Sunday, December 13, 2015

Student Voice: The Possibilities are Endless

It was great to see how the #LeadLAP crew took time to promote shared leadership from our last challenge! This week, we continue the theme of sharing the enthusiasm of what is happening in our schools, but challenge you to turn the reins over to your students. How can our number one stakeholders help tell the stories of learning from their perspective?

I had the chance to get a jumpstart on this challenge last week by creating a school blog that will consist of posts from our students, staff and parents. It is a work in progress, but you can check it out here: Shelley inspired this idea as she shared how she had created a similar blog at the district level when she served as an assistant superintendent. What better voice to tell the story of our schools?

Shelley and I now challenge you to think of how this could become a reality at your district, school or classroom. What forms of communication are you already using? How could your students take ownership in this current practice? Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are social media tools we use to share our story with our community. The posting has primarily been by our tech teacher and myself. We are now brainstorming to figure out how we can have guest student contributors. Something else we are going to do at our school is ask our students how they would like to share the story of their learning with the public. The possibilities are endless! Please share your ideas and implementation in action all week on #LeadLAP. We cannot wait to see the creativity from our #LeadLAP crew!

Have a great week!
Beth and Shelley

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Creating the Ripple

Last Monday morning I was fired up and ready to immerse myself into our first enthusiasm challenge. (If you missed it, check it out here: I couldn't wait to start taking pictures and capturing moments of awesomeness throughout our school. I got my raincoat on, grabbed an umbrella and headed out to greet our students from a long Thanksgiving break. Apparently, my enthusiasm got the best of me, because the next thing I knew, I had fallen from the top to the bottom of our concrete steps to our parking lot. FYI...Pirates cannot fly. As I laid there, trying to keep my cool in front of our arriving students, their parents and our staff, I made a huge realization....I can't do it all alone. As I clung to a colleague to get into the building, my only thoughts were about how I was going to get around the building and take care of others.  This same feeling of guilt continued all week as others took on my supervising roles and extra duties. Looking back now, I realize that to be a truly effective leader, I have to let others help support me. And you know what, when you take time to build the capacity and shared leadership in your staff, they will go above and beyond to do it. 

The leader also cannot be the only person telling the story of our schools. There are so many other rich perspectives from our students, families and staff that we want to honor and share. Our remaining two enthusiasm challenges for December will focus on inspiring others to share the story of your school. For this week, we challenge you to start with your staff. How can you (or have you) built a culture in your building to systematically and enthusiastically share the awesome happening in your classrooms each day? Start a school Instagram, Facebook, Twitter account or hashtag. Create a Twitter Challenge with your staff to tweet out the amazing happening throughout your building. Contact the local newspaper to come to a classroom that has something special happening this week. Or, honor the voice and choice of your staff to come up with ideas that they think would be best. There are so many different ways to share the awesome with your stakeholders, so find the way that works best for your school and share your reflections on the challenge all week to #LeadLAP. We've changed our chat format to an all week slowchat instead of once a week. Shelley and I can't wait to read about how you are empowering others to share the story of your school. 

Have a GREAT week!
Beth and Shelley

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rest...Like a PIRATE!

For the past six weeks, Shelley Burgess (@Burgess_Shelley) and I have been throwing out challenges for leaders to bring focus to our work with our staff and students through ANCHOR conversations. These challenges have asked us to:

  • Be intentional in showing appreciation of those we work with each day. 
  • Notice the impact of what the educators choose to implement with our students in classrooms. 
  • Have collaborative conversations after observations with more listening and less talking.
  • Honor voice and choice in ideas generated by teachers. 
  • Offer non-evaluative support to our staff as they try new strategies or take new risks.
  • Reflect daily on our practice so that we are always getting better at what we do.
It has been truly incredible to see the amazing things happening in schools through these weekly challenges. The dedication of the #LeadLAP community to our mission of creating schools that students and staff are running to get INTO rather than out is truly inspirational. The pictures, resources and ideas shared on the hashtag have been creative sparks to so many. Thank you so much for being relentless in your journey to excellence in education! 
You have been so busy leading, learning and teaching like PIRATEs, our challenge for this week is to take time to REST like a PIRATE! We PIRATE-types tend to never stop. We are on the go at all times, both our bodies and our brains. This week, we are challenging you to slow it down (a little) and shift your thoughts to YOU and your family instead of all the others you serve on a daily basis. Take a moment to invest in one or more of the following and tell us about it on the #LeadLAP hashtag. 

