fulfilled.

This Month’s Challenge.  This weekend, per the advice and example of one of my incredible mentors, Amy Grande (Principal, University Hills Elementary School), I will be issuing a challenge to my staff to use and communicate about the use of two specific “Making Thinking Visible” routines in their classrooms.  Of course, I’m not looking to limit each teacher to two and I’m thrilled with the progress that I know various individuals are making in using many routines regularly.  However, I’m going to highlight two as a school-wide focus for “Making Thinking Visible” learning and growth.  I’m going to invite my staff to fill our classrooms and hallways with evidence of thinking and learning connected to the use our two focus routines, and I’m going to encourage ongoing conversations about our individual and collective development.

I’m curious.  I’m excited.  I’m ready to get moving in this direction.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.