Thursday, July 28, 2011

Retreat Prep

I'm about two weeks away from my staff retreat, and as normal, I have a thousand things swirling in my head. As a school leader, it seems that there are moments of clarity, where all of the puzzle pieces fit together, and other moments, where you are overwhelmed with the complexities of the work that we do. The remainder of this post won't probably show this transition from jumbled to clarity, but I hope that it sparks a few ideas for everyone preparing for the first weeks of school.

There isn't enough passion in education. I have been reminded of this over and over this summer. From the book, Passion Driven Classroom to the Guidelines for Passion-Based Learning to my leadership development with Peter Senge at Camp Snowball, it became clear that the idea of passion has slowly been sucked out of the joy of learning. How do we bring it back? Why do we need to bring it back? Those are two of the questions that I hope to explore in the time that I have with my staff in a few weeks.

At times, people associate the terms passion and mission, and I think that it is true that the concepts of passion, mission, and vision are wrapped into a necessary dance for a successful learning environment. The idea that teachers and students can't wait to arrive at school each day to grow in their understanding is an essential aspect of a healthy school. In June, as a staff, we talked at length about the overarching enduring understanding and essential questions that naturally emerge from our expeditionary learning and our curriculum convenant. An exciting document emerged that I believe can be the compass for our work for many years to come. This document, currently in draft form, waiting for feedback from teachers, students, and parents, explains our dedication to growing in a deep way about the concepts of stewardship and responsibility, perspective and change, and collaboration and community. Rarely does a school have a clear way forward that goes beyond test scores or chasing an old definition of success, but I believe that our depth in understanding our curriculum based on our work with D2L and our constant desire to grow and revise our work to maintain the curricular edge has unique placed us on a progressive road to greater success. During Camp Snowball (the Systems Thinking, Sustainability, and Leadership Capacity building conference in Tucson), Peter Senge and Michael Fullan continued to talk about having a shared vision in a school, but they emphasized that it isn't about what the vision is, but it is what the vision does.

The growth of MRH in the last decade was based on a model of curriculum reform that takes the long view to success. It looks at both building the culture and the program. Both areas of schools have to be strong and complement each other for success to be maintained over time. Reform in the area of culture has three essential areas: the compelling educational vision, a positive environment, and a desire for continuous improvement. Reform in the area of program also has three essential areas: personalized service, a curriculum covenant, and instructional best practices. Continuous work in these areas by the people in this room and people that have contributed and now left the district have left us with a foundation upon which the next decade of excellence can be built. This success can be seen in a number of measures including our discipline data, student achievement data, and more recently our results on the EXPLORE test. Our students now have every opportunity to learn everyday at a high level in a learning environment that truly promotes learning.

We should be passionate about the foundation that has been laid, and we should be passionate about the fact that we are doing the right things for kids. We should tell our students, parents, community, educational colleagues, and global collaborators about the incredibly healthy school that is making a difference for kids. I love telling our story. I passionately defend our work with expeditionary learning and technology integration, calling them difference makers and a true path forward to growing students in a way that is chasing a new definition of success in schools.

I also want to be passionate about the road forward. There is no time to put the car in neutral as too many schools plateau and becoming as Michael Fullan called them "cruising schools". We still have too many students that leave us without the skills, understanding, and spirit that they need to be successful after school. We still need to find ways to build systems that are nimble and can adjust quickly to needs of students as well as systems that are regenerative so that when one member leaves us the institutional knowledge and system capacity isn't lost.

As I looked to the next decade of growth, I first started with me as a leader, asking myself, "How can I grow as a leader so that my students and my school have the greatest chances for success. After serving as an assistant principal or principal for the last eleven years, I have decided that I must also find a new level in my leadership, and I again turned to the word passion. There have been times in my career, where the voice of fear has crept into my leadership. I feared not fitting in. I feared getting fired. I feared that taking a stand would result in more personal harm and good. This fear has led me to push some of my passion for kids and their success away, so that things would be peaceful. I truly believe that the next phase of my leadership has me leading from the power that comes from the heart, emotions, and feelings that drive the human experience. Schools can be peaceful places when the adults don't have their emotions for kids in the forefront, but they will never be places of excellence until we can bring our personal passions for education into a fostering community setting where people support each other on this deep level.

