Reflections From A Student Teacher: Edcamp Columbus

At Gahanna Lincoln High School, we have a number of student-teachers every quarter. I take this as a compliment to the quality teachers we have and the desire for colleges to have their student-teachers learn from great practitioners. I’ve been every impressed by one young man from The Ohio State University named, Johnathan Duff (@mrduffedu), because of the way he engages students in the classroom and for his eagerness to learn. He attended Edcamp Columbus, so I’ve asked him to share his experience with us:

edcamp columbus.png2

On Saturday March 1, 2014, the second annual EdCamp Columbus was held at Gahanna Lincoln High School’s Clark Hall. As a student teacher working in Clark Hall, I could not pass up the opportunity to engage other educators and to further my professional development in the very building I have been working in since August.

EdCamp Columbus comes out of the EdCamp movement that was started in Philadelphia in 2010. EdCamps are opportunities for educators to come together, share ideas and discuss what matters to them, and become drivers of their own professional development. EdCamp labels itself as an “unconference.” Rather that having a pre-determined schedule with session identified well in advance, the sessions held at each conference are determined by the attendees the day of the event. Have a topic you want to present or to discuss with fellow educators? Find an open slot on the day’s schedule (a.k.a. The Big Board) and write it in. Other attendees will see your proposal and those who are interested can attend. It is as simple as that.

A focus of my student teaching and my work as a Masters of Education student at the Ohio State University has been on making connections between my students’ service, their learning, and their understanding of civic engagement. I teach 5 sections of Government and work with all Seniors who have to complete a service component called the Service Activity Project. From a young age, service has always been very important to me. My focus on service learning has allowed me to align a personal passion, the reality of my classroom, and the research I am doing for Ohio State. Coming in to EdCamp Columbus, it was my hope that there would be a session related to service learning or civic engagement. As the time before the first session dwindled, openings remained on the Big Board and there were no sessions on service or civics. Seeing this as an opportunity, I decided to embrace the spirit of the “unconference” and proposed a session entitled “Connecting learning and service towards critical civic engagement.”

I was very happy to find out that I was not alone in my interest on these topics. The session was attended by a range of individuals – elementary teachers, high school teachers, government teachers, science teachers, and even a district’s technology specialist. Gahanna Jefferson Public Schools were well represented with GLHS science teacher, Jason Hardin, and Jefferson Elementary teacher, Ashley Sands, both attending and actively participating.

What is great about EdCamp is that sessions can be more of a discussion than a presentation. To borrow educational terminology, EdCamp is “attendee-centered” rather than “presenter-centered.” I kicked off the session by introducing myself and why I proposed the session – I am a pre-service teacher who is passionate about service and works with students who are doing service. I am interested in ways to connect students’ classroom learning with their service with the aim of getting them to think more critically about their role and engagement in society. Towards this end, I designed a service project in which students spent a Saturday conducting home repairs for an area senior. While successful, I am interested in other ways to improve my practice of connecting learning to service and civic engagement. Other session attendees shared their background and interest in the topics before we turned to the issues at hand.

Throughout the session, discussion flourished. As a group, we discussed the service requirements that exist in our schools and examples of service learning that we have participated in. Vibrant discussion was held around civic education and how it needs to start at a young age and extend beyond just the social studies classroom. The concept of the “common good” is not something that is limited to the study of the social world and thus work towards it should not be limited to social studies.

An item that became a major focus of the session was student choice. Rather than the focus and design of the service being determined by the teacher, attendees agreed that students should be involved throughout the process. Asking students “What do you care about? What do you want to work on?” will empower them and make their service and the learning that accompanies it all the more meaningful. The role of the teacher then becomes to guide and scaffold them through the process. Teachers also play the important part of helping students reflect on their service. Teachers should guide students to reflect before, during, and after their service. This can be done through discussion, writing assignments, and the strategic use of technology. It is important that the reflection that is done is critical and challenges the students to reflect on their lives and the nature of society and its institutions.

As the session was attended by a diverse group of educators, the topic of cross curricular collaboration was heavily discussed. Just as civic engagement can incorporate multiple content areas, so too can service and it need not be compartmentalized – government, science, and english teachers (just to name a few) can all collaborate. Ideas such as having students research the need and causes of the need of service, working with students to write grant proposals, using various mediums to document and tell the story of service all provide opportunities for skills from various content areas to be incorporated into service to others.

EdCamp sessions were blocked out in 50 minute time slots. By the end of our 50 minutes, the discussion was in full swing and participants were not ready to wrap up. It was decided that to continue our conversation, we would move our discussion online by creating a shared Google Doc. Herein lies the great value of EdCamp – not only do we get to come together with like minded educators to share ideas, but the conversation does not have to stop there. Bring a group of passionate educators together and the learning community they develop will extend beyond the Saturday they spent together in Clark Hall.

