Tagged: Accountable Talk

Trust Me: Building Partnerships in the School Community

I’m continuously working hard to build my capacity as a leader and a learner.  I feel strongly that the two go hand in hand.  Over the past couple of years I’ve been on an incredible journey that began with my transition from the classroom into the assistant principal’s office; I wasn’t called down…I was hired.

In fact, the process of being hired for that job catalyzed a paradigm shift for me…one that had been on the cusp of happening.  I knew what direction I wanted to head in, I had a clear vision of the impact I was looking to make, and I was hopeful to find a school community who’s stakeholders would invite me to join them with that direction and vision in mind.  Six weeks of an interview process forced me to dig just about as deep as I ever have.  The authenticity with which the Rochester community listened, prompted, and processed my candidacy left me know choice but to bring myself back to the basics and begin to build from there.

I’ve since integrated that work into all areas of my life.  Consequently, I’ve been engaged in the breaking down of my philosophy and my practice as an educator, a husband, and a father.  I firmly believe that integration has enhanced my ability to affect positive progress as each, separately and simultaneously.  Also, after consistently framing my efforts at learning and growth through this integrated lens for the past couple of years I continue along the path almost as a matter of habit.

Breaking myself down through critical reflection and processing hasn’t always been easy, in fact it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant at times.  However, through the challenges and triumphs I’ve realized with great clarity that it’s also a highly effective practice for me.  Holding myself up to a mirror built upon my core values (static and developing) also holds me accountable to the same.

To that end I’ve adopted multiple tools and strategies for consistent reflective practice, not the least of which has been my focus on regular reflective writing and the sharing of that writing as a learning and leadership boggler.  I often feel like a kid in a candy store.  The learning has been intense and exciting.  With every passing day I discover new inputs that make my eyes widen and my mouth water for more.

As I moved from the assistant principal to the principal role this past summer, I was thrilled to be able to reflect on the partnerships that had been so easy to building in the wonderful district who’s stakeholders invited me in.  One of Rochester Community Schools’ defining characteristics is that from top to bottom, from front to back, and form inside to out, I have not met a single person who seems anything less that eager and excited about collaboration.  It’s an extremely community-centric community.

Our central office leadership has been involved in my learning and growth every step along the way.   Through modeling, expressions of support and encouragement, and a clearly demonstrated value for shared leadership, my supervisors are building the kind of culture that I am aiming for at the building level.  With their example and my reflective learning in mind I’ve narrowed my developmental goal to the building of partnerships that perpetuate joyful teaching and learning.  I plan to maintain that goal indefinitely and regularly seek pathways to growth and indicators of achievement to celebrate along the way.

One of those pathways has been a research focus on building partnerships with the concepts of trust, buy-in, and shared leadership at the heart.  Through a reflective self-study I’m seeking meaningful progress.  I recently reached out to the faculty I serve for critical feedback.  I worked hard to provide anonymity in an effort to maximize comfort and generate authentic feedback.  I presented my request in the form of an activity that I called “Frankly.”  Each faculty member was given a sheet of paper with the following prompt:


A Gift to Seth

I know that asking for a gift is typically considered taboo.  However, now that we’ve been together for over a month I would greatly appreciate it if you could thoughtfully write down some ideas and insights that you think might help me reach and exceed my potential as a building principal.  In short, I’m asking for some critical feedback…and I’d greatly appreciate it if you give it to me straight.  I’m hoping that the anonymity of this structure will provide a platform for each of you to express yourself candidly.  When you finish, please fold the paper in half from top to bottom, then once more from side to side, and them it in the bowl.  Thank you in advance!

I was specific about the folding because I wanted to do all I could to make sure that I wouldn’t be able to distinguish one from another.  I left the room.  Admittedly, I was a bit nervous, but I was excited too.  I intended the activity as an opportunity for me to see my own practice through multiple other lenses (those of people I’m working to build trusting partnerships with).  I knew that I would have to temper my pride.  My hope was that I would get some real critical feedback and that I would be mature enough to process it with humility, authenticity, and true eye on leadership and learning.

The feedback came.  Some of it stung and some of it reaffirmed my direction.  All of it was meaningful.  Initially, I planned to publish the feedback in list form.  However, I’ve since thought better of that plan with confidentiality in mind.  Alternatively, as I process the data I’ll communicate with my faculty to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable publication options.  I would like to share specifics in the hopes that others on intentional learning and leadership pathways might benefit.

In the meantime, without quoting any of the responses, the following are some broad strokes from the data that have already given me cause to adapt my practice, in some cases resulting in the integration of adapted systems and structures.

– I know that I’m trustworthy, but it’s impossible for those I serve to truly know the same without the development of genuine relationships.  That takes time, patience, authenticity, and transparency.

– Follow through is critical to progress.  Those I serve must know that I am going to do what I say.

– Messaging should be concise.  Educators are busy people who don’t have time to linger.

– It takes time for people to feel comfortable being honest and open.  I need to show my faculty that they’re safe in every interaction.