System Thinking uses an iceberg model to describe the idea that events and actions stem from deeper places that can't be seen from the surface. Our personal and organizational mental models truly drive our actions, and it is important that as a growing school culture that we take time to dig into our mental models about education, schooling, learning, opportunity, and community growth. When these things are on the table, we have new found opportunities to grow. Different folks talk about the levels in different ways; Systems Thinking talks about how events are caused by the structures that we have created which are shaped by our deep mental models about the situation. Simon Sinek in his TED talk
calls it the Golden Circle where healthy, passion-drive organizations work, dream and market their work first from the deep level of why they do the work, then how they do the work and finally to what the work is. This is similar to the systems thinking model, and we as an organization should work to make decision with the why at the forefront of all of our decisions.

As I looked at our programming through this lens, it started to help me organized why, how, and what we do for kids. At the heart of why we do our work is preparing students to be leaders, scholars, citizens, and stewards for our community and larger once they leave MRH high school. The how we go about developing these skills and understandings comes from a set of growing best practices that are at times school-wide, and at times they are specific to your subject and classroom. It is our job as a collective to grow and learn in these areas from each other. This year, I hope that we can place additional emphasize on five areas that appear to be ripe for leveraging our system forward. These are: producing excellent student work as discussed and demonstrated by Ron Berger and through our own projects and work, building classrooms with a greater sense of cooperative learning using the Kagan strategies with the support of our cooperative learning coaches, redesigning our grading practices so as to create a fair and accurate system that supports the learning of all students, infusing high levels of technology integration so that our 1:1 platform can be fully unleashed to allow for greater student learning, and generating daily learning target that can bring clarity for students to the question, "Have I been successful in this class today?"

Then there is the what we do. Our daily work with students to build trusting relationships that foster risk-taking, critical thinking, and empathy go a long way to achieving our goals. When we create engaging daily lesson that value the voice of students, it builds capacity and momentum for learning. When we have deep knowledge of our subject area, we can be magicians about how to get our students to proficiency in their understanding, and on a daily basis, we can promote high levels of academic study and support the behaviors that surround it. From our June meetings on PBIS, we left with the idea that we would like to focus on students being: prepared, engaged, reflective, able to persevere, and be academically driven.

With some additional conversation, we can continue to grow our common understandings of the why, how, and what, so that we can all begin to document our work in these areas. We have an opportunity to show our students, parents, and community that a successful and healthy school can and should defined beyond the test scores that arrive in August, but to do this, we have to provide an unprecedented level of transparency in our work. Through our technology grant, we were awarded four digital cameras for each team, an HD video camera for each team, and a set of iTouches for each team. This should provide the resources necessary to document our excellent work on a daily basis and through our lines of communication; e-mail, newsletter, YouTube, Twitter feed, Flickr, and Facebook, we should be able to reshape and reinforce the images of our building. This level of communication is necessary when you are a school doing things a bit different, not cruising and trying to redefine success and excellence.

As a team, it will be important for us to shape our goals for the year in the next few weeks. When we left the 2010-11 school year, we left with some broad areas to build goals (Building Student Mindset, Finding New Levels of Achievement, and Creating the best Possible Expeditionary Learning Program). These seem like good places to start our conversation in August and September. As always though, I hope that we can be Better Today Than Yesterday Last year, I asked if it was possible for each of us to find 5-10 people that do our job as well or better than us to collaborate with throughout the year. The idea was to build a professional learning network that spanned throughout the country. I'm not sure how many of you took that challenge, but for me, it has been personally rewarding to work with principals in Canada, Boston, Memphis, Springfield, MO and Australia. This is a still a great challenge that I hope that you would consider, and a challenge made easier by the learning network enhancer than comes through being on Twitter. My new challenge comes from Camp Snowball, where Michael Fullan discussed the need for educators that are truly passionate about not only changing their classroom and their school, but are interested in changing the face of the education system. He called for them to begin thinking about how their work can bring success to other classrooms and other schools besides their own. He believes that only through hoisting ourselves into the next circle or system above our current control can we be the change that so many of us desire, so how can your work aid the success of another teacher or school outside of MRH.

Being passionate about our work is the way to an enjoyable everyday. It is the way to make change in the lives of individual students, and being passionate means the opportunity to serve with joy, but being passionate most importantly means taking positive risks for kids. I encourage each of you to doing the things that you have always wanted to do in the classroom, don't save your ideas for a different day. Let's bring a wall of learning energy crashing down on our students, so they know that we care deeply about their future.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Discipline in Modern Education- A Guest Blog Post

I was recently approached by someone interesting in being a guest blogger for Principally Speaking. I had never thought about sharing this space with anyone, but it felt right, and so we are going for it. If you are interested in adding to this blog, I welcome your ideas and thoughts.