I applaud Johnathan for not only taking the time to attend his first Edcamp, but for having the courage to lead a session. This is an excellent example of what the Edcamp experience is all about!

Be Great,


They Have A Voice

Vintage-Microphone-Wallpaper-music-28520386-1280-1024Students at Gahanna Lincoln High School never cease to amaze me. Last week, we held our second annual performance of, Diaspora: Voices of An Ever-Changing America. It’s a culmination of student talent, from monologues to spoken word and hip hop dancing. The purpose is to highlight the contributions African Americans have made to the culture of America.

Four staff members worked closely with students to organize the entire show: English teacher, Donja Bridges (@donjab); Dean of Curriculum, Tia Holliman (@Ms_Holliman); School Psychologist, Johnel Amerson; and Family Consumer Science teacher, Keah Germany. They collaborated with students to create a shared vision for the program, develop an action plan, and select the performances. They wanted to not only educate the audience, but to entertain. It’s awesome to see what students can do when they have an authentic audience, supportive staff members, constant feedback, and time to practice.

I was thoroughly impressed by all the presentations and asked two students to share their original poems with me so I could include them in this post. They have a voice. They have something to say, and they want to make a difference. The first poem is by senior, Cymone Turner, and it’s entitled, I’m A Beautiful Colored Girl:
I am beautiful
I am amazing
I am good enough

You think I’m being cocky no I’m just giving back the gallons of confidence I deserve being colored. What am I saying? We’ll let me break It down for you.

I look out into the world today
I see different colors races shades
All mixed together in this beautiful concoction we like to call the 21st century
Why is this such a big deal?
Ha well because back in the day my skin wasn’t right. It wasn’t acceptable.
I was nasty
I was disgusting
I was dirty
I was a foul beast
Now do I look like beast to you?
I mean I might bite but it won’t hurt for that long
Ha it wasn’t right to be Not white
Dark as night
Not shining bright
But your little chocolate bite
It was whack to be black
But I’m telling you it’s lame to be ashamed
I can’t help my skin I was born in
I can’t help that I am black
I’m happy to be Black
Matter fact I’m happy to be Cymone.

The second poem is by junior, Adam Davis, and it’s entitled, Real Life:

I’ve been thinking all day there’s a lot on my mind
And see I would rather say
It in the booth because in person I might hurt somebody’s feelings
And I’m not saying names I’m just speaking how I’m feeling
The truth hurts you can die if you lie
So I try not to reply
To those guys with wicked eyes
I can feel it when our hands shake
I’m not for you
If your man folds under pressure he’s not loyal
See he was just trying to make it to his house wearing a hood
But some how he is misunderstood
But July 13th the jury didn’t understand
That George Zimmerman was a grown man
And that Trayvon didn’t need any hands to help with his own plans
The sky’s the limit I am reaching for impossible
If Obama can be the president then anything is possible
And I’m just speaking for myself I know what I can do
But as long as you have God on your side there’s no stopping you
Young kid with a lot of heart
I was blinded by all of America but its ok because I hear them talk
I hear the whispers in the dark
And since they like to act they can play ground no park
When the sun shines that’s when the bees out
When it rains that when the killers and the thieves out
Blacks get treated like rats that’s why the Government throws cheese out
I was taught to rise above or he is out
And its a sad way of living
Some young brothers is dead some of them locked in prison
Some of them have jobs some of them don’t yet
Some of them still ride some of them switched sets
I’m just a diamond in the dirt
Forget all my people cause family comes first
I wish that was true
But that’s a lie too
Because I have a couple of cousins hating on what I do
How do you think that makes me feel?
Stuff real I have a lot of enemies I’m alone in this field
Death disrupts the streets so I’m thinking about my will
I am sitting at this table breaking bread into a meal
My mind is going crazy so I think that’s why I’m numb
And America being perfect is something its far from
I’m never happy cause I’m living in a stressed world
I’m from where people is dying and they stress girls
I wish I could bring Trayvon back
God if you listening run and tell that
And tell America that the justice system is all wrong
But life is like music its an end to all songs.

The audience was moved by Cymone and Adam’s words because they spoke with such confidence and authority. Their passion was evident and their message pierced our hearts. I am proud of the staff members for creating the conditions for not only Cymone and Adam to use their voices, but for all the participants in Diaspora. #glhsfamily

Be Great,


Who’s Responsible for Making Learning Relevant?

learnWe have some great teachers at Gahanna Lincoln High School. They are not only passionate about teaching and learning, they are committed to making GLHS a place where all students have a sense of belonging. Many of them use our Graduate Profile to plan units that stretch our students.

One of our classes is Senior Project Composition and I’ve asked the two teachers who teach the course, Danielle Morrison (@morrisondani) and Donja Bridges (@donjab), to share their experience of teaching the class.

