Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Valuable Lesson From jetBlue

I've flown quite a bit this summer and have had some great airline experiences. Across the Atlantic on Air France, and back over to California on KLM. Really great flights and I Tweeted both airlines with compliments.

Just yesterday I flew Long Beach to Oakland - funny thing is the flights down didn't work with my schedule as Long Beach is pretty small. So I flew Southwest one-way down, and jetBlue one way back up. Southwest is great, I've flown them a ton over the years. Friendly, on time, great value and I know a few of their pilots personally.

I have to say though, jetBlue was absolutely awesome yesterday, absolutely. It wasn't just the flight, it's totally obvious that everyone at jetBlue is a team. For some reason when I printed my boarding pass I didn't have a seat assignment. I totally didn't realize and they called me over the loudspeaker asking me to the gate. The attendant was so apologetic and handed it to me - wow, that was nice.

They also made an announcement that our plane was getting a new tire.

"If you look out the window right now you can see our ground maintenance crew changing it out. We're sorry but we can't have passengers load while our team is changing the tire, sorry for the inconvenience."

Love how they used the word team - wow again!

I'm getting ready to board, hand the attendant my pass and he uses my last name!

"Have a great flight Mr. Welcome!"

I can't remember the last time that's ever happened, if it ever has. #classy

Boarding was a snap, we get airborne, everyone on the plane is friendly. And then I realize because the Captain reminds us, they have FREE wi-fi on the plane. Sweet, because I had a blog post I was trying finish earlier in the day.

Wi-fi loads in a snap, I'm blogging and then decide to Tweet @JetBlue and they favorite my Tweet while we're flying - what!

Super smooth flight, we're at the gate in no time. I take my phone off airplane mode and send the Tweet below.

And @JetBlue responds with this!

It wasn't just the social media interaction that I enjoyed, it was seeing so many different members of the jetBlue team working together. We can all (especially schools and districts) take a lesson from jetBlue

When you work together as a team, a team that's in sync, with the same mission - you provide amazing service which makes people feel appreciated and wanting to come back again. I know I'll be flying them again soon - come March I'm headed east!

Thank you for a wonderful experience jetBlue - many kudos!

We Need To Back Off

Do your kids know what it’s like? Have they ever experienced it? Do they even know it exists?

How many kids have never experienced failure? Something really hard, that didn't come to them right away? How many adults? Our kids need to fail, which teaches them to learn, and regroup, process what they’ve done and how to come back next time in a different way. 

This happens all the time at my house....

"Dad, I can't do it"

At the park, in the backyard, riding their bike, unloading the dishwasher, brushing the dog. 

Lately it's been my daughter trying some new gymnastic moves. She's a stud athlete and was riding a bike at three years old, with no training wheels, ever. At four she was riding her bike ten miles next to me while I ran and she skies in Lake Tahoe.

But gymnastics is new and we've only really done some drop-in lessons at our local community center. She asks me to watch YouTube videos for examples, can I take pictures when she does a cartwheel. I LOVE that she wants to learn and get better, and I love that it's challenging for her and she's experiencing some level of failure and using the resources in her life to improve for next time! She has my wife and I for guidance, but she's doing much of it on her own, with her own ideas!

Failure throughout my life has made me stronger, helped me to reflect, analyze my preparation, purpose and what I can change for next time.

Two years ago I was in awesome running shape, probably the best of my life. I had a 50K on my schedule and really got in some long miles and was feeling good. Race day is always super exciting for me, getting up early, in the dark, checking my gear, what I'm going to eat, double checking, training is done - feeling positive.

Not so much. At mile 18 I started to vomit - had to walk. Ate a little food and felt better, more vomit at 19. At mile 20 I started feeling dizzy and my vision got blurry.


I was ready, I'd trained, eaten right - and I failed. At mile 22 I dropped out, first time I've ever pulled myself from a race.

I felt really bad, I was pissed off, angry, trying to figure out what happened. My wife was ecstatic. She was so happy I pulled myself from the race, it wasn't a doctor or race organizers, I was thinking about my health and family and not just finishing a race.

After processing my failed race, I learned so much. I'd trained really well but hadn't run enough hills. I started out too fast, there were a couple of guys who I was chatting with at the start and they went out faster than I usually do.

