Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Only once a year?

Every new year brings the opportunity to start fresh.  It is an easy opportunity to make things happen or to forgive yourself in whatever way you need it, and begin again.  Sadly, January 1st only comes once a year.

Beginning January 1st, make your plan to not wait until January 1st ever again.  If you want to set a goal, make a resolution, or choose to live by your personal mission statement, don't wait on the calendar to choose your starting point.  Choose it yourself!  Don't wait for the next Monday or the next 1st of the month, choose your own starting gate and go!

Monday, December 29, 2014


Only a few more days to make yourself a few new promises for 2015.  I've seen a recent trend that makes sense to me.  Rather than the usual resolutions that end up as disappointments after a few days or weeks, quite a few people are setting goals that change habits and involve a support system.  Rather than a promise to "Do Better..." at some thing or another thing, make your resolution measurable and share it with the world!

Principal Salome Thomas-EL (@Principal_EL) set a goal of running 500 miles in 2014.  He challenged folks to join him on Twitter.  Check out hashtag #500in2014 to see examples of how a great Twitter community can work together to achieve goals!

By resolving to run 500 miles during the year, he was able to change his exercise habits and involve others.  He didn't promise to run every day, or even more generic, to get more exercise.  He sustained an injury along the way.  It slowed him down for a bit, but it did not kill his goal!  His goal was a year-long endeavor rather than a simple resolution to do better!  Way to go Principal EL!

He also publicized his progress on Twitter.  What a great way to keep yourself motivated!

Now I need your help.  For 2015, I am going to create a list of books to read.  I am thinking somewhere between eight and twelve for the year.  I will track my progress with #12books2015.

What are the must-read books for 2015?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Beach time!

So much to do!  So much to get done!  Gotta hurry!  Gotta go, go, GO!

This sounds like pretty much everyone I know for the next few days!  Traveling, last minute presents, and let's not forget the thirteen trips to the grocery store to get the sliced almonds for the green been casserole and the marshmallows for the sweet potatoes!  Then for those of us with kids, the morning of December 25th is all about surprise and smiles and laughter!

Then we get to some point after the craziness, and we get to slow down.  That point where we stop hurrying to get ready for the holiday and we actually relax.  

I wonder if there is a way to make things slow down over the next few days instead?  Can I slow down and soak in the next few days and relax, even though the trips to the store will still be necessary?  So many people, myself included, typically need a few days off after the vacation, to recover from the vacation. 

In the summers, I call this relaxing period, "Beach time."  After several days on the beach, with nothing to do but enjoy the minutes with my toes in the sand.  Things slow down and there is not much urgency at all.  I relax.  That doesn't mean that I sit in a chair under my EZ-Up the whole time.  For me, I am catching sea critters and fishing with my boys.  We play in the waves and play games on the beach.  I read a few pages and chat with friends.  I take a thousand pictures.  I am actually quite busy on the beach!  But it is the most relaxing busy that I know.  Beach time.

Is there a way to get myself on beach time for the next few days?  I am gonna try it out!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Two Steps Forward

Last year, around this time, I was gearing up for my big New Year's Resolution.  I was determined to eat better, lose a few pounds and make exercise a habit again!  I know...I shared this resolution with about 200 million other people in this country!  I resolved to start this on January 2nd because there is always leftover pie on January 1st!

So on January 2nd, I really worked hard to make it happen.  I started off great!  Through January and February, I ate more vegetables and less bread.  I stopped going back for a second helping at every meal.  I started going on some long walks and even ran a bit.  I did push-ups and pull-ups and other exercises that can easily be done at home and in the office.  By the end of February, I had lost about 20 pounds and I was feeling good!  I had established a few new habits that were working for me!

On February 28th, a friend asked me if I could play for his indoor soccer team because they were missing a few players.  I eagerly agreed and played pretty well.  It was a blast!  With about three minutes left in the game, I was chasing down a ball that was heading towards our goal, I flipped the ball against the wall to my right, then cut left.  Unfortunately, my knee cut right, and POP.

I tore my ACL.  I knew it.  I limped off the field, and grabbed some ice.  A few days later, the doc confirmed my injury and scheduled surgery for March 20th.  What a downer!  For the first time in quite a few years, I had made a resolution that actually stuck!  It stuck because I chose a few easy habits that I could actually maintain.  The question became, would I be able to keep up with my new routines through the six month recovery period?

Post surgery included  massive back pain and a nasty hematoma under one of my incisions.  Six months turned into eight months.  A few months into rehab, I felt like I had failed to maintain my new habits.  I wasn't focused on the veggies as much and there was really no way to get my exercise with a bum knee.

What's the point?
Looking back now, I realize that I didn't exactly fail.  I may have missed days (or weeks) but the general habits are still there.  Missing one day or week does not mean that I destroyed my resolution.  It does not mean I broke the good habit and I need to start from scratch.  It doesn't mean that I need to wait until the next January first to begin again.  A habit is not broken so easily, especially if my resolve to keep it is strong!  "Two steps forward, one step back" is still progress!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Predict...

