Mental Sweat


Beginning in August of 2017 I started running.  I wasn’t running from something, but to something.  I was running toward a healthier me. August of 2018 is just about to wrap up and I’m happy to announce that I’ve lost almost 30 pounds and I feel better than I have in a very long time.

(Graphic Word Imagery)  When I run I sweat. I mean, I sweat an ocean of salt water, but that makes me feel good.  It’s like evidence that I’m working hard. When I’m done running, I clean up and tackle whatever the day has in store for me.  I feel invigorated and clear minded. Before I became a runner (first time ever writing that), I imagined that the exertion from the activity would wipe me out and make me unproductive.  I’m sure there is some science behind the way I feel when I’m done to support my feelings, but this isn’t about running. It’s about mental sweat.

My job as a principal of two buildings and four schools is not physically taxing, but I find myself completely drained by the end of the day.  My family enjoys taking pictures of me in my chair when I fall asleep prematurely before supper (why is that funny to spouses and children). Did you know that our brains only take up 2% of our body weight, but can consume 20% of our energy?  I didn’t until I read it on the internet today, therefore, it must be true.  

Knowing that my thinking is very tiring on my body and yet no evidence like logged miles or a pile of logs cut, split and piled has challenged me to create evidence, I call it mental sweat.  I want mental evidence because I believe my thoughts are worth sharing, even if it is only sharing through posts like this. This benefits me and I hope others too. I’m committing to writing my thoughts down this school year.  Perhaps I will become the next prolific blogger to hit the speaking/training circuit. Until then, my mental sweat will have to become a catalyst for blog posts and personal growth. Neither are bad options.

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My career has taken a crooked path.  It didn’t follow the traditional stint in a university and then steadily climb a traditional ladder of professional positions.  Instead, my crooked path has meandered through a career of experiences that have shaped me.  I know my career path hasn’t been one of traditional approaches, but it is my story to tell.

Fortunately, I am confident and proud of my story, but too many of the students that I encounter during the 180 days they spend with me don’t tell positive stories about themselves.  The power of negative words can be an anchor to their past.  The good news is that these limiting stories can be re-written.

I’m not saying that educators should use verbal kung fu to convince students that their past didn’t happen so that they can just push on, but to use words of kindness to re-tell a new story.  Experiences can be significant influencers, but new stories can be written to shape their future.  All of this can happen through relationships with caring adults at school.

Every student needs a champion.  We don’t need super powers, expensive gadgets, or more funding.  Use positive words and know that the words you are speaking are, potentially, changing the trajectory of a students life for the next five or six decades.  Rita Pierson says it best:

Rita Pierson:  Every Kid Needs a Champion


10 ISTE 2014 Takeaways

When a conference the size of ISTE unfolds, it is hard to outline all of my learnings in a single post.  So, to help me solidify my learning from the collective cadre of educators I am providing my list of 10 takeaways.

10.  Vendors.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the vendors that supported the ISTE effort.  Obviously, they stand to gain from their interest in ISTE, but without their investment in learning, the ISTE Conference would be drastically different and not for the better.

9.  Aurasma.  An augmented reality tool that allows you to see and interact with the world differently.  Augmented reality is just beginning to make an impact in education, but its potential looms large on the horizon.  Social media giant Facebook would agree.  Facebook purchased another augmented reality set of goggles for a cool $2 billion dollars.   Pretty cool that Aurasma is much cheaper!  One presenter, James Kapptie (@jpk38) provided an interactive session with ISTE attendees outside for an unconventional approach.  Great idea Mr. Kapptie.

8.  Diigo.  This isn’t a new tool, but when you realize how many experts use this tool to store their web searches to share with the world, why not use it too.  Allen November is willing to share his Diigo library with the world and I am better for it.  If Diigo is blocked in your school and district, be a change agent and ask for it to be unblocked.  Our students are social learners.  Let’s help them maximize their learning with this very affordable tool, free.

7.  Story Telling.  Telling stories has always been a great way to share information in an engaging way.  Steve Dembo (@teach42) shared an entire bag of tricks in relation to story telling using Youtube and other video tools.  Instead of listing all of his tricks, enjoy the Prezi.  If you ever get the chance to listen and interact with Steve be ready to learn and laugh.  Great presenter!