I should have backed off at the start - I think we need to back off with our kids as well. I'm reading a really interesting book right now about a woman who grew up in Finland and now lives in the United States. She says that kids in Finland are super independent, she didn't even talk with her parents about what major she was going to declare in college. I love that independence, she was given a long leash in her youth, explored on her own with direction from parents.

Our personalties are revealed during our most challenging times - let's back off, let our kids struggle a bit, see what they can do - and then see who they become!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

So Many Excuses

I am so tired of hearing it.

Another app? I don't have time. I forgot my password. We tried that and it didn't work. Do I have to? I really liked the paper newsletter. Ugh.

Yes - you have to. You really do!

The world changes everyday. Our kids pick it up, they click on links, hover over an icon - figure it out by digging in and getting their hands dirty.

Why should adults have a free pass to make excuses?

Only the early adopters are on board because they're techie.

Tech isn't even tech, it's our life. It's in our life. Our kids don't call their devices, apps, and way of communicating tech. It's just life. Ask a kid what they like about tech, they'll give you a 'what are you talking about' look.

We receive communication from so many different channels in our life, in a constant stream throughout the day.

Yes, change is happening at a much faster rate than fifty years ago - and we have to keep up.

My wife's grandmother is 95 and she's relevant. She has Gmail, tried to set up her own wi-fi network, chats with me on Gmail, calls me each week to ask questions about her computer. She's 95 and doesn't make one excuse. She puts herself out there and tries new things, because she knows that in order to stay connected  - she has to!

I'm not the only one though, in talking with others it's totally real, it's totally a problem and something needs to be done. There shouldn't be a free pass because people just don't want to. Because they're close to retirement. Because it's more work.

The more relevant you are the less work you have to do. The more conversations you can have. The more connections you can make. The more you know the lingo!

Don't be stuck in the Internet Explorer era. The 'what used' to work five years ago era. The, I loved when we did this mentality.

That's all nostalgia, our kids don't connect with that. If we're not relevant and speaking our kids language, we're teaching and connecting and communicating with an entire generation of kids in a foreign language that they don't speak and we can't understand what they're saying either.

My wife works in medicine, she can't tell her patients the procedures she knows are ten years old. Sorry, I haven't learned that yet. Not acceptable.

Do you want a pilot flying the plane that you're on, not be up to date with the new instruments and procedures? Of course not.

Ask a group of 5th graders what Blockbuster is? They can't tell you. Blockbuster doesn't have an excuse, they simply didn't remain relevant and became obsolete.

No more excuses, they don't work, it doesn't get you anywhere and just pushes you farther away. If you need help, just ask - there are plenty of us who will lend a hand!

They Have It Inside

Even my own kids say it, numerous times a day.

"I can't do it dad, it's too hard."

"I'm tired."

Cleaning up the blocks, putting their socks on, going for a hike on the trail, swimming across the pool, jumping off the diving board or even finishing their dinner.

I refuse to let them slide. I refuse to let them quit. I refuse to have any notion of not being able to do something creep into their brain. They have it inside, we all do!

No, I'm not crazy. Yes I've read the book 'Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mom' and I'm not that far to the right. But we have to push our kids, we have to help them find what's inside of them, they have it inside - I know they do.

Yes, I laugh at home all the time, joke around with my kids all the time, cut them slack on certain things, let them stay up late on occasion - but I firmly believe that we must hold our children accountable. This builds grit and resilience in them that they're going to need later in life.

Life is hard. I've had my back against the wall numerous times throughout my life, for a multitude of different reasons. 

If we believe in them - if we believe in others - if we help them get out what's inside of them - they can do anything!

Thirteen years ago I was a 5th grade teacher and we were at outdoor school. They had a climbing wall and one of our parents who was also our reading specialist was totally checking it out.

"Carol, you should climb the wall."

"No way, I'm not strong enough and I'm afraid of heights."

"You can do it Carol, just start and go halfway up."

"Ok, I can at least try."

Fast forward and Carol is halfway up the wall!

"I'm done, coming down."

"No, you got this Carol - keep going, all the way. Go go go!"

She keeps going, and going and going.

Ding - Carol rings the bell, she made it to the top.

"I can't believe I climbed all the way up, I'm shaking."

Everyone has it inside, kids, adults - we have to find ways to help each other find their inner greatness.

