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Hiccup is the protagonist in Dreamworks latest animation titled, How to Train Your Dragon. Hiccup’s physical features of a toothpick thin physique are contrasted with the burly Viking clan on the Island of Berk. The island is a mythical place with marauding dragons. The clan places a high value on dragon slaying skills, none of which are possessed by Hiccup.

You can imagine that a dragon slayer must be strong, agile, and able to use dragon slaying weapons. Hiccup does not attain any of aforementioned skills and is a bit of an outcast on the Island of Berk. Instead, Hiccup uses ingenuity and research to create a dragon slaying weapon in hopes of earning the favor of his clan by slaying the elusive night fury dragon. You’ll have to see the movie, I recommend the 3-D version, to see how the story unravels. However, there is a practical life lesson that became evident and worth pondering.

Have you ever asked why something is done a certain way only to hear, “Because that is how we have always done it!” Our last house had a wood burning stove. Obviously, wood needed to be split and most of it I split with a maul, sledge hammer, and a wedge. I split cords of wood using this technique until I borrowed a power splitter. Technology allowed me to place huge pieces of wood on the platform while a hydraulic wedge did the work for me. My output increased significantly and quickly stopped splitting wood the “way I had always done it.” I know some of you may choose to split wood for exercise, but that isn’t the point!

Internally, I sometimes struggle with allowing others the chance to tackle tasks within our school using their ideas and their methods, especially our students. While I sat next to my son in the theater listening to his whispers about what Hiccup should or should not do, my son is five, I began to think that his fresh insights are just that, fresh!

I’m quickly realizing that many of today’s challenges are not going to be solved by using yesterday’s solutions. Hiccup used his talents to full potential to gain favor within his clan. Isn’t that what we want from our students, just to do their best? Our future leaders are in school now and I am compelled to promote alternative thinkers like Hiccup and my son!

Who would have thought that a night at the cinema would turn into professional development!

ADD and Dyslexia

Ever feel like books are larger than life?

Ever feel like books are larger than life?

This past Thursday, my wife and I attended a Casting Crowns concert. Normally, I’m not one to thoroughly enjoy concerts, but this one was exceptional. I’m one of those 30 somethings that would rather listen to my genius playlist on my iPod instead of sitting through a three hour ordeal with ear plugs in my ears (I didn’t use the earplugs to save face with my wife). Don’t mistake my dislike for concerts as a criticism of the band that entertained us. They were fantastic, I’m just getting old.

During the school week, I sit through many parent meetings (e.g. Student Intervention Team, I.E.P. teams) and am often heart broken to see the pain on a mother and father’s face when all of their efforts seem to be in vain. Sometimes their frustration boils over and the school becomes the focus of their anger despite our best efforts. But, there is hope.

Sometimes, I find myself being short sighted and thinking that middle school is of the utmost importance. However, our students have so much more to grow physically and emotionally. The lead singer, Mark, gave another story to share with my distraught parents.

Mark grew up as struggling reader. He was diagnosed with Dyslexia and instead of coming to class with his books, chose to leave them elsewhere so he would not be called on to read (know any kids like that?). He was also diagnosed with ADD. He shared some great stories about his coping by making light of his disorders that I wouldn’t do justice sharing in this format.

Despite his disorders, Mark has not allowed his shortcomings to be the focus of his adulthood. He has focused on his, better than average, musical talent. The Freak Factor Blog provides many more samples of people not focusing on their weakness and being successful.

I look forward to sharing Mark’s strengths with parents as we provide hope and interventions for our struggling students. We must celebrate their uniqueness!

Every couple of years, I am blessed to have the opportunity to leave my family and head west.  I head west because the mountains call my name.  I love unplugging from the 21st Century, backpacking, and pushing myself physically.  However, this type of experience is not as memorable unless it is shared with others.

This trip wasn’t my idea.  My good friend viewed my previous photos and asked me to design a trip out west as a fitness goal.  The only stipulation was to make it picturesque.

Choosing the location was easy.  I chose The Cloud Peak Wilderness Area of the Big Horn Mountains located west of Buffalo, WY.  The pictures and blog posts of previous visitors to the C.P.W.A. did not mislead in their descriptions.  Each step was an amazingly beautiful, 360 degree view!