– People need to vent.  I must foster a culture where frustrations can be processed in professional ways.

– Solutions are key to progress.  Ongoing dialogue that has no end can halt progress.  Decisiveness is an important attribute of effective leadership.

– Feedback is only meaningful when it can be heard.  There is a balance between critical and compassionate.

– There is little more important in trusting collaboration than support.  My faculty must know that I support them in their practice and in their growth.

– Everything that educators do boils down to teaching and learning as the two relate to student wellbeing and achievement…that must come through at all times.

– Perception is reality.  My faculty must know that the ship is being steered with intention at all times.

Stay tuned for more reflective processing as I use this data in my efforts to build trusting partnerships with all stakeholders in my school community.  I would love to hear any connected thoughts or idea in the comments section below.  Your input is very much welcome and appreciated!

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Go Live: Focus on Meaning and Positive Progress

I’ve been thinking and reflecting on digital communication a lot lately, in part because of the high volume of e-mails that I send and receive each day, and in part because of the importance I place on modeling and teaching effective digital citizenship skills and strategies to those I serve.  Most of the e-mails I get are intended to deliver information without emotion, and for my money that’s what e-mail communication should be used for.  However, occasionally people use e-mail to communicate information about emotions, either overtly or surreptitiously.

When an e-mail containing any sort of emotional undertones or overtones comes across my screen I immediately go live.  I do so, because I’ve seen too many emotional emails and e-mail chains grounded in heightened emotions perpetuate frustrated distractions and deteriorate relationships.  My standard response to an emotionally driven email is a request for a phone call (voice to voice) or a face-to-face conversation.  Again, I go live.  When done with compassion, that request has the potential to shift what might have otherwise turned into a negative situation to a constructive interaction.  It provides an opportunity to establish and enhance partnerships aimed at genuine positive progress.

No matter how intelligent, intuitive, of insightful a person is I don’t believe that anyone can truly read emotions effectively over a computer screen.  Any emotional output delivered digitally is ripe for misinterpretation.  Even emails that are not emotionally driven can often times be misinterpreted as such.  In education, because we communicate with diverse groups of stakeholders about inherently emotional content (the health, wellbeing, and achievement of our children) it couldn’t be more important that we take extreme care in developing and exercising highly effective digital communication skills.  And as we enhance our skills we must also take extreme care in helping our students, colleagues, and parent partners do the same.

For many valid reasons, it’s not always easy to be direct in telling people what we’re thinking or how we feel.  Some people respond in harsh and negative ways to straight talk, some people try to avoid hurt feelings by skirting around issues rather than facing them head on, and some situations don’t lend themselves easily to open communication.  For those and various other reasons, I would imagine that most of us receive and/or deliver suggestive or “passive-aggressive” messaging occasionally (or even regularly) in our personal and professional lives.

I prefer the term “suggestive” to the term “passive-aggressive” because I think that even through the frustrations inherent in a suggestive message it’s important to remember that there is meaning.  Again, I’ve found both at home and at work, both digitally and voice to voice or face to face, that by working through the frustrations suggestive messaging often propagates and focusing on the suggestion(s) instead, I can mold potentially negative communications into opportunities for learning and growth.  Also, the same is effective when I find myself pulled into a frustrated and frankly immature state of mind (and heart) in which I’m compelled to deliver suggestive messaging.  Focusing on the message I’m intending to deliver helps me preemptively turn to more productive methods.  It always seems to be more effective and I always feel much better about it.

In case you’re not clear on what I mean by  ‘suggestive’ I’ll elaborate.  In my experience, much of the suggestive messaging I receive comes through e-mail.  It seems to be a comfortable format for many people to be expressive in ways they otherwise might not.  For example, when I receive an e-mail laden with capital letters or riddled with extreme punctuation (like a dozen exclamation or question marks to end a sentence) I feel confident that the sender is frustrated or upset but unable to articulate that directly.  I could be wrong, but with communication we have to always remember that perception is reality.  By the way, of the hundred plus emails I receive each day, only a few of them fit this description.  Even so, I find them impactful enough to reflect on in this way.  Instead of being frustrated, which admittedly is my first instinct, I work hard to realize that there’s an opportunity in front of me.

Thoughtfully processing suggestive messaging with an open heart and an open mind, wishing the sender well, and seeking to understand the inherent suggestion helps me move forward in positive ways, and in my opinion, it serves as the likeliest way to satisfy the frustration of the sender while enhance my relationship with him/her (rather than deteriorating it by responding in kind).  It doesn’t work every time, and even when it does I don’t always know, but no matter the outcome for the sender, this strategy consistently helps me stay focused and positive, and in my opinion it enhances my ability to learn and to lead.

When you think about it life is actually relatively short.  While I don’t always get it right, I subscribe to the idea that we should each work to fill our own and each other’s with peace, joy, and opportunities positive progress.   So focus on people’s messaging through their words and through whatever energy they project, and the next time you feel pangs of frustration as a result of some suggestive messaging coming at you through a computer screen, go live…you just might like it:).

