How can I help?

At our recently completed leadership retreat, we had the chance to chat with Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf.  One of our questions to them was, “What are you reading?”  They both answered, Talk To Me, by Kim Bearden.  It’s absolutely fantastic and should be required reading for everyone.  Literally everyone.


Two ideas spring to mind.  Two stories.  So far, with this book as the catalyst.  Wait.  Three ideas.

One.  It’s sometimes better to be lucky than good.

Two. As a principal, when dealing with distressed parents, I used to close the door in my office, invite them to sit, then ask simply, “How can I help?”  Always asked that first.  I found this question, genuinely asked, was usually disarming and the last thing frazzled parents expected to hear.  And then we went on from there, usually with calm and success.  I accidentally was following part of Kim Bearden’s advice.

And three.  When people come by to see you, stop what you’re doing.  Look up.  Honestly engage.  Demonstrate that you are engaged in each person. This is a personal challenge for me.  Reminds me of my favorite coach, Ken Edmonds.  Whenever I see Coach Edmonds, to this day, he enthusiastically greets me like I’m a long lost friend, big smile, warm and vigorous handshake, “How are you doing Jeff?!  It’s great to see you again!”  Always makes me feel awesome!  I learned that from him and try to do the same.  Kim Bearden’s story along these lines is when she met Oprah Winfrey.  Yes.  The Oprah Winfrey.  Kim was hoping for a simple handshake.  Instead, Oprah turned to her, took both of her hands, looked into her eyes and asked about her.  Fully engaged.  The rest of the world disappeared.  Wow.

How can I help?  Give people your full attention.  Solid human being ideas.  Thank you to Kim Bearden and her fantastic book!

Culture eats strategy for lunch.

We are fortunate in our district that we can spend time, before the school year begins, with our building leaders in a retreat setting.  This summer was no exception.  However…this summer we had an especially exceptional retreat.

One of the things that made this retreat exceptional was the opportunity to directly talk with the authors of Lead Like A Pirate, Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf.  We had read their great book in advance, used activities and quotes from the book, and generated questions to pose to the authors.  They were kind enough to spend an hour, using Google Hangouts, to chat with us, and answer our questions. It was absolutely phenomenal!


One of the quotes from LLAP that guided our work at the retreat was, “Holding all-day meetings does not constitute a retreat.”  So we worked hard to make sure that wasn’t our story!

After the day’s work was done, our leaders had free time to do as they pleased.  What ended up being the activity of choice for the majority was to float a nearby river.  The temperature outside was easily in the mid-late 90s.  So sitting in an inner tube, floating down a river for a couple hours seemed not only logical, but a relief from the heat.

What we didn’t know was that this activity would turn out to be one of the highlights of the whole retreat.

4 of our 6 schools have new leadership teams.  1 of our 6 teams has exactly one year under its belt. We are bringing on board 3 brand new to our district leaders.  We are launching the careers of two brand new principals (high school and elementary).  When we designed the retreat, we bore this reality in mind, and wanted to manufacture opportunities for people to get to know each other and begin to grow together as a team of leaders.  Plopping down in an inner tube and floating a river was not a designed activity.

Turns out that is a great way for people just to chat.  Our new high school principal worked very hard to spend quality time with every single person on the river.  It was perfect!

As we finished up the retreat, we asked for general comments and feedback and one of our principals said this about the culture and climate he had experienced in our district, since arriving 3 years ago,

“I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It never dropped.”

Through the simple act of floating a river, our culture became real to our new team members.

People, relationships, teachers, kids, families.


We are ready for the best year ever!

