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The ABC’s of Effective Leadership



Great leaders come in different forms and every one of them has different qualities that make them great; lead by example, accountability, visionary….the list could go on and on. This week I, along with Keith Allshouse, are leading a session for aspiring administrators and we are looking at different items that new administrators need to understand but it brings me back to what is effective leadership?  I believe in keeping it simple and I believe these are traits that great leaders have:

A- Accountability and Authentic: Great leaders are accountable for not only themselves but the entire school.  When something does not go as planned or is wrong, leaders are accountable and accept the blame.  They learn from these mishaps to make sure it does not happen again.  They also are the first to give praise to others; they share the spotlight and give credit where it is due.  Great leaders are also authentic; people are quick to realize when you are not genuine or you are trying to be something you are not.  You can learn from great leaders, even emulate them but you have to be true to yourself and your beliefs.  If you try to be someone you are not, you are working with a recipe for failure.

B- Believe and Bold: Great leaders believe in themselves and they believe in their staff.  This does not mean they are not willing to adapt or change, but their belief in their own ability never wavers. Effective leaders are also bold- they try new things, take risks, and do not want to just manage.  They want to take people to a better tomorrow and believe that just managing the status quo is not good enough.  They want to move from good to great.

C- Communication and Collaborative: Communication is one of the most important aspects of great leadership.  Communication is not just talking at people.  Brian Tracy says effective communication “is about more than just talking: it’s about listening, ensuring others get your point, and persuading others to take action on what you’re saying.” Collaborative leaders know when to ask for input; they communicate with other leaders as well as their staff. Collaborative does not mean you need others to make a decision for you, but rather you value input from others and use this to make the best decision possible.

There are many traits and qualities that make leaders great.  I would love to hear what you feel makes a leader an effective leader.


Framework for Teaching- What is the Most Important Domain?

Image result for framework for teaching

I am always asked what I feel is the most important domain in the Framework for Teaching by Charlotte Danielson.  We have often debated if evaluations should be weighted differently instead of having each domain worth 25% (I’ll save this for another post).  Every domain is important, but I believe effective teaching comes down to being distinguished or approaching distinguished in two key areas: 3B and 3D.

3B- Whether it’s a walk-through, a visit, or a formal evaluation, you can quickly know the pulse of the class through questioning and discussion.  What type of questions is the teacher asking?  Are they higher-ordered?  Are they tier 1, 2, or 3?  What type of questions are students asking (I love this article that discusses why the question is more important then the answer)?  If questions are higher-ordered (not closed and/or students can Google the answer), then students will be engaged in learning not only on the topic but with each other.  Engagement and empowerment also equates to minimal to no classroom management issues. Higher-order questions also will show that the teacher is planned for their lesson; yes 3E does talk about flexibility but most higher order questions should be and need to be planned ahead of time.

3D-  Are you starting with the end in mind and the why?  How do you know students learned what you taught? If you cannot answer this question throughout and at the end of the class, then you really need to rethink what you are doing.  Nothing frustrates me more then to watch a lesson taught and see a lack of formative assessment throughout the lesson and then no closure.  Effective assessment needs to be timely and specific and it should drive your lesson the very next day.  Does a topic need to be re-taught? Does the class show mastery of the objective/standard?  What percentage of students show mastery? Does another approach or strategy need to be used to teach topic?  If you are not using ongoing assessment and it does not drive your planning, your approach to your lesson, and how you are engaging and empowering your students, then please rethink your assessment methods in your classroom.  Here are some resources:

Formative Assessment That Truly Drives Instruction

Tech tools for assessment

101 Ways to Show What You Know – not every assessment (formative and summative) has to be your usual test, quiz, or benchmark.  Give students multiple ways to show what they know.

I would love to discuss this more online (hit me up on Twitter) as discussion and challenging each other can only make us better.  We always say we do not want teachers working in silos and the same holds true for leaders.  We get better by working with each other, being honest, and challenging each other.

Are You Leading or Managing?


