Take A Chance and Try Something New

Two months ago I ventured to upstate New York to conquer the Indian and Hudson Rivers in the form of  white water rafting. To say it was an awesome experience is an understatement. The weather was simply horrible, but it added to the mystique of our adventure. I was invited to participate in a guys only weekend trip by Steve Bollar, upper elementary principal and motivational speaker (@StandTallSteve). This is an annual trip, but this was the first time I’ve ever gone. Footnote #1: if you don’t have a guys or ladies weekend with friends, you need to start!

Our adventure began on Friday with a five and half hour drive from Philadelphia, PA airport to North Creek, NY. The only guy I knew was Steve, so the road trip was one of the most important parts of our journey. We talked, laughed, reflected on life, and developed friendships along the way. Without this time, the overall experience would not have been as great as it was. Footnote #2: nearly every meaningful experience in life boils down to the relationships you have with others. Dr. James Comer said it this way, “No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship.”

Once we hit the water on Saturday, we spent several hours rafting during the 17 mile trek along the Hudson River. The backdrop was the Adirondack Mountains in 60 degree temperature and rain. Did I mention I can’t swim? Well, if not, now you know.

As I reflect on our trip, I realize I learned a great deal about leadership.  Following are lessons learned:

  1. To do something new, someone has to initiate change. Steve Bollar was the connector of this trip. He’s done this before and invited friends from New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and me from Ohio. Without Steve taking the initiative to set this up, the trip would not have occurred. Leaders take charge, research, and create new opportunities for others to grow.
  2. As a leader, influence matters. When Steve first asked me to attend, I thought of every excuse why I couldn’t attend: “I can’t swim,” “I have an administrative luncheon,” “I needed to be at school (even though the students were gone).” Steve listened to my excuses, but then followed up by sharing his past experiences of white water rafting. He also talked passionately about his friends that he wanted me to meet. By the time he was finished, I couldn’t say no! Leaders not only present the facts,  they also tell compelling stories to convey a particular message.
  3. Communication is essential. Since three of the six guys in the raft had never been white water rafting, communication was key. However, the part of communication I’m referring to is listening. We had to listen very closely to our guide who was not only highly qualified, but he was every effective. When sharing something new, leaders use clear, concise language , but the leader also listens to the followers in the organization.
  4. It’s much easier to go through rough waters with others.Tough times are inevitable, but going through them alone is not. “We” is much better than “me.” With technology, the “WE” in our lives is much greater than ever.
  5. Take a chance and learn something new. How can we as educators and leaders expect others to try new things if we don’t? Model what you expect and you’ll see more of it. I mention this because as I stated earlier, I can’t swim so to go white water rafting was a major stretch for me. At one point during the trip we came upon an extremely large boulder sticking out of the water. Our guide indicated that we could climb the boulder and jump off into the 20 feet deep river. I thought, “Yeah, right. I’m going to sit right here.” Well, as we got closer we all started looking at each other and one by one, I heard, “I’m in!” I had this internal conflict going on: “If you jump and die, your wife is going to kill you!” “But, I’m with a number of people that can swim, I’ve got on the right equipment, others have shown it’s safe, what’s the worst that could happen?” I thought. Well, the worst that could happen is that I could die! After much contemplation I finally said, “I’M IN!” I climbed the rock with the help of our guide, approached the edge, looked down, backed up, took three big steps, held my nose, and…. splash! I can still feel the warm, clean, and fresh water take me in and everything just stopped for a moment… I did it!

That was an aha moment for me. Why? I realized that as leaders if we provide the right training, modeling, resources, support, and safe environment for others to take risks, the possibilities of what we can accomplish together are endless.

Be Great,


10 Steps to Overcome Self-Destruction

Attention, attention! I have an important message to share with you: if you are an educator, you are the most important person in the building. I know you may not want to hear or read this, but your attitude and mental well-being does affect the climate of your classroom or school. I am sorry if you disagree with me, but it’s true you know. That’s a great deal of pressure and we sometimes sabotage ourselves because of self-destructive thoughts…


Sometimes our greatest enemy or barrier to success is ourselves. Past experiences, fear, doubt, or even replaying negative words of others that have been spoken to us can sabotage ideas, goals, and dreams. If this describes you, raise your hand. I’m with you and I understand.

