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.

If adventure doesn’t exist within your school, it should!Adventure + Excitement = Learning

As the principal of a school, I have the great opportunity to hike the halls.  Consistently, I observe most of our students doing exactly as we expect.  Some students are sitting at their desks focused on the lesson, others are sitting at their desks acting like they’re focused on the lesson, and a few of them are off task and partaking in behaviors better left to the imagination.  An aspect I don’t often observe or feel is a sense of adventure.

Learning should be exciting!  With excitement comes curiosity and engagement and better achievement.  How can learning a new concept or wrapping our minds around the events that shaped our country’s past and provided us the freedom to write blog’s like this be boring.  Wow, that’s exciting, but are we bringing these nuggets of knowledge to our millennial students?

Our district, like many other rural districts, is facing budget shortfalls and is reducing the budget by nearly $700, 000 next year!  This should scare me, but it doesn’t and let me tell you why.

Next year, one of our classrooms used for keyboarding will be vacant.  The easy decision would be to take that existing room, loaded with computers, and create another computer lab available for all students.  That was going to be the plan until one of my innovative teachers pitched an innovative idea.  The teacher wants to create a language arts classroom centered around 21st century learning.  She mentioned tweeting as a form of communicating assignments, posting assignments on-line, and creating a paperless classroom.

I was wallowing and whining, in my mind, about the reduction that created the vacant room while this teacher proposed an alternative for and adventurous 21st century classroom.  Innovative people never seem to get stuck when a door closes.  They just open a window!

Despite the obstacles our school faces, we keep getting better.  Our teachers are awesome!

I was hoping that writing about this idea would help me think through the process, but I could still use your help.  Providing our students an adventurous curriculum is my goal.  What do you think?

Is utilizing the vacant classroom as a computer lab to serve all of our students (we have four other labs) best or should it be converted to something new and innovative?

Your comments will surely steer me in the right direction, I hope!

The Snow Plow Method

The Snow Plow

The Snow Plow

Last Thursday, our school district was smacked by the largest snowfall of the season with wind gusts of 62 miles per hour, a winter hurricane.  The blowing snow made the country roads impassible and classes were canceled Friday morning.

After removing the snow on my sidewalk and driveway I headed into the office.  Snowplows are not uncommon pieces of machinery in my community, but as I waited at the stop sign to allow the plow to pass, I mashed two ideas; the plow and its effect on education.

The plow passed with impressiveness, but left much of the snow on the shoulder of the road to be dealt with at a later time.  These massive plows serve a specific purpose, clear the snow as quickly as possible and allow other machinery to do the clean up.

We have entered the second semester and some teachers and administrators may be reviewing annual goals for progress or completion of benchmarks.  It is essential if we have fallen behind to not “plow” through our content.  When educators plow through content to reach an arbitrary goal of finishing the textbook, we loose focus on teaching the student.  When we teach with the plow mentality, we get through the material or content, but cannot discriminate what is essential for learning and some kids, like the snow, get pushed to the side in haste to reach the arbitrary goal of completing a textbook.

I find it rather easy to identify problems and more difficult to find solutions.   How do we set the focus on student learning when so much rides on state exams.   Another blogger has similar ideas and illustrates them on her latest post.

We must stop plowing and focus on learning.

Let me know!

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!

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.