The Marshall Memo

One of the first things I did when I moved from the role of building principal, and after spending 31 years in buildings, was gather resources, connections, and networks to challenge my thinking beyond all that I knew and thought I knew from that long stretch of time.

One of the resources I found was the Marshall Memo. I’ve signed up for Kim Marshall’s weekly memo. He culls through a ton of resources, identifies articles of wide interest, provides a brief summary, and sends it along. Every week. And every week I find something of value. On occasion I’ll share part of what I’ve learned that week.

This week is no exception. This morning I learned about ‘Stay Interviews’.

“Stay Interviews” – A Proactive Strategy on Teacher Attrition

            In this article in The Learning Professional, consultant/coach Kathy Perret says exit interviews give leaders insights on why people are leaving their jobs, leading to improved working conditions. But “stay interviews” are a better idea, she says: asking staff members how they are feeling about their jobs and what they need to happily remain in the school. “Such reflective, one-on-one conversations between teachers and school leaders,” says Perret, “are critical for nurturing a healthy school culture, and stay interviews can show staff that you are invested in them for the long term.” 

            Perret recommends making the interviews voluntary, choosing questions appropriate to the school, and stressing that the chats are confidential and aimed at making things better for staff and students. Some possible questions:

–   What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?

–   If you were to consider leaving this position, why would that be?

–   Describe your ideal school.

A middle-school principal in Texas was surprised when a number of teachers immediately signed up after she floated the idea of stay interviews. The conversations were “amazing for my soul,” she said, providing valuable insights on changes that needed to be made. Teachers said they were grateful for the opportunity to share their perspective. 

            Perret recommends working with an instructional coach or another member of the leadership team to organize teachers’ suggestions (anonymously) by topic, analyzing them looking for trends and Aha moments, discussing the findings with the staff, and deciding on a few immediate changes (quick wins) and longer-range initiatives. “After these steps,” she says, “leaders and coaches should monitor the changes over time and collect artifacts to share with staff about progress and areas in continuing need of improvement.” 

“Want to Retain Teachers? Ask Them What They Need” by Kathy Perret in The Learning Professional, February 2023 (Vol. 44, #1, pp. 10-11); Perret can be reached at

As we continue to unknot the challenges from the pandemic, and there are many challenges, and they are real, it is part of everyone’s role to attend to the needs of the people who carry the weight of our work. Teachers. And seeking out teachers’ input on what is right and good in buildings to build upon makes so much sense. It’s easy to find the difficult and challenging, but do we ever ask what is good, helpful, and possible?

Here’s an opportunity to do just that. Stay Interviews.

It’s still just a tool.

Caught this as part of a tweet this morning. From Rob Lennon. A Wharton professor requires his students to use ChatGPT. Here are the rules for its use:

This is a solid policy, in my opinion. My favorite bullet is the last one. It’s a tool. Great for some uses, terrible for others, emerging as a tool. We’ve had that stance in our district for a long time. Sometimes a pencil is the best tool for the job at hand. Or a device. Or ChatGPT. Or…..

Learning how and when to employ a tool is a skill as much as anything else.

“Learning to use AI is an emerging skill…” I like this too. Let’s not run away. Let’s not be afraid. Let’s not ignore. Let’s embrace, learn, control, build, imagine, scheme, and grow.

“Be thoughtful about when this tool is useful.”

Sounds about right.

Once again, a simple idea.

Photo via Twitter

Here we have a great picture of kids studying, working, and learning in a group. Reading books of choice in a Holocaust unit. 8th graders. Picture and lesson design shared by Dr. Jacquie Duginske.

Check out the bulletin board behind the kids. That immediately caught my eye. I have a propensity to look at all the stuff in a picture. That board jumped out big time. I believe an entire doctoral program could be used to study that which teachers choose to adorn bulletin boards. The choices are just amazing. This one is a beauty. Is beauty.

“Take what you need”

Humility, hope, love, self-control, kindness, peace, patience, confidence.

I reached out to Dr. Duginske to ask about the board. Here’s what she said, “Yes, the teacher puts quotes in each envelope for students to take when they need one.” I love this idea.

My teacher heart and mind just started cranking additional ways to use this idea. Kids create the SEL areas for quotes. Kids find and fill the quotes. Kids take the quotes they need. Quotes in other languages. Pictures.

Such a simple, beautiful, elegant idea.

Taking what I need.

Took a minute.

Had a few minutes this morning before various events, visits, and meetings. Headed to TweetDeck. Found 3 ideas/quotes that caught my attention and challenged me to think.

Good way to start the day.

Idea one:

I have seen this idea before. It sure seems like a great way to start any meeting. I know we have done this very activity in our TLI department. Wrote cards to various colleagues. Of course, the cards were well received and appreciated. I also know from my teacher/principal experience that feelings would be amplified when the cards/messages are sent to kids or to kids’ caregivers/families. Thank you Emma Pass for this one!

Idea two:

I just love this idea. In our district, we start with relationships. Peers, colleagues, kids, families/caregivers. The teaching and learning act remains a human endeavor. Tools are always flying at us to dehumanize the presentation of information and facts. They can’t replace the relationship between a teacher and a kid. Thank you Kimberly Kindred for this one!

Idea Three:

“It’s very simple. You just need to be a completely different person.”
-Michael Fung, then principal of Charlestown High School in Boston, to a second-year teacher who was still struggling with classroom discipline. Fung, who also served as principal of Taft Middle School and as a central office leader, passed away last month. (Marshall Memo, 2.7.23)

I’m still pondering this idea. My initial, gut reaction was to push back. Then I thought about different experiences I have seen in classrooms. I don’t know about being ‘a completely different person.’, but I do know that the counsel I offered in some cases was that to expect a change in anything, while doing exactly the same thing, was likely folly. So something had to change. I also strongly believe that the best teachers are pretty much the same people in and out of class. I also think about the idea of ‘fake it until you make it’. So I don’t have any final, cool thoughts on this seemingly simple quote. Ain’t that great? It’s got my mind rumbling around, arguing with itself. To make it better, I need to talk with others about it. Probably why I emailed this quote to three different groups of colleagues.

Ok, off to a meeting.

Every day brings a new opportunity.

From the new FHS STEAM Center, photo credit: Rachel Elder

A good friend of mine made this photograph this morning. Her son has a zero hour class, so they were at school really early today. The photo is from our newly completed, and recently opened STEAM Center at Fife High School. Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. A gift from our community to its children and the people who work with them. Possibilities, dreams, action, plans, innovation, discovery, failure, challenge, triumph–all possible here, every day.

In addition to just being a stunning picture, a reminder of the beautiful area in which we work and live, it also reminded me of the power of every day and opportunity.

Reminds me of this great line:

“Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.”

L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Always a tomorrow, to make new mistakes, new learnings, new discoveries.

As sure as the sun is going to rise.

As kids are leaving the classroom.

A message to students as they leave a classroom.

Saw a tweet from Zac Bauermaster last week. The image above was a part of the message. Got me thinking.

Thinking about upcoming professional learning sessions. Of any kind. Or any upcoming meeting. I’m wondering:

What would our message be for our students as they leave our classrooms?

Be safe!

Make good choices!

See you tomorrow!

You matter so much to me!

Ask questions!

Be curious!

Be somebody’s friend!

I’ll miss you until you come back!

Did we laugh today?

Did we learn today?

Don’t underestimate kids.

We have opened 3 new buildings in our district over the last 3 years. A new middle school, a new elementary school, and a new high school STEAM Center. Science, technology, arts, math. Not actual steam like the Titanic.

One of the cool things that happens when a district opens new schools, is people like to come visit. And we love to host and share and show off. So yesterday, we were joined by the Fife City Manager, the Mayor, and a City Council member.

We walked around the building, pointed out features, answered questions, and generally enjoyed the entire event. We decided to pop into a 5th grade teacher’s classroom. The people popping in were the mayor, our superintendent, and yours truly.

The teacher immediately introduced all of us and asked the kids if they had any questions of the mayor. Bear in mind, there was no preparation for this event, and the kids are 11.

Here are a few of the questions they tossed at the mayor.

 “What is happening on 12th St. in Fife, over at the bottom of Fife Heights?”

“How did you feel when you won your first election?  What about the next one?”  

“What kinds of things do you do as mayor?”

Of course the mayor did a fantastic job answering the questions, and one of the things that I really appreciated was that she answered the questions as she would have with adults. Clear answers that the kids understood. The Q/A could have continued for awhile, but we needed to move along.

As we left, I was struck by the visit. Kids are great. Teachers are great. This particular teacher is a complete pro. She has built a classroom environment where 3 visitors come in, kids are not phased, she gives the kids the opportunity to engage as they see fit, and the kids absolutely nail it.

For any who fret about kids, school, teachers, education, civics; yesterday was a solid piece of evidence that we’re in good hands.

As we gathered to end our tour, the council member asked the principal how the city could best support the school. The answer had nothing to do with money. The answer was to continue to be a part of the school’s community, come read to kids, visit classrooms, expose the kids to as many different kinds of people, doing as many different kinds of jobs as we can find.

The kids will become adults, become voters, become teachers, principals, mayors, council members, and today was a step in their young lives into their futures, as citizens.

ChatGPT-Please remain calm.

We have a whole bunch of talented and passionate educators around our district. One of them is a gentleman named Keith Hannah. The list of Keith’s accomplishments and accolades would fill an entire blogpost. Trust me on this, Keith knows his business. His current title is K-12 Instructional Technology Facilitator. As with all of us in our small district, that title is the very tip of the iceberg in terms of what Keith carries on his shoulders.

So I like to use Twitter. And I’m seeing a lot of teeth grinding about ChatGPT. Kids are going to cheat. It’s the end of writing and thinking as we know it. Mankind will come to a close. And so forth.

Probably not.