When faced with a tough decision, what are the questions you ask yourself?  Do you play out the potential scenarios?  Do you weigh the potential benefits against the potential detriments?  Among all the questions, do you ever actually ask yourself, "Will this make me happier?"

When faced with a tough decision, we all have different thought processes that come into play.  Robert Biswas-Deiner says, "We make a lot of our decisions based on predictive future happiness."  While I don't think this is necessarily new information for me, I know it is the first time it has been presented to me so clearly.

When faced with a tough decision, I try to take my time, consider all the factors and options, gather the opinions of others, then choose.  Now, I am going to ask myself one more question, "Am I giving my future happiness too much emphasis as I decide?"

It is hard to imagine purposely making a decision that does not eventually make me happier.  I'd like to think that I won't make a decision out of fear that the choice will actually lead to less happiness.  Sure, there will be times when I must muddle through the thunderstorms in order to find the end of the rainbow, but isn't it worth it?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Choose Bravely!

When you take a risk and try something new, you are exercising your freedom.  When you avoid the risk, you are still exercising your freedom.  Your choice to do nothing new is still your choice, given to you by your own freedom.

Whether you take the risk or do nothing, you own the choice and the outcome.  Choose bravely!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Drive Safely!

I remember loving cars when I was little because of the dashboard.  I loved all the little gauges with the needles that pointed out one measure or another.  I wondered what they measured and I liked to watch them move.  It took me a while to understand the tachometer.  I didn't quite comprehend how the engine speed could differ from the car's speed.  I was also intrigued by the "red zone" on the tach.  That was the engine's danger zone!

These days, I keep my eyes on the gauges in my truck to make sure my car doesn't over heat and everything is running well.  I'd prefer not to break down on the side of the road!

I was chatting with a co-worker a few days ago and he told me that he was hurrying home from work and there was a Sunday driver in the left lane with a line of cars backed up behind him and an empty lane ahead.  He was traveling 15 miles an hour under the speed limit and gradually getting slower and slower.  He said, "The slower he went, the higher my road rage gauge climbed!"

That got me thinking...we all have personal gauges for a variety of things.  We all have measures that go up and down depending on our circumstances.  Theses gauges may be more or less sensitive to certain issues than other folks.  For example, your road rage gauge may not budge when you encounter a slow driver in the left lane.  But, maybe you get cranky when that same driver throws his cigarette out of his window.  That may make your litterbug gauge jump to eleven!  I think these personal differences are somewhat based on your own personal wiring.

 I know there are tons of inventories out there to help get in touch with our personalities, our internal wires.  I think those inventories can be quite helpful for people to get to know themselves.  I have done several of them and I know that I am a learner, I am orange (True Colors), and I like to ask questions.  I also know that I need to be more patient and I need to be a bit more organized.

However, those inventories provide a snapshot.  A somewhat static, overall measure.  Realistically, many of the traits on our personal dashboards are more like the gauges in our cars.  They change constantly due to other factors.  How often do we monitor our personal gauges?  Do we know when we are about to hit the "red zone?"  Do we monitor our dashboard to make sure we don't break down on the side of the road?

Drive safely, my friends!

Monday, December 15, 2014

What's your story?

Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, writes, We are our stories."  He says that our need to be heard is more prevalent and urgent in today's world than ever before because it allows us to express how we fit in this world and why it matters.

Spend an hour in any Kindergarten classroom, and you will undoubtedly hear 60 different stories about 60 different things, and that may just be from one kid!  We are our stories.  We take vacations and we tell people about them.  We get a flat tire and we tell people about it.  We hear a story from a friend and respond with our own similar circumstance.

For years now, my response to folks who fall victim to Murphy's Law has been the same, "Look at the great story you will be able to share for the rest of your life!"  Indeed, we love to tell the stories of our best adventures...and misadventures.  My friends and I have quite a few college stories that we continue to tell 25 years later.  There were many misadventures to be sure!

Wouldn't it be incredible if we created a culture in our schools where we shared our misadventures in learning?  As we encourage kids and teachers to take risks in their learning, let's also encourage them to brag on their misadventures.  Everyone loves to say, "I got it right on my first try!"  Let's create a culture where even more pride comes from, "I got it right on my 20th try!"

Friday, December 12, 2014

Happy Dance!

Last year, at a regular faculty meeting, the disco lights came on, the music played and we danced!  We talked about the courage it takes to make our school worthy of all the little people that were counting on us.  We also talked about the need to stay happy in our pursuit of excellent learning.  These talks were not preachy by any means, as the faculty owned a brave and happy attitude and brought it to life!

A few teachers, a bit out of character for them, decided they were going to head out to a local restaurant for lunch and courageously crank up some music and start dancing.  I don't remember why it didn't quite work out for them, but I thought it was really cool for them to try it!  Very happy and brave!

Thursday, December 11, 2014


I have always had career goals, but I've never written a career bucket list.  The idea excites me!  I'm definitely going to write down the things I want to do!  I'm also going to give myself a running head start by writing down some of list-worthy items that I have already accomplished!

What is on your career bucket list?