I should have mentioned earlier that none of the other three hikers had ever backpacked and two of them had never camped!  This type of trip has the potential to be very dangerous.  For starters, we are all in our mid 30′s and taking novices into the backcountry can be risky.  The risk factor crossed my mind during the hike several times.  We had to cross many streams, hike through a snow covered trail, equivalent to a 12X12 pitched roof, where one slip would have ended in certain death 1000 feet later, and be aware that we were visitors in a land with much larger animals than we find in the Midwest, out homeland.

Keeping these men safe was of utmost concern to me.  Each of them are fathers and husbands to wives who have questioned the sanity of such a trip to different degrees for different reasons.  Our group met several times over the course of this past year.  We reviewed gear, menus, and two of us did a two night training weekend along the Pictured Rock National Shoreline in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Our planning provided a worry free, exhilarating time for these men.

On the way home, one of the men (far right in the photo above) mentioned something every leader should hear.  He said that he was able to enjoy our trip to the fullest because he TRUSTed me.  I was flattered.  His comments are much larger than leading backpacking trips to the mountains.  Teachers need to have trust in their leaders to fully engage in new initiatives, take risks with their own innovations, and to implement the latest web tools of the 21st Century.  As the new school year approaches in Wisconsin, I will use his comment as a leadership filter to remind me that schools are less about things and soooo much more about relationships centered around trust.

<a href=" Peak Photos

Are You Too Bossy?

The "Evil" Boss!

The "Evil" Boss!

I consider myself to be a caring leader.  I am the middle school principal in the same community I grew up, live in a neighborhood that I spent many summer days playing baseball and other childhood games, and work with some teachers that served me as a young boy.  These connections make leading and decision making difficult.

My mind has been on overload as I wrestle with decisions relating to hiring.  Prior to my position as principal, I had very little awareness of how each decision is connected to so many other decisions and other people.  My experience is also beginning to illustrate that each decision will have two distinct factions.  One person or group will win the job, be awarded the proposal, or gain favor in light of the decision. The other group is comprised of the people that need to regroup and try again.  The second group of people are the ones that I lose sleep over due to my tender heart, but should I?

Author and speaker Dave Rendall has a post in his blog under the same title as this post.  His ideas gave me confidence in my decisions I have made in the past and plan to make in the future.  I know I am a caring leader and in my heart I know that my decisions are not being swayed by popular opinion.  My decisions for hiring, curriculum, purchases, and procedures are all placed on an equal foundation:  What is best for the students within our school?

Obviously, what is best includes some of my opinion, but Mr. Rendall says that is okay, I’m the boss and I will continue to make tough decisions that will positively impact the learning of the students in our community.  Thanks Mr. Rendall for giving me permission to be “the boss” as well as a caring leader.

Trust

Trust

My son turned five in May.  To my chagrin, he has not learned to ride his bike without training wheels.  There are many reasons (excuses) why I have been unable to teach him to ride his bike without training wheels.  Come on, I’m a full time principal and my job and students take all of my time.  Very poor excuse in the eyes of a five year old!

Two days ago, I decided to take time and teach him the basics of riding a two wheeler.  Reluctantly, he agreed to start the process.  He helped me take the training wheels off, found his helmet, and I laced up my running shoes.  Together we set off down the street.  I directed him to keep his weight centered and to peddle faster, but he continued to look back at me while I held on to his seat for support.  He was able to remain balanced during the first jog down the block, but faltered each time he looked over his shoulder.  We stopped to give me a break and to review his accomplishments.

I sat on his front tire facing him and his face showed apprehension.  He was afraid to fall.  My words of reassurance fell on deaf ears, but his fear was subdued when we took time to review the facts.  He needed evidence that I would be there to catch him.

I reminded him that he had lost his balance each time he looked over his shoulder.  Each time he tipped to one side or the other I reminded him that I was there to catch him.  The break was over and I continued to catch him as the bike leaned from side to side each time causing the breath to leave his lungs and each time I was there to catch him.

By the end of our short ride I was exhausted and he was able to ride for a short distance without the assistance of his father.

