Archive for January, 2009

What’s Important?

Take time to do what is most important.

Take time to do what is most important.



Leaders need to get wet feet on occasion.  

The daily grind of a principal can be far removed from the student population, too far.  Educators choose their career to serve kids in the learning process.  In recent years, I have allowed my principalship to be attacked by management duties and leaving relationships to be sacrificed.  My office and my desk have seen more of me than I’d care to admit.  Today, forced me to look at myself in the mirror as an educational leader and I didn’t like what I observed.

Kara, one of my 8th grade students, has a tumultuous family life.  Her obstacles outside of school have created such a hard heart making it difficult for others to care for her.  This morning, Kara was sent to the office because she arrived to her first period class tardy.  Her attitude was not one of compliance and her word choice was rather demonstrative when the teacher asked Kara to go to the office and get a pass.

Kara arrived in the office as you would suspect.  Her body was slumped in the chair, legs protruding as far as possible while remaining in the seat, her clothes a bit disheveled, chomping a piece of gum, and sending looks in my direction that left no doubt that she felt wrongly accused.  I stepped out of my office and and called her by name to come to my office so I could take care of this quickly and get on with my tasks.  Surprisingly, she obeyed without resistance.  

Kara and I talked for nearly 45 minutes.  We covered topics from the previous year to the present.  The dialogue was enjoyable and exciting and she agreed to come and see me for help in the future when the anxiety of life becomes too much for her young mind to overcome.  I fought the temptation of looking at my watch while talking to Kara.  I had tasks that needed my attention, so I thought.  

Kara was not on my schedule today.  In fact, my student population has slowly slipped from my schedule without me realizing that I have become out of touch with the people I was hired to serve.  Leading people, students, takes time.  

My “time”ly investment with Kara paid dividends only a few short hours later.  I knew Kara was not going to change her life from our dialogue earlier, but Kara did make one change from the morning’s dialogue as did I to take time for what matters most, people.  

Kara was involved in a scuffle at lunch.  My associate principal handled the situation, but prior to Kara fulfilling her consequence for fighting, she asked to see me.  I walked to the office that Kara was sitting in and she said three words to me, “I’ll do better.”


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Life’s Lessons from Lunch

Mike the conductor at the PC Junction

Mike(left), the conductor at the PC Junction poses with Adam.

This past weekend, my friend and I, Shawn, presented to a group of Wisconsin teachers in beautiful Door County.  Some of you may have visited Door County in the summer months with its splendid blossoms, but the freshly falling snow this past weekend provided a sparkling beauty that is missed during the warmer months, for obvious reasons.  During this recent visit, we stumbled upon another treasure that we’d missed during our earlier visits.

Our speaking engagement ended near lunch time on Saturday and we had worked up an appetite.  The locals directed us to a place called PC Junction.  It was described as a  “hole in the wall” with great food.

As we approached PC Junction “hole in the wall” came to mind, but what we found inside was all heart.

We seated ourselves and soon, Mike the day’s conductor, took our order.  The interior was decorated from floor to ceiling with railroad memorabilia.  Our table was near a room that was loaded with toys, puzzles, video games, and school desks to keep the kids busy while moms and dads enjoyed the local fare.  This kid friendly feature is well appreciated by myself, a father of three, but this is not what makes the PC Junction stand out.

While sitting at our table, Mike the conductor could be heard giving a holler from behind a half wall while operating an “O” gauge model train weighted down with drinks and baskets of food being delivered to patrons around the kid friendly tracks on top of the bar.  His voice filled the room and ended with well known conductor speak, “A-l-l-l-l aboard!”

Mike and the owners of the PC Junction have found one thing they do well and have exploited it!  The food was truly good, but the atmosphere created by the staff of PC Junction would have made bad food taste great.  Their joy in serving was contagious!

Every teacher and administrator has talents or strengths that make them unique within their sphere of influence.  Public schools have entered a new world of competition with private schools and open enrollment in Wisconsin.  Door County plays host to a plethora of eateries, but the PC Junction stands out because they have discovered the one thing they do well, customer service.  Schools must find the things they do well and begin to flaunt them like the PC Junction and shout it loudly.

Click the link below for a closer look into the operations of the PC Junction:

An inside look at the PC Junction

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Where is your gas?

Weekend Warrior Weapon

Weekend Warrior Weapon

It was a hot, summer day and grass mowing was the task that needed to be completed.  I fired up my trusty craftsmen mower, turned the volume up on my iPod and started to cut a perimeter around the yard.

While cutting a perimeter, I trim around and under shrubs as much as possible to save time on the weed whipping later.  One of the shrubs in our yard is rigid and must have snagged a hose.  I yanked the mower from underneath that shrub and the branch severed a tube on the engine of the mower. Then, I noticed a fluid squirting out of the severed tube formerly connected to the carburetor.  Other men may have hit the emergency shut off button, if there is one on a mower, after realizing it was gasoline squirting from the mower.  However, it intrigued me that the mower continued to run even after its fuel supply was severed.