P is for Passion:  What is something you are personally passionate about? Your family? A hobby? Devote time to your personal passions this week. 
I is for Immersion: Immerse yourself in YOU! I know this sounds selfish, but take time for YOU instead of giving it all to others. Get that massage you've been putting off. Go watch a movie you've wanted to see. 
R is for Rapport: Connect with a family member or friend you've been missing. Take time to build rapport with someone you've neglected. And's okay if that person is YOU! 
A is for Ask and Analyze: Make a conscious effort to ask yourself each day if you've taken a few moments for you. Analyze the impact of what even 5 minutes of refocusing does for your practice. 
T is for Transformation: How can you transform your current schedule so that you are able to allow for more time recharging, relaxing and resting so you can be more effective as a leader? If you haven't read The Zen Teacher by my favorite #ZenPirate Dan Tricarico, it may be a good place to get ideas.
E is for Enthusiasm: How can you bring more enthusiasm to your life outside of school. This is a very personal goal for me. This year especially has required much longer hours at school. My own two boys tend to get what is left of me instead of the best of me. That has to change. They deserve as much if not more of my enthusiasm each and every day. For me, this means I am going to need to do a better job of eating right and exercising which always brings up my energy levels!

Leading like a PIRATE can be exhausting. Shelley and I can't wait to hear about how you are taking time for yourself this week. We've decided to hold off on a weekly chat time and do more of a slow chat all week long on the hashtag. Please post your ideas on how to Rest Like a PIRATE whenever it works for you throughout the week. The hashtag is also a great place to share resources, pictures and other ideas to support other educators. Thank YOU so much for all you do to make the world a better place! Have a FABULOUS week and a great Thanksgiving! 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Week 4 #LeadLAP Challenge: Honor Voice and Choice and Offer Support

Week 4 #LeadLAP Challenge: Honor Voice and Choice and Offer Support

This week's challenge is definitely the one that I make an effort to improve upon each day; honoring voice and choice from others. As leaders, we are conditioned to believe that we have to immediately have the answers to the questions asked by students, teachers, parents and community members. We go into fix-mode instead of brainstorm-mode. As Shelley mentioned in our first challenge, 

"Too often observations and feedback come across as evaluative and judgmental leaving teachers with a feeling that we are in their classrooms to “fix” them as opposed to partnering with them on a continuous journey of learning and growth for all of us.  The overly judgmental “telling” conversations can temporarily lead to teacher compliance, but they rarely lead to a culture where everyone is committed to taking risks and trying new things and where people are hungry for feedback to help them learn and grow."

This week, we challenge you to take time to Honor the voice and choice of those that you lead and then Offer the support needed to make these ideas a reality. 

  1. Identify a teacher that has shown an interest in trying something new in his/her classroom from your collaborative conversation last week. 
  2. Drop the ANCHOR of appreciation and notice the Impact with the teacher.
  3. Honor the voice and choice of the idea that the teacher has generated.
  4. Offer your support and of course your PIRATE enthusiasm for the anticipation of what positive effect this could have on the learning of students. It's amazing how an idea mixed with the right amount of enthusiasm can literally cause a learning EXPLOSION! 
  5. Be sure that you also honor the voice and choice of what support is needed. Most often, the support needed is an extra hand in the classroom, a listening ear or a brainstorm buddy, but don't steamroll the teacher with your ideas. 
  6. Follow through with your support each day. 

For example, I have a math teacher that is wanting to explore differentiated instruction and assessment at a deeper level after our collaborative conversation last week. She has a few different strategies that she researched and now would like to try with students that are struggling to master grade level objectives. I have encouraged her to choose what she feels will best work with her students and to let me know how I can support her as she implements these strategies. She would like me to help identify resources to use and lend a hand in the classroom when she begins to implement these strategies with our students. I can't wait!!

Cannonballs to Avoid:

  • It is essential that when honoring voice and choice that the ideas are teacher-driven. It's okay to brainstorm together, but the ownership must be with the teacher.
  • When offering support, be sure that your classroom visits are non-evaluative. This is not the time for a formal observation. Teachers will not feel comfortable taking risks if we do not set up an environment that is safe.

PIRATE Disclaimer: 
Something we've been asked as we have gone through the weekly challenges is whether ANCHOR works for all conversations with staff. The answer to that is not always. There are times when the conversation must be centered differently due to specific, focused concerns. Don't worry though, we also have a tool that we will share soon to help support you with these conversations. You won't have to walk the PLANK alone!

Shelley and I look forward to hearing all about the great things happening in your schools! What an awesome opportunity as leaders to stay rooted in the classroom. Please share your story throughout the week on our #LeadLAP hashtag. We will also take time to reflect this Friday from 7:30-8:00 CST on our #LeadLAP chat. Have a great week! 

Check out past challenges at the following links:
A is for Appreciation
Shelley's Blog:

Beth's Blog: 

N is for Notice the Impact
Shelley's Blog: 

C is for Collaborative Conversations
Shelley's Blog:

Beth's Blog:

Sunday, November 1, 2015

C is for Collaborative Conversations

The past two weeks, the #LeadLAP challenges have helped me to slow down and analyze my actions as a leader. I have made a conscious effort take time to appreciate those around me and notice the impact of the work that is being done in our school. The choices we make each day continually affect the culture in our buildings. Our actions combined with body language, word choice, and presence truly makes a difference. 

