A week home means catching up with friends and family. It gives my life balance; allowing me to regroup, reenergize and be ready to hit the road again to work in my schools.   It also means that I have time to pay more attention to the world around me and to really notice the important messages that are part of my life. As I sat down to write this week’s blog, three experiences that caused me to pause and consider my own actions were in my thoughts.

As a school improvement coach, my days involve problem-solving and working with educators and leaders to learn together and determine next steps as we seek opportunities for student success. There is no “cookie cutter” or  “one-size-fits- all”  approach and more times than not,  some of the heavy lifting that has to be done involves human relationship skills.  Sometimes, my work requires virtual meetings or telephone calls between my visits and one day this week, I spent almost all of the day on the phone in conversation with school leaders and other consultants as we worked together to provide ongoing support. It was a day that caused me to reflect on the advice that I had given, the challenging work that was ahead for my school leaders and the energy and time that I wanted to ensure that I had for each and every one of them. Honestly, it was time for me to dig deep to remain positive and forward thinking.  It seemed, just when it was needed, I became aware of three messages that provided synergy and renewal…

A great friend of mine is a leader but in a very different field than school improvement.  Every time I have the opportunity to talk to him about our roles, I am reminded of the commonality that exists for leaders; one being that interpersonal and communication skills must become highly effective if we are going to lead others.  This week, he shared with me, the post, The Four Agreements, from The Way of Meditation.  IMG_1027We see many inspirational quotes on-line everyday and for me, they might cause pause or, other times, it is hard to take them all in.  This one stuck with me.  I walked away thinking about it for a long time. Here is why.

In the school improvement world, change only happens when there is a clear understanding of the why and what of the work;  when leaders articulate purpose and take the time to build common understanding. We call this the foundation of great change in schools. And this post exactly describes many of the wonders of my school leaders. They wonder why others are not understanding their messages, why things are not changing and why they often react to the push back or negativity that occurs through the change process by taking things personally.  And, sometimes we falsely assume that others understand what our vision is.  Taking a few minutes, to read The Four Agreements reconfirmed for me how critical our interpersonal skills are in all we lead.  I especially loved two statements – “use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love” and “find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want”.

As the outsider going in to a school or district, it is often easier for me to see how mixed messages or unclear directions are causing issue.  As the leader in the middle of the work on a daily basis, this clarity can come through self-reflection and authentically listening to yourself and others.  Are you using the power of your words in the direction of truth? Are you courageously asking questions for clarity?  Are you communicating with others as clear as you can?

The second message that stopped me in my tracks this week was from Canada’s Nobel Prize winner, Donna Strickland. Ms. Strickland was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics (sharing it with an American scientist and another from France for their work in laser physics).  She is the first woman in 55 years to be awarded a Nobel Prize and only the third in Physics.  During a fun interview for television, she described what it was like to receive the call and then made this simple statement about her work ethic, “The world works best when we all do what we’re good at.”  She worked at laser physics (resulting in  laser eye surgery and other outcomes) because that was “what she was good at”.

In schools, every day, we are building collaborative teams and shared leadership models. All of this work depends on every single one of us contributing from a position of expertise, in other words, what we are good at.  When we all share our talents with others who knows what can happen. Maybe a Nobel Prize?  Or, in our world, even better, achieving  our school improvement goals?

Lastly, I want to close this week’s blog with one more lesson learned; messages that resonated with me from Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand. In her powerful speech to the United Nations on September 27, she made several points that reflected her values and her country’s values and beliefs. Despite the context being different, four of her statements truly reminded me of what we focus on when improving schools. Ms. Ardern talked of critical behaviors for New Zealanders (past, present and future) and what we all should pay attention to. She said that 1) “we (New Zealanders)  didn’t just observe (international) events, we challenged them”, 2) we, (New Zealanders) examine “how did we get here and how do we get out” 3) “we (New Zealanders)  acknowledge the problems we have and we can seek to fix them.” and lastly, 4) “our action ( all of us, globally) in the way of this (environmental) challenge remains optional, but the impact of inaction does not.”

I will close and challenge you to reflect on her four points.  Using her message and putting in the context of continuous school improvement, are you doing all you can to challenge what must be challenged in your school or district?  Is there an honest conversation to be had about how we got here and what we have to do to change? Are you seeking opportunities to address problems? And, lastly, is taking action an option?

Be inspired this week to work at what you are good at, use the power of your words to impact others positively and know that change requires action, not inaction.  I look forward to being with you next Saturday.

“The Deep End”

If you have been a reader of my weekly blog on school improvement, I am sure that there have been times that you have wondered what the subject that I introduce has to  do with improving schools!   If you have stuck with me, I hope that the connections have become clear to you and this week, I am going to beg your patience with me. Secretly, I  wish that this situation that I am describing had been part of my elementary school experience! My learning lessons come from many people and places and this week it is all about the “deep end of the pool“.

On the road, I work mostly with school administrators, instructional coaches and teachers who are part of collaborative teams. These educators are usually teachers of Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and of course, English Language Arts.  For the most part, I work with the teachers of the core subjects that are heavily assessed for college and career readiness.  Sometimes, however, I meet and work with the other adults in the school that, collectively support and create learning for our students.  Often, these teachers attend professional development sessions with colleagues and I know that, for many, it is hard for them to connect what we are trying to do to impact reading, writing and mathematics with what they do.  But, often I see that they understand the big picture- the need for ALL staff to share ownership of the work to be done.  This week, I had the very best example of this and I am extremely proud to introduce you to Chris Wood!

I have had the good fortune of knowing Chris for the past two years. IMG_8249He is the physical education teacher (PE as we call it) at Cherokee Heights Elementary School in St. Paul, Minnesota.  This elementary school is blessed with a swimming pool and so the students rotate through three weeks of swimming instruction (four times a year) as part of their PE classes.  This is not, however, how I have come to know Chris.  I met him first, because, he is part of the leadership team, the guiding coalition, at the school. Principal Rivera had the great insight to include specialists on her shared leadership team.  She knew, that to really move her school, she needed their voices and guidance as part of the team that would support continuous improvement.  Every time I visit that school, we start the day with a 7:15 am meeting with this team and this is how I first met Chris.

For the past two years, Chris has attended leadership and all summer or after-school professional learning that I have done with the staff.  He is, for the most part, a quiet learner. He never misses the learning opportunities and he listens and asks great questions. That is what he did this week. At our early morning leadership meeting, he asked all of us a very reflective question about the trends in the data we were looking at that really impacted our conversation.  Honestly, he made us all sit up and take notice and so I started to explore what he was really doing with all of our learnings.  And, this is what I found out…

Chris has taken it upon himself to apply effective instructional practices to his instruction.  He develops amazing lesson plans that include activating ways to make students think for themselves and self-assess.  He was telling me, that for volleyball, for example, the students are given the rubric of what they have to do to excel and then they have an opportunity to videotape their performance (their serves, their bumps, their volleys, etc). Chris has set it up so they self-assess and then email their videos to him for his feedback as well.  This all fits with what we know about engaging students in their own learning journey.  We often talk about how they have to see the target as it has to be visible and clear to them and that we want them to really understand what they have to do to improve. Chris has listened, read, studied and applied this to his teaching!  He also is supporting the overall focus of improving writing in the school  and has students write in class (sometimes an exit ticket on the way out of class) to support the overall school goals. And remember, this is in PE classes!

What I really loved about my conversation with Chris this week, is his “deep end” goal for his swimming students. Chris has intentionally explained the goals of the swimming instruction and through the six levels of swimming progression, what the student must do to reach the next level is crystal clear to them. It is, as we say, a “visible target”. There is no guessing, if I am going to get to swim in the deep end of the pool, here is what I have to do to get there.  And, guess what? When I make it to the deep end, I get to wear a bathing cap of a different color.  The teachers were telling me that Chris’ students LOVE this. They are super excited when they come back to class with this new colored cap! And what I love is that the students know what the target is and they can work their way towards their goal.  Isn’t this what we want in all of our classes? That students can own the learning and be part of the responsibility for getting there?

I asked Chris about how he uses all that he has learned to improve instruction. We talked about how he might have decided that the work that we were doing was just for the classroom teachers, that, indeed, he could have checked out of this learning.  I asked him why he works so hard at these instructional practices and he explained to me that he 1) always seeks to understand what students can achieve outside of the gym or the pool, 2) that he gives very clear expectations of where students are going because that is how self-reflection and learning really occurs (he even has a great rubric for how to improve on the backstroke!), 3) he wants to support the overall school goals of school improvement and lastly, his fourth comments says it all, he loves his students and wants to see their full potential.

For me, as a school improvement coach, it doesn’t get any better than this.  A teacher who sees the bigger vision of shared ownership- of all of us owning the work to be done in a school and knowing that it isn’t just the English Language Arts teachers or the Mathematics teachers’ responsibility to ensure deep learning of essential skills.  He understands that it is about the students and he contributes as a leader in and out of his classroom.  And, I know that there are Chris Wood(s) in all of our schools. We just have to believe in them, support them and help them see their impact.  Including everyone in the messaging, the learning and the high expectations for implementation is what the school improvement journey should be all about.  I will leave you with this thought… is that what it looks like in every nook and cranny of your school? Is there focused, intentional learning everywhere? Chris has challenged himself to continue to be a lifelong learner; student by student/skill by skill and he is making a difference! Thanks for reading. See you next Saturday.



Real Heart

Growing up in Eastern Canada, our “home sport” was hockey. As in many Canadian homes, every Saturday night we all watched “Hockey Night in Canada”.  It was a ritual. I don’t know if there were other options on the television because it didn’t matter. We watched hockey and then we discussed it all week. GumpWorsleyChex I remember my mom idolizing one player, Gump Worsley, a goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens.  She actually met him one day and to say that she was excited would be huge understatement!  (Interesting that my brother and my daughter went on to be hockey goalies). Over the years, I have grown to love most sports and I entertain myself on the road with lots and lots of sports gazing. I have had to teach myself lots about the rules of American football (which I am slowly understanding) and I have fallen in love with watching basketball games.  And, I idolize the players who play with heart- who demonstrate, time and time again, that they really care about others, they are on a mission to continually learn, they want to lead, they have tons of GRIT, they understand and overcome challenges and they just do not give up on themselves or others.  This brings me to this week’s edition of this school improvement blog.

I have to tell you that I found this week to be a challenge. Not because of the three schools that I worked in (you know who you were) but because there were so many conversations about what we must do for the students who need teachers who “play with heart”.  I am not talking about the teachers who I meet everyday who nurture and love their students; schools are full of these caring adults. I am talking about “tough love”, the teachers who have high expectations for learning with no excuses. To me, these are the teachers with “real heart.”

Who I am describing are the educators who create very positive cultures of learning in which failure is not an option; the kind of classroom where students clearly know what is expected and there is an attitude of “this is just how we work here”.  Students can describe it to me and this is what one recently said: “Teacher X, in that classroom I have to learn. I have to do my work because it is important and I know what is expected. As soon as I go in that classroom I have to be on. I am not allowed to be late because we can’t waste time. There is no time to waste because I have to learn.” Unfortunately, students can also describe the classrooms where the opposite is happening.  It doesn’t mean that the second teacher does not care or doesn’t work hard but the level of expectations for success is much lower.

I had the opportunity to reconnect with a friend this week who reminded me of his experience with a teacher with “real heart”. He grew up in a challenging community and I would say was a non-reader until the seventh grade.  He happened upon a teacher who made it very clear to him what was expected in her classroom. He was going to read out loud, he was going to read often and he was going to do all the work necessary to be a reader. As he has described to me, this teacher changed his life.  Now in his late 40’s, he is very successful with a challenging, rewarding career. He provides leadership to many, problem-solves at a very high, strategic level and has had many opportunities in his life that he knows, would have been impossible had he remained a non-reader. As he stated to me this week, “I wonder what would have happened to me, what path I would have followed if I had not learned to read.” He knows that he had fallen through the cracks until seventh grade and we know that there are students like him in our schools that need to be saved.

In my opinion, we can have no excuses. We must expect high levels of learning with all students.  Students without confidence need us the most; they need the teachers who can create the “failure is not an option” mindset as part of their classroom culture. They need the teachers with “real heart”.  I will leave you this week to pause and reflect on your current reality, are you leading or teaching with real heart? The kind that embraces high expectations, no excuses and creates confident learners? The kind that goes the extra mile to figure out the action plan for each student and sees it through? If your answer is no, what can you immediately change to save the life of a student? Thanks for reading and  I look forward to being with you next Saturday.



In the “tank”

For the past four weeks, at 6:45 am, no matter where I am on the road, I get the same text message from my husband, Wayne, “I am going in the ‘tank’ now.” For those of you who know Wayne, especially in his retirement years, he really doesn’t like to get up early and when he does, he takes his time having coffee, catching up on the news and just enjoying his well-deserved days off doing the things he loves- fishing, golfing and building things.  Since August 20, however, his life has been very different.  Every morning Wayne gets up in Halifax (not in our hometown), walks to the hospital and, as he says, goes “in the tank”. He is having hyperbaric oxygen therapy to repair damage from radiation that he had fourteen years ago.  During the past year, he has had severe issues with his jaw and mouth and with great dental and medical care, the correct diagnosis was made. Several steps have been taken (and there may be many more) but for right now, this is his life.  This week, I was able to join Wayne in Halifax and see what “the tank” was all about.  Right away, I knew that there was an analogy here to our school improvement work and I had to write about it.

As the Mayo Clinic describes, “hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room or tube.  Conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy include serious infections, bubbles of air in your blood vessels, and wounds that won’t heal as a result of diabetes or radiation injury. fullsizeoutput_ed7In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure. Your blood carries this oxygen throughout your body. This helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.”

As you can see, it is a specific medical treatment that must be applied with exact precision.  From day one, Wayne was told that he had to attend at least thirty consecutive treatments. There is no option. He has to have the treatment in this very controlled environment and he can not miss any days. As I visited the hospital this week, I was thinking about some of my schools and the work that is needed right away to improve student learning.  To say that these schools need a triage plan for many of the students is not an exaggeration. There is an urgent need to do an immediate diagnosis of why a student is not learning, what they can and cannot do and a decision must be made about the “treatment necessary”.  In other words, besides knowing who isn’t learning we have to know what to do about it.

In my experience, we educators are often better at knowing who isn’t learning than really being able to determine the immediate, precise next steps of what to do about it.  We may make the diagnosis (although I might argue that we don’t often dig deep enough here) but I do not believe that we always take the time to research and collaborate with others about what exact action must be taken.  In other words, if Sarah can not read, do we really know what is missing and are we specifically addressing this? Using the hyperbaric oxygen therapy analogy, do we determine the exact treatment, the exact amount of time and make this non-negotiable?  Do we disrupt someone’s schedule, change their day if necessary, to create the time for this type of intervention and train ourselves (or others) to deliver the support? And lastly, if we don’t know what to do, do we urgently find out so that we can do the right thing?

What I do know about my schools (and others) is that educators work tirelessly every single day to support students.  They nurture them, care for them, cheer for them, provide safety and support and do their best to ensure learning is taking place.  And, I know that when they see a student not being successful, they are frustrated and disappointed.  They want to have the solutions and the right next steps. It takes courage and dedication to commit to dealing with the root cause; getting to the diagnosis and ensuring that action is taken that truly aligns to what is needed.  In our school improvement work we like to say, student by student/skill by skill. Even if it means disrupting routines, causing some discomfort as we move outside of routines and habits and asking others to work differently.  It is using all of our expertise, collaboratively, for the common goal of student success.

As I left the hospital, I reflected on how confident and competent the medical staff were and I knew that this made a difference for Wayne.  He trusts that they are doing what is needed and that if this doesn’t work that they will create the next steps.  I believe that this helps him be a confident patient.  Exactly what we want in our schools; confident learners. Confident that we are doing all we can and exactly what is needed.  And, so my challenge to you this week is to consider this; what is your current reality? Is your classroom, school or district a place where ‘triaging’ is done in a timely, effective manner to ensure learning?  Are you building confidence in both staff and students so that every expertise and resource is maximized to build capacity for teaching and learning? Have a great week and I look forward to our time together next Saturday.


The Magic in Teaching

This week I had a great chance to observe engaging, fun lessons filled with high expectations of students to learn and be successful.  This kind of teaching seems “magical” when you see it happening. Many educators are so great at it that it just seems effortless; like they are born with awesome teaching skills. However, the fact is this…it doesn’t just happen.  There is not really a “magical” formula for great classroom practice that just happens. Great instruction takes will and skill to develop.

What truly impacts effective lessons requires both intentional planning and delivery and as my great friend, Lissa Pijanowski, ( describes in her new book, “Architects of Deeper Learning” (Published by the International Center for Leadership in Education, 2018), we have to work like architects and builders, working from a well-designed plan, laying a foundation, working through the framingconstruction and inspection steps to knowing when to renovate for improvement.fullsizeoutput_ed0

I really appreciate the analogy that Lissa uses as she compares instructional design to the construction process.  It really made me think about this common thread that I see woven into many of my school visits, lesson planning seems to be a lost art. Too many times, it feels like there is an assumption made that great instruction just happens without planning.  When asked, teachers often talk to me about how little time they feel that they have and that lesson planning can be that “extra task” that they have to do.  It might be perceived as a “thing”- a lesson plan versus an “action”- planning for instruction. While I appreciate that time is truly a precious commodity with so many expectations on educators, I am a strong believer in the need to be very well planned in order to deliver an engaging lesson with high expectations for students.

No one reading this blog, would begin to build a house without a plan. You would not hire a builder who did not have the skills needed (or seek out others with the skills to help them) to create what you want.  You would want and expect that your builder would work to improve and master his or her skills.  Your expectations from design to finished product would be high and, in my opinion, every student deserves this same intentional focus of classroom practice.

Have you ever had the opportunity to assist someone who really knows what they are doing as a carpenter, electrician, plumber or other trade? What happened when you were empowered to assist and learn with the expert?  Something really hard, to you, hopefully seemed possible.  You might even have worked your way to mastery. You learned by doing and as Lissa states in her book, “students learn by doing, it’s that simple.”

Part of great lesson design includes student ownership of their learning. Gone are the days of “sit and get”. As educators, we know that we are competing with technology that engages students whether we like it or not. They are overstimulated by much of what happens in their daily lives and so they easily become bored and disinterested when they enter a classroom where little has been done to prepare a well-planned, engaging lesson. When I interview students at my schools, they are quick to talk about the classrooms that they love to be in and it isn’t because they can just hang-out and get away with little work, it is the opposite; they ALWAYS talk about the teachers who are well-organized with interesting projects and tasks for them that make them think.  In other words, they know when they meet great “architects” and “builders”.

In her book, Lissa reminds us that after we take the time to construct for knowledge we have to take the time to “inspect” our results.  This really brings us to the data-driven culture that is such a part of continuous school improvement.  It doesn’t mean that we just collect data about student learning; we actually use the data to know where students are on their learning journey. The “inspection” means that we only move on if the learning results indicate that students are meeting or exceeding our grade level goals.  In Chapter 5 (p.121), she asks very reflective questions that I believe would be helpful to every educator as this school year begins, 1) What are the differences between assessment for learning, assessment of learning and assessment as learning? 2) How do we best evaluate student work and provide descriptive feedback? 3) What role do learning goals and success criteria play in assessment design? 4) How can we engage students in assessment so they can become self-regulated learners? 5) How can we use assessment results in collaborative teams to determine our next steps?

As I continue to support school improvement, I have the opportunity to meet many principals who know that improved instructional practices are necessary but they are not always  well equipped to help their teachers get there. I want to say to you, it is the right thing to focus on.  Ensuring that you build the professional capacity of your teachers so they have a chance to understand and learn more about the “why” and “how” of great design for deeper learning is important work.  And, if you need help understanding the process, I would highly recommend Lissa’s book .

Lastly, I want to share the comparison found in the book on what it looks like to move from a “Teacher-Centered to a Learner-Centered” classroom. Go ahead and use this tool to self-reflect on where you are in creating a learner-centered classroom.  I have found this rubric to be quite helpful in supporting deeper understanding of what the work should look like.  Have a great week. Thanks for reading and I look forward to being with you next Saturday.

Teacher-Centered Learner-Centered
Focused on teaching.

1 2 3 4 5
Focused on learning.

6 7 8 9 10
Teacher delivers content and imparts knowledge

1 2 3 4 5
Teacher facilitates construction of knowledge through experiences.

6 7 8 9 10
Teacher talks; students listen.

1 2 3 4 5
Instructor models; students interact with instructor and one another.

6 7 8 9 10
Students primarily work independently.

1 2 3 4 5
Students work in pairs, in groups, or alone depending on the purpose of the activity.

6 7 8 9 10
Success is measured by test scores.

1 2 3 4 5
Success is measured by growth and engagement.

6 7 8 9 10
Instructor chooses topics and tasks are structured.

1 2 3 4 5
Students have choice of topics and how to accomplish tasks.

6 7 8 9 10
Instructor evaluates student learning.

1 2 3 4 5
Students evaluate their own learning: instructor also evaluates.

6 7 8 9 10
Rigid structures that support adult needs.

1 2 3 4 5
Flexible structures that support student needs.

6 7 8 9 10
Learning environment is quiet or orderly.

1 2 3 4 5
Learning environment is often noisy and active.

6 7 8 9 10

Architects of Deeper Learning, Appendix D, Page 201





How great when our lives lead us to the most interesting and unique experiences if we least expect them? As I work in schools with principals and teachers, I often have to remind myself to really notice the experiences that happen around me. Sometimes this means being a better listener, being really present and absolutely and intentionally noticing the small things. I arrived home on Thursday from a two-week road trip. I worked in several schools, in four states and spent the middle weekend with my daughter. I can honestly say I arrived home tired.  However, the experiences of these past two weeks kept me energized. I saw amazing examples of students wanting to learn, teachers understanding the work needed to see student learning grow and leaders committed to  doing “whatever it takes”.  And, I worked with two amazing school improvement consultants who provided me with rich experiences that I will never forget. Here are the stories…

As a school improvement coach, it is critically important that I can quickly assess the needs of the school.  Whether it is visiting for the first time or having the privilege of working with a school on a regular basis, I always have to be aware of the work already being done by the staff and the next steps needed for continuous improvement.  As I have written about often in this blog, many times this has to start with the culture of the school. Organization, collective commitments, building common understanding of the “why” of the work,  relationships, communication, etc. are examples of places that we start with in many schools to create a positive climate for learning. fullsizeoutput_ecdSchool improvement is about figuring out how to ride the bike, where you want to go and when to stop to enjoy and celebrate the experiences and, then, re-examine your route.

The bottom line is that I am there to improve student learning.  Seeing students reach their maximum potential, being able to successfully master grade level expectations and be ready for the next chapter of their lives is the “why” of school improvement.  And, in most of the schools that I work in, that means ensuring that the basics of reading, writing and mathematics are being addressed.  Schools are data rich but they can be “information poor.” In other words, they have lots of assessment data and tons of student work to look at but clarifying what it all means can be an overwhelming task for educators.  One of my roles is to help principals and teachers really understand their current reality.  What are the reasons reading scores are so low? How can they decided the individual needs of each and every student? What instructional practices can we implement to meet those needs right away? What support is needed for both educators and students to make this happen? And on this past road trip, I had the great fortune of working with two school improvement coaches who really know how to answer these questions. Meet Tammy Miller and Terri Thomas Klemm…

Tammy is a coach who knows how to dig in to the data immediately and has a proven track record of getting results. She has been known to show schools many ways to improve reading through effective programs and instruction. Teachers and principals appreciate her.  I already knew this but what I was reminded of by Tammy was that students notice our work too.  After a very long day of work, Tammy told me about a recent experience of hers when she returned to a school and a student ran up to her to hug her and thank her for “helping her teacher help her learn to read”. Tammy wasn’t bragging.  She was just saying, this is “why we do what we do”. We talked about how this kind of unexpected, unplanned experience is what can keep us fueled to stay busy and on the road. And I was so thankful that she told me about this school because it made me feel so grateful to be part of this work.

Terri is the same type of lady.  Everyone who has had the joy of working with Terri would tell you that she is hands-on and just doesn’t give up on teachers and students.  We finished a contract at a school together this past week and it was bittersweet. We don’t know when our paths will cross again (professionally) and I learned so much about strong literacy instruction from Terri. But, we know the school is able to move on without us.  As we were leaving, we gathered with the teachers to say good-bye and as Terri was thanking them, a young teacher turned to me and said, “That woman changed my life as a teacher. I am a better teacher because of Terri.” I am used to seeing students and staff warmly greet Terri when we are in schools and I wasn’t surprised by what the teacher said. I was just so glad that I experience this with her.  Again, it is what keeps me focused. As we like to say, one student, one teacher, one principal at a time….

As school begins for the 2018-2019 school year, it is important that everyone in schools can find the time to pause, appreciate the small wins and recognize the daily positive experiences that surround them  Setting short-term goals will help educators see their impact. If we wait for the end of the year and “hope” that we are successful, it sure is going to feel like a very long year. There are Tammys and Terris in every school-adults making a difference in the lives of students by recognizing their needs.

I cannot end a blog titled, “Experiences” without mentioning my weekend in the middle of this work.  My daughter and I experienced being overstimulated; musically, visually and in conversation. We saw two amazing concerts (Keith Urban and Taylor Swift). We witnessed, first-hand, the joy that people share when they love music and feel free to dance and sing and show love.  We talked to strangers who shared great stories. We both dug deep for the energy to keep up with each other and knew that this weekend was very special. I know that this has little to do with school improvement but it speaks to the way that we have to work with each other. Enjoying the moments, working hard and supporting one another when we need to do just that.  Here is to a great week with amazing experiences. See you next Saturday.

A Clean Slate

This week is about amazing leaders… all I was introduced to this week in one way or another.  A couple of the stories are from brand new leaders… principals with their very first schools, during the first days of the school year. How exciting for them…well, and, busy and scary and overwhelming and almost every other word that you can think of to describe a daunting, important challenging role to take on. Add to this mix, a school improvement coach showing up and your cup might be overflowing! Not for these two ladies who embrace it all…

