Connecting and Influence

One of my graduate school professors shared an insight that has stayed with me for after almost 15 years later:

  • Students are the reason we have schools;
  • Teachers are the most important people in the school building;
  • Principals are the most influential people in the building.

As a teacher in program at the time and later as an assistant principal, I didn’t have a good understanding about the principal and influence. My perception was the principal’s role was one of authority – giving mandates around the school on what needed to be changed and put in place to make the school a better place to work and learn. But some good mentors and supervisors helped me understand the power of building a vision and empowering others to be incremental in making change in schools.

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My presentation this week at #ModelSchool in Atlanta  centered around the influence of the school leader and one of the major tools that school leaders leverage in becoming better leaders – getting connected. One of the things I’m most grateful for is how my PLN constantly reinforces and teaches me how to be a more effective leader. I learn from world class experts on leadership best practices that help grow me as a leader and in turn change my school environment. Jimmy Casas, principal of Bettendorf High School in Iowa, is a great example of this. I visited Jimmy during one of his open sessions while he was coaching a school administrator on how to begin his journey on bringing about systemic, courageous change in his school.  I’ve heard Jimmy speak a number of times, follow of his posts and thoughts on social media and avidly follow his work. I know him to be a great thought leader and leadership coach but I would absolutely not know him if I was not a connected educator. Being connected shrinks our world and brings experts with in arm’s length. It gives us immediate access to their knowledge and experience. I’m a better leader and educator because my PLN [professional learning network] is always there and accessible.

School leaders at every level should make time to build up and engage their PLN. Spend time learning Twitter, Voxer, Facebook and start developing your leadership skills, understand your role as a vision builder and start using your influence help change your school. We will never mandate our way to better schools but leveraging our influence is how we build sustaining and impactful change.

A Connected Educator Should Run Twitter

This recent article on caught my eye about the CEO of Twitter – Twitter’s CEO is stepping down. Here’s why the company’s in trouble.

It was an interesting read about popular social media site. I was drawn to it because Twitter makes me think of connected educators and our learning experiences. Twitter is how many of us connected and its the reason many of us are the educators we are today. Everyone who has taken the dive to be connected educators, via Twitter, is better for it.

twitter-cognitive-spectrumThe article outlines industry critiques about Twitter – which is ironically the same issue we have in other industries like education, such as the lack of ability to innovate like similar products/companies. I haven’t done deep research on this topic so I can’t speak to the market research given here, but when you read the points of how other social media platforms have adopted to users needs and preferences and the essential components of Twitter have remained the same, you have to give some validity to the concerns about the static timeline, design layout for ‘power users’ and of the other features.

After reading it, I was a little saddened because Twitter was the tool that helped improve my thinking and practice as an educator. We still work hard to get other educators to connect on Twitter and grow their practice. What if some small changes on the front end would help beginners/new users see the value and dive deeper into its potential? Naturally, as an educator, I’m thinking of the education field and what can be done. I can’t say if other fields are diving into chats and professional development explorations like we are but what better group to help others realize that potential. So I made the rational leap – a connected educator should head up Twitter!

I think if that happened, we would see several immediate, powerful changes:

  • Rebranding – We would see a serious effort to rebrand Twitter and highlight lots of the features educator have come to value. The picture to the right is what you see when you log into Twitter – if you are a connected educator think of all the things you do right now that are above and beyond what’s described in this tagline. There is great opportunity here to showcase and highlight some great potential from the onset!
  • Bring back Tweetdeck, FULLY! I thought its was a great move when Twitter acquired Tweetdeck. There weren’t a lot of Twitter-client options then but it was a powerhouse, offering connections and links to different social media. To me, the greatest feature was the mobile app – awesomeness at its best! I have never stopped using Tweetdeck for my chats since I first logged on Twitter but I so use other clients for other features because of limited mobility options. When we bring new educators to Twitter, one of the eventual conversations that comes up is using a client like Tweetdeck. Here’s a chance to revamp, enhance and relaunch. Make it a go-to reference.
  • Do a better job of recommending/helping us select new people to follow! There is so much more potential here than the 3-5 mini-bios we see at the top left of the screen. Show me some hashtags/chats I may want to follow; get with Jerry Blumengarten, @cybraryman1, and start an index of the popular chats across different industries.
  • Do some internal product promotion on how to utilize Twitter as a tool for lifelong learning, professional development and personal growth! Incredible opportunity here!

I’m sure we will see a talented individual take the helm and do great things. A connected educator would bring a great perspective to a potential new evolution of Twitter.

Growth is about the Journey #ModelSchools

I speak often, and proudly, about the amazing job my school does is serving a very needy population. As a family, our school rallies together to making small and big differences in the lives of the students and family in the Spring Lake Middle community. Part of the significant issues we work around are high number of families living in poverty, very high transiency rates,, supporting the social/emotional needs of our students and keeping our teachers upbeat and impactful as we work in this very demanding environment.

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Since joining SLMS, I have worked with a great team of teachers and administrators to bring about some changes to our instructional practices and school culture that have translated achievement results for our school. With hard work and planning we have been able to make our growth goals these past years. We have been able to achieve our goals with a focus on several different areas:

  • Strategic planning;continuum icle
  • Collaboration among staff and students;
  • Innovative leadership and learning practices;
  • Focusing on what to teach, how to teach it and,
  • How to effectively assess our impact.

I’m happy to announce that this summer, I’ll be sharing our team’s success at the Model School’s Conference in Atlanta. The presentation will focus on our work to change the learning and teaching in our school and how they align to the Rigor Relevance framework designed by Dr. Daggett and the ICLE.
rr-frameworkWe are proud of our journey and its my hope to share the great work we have to engage in daily to ensure that teachers are teaching at high levels, students are learning and demonstrating the desired outcomes and we are helping meet the various needs of our community. There will be takeaways for everyone at this session.

We all grow together!


Using Infographics in Our Schools


I love infographics. I make a point to share an interesting infographic to my PLN everyday. As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a better way to share lots of information in a more concise and interesting display. Its robust and eye-catching.

Steven Weber, @curriculumblog, an active member of my PLN, shared this newly created infographic by his school district Chapel Hill-Carborro City Schools, @chccs. Instead of reading about this district’s information on fact sheet, you can get a great visual experience while reading over some of district’s essential details.They say presentation is everything – in this case, presentation keeps the reader engaged and more likely to retain some of the more pertinent information about this district. Years ago, Steven shared an infographic of similar design from the school he served as principal. It was a great visual and though it was years ago, I still remember my impression from the visual design.

Power of Infographics for School Branding

There is incredible opportunity for schools to use infographics to help promote the great things that happen in schools. When I read the CHCCS infographic, I immediately thought of some banners our school could [and will] create to share some cool, great things we have going on:

  • What middle school is about, strategies for successful transition, study habits
  • Achievement facts;
  • Explanation of the BYOD policy
  • Instead of sharing a stale pdf summary of school improvement goals, , get creative with an infographic;
  • Highlights sports achievements;
  • Explanation of electives, intramurals;
  • Showoff your student/staff of the month;
  • Profile your teachers during Teacher Appreciation Month;
  • Create some great visual on your school’s unique instructional goals i.e., 1:1, blended learning, PBL, focus on literacy, etc.

Promoting our positive school brand is a consistent part of our jobs as school leaders. In addition to committing to spreading the positive word, we have to make sure we are using the language, visuals and tools that help our stakeholders understand our message and take away the important details of our message. Infographics help mitigate the educational jargon, make the data more relatable, and add some essential personalization that our community will buy into.

“If you don’t tell your story, someone will tell a story.”


5 Infographics to Teach You How to Easily Make Infographics in Powerpoint

#edcampldr NC – Connecting and Learning to Improve Leading

Edcamp LeadershipJuly 10, 2015 promises to be a historic day of learning and connecting for North Carolina educators!

Friday July 10th, we are hosting the first ever Edcamp for School Leaders! Edcamps are not new to North Carolina – for years, dedicated educators have been coordinating and hosting these ‘unconferences’ across our great state. These edcamps have brought in educators from different school districts to share, connect and ultimately help others improve the learning and teaching in all our schools. Talk to any participants in these edcamps and they will tell you that these experiences have been incredibly valuable and significant to their personal/professional development.

Edcamp Leadership NC [held Friday July 10 at the @FridayInstitue] is the first of its kind in NC and we have some great reasons to be excited:

This is a first NC unconference targeted for school leaders across the state. Make no mistake, ALL are welcome to this great day of learning but we want to especially create an opportunity for school and district level leaders to start and participate in change discussions that will help their districts and schools;

  • Edcamp Leadership NC is one of many edcamp leaderships held across the nation! There will be many edcamps held that week on the same days, sharing and connecting virtually;
  • We are glad to announce that the esteemed Dr. June Atkinson, our State Superintendent, will join us for this event;
  • As always, there will be many great educators there, looking to connect, grow and learn.

Get Smart Resources:
– To learn more about what an edcamp is, check out this short video. It’s a great 90 seconds take on the value of this informal conference.
– Kristin Swanson, who’s credited for started edcamps, wrote a blogpost for Edutopia about the benefits and genius design of edcamps.


Read about Edcamp Leadership here and our efforts to impact edcators worldwide [yep, there is an edcamp leadership Santiago Chile] with this multi-site, same day event!

As a principal, I know its difficult to find conversations or trainings that will help make a difference for my students and teachers, particularly that will fit my specific needs. Edcamps are a great way to personalize your learning and development. Instead of picking your learning from a menu, you have the opportunity to design a talk special for you. What we often find is that there are others who share your specific questions, needs and thoughts. Come to Edcamp Leadership NC and start a conversation in a breakout session, continue it in the hallway, form a relationship with a colleague and take back some information or challenging discussions that well help us all build schools and classrooms our students need and that our teachers will be on fire to work and lead in!

Visit our site and register here!

We are Always 2 Questions Away…

Earlier this week, we got a call to one of our teacher’s classrooms to get some help in dealing with a ‘disruptive’ student. When I arrived, the teacher greeted me at the door with a very perplexed and slightly frustrated look on her face. She pointed out wpid-20150421_092044the student and began to explain that he was very disagreeable, argumentative and even combative. Her confusion came from the fact that even though we have had moments with this student before, his behaviors were out of character, very ‘odd’ and ultimately disruptive.

As I walked him to the front office and began asking him what was going on, I quickly began to see the behaviors the teachers described. He was even short and borderline disrespectful to me. [For clarity, I don’t write that to sound like, “How dare he talk to the principal like that!’, I say that because over his 3 years at Spring Lake Middle, I have come to know him, his family and situation very well and he and I have a good relationship]. As I approached the front office, one of his support teachers, Mr Cooper, saw us and inquired about what was going on. I asked him to join us, thinking that two heads were better than one.

When we arrived in my conference room, I asked the student about the night before, ride on the bus and arrival at school, thinking that this was either a turbulent night in the neighborhood or some issue with students at school. Other than arriving to school on the bus late that day, there was nothing out of the ordinary. I had to leave out of the office for a quick minute and when I returned, Mr. Cooper shared some a powerful piece of information he got from the student in an astonishing 60 seconds.

The student had not eaten in 40 hours. He was absent from school the day before and in all the hurry never ate anything more than a half a peanut butter sandwich. Our cafeteria makes a point to always be ready for every late bus but that day he wasn’t with the bus. We were literally seeing a student whose personality, health, mood, emotions were being seriously affected by grave hunger.

I snuck the picture above to share with my staff later but in it you see a desperate principal who reached out to the first adults he could find to get whatever donation they could give. Its not in the picture but I did give him a bottle of water from my office so it wasn’t totally unhealthy. 12 minutes later, Mr Cooper and I were dealing with a different young man. He was back to being mild-mannered, pleasant and conversational. We even joked about how he doesn’t eat the outside part of the doughnut, only the part that touches the inner hole. Like I said, we know and love this kid.


At a faculty meeting earlier this year, I shared with the staff that we are always two questions away from learning something significant about our students, our classes and our school. If we are willing to ask questions, we can learn something that will allow us to make a profound difference in the lives of students.