I recently attended the Jostens Renaissance National Conference (@J_Renaissance) held in Anaheim, California July 15-17, 2011. The closing speaker was Liz Murray, author of Breaking Night. Her life story was made into a Lifetime movie titled, From Homeless to Harvard. Her story is simply amazing! As I listened to her and frantically wrote down and tweeted nuggets of wisdom that she shared with the students and educators in the audience, one message emerged loud and clear: she chose not to self-destruct. I don’t know about you, but there have been a number of times in my life when I have thought or spoken destructive thoughts or words to myself that sabotaged my dreams. Following are 10 steps I gained from her presentation that can help overcome self-destruction.

1. “No matter where we come from, we all feel like giving up.”
• Lesson-acknowledge these feelings, embrace them, and then do the opposite. This is easier said than done, but each of us has reached major and minor milestones by simply not giving up.

2. “Think about what has made a difference in your life.”
• Lesson-rely on past actions that led to successes in your life and celebrate what you’ve accomplished. Think about the process and simply apply the lessons learned.

3. “Focus on your blessings, not your faults.”
• Lesson- we are imperfect humans with a number of faults. Okay, we get it, now move on. Focusing on our blessings of family, friends, a reasonable portion of good health, teammates, and opportunities encourages us to persevere.

4. “You are already making a difference. The question is how are you making a difference?”
• Lesson- when we walk into a room the energy either goes up or it goes down. Those in the room either feel encouraged or discouraged, no one stays the same. With that in mind, when you look in the mirror or really think about whom you are, focus on the things you do that positively change lives and impact others. Self-destruction is also destructive to those with whom you interact.

5. “Don’t push off your dreams by saying, ‘I’ll do it later.’”
• Lesson- we are not guaranteed time so whatever your dreams are, write them down, establish a plan, and DO SOMETHING. Better yet, just do something and develop the plan as you go. Excuses are self-destructive and waste time. Replace the, “yeah, buts” with “yes, and.”

6. “There is always something to complain about if that’s who you want to be.”
• Lesson-choose action over talk, questions over complaints, and solutions instead of massaging the problems. You’ll be amazed by how much better you feel and how much you actually accomplish. Additionally, your circle of influence will be even greater!

7. “You never know when you are going to meet someone who is going to change your life.”
• Lesson-self destructive behaviors prevent you from being keenly aware of those around you because you selfishly focus on your faults. Open your eyes, ears, and mind to people around you. Embrace the experiences and be receptive to new ideas, new adventures, interesting books, or opportunities to serve others. Better yet, invest in other people and be the person that changes someone’s life.

8. “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
• Lesson-become a great student of yourself and others. Learn and do something new each day, week, month, and year. Live your life! If you have no pre-conceived notions or ideas of what is supposed to happen, you have no barriers holding you back and no doubt. Learn along the way and enjoy the process!

9. “The world is filled with people who tell you what you can or can’t do. You’ll know it’s possible when you are doing it.”
• Lesson-ask and answer the “what if”… question. For example, what if I run a marathon? Or what if I start journaling? What if I hug twelve people a day? You don’t know what will happen if you only think about it. There are no statues of people who simply thought great things, only of those who did great things!

10. “Ask yourself, ‘What am I most passionate about?’”
• Lesson-finding your passion provides purpose for your life. Just think about those times when you were exhausted, but you suddenly had a burst of energy when you had to do what you are most passionate about!

So what does this have to do with being an educator? Everything! As an educator you are in a position of influence which impacts students’ lives every day. Believe it or not, you are the most important person in the classroom. Embrace it and then act on it!

What are your practices to overcome self-destruction? What advice can we share?

Be Great,


Would You Follow You?

Learn & Lead
There comes a time in the life of every leader when we have to take a hard, honest look in the mirror and ask a fundamental question: “If I weren’t me, would I want to follow the example I set?” You know you better than anybody else in your classroom, school, or your home. You know your strengths and weaknesses as a person and a leader. And with this knowledge of who you are, what you think, how you live, you have the ability to make an honest assessment of your life- as a leader.

When I became a high school principal, I wanted to implement some of the ideas that Todd Whitaker shares in his book, What Great Principals Do Differently. In chapter fifteen he recommends that the leader communicate expectations at the beginning of each year. Following is a list of expectations I shared with my staff:

1. Respect-Respect your students, yourself, others, and the profession.
2. Communication-make contact with parents on a regular basis.
3. Manage Your Classroom-Be proactive by having clear expectations and be consistent.
4. Be Present-Being present makes a difference. Greet students at the door.
5. Be Punctual- Punctuality is a sign of respect.
6. Be Prepared- Prior planning prevents poor performance.
7. Professional Development- continue to grow; try new things.
8. Celebrate progress and achievement of your students.