When we were first approached about teaching Senior Project Composition, a project-based senior English course, we were immediately excited for the opportunity to try something new. We had seen the impact the class made on students, but what we didn’t realize was how much it would impact us as teachers. As a result, it changed the way we taught not only this course, but other courses as well. The following are three things we’ve learned as a result of teaching Senior Project Composition that we feel every teacher can implement.

1. The best method of instruction is oftentimes just getting out of the way.
Trying to teach a project-based course through direct instruction is nearly impossible. With each student doing a different project, most of the course is individualized and student-directed. When we began teaching the course, we had to eliminate the mindset that the only way to teach was to provide direct instruction. We had to begin to see ourselves as “project-managers”, meeting with the students on a regular basis to conduct check-ins, helping the students figure out what they needed to learn next, and providing guidance and support as needed. We no longer needed to be experts in teaching content area; we needed to be experts in teaching students how to self-direct learning. By shifting the focus to teaching students how to learn, rather than teaching content, students were able to learn far more. Getting out of the way doesn’t mean not getting involved; it means shifting from teaching in front of the class to teaching beside the student.

2. It’s not the teacher’s job to make lessons relevant.
In a traditional classroom setting, teachers work hard to ensure that each lesson is relevant to the students. However, with thirty different students in a classroom, it is nearly impossible to make a single lesson relevant to every student. With the increased amount of student choice, it’s the students’ job to make learning relevant. Because the students’ choice makes learning relevant, the teacher’s job is to help them(students) to help themselves tie their learning into the course content.

3. The process offers more than the product.
Students learn more in the process of developing their project than they do with the final product itself. We have had students create amazing products, but we have also had students create products that can be considered “failures”. What we have learned is that students learn just as much, if not more, from the failures as they do the successes. In other words, the quality of their product does not always reflect the level of learning. A major component in our course is students being able to display a “learning stretch”. When we ask our students what their learning stretch is, many of them respond that they have learned better time management skills, how to collaborate with others, and other skills needed to be successful in their futures. Isn’t that what we want students to learn? The process is where the learning takes place; the product is what the students get to do as a result of their learning.

I appreciate Danielle and Donja for giving us a glimpse of the learning process in Senior Project Composition!

Be Great,


PLN Blogging Challenge: 11 Random Facts

Someone Gave Me Homework… Now It’s My Turn
A member of my PLN and friend, Patrick Larkin, challenged me to share 11 random facts about myself and to answer 11 questions as part of a chain-blogging task. I have great respect and admiration for Patrick, so I am glad to meet his challenge!

factMy 11 Random Facts
1. I am four minutes older than my twin brother, Dwayne Carter. Yep, that’s right.
2. I am a two-time NCAA Division III Track and Field All-American.
3. My older sister, Nicki, is the most creative person I know. She makes her own clothes, jewelry, and she paints.
4. I used to draw portraits.
5. I have no desire to drink coffee. None.
6. I took Ballroom and Latin dance lessons with my wife as one of her Christmas presents. 1-2-3, 4-5-6, 7-8. 1-2-3, 4-5-6, 7-8.
7. I didn’t attend the Ohio State University, but I get choked up when I hear Carmen Ohio live at an OSU football game. O-H-I-O!
8. I love old school hip hop (Run DMC, LL Cool J, Das Effect, EPMD, Tribe Called Quest, you get the picture).
9. Fred Hammond is my all-time favorite Gospel song artist. Period.
10. I am an HGTV addict.
11. I got braces when I was 22 years old and a first year teacher of 8th graders. Awkward!

My Responses to Patrick’s Questions
1. “Have you ever been to Massachusetts?” I can’t say that I have, but it’s now on my Bucket List.
2. “What is your favorite sports team?” The Ohio State University Buckeyes (I’m from Ohio and it’s kinda expected, you know?)
3. “Besides you, name a blogger that you would recommend to others.” Just one is tough… Justin Tarte is the man.
4. “When you were little, what did you dream of becoming?” A high school principal of one of the largest schools in Central Ohio! No seriously, I dreamt of becoming a teacher.
5. “How far away do you live from where you grew up?” About 20 minutes.
6. “What is your favorite meal?” Breakfast. It’s a must.
7. “If you were offered a free trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?” To the Mediterranean.
8. “Do you prefer Macs or PC’s?” Good question. I have to say PC.
9. “Other than the birth of your children and/or the day you were married or met your soul mate, what was the best day of your life?” The day my wife and I drove a Go Cart through the city of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It was awesome!
10. “What is the best movie you’ve seen in the last year?” Best Man Holiday
11. “What is the last live concert you’ve attend?” Fred Hammond and Radicals For Christ. It was many years ago, but it was an amazing worship experience.

