Win the battle.

Robert Bruce Murray III - Flickr
Robert Bruce Murray III - Flickr

A few weeks ago I starting drafting a blog post titled redundancy.

I was becoming pretty flustered. I felt like I was saying the same thing over and over again. I felt like the articles, blog posts, and tweets I read and composed just yappity-yapped the same ideas. I kept thinking, “This is super… now what??”

Clearly, there are many days when I feel like Will Richardson:

But here is the thing…read between the lines in most of these descriptions and you get the sense that we see it, we want it, but we ain’t gonna get it very soon. Budgets are being cut. The people in charge don’t really see this vision. We haven’t figured out that assessment thing very well. And so on.

But as one of the “people in charge” (so I like to think), I have to muster up all of the stickwithitness in my soul to make change happen in my school. For my kids. I have to suck it up when the district officials impose more budget cuts and think creatively to do more with less.

Not all teachers are on board with the shift in thinking I’m trying to embody within our school walls. I can’t force them to collaborate. I can’t make them follow me blindly. I can only demonstrate the incredible power in sharing knowledge with one another, for the benefit of our children. I am going to provide my teachers with learning opportunities that allow them to see the benefits of autonomous, masterful learning with a purpose in action.

I have to model for them that I am passionate about learning. Every day I want to learn something new. I want to do something differently, better than I did the day before.

I will take risks, and I will fail. But I will learn from the experience. When I do fail, I know there will be people to support me.

We can do this, you know. We can, little by little, individual by individual, exalt student learning opportunities to the levels they deserve to be. There are success stories everywhere. I think of the VanMeters and the Identity Days and the Karl Fischs and Dan Meyers of the world. I think of organizations such as PLP that are raising an awareness as teachers and administrators taking on the lead learning roles in their schools. I think of my Connected Principals colleagues, who, in a matter of a few short months, have become such an integral part of my professional life. I think of the countless teachers and administrators who blog and share their experiences and make me want to be better.

Right now we’re swimming upstream in a river of redundancy. We’re not clear how we’re going to join forces to completely revolutionize education for our students, but that begs the question- can we win the war before we win the battle?

Start with you. Your school. Your teachers. Your classrooms. Your students. Your community. And for heaven’s sake, SHARE what you are doing. Help us all become better at serving our kids.

What are your plans for reform? Share them on your blog, and don’t forget to post here: . See all contributions here:


Now I know.


This post was written for November’s Project PLN: The Admin Issue.

I used to think students should sit in rows. (Made it harder for them to chit chat while I was imparting wisdom on them.) Now I know they should sit…stand…hang…together. (Makes it easier for them to talk and learn from one another.)

I used to think I needed to cite standards in my lesson plans. (This handy-dandy cheat sheet will help me quickly identify standard 2.1!) Now I know we should evaluate the standards, using them to guide instruction, yet allow students to pursue their passions. (What does this learning mean for you, children?)

I used to think my good ideas should stay in my classroom. (I worked hard developing those lessons!) Now I know more students will benefit from the expertise of teachers who share. (Collective genius. Sharing is caring.)

I used to think I never had enough time. (Lesson plans…grading papers…surviving…) Now I know it’s important to work smarter, not harder. (Make time for the things that matter most.)

I used to think a child who scored poorly on an assessment didn’t study hard enough. (They had a study guide one week in advance! What is the deal with that kid?) Now I know a student who doesn’t perform well on an assessment does not have the problem. (The teacher does.)

I used to think sitting down with a parent was scary. (They’re older than me! They’re parents, for crying out loud! What could I possibly know that they don’t?) Now I know talking with parents about their children is enlightening and meaningful. (Parents are tremendous assets to every school.)

I used to think in-services were an opportunity for me to address my staff about important issues. (If I’m going to wear a suit to work, I may as well stand up in front of you with this PowerPoint presentation!) Now I know that I am not comfortable spending 6 hours of the day leading professional development sessions in which teachers have little ownership. (Let them lead the way).

I used to think teacher supervision was something that happened to teachers. (Everything’s ship-shape in here. Sign on the dotted line). Now I know teacher supervision is something that happens for teachers. (I appreciate your strengths in these areas. Where can we find opportunities for improvement? I will support you.)