As I think about what I expect from my staff, I’ve had to ask if I am meeting these same expectations. Some of the key questions I ask myself often, especially during tough times or times of transition are as follows:

1. “Are you punctual like you expect from others?”
My pastor has always said that punctuality is a sign of respect: respect for others time, talents, and responsibilities. This not only includes arriving on time, but ending on time as well. As of late, I have found myself arriving late to a meeting that I called! This is disrespectful and also has given permission for others to arrive late. This is not good and something that has to be corrected right now.

2. “Do you establish and honor the relationships you have with your staff, students, and parents?”
Dr. James Comer once said, “No significant learning takes place without a significant relationship.” Positive relationships are foundational for true learning and upon reflection; I have some solid relationships with some of my staff while others need work on my part. I need to be “slow to speak, quick to hear, and slow to anger” James 1: 19 (KJV). At times, I have gotten in the way of establishing a positive relationship with some of my staff because I was either quick to speak, slow to hear, or quick to anger. In other words, I didn’t make time to “be there.” I had to ask myself, “Would you follow you?”

I always feel that I need to interact with my students and parents more. Principals like George Cuoros ( @gcouros), Eric Sheninger ( @nmhs_principal), David Truss ( @datruss), Lyn Hilt ( @L_Hilt), Steve Bollar ( @StandtallSteve), and Patrick Larkin ( @bhsprincipal ), are people I look to for ways to positively interact with students and parents. In addition to leaders in my virtual Professional Learning Network, I rely heavily on my strong administrative team. Each of them brings a wealth of experience and individual strengths that I tap into on a regular basis. Each leader in my PLN uses blogs and Twitter to highlight teachers, special events, and accomplishments of students in their schools. The more they recognize the accomplishments of students, the better parents feel about the communication that comes from the school. This, in turn, along with personal interactions, builds and maintains positive relationships with parents. Establishing positive relationships takes time, yet the benefit of creating meaningful and engaging relationships is critical to a leader’s success in seeing the mission and vision of the school come to fruition.

3. “Are you open to new ideas?”
This is critical to ask because of the current state of significant transition and transformation that’s occurring in education. Many of my teachers and students have innovative ideas that can make a huge impact on teaching, learning, and the school climate. It’s difficult to follow someone if the only response you hear is, “No.” A good leader understands the need to create a collaborative environment. Todd Whitaker, in What Great Principals Do Differently says it this way:

One critical difference was the effective principals viewed themselves as responsible for all aspects of their school. Though these principals regularly involved staff, parents, and others in the decision making, they believed it was their responsibility to make their school the best it could be.” –p.15

Yes, it’s the leader’s responsibility, but no one person can do it alone. New, fresh ideas are alive in many schools from other members of the school community. It should be a primary goal of the leader to help these ideas become a reality.

These are just a few of the questions I ask myself on a regular basis. Leadership is extremely hard, but it’s also very rewarding. We demand much of others and must also hold ourselves to the same expectations we have of others. So I ask you, “Would you follow you?”

Be Great,


Are You An Outlier?

Last year I read Outliers: the Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell and had the opportunity to share this book with administrators from my district during our summer retreat. An Outlier can be defined as an individual who not only have exceptional talent, but is provided and takes advantage of opportunities and resources to excel. This raised many questions about success and led to rich discussion about our personal life experiences. We talked about what success is and grappled with a number of questions: Who defines success? How is it achieved? What does it look like? Are you successful? Are you, or were you, an Outlier?

Image from Google Images
Image from Google Images

We are all products of many people who guided, directed, opened up doors, carved pathways, and challenged us to be better, but how often do we think about how we got to where we are today? It’s definitely something to think about, because nothing just happens by accident…As school districts across the country face cuts and other obstacles, we have to ask if we are we crippling the development of Outliers – Will we miss the chance to help nurture the next Bill Gates, Charles Drew, or Colin Powell? Following are some key points that were discussed with the group of administrators I was with. The italicized quotes are from the book and my points follow:

“In examining the lives of the remarkable among us- the skilled, the talented, and the driven-I will argue that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we make sense of success.” –p. 18

o Test scores are important but I would argue that a student is more than a test score.
o An “Excellent” rating on the state report card is commendable, yet success has to be viewed and defined from a much broader perspective.
o Thousands of teachers share stories of how they impacted a student’s life that includes, but is not limited to standardized test scores. Individual teachers tap into the talents of their students, they push them to stretch their learning and provide opportunities for them to excel. The relationship between the teacher and student creates the drive for the student to excel. Just think about the impact your favorite teacher had on you…

