Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I've been challenged!

I've been challenged! My wife, Andrea, has challenged me to get back to blogging. Since I've joined the "dark side" (see - school administration), I've struggled to find time to reflect and share my thoughts. I've had a list started about topics to write about, so I'll start at the top of my list.

This isn't a great philosophical post, or world changing. However, it will be I hope useful.

I consume information in multiple modes. I have my iPhone that I consume a majority of my information on. This is the device I use for a majority of social media consumption Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Voxer. Some of this is personal, see catching up with family, following along with my children's classroom Twitter feeds [son's Kindergarten feed] [daughter's 4th grade classroom]. I also use Flipboard to consume blogs and other written content. I follow quite a few magazines, including ASCD In-service, Leadership, and Productivity. I don't always check Flipboard regularly, so I many times as I'm checking in on a magazine I want to save items to be read later. A tool that I've found most useful for saving content to read later on multiple devices, both app and web based is Pocket.

Pocket is very intuitive and works with almost all the apps that I use. I use Tweetbot for Twitter and there is an easy connection from sharing in Tweetbot and saving in Pocket. Flipboard has the same ease of connection to Pocket. By saving an item into Pocket, I can access the article from the IOS app or the Pocket website. One area that I'm totally happy about is trying to get a good connection to Facebook. What I've gotten figured out is using IFTTT (if this then that). I've found a recipe in IFTTT that when I share an article in Facebook it will save the article to Pocket. What I would like to do is as I save an article in 'read it later' on Facebook to save to Pocket. If you know of a way to do this, please let me know!!

As a building Principal, I try to model technology leadership with our staff and keep a clear line of communication with our team. Each week, I send our staff an update. This includes an update of my week, including when I am planning to be out of the building for district meetings or professional learning. I've also including an article that I've come across that connects to our current work, is inspirational, or motivational. These articles mostly come from things that I've saved and read through Pocket. This small amount of time, has allowed our team to continue our learning and continue our growth as professionals.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Change

Whew, I've got a free minute or two to get some thoughts on computer. If you follow along with my twitter feed, then you'll know that I've been in the middle of a transition to a new job. The month of June was spent tying loose ends up at South Tama Middle School. So far in July, I've been emerging myself in all things College Community and Prairie Creek. I'm also teaching an online course  with the University of Northern Iowa Department of Educational Leadership. Along with tee-ball games and  softball games of Kaiser and Emma, it's been a busy summer so far! 

One of the things I've been trying to focus on while making this transition to College Community has been to not use the phrase, "In my old district we did it this way". I've slipped a few times, however I want to first learn all I can about the people here. I want to take time to get to know the students, parents, and staff of Prairie Creek Intermediate. One of the most important things I've learned during my time at South Tama County is to facilitate change, trust and urgency have to be present. As a new leader at Creek, I'll be spending my time learning about the system and getting to know people. 

So, for those of my new teachers, para professionals, and other support staff who may be reading this my office door is open. Let me know when you'll be in the building so we can touch base. I'm looking forward to getting to know you all. 

For the students and parents, the same goes for you. If you're in the building or the area stop on in. I'll be out and about at events in the area and hope to connect soon. 

To the great people at STC, I wish you the best! We had a great five years together and I will cherish the wonderful relationships I've built with awesome students, parents, community members, and staff. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Change, Lessons Learned While Leading

If you’ve been around my blog over the last few years, you know my story. I was a High School math teacher, received my Masters in Educational Leadership from the University of Northern Iowa, and became the Principal of a struggling Middle School(identified as a Persistently Lowest Achieving School via NCLB regulations in the fall of 2009, I was hired in spring 2010). The reason I was hired was to lead change, period. My job was to turn around this school where 55% of students were reading at grade level. I’ll share my thoughts on the moral implications of reading at appropriate levels in a later post, but the situation we were in was dire.

In Michael Fullan’s book, Leading in a Culture of Change, he talks about the Moral Purpose of change (that’s chapter 2 of Fullan’s book). I am a firm believer in there needs to be an urgency for change. In my situation, there was an urgency for change. By being identified as a Persistently Lowest Achieving School (PLAS), the community and staff were embarrassed and disappointed of the student achievement in the community. Now, we can debate the effectiveness of NCLB, but it’s tough to debate that it created urgency for change. Many would argue the effectiveness of the changes made, but it made change necessary. The status quo of past practices was no longer allowed. Anyway, our staff and our community had a reason to make some changes. Our staff rallied around the Moral Purpose of providing an education fit for our students.

In Fullan’s fourth chapter, titled Relationships, Relationships, Relationships, he discusses the need for building relationships when leading change. During my first year, I did not force change. I spent so much time building relationships with staff. I wanted to create trust. The changes I had in store necessitated that my staff trust me. What did this look like you ask... Conversations, conversations, and more conversations. I would purposefully seek out teachers during their preps, just to say hello or ask how their day was. I was in classroom, not to catch them doing something wrong, but to praise them for the good things I saw and there were lots of good things! Our staff had to see that I trusted them as professional educators and they had to trust me to lead them and trust that as we made changes, failure along the path would be accepted, learned from and built upon.