Sometimes as leaders we get so busy trying to take care of everything happening in our buildings that we forget to truly sit down and listen from the experts right in front of us.  This week, Shelley Burgess (@Burgess_Shelley) and I continue our ANCHOR challenge with "C is for Collaborative Conversations." Shelley has done a beautiful job of outlining the challenge in her blog I extend the challenge to my PLN. You do not have to be in an administrative position to join us. This week's challenge could be especially powerful when conferencing with students. I'm actually challenging myself to have collaborative conversations not only a teachers, but also students this week. I can't wait to find out the similarities and differences between the two. I'll keep you posted throughout the week in our hashtag #LeadLAP.  Please share your stories as well. Shelley and I will cohost a 30 minute chat this Friday, November 6th from 7:30-8:00pm CST to reflect on the challenge. We would love to have you join us! 

C is for Collaborative Conversations Resources:

Click HERE for a Google Document that I designed from Shelley's blog that can be printed off as a guide as you are having the collaborative conversations. You can also print off the graphic below.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A is for Appreciation

This past weekend I had the opportunity to partner with the amazing Shelley Burgess as we presented the very first Lead Like a PIRATE workshop at #AMLE2015. It was such an incredible opportunity to share our passion for leadership and education and our goal of creating schools that students and staff are running into each day not out. I treasure the connections made with other educators from across the country and look forward to our continued work together. During the workshop, we took our crew through each letter of the PIRATE philosophy and it's application to leadership, but gave a special appreciation challenge for Monday. We asked for leaders to spend thirty minutes to do two minute "anchor drops" in fifteen different classrooms and leave a note of appreciation of something that was observed. Appreciation ONLY, not what to do better. Our goal was to help others realize that it doesn't take a lot of time to notice the positive things our staff do to make a difference in the lives of our students.

After returning to school today after being out of the building for two days, my desk was full of catch up work. It was tempting to stay in the office, but I pushed this to the side, made an anchor template (, and hit the hallways. Sometimes we get so busy as administrators that we truly forget to sit back, relax and watch the amazing things that happen in front of us in classrooms each day. 

The thirty minutes that I took to do this today was definitely the best part of my Monday. As I continued through the day, I found that I could easily find things to appreciate with staff not only in classrooms, but in IEP meetings, bus duty, lunch duty, working together on behavior interventions and as we ended the day in leadership team. It is amazing what there is to appreciate when we take time to look for it. It was also inspirational to see the tweets of other administrators taking the time to do this today as well. After taking time to do this today, I pledge to make sure I am showing appreciation each day of the week.

PIRATE leaders, it's not too late to get started! We would love for you to join us for the appreciation challenge and share out on #LeadLAP. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Back to School....Like a PIRATE!

Back to School....Like a PIRATE! The Challenge is ON!

UPDATED: July 30th, 2016

Update: I wrote this post on the eve of becoming our district's new middle school principal in the summer of 2015. Our building wanted to do something big on those first days of school to show our change in our mission to create a school that our students, staff and parents are beating the doors to get IN, not out. We wanted to get our kids so excited about learning on day one, that they couldn't wait to come back the next day.  What I can say, without a doubt, is the first day of our first year together at Fulton Middle School was one of my favorite, most memorable days of my career. I watched our staff pour their hearts into teaching and showcase their passions for the subjects they teach. I experienced our students enjoying learning, from the first minutes of class. I experienced all of us trying new things, some successfully, some not, which laid the beginnings of a foundation of growth mindset. These first few days set the tone for our year, which truly was amazing! The original blog is as follows and then I've added some BONUS material to the end. Thank you so much for reading and making this year the #BestYearEver for your students, staff, parents and YOU!

Original Post:
Sometimes an article finds us at exactly the right moment. Moving to a new position next fall, I have been in back-to-school mode all summer. First impressions are the most important, so I've been constantly thinking and brainstorming about how to start the year for students AND staff with a bang. My personal mission is to collaboratively create a school that our students, staff and parents are running to get IN rather than out. I knew the traditional first day of rules and rules and more rules would not work.  Then I stumbled upon this treasure:

I immediately shared it with my leadership team on our Voxer group as well as a few PLN members for feedback. As Dave Burgess says, the snowball began to roll. I had immediate feedback on a Friday night from everyone. An overwhelming WE MUST DO THIS came back to me loud and clear. (on a Friday night in July, I might add!) I shared the article, as well as the amazing quote by my friend Don Wettrick, author of Pure Genius to my PLN and I found there are several others ready to make this happen as well! Then I found a blog by Don on this very topic as well. YES!! Create culture FIRST! When the right culture is cultivated, it's amazing how the need for specific rules diminishes.

I had a conversation with my PIRATE principal pal Jay Billy about how awesome it would be get our colleagues to take this Back to School...Like a PIRATE challenge with us, not just teachers, but school leaders as well. This challenge is to not only make the first few days of school an EXPERIENCE for our students, but to extend this thinking to our staff learning. How can we minimize the mundane and maximize the excitement for our profession; for our passions in education? 

Our theme for our school year at Fulton Middle School is Together, We CAN! This works perfectly for our challenge as well. