Category: Principal Note to Self

My 2020 Fifth Grade Commencement Address in Speech and Song

This past week I offered a commencement address honoring the first group of students I met as kindergarteners when I became an elementary school principal.

Needless to say, this is very special moment in time for me. 

I remember the feeling of being “the new principal.”

I remember feeling like I had a lot to learn about the job, and that I had a lot to learn about the kids. 

Caring for children from the age of 4 or 5 through the age of 10 or 11 is a different thing than caring for children beginning when they’re more advanced along their educational journey. 

Along with the families and staff who are my partners, I feel like I’ve played a role in raising these kids, and the truth is, I’m extremely proud of them. 

To be clear, I’m proud of every student I’ve met along this journey. 

Still, for these kids, I’m the only principal that they’ve had.

So this year, as I considered a commencement address, I sat and looked at the cabinet in my office which is lined with the handprints these 10 and 11-year-olds gifted me when they were 4 and 5-year-olds. 

I thought of their hands then, what their hands have done since, and what their hands, hearts, and minds are capable of doing now. 

I truly believe in the power of possibility, and I truly believe that these uniquely challenging times will foster a type of resilience that will manifest in positive world change generated from the hands, hearts and minds of this group of kids. 

So, in this year’s address I spoke some words from my heart, and remembering that music can deliver a message in alternate ways, I decided to sing as well. 

I sang a song that I wrote for all of the children of this generation. All of those who are engaged in any transition, moving from grade level to grade level or to from school to school, and in particular, for the four children my wife and I spend our days with, watching them thrive in an environment that completely shifted under their feet. 

Kids are resilient, and they learn how to grapple by having things to grapple with.

This generation of kids, at every level, are going to be sophisticated, compassionate, productive, and positive grapplers. 

As I watch the world go by with slow change in the rearview mirror and all around me, I have every bit of confidence that this generation will be the one to see our hopes and dreams of widespread peace, love, unity, inclusion and belonging fulfilled.

This is my message as I bid our fifth grade graduates a safe, joyful, and balanced journey forward. 

This is my message to all children. 

This is my message to anyone who’s interested.

In it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

The Immeasurable Joys of Conscious Weight Gain Leadership



We went to my mother-in-law’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Technically speaking it’s my father-in-law’s house too, but he doesn’t cook like she does. In fact, I don’t know that he cooks at all. When my mother-in-law is at our house babysitting for more than a few hours at a time I suspect that ‘Papa’ has to skip meals.

I feel for the guy, but with the four little ones at home we do need help. He’s lost a lot of weight since we began having kids but he seems to be surviving. He’s very resilient. Anyway, as I was saying, we went to my mother-in-law’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.

I took a bit of nap before dinner because I knew that I’d need the energy for digestion later on. I could have waited to take the nap until after the meal but I nap on the floor, and given the “Tigger”- like nature of my children I’m never too far from a surprise pounce on the belly while floor-napping. Last night I was confident that my belly would be full in a not-for-pouncing sort of way. I was well thought out and prepared. I was driven and dedicated to getting the job done.

Any dinner at my mother-in-law’s house is not for the faint of heart, and this was Thanksgiving dinner. We’re talking about a woman who grew up in the kitchen with a mother who loved to cook. She watched and learned. She loved it. She still loves it.

Her food is no joke. I’m a grown man of forty-one years and this food often has me crying tears of joy in anticipation. I ‘ve been known to weep with eagerness days before I know she’s cooking. It’s the type of food that makes inevitable weight gain worthwhile. I go in knowing that the scale will tip. It’s a sacrifice I’m always willing to make.

Adding to the forthcoming lapse of dietary judgment I was planning to commit, I snuck a few chocolate truffles before dinner…maybe three or four (or so). They were siting on the counter calling my name (repeatedly). I was warming up. I thought I was alone but I wasn’t. My mother-in-law caught me red-handed. I didn’t know what to say so I just blurted out, “Not so good for my waistline but these truffles are great!”

With every bit of calm and encouragement, and as she continued stirring, pouring, and managing her orchestra of culinary wizardry, she assuredly replied, “We don’t worry about our waistlines while eating chocolate.”

Wow. Good point, and therein sets the leadership message: trust yourself, decide purposefully, and feel good about the path you tread.

For example, there are plenty of times during any given day when I feel way too busy to spend quality time with the incredible people I serve. Times when I feel stuck behind my desk responding to e-mails, writing reports, or organizing files.

However, there are times when I cast those things aside for the former. Times when I decide to go into a kindergarten classroom for some counting with beans or sharing of creatively written stories. Times when I decide to engage in the process of science exploration with a group of enthusiastic fifth graders. Times when a Teacher or a parent sits down in my office and we simply catch up on life for fifteen or twenty minutes.

These times are great. These times are important. The key is that the joyfulness remains intact. The key is that I’m not fidgeting with sweaty palms, anxious to get back to my e-mails, reports, and files. The key is that I engage in real-time, genuine conversations and learning collaborations without guilt or heightened stress.