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Does That Mean, “Yes?” – The Bright Side Of Death, Disappointment, and Criticism

Words are funny.  Sometimes they mean what we intend for them to mean and sometimes they mean something entirely different from what we intend for them to mean.  Occasionally, the form of delivery determines a word’s meaning; occasionally, the bank of knowledge and experiences on either the giver or the receiver’s part is the determining factor for meaning; and occasionally, word meaning is determined by the receiver’s point of view or state of mind.  Regardless of intention, any way you slice it, perception is reality.

People are funny.  Sometimes we communicate in ways that illustrate our intentions and sometimes we miss the mark.  When you’re in the business of parenting and/or organizational leadership, communication is a pretty important concept to think about.

Yesterday my son called out from the kitchen into the living room to see if he could have a pouch of applesauce (if you have little kids you know that applesauce now comes in pouches – space age technology).  I was standing right next to him, yet he still felt it necessary to get permission from his mother…smart kid.  He hollered, “Momma, can I have an applesauce?”

Momma called out, “Sure!”

The kid looked up at my before reaching for the pouch, and with a furrowed brow he inquired, “Does that mean ‘yes?’”

“Sure does Bud.  I mean…‘yes’:),” I replied.

The word ‘criticism’ is a tricky one too.  When I ask people to be critical of me they seem to feel as though I’m asking for punishment.  I’ve been told that being critical is often perceived as being negative.  A supervisor once accused me of enjoying criticism.  I do.  He used to chuckle and force himself to be highly critical of me per my request.  He thought it was funny that I celebrated the criticism.  The funny part is that I saw it as a gift…a rare gift that not everyone is comfortable giving.

How many people in your life truly offer you criticism in genuine and productive ways?  All too often, we worry about hurting each other’s feelings by being critical of one another, but the fact is, we seem to have all but insurmountable biases when it comes to being critical of ourselves.  I believe that we’re each well served when those around us are able to occasionally be authentic and vocal about their perceptions of how we’re doing with regard to our capacities to live, lead, and learn.  I believe that helps us maximize our growth potential and positive impact.  I’m happy to hear critical input about myself to that end.  Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t, but I’m always glad to consider and reflect on it.

‘Death’ is another word that seems to be widely thought of as negative.  Even though most of us talk about the act as more of a transition than an end, and even though many of us believe that we’re eternally connected with our loved ones, it’s understandably difficult to be joyful through the challenges that surround our mortality.

I attended a beautiful funeral mass this morning.  The pastor pointed out that at birth we come into the world crying while those around us are joyfully celebrating.  He went on to suggest that people who live in a valued and fulfilling way (like the loved one who’s life we were celebrating this morning), are able to pass through death joyfully celebrating while those who remain are the ones crying.  He suggested that people who do it right end this journey in just the opposite way that they begin.  I was moved by his words and comforted by his affirmative interpretation of the connection between life and death.

How about ‘disappointment?’  Right now my wife and I are working hard to help our five-year-old develop skills and strategies to cope with it.  We’re viewing every disappointment that he experiences as an opportunity to practice/build those skills in the hopes that we can facilitate a process by which he will eventually become a satisfied, grateful adult, complete with a realistic self-awareness and a positive outlook on life.

He’s only five now, but it feels like he was born yesterday, so I’m thinking that eighteen is just around the corner.  When he doesn’t get to be first in line, or have a treat, or stare at a screen every time he want’s to, I tell him that it’s an opportunity to practice being happy, nice, and friendly – even through the feeling of disappointment.  He may not appreciate that now, and I’m quite certain that he won’t appreciate it as a teenager, but maybe he’ll have a healthy respect for his ability to cope with disappointment later in life.  Who knows?

From an organizational leadership perspective, it’s important to remember that everything we say means something to someone.  I might talk about my concerns regarding the negative triangulation of misinformation, and in doing so inadvertently diminish someone’s comfort with healthy venting.  The irony is that I find healthy venting to be a natural and necessary act when done discretely.  I might respond to an e-mail while I’m tired or frustrated and deteriorate trust in an effort to build it.  Educators have to be extremely intentional with our communication.  Everyone does, for that matter.

Part of that intentionality is recognizing that words are funny.  Delivering coherent messages is not always easy.  My advice (specifically to myself, but if you’d like you can have some too) is to be thoughtful, patient, and reflective.  The cliché’ is “think before you speak.”  I say thinking before you use words in any way is a decent and productive plan.  Then, as always, forgive yourself when things don’t turn out how you intended them to.  That genuine forgiveness is wonderful tool if you’re authentically interested in developing your word-smithing skills toward positive progress and personal growth.

So say what you mean and mean what you say, but remember that communication is a process and not an event.  Find the positive, adapt to the cues that are all around you, and never consider your learning complete!

Live.  Learn.  Lead


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Speaking Thoughtfully: A Wise Old Turtle’s Lessons In Leadership and Learning

Do you ever find yourself collapsed on the couch after bathing, reading to, singing with, and then getting three rambunctious kids to sleep?  If you do, have you ever found yourself in that position while “Kung Fu Panda” is playing on the television that you’re staring at?  Hey…me too!  In fact, that was the case with me last night.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Have you seen this gem of a movie?  If you haven’t, I recommend that you do.  It’s a good one.

