Don’t be that guy.

Last week I was chatting with my old buddy Kevin Johnson. Kevin is our Director of Technology and a gifted educator. Kevin and I have been in the education racket for almost 70 years combined. We were discussing a situation that comes up way too often out in the world. We’ll be talking with someone, and a sentence will begin with, “Kids these days…’. We about lose our minds. Well I do. Kevin is known for his calm demeanor. I am not.

Here’s KJ. Talking with a great kid. He’s very calm.

Here’s a sentence for you. Kids these days are great. They daily show grace and compassion towards others. Daily. They hold the door open for people. They say thank you. They shake your hand, while looking you in the eye. They’re enthusiastic and cheerful.

I’ve written on this subject before. As sure as the sun is going to rise, talks about the fact that every generation takes its turn lamenting the sorry state of the young people.

Don’t be that guy.

I was walking with a colleague who had retired some years before. A colleague who had worked in schools for 30+ years. He threw out the dread sentence. Kids these days. It was not pretty and I feel bad. Basically I challenged him to not be that guy. He knows better. Kids didn’t all of a sudden become horrible as soon as he retired.

Our students are Unified!

The kids that don’t make the news talks about the loving care students take of each other. Everyday. Those kids don’t make the news.

Kids help each other. Care about each other. Everyday.

One of my post-work goals is to never become that guy. Don’t rely on watching TV or reading the paper to think I know about kids these days. Should anyone catch me using the phrase…please deck me.

Thank you.

Our or my?

Pet peeve alert.

Principals, how do you refer to the school at which you work? Or the staff with whom you work?

My school or our school? My teachers or our teachers?

Teachers, how do you refer to your classroom? My classroom or our classroom?

We have a couple of good phrases in our district, and in our schools. For example, #togetherweRfife is our district’s main hashtag. The capital R stands for relationships. This idea is very ‘our’ vs. ‘my’. At our middle school, they talk a lot about “we’re all in this together”. We, together.

Working together in our classroom!

Do you have a reaction when a principal says, “I was working with my teachers at my school last week.”

I do. There seems something patriarchal, some big fat line between a principal and teachers with that statement. My teachers.

“Last week our amazing educators were working on mastery experiences in classrooms. We have learned that mastery experiences are the best way to develop a collective sense of efficacy. It was wonderful work that will have a huge impact on our kids.”

That sounds and feels better. At least it does to me.

Unlearn anything lately?

“The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” (Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning, by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani)

SLMS students at a recent school board meeting

Thinking about our students and the world and time ahead for them. Revisited the great book by Spencer and Juiliani, with that awesome quote above. Reminds me of another idea. Teaching doesn’t automatically mean taught. Listening isn’t learning. And once learned…sometimes it needs to be unlearned and relearned. Communication and transportation, for example. Getting items from the store. Virtually anything, given the pace of change. What was learned 2o years ago…needs to be unlearned and relearned in many cases. I used to use the rotary phone to call my friend Greg every night to do our algebra homework. Kids now use Google Hangouts to virtually meet, share, discuss, and learn. In junior high, I used to use the payphone, with a quarter, to call my parents, let the phone ring twice, and hangup, so they would come pick me up from wrestling practice. Now…my kids text.

What have you unlearned and relearned lately? I bet more than you imagine!

The power of a great principal.

Sitting at home, enjoying the last day of vacation, I began to ponder the topic for my Monday morning blogpost. As usual, I didn’t have a great idea right off the bat. But as usual, something popped up that just smacked me in the head. And the smacking this time came from the majority of our principals, as they were sending out their weekly messages to staff and parents. I was overwhelmed by their thoughtful, insightful, and motivational writing; gearing everybody up for the return to school.

I thought I’d share some of their words.

The principal at Endeavour Intermediate School, grades 2-5, is Amy Mittelstaedt. Amy’s message to her staff is here. She wrote beautifully about opportunity. She talks about what she is reading and what she is learning as a result of her reading. Powerful message and powerful professional learning modeling!

Amy and David, the administrators at Endeavour!

“The passage I’m sharing with you is something that resonated with me and I thought that I would share as I am reflecting, learning and growing in my professional and personal goal setting for the upcoming 2020 year.

The following is from the book, (Relentless, 2019, p. 32, Author, Hamish Brewer).

“You get to choose your attitude. You own it. Your attitude is your responsibility –no one else’s. Before you go through the doors of your school each morning, think about the opportunity that you have each and every day — the reason why you wanted to be a leader and educator. If you are not thinking about the opportunity, then you are focused on the obligation of a j-o-b, and that is where average lives. If you are leading and teaching for opportunity, you are on fire!”

Mark Beddes is the principal at Surprise Lake Middle School. Mark and his staff are currently occupying half of a school, as their new school is being built right next to the old one. Sounds like a nightmare, middle school kids? Tight quarters? Not at SLMS. Not with Mark and the SLMS Team. They are rockstars. Here’s part of why. Check out Mark’s message to the staff. Again, models his reading and shares! Podcasts, fellow bloggers, avid twitter user. Wow! In his words to his staff, Mark shares and models like crazy!

“Here are some of my favorites I have come across. If you love learning about our profession check out this great article on 2019 education research highlights. If you read just one of the articles linked in here, you won’t regret it! If you prefer a little more personal reflective piece about how education has changed in the last decade, check out this great blog from Katie Martin. If quotes are your thing, check out this post by George Couros. Or, maybe you had a tough break and you just can’t get your mind straight. I know some have had to deal with personal loss, sickness, family issues, or surgeries. This article is for you.”

Mark Beddes, with one of his many fans!

At our high school, we are fortunate to have Brandon Bakke. The link on Brandon’s name goes to the school Twitter account, because I think Brandon and his team did a brilliant thing. They’ve shared access to that account with a number of people, because a high school always has millions of things going on, and one person can’t be at everything. Although Brandon sure seems to try. Brandon is an absolute marvel as a leader. Clear, decisive, supportive, and always on the go. He is that which successful high schools need. A high school person. He lives, loves, and breathes high school. And he knows he needs to take breather every so often. And he did this last break…and shared that idea with his staff. A hugely important message to all teachers, including high school teachers.

Brandon Bakke, out and about with kids. Like he is everyday, all the time!

The final principal I’m going to share in this particular blogpost, in the interest of time and space, is Mark Robinson. Mark is the principal at our junior high school. In fact, he’s the principal that took over for me when I moved to the district office. Mark is doing more, different, and better things with the staff and kids than I did. And I couldn’t be more proud of him. Check out this beautiful piece of writing to welcome back his staff. Another leader sharing his learning. Mark is searingly honest, which serves his staff so well. Here’s part of that honesty.

“I also find myself reading any and everything about lessons we’re learning about child development… amount of screen time… how to help teach resilience… how to treat all moments with your kids as special… I warned you. I’ve been a bit wistful.

One of the reasons I find myself enjoying reading is the discomfort difficult discourse creates. When we are honest with ourselves and each other, we create opportunities for growth. Don’t we ask that of our students in the moments we ask them to learn something new or different? For educators, examples include deciding that we will read a book even if it’s not our jam. We will try that new instructional practice even though it’s different from those we have mastered. We will work on tasks that are outside of our comfort zone because we know the act may be important. We will decide NOT to write off that student who has perpetually made our professional life difficult these past few weeks. We will try new things.”


Mark and Chris, monster leaders!

It’s hard to imagine a great school without a great principal. And our good fortune is that we don’t have to imagine. We’ve got ’em.

Thanks all. Our kids’ lives are so much richer because of you.

Keep reading. Keep thinking. Keep learning. Keep leading.

Dear leaders,

Consider this idea from Dave Burgess, “I consider it one of the most important parts of my job to constantly expose myself to the high quality thinking of other people. It challenges me, it keeps me current, and it provides me the raw resources necessary for creative alchemy.”

Never apologize for not standing still. Never apologize for reading, thinking, learning, or leading. Our work with and for kids is too important. Too life changing and life saving. Don’t dim your light to make others feel more secure.

Your students need you.

Kind regards,


The definition of innovation. In action. Today.

We are very lucky to have Mr. Keith Hannah as our District Instructional Technology Facilitator. The fact that he is also a National Board Certified Teacher and an ISTE Digital Citizenship PLN Leader are bonuses for our district, our teachers, and most importantly, our students.

This morning, he sent an email to all of our secondary teachers, inviting them to go on an adventure with him, as he offers this learning opportunity: Bring the World to Your Classroom with Google Expedition. This invitation struck me as the very definition of innovation, as described by George Couros. “I’m defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative.”

Creating opportunities for kids to see and experience vast resources, “From Mount Everest to the Louvre, there are over 900 VR Expeditions in the Expeditions app for you and your class to explore,” is something new and better, it is, by definition, innovative

Students using Google Expeditions!

If you haven’t ever watched kids, or adults for that matter, experience VR or AR Expeditions, do yourself a favor. It is a thrilling experience for all involved!

Thank you Mr. Hannah!

We’re in the people business people!

Caught this brilliant tweet below from the inspiring Aaron Hogan. Aaron is a monster educator who wrote a book titled Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth. I highly recommend this book.

His cool idea is detailed above. My immediate thought was, “Man, principals should do the same thing!” And I was fixing to adding my searing insight, when I noted that Aaron had already beat me to it by adding his own comment. Oh well, great minds and whatnot.

