Tagged: New Admin

Two-Phrase Principal Leadership


I’m now in the third month of my second year as the Principal of an incredible elementary school. Reflecting on my first year I’ve realized that my tail was wagging extremely fast (as tails tend to do at first). Everything was super exciting and I wanted to be involved in all of it. During that first year I thought that “involved” meant sitting at the table and being in the mix.

I’m now learning that “involved” has many different looks. I’m learning that each one of those looks has an important place in development, growth, and positive progress. I’m learning that “involved” leadership and shared ownership are not mutually exclusive concepts, but rather that they’re indelibly connected through trust, support, and collaboration in a genuine partnership-centric organizational paradigm.

So, at the beginning of the school year I announced to our staff that 15/16 would be a year driven by two critical phrases with regard to principal leadership at Meadow Brook: “Sounds awesome!” and, “What can I do to help?”

I work with some of the most skilled, knowledgeable, and capable teachers in the world. Together we serve some of the most intelligent and dynamic students around. Each of us is supported by the astonishing, value-driven dedication of the outstanding families who live in our school community. When I’m not at the table or in the mix I can rest assured that a group of my many adept partners are. Consequently, I know that it’s all good.

The past couple of weeks have been filled with reinforcing examples that support the viability of this two-phrase principal leadership approach here at Meadow Brook. In addition to the many incredible instructional pathways that unfold each day as a result of our teachers’ passions and commitment to student achievement we’ve recently experienced four unique events: a spectacular creative arts award ceremony, a super cool rocket launching, a remarkable Veteran’s Day celebration, and an outstanding Family Literacy Night.

Each of these events was truly awesome. Each was driven by the vision and persevering aspirations of individuals and small groups who took charge and led the way. Each was grounded in teaching and learning. Each was masterfully planned and collaboratively implemented.   Each was a representation of a collective voice and shared ownership.

Stepping back is not always easy, not for me anyway. However, stepping back doesn’t mean stepping out. I’m always thrilled to be invited into any process with calls for support or requests for assistance. I enjoy and appreciate when my input is asked for and when my skills or knowledge are tapped. I celebrate opportunities to contribute in any way I can.

That said I’m learning more and more each day that being involved through sharing enthusiasm, offerings of support, and intentional availability can lead to the unfolding of wonderful progress that I might not have otherwise imagined. This two-phrase principal leadership style is opening my eyes to a world of possibilities.

I couldn’t be more excited about rounding out an incredible week of learning and growth with the knowledge that another is about to begin. I couldn’t be more proud of or confident in the incredible people I serve.

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.

5 Things That are Bad for Good Organizational Leadership (and what you might try instead)

Foolish pride.  Pride is good.  We should be proud of ourselves and we should be proud of one another.  Sensible pride celebrates accomplishment and perpetuates cultures of collaboration.  It comes along with humility and it invites partnerships.  Foolish pride comes along with frustration and it invites contention.  It diminishes relationships and highlights friction.  There is a significant difference between being proud and being prideful.  Be proud.

Standing alone.  Organizational leadership suggests multiple parties having a stake.  As a building principal I am surrounded by incredible people who are generally willing, able, and even excited to partner with me and one another on efforts to achieve our common goal of excellence in teaching and learning that leads to student wellbeing and achievement.  I could either try to work on that goal by my self or I could take advantage of their willingness, abilities, and excitement by actively engaging in those would-be partnerships.  No question.  Enough said.

Wallowing.  Lots of stuff happens every day, in every organization.  That’s especially true for schools.  Some of that stuff is wonderful, some is neither here nor there, and some can be kind of frustrating.  In organizational leadership it’s not out of the realm of possibility to go from really awesome moments directly into really challenging moments.  In fact, it’s likely that most organizational leaders move in and out of each all the time.  In and out is the key to positive progress.  Don’t get dragged down by the hard times.  Keep moving.

Personalizing.  Trust me, it’s not about you.  Even if it is about you, if you’re working from a base of your core values, if you’re staying focused on your personal and organizational missions, if you’re genuinely seeking to understand and serve your stakeholders, and if you are authentically wishing people well along the way, give yourself permission to not take “it” personally.  Keep yourself squarely framed in a professional, organizational outlook aimed at progress. Employ compassion but reject blame and/or drama.

Insisting.  Organizational leaders have to give directives.  An important aspect of our jobs is to mandate certain things.  We have to be able to do so in ways that encourage those we serve to buy in.  When people are passionate about the work they’re doing, that work tends to be enhanced.  Autonomy is good for passion.  I once had a wonderful mentor who taught me that it’s more effective to “invite” than it is to “insist,” and in practice, I’ve found that to be true.