Here’s part of Keith’s direct message about ChatGPT to our teachers. Note the calm.

“If you haven’t already become aware of ChatGPT – a form of artificial intelligence (AI) trained to provide natural language answers to questions on virtually anything and everything – even solve math problems and write essays incapable of currently being detected by plagiarism detectors like TurnItIn and Classroom Originality Reports – consider this your introduction to ChatGPT. I have spent the last week or so pouring over different resources addressing issues ChatGPT brings along with its potential role as a change agent in education. My “ChatGPT travels” have left me thinking about how this particular form of AI, which can seem a little nefarious or scary at first, may actually enact positive, transformative change.

Without question, ChatGPT and other forms of AI are disruptors to education. What’s more, they are only going to become more sophisticated over time. The first thing we need to pause and remember is that education has always faced technology disruptors…calculators, Google searches, and Wikipedia to name a few…and yet found meaningful ways to leverage these disrupters for educational value. The very idea that students can simply provide the interface with a prompt or question, and *POOF* an essay appears before their very eyes fills many-a-writing instructor with a certain sense of dread. Before we waste too much time worrying, however, I want to pass along a resource that many of you may find a measure of comfort in.

Click HERE to check out what I feel is probably the most comprehensive yet time-sensitive, thought-provoking, and solutions oriented resources I came across in my exploration of ChatGPT.”

This resource provides you with the following:

  • An explanation of ChatGPT
  • Potential implications for education
  • How to teach tomorrow in the face of ChatGPT
  • Ways to use this as a tool for teaching/learning
  • An exploration of blocking or banning ChatGPT
  • And, for the curious, additional resources to learn more

My favorite line of reasoning in the above? “education has always faced technology disruptors…calculators, Google searches, and Wikipedia to name a few…and yet found meaningful ways to leverage these disrupters for educational value.

I’m hearing about districts that are ‘banning’ ChatGPT. Not sure how that would work unless we’re taking kids’ computers out of their homes. How about we follow Keith’s advice and see how we can best leverage the power of this brand new tool? It ain’t going anywhere. Let’s use it.

Like Keith suggests.

200th blogpost.

On March 29, 2016, trying to practice what I was preaching, I wrote a blogpost for the first time. It’s not a particularly scintillating post. But it did serve a purpose. It started me on a writing journey, as a professional challenge, that has paid off many and many times over.

For example, a career path changing event is described on May 12, 2016 after I read Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, for the first time. In fact, George’s writing had such an impact on me, I wrote about it 4 days later.

I’ve had the change to meet with George several times, including bringing him to our district to keynote a learning session with our entire district staff. Suffice it to say, he nailed it.

It’s interesting to see the top 3 most viewed posts. I would only have guessed one of them. The top one is Midvale School For the Gifted. That dude has been viewed 14,277 times. I’m going to guess it must be found via a Far Side search as much as anything else. Number two on the hit parade is Distracted because of a device? That one weighs in with 5090 views. I would have not guessed the top two at all. I would have guessed that the third one, was going to be the top one. I’m especially proud of this one. Ten tips for new teachers! 1872 views. I’m especially proud because my favorite job in my now 39th year, was when I was a classroom teacher. 16 years with middle school kids. My strongest and most permanent memories of a career are centered during those years. I got married and we had our kids during those years. Just so formative. I’m proud that I will never have a job longer than my 16 years as a classroom teacher. I worked with amazing people during those years. Our middle school had an all star staff and two of my favorite people in the world, Dave Hockman and Kirk Dodge, were integral to any success I’ve had, and we carried each other during tough times.

What have I learned over 200 blogposts? Several things. First, when you think you are done learning, you need to make a change. You should only be done learning when you are ready to be done living. I’ve written about my embarrassing statements regarding knowing everything. I think the best statement came in this the blogpost Ten tips to be a successful principal, from one principal. I added an 11th tip. “I lied about ten. Just thought of a huge one that I can’t neglect, and I don’t want to delete any of the above. Number 11 tip for a successful principal is to continue to grow and learn. A real sign that it’s time to move on is when you think, “I know it all, seen it all, and can’t learn anything else. I’m full.” I speak from painful personal and professional experience.”

Second, the more you learn, the more you need to learn. And more importantly, the more you learn, the more you need to unlearn. So many things I look back on and cringe. Dr. Maya Angelou sets me straight.

Third, we’re in the people business. Big people, little people, medium people. Everything else is second to that, and every role in a district stands in support of the most important role, the teacher. Period.

And finally, by far the most retweeted image and message I have from these 200 blogs is this one:

We can take things very seriously in education and often we absolutely have to do so. However, some of my most special memories come from having fun with my friends and kids at school. Watching kids watch the grownups have fun, and knowing the impact that was having on them…and on the school climate, made it feel like we were playing with house money. We were being paid to have fun, enjoy ourselves, and work with students. Everyone should be so lucky to have that in a job, not to mention a career.

So, number 200 is this one. As Jed Bartlet says all the time in The West Wing, “What’s next?”