“A basketball player only has to be tall enough- and the same is true of intelligence. Intelligence has a threshold.”-p.80

o A threshold is a limit, yet our schools create opportunities through the performing and visual arts, clubs, service learning projects, and collaboration that aren’t always quantifiable.
o Many outliers perform at high levels through the “non-traditional” classes and extra-curricular activities. These areas cultivate creativity, collaboration, authentic learning opportunities, and constant and meaningful feedback. Just think your favorite coach, band, choir, or theatre teacher…
o What are your thoughts about this quote?
o What does it mean for our students and our schools?

“If intelligence matters only up to a point, then past that point, other things-things that have nothing to do with intelligence- must start to matter more.” –p.86

o What matters beyond intelligence is how we treat people, how we work with others, how we think, use the tools and resources to solve problems, and how we communicate. These are considered the “soft skills” of the 21st century.
o Share an example of how you or your school is developing “skills that have nothing to do with intelligence.”

“Practical intelligence is… procedural: it is about knowing why you know it or being able to explain it. It’s practical in nature: that is, it’s not knowledge for its own sake.” –p.101

o This should change how we assess what students know and are able to do.
o For example, implement project based learning, Understanding by Design, utilize collaborative web 2.0 tools, such as Google Docs, Wiggio, Diigo, etc. to develop and sustain opportunities for practical intelligence.
o Make learning relevant! Ask questions, listen to students, and let them decide how they want to be assessed.
o Check out Vision of 21st Century Learning.

“To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success-the fortunate birthdates and the happy accidents of history-with a society that provides opportunities for all.”

o What does this say about the way we determine giftedness and course placement?
o What does this look like in 21st century schools?
o Does our current grading system promote or hinder success of Outliers?

I’m concerned about our educational system. I’m concerned that too many students and teachers face too many obstacles within our current system to reach their full potential. I’m concerned about where we are headed, but I’m also excited about the unknown. Transformation is occurring! “We can’t control our future, but we can contribute to our future.” Please share your responses to some of the questions I’ve proposed above or share how you or your school develops Outliers.

Be Great,


What is the State of your school?

One of the key events of the year is when the President of the United States holds the State of the Union Address. Each president has addressed the nation in order to convey a specific message and move the nation to action. One of my mentors named Keith Bell has been a successful and beloved administrator in four different school districts in the Columbus, Ohio area: Assistant Principal at Gahanna Lincoln High School, Principal at Groveport Madison High School, and Principal at Westerville South High School and curriculum coordinator, and now Deputy Superintendent of the Columbus City School District. While at Groveport, he began to address his students in a format very similar to the State of the Union, however, he called it the State of the Cruisers, which is the school’s mascot. He and I talked about this extensively, as I was intrigued by the idea. He, as well as many administrators, believes it’s of great importance for the principal to speak with the students as much as possible. I couldn’t agree more.

Hmm, a State of the Union at my school? I know what you are thinking because I thought the same things. What do you talk about? Will the students behave? What’s the point? What’s the purpose? These are all relevant questions and should be asked. However, everything rises and falls on leadership, so it’s important for the building principal to be seen and heard by the students on a regular basis.

When I address my students at the quarterly State of the Lions Address (we are the Lions) I focus on 4-5 main points: celebrate individual student and group accomplishments for the quarter; share quarterly academic, discipline, and attendance data; outline and review expectations; address areas of concern or that need improvement, and explain special events/topics.

o Celebrate individual student and group accomplishments for the quarter
 I keep a list of accomplishments, such as highlights about our Speech and Debate club, athletic team successes, students who participated in the fall play, musical concerts, or students who earned a student of the month award (PRIDE Award).
 I simply ask these students to stand up in front of their peers, but occasionally I may display their names on the large screen.
 I also ask all students who achieved Honor Roll or earned a quarterly Renaissance Achievement Card to stand up as well.
 This only takes a few minutes, yet it shines a spotlight on our students who are marketing and protecting our school brand through their actions. Our school brand is P.RI.D.E- personal responsibility in developing excellence. By publicly recognizing students who demonstrate P.R.I.D.E we tend to get greater results from our students.