We spent time building to the change. We focused our professional development time on quality instructional practices, mostly formative assessment. The real changes came late in year one and into year two. We repurposed time during the day to provide supplemental instruction. We focused on quality teaching. If you are a PLC person, you know the Pyramid Response to Intervention. If 80% of students aren’t meeting expectations, then the core, classroom practices must be improved upon. Along with this focus on improving instructional practices in the core, we also provided supplemental instruction and focused on strategies to meet students were they were. Many students were not reading at grade level. We had to close that gap. We had to do it for our students!

What I have learned along this path we have taken over the past five years is this.... In order to implement changes, the people in the system have to understand why. To change for change sake is a waste. They have to have grasp the Moral Purpose of why the change is necessary. What’s to gain for my students? The people, your staff, have to trust you. In order to build trust, relationships have to be built.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pen and Paper.....???

I’m in the midst of my fifth year as a building principal. I remember my first year, very well. My eyes were opened to the jobs of the building principal. The time demands, the management, the instructional leadership, the .., the ... (Many, many tasks and jobs I needed to do). I felt that I was a very organized person. I had experience as a teacher and coach with a wife and two children, I felt I knew how to manage my time. I didn’t forget things, I stayed on top of things...

I remember one day very well that first year as a principal. It was a Monday and I was out in the building, visiting with students, stopping in classrooms to see how things were. During this hour or so of time, I was asked a question by one teacher. She needed a student’s schedule to be changed. There was a conflict with another student in her class and it would be better for all parties involved for the students to be separated in classes. An easy fix in our student management system. Then another teacher needed to use the school credit card for supplies for the class turtle, then another teacher needed to take a half day leave for a doctors appointment the next day. I came back to my office, took a phone call from a concerned parent, made another call to central office and then it was lunch time.

Three days later, I received an email from one of my teachers asking what had been done about the students’ schedules. I had said I would take care of it on Monday, however I had totally forgotten about it. With all the decisions I had made during those conversations on Monday, I had spaced it off. I was embarrassed. I let my teacher down...

I learned a lesson, I had to stay better organized. I reflected on the situation and tried to figure out how to resolve the issue. The next day, while I was out in the building, I was approached by a special education teacher who was having some concerns about how accomidations were being made in the general education classroom for a student. We visited about a way to resolve the concern. I then asked the teacher to email me about this to ensure I remembered. Problem solved... I went about this way of staying organized, remembering decisions during the busy times for quite a while. It worked for me.

Last spring, I read a Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker. This book resounded with me. I knew there were many tasks, decisions, things... that I had on my plate that could be handled by someone else, the person who owned it. As I reflected on my own practices, I soon saw that by having someone else email me to remind me of our discussion, decisions, or things for me to follow through on, I was shifting the monkey. I owned the decision. It was my responsibility to follow through. What I needed was a way to organize myself, so in the impromptu conversations, when a decision was made I would remember and follow through.

I consider myself tech savvy. I have a smart phone, an iPad, and a MacBook. There had to be a way for me to stay on top of myself using one of these devices. I tried multiple ways to do this. Google Tasks, Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, and other task management tools. What I found out was none of them totally met my needs. I tried to always have my iPad with me, however I would set it down in a classroom and then leave without picking it up. Each app I tried just didn’t meet all my needs. I use multiple devices, a Moto X phone, an iPad mini, and a Macbook. Universality of use is very important. I don’t like how Google Tasks work on the web and couldn’t find a good app that was easy to use on iPad. Wunderlist was as close as I came to something that worked. However, I have this habit of wanting an inbox of zero, or as small as I can. This carried over to Wunderlist. When I finished with a task, I deleted it. I then didn’t have that good feeling of what I had accomplished. So, what else could I do?

I bought a Moleskin, the 3.5 x 5.5 size. It fits in my back pocket and is durable. I now carry a pen in my pocket all the time. What I found out was the task of writing out what I needed to do has helped me remember. To actually draw a line through the task when it has been completed has been a rewarding experience. I feel that I have accomplished what I needed to do.

So, how do you organize yourself? For me, as a building principal, I needed to come up with a system. My productivity has increased and I have time for the things that are truly important.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


For most students, teachers, and schools, there is a set amount of time during the school day. Students arrive at school around 8am and leave around 3pm. Time is allotted for lunch, math, literacy, social studies, physical education, science, music, etc. There is usually a time for study hall. Well, really it’s time for students to socialize and do 5-10 minutes of homework. If closing achievement gaps and ensuring student learning are what you want to accomplish, your school day should be filled with time for learning, students working with other students or teachers.