If you have someone who doesn't believe, help them to build that belief. Please have high expectations of our kids, they may complain, whine, drag their feet, argue, say they can't do it - hold their hand if you need to, but help them to find their inner greatness.

Friday, July 29, 2016

A Little About Me

I’ve been around teaching and education my entire life. My dad taught 2nd and 3rd grade for over 35 years and was also a school board member in the district where we grew up for eight. Growing up in his classroom was the best, seeing my dad interact with kids and always creating innovative projects and experiences really paved the way for my own career! 

When I was a Principal I strapped a GoPro to my chest and ran the mile in PE with our 5th graders while wearing a shirt and tie. Some kids had been running their mouth to me for a few weeks that they could beat me in a race -  so I ran a 5:50 mile, they stopped after that - it was all in good fun!

I have a firm belief that all educators should treat and speak to kids respectfully, recess should NEVER be taken away from a student because they misbehaved or didn’t finish work, all kids have the ability and capacity to do amazing work in school - don’t limit them based on your own assumptions - empower them, we need to be in the business of making dreams happen for kids - show them and tell them what’s possible in our world and then help them get there, if you’re grumpy or having a bad morning - leave your issues in the car - kids deserve our best everyday!

Running hasn’t always been a part of my life. It didn’t really start for me until my very early 20s and then a long hiatus for quite a few years when I rode my bicycle a few hundred miles a week. My wife really saved my running career, let me explain. 

A buddy of mine entered a half marathon that he really had no business running. I came into the picture because his daughter entered the race as well and got hurt, like four days before the race. He called me asking if I wanted her bib, sure why not! I hadn’t run in years, especially nothing close to thirteen miles. But, I’m always up for some pain so of course I said yes. That morning at dark thirty am is where I met my wife. She was huddled in front of a heater trying to stay warm before the start. She had been pulled to the race as well by her super fast friend.

Fast forward - Stacy beat me, her friend won the North Face half marathon and that night I tracked Stacy down. For the record, I actually knew her friend who won the race so it was a totally legit phone call inquiring about her 😃  I got her number, we met for our first date four days later, and got married 100 days later!

Stacy saved my running career because when we met I wasn’t really a runner anymore. Since then I’ve run six marathons, three ultra marathons, and pushed our two children thousands upon thousands of miles in our running joggers, and seven half marathons pushing them too. I introduced Stacy to the vegan donuts at Whole Foods and we vowed the day we got married to always run together!

I have a tattoo on my leg.

When 9/11 happened I decided to join the US Marine Corps because I wanted to help out. I found myself in Quantico, Virginia for Officer Candidates School and absolutely loved the physical fitness, discipline and camaraderie that developed during those ten weeks. I however decided the military was not for me, I joined already having my teaching credential and felt teaching was my path. I declined my commission, flew home to California and found a teaching job the very next day. Fate. 

I shaved my legs for about eight years when I was a cyclist, not anymore though.

I don’t eat meat, I LOVE coffee first thing in the morning and my wife doesn’t like to cook - but I do so it works out great!

I’ve traveled to South America and all over Europe. For my 30th birthday I really wanted to do something big and hiked 500 kilometers through the French Alps. It took twenty three days and I met the most amazing people, I’d love to do it again for my 40th but am not sure it’ll work because now I’m married and have two kids.

Twitter has changed my life as an educator. I would have left education many years ago if I hadn’t found my ‘people’ and connected. Twitter is how Todd and I connected and started Kids Deserve It. Put yourself out there, connect with others, lean on those #edupeeps that will get you through those tough times that we all experience. 

I have a sign in my office that my dad gave me before he died from cancer. It says ‘Work Hard and Be Nice To People!’ He got it from a museum in London and I will always have it hung in my office, it speaks volumes and holds so many truths in my life. 

I really want to compete in a 24 hour mountain bike race, I mentioned this to my wife and she looked at me crazy. At least I dropped the seed to her, hopefully next year I can make it happen, I think it would be epic to ride a bike for 24 hours straight!

I was in Vail, Colorado with my buddy like one month before I met my wife and bought some cowboy boots, I’m not a cowboy but they’re super cool. We walked into the shop and they offered us PBR, so two hours later I rolled out $700 lighter, it’s all good, they’re fun to wear now and then.

This is my wife, she’s amazing, I’m so grateful I didn’t settle until I met her. She definitely does complete me, we’re an amazing team together!