Now, For Your Homework Assignment
1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4. List 11 bloggers
5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate and let the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.
6. Post back here (in the comment section) with a link to your finished assignment.

My 11 Bloggers
1. Derek McCoy
2. Jeff Zoul
3. Kevin Dengel
4. Jeremy Lahman
5. Todd Keenan
6. Fred Donelson
7. Chuck Banks
8. Pernille Ripp
9. Jimmy Casas
10. Jose Vilson
11. Reed Gillespie

My 11 Questions for You
1. What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?
2. What person in history would you want to have dinner with?
3. What’s the one thing you care about the most?
4. Who is your all time favorite cartoon character?
5. What was your favorite extracurricular activity in high school?
6. Growing up, were you a nerd, jock, teacher’s pet, loner, or extravert?
7. What’s your dream vacation?
8. What’s one thing you would invent that would positively change lives?
9. If you weren’t an educator, what would do for a living?
10. If you were to give a TED Talk, what would be your topic?
11. What’s your sentence?

Be Great,


Connecting With New Teachers

connecting-with-othersA couple of years ago, a second year teacher stopped by my office after school and asked if we could talk. The look on her face had me concerned so, of course, I welcomed her to have a seat. I thought she was going to share her concerns about student behavior or wanted help to solve a problem. Man, was I was wrong. What she said to me made a lasting impression…

As soon as she started to talk, tears started to flow from her eyes and she apologetically said, “I accepted a position in another district.” I shallowed hard because I was completely shocked. I felt blindsided, and immediately started to ask myself where we went wrong, where I went wrong as the principal. She said she needed a change, that she didn’t always feel supported or heard. Her comments were difficult to hear, but I appreciated her honesty. It was at the point that I vowed to myself to do everything within my control to prevent this from happening again under my watch as building principal.

One of our goals at Gahanna Lincoln High School is for every student, teacher, and parent to have a sense of belonging. It’s a lofty goal and we take it seriously. Losing that young, promising, and passionate teacher showed me that I, we, needed to do a better job of connecting with our new teachers. We hired 17 new teachers this school year; some with zero years of experience and a few with 4-6 years of experience. Nevertheless, I decided to meet with them once a month in an informal setting to simply give us an opportunity to connect, share, reflect, learn from each other.

It’s key to keep these meetings informal. There is no agenda, the teachers don’t have to prepare anything, and they aren’t assigned anything to do. We just talk. We first met in our Library Media Center in September, but decided together to meet at Panera, which is on our campus, for the rest of the year.It’s been amazing to hear their stories, their reflective thoughts about their craft, their suggestions on how we can get better, and to see how they support each other.

Admittedly, not all of them come each month and I’m fine with that. It’s simply an invitation to attend, not a mandate. I have asked a few questions to guide our discussion, but most of the time we go where the conversation takes us. Some of the questions asked are as follows:

*What has been the most successful thing you’ve done so far?
*How are you taking care of yourself physically?
*What do you do for fun?
*Have we lived up to what we promised you?
*What’s one thing we can do differently?
*What are you planning to change second semester?

Once I ask a question, I simply sit and listen. It’s great to hear their responses and how they build on each other’s comments. Before we concluded our most recent meeting, I asked, “Are these meetings helpful?” Following are some of their responses:

*“I think they are fun. I look forward to them each month.”
*”It’s good to see and talk with people outside your department. It’s good to learn from others.”
*”You make us feel like we are important to you.”
*”It’s good to hear what the other new teachers are thinking.”

I appreciate their time, their honestly, and their commitment to the GLHS Family! I can only imagine how much better we will be as we progress through the second half of this school year. If you have any ideas of how you connect with new teachers or suggestions to make this process better, please feel free to comment.

Be Great,


Photo credit:

Remember Sydnee

“Remember Sydnee 10-20-13: Buckle Up. Dnt txt n drv. Give Life.”
This is a very simple, yet powerful message that the parents of Sydnee Madison Williams would like for you to remember. Sydnee was a junior at Gahanna Lincoln High School and Eastland Career Center.

Sydnee Williams

On Friday, October 18th, Sydnee, along with two of her friends, were in a tragic, single car accident and in an instant, the lives of many would change. Unfortunately, Sydnee was texting while driving and lost control of the car. However, Sydnee is so much more than the victim of a tragic car accident. She was a daughter, niece, friend, and confidant. She brought joys to others and had a bright future. As I listened to many stories others shared about Sydnee in the hours and days following the accident, I learned so much about her.

• I learned that she was a fighter. She overcame a challenging childhood with the help of her aunt and uncle, who later adopted her.
• I learned that she had a very special relationship with one of our elementary guidance counselors. Sydnee found refuge in talking with Mrs. J. Sydnee visited with her days before the accident. This proves the significance of positive relationships.
• I learned that she was a close friend to many. She would lend an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and a warm embrace to others often.
• I learned that she was unashamed in her faith. She was a worshipper and did so freely and openly whenever she felt the urge.
• I learned that she was a “child-whisperer”, meaning little children would instantly calm down when she was present.
• I learned that, like most teens, she had her struggles.

