A New Mantra for Mindset

I’ve been searching for a way to deepen the connection of Student Academics, Interests, and Mindset so that we can make shifts in our school culture to support students even better. Taking the time to think deeply about this has helped me create a vision for the direction I’d like to go in and it has to do with connecting Interests and Mindset in support of Academics.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to watch Rick Miller’s thought-provoking Ted Talk called “Kids at Hope” where he argues that we need to think of kids at hope rather than kids at risk. Miller believes that Hope is a skill, like reading and writing, that needs to be taught. He described the process of having children imagine the life they want to live in the future – the kind of job they want, if they will have a family, what interests they want to have, and how they want to give back to their community – and then having the child travel back in time to the present to begin connecting the work they do now to where they want to go in the future.

I was blown away by the “simplexity” of this approach. It seems so simple to implement, but that notion doesn’t recognize the complexity of teaching students Hope. Miller emphasizes that the adults who teach students and would also be in charge of teaching students Hope and questions if that’s possible if we adults aren’t hopeful ourselves.

A couple of weeks later I revisited the book The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, by George Couros. I like returning to this great read from time to time — I speaks to my philosophy of teaching, learning and leading. I ended up coming across a YouTube video of Couros talking about the Innovator’s Mindset and one line he shared really stuck with me.

Couros said that the Innovator’s Mindset takes Growth Mindset to a whole different level. He said that we need to teach children to think, “Not only will I learn how to do this, but I am going to create something new with this new knowledge”.

And just like that, I started to see how Academics, Interests and Mindset all work together in a deep way that will help students succeed. If our mantra is “I am going to learn this and then create something new with this new knowledge”, we are unleashing a growth mindset, creativity, perseverance, and interests-based learning for our students. Connect this approach with Rick Miller’s approach to teaching Hope and I think we have a instructional approach that would help us help students achieve more and help them develop the thinking skills they need in order to be successful.

I want to continue to develop this concept to help make it more concrete so that I can hopefully help others see this vision for teaching and learning. Let me know what you think – I’d love to have your feedback!

Have a GREAT week! Here’s the Staff Update for this week.


You’ve got to listen to lead.

Niequist quote

The past 4 weeks have been challenging for me as a principal.

I was missing some signals from some of my staff members, signals that would have tipped me off that there was something that was bothering them.

I wasn’t able to respond to change the way I would like to and I ended up realizing this when it was too late. I asked around, “I’m sensing that people are upset”. It turned out from what I could piece together that a handful of people were, but I took it as a bigger sign that I needed to adjust.

So, I set up 26 hours worth of 30-minute appointment times where people could come and talk with me. I had no agenda other than to listen. Most people just wanted to run an idea or two past me. A couple of others wanted to share what was bothering them about things that had been going on in the building.

The result was a strange mix of exhaustion and elation. I work with incredibly smart people, and these conversations reaffirmed that. I was exhausted from hearing all of these great ideas and then thinking about how they might benefit the students in our building. But this was the source of my elation as well.

I was elated because listening allowed me to lead. I felt more in tune with what is going on in the building and, best of all, I was able to connect with the people I care about and who I serve.

My biggest takeaway was that this dip in our culture was all on me, but I wasn’t going to stop me from engaging with others to find solutions. It wasn’t going to stop me from caring and I chose not to blame, complain or defend my actions and chose instead to work on ways to communicate better. I drew strength from my family, my faith, and from reminding myself of my core values that kids come first even if it upsets the adults. I had to keep my ego in check when I heard about some of the things a couple of folks were saying or even a nickname a group had given me. I chose to do the same thing I do for the kids I serve who need extra assistance and asked, “What’s really going on here?”.

Teachers and administrators face this same challenge throughout the school year – The challenge of having our culture eroded by leadership missteps, negativity or misunderstanding. It is up to each of us to reflect when this happens, to choose to listen, and to make our decisions based on how we can keep our culture growing strong.

Have a GREAT week! Here’s the ADE Staff Update.