During the school year, teachers experience fears similar to my son.  Apprehension is the rust that causes the gears to seize.  While teaching my son to ride his bike, I got lathered in sweat.  Leaders need to lather up and guide their teachers the same way.  Teachers will look over their shoulders and good leaders will be right there encouraging them to continue and when they start to lean off course they will gently assist them as they regain their balance.

My work with my son’s riding isn’t done.  We have to practice this newly formed skill over and over until automaticity is accomplished.  In fact, I think he could have done it without my assistance, but he needed some affirmation and trust in his father.

As the new school year begins, don’t forget good teachers only need affirmation and the trust of their leaders to learn to ride.  Give them time to practice and develop benchmarks to check their own progress.

Teaching Cole to ride isn’t the end goal.  I want him to learn to ride so he can become a proficient rider and we can explore larger areas together.  Teaching teachers a new skill is never the end goal.  Walk along side of them as they practice and implement their new skill with their students and continue to give positive feedback for the progress attained.

Do you Floss?

Recently, I attended a curriculum conference and heard Jane E. Pollock, education researcher and author, share some personal and enlightening information.Flossing?

Jane shared with our group that she hated going to the dentist.  During a dental checkup, the hygienist asked her how often she flosses

her teeth.  Before she could answer, the hygienist reminded her that the research showed that 9 out of 10 people lie to their hygienist when answering this question.  He conti

nued to share more research with her.  He pointed out that people who floss daily are significantly less sick than those who do not floss.  Jane decided to test his research and she has been illness free for 7 years despite being cooped up on airplanes and in many different schools around the world filled with little people and their dirty hands!

Will you accept the research and start flossing?

Better yet, will we accept the research in our profession as educators?  What would happen if we implemented Dr. Douglas Reeves research as it relates to grading in our schools?

As leaders, we may not change an entire system overnight, but we can improve student learning by impacting one principal, one teacher, and one student at a time.

During the summer months, take some time to read:

Classroom Instruction that Works By Robert J. Marzano, Debra Pickering, Jane E. Pollock

Unexpected Visitor

I am the principal of a middle school and unexpected events have become a regular occurrence.  However, all of my unexpected scenarios encountered so far did not prepare me for an unexpected visitor two weeks ago.

What is important?

What is important?

I love working early in the morning.  My mind is fresh and distractions are limited.  I was working at my desk when a parent of two of my middle schoolers breached the threshold and asked if I would be able to speak with him.  It was 7:15 in the morning and meeting with him was not really my first desire, but I accommodated his request.

He opened our discussion by sharing that he has been out of jail for only a couple of hours and that I was his first appointment.  His comment was cause for reflection.  Previous meetings have not gone so well this gentleman.  I suspected, on many occasions, that his addictions had taken over his life, but this visit was different.

He had been incarcerated for six weeks resulting in sobriety.  That’s what made this meeting different.  He stopped to see me to get a report about his son who has had many ups and downs, as you can imagine.  We reviewed his son’s progress, but soon the conversation had spun back to my visitor.  I guess I’ve lead a sheltered life.  I tried to hide my shocked facial expressions as he described the local drug scene and showed his track marks from past highs.  He shared with me his struggles with addiction and his concerns about his son following in the family tradition of drugs and alcohol.  He left the office optimistic about his short time out on bail awaiting his trial and sober for the first time in a long time.  His plans were to leave my office and seek a residential facility to further distance himself from his addictions.

Defining leadership has become trendy.  As I mature as a school leader, it becomes more evident that leadership is ALL about the people you encounter and their emotions and less about curriculum, state tests, books, and technology.  However, that contrasts the content learned in higher education.  Despite my training and “to-do list” I was determined to seek out his son and discuss how exciting it must have been to have  dad home.  I was certain this was a new beginning for their family.

Today, our police liaison officer shared with me that my visitor  was high and arrested within hours of our meeting and back in jail awaiting trial.  What can I do, a principal?  I know that homework, tests, and whether or not his son’s pants are high enough to accommodate the school rules are not my largest concerns for this young man.  Someday, I’ll write a book about the development of a leader.  Please don’t steal the title:  Great Leaders Don’t Have Master’s Degrees.

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