One morning on the way to work I had an idea, start a Voxer group of Principals that I’m connected with around the country and talk about our jobs as leaders. Be bold, have fun, do things at school that make kids smile and show that you care about them. This is the picture I tweeted of myself going down the slide, this photo started #PrincipalsInAction. The hashtag has been featured in the NAESP magazine multiple times, if you’re a Principal you better be having fun with kids!

I first started blogging when I was 26. I sold my car and wanted to go an entire year just riding my bike to work and around and blogging about it all. It lasted four months, public transportation in the bay area is really bad, I failed. I’ve blogged since for EdWeek, NAESP, Brooks Running, ACSA, EdTech Magazine, hopefully LuLulemon soon and many other publications as well. Start a blog and write, do it for yourself, if people read it that’s great, but write for yourself - it’s awesome therapy as well.

I believe we’re too comfortable in 2016. At first my wife thought I was a little crazy when I said this. I think at times we should be cold, hungry, tired, inconvenienced, and anything else that’s uncomfortable. I wish there was a way to go back in time and live 100 years ago, they had it tough, we have no idea. Would make us appreciate what we have and not complain so much, that’s just how I feel. 

That’s all - just wanted to write a little about me, hope you enjoyed reading!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

You Decide - We Must Help Them Decide!

22,000,000+ views in just two days - you decide! 

Make sure to watch the entire clip!

My wife and I have talked about this a lot since having children actually. We don't have any say, our kids didn't have any say - you're born and that's the way it goes.

So kids really aren't in charge of their story and how it begins. As educators though we can help them write their own story, help them with the details and push them towards an ending!

The biggest problem is that lots of kids don't know what to decide. There isn't a menu in life that says....

"Here's what you can be and here's how to make it happen!"

Behind every name in that video (Neymar Jr, Serena Williams, Lebron James, Zhouqi, Mo Farah) there was someone who believed in them, pushed them, molded them, sacrificed for them, taught them and helped them to decide their own outcome. But they had someone. 

All of our kids don't have someone.

I've worked at schools where we had career day - I don't think it's enough. Does every school even do a career day? One week during the year when a few parents come to talk with the class, and usually it was in Kindergarten. Police Officer, Fire Fighter, Nurse, etc........we need to do more, we can do more, our kids deserve us to do more. How about all the careers that just got invented, are those being represented?

Instead of college and career counselors, how about a 'What Your Future Can Be' class. The syllabus can be......

"Here's what you can be and here's how we can help you to make it happen!"

Life isn't fair for some kids, but we can help turn that around. We must help turn that around, that's our business!
The world can be messed up, but it's our job as educators to provide a safe, fun, nurturing, supportive, encouraging environment to make it happen for kids!
Let's help kids decide how their story ends, let's help them write the next chapter, let's make it a bestseller, let's make those dreams happen, let's create memories they'll never forget, let's make life better for them than when it started.

We See So Much More

This post is co-written with three amazing Principal friends of mine - 

Lindsy @lmstump - Kas @kasnelson  - Jessica @JessicaCabeen

All four of us are educational leaders, we all have a spouse, children of our own and are very connected with social media in our personal lives and for work.

Being connected is amazing, but when we spend more time unplugged, we see so much more, your kids will see you more - and those little magic moments that happen won't slip away, they'll be captured. They won't be captured on your phone, for Facebook or Instagram, but imprinted in your memory. 

It’s really up to us. Nobody is telling us what to do. The social pressure is real, it’s there, we can feel it, we see it and it’s so easy to give in. But when we make the choice, we see so much more - and our kids experience more with us!

At the end of our years will we look back and say “wow I wish I would have emailed more?”....probably not. Work will always be there-but our families will grow up and be out on their own so the time we have with them is precious and shorter than we really know. The #KidsDerserveIt Challenge really made us stop and think seriously about what and how we are spending our time while transitioning back into the business of school and really wanting to balance home and work much better than the year before.  

Lindsy Stumpenhorst @lmstump -

It has been a busy summer and I found it difficult to balance my whole family’s day without the set schedule that the school year provides. As the summer progressed the batteries of our ipads, ipods, and macbooks were draining faster and faster. When I saw Adam Welcome’s video with his daughter stating challenge 5 for #kidsdeserveit I had no hesitation to accept.