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

A group of friends have been gathering in various configurations and locations since 1983.  As we’ve done for the last couple years, we split time between an ocean and a lake.  This year, as dinner was drawing to a close, sitting on the deck near the lake, one of our friends mentioned the idea gleaned from George Couros“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”  We went around the table answering that question.  The table included a range of ages and professions.  One of the things that most struck me about the conversation was the universality of that question. One person talked about new training she’d had regarding kids who had attempted suicide returning to school.  One person passed on the question.  One talked about recent new foods she had tried. The answers were wide and varied.  I’ve well detailed how that question has impacted me.  This blog is a direct result of that question.  Two of the things I’m thinking about now are what will I do for the first time over the course of the upcoming school year, and how intentional does one have to be to try new things?  I don’t know the answer to the former and I think the answer to the latter is to be pretty intentional.

Image may contain: cloud, sky, tree, outdoor, nature and waterI’m reading a fantastic book at the moment called The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath.  One of the coolest things about this book is that it was recommended to me by our very recently hired, new high school principal.  I love that he is a learner and not afraid to model his learning.  Critical attributes in an educator and leader, in my opinion.   This book makes very clear the notion of intentionality.  The authors describe a great activity called Palmer’s Dream Exercise.  Basically teachers are asked to fill in this sentence:

Imagine that you have a group of dream students.  They are engaged, they are perfectly behaved, and they have perfect memories.  Fill in this sentence: 3-5 years from now, my students still know _______________________.  Or they still are able to do___________________. Or they still find value in _____________________________.

The answers are put on a whiteboard in front of all participants.  Palmer notes that very few of the answers are content focused.  He reminds them that they have just described goals for their students.

Then he has them look at the syllabus for their classes to see if the goals they have for their students match.  Usually…..they don’t at all.

This is an interesting exercise, done with college professors.  I wonder if the same results would occur with teachers in K-12?

I wonder if the next time I do something for the first time what I will learn?

Can’t wait.





Big huge conferences matter! #ISTE18 #ISTE2018 #ditchpanel

Just left a panel discussion, headed by Matt Miller, author of Ditch That Textbook.  This panel is EXACTLY what big huge conferences can do for educators.  A panel of living, breathing, full blast, working right now, in the trenches, educators, sharing experiences, growth, failures, laughter, and love of and for our educator world.  It was spectacular.  Check out the hashtag #ditchpanel for all the great thinking!  Thanks colleagues and PLN!


This year’s powerful words.

IMG_6276I like to look back, as a school year comes to a close, at the words that carried extra impact on my thinking and learning over the course of that school year.  Here are some of the words from the 2017-2018 school year.  Apologizes to any not attributed!

This year’s powerful words.