While I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite character, I have to admit that Master Oogway is one chill turtle.  In the clip below he offers Master Shifu some sage advice that really hits home with me, and he does so in just about the calmest and most confident way imaginable.  He doesn’t offer explanations, he just makes statements, and he leaves the processing to his student.  It’s almost as if he believes that no matter what he says, Master Shifu will have to process it in his own way, and in his own time; a fascinating idea for an educational leader, a parent, and a reflective learner to consider.

If you can work past the idea that I’m referring to suggestions made by an anthropomorphic amphibian, you might see that both Master Oogway’s words and the way in which they’re delivered have much to offer us all in the way of leadership and learning lessons.  His calm, intentional, and suggestive tone is just enough to implant the seeds of growth in Master Shifu’s mind.  Even though Master Shifu doesn’t seem terribly receptive at the moment, Mater Oogway says stuff like: Nothing Is Impossible, One Often Meets His Destiny On The Path He Takes To Avoid It, When Your Mind Is Agitated It Is Difficult To See, But When You Allow It To Settle…The Answer Becomes Clear.

His objective doesn’t seem to be complete or instant understanding for immediate application, but to make a contribution to the body of knowledge and experience that will guide his student’s growth along whatever path it develops.

To that end, I won’t take this reflection any further, but instead I’ll suggest that you would be well served by taking a few minutes to listen to and carefully watch the master at work.  I’d love to hear your take on it.  Enjoy.

Live. Learn. Lead.

Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

A Principal’s Note to Self: Please Stow Your Baggage in the Overhead Compartment

Among the many conversations I had yesterday was one with a kindergartener who had been engaged in some play-gone-wrong at recess.  A group of boys were playing, it became energized, and it ended in some pushing, hitting, and crying.  I see this every day in my very own home (the brothers Berg are especially energized!).  There was no malice, no one was hurt, and it was truly an opportunity for learning, growth, and relationship building.

Anyway, this student was upset enough that he decided to ignore multiple requests from his teacher to join the class as they moved back into the building.  Because of the safety implications therein, I decided to enlist his parents as partners in facing the challenge.  As always, parent partners are invaluable collaborators when it comes to the learning and growth of their children.

After he and I processed a bit on our own, I asked, “Who should I call, mom or dad?”  This clever child thought for a moment, then looked up with all sincerity and replied, “Are those my only two choices?”  I had to smile.  It was a productive interaction that ended in some wonderful progress.

Over the course of the past month I’ve heard countless deli counter references.  “There should be a number-counter outside of your office,” or “Next!”      Now, those references are both humorous and apropos, but they’re also great fodder for serious consideration of important leadership and communication approaches.  If you’re in education, no matter what role you play (student, teacher, parent, admin, etc.) you’re in the business of people, and if you ask me, people in the business of people should focus on…you guessed it…people!

Unlike deli counter practice, educators can’t exactly ask those we serve to “take a number,” nor do we want to.  Whether we’ve come to terms with it or not, I believe that most of us thrive on (and even enjoy) the high-octane, fast paced world in which we work.  We’re energized by the hustle and bustle of school life…it’s exciting!

This is where the overhead compartment comes in.  Each interaction is different.  The daily communication needs of our partners in the classroom, the building, and the community exist along multiple spectrums including: informal to formal, casual to critical, guarded to collaborative, deteriorative to generative, diminutive to empowering, and so on…in all directions.

I leave some conversations feeling as though I’m on top of the world.  I leave others feeling as thought I’ve been knocked down a few rungs.  Some interactions are indicative of positive progress while others produce outcomes that suggest a need for focused repair efforts.  How do we, as parents, students, educators, community leaders, and partners in teaching and learning, move from person to person or group to group without dragging the remnants of each interaction with us?

The fact is, we don’t truly know what energy is needed for productivity in any given situation until we’re engaged in it.  Furthermore, I’m finding that in order to be fully engaged in each, I have to enter each with an open heart, an open mind, and a degree of clarity that would preempt lingering energy, regardless of the nature of that energy.

I have to stow my baggage in an overhead compartment during my travels each day so that I’m holistically available to each person I interact with along my daily journey.  As I frequently note regarding most leadership and learning challenges that are addressed throughout the pages of this blog, the fact that I’m human prevents me from hitting that mark every time, but it’s a focused aim, and in so being, I’m getting better at it each day.

Alongside the wonderful, “Are those my only two choices” interaction from yesterday, were a couple of fundamentally crucial conversations that led to some shifting for myself and for some of my partners at school.  Nothing terribly intense, but change is a process that requires great patience and is often met with some initial discomfort.  I will need to process those interactions further.  I will have to reflect on them in concentrated to maximize my learning and growth.