Out of alignment

I have been a regular runner for about six years. I love running for too many reasons to list, but recently I have needed to back off because I have broken an exercise rule and now I’m paying for it. The rule that fitness experts share is “listen to your body”. I was ignoring that rule and trying to fight through lower back pain. When I was having trouble getting up from sitting and not being able to sleep because of the pain, it was time for me to pause and figure things out.

My wife scheduled an appointment at a chiropractor and after reviewing a head to toe X-ray, it was pretty clear I needed to fix some alignment issues I have if I wanted to get back to running.

“No running for awhile until we get through some work” was what the doctor ordered. It is frustrating because I keep thinking about what I want to do instead of focusing on what I need to do. That’s the battle of a teacher too – Having to focus on what you need to do instead of what you want to do. And it can be frustrating especially if things aren’t moving along at the speed you want it too.

I remember trying to get my 4th graders to be flexible with numbers in order to solve problems and being frustrated at the lack of progress I was making with them. The reason for the lack of progress was that there were many gaps in their understanding of how numbers work. I had to shift my focus from what I wanted them to do to what they needed. It took a long time working together with my students, but we were adjusting something seemingly small that needed to be adjusted before we could get to bigger tasks.

Life has given me another reminder that it’s ok to take a step back and focus on something smaller in the short term in order to eventually get to where you want to be.

Have a great week! Here’s the Staff Update.

Compassion keeps us moving forward.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

To be given an opportunity to make a difference is a wonderful gift. On King Day, we are reminded that the willingness to do what’s right even when it’s difficult will always always worthwhile.

We are reminded that even the simplest of acts of kindness, bravery, and compassion for a fellow human being truly do make the world a better place and to get us closer to the Dream.

Every day is a gift to do something that makes a difference in the life of another person. We get to teach the next generation to be thinkers, dreamers, creators, and problem-solvers. If that doesn’t motivate you to keep moving forward despite the challenges we may face, I don’t know what will.

I love the passionate plea to do more for impoverished people in our country from a 5th grader who spoke at a King celebration yesterday shown in the clip below. I am inspired by her compassion for others and her desire to keep moving forward on solving the problem of poverty.

Have a GREAT week! Here is the staff update for this short week!


This might not work

My go-to book for a good kick in the pants motivation is Seth Godin’s What To Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn) (2014).

Almost every page is a reminder that the opportunity to change or to do something different to make our vision happen is right now.

Godin reminds us in every vignette that we don’t need to wait to be picked. We don’t have to wait until it’s our turn. We make change happen through our own actions whenever we are ready.

In an entry from the book is called “The fear of stupidity”, Godin suggests that our fear of feeling stupid keeps us from wanting to change.

“Change, of course, makes everyone feel stupid because change breaks all the old rules, inventing new ones, rules we don’t know (yet).”

To illustrate, Godin created this: Change —> Stupid —> Afraid.

He suggests we skip the last part and to not be afraid of not knowing. Embrace that moment when you feel stupid because that’s the moment when learning takes place.

One of the most consistent behaviors I have seen as a principal is the desire to just be told what to do or to have something that tells you what to do. However, there aren’t many things that we have accomplished where we were told what to do first. I am amazed at how we often undersell our own abilities. Almost always the success came from working together to forge a new way forward.

Mistakes will be made and feeling stupid will be inevitable, but that shouldn’t stop us from moving forward. It also shouldn’t stop you from acting on the idea you have either.

There is no “turn” to wait for. Start working to make it happen.

Have a great week! Here’s the Staff Update.

We find what we seek

The hardest part of every run or race I have done is pushing back against the desire to give in to fatigue when I know the run or the race is almost over.

I learned that I had to do extra positive self-talk before the midpoint of the run if I was going to be able to keep smiling at the finish line.

But the reverse has been true too — If I was thinking about everything that was going wrong with my run or if I was thinking “when is this going to be over?” the whole time, I performed worse than expected.

This is the time of the school year when we need to turn up the volume on positive self-talk because we know a long break is just around the corner.

This is when we look for excuses instead of what is going well and instead of focusing on finishing the race strong.

This is the perfect time to remind ourselves that we find what we are looking for — Look for the good and you will find the good! Stay strong!