This weekend I took a day and was disconnected while my family went on a day trip to Lake Michigan. I felt such renewal that I decided my 1st grader and 4th grader were going to follow in my footsteps and have a disconnected day as well!  Monday morning, when they both woke up, I collected their devices. This was an actual conversation between my technology dependent son and I around 9:00am (please don’t judge me)...
Cole - “My brain is hurting from not being able to have screen time.”
Me - “That is probably your brain trying to regenerate from the mush I’ve allowed it to become.”

The following is a summary of a conversation that I had with that same child around 7:00pm…

Me - “How do think today went?”
Cole - “It was really hard because I feel like electronic devices are used so much that I am dependent on them and it’s hard for me to get away.
Me - “What have you learned?”
Cole - “I’ve learned that even if I’m not playing an electronic game like “minecraft”, which expands my creativity - I can expand my creativity in the real world instead of starring at a screen.
Me - “What would you tell someone if they asked what you did today?”
Cole - “Today I was disconnected, because my mom told me I had to be, and I built a super-amazing multi-purpose rocket launcher. I think I was used to being on my ipad when I was bored so I was magnetized to it. You know when you pull apart a magnet, that’s what kind of happened to me - the ipad and me were stuck together, and then when my mom pulled us apart we lost our magnetism.”

Me - “Anything else?”

Cole - “You don’t always have to be on a game to be creative, learn new things, or pass time - today I built cool stuff, read a chapters, painted, swam, and spent time with my family (I may also have been annoyed a few times, but I got over it).”

FullSizeRender 3.jpgFullSizeRender 4.jpg

A disconnected day was recharging. Observing my kids doing the same, powerfully reminded me about the importance of balance - practice it, model it, encourage it.

Kas Nelson @kasnelson - This weekend, my husband and I had planned a get-away with our kids because we didn't take much of a vacay and we’d promised them a water park all summer. I wasn't really planning to go “device-less” because, well, (don't judge) I am almost physically attached to my phone. Going on a mini-vacay so, of course, my phone is going everywhere I do. Except that it didn't. Our first stop was the water park, and I'll admit, I took my phone in. However, I tried to limit myself to only checking the time, but I “slipped” and (I took 2 pics of my kids).

We had a great time, and after guilting myself about getting my phone out to take pictures, I decided I didn't need pictures of every moment. See, I was missing precious moments with my children because I was so worried about capturing their best smiles, favorite activity or moments together. I admit, I did take one more family-selfie that night at the movies. (Is there a hashtag for weaning yourself off your phone? #justonemorepicture)

Then, the next day we did a lot of shopping and running around the city, laughing, kids pestering each other...being a family - and no thought of my phone (other than my littlest guy exclaiming “Mom, watch this! Get a picture of me!” And then I got to tell him that even though I didn't have my phone out, I took a picture of him with my eyes (blinked like a camera shutter) and have it stored right here. (Pointing to my heart.) ❤️ At our last meal before heading home, I didn't even take my phone into the restaurant. When my kiddos didn't see my phone: Mom, where’s your phone? Did you lose it? Me: Nope, I didn't even bring it in.

What followed was a priceless look of complete astonishment on their faces. Then, I could see their expressions change as if to say, “we” are important to Mom. That hit me like a ton of bricks. How could I have let tech take center-stage, and make my children feel like I don't pay attention or value them as much? Never again.

My 3 take-always from spending a few days with limited access to my phone and devices:

1.Being unplugged was reviving. It was almost a relief to not feel the need to check email or anything school related. It was as if a ton of bricks was lifted for those few short days.
2. I believe I can do a better job of “unplugging” on a daily basis. I MUST set aside time to put the phone away and focus on my family. My family deserves it, and I deserve it. I hope I can keep the focus on them this school year, even when things get hectic and demanding at school.
3. Even though turning my phone off allowed me to be more present in the moment and savor my time with my family, the rest of my family did not turn their devices off. So now that I've modeled this for my kids, I want them to appreciate our experiences together. I want them to see that the value of relationships far outweighs any game, app or number of likes on an Instagram post. Because of this, I think a family unplugged day is going to be happening soon in the Nelson household!