I googled the term, "Career Bucket List," and, as usual, someone else has done this before me!  This website by Tal Gur has some ideas: http://belowzerotohero.com/career-bucket-list-ideas

My favorite is, "Become the sheriff of a small town."  I'm probably not going to add that one to my list, but it is fun to think about!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I go to Work!

In 1989, Kool Mo Dee released, "I go to Work."  Great song!  For years and years, I never said this phrase.  I always said, "I'm going to school."  Until quite recently, pretty much my entire life has been at school.  Whether I was the student or the teacher or the administrator or the consultant, I was always going to school.  I loved saying that!  I am proud of my profession and I am proud of my service to children and teachers.

Over the last six months, my career path has taken me into an office setting.  I still care passionately about high-quality education and I came here to see if I could serve our students from this vantage point.  Luckily, I can!  Upon my arrival, I knew that my learning curve would be HUGE!  Six months later, it is still steep.  I am still learning more than anyone in the building.  I still ask questions all day long. I am still the lead learner!

Yet, over the last six months, I have said, "I'm going to work."  Perhaps...since I am still learning so much, I should still say, "I am going to school!"

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Where did those words come from?

Last night, during the Teach Like a Pirate twitter chat (Mondays 8pm to 9pm CST, search the hashtag #tlap), I replied to one of the questions with a statement that I have been thinking about all day.  The question was, "How do you empower your students and colleagues with shared leadership?"

I responded with, "Don't be a school leader that doles out permission.  Be a school leader that clears paths for innovation."

Wow!  I am quite sure I channeled someone much wiser than me to get those words out.  I can't stop thinking about the realities of fully bringing this ideal to life.  So many times, folks have great ideas so they go to their supervisor for permission.  How do we move to a place where people grant themselves permission based on a few questions:
  1. Is this best for students?
  2. Does this idea move us towards achieving our vision or our goals?
  3. Will any of the other excellent facets of our campus suffer because of this?
With the right answers to these questions, permission would not be needed!  Instead, wouldn't it be excellent if the school leaders could respond with:
  1. I can't wait to see how it goes!
  2. What paths can I clear for you?
  3. How can I support your leadership?
Finally, can this be done in a classroom full of students?  With excellent design, I think it can!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Seven Days, Seven Scary Things!

On December 1st, I wrote about my plan to do one thing each day that scares me.  Well, I have gone through seven days in December and done seven things that scared me and I just noticed something.  Not one of those scary things included a parachute, a Youtube video, or local law enforcement!

All seven things did include some kind of conversation.  Not a single one was confrontational or even a disagreement.  It made me wonder, what kinds of things can make it hard to chat?

It may be tough to fully listen.  I have always told students, "Try to listen with your eyes, your ears, and your heart."  Listening with all three can be a challenge!  Empathic listening, from Habit Five, is something I believe in.  It is also not always easy!

It may be tough to be honest.  As we all know, honesty is the best policy...unless it isn't.  If we are ever out in public and I ask you if my clothes match, please just say, "Yes!"  If I ask you before I leave my house, be honest.

I think the toughest challenge may be to stay true to your beliefs.  When people disagree, conversations can be tough, especially if there are several correct thoughts, or answers, or beliefs.  Sometimes, we whitewash what we say to be sure that we don't offend each other.  Sometimes, we defend out beliefs so strongly, we dishonor a differing opinion.  Can you stay true to your beliefs while honoring someone who thinks differently?

I am sure there is much more to this entire concept than I have written here.  I should re-read Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott.

As I forge on through December with my plan to do one thing each day that scares me, I'll be watching my conversations to see if I can learn more about why they can be scary.  I'll also continue to steer clear from local law enforcement!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Who said that?

I like quotes!  They typically convey an important message in a few short words.  They are poetic.  Twitter and Instagram seem to be filling up with more and more famous (or not so famous) quotes.  So many, that I don't dare try to read them all.  Too many to soak in!

Yesterday, I was talking to a group of dedicated educators and I think I rattled off four or five quotes in the course of an hour.  They were definitely some of my favorites but now I wonder if listening to me was like walking down the greeting card aisle??? Did they hear what I believed in or were my words going in one ear and out the other, like reading through all those greeting cards?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Is your table round?

Have you ever organized a meeting and sat around a table with a bunch of folks to brainstorm?  Perhaps you were looking for a solution to a problem or an improvement to a process.  Maybe you were designing something new?  Regardless of the purpose, once the design has been created, tasks must get done!

Who will do each task?  A well-rounded table typically sees each task fall to the person who happens to show strength, expertise, or passion for it.  The schedule-driven person may create the timeline and manage the process.  The talented writer may take care of the communication.  The artsy folks may lead the creative process.  People typically fall into the roles for which they are best suited.  This is one of the advantages of a well-rounded table.

This leads to the question, "Is your table round?"  In other words, is your team made up of folks who may not necessarily agree on things, but certainly bring individual strengths to the table?  Sometimes, we end up inviting people to the table who think like we do.  There are definitely advantages to this.  Easier conversations and quicker answers would most surely happen.  But does it give you the best end to your assignment?

Dr. Stephen Covey says, "If two people have the same opinion, one of them is unnecessary."  The point is that if your table is surrounded by people who think like you do, the team may not reach the greatest levels of success.  It takes courage to invite folks who think differently than you to the table but it just may lead you to something far better than you could have imagined!