As a principal, I would literally run over the school building in my mind to make sure I had touched base with each teacher/staff member each day. I didn’t always make it out to all, but the simple exercise helped me. I tended to drift to the staff members I had known and worked with for decades. An odd choice, but a comfortable one. Realizing that I hadn’t talked with a particular educator in a couple days, caused me to scoot on down and just check in. Not to observe, not to get a kid. Just see how the teacher was doing.

As we rightfully focus on kids and their needs, we can simultaneously focus on the educators on the front lines, taking care of the kids and their needs.

We’re in the people business people!

Take care of the people taking care of the people!

Today’s smackdown prompt.

Our talented Director of Teaching-Learning-Innovation has our educators in the middle of an awesome #FifeTwitterSmackdown. Thank you Elaine Smith!

Today’s prompt is “Who was your favorite teacher and why?” Such a cool question to ask teachers. Choosing one favorite teacher is a rugged chore.

Here are three of mine and why.

Stewart Elementary School was a tiny school when I attended, starting in 1967 or so. One classroom for each grade level. I had the same teacher for 1st and 3rd grade. Mrs. Mary Rawlings. For some reason, I can bring to mind many memories from that long ago time. She was a wonderful teacher. I loved when she read to us especially. Brilliant. At one point in my 3rd grade year, I promised to buy her a fur coat. Not sure why, but there you have it. Probably because I loved her. Fast forward 20 years, I’m teaching away as a middle school teacher. A kind looking, slightly older woman, slid into the classroom and took a seat in the back. She didn’t look too threatening, so I just continued on with my schtick. Eventually I asked if I could help her. And she said, “No, I’m just here from the school, to observe.” Oh ok. “What school?” “Stewart Elementary.” I about fell on the floor. She was my beloved Mrs. Rawlings come to see me teach. Wow! And she mentioned the fur coat. That part of the equation hasn’t come to pass, but how cool is it that she found one of her millions of students to swing by and say hi?!

My other two favorite teachers were both from high school. This is not to slight my junior high teachers. I had some fantastic junior high teachers. And this is also not to slight my own dad, who was one of my teachers. He’s just in a different category altogether.

Mr. Jim Taylor was my senior year AP English teacher. AP was in its second year at my high school at the time, and the English class was the only AP offering. Mr. Taylor was hands down brilliant. A searing sense of humor. A depth of intellect. He oozed intelligence. And ooze was one of his favorite words. One time I was popping off to impress my dudes in the class. He called out, “Nelson, your face.” “What about it?” I retorted. “We’re going to have a class discussion.” Well that pretty much just shut me down completely. The last thing I wanted to do was to hear my colleagues discuss my face in class. Yikes. I didn’t realize how much I had modeled my teaching self after him until after he had passed away. I ran into his wife at a grocery store. She and I were also close. I had done my student teaching with her, just before being hired as a teacher. She is a monster teacher, gifted in her own right. Anyway, she was acting very strange and distant. I asked her if she was ok. And she said, “It hurts too much to be around you. You remind me so much of Jim.”


Mr. Taylor, also a world class drummer!

And finally, Mr. Ken Edmonds. Mr. Edmonds was a great teacher, but where he had the largest impact on me was as a coach. He was the jv wrestling coach. He made a point of coaching all the kids, not just the superstars. He saw potential and through a combination of toughness and compassion, moved you forward as an athlete, but more importantly, as a young adult. My favorite thing about Mr. Edmonds is his greeting anytime I see him. He acts like there is no one else in the world he’d rather see and greet than you at that moment. That is a good technique, and one I bring to action as often as I can.

Mr. Edmonds, a fantastic role model!

We are all the result of the combination of our influences. I am lucky to have the influential teachers I’ve had in my life.

Thank you all.

Getting uncomfortable to learn and grow.

Our superintendent met with me recently to talk about my professional growth goals. One of my goals is to closely, uncomfortably, and necessarily challenge my own biases and understand my privilege. A colleague recommended the two books below. I’ve finished So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo and am about a third of the way through Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.

Why, at this point in a 36 year career, is it important to examine biases, prejudice, and privilege? Because to do better work as a leader, a learner, and communicator, I need to understand from where I come, from where my thinking and opinions come, and challenge them. I know I can do better.

A couple of quotes that are guiding my thinking and learning now.

“Ask yourself: Am I trying to be right, or am I trying to do better?”

“Yet I don’t believe that avoiding all potentially upsetting conversations serves anyone.”

“Right through my senior year of college, life exposed me mostly to other versions of myself and the customs and traditions I considered normal.”

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” -Anais Nin

“Privilege is a strange thing in that you notice it least when you have it most.”

And this whomper quote,

“What else don’t I know?

Your playing small does not serve the world.

Can’t get that idea/quote out of my head this morning. Part of the line,

Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you.

Which is all part of the entire poem:

Our Greatest Fear —Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

-Marianne Williamson

Why do we play small sometimes? Or often? Convenience? Fear? Laziness?

Let’s check ourselves and let our lights shine. The kids and our colleagues deserve our best light.