Monday, January 30, 2012

21stCenturySchoolLeaders: Great Leaders Inspire Change

21stCenturySchoolLeaders: Great Leaders Inspire changed: Great leaders don't create change. They create environments where people change themselves." Have you ever been in the presence of someone...

Great Leaders Inspire Change

Great leaders don't create change. They create environments where people change themselves."

Have you ever been in the presence of someone that was inspirational and provided a model of leadership that fired you up to do things differently?

Do you know someone that has given you a purpose to accomplish yourself in an inspirational manner? Working for that kind of person was not a chore, but an enjoyable experience?

I'm not sure many people have been affected by such leaders, but if you think back, I am sure you will find that model of leadership in your lives. The problem is that these type of people are few and far between. The secret to becoming that kind of leader is the intent of today's blog.

Having been a former musician and music educator, I have had many experiences, both good and bad, in dealing with inspirational leaders (conductors). Using my background to reflect on these types of leaders I will remember that the inspirational leader/conductor brought a positive demeanor to the ensemble. He/she did not act like a tyrant, but reacted humanistically in rehearsals, listening intently, correcting, never criticizing, acting humorously whenever there was an opportunity, and inspiring musicians to practice their parts intently so that their contributions were, in themselves, inspiring to the whole.

The same can be said about inspirational leaders in government and the military. I think of Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower as the most inspiring generals of World War II, for they did not possess "brag and bluster" such as MacArthur, Patton and Montgomery. They were focused, visionary leaders that put the front line soldier first in their thought and planning.

21st Century School Leaders can certainly create that environment by considering such models for inspiring their faculty and staff to create enduring schools for children.

1) Create a vision for the faculty, parents and the students that involves them in shaping the future. It will be helpful for the staff to know the direction of their work, and the purpose for accomplishing it.
2) Lead with the organization. Set aside 3 days a week to visit faculty, staff, parents and students. This includes walk through visits in classrooms, eating lunch with the faculty and students.
3) Be visible and listen intently. Employees want to know their thoughts and ideas are valued and welcomed, without criticism.
4) Create constructive purpose in all gatherings. A meeting should be limited to one hour, and have a thoughtful agenda planned in advance.
5) Lead by example. Walk the talk.

Leadership means getting people to work through the objective of the organization.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Desire is greater than having something...

Desiring is greater than having
Since we were children, the act of wanting or desiring something always outweighed having or possessing it. Think back to those days when you wanted that one thing in your life, more than anything else. When you were lucky enough to own it, how fast did you forget about it?

The same can be said about recent political rhetoric requiring schools to compel students to remain until 18 to achieve a HS diploma. The dream of everyone graduating and being prepared for life is a wonderful dream, but is it doable?

As a former HS principal I can think of many kids that couldn't do it. They struggled with discipline issues, with learning in general, and were bored with everything schools offered. They lacked the tenacity and educational persistence to stay with it and complete their education.

To require these students to remain until 18 exasperates the issues our schools face. Sure, all educators want all kids to complete their HS education, but you cannot force it on the few students that have not bought into it.

The resources that would be needed to hold these kids accountable would be insurmountable. And, who will pay this bill?

We all love dreams. We all desire great things. But, there comes a time when dreaming and wanting carries too great a price that prevents us from actually possessing it.

The President would be better off brainstorming with real educators to figure out how to create a practical dream that could make a significant difference for kids.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Becoming an eTeacher

We do a lot of talking about becoming 21st Century School Communities, and breaking the mold of the 19th Century factory model of instruction, advocated by our politicians. Instead of a long blog post, this morning, I am sharing the following link with you. I came across it this morning and I believe it is an excellent site for teachers to develop an "eTeacher" mentality in approaching 21st Century instruction.

I highly recommend it as a tool for faculty, interested in learning and pushing back against outdated learning methods.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

NASCAR and Professional Learning Networks

I had a great day on Saturday, January 14, 2012. I took advantage of the Florida sunshine and spent the day at the Daytona International Speedway observing the NASCAR Pre-season Thunder; the warm-up trials for the teams and drivers preparing for the upcoming Daytona 500 on February 26. After being allowed to pull into the infield and wandering over to the fan observation deck over the various team garages I had a first row vantage point to watch the heart and soul of NASCAR racing from the pit areas.

All the big names in racing were there: Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Danica Patrick, Dale Jr, and all the other drivers that race these cars to unbelievable limits. But, there were hundreds of other people as well, furiously working on cars, adjusting, measuring, adapting, analyzing, conferring, re-adjusting and trying again. These people are the heart and soul of the teams that make the cars and drivers do all of those unbelievable things, like drive in tandem at 200+ mph., win races, and earn more points for the competition.

Spending a day watching this activity has reinforced my belief that we as educators and school leaders can learn much from NASCAR. Here is what I think we can take with us when we confront our schools and seek to improve student achievement.

  1. Team work makes it happen. Many people need to be involved in the educational planning for a student's achievement. Planning and conferring, adjusting, adapting and scheduling for needs, must take place for all students, and not just the special ed child for problem student.
  2. Teams use data analysis to assess performance and make a formative decision for a student's needs. In NASCAR, each car is a veritable integrated computer system that has every system, component, and part monitored by team members to determine where more efficient adjustments will be necessary. The same mode of learning should occur in schools, for every child.
  3. While the teacher of record is important, supervisors and administrators must oversee the team to ensure oversight and planning is optimal for the student's needs. NASCAR uses a system of a crew chief that oversees the team, and the driver of record implements the work direction, but is responsible for the outcome.
  4. Finally, when the race is over, teams are not punishing themselves for losing the race, they go back to the drawing board and redesign the effort for the next race. In schools, we cannot allow a student to keep a failing grade as the final outcome on their record. We need to go back to square one and figure it out again and ensure the student has all the resources necessary to win the race.
For those people that have been following my previous blog posts, you understand my passion for NASCAR. There is so much we could admire and use from this experience but the truth is still the same. Our students are running a race and we need to be the pit crew for each and every child to run that race well.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Great teachers make a difference

Recently, I have become quite reflective of my life and experiences in education. I made a list of all the teachers I had as a student, and began a simple exercise in remembering as much as I could about each one, and the significant contributions they made, if any, to my life, and where I ended up as a school superintendent (now retired).

After spending a significant part of my day listing and jotting down something about each person, it became apparent that a pattern was emerging among teachers that made a significant contribution in changing my life at key times. For instance, there was a music teacher in high school that had a special way at taking a group of city kids and turning them into a remarkable musical ensemble. His perseverance and dedication were key in my decision to become a teacher.

There was also a math teacher that recognized my struggles in learning geometry and trigonometry. His focus and commitment pushed me to pass and accomplish myself to graduate from the course. And, there are a slew of other teachers that never gave up, and worked to see students succeed. Their dedication and commitment were instrumental in achieving ultimate satisfaction in a career, the success of their students.

There can be no mistaking the fact that a good teacher makes all the difference in the lives of students. Most recently, a research study was revealed that indicated this very fact.

From an article appearing in the NY Times: "It turns out that the effects of high value-added teachers in grade school continued to reverberate into adulthood,". Students who spent even one year in grade school in the classroom of a teacher in the top 25 percent of the district were more likely to attend college (and a better college), less likely to be a teenage mother and ultimately earned a higher income as an adult.

The research study involved over a million students from specific areas around the country and using testing scores from standardized assessments as well as evaluation of teacher criteria and instructional strengths, the significance of the study was outstanding. Great teachers create great value – perhaps several times their annual salaries – and that test score impacts are helpful in identifying such teachers.

Great teachers make a difference. As school leaders we need to seek them out, encourage them, support them and reward them for a job well done.