Next time you invite folks to your table, make sure it is round!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The To-Do List

One of the best school counselors I have ever known, was the master of the To-Do list.  She wrote down everything she needed to do and everything she wanted to do.  She got things done!  Her method of organizing herself each day was quite scientific.  She wrote her tasks in pen and crossed them off with a Sharpie.  It always made us giggle when she would walk back into her office, write something down that she had just finished, then immediately drew one, straight line through it with her Sharpie!  She would say, "I didn't have THAT on my list but I gotta write it down!"

Her list included the important things:  counseling kids and teachers, working with parents, teaching guidance lessons, helping a teacher, planning for school improvements, etc.  Her list also included regular tasks such as:  cut-out shapes for lessons, make copies for meetings, and order supplies for Red Ribbon Week.  She used her list to get the important things done and the rest of it too!

Dr. Steven Covey says we need schedule our priorities.  If it is truly important and vision-focused, it is worth prioritizing!  Ensuring that the important things were accomplished increases effectiveness.

I tried to use her method for myself, as I was always trying to find ways to increase my own efficiency.  After a few days, my list looked like a mess!  This method didn't work for me.  I modified and adjusted in an attempt to make it work. A few more days, and it still didn't work!  I asked her how she was able to keep it going so well and how she didn't let the little things get in the way of the big rocks.

She told me that no matter what order her tasks were written, she knew she needed to take care of the people on her list first.  (The people were highlighter yellow!)  If someone was counting on her, it got done first.  She did the little things along the way.  She also told me that her list was her way of celebrating all that she did for the people that were counting on her!  In other words, her list helped her effectively take care of her relationships because without them, nothing else mattered.

At that point, I changed my perspective.  For me, I focused on the people that were counting on me, rather than creating a written record of all that I did each day.  What a difference!  Thanks, Lorie!  You helped me improve!

Monday, December 1, 2014

31 Scary Days!

My first glance at my Twitter feed this morning reminded me that today is December 1st and we have 31 days left in the year.  I saw numerous tweets and a few blogs about making these last 31 days count, trying new things, being a better friend, listening more and talking less, practicing generosity, and so on.  All good things to remember during the holiday season!

I also saw my little note to myself that has been stuck to my desk for almost two years.  It reads, "Do something every day that scares you!"

I'm sure that I saw this on Twitter and wrote it down.  It is an interesting thought!  I don't think it necessarily means that you need to perform death-defying stunts each day.  It probably should not include attempts to get to work in record time, breaking every traffic law on the way.  But, can I do some thing each day that scares me just a bit?

For the next 31 days, I'm going to record my, "...something that scares me..." each day.  I hope to publish this list to my blog soon afterwards.  Today, I had a conversation with a friend about his health.  He mentioned that he needs to lose about 80 pounds.  I took a deep breath, and bravely told him that I was worried about his health too.  I told him that every day he waits to turn his health around will make his turn-around tougher to accomplish.  I looked him in the eye and honestly told him that he needs to prioritize his health.

I think he was surprised to hear me say it. I was a little surprised too, but what I told him was the truth.  Usually, we want our friends to tell us what we want to hear.  Sometimes, we want our friends to tell us what we need to hear.  It can be quite difficult to know the difference.

I also told him that I believed he could do it and that I would do some push-ups with him every day if he wanted me too!

Thirty days to go!  Join me!  Record yours for 30 days!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Happy and Brave Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Turkey Day and I am thankful for so many things in my life!  This is not about that.  This is about the courage I need to exhibit for the next few days.  I will need to muster up a great deal of bravery to not eat every blooming bite of deliciousness that I see!  Yummy food makes me happy, but feeling like an overstuffed couch pillow does not!

Seriously, how can I happily pass up twice-baked mashed potatoes with cream cheese, cheddar, and bacon?  How do I not sample all six varieties of pie?  In our house, we constantly ask, "What time is it?"  We do so because the answer is always, "Pie:30!" and Pie:30 happens 29 times per day!

Wish me luck, friends!  I do intend to be quite full, but hopefully not to the point of a Monty Python style feeding explosion!  Or, just like last year, I'll overdo it for the 40th year in a row and vow to learn from this year's indulgence.  I guess I'll try to fail forward yet again.  When will I learn!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Successing Forward, Part 2

Dr. Jeffrey Rubin says that people learn more from their failures than their successes.  Does that mean that the smartest folks around you have failed the most?  I remember a middle-school string of logic that made me laugh as an 8th grader:

The more you know, the more you forget,
the more you forget, the less you know,
The less you know, the dumber you are,
So don't learn anything, it makes you dumber!

As an educator and a parent, I want kids to have a growth mindset and feel as though they can learn anything they want to learn!  Last week, my son was asked to write a six-lined poem.  Each line needed to be a metaphor and the poem needed to rhyme.  I'm not sure what the learning target was, but I liked the fact that he had to really work with words to complete the assignment.  He had to come up with six rhyming metaphors which meant that he had to write, erase, rhyme, erase, write, erase, and so on.  It took trial and error.  He had to get it wrong a bunch of times before he got it right!