I used to think a child who did not follow the rules was non-compliant and clearly did not want to learn. (A rigid system of consequences will help students realize what is expected of them.) Now I know every child who demonstrates the need for behavioral supports deserves an arm around the shoulder and our relentless care. (Let’s problem solve this together.)

I used to think people who put their lives out there on Twitter were crazy people. (Okay, some of them are actually crazy people. Why would you write about what’s happening in your school?! What if your superintendent reads it?!) Now I know my involvement in social media is the most powerful professional development opportunity I’ve had in the past year. (Thank you, PLN.)

I used to think bragging about our accomplishments was pompous. (Ugh, will that teacher ever stop yapping about how great her students’ projects are?) Now I know celebrating our successes spreads good ideas like wildfire. (It ignites teaching and learning!)

I used to think I wanted to be a teacher. Now I know I was right.

And more so, now I know I want to be a learner.



To me, the Edublog awards aren’t about distinction, or “winners,” or getting a sweet badge for your blog. They’re about appreciation, and recognizing people who have positively impacted my practice. Thank you to these amazing educators as well as to the hundreds of other bloggers whose work I read each week. You’ve truly made a difference in the way I think about education, and you help me love to learn.

* Best individual blogDavid Truss – Pair-a-Dimes for your Thoughts

David is an amazing soul. He is consistently positive, eager to help colleagues, and his posts are inspirational and informative. I appreciate reading about his experiences and ideas, and I’m thankful he has taken the time to comment on my own thoughts on many occasions.

* Best individual tweeter – Patrick Larkin @bhsprincipal

It’s been a privilege getting to know and work with Patrick this year. I always know the resources he shares on Twitter and his blog will benefit my work with kids!

* Best resource sharing blog – Richard Byrne – Free Technology for Teachers

Each week I share various “tech” resources with my staff. This is the site I first reference when looking for great tools and ideas to share. Every time.

* Best teacher blog – John T. Spencer – Spencer’s Scratch Pad

John’s writing style drew me in immediately. I keep reading because of the very honest, real way he depicts life as a teacher and his poignant interactions with his students. The guy also earns some serious points in the wit category.

* Best school administrator blog– George Couros – The Principal of Change

George reminds us, in every post, that administrators are human. His writing displays emotion, shares his successes (and sometimes failures), conveys enthusiasm for his school, students, and lifelong learning, and inspires us all.

* Best educational use of video/visual Shelly Terrell –Teacher Reboot Camp

Shelly’s 30 Goals challenge first led me to this amazing blog, so full of resources and know-how. Love her featured interviews with educators from around the world. She’s also so supportive of everyone in her network!

* Best educational wiki – Dianne Krause | eToolbox

If one of my teachers needs a tutorial on how to use a certain tool, or ideas about the relevance of the tool and its use in the classroom, I go to this wiki. This resource is so comprehensive and user-friendly. And Dianne’s a Pennsylvania girl, so… that makes her even more awesome.

It’s no surprise that many of the listed blogs/people are contributors to Connected Principals. It’s been an absolute pleasure to get to know and share with these educators this year. Thanks again to George for envisioning CP and bringing it to life.

Which leads me to…

* Best group blog– Connected Principals

* Most influential tweet / series of tweets / tweet based discussion– #cpchat

* Best use of a PLN – Connected Principals

Playing school or living learning?


I was honored to contribute to Amy Sandvold’s Passion-Driven Leader blog. Please visit her blog to be inspired as more educational leaders share their passions! This is the post I shared…

“Playing school” was one of my favorite pastimes when I was a child. My two younger brothers influenced my playtime habits (think He-Man, Transformers, and GI Joe adventures), but I repeatedly subjected them to assuming the role of “student,” sitting attentively in the makeshift classroom in our playroom. My mother would bring home used basal readers or textbooks if she was yard sale browsing. Whenever my teacher was purging supplies, I’d grab stacks of old workbooks and handwriting paper. Our stuffed animals and dolls joined my brothers as pupils. I’d stand in front of a giant chalkboard and review math facts and spelling words. I made worksheets, they’d complete them, and then I’d grade them. I rewarded their efforts with star stickers. We went out for recess. I loved playing school!