Have a great week — Here’s the Staff Update!


Here’s my mid-year review

Seth Godin’s recent blog post, “Your soft skills inventory”, is a timely one for me. Godin’s take in this post is that the annual review is basically a waste of time:

“It’s not particularly useful for employee or boss, it’s stressful and it doesn’t happen often enough to make much of an impact.”

Instead, Godin suggests reflecting on a set of questions that, if answered truthfully, will likely lead to a better review and will also help you set goals to improve.

Over the last three years, I’ve created a mid-year feedback as a principal for my staff to use to give me feedback. The results have been mixed. I’m not saying I didn’t like the feedback. For those who participated, it was helpful overall. But not everyone participated or took me up on the chance to meet to give me feedback and it made me wonder if I was truly capturing what I needed to.

So I’m trying something else instead. I have thought about and responded to the questions Godin lists in his post. It is my attempt to lead a self-reflection exercise that I think will help me and others get better.

So, here is my mid-year review…


What am I better at?

I’m budgeting my time better, resulting in more of a balance between work and life. I’ve said no to things or events that would have taken me away from seeing my kids at their sporting event or school activity.

I also feel like I’m better at managing my emotions in the heat of the moment. It’s hard because I want to be helpful, decisive, and lead when someone is in need of help or direction. But I can’t make everyone’s priority my priority. When I don’t take action right away, I’ve got a reason and it’s probably something more pressing than the issue someone else is bringing to me. I’ve had to get used to letting people down, and that’s hard. But if I am putting kids first, that’s going to happen.


Have I asked a difficult question lately?

Yes. Many times recently. I’ve asked questions about district policies and decisions. I’ve asked staff members to “help me understand” when I thought they weren’t acting in the best interest of students.

It’s a fine balance and timing is everything. My experience with asking questions so far has helped me understand that most people I direct my question towards gets defensive and take it as I am taking a stand when really I’m just seeking clarity. This makes me wonder how often I am doing the same.


Do people trust me more than they did?

I think so. My hesitation tells me that I still need to stay focused on building trust. The teachers I work with seem more willing to ask questions, pitch ideas, and seek clarity from me. There were times in years past when it seemed most staff members were speculating and/or grumbling instead of just talking with me.


Is my list of insightful, useful and frightening stats about my work, my budgets and my challenges complete? And have I shared it with someone I trust?

I work hard to gather information, data and other stats on student achievement and progress and I put it out there for others to see and think about. How can we help children learn and grow if we aren’t looking at data and honestly reflecting and asking questions to get better?


Who have I developed?

This I’ll keep private, but I hope those who I have worked with closely or those who I’ve had to have tough conversations with feel like they have been supported. Developing others isn’t just about mentoring a person or two. For me, it’s about creating a work culture where everyone has opportunities to make decisions that influence the direction of where we are going. Building that culture has been the most time consuming aspect of my position, but it has also been the most rewarding.


Have I had any significant failures (learning opportunities) lately, and what have I learned?

I have failed at keeping my focus on maintaining the ties between us and Darby Creek. We have sort of returned to our silos to execute the vision we built together. This continues to be a huge opportunity that can lead us to re-imagining the elementary experience.


What predictions have I made that have come to pass? Am I better at seeing what’s going to happen next?

I’ve gotten better at not having knee-jerk reactions to new policies or crises. I’ve learned that most of the time, the urgency of these things is overinflated. I’ve also learned that part of my job is to shield my teachers from things that others think is urgent because the urgency is usually overinflated. I feel like this helps my teachers and staff stay focused on what’s important and in their control.

Am I more likely to be leading or following?

Leading. I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to this work. It’s the teacher in me. I never liked being told what to do and I lead with that in mind. I’ll follow if I agree it’s best for kids. Otherwise, I’m on a mission.

I’m feeling pretty good about my progress growing in this role. However, I have so much more work to do. Building trust, communication, and being brave continue to be things I think about when I reflect.

I hope you take the time to think about these questions too.

Have a great week! Here’s the Staff Update!