Archive for February, 2009

Use the 2×10, not the 2×4

This summer, I’m planning a backpacking expedition to the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming.  The views will be awe inspiring, they always are.  I’d like to move there someday, but I’m afraid that living there will cause me to take the views for granted and they’ll lose their impact on me.

2x10's not the 2x4

2x10's not the 2x4



The whole trip started as a fitness goal for a friend of mine.  He asked me if I’d be wiling to design a trip out west to push his physical limits.  He has been preparing for this trip for several months.  His health is improving and he has begun to collect the essentials needed for this backpacking adventure.  Since this is his first camping experience, let alone wilderness backpacking, we thought it to be wise to add a two more guys for safety and to help off set the cost of gas and any lodging that may be necessary on the journey back and forth.

Any expedition has some level of risk involved.  However, these risks can be limited through good planning.  I limited the risk of me being devoured by a grizzly by inviting three other men that I believe to be slower than me.  A ranger told me once that grizzlies only gnaw on the slowest member of your party.

In school, we can replace the dangerous grizzly by another topic, the unconnected student.  In larger, secondary schools it is difficult to make sure each student feels connected.  In fact, let’s eliminate the possibility of connecting with all students from the equation.  Let’s just focus on the students who seem to demand our attention because of their attention seeking antics.  

Building relationships seems to be easy and enjoyable for me.  However, that isn’t the case with every teacher.  My associate principal learned a strategy that seems to be full proof and easy to implement.  The strategy can be found in a book titled, Connecting with Students by Allen Mendler.  

I don’t have the data that Mendler used in the book, but the results of implementing the strategy made clear the effort of building relationships.  The strategy asks the staff member to select a student that is the itch that always needs to be scratched, not quite a direct quote.  Then, over the next ten days the staff member is to make a two minute, meaningful conversation where the goal is to get the student to do more of the talking.  I wouldn’t start with school related topics like homework, but possibly about school athletics.  Even the busiest staff member should be able to spare two minutes per day for a short period of ten days.  Try it and let me know how it went.

I am happy to report that I have never had an encounter with a grizzly in the wild and I believe it is due to proper planning.  If we want to improve the culture of our schools, start by investing two minutes per day for ten days.  Practice talking with your students and remember that what you say is just as important as how you say it.

Make it part of your planning!


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Painted Crackers

Children provide comic relief on many occasions.  Today, I needed something to laugh about, and Katy filled that role.Painted Crackers

Two days ago, Katy responded to a teacher question during class, but her answer was a bit off target.  Another student in her class responded by poking fun at Katy.  He responded, “How many of those paint chips did you eat when you were younger?”  The teacher spoke to the rude student, but today Katy got her revenge.

Late this afternoon, the teacher stopped in my office and reminded me of the story he shared with me.  He proceeded to tell me that Katy brought a ziplock bag of painted saltines for a snack.  The teacher wasn’t sure why Katy had a bag of painted crackers, so he asked.  Katy’s answer cracked me up.

Katy shared that her family didn’t have any chips so she was forced to paint crackers instead.  

I believe there is a teachable moment within this scenario.  Perhaps “paint chips” are not the only painted foods to avoid.

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Moses Continues to Wander

mosesheston2703_468x611I was enjoying a quiet morning catching up on neglected formalities of school administration when Moses entered my office and flopped down in a chair adjacent from my desk.  Moses was enjoying the confines of our In School Suspension program until the supervisor asked him to turn over his iPod and mobile phone.

Being a reasonable principal, I asked Moses a simple question, “Why didn’t you do as the supervisor asked?”  Moses’ reply was less than satisfactory.  He quickly stood up and retorted that he did not need to stay here for this.  As he left my office, I slightly raised my voice.  I wasn’t sure what would happen next.  I peaked around the corner of my office door just in time to see Moses turn abruptly back into my office and toss both items on my desk.  

Moses spent the remainder of the day in our ISS program which is designed to be rehabilitative, not just jail for kids.  

Moses’ behavior makes him unique.  A friend of my maintains another blog and has authored two books.  The title of his second book, The Freak Factor, makes me think that Moses should be provided opportunities to test his loud, abrubt and passionate leadership skills in a productive manner.  We haven’t been able to bridge the gap with Moses, yet.  His leadership potential is off the charts!  I have witnessed other students following Moses’ every move.  His peers are his puppets and he is the puppeteer.  However, many infamous leaders with similar skill have led others down a dark path.  Our buildings goal is to find a place for Moses to use his skills productively and without hinderance.

Each of us unique in our style of leadership as an administrator, teacher, parent, or community member.  My challenge is clear.  I must develop personally and those serving our students to use their “freakness” to be unique in our 21st century.

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Each day I go to work I leave a better person.  Sometimes not much better, but better nonetheless.

Thanks 4th Graders for Changing the World!

Thanks 4th Graders for Changing the World!



Kids have an uncanny ability at teaching us lessons.  It is the unexpected moments in school that impress me the most.  I have written about some of these moments in recent postings.  Take a look.