As you might guess, I will use my reflective writing practice as a part of that processing.  But, and equally importantly, I needed to not process those interactions right away.  I needed to move on the next.  I would not have been well served to toss the “baggage” from those interactions, but I would also have been remiss to carry it around with me for the rest of the day.  I needed to stow it…and with a focus on effective leadership and communication, stow it I did.  It felt good.  I felt productive.

As always, some of my best learning seems to come from the genuine expression of kids.  I’ve heard it suggested that when we face difficult challenges, we are facing a choice between immediate processing or opportunity loss.  I would suggest that we look at our daily challenges a bit differently.  Reflective processing is critical, but we simply don’t always have time in our busy days to attend to it immediately following any given integration.

The next time you face a challenge that leaves you stuck in processing mode when you really have to move forward, if you’re thinking that you have to stop in your tracks or sacrifice the learning, consider asking yourself, “Are those my only two choices?”  Then consider stowing the baggage in the overhead compartment and retrieving it at the end of the day, or at another time when you can truly give it the attention it deserves without allowing it to become a distractor to the great work you need to engage in with the many other people you serve each day.

Live.  Learn.  Lead.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Choosing To Be Accessible And Not Resenting It Helps Those You Serve Know You Serve Them

I feel reasonably assured that being accessible is a key ingredient to effective parenting, meaningful teaching and learning, and comprehensive leadership, and I have really good intentions…it’s being human that gets in my way occasionally!

Now, I do a decent job.  Not to mention that when I apologize to people I serve for being short or overtly showing frustration in my communications with them they often tell me that they didn’t notice (either they’re being nice or we truly are harder on ourselves that others are on us).  Regardless, I feel like I’ve been issuing more of those types of apologies in the past week than I have in a long time.  It’s extremely easy to sacrifice accessibility during extremely busy moments.  When you work in a school community, all moments are extremely busy!

There is ebb and flow in education.  One of the great things about professional teaching and learning (as an educator or a student) is that between the really intense times there are times custom made for reflection, relaxation, and recharging.  But right now, at the start of a new school year, and during the weeks preceding that start, it seems to be mostly ebb and very little flow.

Ironically, during a time when building administrators are maxed out with independent organizational work like hiring, scheduling, and preparing our schools for the joyful inflow of teachers, students, and parents, our time is in highest demand from those we serve.  Each member of our respective community is in the throws of his/her own preparations, and each one truly needs our attention.  At the very least, they each need us to listen carefully, care genuinely, and respond compassionately!

It’s not always easy to do the right things, even when I know that they’re right.  Every so often, my Assistant Superintendent calls just to say “hi” and ask if there’s anything she can to help.  There’s no way I’m as busy as she is, but somehow, the calls keep coming.  Debi is one of the most joyful people I know, her energy is positive and progressive, and she stresses partnerships in everything she does.  Yesterday, during one such call, she reminded me that perfection is not the aim.  She stressed that we are in it together, and that as we move through our individual and collective journeys this year, we’re here for one another.  A wonderful message to hear from your boss, but beyond that, the message was delivered in a calm and sincere way.

I’m guessing that at moment she dialed my number, Debi had a line of people standing outside her door, a multitude of “to do” sticky notes arranged around her computer monitor, and several dozen “call back” message slips on her desk.  Still, she was calm, considerate, and reassuring.  I am one of many stakeholders who look to our central office administrative team for leadership and guidance.  I’m confident that Debi and her team contact each one periodically, and I’m equally confident that they reach out to each one with the same energy that Debi reached out to me with yesterday…energy laden with service intent and partnership overtones.

Again, I do a decent job of being accessible, and I focus on growth at every turn.  As my incredible community of partners in education is on the cusp of coming together, I pledge to push myself every-harder in the direction of compassionate accessibility.  And when I find myself stepping away from some “very important” task, or taking the time to listen with a clear mind and an open heart, or to share moments of teaching and learning without distraction, I will do so with joy and enthusiasm.

I will focus on doing so ever-better in each moment.  I’ll think of communications like yesterday’s phone call, and I’ll work hard to remember that worrying about where else I need to be or what else I need to be doing, while I’m supposedly engaged in conversation, diminishes that engagement and negates the wonderful growth benefits of genuine accessibility.  Also, I’ll remember that perfection is not the aim, and I’ll continue to forgive myself during “human” moments, with the caveat that forgiveness only works when it’s coupled with positive progress!

Live.  Learn.  Lead.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

I Thought She Said, “Baby Shoes.” Reviving Communication Breakdowns

Yesterday afternoon I spoke with a good friend for the first time in a long while.  We had been extremely close for several years, but then I moved to another city, got married, and started having babies every twenty or so months (technically my wife has been having the babies, but it’s kept me relatively busy nonetheless).  Anyway, my friend and I hadn’t talked for a really long time and it was great to catch up.  It reminded me of how important it is to touch base every once in a while…regardless of how busy life gets.  This friend is practically a sibling, and with modern technology, it’s super simple to reach out…a great lesson for me to remember – take the time to connect with people that you care about!