We have all worked with and for different types of leaders.  Leaders that inspire, leaders that frustrate, and leaders that we have forgotten because they were just there.  Sometimes, the word leader is a stretch because people have assumed that moniker by title alone and not actions.  Every leader wants to be that person who inspires others to be their best, has data that shows your school is improving in multiple categories, and always does what is best for our most valuable stakeholder- our students.  How do you achieve this?

You believe in the power of we vs. the power of me- you listen, you communicate with staff and stakeholders (in person first, other outlets when needed), you share the Why of what you are doing, and you are present (office door open, in hallways/classrooms, and are at school functions).  I believe in servant and collaborative leadership.  Yes, we all need to make final decisions, but you do that after talking and listening with others.  We do not expect our staff to work in Silos and not collaborate; why should leadership be any different?

You have a vision- why would any leader want to go to a new school and maintain the status quo?  Yes, change does not happen overnight, but change can be good (see above about Why).  All schools can improve and get better.  It’s valuable to talk with staff and community to see where improvements need to occur and how can you shape this into your vision.  We all have Big Rocks as leaders (form relationships daily, student achievement, innovative practices and risk-taking, extra-curricular activities/programs, and telling your story to promote your school) but it’s important to listen to what your stakeholders value as well.

You challenge the status quo and are not happy with “just maintaining”-To prepare our students for the future job force, we cannot continue to teach like it’s 1997.  Students cannot consume information and regurgitate the information back to us.  Students need to create, collaborate, analyze, discuss, justify, and yes fail forward in order to learn.  This is a shift in thinking; how you communicate this with staff and stakeholders is crucial.  People want to feel a part of the conversation, not talked out.  If you have no vision of what you want your school to look like, you just manage the day-to-day operations in your office, and you are not visible and present in your building, then our students are one more year behind in acquiring the skills they will need in a global workforce.

I’ve been fortunate to work with great leaders (James Aleshire and Mike Chilcutt) who have vision and know how they want to achieve it.  I also encourage everyone to grow your own leadership through your PLN.  My leadership growth has coincided by not only working with great leaders but by growing on Twitter.  You cannot grow solely based on what is going on in your building or just your county.  You have to interact and learn from other great leaders.  I cannot speak highly enough of Twitter and the leaders who have helped shape my growth (Eric Sheninger , George Couros , Justin Tarte , Brad Currie , and Bill Powers to name a few).  Be the leader, and not just manager, that our schools and students deserve.

Best Buy Strategies That Can Help Schools


If you have not had a chance to read 4 Lessons On Running A Successful Business From Best Buy’s CEO, I highly recommend it.  These are all points that schools can use to be more successful:

  1. 1. IT STARTS WITH KNOWING YOUR CUSTOMER- I’ve often said that relationships are the foundation of everything we do at school.  Dr. Comer states that “No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship” and I have taken this to heart throughout my entire education career.  It is still my favorite part of being an administrator- getting to know and help as many students as I can.  I may not get to help them directly every day, but I want my decisions that I make everyday to be based on what is best for all students.  I believe that if we get to know our students, we can incorporate their interests and learning styles into lessons thus increasing the relevance of the class.  People don’t like to hear it, but students learn more from teachers they like.  This does not mean you have to be a push over in class, but it does mean that students know when you care and this helps them feel more connected to the class.  Know your students.
  2. SIMPLIFY THE LOGIC OF YOUR STRATEGY- I associate this with using and incorporating technology.  Teachers can become overwhelmed with the amount of options that are out there.  We cannot show teachers a list of apps and expect them to use them with fidelity.  Some teachers are at the substitution phase in SAMR and that’s ok (it’s a growth model).  Instead, we need teachers to narrow their lens and focus on a couple of items; use and become comfortable with these tools-master them and then move onto something new.  Over time, your toolbox will increase and you will have options to use with your students.  I worked with a teacher last year who was downright fearful of using any technology.  I told him to focus only on Google Drive and then Google Classroom.  I wanted him to have a tool he felt comfortable with (notes, questions, assignments) and then to have a vehicle to get these assignments to students.  I told him once he felt comfortable with these (it takes time), we would move onto something else.  Simplify your strategy and narrow your lens.
  3.  GIVE IT A NAME- this one made me think as it is very similar to number two but it made me think of how we focus our staff in getting them going in the same direction.  Two years ago, James Aleshire and I asked our staff to be better today than they were yesterday (from Daniel Pink) and we asked them to write their one sentence.  We gave them a focus and we could reference this throughout the year; a common language to keep everyone focused.  A couple of years ago, I worked with Mike Chilcutt and we spoke about Big Rocks. What were our Big Rocks at Northern Middle School (I’ll save this for another post)?  This helped shape our meetings and focus because we could always bring it back to our Big Rocks- if it did not match what we decided were our Big Rocks then we got rid of it.  Give your focus/mission a name.
  4. SET AND STICK TO PRIORITIES-Set your focuses and give yourself and your team a chance to see these take shape.  We live in an instant gratification society; people want things and they want them now.  Sometimes hard work is messy, it’s ugly, and it takes time.  Stick to your beliefs and vision.  This doesn’t mean you cannot reflect and make changes but you always have to stick to what and who you are.  People respect sincerity- when you aren’t yourself, you can come off as not caring and not being invested.  Stick to your core beliefs and priorities.