While reviewing some of my friends tweets on Twitter, I discovered a classroom that is taking a look at making a difference globally.  It really isn’t that difficult, if we all pitch in.  The students on the site make some real good points about making a global difference.  

One of the recurring themes observed from Mrs. Hines’ students is their overwhelming sense of responsibility to our planet’s environment.  It seems like a logical place to start changing the world, in their own backyard.  Imagine all the people, sorry Mr. Lennon, recycling all the products that can be recycled.  Perhaps we should follow their lead and learn through exploration and see if we can make an impact in the world by starting with something simple, recycling.  

Way to go fourth graders!

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Principal Vs. Father


This school year has been more unique than any other in my career.  My daughter is now one of my students.


Father and Daughter

Father and Daughter

Trying to distinguish between these two roles has proven to be more difficult than I could have imagined. 


Last semester, one of my students who demands too much of time for disciplinary issues crossed a line.  While exiting the building in an angry fit, the student kicked my daughter’s books and backpack down the hallway.  This angered me, but I trusted the teachers and our associate principal to handle the situation appropriately and they did.

Only a few short weeks later, the same situation reared its head with the exception being an escalation from books and bags to the kicking of a locker near my daughter’s head and the destruction of her personal belongings.  

Moments later my daughter met me outside as she waited for my wife to pick her up.  My daughter, Cassidy shared the most recent events with me and as she finished I spotted the bully.  I couldn’t wait for the associate principal or other staff members to intercede on my behalf.  I confronted the bully to defend my daughter, but my principal hat blew off in the wind.  

The lesson I learned was valuable.  I learned that I can be an effective principal and still be a loving father.  I hope my daughter also learned that her father will defend her honor as much as required.  I was also reminded that some things must be confronted as a leader.

A friend of mine, Stosh, authors another blog about leadership.  In one of his posts he wrote leaders are often the people willing to do the things that others leave alone.

On occasion, some poor practices are allowed to take place in schools.  Many people know about the poor practice and allow it to continue. It is easier to ignore it than confront it.  Correcting these poor practices is not the responsibility of the principal, but all stakeholders that observe it and know that something better can be done.  

During your next staff meeting, take time to create a list of non-negotiable items.  Don’t make it too long, two to three will suffice.  Build momentum with those items and tackle larger obstacles as a unified, caring group in the future.

As the principal, I will not allow my daughters confidence to be compromised under my watch.  I will also confront poor educational practices in a professional way with tact and care.  

Will you join me?

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Good Decision made Bad


What will you choose?

What will you choose?

Have you ever had a detention?  While growing up, I didn’t push the limits very often and as a result, did not receive negative consequences during the school day.  If I did, I know my parents would have supported the school with every fiber in their body and the consequences doled out at school would be the least of my worries.

A student named Tom finished serving an after school detention and called home to be picked up.  Tom grunted some words into the phone and mumbled a few others and placed the receiver back on the cradle.  Minutes later, my assistant informed me that Tom’s father was on the phone and would like to speak with me.  I knew it wasn’t going to go well.

I greeted Tom’s father pleasantly, but he was less than reciprocal.  Without wasting any time, he clearly stated how unhappy he was with our school’s inability to honor the wish of a parent.  I pleaded with him to give me some background information while he continued to degrade the people that serve his son daily.  He did so willingly, too willingly.  When he completed his barrage of negativity, I discovered the request that we allegedly ignored.  

Tom’s father requested to have his son’s detention moved from Friday to Monday earlier  in the day with the associate principal.  The associate obliged and made the necessary arrangements and alerted our staff.  However, Tom, reported to detention and served it anyway.

By this time, Tom was in my office and I placed his father on speaker phone.  I asked Tom who made him stay after school and to ignore his father’s commands.  Tom retorted, “Nobody, why?”  He further incriminated himself by admitting that he didn’t hear his father tell him to not report to detention as he would talk to the associate principal and get the date switched.  Just a middle school boy mistake, not a big deal.

Tom’s father, however, is a big deal.  Tom’s father was moving detention dates so his son could ride home with another family for a birthday party.  Not really a reason to put aside the consequences for poor behavior.  

I willingly admit, that our schools punishments are sub par and do not, in most cases, re-direct bad behavior, but we are making progress through building strong relationships.  Tom’s father, unfortunately, and others like him are attempting to undermine the authority of our school and the relationships that have been kindled.  These moments provide valuable lessons for students.

Before Tom left my office, I asked him what he thought of the events that had just unfolded.  Tom knew clearly that serving the detention was the right thing to do.  I agreed with Tom and encouraged him to make the right choice in the future even when it may be difficult.  

How can schools better reach the parents of the students enrolled in their buildings?  People are busy and parent meetings after school are not well attended.  Today’s economy has forced many families to find two incomes and their time has become very valuable.  As parents, would you be willing to read blog posts, conference using Skype, sign up to follow our school on Twitter?  All the options previously stated are available at this time.  All of us are seeking the same goal, the best for our students, your children.  


Please add comments about the attempts your schools have made to better inform the stakeholders within your schools.

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