How do you lead?  What are you doing that you might reconsider?  In what ways are you working to build your capacity for maximum service to your organization or community?

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

A Built Plane: Setting up Structures for Maximum Productivity

Some background. Over the past several years I’ve repeatedly heard the phrase, “we’re building the plane while we’re flying it,” in reference to the work we do in public education.  It occurred to me today that flying a partially-built plane could be relatively dangerous depending on the nature of how built it is, and/or how build it isn’t.  Essentially, it is really good metaphor for us because everything we do is so heavily rooted in learning and development.  We’re constantly seeking to improve.  We’re always working to figure out and implement next steps within the every-evolving schools and districts that we work.

Actually, I would suggest that our planes are never fully finished being built, but I’ve recently had cause to think about the state of some planes waiting for takeoff at my school, and the state of “builtedness” that they’re in.  One in particular is our shared leadership initiative.  Early in the year my staff and I agreed that coming together though collaboration would good for positive progress at Meadow Brook.  The idea took form as a committee designed to open and extend a dialogue that could flow in all directions and be a catalyst to decision making at various levels.

The good news is that we’ve now met five times, the meetings have been voluntary with ten to fifteen participants at each one (about 1/3 of our teaching staff), and we’ve dug in deep to the work of building a culture of collaboration.  The challenging news is that we haven’t done much else.  My plans to spring into collaborative action and alter the course of the known universe through our efforts hasn’t worked out yet.  As tough as it is to admit that everything I do doesn’t always work to plan as quickly as I’d like it to, it’s equally important to do so for reflective growth and positive progress.

Now don’t misunderstand, I think that culture building is no small or simple task with regard to either effort or importance, it’s just that I’ve been eager to get going with some action steps.  I’m ready to see the fruits of our culture building labor.  So, today our Meadow Brook Unified Instructional Leadership Team (Mbuilt) agenda almost entirely focused on answering one question:  What is it going to take for us to really start doing the stuff that we’ve been talking about doing?

Some process.  We began with a collaborative brainstorming activity.  My hope in collaborative brainstorming was that we would reap the benefit of everyone’s thoughts and ideas without having to put any one person on the spot.  One of the many important lessons I’ve learned in the past few months, as a new principal, is that trust has to be earned and cultivated.  As a part of that process, putting people on the spot for input and ideas hasn’t always proven ideal.  I’ve found that some degree of anonymity and/or some ability to stand as a group rather than an individual when taking risks with the expression of ideas and input has helped drive enhanced comfort in these kinds of situations.

So, each group was given a piece of paper with the words “Mbuilt Action” written in the center.  The directions were to choose one person to record the collective contributions of each individual in the group (with regard to the “action steps” question at hand).  The groups were given about fifteen minutes to complete the task.  I stepped out of the room.

Even after three months I’m relatively new to this community.  I know that I’m open-minded and trustworthy, and while I believe that they have some idea of that too, I don’t think that three months is quite enough time to comfortably understand anyone with a tremendous degree of depth or certainty.  I stepped out because I thought it would maximize the comfort with which the committee members could express themselves candidly.  I caught up with the brainstorm sessions during the follow up sharing out activity.

It was a rotating, curated, gallery walk kind of deal.  One person from each group stayed at each table and the rest of us rotated through, learning about and discussing each of recorded brainstorms.  It turned out to be a really productive process.  I thought it was our most productive meeting to date.  The room was energized, light bulbs were going off left and right, and in the end we actually came up with some actions steps to take.  We had built enough of a plane to be able to take off!

Flightworthy.  One of the actions steps was to generate a flow chart illustrating the structures by which we would move forward with our committee work.  This is turning out not to be difficult task after laying the groundwork as we did this morning.  In fact, shortly after the meeting I sat down with one of the committee members and cranked out a pretty solid draft.  We both immediately felt really good about it.  It inspired a sense of stability.  It gave us something to lean on and emphasized that our shared leadership initiative would be safe within a solid structure.  Without any bells and whistles, that flow chart represents the aforementioned plane that we had built enough of.  Sure it could use a coat of paint and some comfortable seat cushions, but it feels flight worthy nonetheless.

In the end we may always be building one plane or another, but today helped me understand that it doesn’t have to be happening while we’re rolling down the runway.  It seems to me that hammering out the basic structures before attempting to fly allows for more people to come on board.  I’m really excited about today’s work.  I can’t wait to share the flowchart at next week’s staff meeting.  It’s revitalized and reaffirmed my core belief that the sky is truly the limit!