Chetty, R., Friedman, J. & Rockoff, J. (December, 2011). THE LONG-TERM IMPACTS OF TEACHERS:
TEACHER VALUE-ADDED AND STUDENT OUTCOMES IN ADULTHOOD. Executive Summary of National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 17699, December 2011. Retrieved January 11, 2012 at

Lowrey, A. (January 6, 2012). Big study links good teachers to lasting gain. New York Times. Retrieved January 11, 2012 at

Marostica, L. (January 10, 2012). New study confirms great teachers change lives. Deseret News. Retrieved January 11, 2012 at

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lectures at night, “homework” during the day.

I will never forget the story of a high school student in the district I just retired from, being bored with a lecture from a professorial teacher, and quite sure he was making errors in his data on the topic at hand, used her smart phone to disprove the teacher's lecture. She snuck her phone out of her back pack and researched the data that proved her contention, the teacher was making up data. 

Another time, as a supervising superintendent, I was walking down the hallway of our middle school and saw two boys reacting to something they were looking at on their smart phone. Seeking to find out what the gist of their discussion was about, I crept up closely behind their backs to discover they were actually discussing the Roger Clemons deposition they were reading off the NY Times. 

Both examples demonstrate the insanity of continuing to assume that kids are clueless about information, and they should be viewed as a sponge, ready to absorb information only provided via a "master lecturer"/teacher.

This week, I read an interesting editorial in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, that demonstrates my opinion about this kind of a teacher. It caused me to fall back on my never-ending appeal to move our 19th Century instructional models into a 21st Century mindset, once again. 

"Just months after the National Center for Education Statistics released its devastating portrait of a nation where less than one-third of public school children have proficiency in geography, a college professor lamented to me that his recent teacher graduates were convinced that such knowledge [geography] was unnecessary because GPS systems and Google Earth programs are easily accessible on smartphones." (Cepeda, 2012).

The image of that excerpt, once again presents the ludicrous idea that we should continue teaching children who are being prepared for a 21 st Century future using the tools of 19th Century instruction, namely, lecture, lecture, test, quiz, lecture, homework. This also brings me to remind people that the 21st Century instructional model is needed now, more than ever.

                                                                                                                 (Sheninger, 2011)

Flipping the instructional model is necessary, and school leaders need to begin pressing the model more and more. According to Bergman and Sams (2011),  "One of the greatest benefits of flipping is that overall interaction increases: Teacher to student and student to student.  Since the role of the teacher has changed from presenter of content to learning coach, we spend our time talking to kids.  We are answering questions, working with small groups, and guiding the learning of each student individually."

The idea that teachers become mentors and facilitators, and students become the center of their own learning is not unique, but a model hardly used in public schools, mainly out of ignorance and fear.  "The role of the teacher has changed, to more of a tutor than a deliverer of content, we have the privilege of observing students interact with each other.  As we roam around the class, we notice the students developing their own collaborative groups.  Students are helping each other learn instead of relying on the teacher as the sole disseminator of knowledge." (Bergman & Sams, 2011)

Bennett & Kern (2011) outline what a typical flipped classroom looks like:
  • Discussions are led by the students where outside content is brought in and expanded. 
  • These discussions typically reach higher orders ofcritical thinking.
  • Collaborative work is fluid with students shifting between various simultaneous discussions depending on their needs and interests.
  • Content is given context as it relates to real-world scenarios.
  • Students challenge one another during class on content.
  • Student-led tutoring and collaborative learning forms spontaneously.  
  • Students take ownership of the material and use their knowledge to lead one another without prompting from the teacher.
  • Students ask exploratory questions and have the freedom to delve beyond core curriculum.
  • Students are actively engaged in problem solving and critical thinking that reaches beyond the traditional scope of the course.
  • Students are transforming from passive listeners to active learner.
Noted author and futurist, Daniel Pink describes the idea even further, where "instead of lecturing about polynomials and exponents during class time – and then giving his young charges 30 problems to work on at home – the teacher has flipped the sequence. He’s recorded his lectures on video and uploaded them to YouTube for his 28 students to watch at home. Then, in class, he works with students as they solve problems and experiment with the concepts."