I’m very excited about the upcoming school year and the new challenges that await me.  I have not blogged in a while, as I’ve been busy transitioning to a new school and spending time with my family.  I took time off from writing (not reading and Twitter) but I’m back now and I’m ready for a new year, new growth, and new challenges.

Big Rocks


big-rocks 2

Each and everyday, administrators have a ton of situations and items that we have to deal with and make decisions on.    I believe in prioritizing by always trying to look at activities, situations, and decisions that place student achievement and learning first. This is what you would call my Big Rock.  I first heard about Big Rocks from one of my good friends and a great Principal, Mike Chilcutt.  Big Rocks are your core values and what you want your school to be about.  My Big Rocks are student learning (daily instruction, planning, assessing, etc..), teachers forming relationships with students (always doing what is best for students), technology used to engage students and redefine the classroom (not using technology for technology’s sake), engaging and being active with the community and stakeholders, and looking at how we grade and assess students (this has been a recent focus of mine- I’m reading more Wormlei, Guskey, and Tarte).  I would love to dialogue about this and see what your Big Rocks are.



Change is Hard. Change is Necessary.


A common practice for mentoring teachers today is to video record a new teacher’s lesson and then reflect with that teacher after watching the video.  I have often said that I would not want to watch a recording of myself teaching from my first couple of years.  Why am I fearful of seeing this video? Poor instruction? Bad classroom management? No closure or assessing what my students learned?  Probably all of the above and why is that, because I’ve grown and changed since 2002 and that’s a good thing.  Most people view change as a bad thing and I understand.  When someone is asking you to change (planning, assessing, instruction, technology), we have a habit of hearing all of the things we are doing wrong instead of tips/feedback on things we could do better.  I was upset as a young teacher when an administrator gave me an area for growth in my seating arrangement (I had the tried and true rows of desks).  I was frustrated because I thought my classroom was fine and heck that is how all of the classrooms I had ever been in were set up.  I changed my room to clusters of desks where students could face each other and have conversation and collaboration.  What I heard when I first received the feedback was that my classroom set up was wrong and that I was failing my students, but once I made the change, I never used rows again and this small change improved my classroom.

Can you imagine still teaching like it was 2002?  I cringe when I think about it, but that would mean I would be standing by my overhead and going over problems with my students.  Problems would not be in a real world context (think more drill and kill) and my mindset at that time was “I taught it, it’s up to the student to learn it” because I was so focused on what I was doing and not what the students were learning.  In the sports world, I was focused on the name on the back of the jersey and not the name on the front.  I was not worried about different learning styles, differentiation, or even relevance- I just wanted to get through my curriculum.  Luckily (for myself and my students) I changed.  We are at a critical spot in education- do we continue teaching like we always have or do we embrace the changes that are needed? I understand that I was bias in the way that I framed that question, but I always want to do what is best for students and I fully believe that implementing technology into our everyday practice is what is best for all students.  Yes this change is scary and can be intimidating but shouldn’t educators model continuous learning?  Part of growing is being able to learn and improve in your practice.  Are you an educator that has 5, 10, 15 years of experience or are you an educator that has had 5, 10, 15 one year experiences where every year is the same just the students are different?  We know change is needed and that jobs are requiring new and different skills then the jobs we prepared students for even ten years ago.  We cannot fight this change or we will become Blockbuster.  As George Couros wrote in his blog post How Quickly Things Change and his book Innovators Mindset (cheap plug- I love this book, a must read for educators):