o Share quarterly academic, discipline, and attendance data
 There are over 2400 students at my school and I stress how important it is for us to achieve and sustain a 3.0+ grade point average. Over 80% of our graduates attend either a two or four year college or university, yet I believe it can be much higher. With that said, our students must achieve at high levels and their grades must reflect this.
 I communicate to our students what we expect them to accomplish and then we provide the time, assistance, and encouragement for them to meet our expectations.
 I share with each graduating class their quarterly grade point average so that they can see where they are and what they need to do to meet the goal. This challenges them and (I hope) unifies them to push beyond barriers to academic success.
 I also share the previous quarter’s data with them so they can see their progress over time.
 It’s also important for students to see how they did in terms of discipline. I show the percentage of students from the class who were referred to the office, the number of incidents for the class, as well as the school average. There is typically a spike during the second quarter, which may be due to the long winter months, but this is something we have to overcome.
 Finally, I share the percentage of students who had at least one excused absence or tardy, the percentage of students who had perfect attendance, and data from the previous quarter. Again, many students personally challenge themselves to be at school and on time once they see how their presence impacts the entire class.
 We use the data to celebrate progress and achievement, but also to set goals for the next quarter.

o Discuss expectations
 I use this time to directly let the students know what we expect from them. I try to use humor (smile), tell stories, show images, and short video clips to make my point. Be careful sharing too many stories as it may become a show and tell, which can lead to eye rolling, huffing and puffing, and sheer boredom (Um, not speaking from experience).
 Expectations include, appropriate dress, school safety, work ethic, accountability, and respectful actions and language. You know, what we should expect from students these days.
 We have seen a decrease in the number of fights, arguments, and discipline referrals since implementing the State of the Lions. However, there are a number of factor that contribute to this decrease as well.

o Address areas of concern or that need improvement
 At times, I have to address more serious issues. I use this time to highlight the problem and then challenge students to be a part of the solution. I don’t take this section lightly so I don’t use humor, but I may tell a story to hit home.
 Some of the concerns aren’t as serious, but still need to addressed. It’s important to use language that challenges rather than threatens the students. I have found that they will respond. For example, the way students dance these days is, well, um… is it dancing? Anyway, we addressed this in a humorous way that made the point. Thank God is not just a problem in my school!
 Sidebar: be sure to have a plan in place to help students be a part of the process. In my enthusiasm, I have forgotten to do this at times!

o Special events/topics
 I engaged the students in a discussion about one’s personal brand as well as our school brand by showing images of popular brands and then I asked the students to call out the slogan of the brand logo. For example, Nike is “Just Do it.” I wanted them to think about how our actions and words as members of the Gahanna Lincoln High School community hurt or positively promote a positive brand image.
 I most recently discussed the importance of posting intelligently when using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. It’s our moral obligation to teach our students to be responsible in cyberspace because they are creating an online presence and reputation. It goes back to one’s personal brand.

The downside to the State of the Lions Address is that it takes away instructional time. However, I let teachers know the dates of the State of the Lions at the beginning of each school year to help them plan accordingly. This year, I held one close the start of the school year and then about two weeks after the end of each quarter. As a bonus, I often give teachers the period off once they escort their students to the auditorium. Even though it takes time, I look at it as addition by subtraction, since the students are made aware of the progress and level of achievement in the areas we deem as important. The results over the last three years have shown that it’s working. Each quarter, each class, quarterly or semester data, and clear expectations- I challenge you to share the “State” of your school.

Be Great,


“What is a moment really worth?”

image from wishfulthinking.co.uk
image from wishfulthinking.co.uk
Our school’s Jostens representative, Steve Krier, sends a quarterly newsletter/brochure about graduation preparation, reminders about professional and personal growth, humorous stories, and things to think about. It’s a very professional, yet casual publication that really adds value if one takes the time to read it. In the latest newsletter he included a list called, “What is a moment really worth?” It caused me to pause for a moment and reflect on the moments I take for granted, not only as a principal, but also as a husband and a friend. It also caused me to think about possible missed opportunities to fulfill my purpose (to positively change lives and impact futures). The business of education is the business of people and sometimes that gets lost. Please take a moment to read the list and share your thoughts:

On the bulletin board of a California company, someone once posted this sign to remind everyone of how time is relative-both the value of time is priceless.
• To realize the value of one year: Ask the student who has failed his final exam.
• To realize the value of one month: Ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.
• To realize the value of one week: Ask the editor of a weekly newspaper.
• To realize the value of one day: Ask the daily wage laborer who has 10 kids to feed.
• To realize the value of an hour: Ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
• To realize the value of a minute: Ask the person who has missed the train, the bus or the plane.
• To realize the value of a second: Ask the person who have survived an accident.

Be Great,