Each line he wrote held some words that stayed and other that failed.  Each line originally had flaws then got better with revision.  He persevered through the unsuccessful words and didn't let the discouragement of failure slow him down.  He failed his way to success!  But really, he successed his way to success.  The words that needed revisions along the way were not failures, they were simply words that didn't work well!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Successing Forward!

"Fail forward" is today's buzzword for taking measured risks and learning from the experience.  Don't be afraid to try something new!  Failure is the first step towards success!  Twitter is full of good quotes about failing forward.  I've retweeted a few of them because I actually believe in them!  I think that educators are experts at failing forward.  We constantly try new things, modify, adjust, and try again.  We are action researchers all day long!

As folks around me fail forward, I have noticed something that struck me in a very positive way.  There is actually a lot less failure than those words describe.  For the most part, I really see folks "Successing forward!"  I see educators trying new things and making them work!  Sure, they may be a little raw during the first attempt, but success happens.  Of  course, the real measure of success comes by measuring what you are trying to improve.  Did the students learn more?  Was it deeper?  Were they more engaged?  Was the learning activity more authentic?

Success is gauged by the purpose of your new efforts and how well your efforts made improvements.  So really, I think I have seen more "successing forward" than failing forward!

Failing forward really just means that we should take a scientific risk that our new efforts will lead to improvement.  I love being a part of this profession where we are constantly seeking to do better than we did before!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What changed your mind?

"You can't think your way into right actions, but you can act your way into right thinking."

According to Google, Bill Wilson gets credit for this quote but I have heard the premise many times before.  What is easier to change at first, your mind or your behavior?  In a classroom full of kids, I think we would all agree that you set the expectations for certain behaviors and the benefits of those behaviors cause kids to believe in them!

I always think about James, a great kid I taught in fifth grade.  He hated the idea of "hands on" math.  He thought that little blocks were for little kids, not fifth graders.  He wanted to learn how to do fractions and decimals on paper.  I wanted him to deeply understand how three fifths and 60% were the same.  Anytime he needed guidance with his learning, I didn't hesitate to pull some kind of blocks out of my Home Depot tool belt.  (Yes.  I wore one!)

At first, he would reluctantly work with me.  He experienced success even though his attitude said it was wrong.  After a short time, I saw him grabbing his own set of blocks to work things out.  Victory!  As his teacher, I changed his behaviors which eventually changed his mind.

More than not, if you need to change your attitude, change your behaviors first.  Your mind will follow!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Work out time!

Last night, I was chatting with my boys on the way home from soccer practice.  I told them that I had skipped my exercise routine for over two weeks and that I needed to jump back in.  I tore my ACL and had reconstructive surgery in the spring.  There were complications so my recovery took longer than expected and I spent a lot of time not exercising!  About three months ago, I started doing push-ups, pull-ups, and walking, which was just about all I was capable of doing with my new ACL.

When I woke up this morning, I thought to myself, "Today is a great day for a walk and some push-ups!"  A great day to get in a work-out!  Then I wondered, "Why don't people plan for mental work-outs?"

A lot of people will buy gym memberships and spend hours upon hours working out their bods.  Do those same folks actually plan for mental exercise?  Does anyone?  I know that simply jumping into a good book is great for the brain.  Games like chess and puzzles also give the noggin a workout.  Engaging in a thoughtful and meaningful argument also makes you think.  Even a good dose of meditation is great for your head!  These things happen for a lot of people quite often.  But I still wonder, "Are there folks out there who plan for a mental workout?  Do they record their mental exercises on a little pad a paper like folks at the gym?"

Time to work out.

Just a Setback

How do you deal with a setback?  What happens when success is right around the corner, then an unforeseen barrier is thrown in the way?  It could be the weather, a grumpy teammate, or a new rule.  How do you handle it?  How long do you let the setback stay in your way?

Regardless of the size of the barrier, it is perfectly OK to feel the natural disappointment or frustration.  Let it soak in, but do not let it swallow you!  As soon as you are able, remind yourself of your goal, assess your new situation, make a new plan of action, then forge on!  Remember, the best dances are two steps forward and one step back!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Just in Case I Might Need This Some Day

Twenty years ago, I walked into my first classroom and found, "The rookie classroom set-up."  Four walls, one window, two chalkboards flanked by bulletin boards, a rolling chair, a file cabinet, the oldest teacher's desk in the building, and 30 mismatched desks and chairs for my students.  They newest guy always got the oldest furniture on campus.  I didn't care though!  This classroom was mine!

I sat and looked across this blank template of a classroom for a few minutes.  How would I design this room for great learning!  I moved all the desks in little groups of six.  Then I rearranged them into groups of four.  Another move into pairs, then back to fours.  I shoved the teacher's desk into a corner and threw the file cabinet against the wall.  I actually could throw it because it was empty!  What would I fill it with???

Within 20 minutes, my new teammates stopped by and introduced themselves.  Each one looked across the room design, measuring my efforts.  I didn't notice any negative judgments.  Hooray!  Each of of these good folk also handed me some kind of paper.