Jessica Cabeen @JessicaCabeen

Unplugging with two boys who are in that ‘tween’ age really helped me to remember that I need to model a balance of tech and family time for them as well.  This weekend we traveled to Iowa  where my husband grew up for a class reunion.  One of my favorite activities of the weekend was a spontaneous walk from our hotel to a diner for milkshakes and french fries.  Instead of playing on our phones (or mom checking her email) we read a chapter from the book “The Ninth Ward”  by Jewell Parker Rhodes (thanks Todd for the recommendation).  We have started this read aloud as part of our evening routine and now they even ask for it!  Trust me when boys hit 10 and 11 they don’t ask for much from their mom so when they it and right away.  


Part of finding that balance is taking time for yourself as well.  The next am while everyone was sleeping in-I put my headphones on and my music and I started running.  I ended up running by my old apartment, the school I worked at and where we were married.  It was such a great quiet time to unplug and relax without demands from anyone-I even told my @Voxer group I ran further than I had planned because I was just having fun. This challenge reminded me that before all the other titles that I have on my email signature-wife and mom always come first.

Rain run through old stomping ground.  Wedding Bridge.  #principalinbalance.jpg

I’m ok if I don’t have a photo of everything, it’s kind of stressful if you try to make that happen. Just last Sunday it was just me and my kids because my wife was at a work. We started the morning at my old school where I was Principal. John Swett will always be a special place for me because I was a student at the school and very recently the Principal.

I brought my phone with me as the kids rode their bikes around and also played on the structure. Was I on my phone checking Twitter, Instagram and email - for sure I was. Was I also paying attention to my kids and helping them with the monkey bars and such - I was. Was I missing small moments because I was on my phone - unfortunately I was. Did I take a few fun photos and also a Boomerang while they were playing - I did.

Fast forward about thirty minutes later and we were playing at my friends school in our hometown. They have some really nice shaded play structures and this time I left my phone in the car - and I’m so glad I did.

I didn’t have any distractions, it was me and my two children 100% of the time. We talked more, played more together, my eyeballs were on them the entire time. When they called for me I looked right away, because I didn’t have my phone with me. Did I miss taking a few photos of fun things they were doing - I did. Do I regret not having those few photos now - not at all.

It didn’t really hit me until we were actually leaving the school. They were running through one of the halls and I stopped for some water at the fountain. It was almost 100 degrees on Sunday and they were super hot. As they walked to the fountain I sat down on a bench and watched them go. My older daughter grabbed my sons hand and they kind of skipped together, that moment positively made my day. And I would have missed it if I’d brought my phone, because instead of looking at them, I would have been looking somewhere else.

There are too many social media platforms to try and maintain in my personal life. I only signed up for Facebook last summer and I’m ready to sign-out. When my kids are 20 I won’t regret leaving my phone at home, or going airplane mode. I need to do it more and I will start doing it more - we see so much more without the distraction!

Thank you to Lindsy, Kas and Jessica for writing with me, we're better together for our kids and these ladies are awesome!

I recently wrote an article for Dot Complicated about being a Digital Dad, you can read it here.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Some Administrators You Should Follow Now!

Below are some administrators that I recommend you follow and connect with! Some I know personally and others only through social media. All of them deeply care about kids and doing what's best for them - thanks for all you do in education!

Charissa Cole @charissacole is an Elementary Principal in Alabama with tons of energy! You can read her blog here, and also connect with her on Voxer!

Tiawana Giles @TiawanaG is an Administrator in Virginia, she blogs here and is a leader who is student centered and someone I for sure want to connect with even more!

Jonathan Eagan @coacheagan is an Assistant Superintendent in my new district and has an amazing level of enthusiasm and as long as I've known him, ALWAYS makes decisions that are best for kids!

Darryl Adams @DrAdamsCVUSD is an awesome Superintendent that has been doing some amazing work in his district for a number of years! Check him out and see their Wi-Fi on school bus program, totally awesome!

Derek Reinhardt @ReinhardtDerek is a newer member to my PLN and right away I could tell he was someone great to connect with. Connect with Derek on Twitter and Voxer, he's motivated to do what's  best for kids!

Petra Luhrsen @pluhrsen will be starting her first year as an Elementary Principal after having served as an Assistant Principal. Petra is someone who I connect with often and has TONS of energy, puts kids first and is just an overall great person!

Rachael George @runnin26 is another newer member to my PLN and someone I can tell has lots of passion and energy in her work. You can read her blog here, and if you're in Oregon connect with her in person!

