What does the ‘I’ stand for again? #LeadLAP #IMMOOC

Sometimes when we’re out and about and people ask us what our roles are, we tell them we work in in the TLI department in Fife.  And of course we’re asked what the heck TLI stands for.  Teaching-Learning-Innovation.  Most people get the Teaching-Learning part.  In our little shed down here, we define learning thusly, “Learning results in a permanent change in thinking or behavior.”  So…one has learned something when a permanent change in thinking or behavior occurs.  Turns out, for example, I never actually learned about photosynthesis.  I held the information for a while, until the test, then gave the information back, and went my merry way. No permanent change in thinking or behavior.  And of course teaching is everything that great educators do with/for kids to create learning.  And everything that great educators do create learning for themselves.


How about the innovation part?  Well we get our definition for innovation from an educator named George Couros.  He wrote a book called The Innovator’s Mindset.  I’ve probably mentioned over 1000 times that this is simply the best book about the learning world I’ve ever read.  A career changing mind blower.  Couros on innovation, 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. That means that change for the sake of change is never good enough. Neither is using innovation as a buzzword, as many organizations do, to appear current or relevant.”

Something is innovative if it creates something new and better.

We have examples of innovation all over the place in our district!  One of the questions we encourage ourselves and our educator colleagues to consider is, “When was the last time I did something for the first time?”  That’s a decent place to start thinking about something new.  But not new for the sake of new.  That’s dumb. New and making something better.

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Here’s a perfect example.  Mr. Beddes, SLMS principal, wanted to focus on the educators at SLMS and improve communication to our community.  So, he decided to give podcasting a try.  Podcasts, in and of themselves, aren’t new.  But Mr. Beddes made them innovative in how he used them, and in doing so, made communication about SLMS better.  New and better.

Here’s his latest podcast, where he interviews Mr. Kratzig.  It’s a remarkable and insightful interview.

Way to model innovation gentlemen!

It ain’t about Twitter. And the power of the #LeadLAP edchat.

“Oh Jeff loves twitter.  He’s the twitter guy.  It must be nice to have all that time to be on twitter.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 7.49.55 AM.pngI hear this sometimes.  It bothers me.  Or it did until I figured out two things.  Well I figured out one thing and reminded myself of another thing.

The thing I figured out was….it’s not about twitter.  Just like when we introduce Chromebooks into the classroom.  It’s not about the device.  It’s about what kids and teachers do with them.  They’re just Chromebooks.  Twitter is the same. It’s not about twitter for me.

Here’s what it’s about. It’s about how I choose to connect myself to ongoing, personal, professional learning.  And twitter makes it so easy.  So easy.  Twitter isn’t the point.  The learning and growth is the point.  So when I’m sharing what I’ve learned, I’m not sharing twitter.  I’m sharing the learning.  And I hope I’m encouraging others to find ways to continue to grow and learn, twitter or not.

I did not know about this when I was a teacher or a principal.  I figured it out when I moved to a leadership role that, by its definition and title, is focused on Teaching-Learning-Innovation.

Which brings me to the reminder part.  The ever present comment about time.  The most common answer/excuse for not doing something in the history of education.  It’s not about time!  It’s about what we choose to do with the time we have.  I have blogged about this idea a lot.

If we decide that to continue to grown and learn is important, we’ll find the time and the vehicle to make it happen.  If we don’t decide it’s important to continue to grow and learn, we will say we don’t have time.

Last Saturday I joined in an edchat with colleagues around the world, using the hashtag #LeadLAP.  Lead Like a Pirate.  I try to hit this edchat every weekend if I can.  It kicks off at 7:30 a.m., each Saturday, hosted by different educational leaders.

This weekend’s chat was hosted by Dr. Lynell Powell.  The topic was focused on supporting students with challenging behavior.  Here’s her first question:

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This question reminded me of a recent flurry of activity we had been doing in our district around post-its.  Specifically, a post-it around kids making the ‘choice’ to misbehave.  So responded to Dr. Powell’s first question thusly:

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This response led to another response by a new colleague to my PLN:

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And this graphic, from George Aversano, was the hammer of the entire chat to me.  What a great graphic.  What a great reminder!  Don’t judge a student’s story by the chapter you walk in on.  Be a submarine, not a boat.  Look below the surface.

He’s not giving me a hard time.  He’s having a hard time.

Continuing to grow and learn is a professional, moral imperative.  It’s important and deserves our time.

Thank you Dr. Powell for the great edchat.  Thank you Shelley and Beth for Lead Like a Pirate.

See you all on Saturday!

What’s on your post-it?

What’s on the post-it on your monitor?  Do you have a post-it on your monitor?  Do you want to add one?  The one below has been on my monitor through 15 years as a building administrator and now in my 4th year in the district office.  Same message, updated post-it as the older ones became bedraggled.  Just a reminder to me to thank people for doing a great job.  This was a good reminder when I was a principal, for example,  after our teachers killed it with an arena conference or our kids were fantastic at a Veteran’s Day assembly.



The idea for a blog about Post-its came from this post-it:

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One of our gifted principals, Mark Beddes, captures images every week from his school, and this message was in his latest edition to his staff. What a fantastic reminder for this teacher every day!  Kids all have stories.  Reminds me of the great quote,

“Don’t judge a student’s story

by the chapter you walk in on.”

I was also reminded me of this great post-it:

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This reminder came after a teacher, Andre Sasser, wrote a tweet about how she was going to abandon the usual question to her students, “Do you have any questions?”  Instead, she made the subtle change in language to, “What questions do you have?”  This turned out to be a MONSTER change in her classroom.  I’m guessing every educator can easily see the power of that shift in language!  Instead of the usual silence that followed the former question, questions erupted following the latter!  Then she further honed the question to be, “Ask me two questions.”  By the way, that one tweet currently has 338,000 likes, has been retweeted 62,000 times, with over 1100 comments.  Wow!

Well all of these things caused me to wonder what other educators might have on their post-its.  Daily affirmations?  Quotes? Reminders?

I have another one on my monitor.  In case my scrawl is indecipherable, it’s an on-demand professional learning activity.  I ask forgiveness from the author, as I can’t remember from where I borrowed this idea.

It has 3 steps and is focused on 21st century skills.

  1.  What are the 2 or 3 biggest changes in our society in the last 25-30 years?
  2. What 2-3 skills do students need to address these changes?
  3. How intentional is your school district in helping students develop these skills?



Wow!  This activity is ready to roll at a moment’s notice at any professional learning I lead.  It can easily be adapted to the building or classroom level, ready for teachers or kids.

I’m going to throw this blog online and wonder if other educators will be willing to share their post-its with each other.

What’s on your post-it?

Aspiration as a noun.




a hope or ambition of achieving something.

synonyms:desire, hope, dream, wish, longing, yearning, aimambitionexpectationgoaltarget

We had our first Teaching-Learning-Innovation (TLI) department meeting this morning.  We went around the table and shared what we are reading, either a book or a blog post.  Great ideas and conversation ensued.

Then our great assistant director of TLI, Elaine Smith, had us write an aspiration for the 2018-2019 school year.  She shared the definition above.  This challenge was a good one.  Something about the word ‘aspiration’ makes it sound loftied than ‘goal’.  The synonyms probably explain why.  Words like ‘hope’, ‘dream’, ‘wish’, and ‘longing’.  Much more emotionally based than a goal.

I took this challenge to heart and really pondered my aspiration for this year.  Here’s what I decided to commit to print.

Jeff’s Aspiration for 18-19

Through modeling and encouragement, help leaders see the learning and growth possibilities available to them via the act of writing.

I thought about several quotes and ideas as I contemplated this aspiration.  First, “We don’t learn from experience.  We learn from reflecting on experience.” -John Dewey

Then second, from Jay Billy, as I started reading his excellent book Lead With Culture, I hit this monster idea, “If you don’t believe amazing things can happen when you try something different, if you aren’t willing to take that leap of faith, you are destined to mediocrity—and your students are too.” Wow!

Third, Jay Billy shares the next quote, from Brad Currie, “Students take risks when they see teachers take risks. Teachers take risks when they see school leaders take risks.”

Brad’s quote ends there. With our TLI staff, I added the next line, germane to our roles, “School leaders take risks when they see district leaders take risks.”

So one of our risks will be to write.  We have an enormous wealth of experience in the classroom, as the building level, and in our district.  We need to be willing to share our thinking and experience.  In fact, more than willing.  It’s our job.  It’s our responsibility.

And through that modeling…we will reflect on our experience.  And we will continue to grow and learn.

The night before the first day of school.

Moving from elementary school to junior high, when I was a kid, was the peak of nervousness before school started.  Would I know anybody in my classes?  Who were going to be my friends?  Would my teachers be nice?  What would happen at lunchtime?  These questions and whole bunch of others, made for a very long night.  I remember that the transition from junior high to high school didn’t cause nearly the same amount of angst.

Then I became a teacher.

I don’t know about other teachers, but the night before the first day of school for me was also a long night. And actually it never got easier.  Even after 16 years in the classroom.  Maybe it does after 20 or 30, I don’t know. But I eventually just knew that it was going to be a restless night.  I couldn’t wait to get into the classroom, around my colleagues, and with students, then I calmed down.

Looking back now, I wish I had thought more the kids and about the questions that they were asking themselves on the night before the first day of school.

Will I get lost?  Will my teachers like me?  Will I make friends?  Who will sit with me at lunch?  Will I be safe?

Because, as a teacher, I had the great opportunity to answer those questions.  I could make sure a kid didn’t get lost, that she/he would know that I like her/him.  I could create opportunities for kids, especially new kids, to meet new people and become friends.  I could work with our administrators to create safe social lunches.  And I could make my classroom a safe place.

If I had focused on the kids, their questions, and the answers under my control, I believe I would have slept like a baby.  Because the first day of school wasn’t about me.

It was about the kids.  And it still is.

While visiting all of our schools’ retreats…

So today we had all of our schools’ retreats.  Hundreds of educators gathered in various locations to talk, work, laugh, share, and grow together. It was a spectacular day!  It’s impossible to pick a favorite moment overall.  Too many powerful and moving moments.  So I won’t even try! Thank you to all of our leaders for caring about each other, teachers, kids, and learning for the hard work it takes to build truly profound experiences.

Then, while waiting for one of our groups to return from lunch, I was looking at Twitter….and found this:

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Every time I return to this tweet…it goes up by a couple thousand likes.  I don’t know Andre, but am sure following her now.  Every so often an educator throws out such a profound truth, that other educators react like crazy.  Here’s a case in point.  43,000 likes when I took this screenshot.  Retreated over 8,000 times.  Why?  Because this simple, simple idea, can turn a classroom around instantly.  Forget fancy teaching classes and theories.

Do. This. 

Take a post-it, write these two things on it…then do them.  Instant better learning opportunities for your students or staff.  Full stop.  Period.

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All in all, a great day to be an educator!

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!