“It was only a few years ago that video rental stores like Blockbuster were the best way
for people to watch movies in the comfort of their own home. In some places around the world, these stores still exist. But in the Western world, cheaper and more convenient options (no travel required) have put most neighborhood video stores out of business.

The Internet completely changed the movie rental industry. Companies that took advantage of new technology, like Netflix with its DVD-by-mail and online streaming options, are thriving. Meanwhile, companies, like Blockbuster, that refuse to let go of outdated business models experience a slow, painful death.

Blockbuster had the opportunity to buy Netflix a few times, but declined. And by the time it attempted to start its own DVD-by-mail program, the company had lost its place as an industry leader. The hard lesson that Blockbuster and its fellow neighborhood movie rental businesses failed to heed is this: innovate or die.”

We have the opportunity now engage our students that was not possible before.  Please do not decline this opportunity.  Change is hard at first, but it can be gorgeous by the end.


Social Media in Schools: When You Know It’s Working



My first thoughts years ago regarding social media and education was easy: No way,  doesn’t belong, or students will only get in trouble using it.  I always joke during Twitter PD’s that I have run, that I joined Twitter out of curiosity after a colleague (Drew Crawford) shared with me how easy it was and how I could get news/updates on what I wanted.  I even joined using a fake name (did not want students or colleagues knowing I was on Twitter) and I loved it but again I was only using it for personal consumption.  I finally started following some educators (Eric Sheninger in particular) and I realized that Twitter was the best PD I was receiving (what I want when I want) but my mindset on digital leadership as well as using social media in schools and education changed.  I realized the world of social media offered us a free outlet to engage all stakeholders in communication, collaboration, and engagement.  As my comfort level using social media deepened, I wanted to use it to connect my school with everyone; the large the audience the better.

In the world of instant gratification, I started our school’s Twitter page last year and was immediately ready for it to engage everyone.  Well months crept by and we only had about 50-75 followers.  I quickly realized that when using social media in schools, it is a process.  It does take time to get your message across and have stakeholders embrace it.  We can’t be discouraged if our social media efforts are not immediately rewarded.  I quickly realized this was perfectly normal. Allow for a learning curve, as well as time to build and expand your online presence.

In our second year, our Twitter Page has expanded.  I began the year by sending a letter to our stakeholders informing them the how, what, and why our school would be using Twitter as well as increasing our presence in our school.  I recently realized that my patience was paying off.  I had a wonderful teacher in our building, who is not an avid technology user, come up and thank me the other day for our school’s Twitter page.  He told me he could not make it to the game the other night but he knew he would be able to check our Twitter page and get an update.  May seem small, but I took this as a sign.  Another key moment in realizing that our social media movement was paying off has been the engagement and conversation with our students.  Students now know, they can ask questions and set up meetings with myself through Twitter.  I have had students ask questions about spirit days, schedule changes for the next day, and graduation questions.  Parents will now share event pictures with us on Twitter so that we can share with our community.  Our clubs and different departments have started Twitter pages to update our community on events and scholarship offers.  We now have teachers who take part in and have led Twitter Chats and students have created a fan page for our sports teams.  I am so proud at the growth our school has shown using social media.  I know it can and will continue to improve, but these recent reflections were worth celebrating.

I encourage and challenge you as leaders to continue to use and grow social media in your schools.  Engage with stakeholders, run PD’s for staff, and discuss/model digital citizenship with all students.  It is ok to start small.  Do not get discouraged if results are not immediate.  Be patient, work hard and over time you will see the payoff.  I cannot wait to hear the moments you knew social media was paying off in your school from my PLC.  Thank you.