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Partnerships are the Path: Some Strategies for Building Effective Partnerships in School Communities


I’ve been studying partnerships.  As a first year principal I realized very quickly that leading a school community toward continued and enhanced excellence is not something that I can do alone.  It’s become exceedingly clear that my intention to drive a culture of positive progress though joyful teaching and learning requires comprehensive collaboration among all stakeholders.  The building and sustaining of genuine partnerships seem to be a boon for that mission.

So, partnerships have been my focus.  Over the past fifteen weeks of research, practice, and reflective processing I’ve moved forward, backward, and even sideways.  Though it all, I’ve remained dedicated to my own learning and growth, and to the application of the skills and strategies that I’m picking up along the way.  That dedication continues to strengthen and unfold upon itself as each indicator of progress fills me with increased enthusiasm and assurance that partnerships truly are the path.

As one component of my study I had the privilege of interviewing four of my colleagues who also serve as building principals:  Ben Gilpin (@benjamingilpin), Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat), Jim Lalik (@jimlalik), and Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis).  The individuals in this amazing group range in experience from first year to veteran, and they come with varied and rich backgrounds in educational leadership and intentional partnering.  One of the commonalities among them is that they each have well-recognized and celebrated track records of highly effective collaborative development.  As expected, the insights and ideas that they put forth though this interview series were relevant, practical, and applicable.  The following sections represent my initial reflections on some of those collective insights and ideas.

It’s not always pretty.  There are times when partnerships work extremely well and there are times when internal and external complications challenge the foundation and effectiveness of those partnerships.  During the course of any give school year there are good times and bad.  Sometimes our individual and collective challenges are overt and visible to everyone involved and sometimes they are hidden.

For educational leaders concerned with the ongoing development of partnerships a focus on understanding that which can and can’t be controlled is very powerful.  What is it that we have a choice in?  While we’re not able to wish challenges away, we can decide how to respond to them and how to carry ourselves as we do.  It’s during difficult times that our core values must shine through.  Maintaining a positive attitude, being the constant stabilizing factor (even through perceived chaos), and holding a positive/growth attitude are each critical to influencing a genuine culture of collaboration.

Building trust takes time, effective communication, and a serious commitment to listening.  No matter how genuine a leader is in his/her intentions to be open, trustworthy, and supportive, people are naturally cautious in the beginning of relationships.  All stakeholders in any school community come to the table with a lot a stake.  Students of all ages carry the weight of tremendous expectations for learning, growth, and achievement; parents entrust educators with the most important people in their lives (their children); and regardless of school culture, in some ways teachers have to consider their employment while they interact with leadership through the year.   Real pressures for all involved.

When principals come from other roles in their school communities there can be a history of relationship building that serves them well in efforts to generate trusting partnerships, but even in such situations, the title and the often-perceived evaluative nature of interactions calls for somewhat of a fresh start.  School leaders must work hard to show their stakeholders that they are authentic in striving for effective partnerships.  Therefore, three key ingredients for positive progress in partnerships are patience with the fact that it takes time (years in some cases), reflection and intentionality surrounding communication strategies, and an ever-increasing ability to listening in ways that demonstrate a deep value for the thoughts, ideas, and concerns of others.

Surround yourself with incredible people and give them space to be incredible.  Principals focused on a culture of partnerships recruit and hire well, but they don’t stop there.  They go on to develop and maintain communities in which people feel comfortable letting their talents shine through the multiple roadblocks that often creep inadvertently into organizational structures.  From disconnectedness to control concerns, it can be all to easy to carelessly stifle potential.

Partnerships that lead to capacity building allow for a balance of control and credit.  When the focus of a school community is truly aimed at student achievement and wellbeing it doesn’t matter who comes up with the great ideas and the connected plans, just that they do.   Effective principals make sure that those ideas are heard, and that those plans are implemented without having to be credited.  Trust is a two way street and humility is a critical component of genuine collaboration.

With the above thoughts and idea, here’s a list of some other concepts that you might consider as you work to build genuine partnerships with the stakeholders in your school community:

  • Shared leadership committees
  • Early release time for teacher collaboration
  • 1:1 meetings with individual stakeholders
  • Shared planning/instruction (including with administrators)
  • Town hall style meetings with parent/student groups
  • Collaborative service projects
  • Transparency
  • Opportunity to share personal/professional “stories”
  • Effective digital presence (Twitter, Google Docs, Voxer, etc.)
  • Shared visioning
  • Consistency
  • A learning and growth paradigm
  • Opportunities for critical reflection
  • Awareness by all stakeholders
  • A genuine feeling of togetherness
  • Modeling of process
  • Concise and consistent messaging focused on common values and goals
  • The clear communication of expectations

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

Reduce, Reach Out, & Respond: A Concise Communication Strategy for Organizational Leaders

There are five hundred fifty seven thousand things going on in any given moment in my school community (I haven’t actually counted…that’s just a rough estimate).  How ‘bout yours? Same? That’s what I thought.  Also, there are many people whose lives are deeply impacted by each of those things in any given moment.  So, it couldn’t be more important to communicate effectively.