I was selected as Principal of South Tama Middle School, in Toledo, Iowa in the spring of 2010. They had just been identified as a Persistently Lowest Achieving School via the No Child Left Behind legislation in Iowa. I started in July and embarked on a journey to ensure learning for all students. There was a daily schedule created when I began and time was given at the end of the day for a study hall. This time was consistent across all three grade levels. As I met staff, I asked what this time was for? The response was time for homework and also time for students to visit teachers to ask for help on homework. There was also a common response that it was a time teachers dreaded. There was not much structure and many students didn't need the time for homework. Being new, I knew I didn't want to shake the boat too much, however I knew that time would need to be used for something else. Specifically, time for interventions for students.

As the staff and I began to learn together over the next months, we had many a conversation about how we could utilize this time to help students close the achievement gap. I asked the question, can we use this time to provide instruction on prerequisite skills that some students were missing? The response I got was mixed. There were teachers that thought more time was needed for homework. Others, many others, were on board with utilizing this time for interventions. We made the jump. We divided up students based upon student data to provide added learning time for those who were struggling.

The question arose quickly, what do we do for the students who aren't struggling, the good students? We brainstormed and staff stepped up. We had a Family and Consumer Science teacher who teaches students about healthy snacks, then prepares and sells the snacks to students. Health, cooking, and financial literacy in one! A science teacher did a unit in conjunction with the local electrical company on conservation. Our Talented and Gifted teacher used this time to work with his students on extending learning and providing new learning opportunities. Everyone stepped up. We even had a Social Studies teacher who volunteered to take an intervention group for students who struggled with vocabulary.

So, you may ask, how has this worked out? We've refined our instruction and purchased research based intervention curriculum to support both students and teachers. There have been bumps on the road, but there have been some great victories. Staff have taken leadership and really made this time their own. In January of 2014, we were notified that we had been removed from the Persistently Lowest Achieving list. We celebrated our success and the hard work it took to get there, but we keep pressing forward, looking for ways we can provide more support for our students.

What have you done to repurpose time for student learning in your school?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Well, It's been a while since I've put words to a blog.... (Is that a new way of saying pen to paper?) Anyway,  a few weeks ago, while outside enjoying the beautiful Iowa summer grilling hamburgers for supper, Kaiser, our four year old, was on his bike. 

He was peddling back and forth in our driveway, making car noises like he was racing. He's figuring out how to go faster, use the brakes, turning, and sharing  the "road" with his sister on her bike. Seeing him really enjoy the freedom of having a bike, being able to go fast and have something of his own really got me thinking... 

Will his school be the same way? Will he feel like he owns his learning, or will it be totally teacher directed? Will he feel the excitement as he learns to put letters together to make words, or figures out what adding 2+2 is, or will it be just another task he's told how to do?

Are we doing this for all of our students? Are we providing environments where students own the learning, where it's okay to make mistakes? Kaiser has taken some falls and skinned his knees.  He doesn't  always want to get back up because it's hard or he's afraid to fall. We continue to encourage him to get up and try again. Is it okay to take risks in your school? Is failure the beginning or the end of learning?

 Kaiser has the bravery to try something new without knowing if he will be successful. Isn't that how you want to view something new:  try it; even if there is a possibility that you may fail, because you will just get back up and try again.   When students and staff have the freedom to take risks, allowed to fail, to learn from their mistakes and really move forward, they will experience success.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My take on school leadership... Building Principal's perspective

This is a part of a 3 post collaborative effort between Russ (teacher), myself (building principal), and Matt (central office admin) (And yes, Matt's my brother and Russ is my brother (in-law ... though he's a brother!))

We're planning to lead a session at EdCamp Eastern Iowa on February 16th. Being that we serve in different roles within a school, we would like to have a discussion on what school leadership looks like and what it could/should (in our opinions) look like. Being that I'm a building principal, I want to do a little pre-planning and sharing about my thoughts on school leadership.

In my last post, I wrote about being a collaborative leader as Principal.  I wrote that and submitted it to a educational magazine, was kindly rejected, so I posted it on my blog!

Anyway... I feel there needs to be a leadership structure in schools. One of my most important jobs is to be an umbrella for teachers. I want my teachers to be able to focus on what they are good at and paid to do... teach students, facilitate learning, and inspire our youth to pursue their dreams! I should be the one worrying about the budget, dealing with students who are too disruptive for class, and making sure the custodians clean the bathrooms and vacuum the floors. To me, this is a vital role of the Building Principal, these managerial tasks.

Managing the building is just one of the many hats the Building Principal is wearing in our current system. They are also to be the Instructional Leader. I know when I walk down this road, many teacher leaders and instructional coaches will fight for a say... but, in certain schools, especially smaller school districts, resources can't be used on instructional coaches. The role of leading professional development falls upon the building principal.

I do believe that my role as building principal is to be a lead learner. This can be leading professional development, or being an active participant in learning when a not leading PD. I've heard many teachers about their principals say, they haven't taught for 15 years, how can they tell me how to teach. I feel it is my job to stay in the know about teaching. I try to sub for teachers sometimes as well as volunteer to teach a lesson every once in a while. While I don't get to do this as much as I like, it sends a message to my staff that I'm willing and able!

Well, just a start of my thoughts on leadership... more of a validation of what I do, but I believe my role within my school is vital to it's function.