Leaders, teachers are leaders, can often keep their biological engines running on natural talent for a short time, but not for long.  All leaders must continue to feed their minds for growth, to make positive impacts and to accomplish their goals.

The lawn mower only ran for a few seconds with its fuel supply severed.  When the engine stopped, it stopped me from completing my goal of mowing the lawn.  As a leader, don’t cause your organization to stop achieving its goals because you, the leader, cut your fuel supply.

Pick up a book today or read another blog, feed your mind!

This story was adapted from Bill Allison of Cadre Ministries.

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What to do at the Summit

Reaching for the Goal

Reaching for the Goal

School leadership is very much like hiking.  The excitement of planning an adventure on the trail is identical to planning a new school year.

Planning an adventure on the trail starts with dreams, books, photos, and reading blogs of adventurers before you.  Planning a new school year is filled with reading new literature, perusing educational journals, and following other leaders on Twitter (this is new.  A good adventure and a good school year is the result of good planning.

At one point of the adventure, you will reach the summit.  The views are gorgeous and the hard work that got you there seems worth it, but you are not done.  You must navigate your way down the mountain you just climbed and the decent can be challenging.

During the school year, we face a hypothetical summit, the semester.  This is the halfway point of the school year.  The best schools will take time to reflect on their practices and check progress toward their annual goals.

Once the data is reviewed, the results may indicate that you have left the path.  Educational leaders must analyze the findings and make a decision to get back on the path, stay on the path, or find a new path to the goal.

A well planned adventure doesn’t end at the summit, but in the comfort of my own home with my lovely wife, beautiful kids, and my very comfortable bed.  Stopping to reflect at the semester is great, but its just the summit.  Educational leaders must lead their schools down the mountain year after year and finally the educational adventure ends when the graduating class proudly holds their diploma in their hands.

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What does customer service look like in your school?

What does customer service look like in your school?

The realm of education has become very competitive.  Public schools are fighting to recruit and retain students.  I love the challenge, but it isn’t easy!  Public schools are competing against virtual academies that provide computers if you enroll in their program, private schools that serve a special niche (e.g. religion), and in certain states other public schools through the process of open enrollment.  Public schools can compete in this environment if they provide the best customer service.  Follow these three simple steps to improve the culture of your school and retain your student population.

1.  Greet each student BY NAME

Every day, every student must be greeted by name by a caring adult.  This is the easiest of the three steps.  Hearing your name in a greeting provides a level of intimacy and exudes a level of caring that promotes a firm foundation for higher achievement.

2.  Provide Choices

The retail market provides us with choices that blow my mind.  I’ll assume most of the people reading this are adults and have learned the importance of personal hygiene.  The hygiene aisle at my local retailer has an abundance of each type of product.  Each brand of deodorant has a different scent, each brand of toothpaste has a different flavor, and the hair products are too numerous to count.  How many choices do we provide in our schools?

We must, many have, move from the industrial model of the early 20th century where one size fits all to a liberated model of meeting the needs of the individual.  The government is trying to address this issue through legislation RtI (Response to Intervention).  Don’t overhaul your curriculum.  Start small and model how choices are an everyday occurrence in your personal life.  Share stories like the selection of products.  Your class will catch on quickly if you are willing to blaze a new path laden with choices that you can provide in your classroom.

3.  Give Mercy

This is my biggest obstacle to overcome, my wife will attest to that statement.  Mercy is much bigger than student discipline.  It is the paradigm in which I need to approach each situation.

Whether in school or out of school, each of us have been in situations where an individual gets our blood boiling.  In school, we must remember that our customers are juveniles and don’t always handle situations appropriately.  Don’t overreact.

A few years ago, my superintendent provided the administrative team with some statistics for our eyes only.  I broke her confidence and shared the information with a friend that I thought I could trust.  Unfortunately, he broke my trust and the information was leaked to staff members around the district and I was found out as the source.

My gut wrenched over my poor decision.

The next working day, my superintendent paid me a visit.  I saw my career pass before my eyes or at least to have my unblemished personnel record be littered with a letter of reprimand.  We talked for quite awhile about how this type of unprofessional behavior can undermine relationships.  She was not known as a compassionate leader, but that day she emulated compassion.

As she got up from the chair in my office, she said, “Adam, if I can forgive you, you should be able to forgive your friend.”  Mercy at its best.  I didn’t receive any further disciplinary action and learned a valuable lesson about trust and mercy.  I deserved a consequence and all I received was another chance.

The next time you are faced with a student or parent that acts inappropriately give them another chance, you’ll benefit from that investment over time.

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