Meet Ms. Paulette Bell. Ms. Bell is the new principal of Robert F Morehead Middle School in Arkansas.  As soon as I met Ms. Bell, I knew that I was going to enjoy working with her.  She said three things to me, right off the bat, that won my heart. As soon as we started to talk, she told me that her primary reason for being is to improve learning and that she would do whatever it takes to be successful in this regard.  (So, for any of you who know me, you know that she won my heart right then!). The second thing she said was that she understood that she had to be extremely consistent ensuring that everyone understood her expectations and that she had to” walk the talk”. I know it is one thing for the principal to SAY these things but I have first hand evidence that she is doing just that.  On day four of the school year, I met with parents, teachers and students and there was clear consensus that Ms. Bell has already made a huge impact on improving the culture of the school with her consistent, high expectations for order and structure. And, when middle school students are saying that they LIKE the order and structure in the school, you know that you have the right focus.fullsizeoutput_ec5The third thing that she said  and ,that I will never forget was this, “Every student deserves to start with a clean slate… every year…every week…every day… every class…”. That is such a great way to see your work in the school.

My second experience  with a new principal this week was with Mrs. Sarah Stobaugh at Morrilton Intermediate School also in Arkansas.  We had such a great day together doing very intentional planning around the next steps to ensure student success.  What I really appreciated were the questions that I was asked.  The conversations were not one-sided, it was not “sit and get”; Mrs. Stobaugh was reflective, inquisitive and so willing to collaborate and learn as we worked.  I see her focus on instruction as a real strong skill for her and I know that she is going to take the time to build caring relationships while at the same time, have high expectations for her students and staff.  I know that she plans to have her school be an exemplary school for others to come and learn from and I do believe that she will achieve this.  What a great attitude to have as a new leader.

And now on to the third principal story. Ms. Melisa Rivera is not a new principal and starting her third year with me as her school improvement coach. Needless to say, I love working with her and this one statement that she made to her staff on Wednesday says it all: “You know this school and what we need to do and I will always have your back”.  I am so proud of her professional growth and what Cherokee Heights Elementary, in St. Paul, Minn is becoming!  So proud!

The fourth educational leader I want you to learn from this week is someone who I have never met (and I hope that he doesn’t mind that I am writing about him). You see, I heard of him from one of the parents in his school community; a parent who was so excited about his amazing communication that went out to all of 1300 students and their parents prior to school started that she publicly has shared his story.  Please meet Mr. Kevin Calkins, Principal of Cathedral Catholic High School in California (www.cathedral He journaled all summer thinking about what advice he would give “his teenage self” and that is what he sent to all.

Here are a couple of my favorites from his message: 1) “Life is not a straight line. But that doesn’t mean it’s ok to be directionless. Believe it or not, there will be several times in your life – leading right up through adulthood! – where you will take a path or a job that you think is leading you to where you want to be only to discover that’s no longer true. But these are not wasted experiences if you learn from them; they are not mistakes if you right the path.” 2) “Read. It makes all the difference later in life. It matters when you are young, too. And read for fun.” 3) “Do all kinds of things, not just the things you are comfortable with or good at”.  This personal touch is such a great way to begin building relationships with his school community. The parents also love that he has a weekly “Principal Corner” message on-line to keep the parents up to date and many, many other examples of intentional communication.  So much of our leadership work requires us to be able to communicate well with others.  Kudos to Mr. Calkins for being such a fine example of what that looks like in our schools.

And lastly, I want to tell you about a Superintendent that I had the pleasure of meeting this week. Mrs. Barbara Warren is the Superintendent of Dollarway School District in Arkansas. IMG_0590 Just spend five minutes with her and you know that she totally believes in her people.  She wants them to feel safe and comfortable as employees, families and, of course, students, and she understands that this cultural piece will lead to a climate that is conducive to moving achievement.  She is determined to lead the “district of choice” in Arkansas and I know that her strong commitment to her people will get her there.

So, I close with a question for reflection. What can you do to improve your intentional focus around communication, consistency and learning?  Thank you for reading. See you next Saturday.