Out of curiosity I Googled “playing school” and came across this Wikihow article detailing 17 how-to steps for playing school.  It made me laugh. And simultaneously sad. Here are a few high/lowlights:

  • The sheer ridiculousness of Step 9: Make a misbehaving list. “If the students misbehave, they’ll have their name added to the list, which will result in loss of privileges.” The dreaded list… also troubling is the “I’m going to put your name on the board and put checkmarks next to it with each infraction” visual.
  • And Step 17, that I’m sure this teacher and this principal would really appreciate: Have a reward system. “If your students do good deeds, add a gold star to a chart, or make a special mark by their name and they can get a special treat! And, reward them if they do good with a substitute. And don’t reward them if they are bad.” Note to new teachers everywhere: equip your classroom with gold stars, charts, the “list” (see above), and treats, and you’ll be just fine.
  • Fundamental materials described in Step 6: Get a teacher’s notebook. “You’ll use this for keeping attendance, the timetables, behavior codes and grades. And, you should probably draw out the plans for that day. If you are teaching P.E., track the students’ progress.” So many key essentials in one notebook? I enjoy how the author mentions you should probably draw out plans for the day. Nice to see mention of P.E., though.

The most valuable part of this article is found in the “Tips” section below the step-by-step guide:
“Make sure that the kids have fun. Make it enjoyable for them. Don’t bore them!” Point well taken!

I don’t pretend for a second that the Wikihow entry meant to serve as a resource grounded in educational best practice, or even a resource that anyone is ever meant to gaze their eyes upon, ever, but it does raise some interesting points about the perceptions of what teachers and students do in schools and the purpose that education, and educators, serve.

Unfortunately, playing school isn’t good enough when it becomes our life work. Yet many educators do just that. They go through the motions. Teaching is a job to them. The monotony of the same lessons, schedules, and curriculum, year after year, can gradually cause the passionate spark once held by a teacher or administrator to fizzle. With good intentions, these educators continue with business as usual, because frankly, it is comfortable, and it has worked (sort of) thus far. Adding to the stress of the daily lives of teachers and administrators are the countless legislative mandates, conflicts with stakeholders, dwindling budgets, and attempts to bring change to institutions that are among the hardest to change. The passion that may have once been there, in the early days and years of teaching, fades alarmingly fast.

What is passion? Many things. An outburst of strong emotion or feeling. A strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything. What can we do to avoid playing school in our daily work with students? How do we remain passionate educators?

Some teachers are passionate about their content areas. They have absolute enthusiasm for chemistry and everything it represents and means to our world. They genuinely want students to develop a passion for chemistry akin to the passion they currently possess. I think of Dan Meyer who clearly is passionate about mathematics, but he goes a huge step above and beyond respect for the content. He works tirelessly to ensure his students (and the rest of us) are truly engaged in thinking about mathematics. Without that passion – the passion to craft learning experiences that help his students own their learning, his affinity for mathematics is just that- a content area he thinks is kind of cool.

Some educators are passionate about the shift. They develop PLNs, inspire each other through blog posts, presentations at conferences, and #edchats. They seek to infuse technologies meaningfully into student learning experiences, not for the sake of the tool, but for the sake of learning. They and their students are driven by the desire to collaborate, create, and think critically. Teachers, principals and superintendents are becoming transparent learners as if to say, “We love what we do. We’re so excited about what the future brings! And we want to share that with you!”

Some educators are passionate about connecting their students with the world. They are helping their students reflect on their learning through blogs, involving them in projects that help make the world a better place, and are developing partnerships with schools that are separated by thousands of miles.

No matter which direction the passionate educator takes, one thing is certain. A passionate educator cares about kids. A passionate educator LIKES kids. Every decision made, every action taken, every word spoken, is done so with their best interests in mind. We love working with kids. They touch our hearts with their hilarious anecdotes, determination, imagination, smiles, and inventive spellings. They’re the reason we come to work each day. And if students are not the reasons why you vie for that parking spot nearest to the door each morning, then I might suggest that you are playing school – you are not living learning– and you need to reevaluate your place in our educational system and children’s lives.

Early in my life I knew I wanted to be a teacher. Shortly into my career I was inspired by my fantastic administrators to follow that path. There are days that absolutely drain me, and make me wonder why it is I continue to do what I do.