"Here is a great opening activity for the first day!"
"Have the parent fill this out."
"Make sure they do this before they leave open house."
"Keep this for the end of the first day."
"Use this if they get restless."
"They can color this for a mental break."
"Here is my first month's packet for math."
"This quiz will tell you what the kids remember from last year's grammar."

And on and on and on...

I had no clue what I would need, so I diligently made a copy of each item I was given and began filing them away...just in case I might need it some day.  I found stuff for my file cabinet!  My team was extremely generous.  They continued to gift me with priceless resources that a rookie teacher just might need one day.  Indeed, I used some of the stuff I was given.  I also made a copy of everything and filed it away.

I also quickly learned that the best papers to keep were the things I created; lesson plan ideas, resources, things to read, and templates.  Not worksheets.

Each year, I used a few things I was given, but I found myself using the idea of the resource to create something better for my class.  Of course with each activity I created, I was sure to make an extra copy to go into the file cabinet.

Six years later, it was time to grow so I moved to a new school.  I started packing things up and grabbed a box for the resources in my file cabinet.  I spent hours going through each file, thinking that I needed to cull the mass of paper.  I probably trashed less than 5% of it.  I remember thinking, "I might use this one day."  Realistically, I probably only used 20% of the those things more than once.  I probably used less than half of it at all.  Nevertheless, I couldn't trash it!

After another couple of years, I was fortunate enough to follow my fifth graders to middle school as their assistant principal.  Again, I fingered through this invaluable collection of greatness.  Only this time, it didn't seem so great.  Instead of saying to myself, "I might use this some day," I found myself saying, "I did this different and better year after year."

Instead of seeing it as invaluable, I saw much of it as outdated, or more so, in need of improvement.  A giant pile of paper that I once considered necessary, was now turning into trash, yet it was still difficult to part with!  The funny thing was that I only used a fraction of it!  Most of it was kept because, "I might use this one day."

As I packed up the rest of my classroom, I thought to myself, "I should go see if another teacher wants any of this."  But really, if it wasn't good enough for my students, it wasn't good enough for any.  I was actually a little bit proud of myself for using a few of these items, but for the most part, creating even better learning activities for my students.  I scoured through the reams of paper one last time, trying to find something worth keeping.  In the end, I kept three file folders of paper.  Then with much courage, I shoved the rest of it into the recycling bin and walked away.

That night, I couldn't help but wonder if I made a mistake.  I didn't. It didn't take long to realize that I would have benefited from a different mindset from the very beginning.  Through every lesson, like most teachers, I reflected on ways the learning could have been improved.  What could have gone better?  With that in mind, I should have known that keeping a piece of paper in need of refinement was not necessary.

Since then, I wave witnessed many teachers with the same file cabinet.  Seemingly full of great learning yet most teachers used ideas from their file cabinet to create something better for their students.  Most of those teachers, like me, made an extra copy to file away too!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Serious Business!

The Texas State Capitol was abuzz with activity a few days ago.  There were scouts setting up tables for something fun.  A huge group of folks in light blue shirts were on the steps listening to somber music and holding up signs for their cause.  Tourists posed for photos and pointed at everything.  A Segway tour hummed around the sidewalks and throngs of school children played in  the grass.  All the while, the folks working in and around the capitol went about their daily business.

I stopped and watched for a few minutes.  I watched the adults act like adults and the kids act like kids.  It reminded me of my first foray into middle school.  An 8th grade teacher told me that I acted too elementary.  I kinda thought that the place could use a little more elementary!

Watching the activity all around me, I looked for similarities between the kids playing and the blue shirt rally.  Kids were running to and fro, gathering in small groups, chasing each other.  Some were sitting and laughing, others were inspecting the trees and dirt.  A few peered through the fence and waved at passing cars.  Some hung by their teachers and others laid in the grass and looked at the sky.  It was serious business!

The rally also shared a common cause.  They wanted amnesty for some perceived injustice.  They all faced the steps of the building and shook their signs.  They stood together and clapped together.  They hurrah-ed together and cheered simultaneously.  There were also little groups doing their own thing.  Organizing tables and pamphlets.  Setting out water and snacks.  Pointing up and down sidewalks and making decisions about where to do what.  It was serious business!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Brave and Happy Change

Every single day, educators are faced with new:  new students, new initiatives, new lessons, new challenges, new teams, new tests, new interventions, new crises, and etc.  New means change and change is not easy.  It takes courage to embrace change.

Interestingly, change is easier when you want it or like it, or deeply understand that you need it.  Change is tougher when it is someone else's idea.

The difficulties of change also hinge upon one's familiarity with the factors involved.  For example, when I rededicated myself to an exercise routine following my knee surgery, it was easy to walk, do push-ups, and do pull-ups. Any attempt at a new exercise routine would have been tough at first, but my understanding of these three activities helped.  If I had tried to get my workout with something completely unfamiliar, like karate or ballet, the learning curve would have been much steeper and my early successes would have been fewer.  It would have been tougher to embrace the new.  However, my friends would have most certainly been entertained if I had tried ballet!