As I talked with her parents in the hospital the night after the accident, I distinctly remember her mom saying, “She always wears her seatbelt. I just don’t understand why she wasn’t wearing it…” I believed her and still do…

The next 24 hours were unbearable. We waited for news, any news about Sydnee. Finally, I received a text message around noon on Sunday, October 20th from Sydnee’s Youth Pastor. She was gone. It was so tragic and all I could think about were her parents’ faces as her dad stood at the foot of her hospital bed and her mom sat closely at her side holding her hand and talking to her; tears streaming down their faces. I thought, “How are they going to going to make it through this? How can we help?”

Her mom and dad are hurting, no doubt. They long to see her smile, hear her laugh, or hear her sing again, but they have found the courage to use this as an opportunity to save others’ lives. They are courageous. They have embraced what has occurred and have found the strength in sharing a very simple, yet powerful message:
“Remember Sydnee 10-20-13. Buckle Up. Dnt txt n drv. Give Life.”

So, in honor of Sydnee, I encourage you to wear the beautiful sky blue bracelet with the above message on it and when you are tempted to text while driving, glance at the bracelet. Take a second to buckle your seat belt before you turn on the ignition of your car. Remain focused on the road and eliminate as many distractions as possible while driving. I am embarrassed to admit that I have texted while driving. However, I’m also proud to say that it hasn’t happened since Sydnee’s accident. I signed a pledge at her viewing and vowed to my wife that I will no longer text and drive. I “Remember Sydnee 10-20-13. Buckle Up. Dnt txt n drv. Give Life.”

Staff Expectations

20130720-011613.jpgI’ve taken the last couple of weeks off to spend some quality time at home, recharge my battery, catch up on some reading, and reflect on last school year. As the new school year approaches, I recently reviewed what my staff expects of me in order to prepare myself to meet their expectations.

One of my teachers named, Shawn Johnston (@shawnjohn3399), recently recommended I read Tony Dungy’s book, The Mentor Leader. It’s a great read and there is a common theme woven throughout the book: leadership is about others, not about the leader. What my staff expects of me can be summarized by this theme. The principals I admire most not only know this, but their actions demonstrate this. With that said, following are the top 5 characteristics my staff expects of me:

Be Visible- I often over-promise and under-deliver in this area. It’s not intentional, but every year I fall short of my own expectations when it comes to being visible. Well, I guess it is intentional since I don’t schedule it on a daily basis. I haven’t followed through with my “No Office Day” the last couple of years! Todd Wittaker recently posted on Twitter that administrators should do the “Daily Five: visit five classrooms for five minutes every day.” This is very doable and I’ve already shared this with my administrative team. Also, this year will be different because of the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System. OTES requires walkthroughs so this will force me and my administration team to not only be visible in classrooms, but to provide meaningful and timely feedback. They also want to see me (us) in the hallways in between classes and at extracurricular activities. Visibility=I care.

Presence– Being physically present is important, but being mentally and emotionally present are essential to my staff. One of our core beliefs at GLHS is positive relationships. Therefore, as I’ve become a “connected educator” it’s expected of me, and rightfully so, to “be there” for my staff- all of them! Be plugged into the moment, embrace each interaction, and make it a priority to make whomever I am talking with feel valued, respected, and honored. Sometimes busyness gets in the way but I realized I view busyness as a badge of honor, when it’s really a sign of being unorganized.

Consistently Follow Through– What I take from this is to establish clear procedures with the staff and stick to them. Additionally, they want students and staff to be held accountable so we can be our very best. A lack of consistency leads to frustration, or the inability to solve a problem. The less frustrated we are, the better we will be for our students and school community.

Support– They want and need to know I and my administrative team have their backs when they try new things, when faced with discipline issues, when they make mistakes, and during tough times. Support looks differently to many people, but the more visible, consistent, and clear I am, the more supported they will feel.

Clear Communication– This includes not only verbal communication, but my ability to actively listen. One of my veteran teachers and good friend reminds me to listen to what they have to say, answer their questions, and show understanding. They will understand if I disagree and will appreciate me simply listening. I reminded the Class of 2013 at the commencement ceremony to “listen to understand not to respond.” I have to practice what I preach.

I’m excited to get the 2013-2014 school year started! It’s an opportunity for a fresh start, it’s a chance to set a positive tone, to review our core values, and to positively change lives and impact futures!