Then I see two kindergarten students walking hand-in-hand to return books to the library.
And a first grader asks to read me a story. We sit on the carpet and she reads beautifully.
A sixth grader offers a heartfelt apology to me.
A teacher leaves a handwritten note on my desk telling me how much she appreciates my support.
A parent cries in my office about a family situation and asks for our help supporting her child.
I watch a teacher skillfully lead a small group of students in a discussion about the theme of a story and its impact on their lives.
An entire fifth grade class offers to help our custodian put away chairs after an assembly.

Then I realize, I no longer play school.
I live it.

The power of positivity.


In the face of adversity, we make choices. We decide how and to what extent we will involve ourselves in tackling conflicts. There are organizational conflicts and personnel conflicts. Even personal ones. We can’t control how others will act. We can only control how we will respond to crises, changes, and situations.

There is nothing more disheartening to me than encountering “professionals” that let negativity dictate their interactions with students, colleagues, and parents. I am not immune to the fact that the demands placed on teachers are limitless. Administrators find themselves equally as burdened by mandates, changing directives, disgruntled parents and staff, finicky students, and the daily grind of what is the life of an administrator. Those of us that enjoy our work tend to thrive on these challenges; we enjoy brainstorming solutions and problem solving in order to improve our schools and learning experiences for students.

Enter the power of positivity. As administrators, we cannot expect our staff members to exude positivity without demonstrating this quality through our leadership. Kim Cameron of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, the author of Positive Leadership, is a useful resource for this topic. While some of our schools focus on maintaining daily operations and remaining status quo (or are frankly just in survival mode), others are interested in taking learning to the next level for the entire organization. What formerly was good enough just isn’t good enough anymore. Cameron refers to this as positive deviancy, going beyond the norm in a positive direction, which will cause organizations to flourish, not just exist.

Consider this graphic that details how organizational strategies can be based on the positive:


Focusing on the positives in these four domains: climate, meaning, communication, and relationships, will enable leaders to take the next step in supporting a flourishing organization. (Notice what is at the heart of all of these domains: people. We’re truly in the people business.)

It easier to creative a positive learning culture in a school experiencing success. The difficulties lie in times of adversity. When budgets are cut. When the pressure is on to perform. When children’s home lives aren’t ideal. When there is conflict among staff. When the administrative team isn’t supportive. When there aren’t enough resources.

We talk of reform and of change. So many in my PLN and school organization are dedicated to improving education for their students and children, yet each day we encounter others in our communities who continue to resist and thus dampen our efforts. We cannot stand for this negativity. We cannot tolerate excuses.

Instead, we must lead positively and support our colleagues along the way. What are some ways you’ve remained positive in your leadership efforts? How do you promote positivity in your organization? I’ve found these simple strategies to be successful:

  • Smile. Smile at people when you greet them. Smile when they say something amazing. Smile when they say something that exasperates you. If you give the impression that you are frustrated, upset, worried, etc., the people with whom you’re interacting will know it.
  • Keep a folder called “The Good.” I have two. One is in my desk drawer and it’s where I file the thank you cards, children’s artwork, letters from parents, note from staff…and the other is in my Outlook inbox where I store much of the same. At those times when I say to myself, “How can I keep up with the demands of this gig? Why do I do this?” I turn to the folders. And I read. And I smile. And I remember very clearly why I do this.
  • Don’t act unless it’s in the best interest of the children. Don’t speak it, say it, do it, unless it benefits kids. Don’t waste energy on things that don’t. Being negative takes more energy than it’s worth. Did you know that?
  • Address the negative. Just like teachers use planned ignoring rather skillfully in their classrooms with students, there are some instances of negativity within an organization that are best ignored. Others are not. When the negativity seeps into the everyday actions of teachers, thus impacting life for students, it is no longer okay. Work with people. Help them see how their negative influences are detrimental to learning and are holding back the organization from greater success.
  • Celebrate. Celebrate everything, particularly the small successes. Help everyone in your organization see the value in what they do. Create a culture where it’s okay to brag. Share! Don’t limit your celebrations to within your school walls- be sure everyone in your community knows how excited you are about your work with kids!

“If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force within you, you will grow vigorous and happy, however adverse your circumstances may seem to be.” -John Heywood