Regardless, our conversation was going fine.  We were doing the whole, “What’s new?” thing.  “Are you still ‘yada, yada,?’” and “Have you seen ‘so and so’ lately?”  Turns out she’s become involved in a really cool non-profit project that offers free tax services to families in need and runs personal finance training programs for kids in inner city schools.  It sounded really exciting.  I was glad to hear that things were moving along smoothly.  Kids are great…husband’s happy…all is well!

Then it happened.  She told me that she had been taking some fashion classes at night, and that she is in the process of designing her own line of bathing suits…only I thought that she said, “baby shoes.”  As you know, there’s a big difference between bathing suits and baby shoes.  I’ve had all kinds of babies at my house, and I never noticed them wearing shoes.  Socks that looked like shoes maybe, but not shoes.  It could be that my babies aren’t fashion conscious.  Besides, who am I to question someone else’s ambitions?  Even if my babies didn’t/don’t wear shoes, I’m sure baby shoes exist.  Maybe there’s a big group of baby shoe consumers looking for fresh new designs.  Who knows?  So, I made a, “there’s a real gap in the infant tap dancing shoe market” joke, and went on about the tiny little cows that baby shoe makers get their leather from.  We had a few laughs, I told her that it all sounds very exciting, and we went on with our catching up.

As the conversation came to a close I wished her well and expressed my utmost confidence that her baby shoes were going to be the absolute best on the market.  She paused for a moment, and then she cracked up.  Through the cracking up she called me a few off colored but endearing names, and then she clarified, “BATHING SUITS…I’m making bathing suits, not baby shoes!”  Oops.  Didn’t I feel silly?  Yes I did.  We laughed some more then wrapped things up.  Good times.

The point is this, when you’re a person dealing with people…you’re dealing with the potential for all kinds of communication challenges.  As fate would have it, I happen to be a person, and I deal with people all of the time.  Yesterday I had a relatively comprehensive conversation with someone about the design and manufacturing of baby shoes, only the person I was talking to had no idea why.  Two people fully engaged in a conversation with one another but also on two very different pages.  Goofy when you’re talking to your friend, but maybe more significant and impactful when you’re talking to stakeholders in your school community.

From an educational leadership perspective communication is absolutely critical to positive progress.  The baby shoe mix-up wasn’t such a big deal.  It led to a few good laughs between two old friends.  As I mentioned above, it’s extremely easy to miscommunicate when you’re a human being, communicating with another human being; in large part because as you might recall, and with all due respect…human beings are fallible.  Sometimes we literally don’t hear so well (especially when we’re hearing though technology), sometimes we’re distracted, and sometimes we fall into an influential paradigm that might be well served by a bit of open-minded shifting.

That said, below are a few simple strategies that have served me well in the past.  Through practice and the commitment to ongoing reflective, analytical, and adaptive efforts, I’ll be working to recall and perpetuate them in the present and the future.  As an educational leader I can never spend too much time working to enhance my communication skills!

Assume good intentions (thank you Dr. Covey):

This is an oldie but a goodie, and I think that it truly holds up in every school communication situation.  If good intentions do exist, assuming them enhances the communication by reducing the chance of alternate and possibly negative perceptions.  If good intentions don’t exist, assuming them still keeps the communication positive.  Assuming good intentions doesn’t mean being naïve or been taking advantage of, it simply means searching for pathways to positive progress in every communication.  It means looking on the bright side.  It means being compassionate.  It means believing that regardless of energy or attitude in any given moment, that everyone in a school community has the wellbeing of children in mind.

Remember that everyone is someone, and that everyone is also someone to someone else (it makes sense to me):

Whether you’re talking to a student, a parent, a colleague, or anyone else, try to remember that people authentically cares about their own thoughts, ideas, and wellbeing, and that he/she is also cared about by someone else.  We should be working hard to make sure that every interaction we have suggests respect and value.  In other words, when you’re engaged in even the most challenging communication situations possible, consider how you would talk to your mother, your children, or your spouse about it.  Again, the person you’re talking to is someone to some else.

Never communicate emotions digitally:

Talk about the potential for miscommunication!  When things get heated…offer a phone number or an appointment book.  Use e-mail and other digital communication formats for the distribution of information.  Use voices and presence for the rest.  Trust me.

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” (Thanks again Dr. Covey!):

When I thread my communication through the focus of my students’ safety, comfort, joy, and achievement, it usually goes well…even through challenges.  As parents and educational leaders, we should never forget why we’re here, and each of us must always keep our eye on the ball!


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

The Enthusiastic Sharing & Celebration of Discovery in 3 Simple Steps

For those in parenting and education there are few things more exciting than discovery.  We love to be around when light bulbs go off over our children’s heads.  In fact, we love to be around when light bulbs go off over anyone’s heads.  We get excited about learning and growth, and excitement over learning and growth tends to perpetuate more learning and growth.  People of all ages like to know that their individual journeys have value.  The initial personal excitement over discovery is wonderful, but to my point, it’s amplified by opportunities to share, especially when that sharing turns out support and encouragement.