Discipline in Modern Education by Lindsey Wright

Although we are well into the 21st century and have developed several alternative approaches for educating students, like holding classes at an online school instead of a brick-and-mortar campus, many teachers still rely on traditional discipline methods to keep control in the classroom. The majority of these techniques involve time-tested protocols such as giving warnings, keeping a child in from recess, keeping him or her after school, or sending the student to the principal’s office. In some cases teachers have blindly adhered to such practices without considering if there might be a better, more effective way to gain and keep control of the classroom.

However, there are other teachers who have been significantly troubled by what they see as the shortcomings of a time-honored tradition whose day has come and gone. Yet traditional discipline methods are still embraced in the majority of schools across the U.S. How can teachers begin to implement a more enlightened approach to discipline in the classroom?

Any experienced educator has long since learned that children in the classroom have a way of feeding off of a teacher’s energy. If the teacher is nervous, distracted, stressed, or angry, the students seem to have an innate ability to pick up on these negative emotions and find a way to exacerbate them. In order to avoid such a situation it's important for the teacher to remain calm and centered, particularly when taking disciplinary action. Meditation is an excellent way to achieve this, as it allows the teacher to find and develop peace and strength within. Students can also benefit from this quiet time, as studies have found that students have improved tests scores and better classroom discipline when they mediate.

Another key to enlightened discipline is getting to the root cause of the behavior. When utilizing this method, the teacher works closely with the student, and even the parents, to discover why a bad behavior is repeated. The goal is to then come up with a plan to address the issue so that it can be overcome. Once this happens classroom discipline will inevitably improve.

If none of the other approaches to seem to be effective, teachers can also try limiting classroom rules. Having some rules is always a good idea as they establish behavior standards that help students know what is expected. However, try to keep them brief and have as few as possible. Ultimately, it is through methods such as these that teachers can promote better discipline and develop more positive relationships with students.

Lindsey Wright, writes for She can be contacted via e-mail at

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer Blast-5 for Friday- Links and Ideas

Incredible set of technology integration tools....
This is a super easy format.

Could our kids create something for TED....
Part of our work with the creation of excellent student work is the development of authentic audiences that can push the quality of the work. It would be incredible for students to submit and have something accepted for TED-ED

This is the preamble for The Earth Charter Initiative- Values and Principles for a Sustainable Future. I thought that is is a power text for kids to dissect to dig into the concept and importance of sustainability.


We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

How to implement e-portfolios...

Incredible resource for teaching the Civil War

As we add more technology to our classrooms to create depth in learning and transparency in our work. Here are a couple of links:

I really enjoy the way that infographic communication information to the visual learning; would be interesting to see our kids create some really good ones.

Just like the Thinkfinity site, this seems to have some great lesson ideas that fit with our units.

Incredible collection of tutorial videos for teachers and kids to grow with 2.0 tools. Log in as a guest, and there are hundreds of videos to learn from. Assign videos to advanced learners to continue their growth.

iTunes App Store launches "Apps for Teachers" section

This seems like a nice set of learning games for kids from our friends at Brain Pop.

We need to continue to find space for kids to reflect on their work in meaningful ways. This is a great blog post with resources.

Teaching Tomorrow's Skills to Today's Students

Don't take the easy way out.... Great post from a great principal

Crowdsourcing an Interview

Yesterday, I was less than an hour from conducting an interview, and I had an old set of tired questions in front of me. I could have used them, but I decided to crowd source the interview questions, and many of you were there to help. It was the real-time help and brain power available to everyone as they develop a solid PLN. The new questions helped make the interview more enjoyable for me, and it provided a fresh set of questions that elicited some great responses from the candidate. Below is the list of questions as requested by many of you. Yesterday was a clear, easy way to see the power of learning from the bunch.

What do you do when your students don't learn?

What are you going to do when you hit a problem you don't know how to solve? or, when you feel like giving up?

Please share a significant failure that you have experienced. What was it ... [and its effect on you]?

Describe a time when you had an effective interaction with a student. A time with a struggling student, what did you do to help?

If a parent/colleague/administrator walks into your room, what will they see/hear/smell? Why?

What is the most important thing to walk into a classroom with organization or imagination?