Like you, I don’t have all of the answers.  In fact, sometimes I feel like I don’t have very many at all.  I’m thrilled to be learning that its not always immediate answers that people are looking for…sometimes it’s simply immediate communication.  And on top of that, it’s often just the basics that make the most impact, especially if those basics lead to ongoing dialogue and authentic partnerships.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or if you know me, you know that I can be long winded at times (possibly an understatement).  I have a lot to say and I enjoy saying it!  Over the years I’ve worked to understand and adapt that love of comprehensive communication to meet my needs and the needs of my various audiences.  I’m not fully there, but I’m certainly on the path.

I communicate with diverse groups of people on a daily basis and I’m learning that each group, and often times each individual, has different needs.  There are some standards, and there are only so many hours in each day, but I’m working hard to refine my style to meet as many needs as possible…including my own.  Here’s a process that’s been working pretty well lately from a organizational leadership standpoint…I’m calling it R3 (reduce, reach out, & respond):

1. Reduce: See if you can say or write what you’re trying to communicate in half as many words as initially come to mind.  I bet you can.  People are busy processing lots of stuff all the time.  Easily digestible messages are often better received.

2. Reach Out: Put as few things on to-do lists as possible.  If you don’t have answers, turn and reach out to those who might.  Also, do so quickly.  Even directly as someone I serve is sitting in my office asking a questions that I can’t answer I’ve found it effective (and appreciated) to turn and quickly shoot an e-mail or make a phone call to someone who can.  It keeps the ball rolling, shows progress, and again, keeps a task from ending up on a list instead of in motion.

3.  Respond:  Don’t leave your office at the end of the day with any e-mails in your inbox that have not been addressed in one way or another.  With each day I’m getting better at quickly sorting through the hundred plus e-mails I get.  I’m finding that one of the keys to effective organizational communication is making sure to respond to each response-required message before I leave the office each day.  Again, immediate answers are great but not require, it’s a demonstrated commitment progress that helps build strong partnerships and drive positive progress.  You should never hear, “Did you get my e-mail?”

As you can imagine, this is a work in progress for me.  Sometimes I nail it and sometime I fall short.  I’m always working on it.  If you’ve got a moment, let me know what works for you…your input is welcome and appreciated:)!

Live. Learn. Lead.


Dream Big. Work Hard. Be Well.

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.

Don’t Not Wag

Yesterday someone told me that her dog broke his tail by wagging it too much. She said, “He simply can’t not wag!”

Today I suffered a significant disappointment. I use the word “significant” because it was significant to me. I don’t know that other people would consider it significant.  Ironically, I suppose I don’t know that they wouldn’t either. Actually, that was the disappointment….I learned that I didn’t know a person as well as I thought I did. Life is often rich with irony.

I’m what some people consider naively optimistic. I’ve been told so. I believe things that some people find silly. For example, I believe that the glass is always half full. I’m not suggesting that I’m a “glass is half full” person, but rather that I actually believe that the glass is truly half full. I don’t even necessarily want to believe it, I simply do. I’ve experienced triumph born from what could be considered tragedy too many times not to.

I view the world through a lens of “What have we got and what can we make of it?” instead of, “We’ve really been given the short end of the stick!” And frankly, while I consider myself a fairly tolerant person, I have relatively little tolerance for “half empty” – “short end of the stick” attitudes. Not to mention, very little time for them.

Today I found out that someone I trusted betrayed my trust in a somewhat deceitful way, while masking a deeply negative outlook with feigned positivism and partnership. It stung. It stings. To the point above, I do believe that this disappointment will turn out to be an opportunity for learning and growth.

Even thought my tail feels broken at the moment…I believe that consistent wagging is good for me, and that it’s for those I serve!

As I frequently write in the pages of this blog, being human often causes me to have to process for a while before I can see a clear path to positive progress, but off the cuff I think that my take away from this particular disappointment begins with:

No matter how negative or disingenuous someone decides to get with you, if you’re a holistically optimistic, happy, and forward thinking person…don’t not wag!

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.