One reason people excitedly say things like, “Hey, check this out,” or, “you’ll never believe what I just saw,” or even, “did you know that…” is because sharing our discoveries is fun!  Also, it helps us retain the connected learning in meaningful, accessible, and functional ways.  Individual and collective enthusiasm for discovery is something that I would confidently refer to as “good stuff” (an endorsement, if you will).

So what?  So, as parents and educators we have the ability to create and perpetuate cultures in our homes and school communities that foster the enthusiastic sharing and celebration of discovery.  We can design and implement systems and structures that promote it, encourage it, and that effectively expose its ease and *fun-ness.  And good news, we can do it in three simple steps.

1.  Model the enthusiastic sharing and celebration of discovery.

I’m a strong advocate of authentic, unabashed, and even excessive modeling as a wonderful first (and ongoing) step in any focused initiative aimed at culture-development.  My boys and I have been deeply digging “Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly” as a staple of our bedtime literature lately (an awesome book about the realization of self worth by Alan Madison (author) & Kevin Hawks (illustrator) – click the link above for more).  There’s a brief illustrated caterpillar glossary at the front and a brief illustrated butterfly glossary at the end.  We can no longer leave the house as anything but butterfly hunters.  All I had to do was make the connection one time.   Frankly, these imagination-hounds probably would have done it without any help at all (but I would still push modeling as good practice…a fall back to the powerful creative drive and pure imagination of children).

We have a butterfly bush in front of our house (it’s more of a plant, but extremely convenient for butterfly hunters).  One day I saw what looked to me like a Tiger Swallowtail (as identified by the Velma Gratch glossary).  I beckoned and hushed the boys with the focus and severity of Jane Goodall patiently prowling through Gombe Stream National Park in search of chimpanzees.  I whispered, “Shhhh,” and pointed with wide, discovery-struck eyes (and my pointer finger).  I whispered again, “I think it’s a Tiger Swallowtail.”  My three-year-old screeched, “Momma!  It’s a Tiger Swallowtail!”

The would-be Tiger Swallowtail leaped from her perch on the bush (plant) and flew away.  What can I say…the kid is a formidable screecher.  Regardless, no outdoor moment goes by in our little family without an excitement for discovery.  And it’s not just butterflies.  We love finding, observing, naming and occasionally attempting to handle worms, ants, roly-polies, bumblebees, and all other forms and fashions of thrilling little-kid wildlife.  I model it, my wife models it, the kids love it, we all celebrate it, they function in a paradigm where books can stimulate learning and discovery, and we’ve seen that awareness transfer across a spectrum of subjects.  As suggested above, I think it’s good stuff.

2.  Discuss the enthusiastic sharing and celebration of discovery.

When we overtly recognize and articulate the things that we’re doing, and the reasons behind those things, we stand to generate a mutual and widespread understanding of those things; risky, but arguably worthwhile for parents and educators.  Besides, making our intentions and our actions clear through discussion invites feedback, and when we’re really lucky, it invites critical input for adaptation and development.  What happens when you approach a student, a teacher, or a parent, and sincerely ask, “Have you discovered anything exciting lately?”

Sometimes, they have, and you’ve given them license to share it by asking.  Sometimes, nothing comes to mind, and you’ve given them cause to think about it.  Only very rarely to they respond with, “How dare you ask me that!”  In fact, in all my years I’ve never heard of that happening…and I’m old.  Try it and find out.  You might find that it drives meaningful conversations.  Furthermore, you might find that the more interest you overtly express in enthusiastic discovery, the more rooted it will become in the culture of your home or school community.   I have.

3.  Embed the enthusiastic sharing and celebration of discovery into systems and structures.

On the subject of roots, if your interested in fostering a culture of enthusiastic sharing and celebration of discovery, create systems and structures that encourage it.  What about “Discovery Friday,” where everyone actively seeks new learning to communicate with one another about every Friday?  How about holding a brief town hall assembly, or making brief rounds to every classroom, soliciting news regarding each week’s discoveries?  Why not consider a “Discovery Gallery” at the front of the building or on the refrigerator at home?  Kids could articulate their discoveries through photography, writing in multiple genres, drawing, or various other forms and display them for the world to see!  And if the world can’t see them from your breezeway or your kitchen, why not put a rotating “Discovery Slideshow” on your website, blog, Facebook page, etc.?  Or, you could shoot out a “Discovery Tweet Of The Day” if you’d like?

You’re a parent, you’re an educator, and I’m supremely confident that you can think of some fun and creative ways to structure and systematize the enthusiastic sharing and celebration of discovery in your home and school community.  My suggestion here is that the sooner you get on it, the soon it will impact positive progress for you and for those you serve.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

*Fun-ness might not be a legitimate word, but I liked writing it…it was fun.