Lectures at night, “homework” during the day.

What a unique and refreshing way to get students to be the initiator of learning, motivated to create their future with creativity and innovation.

Bennett,B. & , J. Kern, A. Gudenrath, P. McIntosh. (October 11, 2011). The flipped classroom: What does one look like? The Daily Riff. Retrieved January 3, 2012 at

Bergman, J. & A. Sams. (November 8, 2011). How the flipped classroom was born. The Daily Riff.  Retrieved January 3, 2011 at

Cepeda, E. J. (January 3, 2012). Behind the wheel, under the knife- mobile devices are here to stay. The News-Journal. Daytona Beach, FL. Retrieved January 3, 2012 at

Pink, D. (September 10, 2010). Think Tank: Fliip-thinking- the new buzz word sweeping the US.  The Telegraph. Retrieved January 3, 2012 at

Sheninger, E. (August 8, 2011). An open letter to principals: Five leadership strategies for the new year. Edutopia.  Retrieved January 3, 2012 at

The Flipped Classroom [infographic]. Retrieved on January 3, 2012 at

Monday, January 2, 2012


Well, we are now over the hump of a new calendar year. 2012 has begun, and we have hopefully completed the long and draining holiday hype that began November 1, 2011 ushering in a new calendar year of hopeful success and challenges. 

This morning I caught this tweet from Tony Robbins that seemed inspirational in forming a renewed outlook for 2012:  


What an exciting way to perceive the start for a hopeful start as 21st Century School Leaders. 

Be curious:  start asking questions and inquire what your teachers are thinking, doing and reflecting.

Be bold:  try something new, daring, and different. If you have never experimented with Twitter as a feedback tool for families, students, community members, make it something you do as a new resolution for 2012.

Be faith-filled:  anyone who leads people in organizations must have a faith-based model of inspiration and values. Whether the model comes from the Bible, Koran, Dharma, Stephen Covey, John Wayne, Regis Philbin or from an inspirational movie, prioritize your values; live by a statement of belief and reflect this model in your decision-making and the care you offer your teachers, students, and parents.

Be decisive: nothing frustrates an organization more than a lack of decisiveness; a lack of commitment and movement. Yes, a bad decision may tarnish the emotional bank account from faculty and parents, but at least you will reflect a commitment to a plan of action. And, if it was a bad decision, admit it, show your humanity, learn from it and move on. Your organization will admire you for that.

Be courageous, strong, authentic: as a leader you are a unique individual that needs to work with people, not against them. A courageous leader has the strength to admit failure when a mistake is made. An authentic leader has the strength to listen to people in order to learn, reflect, and understand their concerns, ideas, and feedback.

Be playful: be humorous often and in as many ways as you can find. People love to laugh. They want to smile and have fun in their workplace or learning environment. Create a humorous weekly newsletter. Be bold enough to make a funny remark at a serious moment, and be willing to look ridiculous in order for your organization to discover your humanity and be inspired by you.

Be grateful:  learn to say thank you, often and at every possible opportunity. A favorite phrase I used often in many of my communications with the faculty became a catch phrase that others adapted, as well:

"Thank you for all you do for the children of this community." 

And, the last component of this resolution "Be". Live life to the fullest, and incorporate your actions and beliefs into a commitment for an inspired model of learning for your school community.

Have a great 2012.
1. tonyrobbins. (2011, January 1). In 2012 resolve to: BE CURIOUS, BE BOLD, BE FAITH FILLED, BE DECISIVE, BE COURAGEOUS, BE STRONG, BE AUTHENTIC, BE PLAYFUL, BE GRATEFUL, BE? [Twitter post]. Retrieved January 2, 2011 from