"Tell me what 'thinking' looks like in your classroom"

What do you enjoy most about listening to people?

What instructional practices and/or pedagogy will you use or implement in your classroom that will ensure student success?

What influences student success?

We often talk about educating our students to enter the global society. What would a learning environment look like/be to support this?

How do you plan to "lead" in your classroom, school, and district? Describe your professional learning goals and how you are currently addressing these?

How do you view professional development? How do you keep improving yourself? What is your students’ role in your classroom? How do you address different needs?

Tell me about a time you failed and what you learned from the experience.

How did you/will you integrate technology into curriculum?

Do you use social media for professional purposes, e.g. chats?

What is the role of technology in education? Give an example of how technology can be used to transform the learning environment?

How do you engage parents? 2. Do you believe that every student can learn?+

What have you learned this week and who are you learning with?

What will the classroom look like in 30 years? Will there even be teachers?

What were the last three books you read?

What is the purpose of education? Why should students come to school?"

What is your definition of an exemplary teacher? How will you support or realize this definition in your teaching?

What does it mean to be part of a team? How do you see yourself as part of a team?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Decade Later- My Upcoming Date with U2

November of 2001 was an emotional time in the United States. We were riding the anger, confusion, and sorrow of the September 11 tragedy, and I was beginning a new phase of my life as I was inching closer to proposing to my wonderful wife Sandy, whom I had met about eleven months prior. With all of these memories vying for their place in my historical calendar, November of 2001 will always be the month remembered as the first time I had a chance to see U2 perform live on stage. The music was incredible. The crowd connecting perfectly with the musicians, and the encore brought my most memorable concert moment to date. The names of all of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks were scrolled up the wall from floor to ceiling until they disappeared into darkness as the band performed the song "One".

That memory of U2 is the number one memory of hundreds that surround that band for me over the last 20 years. Rarely do you get a chance to see a band that influences your life so deeply from 25 years, but U2 returns to Saint Louis on July 17, and I can't wait. The video below was an incredible appetizer for next week. There is something special about this band, a depth that has truly made their longevity possible. I worry at times about setting the expectations too high for this concert, but I don't care because it will be an incredible night for music. You can breath in good music, and it fills the soul. I have a crush on U2, and I get another date with them a just a few days.

It is impossible to be a passion-driven leader unless you have things that you are passionate about both in school and beyond school. You have to know what it feels like to care, to love, to be passionate. I have U2 (and a few other things). What are you so passionate about that it causes the emotions to swell and tears to form? Having those things, knowing those things are all part of the road to passion-driven leadership.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Removing the Fear of Talking to Strangers

I had the opportunity to listen to Will Richardson talk at #ISTE11 a few weeks ago, and I was struck by one of his ideas. For a long period of time, we have driven into our children's' minds that talking to strangers is always a bad idea. I remember as a youth being told not to answer the door if a stranger comes to the door and never tell someone on the phone that your parents aren't home. These certainly seemed practical at the time, and they probably still hold true, but those small chunks of advice have turned into a culture of fear surrounding strangers.

I certainly don't lay the blame on just loving, caring parents as the media has fed this fear with news stories about child abductions, with shows like Criminal Minds, where serial killers seem to nab kids almost weekly, and with a blurring of the facts about the circumstances surrounding missing children and inappropriate behavior toward children. During my career as a principal, I, based on this fear, brought in an expert to scare my kids away from engaging in conversations and behavior on-line with "cyber-predators."

Richardson , throughout his talk, made a compelling case for chipping away at this culture of fear, so we can find a happy medium for our children to be connected with the global learning conversation. Now I'm not advocating for some new Wild West where students are thrown to the wolves and asked to survive in a global virtual learning community, but I do believe that there is a golden mean, closer to the center, than we currently have in place. We must teach our students the opportunities of Skype and Twitter to extend their learning into a global community. The graphic below shows the tsunami of chatter that is coming to the internet in the near future. We must trust and verify the students' exploration of the Internet through less filtering and more freedom.

Learning from strangers holds the key to our future growth. Students can no longer be bound to the expertise of one person per subject that they are assigned to each year. All of us learn from strangers each day. We have learned how to do so by having information literacy skills and curation skills that allow us to find just the right information. We must give our students a balanced look at strangers, the fear of the past must be coupled with the promise of the future learning from strangers. The global learning front door is open, the house is filled with strangers; let's go inside together.