New happens frequently in education.  Improvements happen every day!  Teachers are scientists in an ever-changing lab.  Teachers tweak variables all the time, looking for a better outcome.  Teachers also throw out the old a start anew quite regularly when a better way is believed in or wanted.  The change that causes the most talk is the one that is "forced."

Whether from the state government, the superintendent, or the principal, when something new is chosen for the teacher rather than by the teacher, it is accepted with varying degrees of acceptance.

When this happens, what level of brave and happy do you choose?  How do you enter this pool?  Do you jump into the deep end and splash around or do you tiptoe into the water as slowly as possible?  Do you own the pieces that are within your circle of control or do you focus on the variables that you have no control of?  To be brave and happy, don't let your unfamiliarity with change determine your success.  Let your brave and happy attitude determine your success!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Thank you to our nation's veterans.  Thank you for serving this great country so that we may continue to enjoy our freedom.  The bravery you showed through your service, your giving, and your sacrifice goes beyond what I know.  I am honored to say thank you and I truly appreciate what I have because of those who served.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Plan for a little smile

Have you ever found yourself without a smile and realized that it has been several hours since you wore one?  Perhaps you were intensely involved in a planning for tomorrow.  Perhaps you couldn't get your mind off of yesterday.  Perhaps you were completely wrapped up in a lengthy to-do list and didn't write down, "Stop and Smile," anywhere!

I say, plan for that smile!  Find something that only takes a few minutes, but it can get your brain back on the happy track!  I have recently tried my hand at a little iPhone photography.  I try to capture an artistic pic that I can be proud of.  I may not always get the shot, but the effort makes me smile.  This is my simple method to take a few minutes for myself just to play around and plan for my smile!

Here is yesterday's "just for fun" picture.  There is no meaning to the bottom of the mushroom, other than the fact that it made me smile!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Saying No

Trying new things, innovating and creating better systems and improved practices takes courage.  It is not easy to head into something new and different.  Sometimes, though, it actually takes the most courage to simply say, "No."

Perhaps the time is not right, or the circumstances need more consideration.  Perhaps the new plan isn't quite ready or the people just aren't prepared for it.  Sometimes, "No" is the most courageous response!

But really, I strongly prefer, "Not yet!"

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Door

Do you teach with your door open or closed?

Some teachers keep their door open all the time.  Some keep it closed all the time.  And for some, it depends on the learning activity in the classroom.  I've seen great teachers in all three categories.  I started asking folks if the opened/closed door was a choice or not.  The reasons I heard were pretty common and not unexpected:
  • It's just a habit to close every door I walk through;
  • The hallway is usually too loud;
  • I leave it open so it doesn't slam 300 times a day with every bathroom trip;
  • My class pours out into the halls for flexible learning settings, and;
  • I can't teach when it is open.  I'm scared people will judge my teaching.
 Years ago, I feared teachers with closed doors.  I wondered what they were hiding.  Were they keeping the greatest lessons to themselves or hiding a horrible classroom?  Now, I know that some teachers may simply be hiding their lack of self-confidence.  Even some of the best teachers, magic in front of children, lack a bit of confidence in front of another adult.

Teachers are almost always their own worst critic!  We love to praise the great things we see in other classrooms.  We also love to find the faults in most of our own lessons and we brush off any praise that others may give us.  I would like to challenge you to see things through a different lens.  Before critiquing the learning in your classroom for things you want to improve, find the greatness in your own designs for learning.  Pat yourself on the back for what worked well.  Celebrate your expertise and share it with others so that they may improve by watching you and hearing from you!

Whether your door is open or closed, I challenge you to share the great things you do with each other! Bravely share your expertise!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Homework on a holiday???

Last Monday, our local school district held a professional development day and my kids were stuck at home.  I wanted to check out my older son's real-world problem-solving abilities, so I gave him a homework assignment.  The street light in front of our house was burnt out.  I asked him to report it to whomever needed to know so that it could shine again.

First he asked rhetorically, "Homework on a holiday?" not believing that I was serious.  Then he asked, "Who do I call?"

I replied, "Figure it out!"

A few hours later, he texted that he couldn't find the contact information and asked for a hint.  I thought that was great!  He reached out for guidance.  To be fair, we leave in a small Municipal Utility District (MUD) rather than within the city limits so it was probably quite difficult to find.

I told him the name of our MUD and he was able to get it done.  He found the contact information he needed online and made the report!  Way to go, son!  It is good to see that our kids can actually apply some of the skills we want them to apply to actual human life!

Now, I am busy thinking of other meaningful things for the kids to do!  Any ideas?

Friday, October 31, 2014

My fortune cookie

I have experienced twenty incredible years in education!  The greatest majority of my time has been joyous and productive.  I can look back at my career and pinpoint many highs and a few lows.  I can draw out the waves of joy and despair within the profession, but without a doubt, my career happiness has slanted upwards!

I was the only male teacher on campus for my first year.  I was quite sure that I was already the best teacher on campus and that I would walk out the door at the end of the year with the award.  After only three hours, I calmly walked next door and asked Ms. Kiley for help.  I had a lot to learn.  More than most actually.  Most novice teachers begin with better equipment than I did.  Looking back, my students may not have learned anything that first year, but they did have fun!