  • “Schools supposedly have the universal mission of preparing students for lifelong learning and creating students ready to engage in modern careers. Yet most students still power down their devices when they come to school and only power up when they’re using a computer at home or a mobile device in and around their communities (Prensky, 2008). As a result, learning at home, for students who have digital access, is often more powerful than learning at school.”
  • “When we instead hold students back due to our own fears, lack of knowledge, or unwillingness to give up control, we deliberately hamstring their chances of success.”
  • Even on your worst day, you are still some child’s best hope. —Larry Bell
  • Learning involves student conversations. Whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning. -David Geurin
  • If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they are just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough. —Rushton Hurley
  • The first typewriter remained unchanged for over a hundred years.  The first iPhone became obsolete in 10.
  • 20 quotes from the first half of David Geurin’s book, Future Driven
  1. Is your school a time capsule or a time machine?
  2. The ultimate 21st Century skill is the ability to “learn, unlearn, and relearn.
  3. It’s essential we prepare students for the world they will live in and not the one we grew up in.
  4. We see things. But we don’t always see things as they are. Our vision is clouded by our own filters. We are limited to our own perspective. Often we’re too close or too far away to make good sense of what we see.
  5. Mere survival today depends on being able to do something that overseas knowledge workers can’t do cheaper, that powerful computers can’t do faster. And what we do must satisfy nonmaterial, transcendent desires of this abundant age. The skills in greatest demand will be those that can’t be replicated by a machine or can’t be outsourced for a lower wage. It is essential to be an adaptable learner in a world of uncertainty and complexity.
  6. Doing what’s best for students isn’t always what’s most comfortable for adults.
  7. As educators, schools have a mission that matters most. We are in the business of changing lives and helping kids have better opportunities in life.
  8. What message are we sending in the setup of the learning space? Does your classroom design show that you value collaboration? Is it teacher-centered? Or, learning-centered? Is it a shared space, where ideas of students and teachers are valued? And where teachers and students are working together to accomplish goals?
  9. But in too many schools, teachers feel like they must ask permission to try something new or take a risk. But a culture of permission is not going to develop expectations of innovation. I don’t want our teachers to feel the need to get permission to try something they believe could impact learning for students. I love it when teachers share the ideas they are trying. I also love to play a part in supporting these ideas.
  10. But perhaps the most striking transformation in our school is our library. Before, it was pretty much a traditional library. It was a nice space that was friendly and inviting. But now it is truly a learning commons, a place where students gather to share ideas, work on projects, and use technology. The entire feel is different. It feels like a Starbucks. We even have coffee. There are also lots flexible spaces for collaboration, flat screen T.V.’s, cafe tables, and distinctive lighting. Student design elements and art are on display throughout the space. An adjacent computer lab is now a makerspace complete with a green screen.
  11. Relationships and technology both matter. So does the order. We must keep relationships at the center of all we do as educators. We are in a people profession.
  12. Here’s one of our favorite interview questions we use when hiring a new teacher: Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships—which of these is most important to you and why?
  13. It’s never a good idea to delay gratitude.
  14. Even on your worst day, you are still some child’s best hope. —Larry Bell
  15. If our students master every standard but do not discover joy and passion in learning, we have failed them.  
  16. Teachers must model the same risk taking they want to see from students as learners.  
  17. If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they are just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough. —Rushton Hurley
  18. Learning involves choice. Learners need greater ownership and opportunities to make choices regarding time, place, path, and pace. Learning involves student conversations. Whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning.
  19. Test scores tell us little about our children’s readiness for a complex, uncertain world. Test scores reveal who is good at taking tests.
  20. Your example is your greatest influence. What you say is important, but what you do speaks even louder. (What you do stands over you all the while and thunders so loudly that we cannot hear what you say.)
  • More from David Geurin: Great teachers are great learners, too. They don’t wait for the school to ‘develop’ them. We’ve all been to mind-numbing professional development sessions. We’ve also observed educators who don’t make an effort to engage in professional learning. Maybe you’ve been professionally disengaged. Maybe the culture of your school doesn’t reward growth and progress for teachers. It makes me sad that so many educators have lost sight of why they became teachers in the first place. You can make a huge impact, and one way you can do that is to continue to learn and grow. Don’t expect your school to own your personal growth. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to be a learner. It’s up to you to become your best. Of course, every school should support educator learning, but with all the tools available today, you can connect and learn no matter what your school is doing to support your growth. Take the initiative to be a learner.
  • The responsibility for growing personally and professionally ultimately rests with the individual and not the organization. We will provide support and encouragement, but you will get out of your professional learning what you put into it. -David Geurin
  • What if we thought more about how we would learn something ourselves and less about how we are going to teach it?
  • The future is here—it’s just not evenly distributed. William Gibson
  • “I need to make sure my teaching leaves plenty of time for my kids to learn.”
  • “Torched the haystack.  Found the needle.”
  • Don’t fear failure.  Fear being in the exact same place next year as you are today.
  • “Every day that we walk into our school, we are entrusted with the responsibility and gift of making a difference in our student’s lives.” -Jimmy Casas
  • Two good lines to remember.  ‘Kids These Days!’  And ‘Be Their Hope’
  • “By the way, he gave the “I have a dream” speech, not the “I have a plan” speech. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”  Simon Sinek, speaking about Dr. Martin Luther King
  • For veteran teachers.  What is the purpose of your gradebook?
  • “When you learn about successful principals, you keep coming back to the character traits they embody and spread: energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism, determination… In other words, they are high-energy types constantly circulating through the building, offering feedback, setting standards, applying social glue… We went through a period when we believed you could change institutions without first changing the character of the people in them. But we were wrong. Social transformation follows personal transformation.” David Brooks in “Good Leaders Make Good Schools” in The New York Times, March 13, 2018
  • “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why”. ~Mark Twain
  • From Shelley Burgess: I actually believed that when I got excited about a new and better way of doing something and shared it with my staff, they all would be equally excited about it. I just knew they would be willing to make the change the next day! If you have been in a leadership role longer than about two months, you can imagine how well that went over. Over time, I discovered that passionate leaders also need patience if we want to initiate positive change in our schools and districts that lasts. Once we light a spark, we need to give it time to catch. We need to nurture it, feed it, stoke it, give it proper attention, and let it develop into a slow and steady burn that ultimately engulfs our school or district community. Likewise, we need to be passionate about stoking the flames of others. We need to encourage and support the members of our crew, empowering them to explore their own passions and then to find ways to use them to become better educators and help the school or district become a better place.
  • If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favorable to him. —Seneca, Epistle LXXI
  • Is the purpose of  schools to develop human potential or rank it?
  • John Dewey’s pedagogic creed.  From 1897.
    • I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.
    • I believe that much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative.
  • 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. -Dave Burgess.  
  • A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil is hammering on a cold iron. -Horace Mann