What Can We Do?

dd-school-breakfast-2013-info-graphicBuild Relationships – [‘Relationships, relationships, relationships.’ Jimmy Casas] I’m thankful the teacher was sharp enough to see that something was off with the student and knew to reach out for support to get some help. I’m grateful that his support teacher saw us in the hallway and was able to get to the two questions. While I’m confident that others could have had success in this situation, I don’t think others would have had the patience to deal with an ‘unruly’ middle schooler. Its only because we knew this student that we were able to intervene, see through the pain and intervene.

Don’t Take ANYTHING for Granted – Educators are busy and overworked and have the TREMENDOUS task of leading the learning in the classroom – a lot goes into that responsibility. But even through that, we have to be vigilant and mindful of what’s going on with our students. Sometimes, we go beyond the two questions just to make sure all is well.

Keep Some Snack for Students – You just never know.

This was a profound reminder. Those who know me know a lot of my passions are in the best teaching and learning practices, what learning can look like and what best leadership practices and strategies help us get to where we need to be. But I started teaching in schools like the ones I have led and am grateful for the unique experiences that have helped shaped me. All of us in our different communities and schools, have to keep in the forefront that we serve kids and all kids have needs of some kind. I will always work on my ‘2 Questions’ skill.


Informal Learning at its Best

This weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in an edcamp held at the Rowan-Salisbury School district, @EdCampRowan. Months ago, I received an invite to give the opening talk. I have shied away from calling it a keynote because keynote doesn’t fit the motif of an edcamp – I am calling it the ‘tone-setting talk!’ True to form, this event did not disappoint – it was all about personalizing learning for participants and making creating forums for sharing and connecting.

This day was a make up day of pd for teachers who lost several days because of snow. We learned at the start of the day that vast majority of our 200+ attendees were participating in their first edcamp. Lots of smiles made the eagerness to connect and grow visible and evident!

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I want to mention a couple of very impressive things about this event early in this blog [there are many more below]:

  • This edcamp became a makeup opportunity for RSS staff having missed some days for snow [I know I’m repeating this but it bears repeating], what a great way to value and promote learning time for teachers #innovative;
  • Superintendent Dr Lynn Moody, @lynn_moody, was an active participant from beginning to end;
  • There were a good number central office and school administrators participating in this informal learning;
  • A board member showed up around midday and sat in on one a session I dropped in on personalizing PD!

I had a great time with my tone-setting talk! It focused on several points: 1) Keep an open mind about learning – what is absurd today will be absurd tomorrow for a different reason; 2) embrace the power of collective learning and 3) we have to shift our focus of teaching to address the needs of learners and the skills we need them to embrace.

My talk was about embracing new modalities of learning, especially the informal and making sure that we connect with others here to further and continue the learning. As a challenge for the day and a way to get the group think started, I charged the group to come up with 4 C’s for our learning  of the day! I gave the first two, Courage – be willing to try something new, start or join a conversation and Connect – be intentional about connecting with someone that day who could be a help later. From the audience we got two more Contribution and Commitment – great sentiments to kick off the day. Kelly Hines, @kellyhines, being the innovator she is, took the idea and made it a living theme! Armed with a whiteboard, dry erase markers and a camera, she went to individuals and captured their personal messages, their own ‘C’ for the day! Looking through this slideshow you will be very impressed with creativity and passion the edcampers showed that day! I encourage you to look at her Twitter feed for the day to see all the diverse messages. This was a great learning legacy to document the day.

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20150307_094437For a first time endeavor, this district hit a homerun! I can’t say enough about the vision and drive of Tiffany Carter, @tpizzie1, and Rachel Lawrence, @Tchr_RachelM for their vision and drive to bring new learning opportunities to their district. Shift happens with an ‘absurd’ thought! I even heard that Dave Burgess, @burgessdave, made a guest appearance during our Teach Like a Pirate talk!


The learning was a great experience but connecting and reconnecting with friends I haven’t seen for a while really made this experience worthwhile. Learning and growing knowledge without building relationships builds isolated experts and we are about tearing down silos and building community.

20150307_091029Take a look at Google+ picture collection here –

Great day of learning!