6.  Search Operators.  Google doesn’t think in English terms.  Allen November made a great case for us to provide our students with challenges that force them to think like the people on the other side of the argument.  He asked the audience to find “schools that teach The American Revolution in England”.  Searching the terms verbatim provide a much different set of results than:  site:sch.uk “American Revolution”.  We must prepare our students for solving problems and using search more accurately could be a first step.  Check out these resources provided by Google.

5.  Youtube.  Students learn better when they have choices.  There is a little known tool within Youtube called annotation.  The annotation tool will allow you to annotate the videos and could also lead to the creation of videos that allow students to choose the ending of the story.  Very engaging.

4.  Voxer.  This isn’t the newest tool out there, but it became a great way to coordinate while meeting others at ISTE 2014.  Voxer would also be a great tool for mass communication with students on field trips.  Essentially, it is a free walkie talkie app on steroids.

3.  Remind.  Some 7th grade teachers at Marinette Middle School experimented with this app during this past school year.  This could be another way to connect with families on the go in short memos about anything related to school.  Be careful to not over communicate!  Building relationships just got a bit easier.  However, don’t use this tool as the only form of communication.  Talking to people is still a valued skill.

2.  Kahoot.  Are you looking to engage your students more this year?  Kahoot describes themselves as an easy-to-use, game-based, blended learning & classroom engagement tool for schools, universities & businesses.  Steve Dembo and Adam Bellow demonstrated how to use Kahoot during one of the sessions at ISTE 2014 and we were all engaged.  Flip Kahoot and have the students create the Kahoot for whole class reviews based on different learner needs.  The tool is easy to use and highly engaging.

1.  My biggest takeaway from ISTE 2014 yielded little in terms of technology.  Each keynote, session host, and exhibitor that I chatted with talked about students first and technology second, third, or further away from the instruction.  Our closing keynote was the 2013 Teacher of the Year, Jeff Charbonneau.  He said it best when he summed up the conference in one four letter word, KIDS.  Keep our kids at the center of what we do and the achievement scores will take care of themselves.  Good teaching hasn’t changed, just the tools.  Education will always be a people first service.  Thanks ISTE for a great conference!!!

ISTE 2014: First Response

I am attending my first International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) convention in Atlanta, GA.  In a word, WOW!  Over the course of my nearly 20 years as a professional educator and self proclaimed technopedagogue.  (I’m not 100% what a technopedagogue is, but one of my tweeps @nxchauvin shared the term with me and it sounded like something I should aspire to become, I think.)  Essentially, I like to learn and love how technology can enhance my skills as an educator.

Don’t be mistaken!  High quality teachers can use nothing more than a chalk board.  However, ignoring the technology tools that exist for teaching and learning today would be criminal or least malpractice.  Why such harsh terms?  The tools we have at our disposal can easily enhance communication, provide students a voice where there wasn’t one in the past, make learning accessible beyond the schoI love technology.ol day, and prepare our learners for college, career, and life.

Imagine going to the dentist.  Some of us may not like to think about the dentist, but ignore the memories solidified in your mind by the high pitch whine of the drill and the vibration on your jaw (sorry).  Many years ago dentists didn’t use numbing agents when drilling into your teeth.  How would you respond if your dentist said, “Oh, come on.  I don’t need to use any of that “innovative” medicine to make your visit more comfortable.  I’ve been doing it this way for years and haven’t lost a patient.”  If my dentist said that I’d be looking for a replacement.

At #ISTE2014, I have learned plenty and we aren’t even half way through the second day.  Here are some tools, some innovative and others less so,  that have already been shared at ISTE that may enhance your instruction in the 21st Century.

1.  A common hurdle educators have is the hurdle of effective communication.  Parents’ time is being pulled in many directions Remind may be the tool to strengthen communication and relationships.  Some teachers in my home district already use it and I love to get the reminders from them as a parent.  It isn’t obtrusive.

2.  Here is a collection of tools that some would consider social media:  Twitter, Google Apps for Education (GAFE), Edmodo.  Regardless of the tool, we should consider joining our students on their turf.  If we want to build relationships with others we must learn their language to communicate.

3.  This isn’t really a tool, but is common among my conversations with other #ISTE2014 attendees.  It isn’t about the shiny new device.  It is about the learning and applying devices that match the needs of the learner.  That means we have to use the same skills that the best educators used decades ago to build quality relationships with our students, fellow staff member (near and far), and our communities.

In the end, I’m attending a technology convention and the focus is on learning, AMEN!



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.

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