Be Great,


Never Underestimate the Significance of Relationships

The final day of the Jostens Renaissance National Conference was Saturday, July 13th and “The Freedom Writer,” Erin Gruwell’s, closing presentation was on point! She shared her amazing story about how she worked with 150 challenging students to completely transform their lives. It was apparent that she really got to know her students, connected with them on a highly emotional level, and created a collaborative, safe learning environment for them to succeed.

Her story was a reminder that mentoring relationships are messy. It’s hard work and there are many obstacles to overcome. However, if the goal is to significantly impact the life of another person, then it’s worth it.

She used the art of writing to tear down walls and open doors for students. Her story reminded me of a Challenge Day activity called, Cross The Line. This activity helps participants find common ground and it provides a visual of how connected we truly are by shared experiences. Our Athletic Director at Gahanna Lincoln High School, Justin Sanford, was instrumental in bringing Challenge Day to GLHS. We held a Challenge Day for three years and it did wonders for enhancing a positive school climate. Students, parents, staff, and community members still talk about how Challenge Day transformed their lives.

Listening to Erin’s story and watching brief clips from the movie, “Freedom Writers,” reminded me of Todd Wittaker’s phrase, “It’s people, not programs,” or Dr. James Comer famous line, “No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship.” We all have an “Erin Gruwell” experience with students. We are reminded of these stories when we refer to the file of the letters from former students we receive. If you don’t keep a file of these letters or cards, then I strongly encourage you to start today! We all have that one success story that brings tears to our eyes when we think about how we’ve made a difference to someone.

I recently ran into a former athlete I coached, who is now 27 years old and doing extremely well. He pulled me aside to talk. He said,

“You may not remember this, but when I was a freshmen (he was a starter on the Varsity football team as a freshmen), you walked up to me and told me I should run track because it would humble me. You said I hadn’t experienced loss yet, but running track would help me grow as a person and understand humility. I never forgot that and I thank you for caring enough to tell me.”

He was an extremely gifted athlete, he was charismatic, and he was a natural leader. I also noticed how we interacted with some of the students in the hallways or on the field and was a bit concerned. I wasn’t his specific position coach, but we had a close enough relationship where I thought he would be receptive. Thirteen years later, I guess it worked!

As I think about the quickly approaching school year, my goal is to reestablish positive relationships with members of my staff. I’ve allowed “programs” or other excuses to get in the way of relationships. More candidly, relationships have not been a priority and it has cost me.

As educators, stealing a phrase Seth Godin used in the book, Linchpin, “We have a platform to share our art.” Our “art” is making a difference in the lives of others. As we quickly approach the start of another school year, let’s remember to use our platform (classroom, school building, cafeteria, front desk, attendance office, or guidance office) to establish significant relationships with others, set high expectations, and make a difference, more specifically, a positive difference, in someone’s life.

“It’s people, not programs.”

Stealing the 2014 Jostens Renaissance National Conference theme, let’s find “joy in the journey” of being educators!

Be Great,


Leadership Principles

Author and Leadership Consultant, Ken Blanchard, wrote in one of his books, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I couldn’t agree more. However, I don’t think this has anything to do with positional leadership, but more about leadership principles. There are a number of people I consider leaders, from students to global dignitaries and everyone in between. I have learned and continue to learn what leadership is by observing others and reflecting on my own behaviors as a leader. Following are my most important principles that define leadership and how each principle is present or in the works at Gahanna Lincoln High School:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” -Proverbs 29:18. Vision creates a picture of what a group, team, or organization can become as the people involved work together towards a common purpose. Vision creates a powerful story about the organization and can inspire the high-quality, dedicated work of the people invoked. Without it, individuals will begin to do what they individually think is best, thus creating islands of excellence as opposed to a shared, collective and common purpose. Without vision, there will be conflicting values, uncommon language, and unclear expectations, thus leading to resistance, frustration, and low morale.

At Gahanna Lincoln, we are guided by the vision detailed in our district’s Graduate Profile. Teachers use the profile strands as learning targets as they plan lessons and units. Our Graduate Profile is aligned with the College and Career Readiness standards that are a part of the Common Core Stand Standards. Our Dean of Curriculum, Brooke Menduni, has done an outstanding job of facilitating the transition to the Common Core. Her leadership is helping us to ensure teaching and learning is focused on essential skill development through the content.

For the development of the key skills that are necessary today (communication, creativity, collaboration, and critically thinking) to occur, we have to have a positive school climate and school culture. Risk tasking, trust, and celebration have to be a part of the equation. To ensure this happens, we celebrate student and staff success on a consistent basis through monthly PRIDE (Personal Responsibly In Developing Excellence) Award nominations, monthly staff luncheons (bonding), quarterly student recognition ice cream socials, and two Renaissance Pep Rallies. Individual teachers, like AP American History and World Studies teacher, Ben Cullivan have even created student celebrations within their classrooms. Ben designed a medal he gives to the top student in each of his classes at the end of the year. This has become quite the tradition and the students work extremely hard to earn this special recognition.