Emily Clare @EClare_AHS is a High School Principal in Pennsylvania and someone who I've connected with a lot on Voxer lately in multiple different groups. You can read her blog here, and Emily is also doing work with Re Think High School and I'm sure has some great resources!

Suleyma Moss @4mosss is starting her first year of Administration as an Assistant Principal and I'm expecting big things from her in the future. I actually met Suleyma when Todd and I were the keynote for a STEM conference and she won a poster that we gave away during a Twitter challenge. Connect with Suleyma, she totally cares about kids and has tons of passion!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Some Kids #KidsDeserveIt

Tomorrow is too late for some kids. It never happened yesterday for them and maybe they gave up hope. Some kids need us today, right now, this second!

Today is our chance to connect, to make an impact, to start building a relationship that may turn them around on a course of success or feeling like they belong.

Some kids in our schools feel really alone, like nobody cares about them, believes in them, notices them or maybe even knows their name.

Some kids didn't have breakfast this morning, or dinner last night - take this into consideration when they're grumpy at school in the morning.

Some kids don't have anyone at home that really cares about them, or talks to them, or shows any interest - take that into consideration when they're really excited to tell you about their latest project, maybe you can listen a little longer than normal and ask a few more questions!

Some kids didn't do their homework last night because they didn't have a pencil, they live in their car, their parents are away on business trips and the nanny isn't very nice to them, they don't want to re-copy the spelling test words three times and do a word search because that holds zero excitement for them, they want to be excited about their learning.

Some kids just need a high five, a hug, a hello, a bump, a handshake, for you to call them by name, 

For some kids success won't just happen, they won't just get lucky, they won't just go to college, they won't just build confidence in themselves, they won't just break the cycle their entire family has been in - they need us to help them along the way!

When I was a Principal it was very important to me that I knew every students name at my school. There were times when I'd call a student by name at lunch or even in class and this glow would come over them. 

"Mr. Welcome, you know my name!"

"Of course I know your name!"

"Oh my gosh, I didn't think you did."

From then on the attitude of that student changed, their glow was brighter, they walked taller, they worked harder, they smiled more - some kids need that in their lives to feel special. 

Shame on me as the Principal of a school that I didn't let them know.

Some kids need us more than others. Some kids need us in ways that have nothing to do with curriculum. Some kids need extra chances, multiple times - throughout the day. Some kids just want a smile, a hello, a friendly face they find comforting. Some kids need to be pushed, cajoled, inspired, held accountable and then congratulated on their efforts. 

Please celebrate our kids! Please celebrate all kids. Not just some kids - ALL kids, they deserve it!

Two of my favorite Kids Deserve It messages are below - please think about them as we begin to start another school year - you got this!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Who's Your Mentor

This post was co-written with Todd Schmidt. You can find his blog here.

Speaking of the late Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey said, “She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life.  Mentors are important, and I don’t think anybody makes it in the world without some form of mentorship.”

There are very few relationships that are as powerful as the mentor-mentee relationship.  We see them in history (Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.), in the Bible (the Queen of Sheba sought the wisdom of King Solomon), in literature (Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore), and in movies (Luke Skywalker and Yoda!)  Each of these relationships was based on trust, respect, and a desire on the mentee’s part to learn from and be more like the mentor.  In the mentee’s eyes, the mentor exemplified the person they hoped to be or be like someday.

What is a mentor?  What is their purpose? To push you? Help you grow? Find answers that you know are there but you just need guidance to discover? A sounding board? A pusher?

The value and importance of a mentor cannot be overstated.  Throughout our careers, we have actively sought mentors to make us better educators and better leaders.  It’s not always been the same mentor.  Sometimes you seek a mentor on where you are in your journey.  When I (Todd) first started teaching, first became an assistant principal, first became a principal, I actively sought out a mentor who could help me, challenge me, encourage me, and support me.  P.S.  A big thank you to Shelley Moss (my master teacher when I did my student teaching), Dr. Mark Johnson (who modeled the way to be an AP before I became one), and Erin Kominsky (one of the greatest principals I have ever known) for willingly being mentors to me in key stages of my educational career.  Their wisdom, insight, and advice was instrumental in making me the teacher, educator, and leader that I am today.