What I lacked in my toolbox, I made up for thricefold in passion and enthusiasm.  I wanted to learn everything I could to become a better teacher, and I loved every opportunity to do so.  For several years, I went to every professional development opportunity I could!  I wanted to learn and implement.  I needed help and sought it.  More than most, I also took my new knowledge and put it into action.  I equate my willingness to learn and implement new stuff with jumping into the deep end of the pool.  Many teachers will learn something new, then tiptoe into that new endeavor one tiny little improvement at a time.  I prefer to jump in the deep end of the new and fail my way to success.

Once my classroom time turned to office time, as an assistant principal, I once again jumped on every learning opportunity!  I was blessed with three fellow administrators to show me the way.  I was also blessed with a district that prioritized professional learning the same way I do.  My interest in high-quality student learning simply broadened.  It became an excited passion for high-quality learning, regardless of age!

As a principal, the need to focus on learning for all was paramount to success.  Student learning was always the focus.  If high-quality teaching was the vehicle to get there, then high-quality professional learning were the keys to that car!  Professionally, I now firmly believe that passionate, high-quality faculty learning leads to the best possible student learning.

After 20 years, my desire to create a passion for learning extends from our youngest students to our most experienced teachers.  Engaged learners with a desire to improve make the school a better place for kids.  As educators, we should always model a desire to learn new things and fail forward.

When teachers model excellent learning, students benefit.  That is my fortune cookie statement.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The one who Sang!

I walked past several classes on a field trip at The University of Texas.  Throngs of 2nd graders were heading from one place to another.  They were quite excited to get to the next place and four of the teachers looked like they were tightrope walking their last threads of sanity.  The fifth teacher was singing loudly and her students were singing along.  General happiness and no problems!

Were the classes composed of different children? No.  The only difference seemed to be the attitude of the teacher and her response to the situation!  The kids in her class won and the teacher won.  Win-Win!  Well done, Master Teacher!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dirty Hands

I just chatted with an Agricultural Science teacher from Somewhere, TX.  His passion for his content is incredible!  He loves helping kids not only understand the content, but he designs learning so that hands get dirty every day.  With a greenhouse as a classroom, I joked that it is easy to get hands dirty when you are working with soil and approximately 1000 poinsettias!  We both giggled, then he said, "Even the best math teachers should ensure that hands get dirty every day."

So true.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Good Morning! Now choose!

If I wake up with a few extra minutes in the morning, I like to take a quick peek at my Instagram account, @Glennwilly.  If you are not familiar with Instagram, it is definitely Facebook Lite!  Simple pictures, posted by folks I choose to follow, with occasional comments.  I can scroll through the entire timeline in just a couple of minutes.  Plus, I can keep up with my middle school boys!

I follow a couple of folks on Instagram that post inspirational quotes.  They are oftentimes good reminders to start the day.  The one that pops up most frequently mirrors the theme of choosing my attitude.  Easy to say, but occasionally difficult to do.  Nevertheless, my attitude is the one thing I cannot be forced to let someone else to choose for me.

Viktor Frankl, former death camp prisoner and author of, Man's Search for Meaning, said, "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

Tony Dungy, Superbowl winning coach, said, "You can't always control circumstances. However, you can always control your attitude, approach, and response. Your options are to complain or to look ahead and figure out how to make the situation better."

Dr. Stephen Covey narrates through The Leader in Me, "Choose your own weather."  Kids love this analogy and so do I!

Easy to say, sometimes hard to do.  But I wake up each morning and start by choosing Happy and Brave!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Brave and Happy

I teach because I believe that our children should be amazingly better than their parents.  I learn because I also believe that I should be better today than I was yesterday.

Anyone that has ever chosen the path of a teacher and found themselves standing in front of a class of children, understands the need to live bravely and happily.  To many, the idea of operating bravely in a classroom is interpreted as a joke; a statement about today's unruly children and today's broken education system.  On the contrary, teachers need bravery to genuinely create learning experiences that have never been seen before.  I believe our students are smarter than ever!

 If we are to make learning authentic for our students, we must bravely breakthrough the boundaries of what has been done before and challenge the limits of what our students have previously mastered.  Bravery means to keep our expectations high, regardless of the obstacles, and doing everything possible to ensure that students meet those expectations.  Everything.  Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate says, "It is not supposed to be easy.  It is supposed to be worth it!"

Happy should be self-explanatory.  Novice teachers almost always talk about, "...seeing the light go on," as the greatest joy in the profession.  Indeed, it should be!  Anyone who loves working with children knows that joyous moments happen all day long for myriad reasons!  But oftentimes, the freshman insight fades.  Joy is killed by things such as high-stakes testing, mandatory curriculum, a new initiative, too many restrictions, and of course, "Not enough time."  The truly effective teacher doesn't let their happiness disappear due to such things.  The truly effective teacher loves their job more and more, each and every day!

Brave and Happy is my prescription for making every day in your classroom worthwhile for your students and for yourself.  I am looking forward to this journal experience and I invite your comments and questions.  Thank you!