Teachers can nominate students and their colleagues each month to receive the PRIDE Award for demonstrating any of the skills outlined in our Graduate Profile or our district adopted character education traits. The names of all the students during the month are scrolled on the announcements and they meet in the lobby to receive a certificate and to take a group photo, which is then displayed in one our busiest hallways. We then follow up with a quarterly breakfast for all the recipients and their parents. It’s a little thing, but our part of our vision is to recognize what is going well so that we get more of it!

We are in the business of developing, nurturing, and sustaining positive relationships with people. One of my favorite quotes as an educator is, “No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship” by Dr. James Comer. This has guided me and will continue to do so as long as I’m an educator because learning is a social event that comes through sharing, discussing, debating, and exploring with others. Without significant relationships, learning can be limited.

At Gahanna Lincoln, the focus on creating and sustaining positive relationships is crucial to our success. We have created our Freshmen Experience (9th grade academy) to help nurture our freshmen and show them what it means to be a Gahanna Lincoln High School Lion. Our departments constantly have social events, staff parties, and have fun rituals. We encourage our students to get involved in something at school: the arts, clubs and activities, or athletics in order to create a connection with an adult at school. Currently, over 27% of our students are involved in the arts and over 33% participate in one of our 26 athletic teams. We offer over 30 clubs and organizations for students to participate in and students are encouraged to start a club of interest. Our new Library Media Aide, Brian Winston, has informally started a Chess Club this year and the room is packed before school, during the lunch periods, and after school. The activity is the vehicle that fosters the positive relationships and the same holds true in the classrooms.

Clear Expectations
Educator, author, and presenter Dr. Todd Whitaker reminds every educator to state very clear expectations at the beginning of the year in order to create a positive learning environment. Like the teachers at Gahanna Lincoln, I take the opportunity to do just that during our opening day staff meeting. My expectations of staff are simple:
a. Be Present- not just physically, but emotionally and mentally present
b. Be Punctual-punctuality is a sign of respect
c. Be Prepared- prior planning prevents poor performance
d. Be Professional- dress, talk, conduct, and learning
e. Create a positive climate in your classroom
f. Communicate with parents and colleagues

To include students in the process, the last two years I met with about 400 juniors and seniors who have classes in Clark Hall, our new addition to our campus, and asked them what we should expect of them. This conversation took place four times on the first full day of school and each group came up with the same expectations:
a. Respect
b. Responsibility
c. Trust
d. Team Work
e. Good attendance
f. Hard work

Could we ask for anything more?

This has become one of the most important characteristics any leader should possess. It’s not just disseminating information, but listening, responding, and using a variety of tools to share our story. Good communication, like presence, requires time, but it’s time well spent.

At GLHS, our teachers have embraced the use of Home Access Center, which is our online tool to share students’ grades with parents and students. Each teacher has also created a portal, or individual website, to let parents and students know about lesson objectives, homework assignments, and upcoming tests. In addition to the Home Access Center and the portals, we have several official GLHS Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. With the use of social media, a lack of communication should be a thing of the past.

I will continue to promote the use of social media as a means to communicate with our stakeholders; however, nothing replaces the need for face-to-face interaction.

Team Work and Service
Each of our departments has a Department Chairperson who not only represents the department as part of the school Leadership Team, but they are responsible for unifying the department, supporting new teachers, and tapping into the strengths of each of the members.

Several of our teachers are advisors of school clubs and organizations like Student Council, the Renaissance Action Team, the S Club, National Honor Society, Interact, and Key Club, to name a few. Together, these students have made a positive impact on our school environment by serving others, organizing events, or working together to solve a problem. The teachers help to create the environment for students to take risks as leaders and learn from mistakes.

There is an old saying that, “What’s inspected is respected.” Accountability is not about getting people in trouble, but ensuring the expectations, values, and norms are met more consistently. Holding others accountable can be uncomfortable for me as a leader, but it’s not about my feelings. What is required is for each teacher, administrator, secretary, guidance counselor, custodian, and cook to do our jobs to the best of our ability. It’s my job to provide the proper training, support, and resources for this to occur.

We all have improved in this area, especially since we have started to use Google Docs to share what each department does during department meetings and we’ve circulated the book, Shifting The Monkey by Dr. Todd Whitaker, to help one another confront negative behaviors, put the monkey back where it belongs, and become more efficient. This is still a work a progress for me as a leader and for our building as a whole, yet we are definitely making progress!

I’ve learned from my staff and my PLN to be transparent about my learning experiences by blogging, tweeting, sharing books that I’ve read with others, sharing my teachers’ blogs, attending conferences, and presenting at local and national conferences. In the process of being transparent about my learning, I am promoting the learning at Gahanna Lincoln High School.