Conversations Are Wonderful Processing Mechanisms

I had a great conversation with the woman who works the desk at my community gym this morning.  It took longer than I would’ve liked, so I tried to rush it at first (and I definitely presented in that way – a lesson in manners that I plan to learn from), but as the conversation went on it proved to be incredibly worthwhile…maybe even a gift.  She pushed me to think about and process my leadership practice as it relates to student achievement and wellbeing.  Eventually, I did have to excuse myself in favor of a short swim so that I could get to work, but I was able to integrate that conversation into my reflective learning routine.  It helped me grow.  I need to remember that any and every experience is just that…an experience.  None should be overlooked or trivialized.  I can be learning in every moment.  Conversations are especially viable learning opportunities because they hold me accountable in a unique way.  They hold me accountable to the person or people I’m conversing with.

This particular woman knows that I’m in education.  She’s struggling to prepare her fourth grade son for the coming school year.  Neither of them is thrilled with his placement.  They feel strongly that the teacher he’s with is going to affect him in negative ways.  She told me that the teacher is extremely negative and that she’s outwardly suggested that the child is a “troublemaker.”  This mother feels as though her child is typecast in this classroom.  She doesn’t think he’ll have opportunities to feel successful.  She insists that this teacher is not capable of respecting or believing in him.  She was very emotional about it, and reasonably so.  Imagine feeling completely helpless about an entire school year for your child.  Whether or not she has an accurate picture, perception often feels very much like reality.  So much so that some folks say it is reality.

Intensifying the other horrible feelings was that feeling of helplessness.  She told me that she wanted to transfer her son to another school, and that it’s been extremely difficult because the “school of choice deadline” for the neighboring district had past.  She asked me to advisor her on how to get around that challenge.  I couldn’t.  She thought that I would know of a loophole.  I don’t.  She asked me what I would do if it were my child.

I told her that it might be a good idea to look at these challenges as opportunities for learning and growth, then, if she feels the same way next year, to meet the deadline.  I waited for a moment to make sure I was headed in the right direction.  That kind of advice can be received in a variety of ways.  She smiled thoughtfully and asked me to go on.  She needed some tools.  She needed some encouragement.  She needed some hope.  I told her that in my district we work hard to provide a joyful learning experience for every student, and that we do so in an effort to maximize their potential.  I insisted that we try to help them explore & discover pathways to achievement, and that I’m certain many educators in her district think along those lines as well, possibly even the teacher in question.   Appropriately, she told me that if she were a parent in my district she’d ask how we do that.  I thought it seemed like a reasonable question.  Possibly even a really good one!

There I stood, the principal of an elementary school, engaged in a conversation with a parent, albeit from another district, but still being asked to explain how my team and I maintain a joyful culture of learning for the students we serve.  It was kind of exciting, not only because I enjoy this dialogue, but also because as I mentioned above, it was opportunity for me to reflect on something I’m extremely passionate about.  And, it an opportunity for me to get analytical feedback from the real-life parent of a fourth grader…someone well equipped to provide really good feedback on the subject.

We talked about communication and the lack thereof.  We talked about assuming positive intentions and being patient with progress. We talked about celebrating that progress and highlighting triumphs.  We talked about looking for opportunities to communicate concerns in compassionate ways and being willing to meet in the middle at times.  We talked about a positive presence and working to foster independence through the release of responsibility.  We talked about advocating for connected services and building trusting relationships with an open mind.  We talked about boiling every decision, every action, and ever interaction down to questions like, “How is this going to help my child grow?” and, “How will this perpetuate a joyful learning experience for my child?”  We talked about that fact that life ain’t easy, and that when children have opportunities for guided practice in facing life’s challenges, they’re often better equipped to face similar ones with fortitude later on (This will not be the last person who challenges her in these ways).  We talked about the situation as an opportunity that might turn out some authentic and meaningful growth for everyone involved.  We did not solve the world’s problems, but what a start!

She thanked me, I thanked her, I thought about it as I swam, and now I’m processing it through reflective writing.  Conversations are wonderful processing mechanisms, and if you let them, they can lead to positive progress in unique and import ways.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

Reader’s Workshop: Accountable Talk #1

The following clip comes from Quarton Elementary School and the wonderful Jen Wind.  Jen teaches second grade.  She is a master of Reader’s Workshop and is working with her students using ‘Accountable Talk.’  Jen models strategy and facilitates discussions that promote critical thinking.  This clip is part one of a series that will give you a peek into some of the structures that Jen uses in her workshop, how she communicates with her students, and how they respond to her incredible instruction.  Some of the key features that excite me about Jen’s implementation of Reader’s Workshop are:

–       The students’ level of engagement.

  • It’s clear that Jen has spent time setting up structures, articulating and modeling her expectations, and giving her students feedback and opportunities for practice.

–       The authenticity with which Jen delivers her instruction.

  • You can see that she is passionate about reading and it translates to enthusiasm on the part of her students.

–       Her attention to detail.

  • Think about the purposeful nature of Jen’s words and actions while you watch the clip.  Notice the pencil behind her ear, the sticky notes in her book, and the way she participates in practice with her students.  This lesson is front-loaded with thoughtfulness and preparation.

Check out the Teacher Feature, comment below if you’re so moved, and stay tuned for more in this Accountable Talk series from Jen Wind.

Teacher Feature Clip: http://tinyurl.com/atm4n4h


Have a great week!

Let me know how I can help,