Sometimes mentors present themselves when you least suspect it.  Such is the case with a current mentor, Dr. Joe Sanfelippo, the Superintendent of the Fall Creek School District in Fall Creek, WI.  He and I met last November at the Admin CUE Rockstar Camp in Northern California.  Although I had followed him on social media, when you meet Joe, it is an entirely different experience.  Joe understands the power of telling your school or district’s story before someone else does.  He has taken a small district in Wisconsin and made it a model for the entire country.  

More than anything, Joe walks the walk.  He advocates for student choice and student voice.  He believes in celebrating your community and your staff.  He is a master of social media and branding.  In short, Fall Creek is a place people WANT to be.  For all his success, Joe does not take himself too seriously.  He’s funny, genuine, innovative, and short, he is the type of leader and friend that I strive to be.  Despite being in opposite parts of the country, we stay connected via Twitter, Voxer, and Facebook, and he is always available to ask a question or get some advice.  We’ve managed to hang out in person three times this year, and each time is awesome!  So many of the things I have implemented at my school site have come from Joe (who also freely admits that he borrows ideas from other innovative educators and leaders).  I also greatly admire his dedication to his family and his friends...and you can see he works at creating a balance of being a dad, husband, superintendent, friend, and educational leader.  I am blessed to know him, learn from him, and call him a dear friend.

I (Adam) have always had multiple mentors at the same time throughout my life. In the moment I probably didn’t realize it, but years later when you’re reflecting on a journey or time in your life those people really come to the surface.

During my one year at junior college there was a child development professor who I would say really saved my educational career. I was floundering, playing baseball for the college, working on my 1959 Chevy hot rod and really not sure what I was doing or where I wanted to go! A few engaging conversations and Susan really showed that she cared about me and my path in life. Fast forward almost twenty years and Susan is still a dear friend, and still a mentor on many levels! Susan kept me in college, she helped me transfer to a four-year university and when I was eighteen years old and without a plan - she also really believed in me!

The two biggest mentors in my professional career as a teacher, Assistant Principal, Principal and now Director of Innovation have been my dad and Peter DeWitt. My dad taught 2nd and 3rd grade for 35+ years and I have such vivid memories of growing up in his classroom. Visiting on days when I didn’t have school or when I was too young to have even started school yet. My dad taught in Richmond which was very different from where we lived and I grew up. That experience of visiting his classroom has really served me well in life and my career. The biggest mentorship piece that I’ve taken from my dad is that we must be kind to ALL kids. You never know a child’s story, what they’re going through, if they ate breakfast that morning or even dinner last night - only kind words allowed at all times!

Peter DeWitt came into my life at a time when I probably didn’t have time for another mentor but really needed one. It was the first year of my Principalship and Peter and I connected through the SAVMP program. We instantly hit it off and have some personal things in common which I feel made our relationship even stronger. Peter told me to blog - blog and blog some more!

“Adam, you need to develop your blog and write what you’re passionate about!”

I’d blogged for years before but it was intermittent and looking back I can see that it lacked passion. Peter has guided me through many different professional decisions, blogging and I will forever be indebted to his knowledge, kindness, advice, friendship and ability to help me talk through decisions!

So where do we go from here?  A few ideas...

  1. It can be hard to ‘find’ a mentor without feeling forced sometimes. Take a step back and look at who is already in your life personally or professionally. Is there someone you can ‘adopt’ as your mentor without having to find someone new?
  2. Where are you struggling to make decisions? What’s a challenge for you? Find those growth areas and then a mentor that can help support you moving to the next level and making positive decisions!
  3. Taking the time to build a PLN can open you up to some incredible educators.  Using Voxer and Twitter has allowed both of us to connect and learn from innovative, collaborative, like-minded professionals who want to share with and support others.
  4. Take advantage of programs like the School Administrator Virtual Mentor Program (SAVMP).  Both of us have been mentors to other educators that are located in different parts of the country.  While face-to-face is ideal, it shouldn’t limit you to seeking a mentor.  It does, however, make that first in-person meeting that much cooler!   

One last piece of advice...when you do find a mentor, have fun with the process.  Yes, your thinking should be challenged and you will have to try things that will put you out of your comfort-zone, but embrace the opportunity.  Laugh a lot.  Share your struggles and take time to reflect.  Be present and engaged...because you never know when you will one day go from being the mentee to being the mentor, and you will have the opportunity to give to someone what your mentor gave to you.  Take it from Steph Curry and President Obama…