Over the last five years, our school’s grade point average has increased from a 2.77 to 3.02, our attendance rate has been steady at 94%-95%, more students are taking AP courses, our ACT score average is above the state average and our graduation rate has been steady at 93%-94%. Our expulsions have fallen below 20 each of the last four years and more teachers are providing the opportunity for students to redo tests and resubmit homework assignments as they become more focused on learning and less focused on time. This has been a muddy, messy process, but overall, it’s rewarding to see students feel like they have a chance to demonstrate their learning.

We continue to have teachers present their learning during staff meetings and department meetings as a way to encourage professional growth. It’s important for all of us to share our learning experiences from attending conferences and workshops with our colleagues. This eliminates excuses like, “the presenter doesn’t know my students, so that won’t work in my classroom.” The presenters in our building are members of our staff who teach our students in our district and in our building.

There is so much expected of school leaders today, which require us to review our foundational principles to make sure they are aligned with our daily activities. Change has always been a part of the field of education; however, the rate of change that we are currently seeing is like no other time in history. In spite of the changes, the leadership principles we hold onto must guide us as we guide others.

What leadership principles are most important to you?

Be Great,


This is cross-posted on Connected Principals

Reflections from the ITSCO Education Everywhere Symposium

Last week, I attended the ISTCO Education Everywhere Leadership Symposium in Worthington, OH. The focus of the symposium was on ways school administrators can lead the integration of technology, including mobile devices and web 2.0 tools, to transform teaching and learning. The keynote presenter, George Couros, creator of, had a powerfully moving presentation about how technology can help us humanize school even more because of the ability to share stories. Story has always been, and will continue to be, a way to make connections and create community. Creating a community where everyone feels they belong is one of our goals at LHS, so his presentation was fitting. Also, we’ve emphasized technology integration the last couple of years as a way to increase relevance in the classroom. With that said, technology is not the only way to increase relevance or create community. It is a way, however, to enhance relevance and community. Following are three personal takeaways from George’s presentation:

1. We have to provide opportunities for students to create, connect and share content with a much broader, global audience using the technology. As we harness the power of social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr, we model appropriate ways to make our learning public and transparent. The more comfortable we are using these tools, the more likely we are to integrate these tools with our students. At GLHS, we allow students to use their mobile devices, so let’s show them how to use them to connect with experts in a particular field or connect with a group of students in another state or country.

2. Schools will continue to be relevant as long as we focus on humanizing the content. This basically means that as we harness the power of technology, use it to tell stories about our learning, share our struggles and successes, and connect with one another beyond the traditional means of email, we will continue to expand the learning for our students. Technology will not or does not replace face to face interaction; rather, it enhances this interaction. For example, I’ve interacted with George via Twitter and blogging before we met face-to-face. Our face-to-face meeting was like seeing an old friend as opposed to being introduced to a stranger. He lives in Canada and I live in Ohio. I am a better administrator because of what I’ve learned from him, about him and his school using social media.

3. “Learning and sharing is synonymous.” Daniel Pink states that learning is a social event. Therefore, harnessing tools such as Twitter, blogs, and other means of digital storytelling enhances the learning experiences for everyone involved. We can add to each other’s experiences as we reflect on our practice using a blog, comment on one another’s blogs, engage in professional conversation via Twitter chats, and willingly share our experiences with others. The more we’ve done this, the more comfortable we’ve become with our students sharing their learning experiences in a positive ways.

In addition to the keynote presentation, the symposium was organized into six sessions of table talks, with five talks to choose from per session. I liked this format because it provided opportunities for the facilitators of the table talks to engage the participants in meaningful conversations about our craft. For example, some of the table talk topics were:

• Blended Learning (Reynoldsburg ESTEM Academy)
• Design Standards for Online/Blended Learning: Quality Matters (ESC of Central Ohio)
• Comparing Mobile Technologies and Preparing for a 1:1 Environment (St. Joseph Academy)
• Conversations with the keynote, George Couros
• From Ohio to the World (Jackson High School)
• Professional Development Without Walls (Westerville City Schools)
• Design Thinking: Technology (Delaware High School)

There were so many nuggets I gleaned from the symposium, but my biggest “aha” or takeaway was more of a question than a statement: “Are we using technology in an adaptive or transformative way?” For example, adaptive use of technology is having students use a laptop or other mobile device to create a document instead of using pencil/pen and paper. An example of a transformative way is to use technology to create or remix content in new and meaningful ways. The more transformative we are, and allow our students to be, the more relevant and rigorous learning will be. George summed it up best when he said, “with technology we all can be teachers and learners.” As we embrace this, just look at what we are becoming! Feel free to comment about any of the information. I look forward to hearing what your reflections are.

Be Great,