What if you felt miserable every time you ate a piece of delicious chocolate? What if throwing caution to the wind with a rich and hearty meal every once in a while was a dismal experience? I say with balance and intentionality you can keep on course and also indulge every now and again. In fact, I say it’s important.

Conscious weight gain leadership is when you deliberately switch out a moment of one thing that seems imminent and critical for a moment of another and is actually more important. Parents might try this too.

I would suggest that you only do so with the confidence that the switched-out thing will eventually get done, and in a meaningful way. I would also suggest that you highlight the joyfulness of whatever it is you’ve switched out for. Don’t spend time on regret. It’s not helpful for anyone involved.

Be thoughtful, error on the side of joy, get done what you need to get done so that you can be intentional about switching stuff out every now and again, put people first.

Above all else, never eat a piece of chocolate or a rich and hearty meal with your waistline in mind…it’s simply not as good.

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big. Work Hard. Use Courage.

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.

Don’t Forget The One When…


I was lying in bed with my four-year-old while he was waking up the other morning. He was still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and I was reading a draft of a blog post that was a revision or two away from publication. I was reading it to him because it was about him.

The post (my most recent) highlighted a trip to the library. He listened intently as I read.

Afterward I asked what he thought. He said, “Good,” and then he said, “And don’t forget the one when we went swimming at the pool…and the one when I fell off the porch…and the one when…” He went on for a few minutes in that fashion.

Kids lead very important lives. They’re not running for congress or winning the Nobel prize (typically), but the stuff they are doing represents the fibers that make them whole.

As parents and educators we should be careful to recognize and appreciate how important and impactful each child’s daily experiences are.

We have to remember that every child is unique and that each child needs our attention and support as much as the next.

Being charged with responsibility for so many children has the potential to leave parents and educators focused on the ones who’s needs are the most obvious.

We must remember that even when children keep quiet about the amazing adventures they’re having and/or the intense challenges they’re facing, those adventures are no less amazing and those challenges are no less intense.

Two things:

1. Kids believe they’re capable of the things they value and they tend to value the things they’re capable of. Sometimes I find myself thinking that there are limits to human potential because history hasn’t proven our full capacity. Even worse, sometimes I forget that the impossible is actually possible as evidenced by ongoing human achievement.

People can fly, we can go to the moon and even Mars, we can explore the depths of the ocean and we can still discover things that would have otherwise been amalgams of our collective imaginations and what’s just outside of our collective imaginations. The possibilities are truly limitless, only stifled at times by self doubt and narrow vision. We can help our children a avoid both.

2. Every kid’s every moment is just as important as every other kid’s every moment.

If you find yourself slipping into a paradigm of diverting attention where attention is obviously needed, try to remember how obvious it is that all of the children you serve require your attention.

They each need to be cared about. They each need to be celebrated. They each need to be guided and provided with structure and security. They each need to be trusted and given opportunities to gain trust through genuine relationship building. They each need to know that you know how incredible they are. They each need to be regarded as the brilliant, capable, unique treasures that they each are.

Parents and educators are about to become intensely busy in a different way as the school year begins. Let’s all work hard to savor each precious moment and give every child in our care every opportunity to experience success…during every moment of every day!

Live. Learn. Lead.
Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Principal Note To Self: Don’t Stress Out About Stuff You Won’t Remember In A Week

I was talking about “pre start of the school year dreams” with a fellow educator the other day. If you’re not familiar, it’s what happens to us as we dive into thinking about and planning for the transition back to school from summer break. We dream about it. Actually, we don’t really have to think about or plan for it…it happens anyway.

The dreams aren’t necessarily bad, but for me they’re incredibly lucid. Mine seem amazingly real while I’m dreaming them.

The subject matter shifts. There’s no common theme other than school. It could be that I’m sitting in a meeting and for the life of me I can’t find a pen. It could be that I’m walking down the hall and out of the corner of my eye I see a zebra rounding the corner into a classroom. It could be that my desk has vanished and been replaced by a gigantic donut. It’s never anything devastating, but it’s usually something odd…and it’s typically something stressful.

I don’t consider stress a bad thing. In fact, I find it helpful in many ways, depending of the situation. If taken in stride and processed with purpose and patience stress can motivate me.

Occasionally however, I misplace my stress. That’s not to say that I lose it, but rather that I attached it to the wrong stuff. In my experience the potential for stress to serve as a motivator is significantly diminished when it’s attached to the wrong stuff.

Also, too much stress, unresolved stress, lingering stress along with misplaced stress, are all capable
of diminishing productivity.

Wrong or bad stress sticks. It becomes distracting. It tries to divert productive energy in favor of it’s own longevity. It feeds off of fixation. It detests reflective progress. Not good for a positive school culture.

For me, it’s the reasonably short busts of stress which inspire reflective thought and adaptive action that tend to make a difference in healthy learning and growth.

In thinking about balance and stress management I’m toying with a prototype “stress-ometer.” It’s pretty basic.

Here’s how it works:

The moment stress hits I ask my self a series of questions. Where I stop in the series determines how much energy I give to the stress.

First I ask. “Will I remember this situation tomorrow?” If I answer, “Yes” I follow up with, “Will it be meaningfully impactful when I do?” If I answer, “Yes” again I go back to the first question, but I replace, “tomorrow” with, “a week from now.”

As long as I answer “Yes” I keep going, increasing the duration of time as I go, stopping at a year. If I answer, “Yes” to a year, the situation is significant enough to incorporate some productive stress into next steps processing and action.

If I predict that the situation is going to be impactful in my life or the lives of those I serve it merits some good, healthy stress to push me forward in positive ways.

The key is to take the appropriate action after using the “stress-ometer.” Either I actually drop it and move forward or I reflect on it and engage in a positive, connected courses of action that has the potential to drive learning, growth, and progress.

Either way lingering aimlessly in negative, toxic, disconnected or misplaced stress has been eliminated as an option and voila…the remaining stress is transformed into usable stores of fuel for the journey ahead!

Easier said than done? Possibly. But, as an optimistic explorer might say…there’s only one way to find out!

Live. Learn. Lead.
Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Personal Reflection As The Basis For Professional Growth


Why do people say, “I’m my own worst critic?” I think what they mean is, “I’m my own best critic.”

The fact is we can be tough on ourselves. We can dig into ourselves in ways that others can’t. We can get into some nooks and crannies of our own growth needs and our own growth potential that others might not be able to find, recognize, or understand.

A really good critic has insights that would escape others unless highlighted. We each have those kinds of insights about ourselves.

We each know things about ourselves that no one else could possibly know unless we told them. Even if we did they might not understand.

It seems that sometimes we don’t know that we know what we know, but at the end of the day when we look in the mirror, there’s no doubt that we do know (at least I think we know).

If that made any sense to you, good…if not, stick with me, there is a point in here somewhere.

Is it reasonable to believe that each of us has a keener sense of ourselves than anyone else does? We do spend more time with ourselves than anyone else.

Also, even when we don’t do a very good job of listening to our cores, we’re the only ones capable of reading our own minds. After all, we’re the only ones with full access.

I often hear people talk about reflection as a primary player in effective learning and leadership. They say, “Effective learners (and/or leaders) reflect as a matter of their practice.” I agree.

Reflection is a critical component of any process and certainly a key feature of holistic processing. In order to move forward we have to look back and look deep.

That’s not to say input from others isn’t important to the growth process, but rather that input is well served to be run though an open minded but self trusting mill.

What systems and structures do we have in place in our schools for personal reflection? We’re all so busy. Would it be worthwhile to carve out some intentional time for reflective practice as a part of that busyness? What would that look like? What kind of space and time would be needed to make it consistent and meaningful?

Could regular reflection be built into PD? How about the evaluation model?

I know that we look for learning and growth to be measurable. What if the measure was about time spent in reflection rather than specific outcomes. Would connected goal-outcomes unfold?

Is there a way to put the pace and the look of reflective learning in the hands of each learner if we believe that the impact is inherently different but truly meaningful for each individual?

How would we report our individual outcomes? How would we translate our individual reflective growth into collective progress, and in particular, our enhanced capacity to drive student well being and achievement?

I think that when we each search ourselves in ways that are connected to the outcomes we’re aiming at, we come closer to the answers we need.

If you haven’t worked connected reflection into your learning and leadership paradigm yet, give it a shot. Get intentional about it, at least for a few weeks straight. If it doesn’t work for you, no harm done…and if it does – awesome!

Live. Learn. Lead.
Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Looking Away To Think About It


Why does looking away help us think about stuff? You may have had this experience. You’re in a conversation, it’s rolling along, all of the sudden one of you is stumped. A thought has flown right out of your mind. An idea escaped. Poof it’s gone. What happens next? The one who went blank looks away.

Typically he looks to the side and slightly up as if the thought or idea literally floated out of his ear and is drifting slowly toward the sky.

Do we expect to see it sailing away?Do we believe there’s a chance we’ll catch it like a dangling string off a drifting balloon? Not likely.

I think there’s a considerably more reasonable explanation for our slightly quirky processing behavior. Simply stated, I think it’s easier to think when we’re not doing something else. I think we look away to shift our focus into heightened gear.

What if we apply this instinctive human principle to other areas of life? It seems to make some sense.

My life as a parent and an educational leader is jam packed with stuff to do. Both rolls are “think on your feet” types. But what if I incorporated the “look away” method when possible?

In my experience challenges are generally addressed in stages, over extended periods, with significant growth-based adaptations involved. Problems rarely seem to be instantaneously solved.

Is it possible that looking away could enhance my ability to find viable solutions? Could removing myself for focused thinking and reflection be a reasonable alternative to digging in with urgency at first glance?

It seems to me effective learning & leadership requires a commitment to developing an ever-deepened understanding of human behavior. Maybe taking cues from our instincts is a decent way to incorporate best practices into positive progress.

So, the next time you’re struggling with a challenge whose solution is unclear, look away…a few moments removed from the situation might just bring you closer to where your looking to be.

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.