It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me!

Educators sure should know about Dave Burgess and his publishing work.  As the school year is winding down across the USA, more tweets are being seen that show stacks of great books getting ready to be read by eager learners.  And many, many of them come from Dave’s publishing company.

I’ve read a shocking number of books from the Dave Burgess house.  All have had impact, several have literally been career changers. Here are a few titles that I know lead learners will recognize.

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 10.27.46 AM

I could write about almost all, from first hand experience.  And I would be remiss if I flat didn’t recognize Innovator’s Mindset (George Couros) and Lead Like a Pirate (Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf).  I only call those two to extra attention, because we bought lots of those to read as leaders.  And Innovator’s Mindset still remains the most profound career changing book for me.

However.  I’m actually writing about Dave Burgess today because of these words.

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. -Dave Burgess.

Yesterday, we wrapped up our professional growth conversations in our Teaching-Learning-Innovation department.  I shared this quote with several of my learning colleagues during our talks, and then shared the quote with the whole department when we were all done with our conversations.  I literally have printed this quote out and have it hanging on the wall next to my desk in my office.

IMG_6155.jpgI have this prominently displayed, because it’s a daily reminder of the responsibility I and we, in our department, have to read, collaborate, write, share, model, and grow in public.

The realization I had, as I was talking with the other leaders in our TLI department, was that I thought of Dave’s quote only in terms of twitter, blogging, and conversations with people around the world.  Thus the power of twitter and a big PLN.

What I missed, and of what I was powerfully reminded was, my colleagues here, down the hall, in the car, on the phone, around the table, are all part of ‘high quality thinking’, who challenge me, keep me current, and provide the raw resources for my creative alchemy.

Thank you friends.

#TOGETHERwearefife #EdLeadership

And then the next plan comes together.

Spent a delightful afternoon in the USA and evening in the UK speaking with my friend Ian Rockey.  We believe we ran across each other during an edchat.  Probably #Leadlap or #TLAP.

Ian is a learning leader at his school, in his community, and around the world.  He was gracious enough to speak with me across the world today via Skype. I have been in awe of his podcasts, which inspired me to try podcasting. As I’ve written in previous blogposts, we wanted to ask learning leaders around the world…and right here at home 3 questions about their own learning.

So here are two experienced teachers, chatting with technology about technology that didn’t exist when each started teaching decades ago.  More excited about the possibilities for learning and growing for kids and teachers than ever.

Thank you Ian, you made my day.  Cheers!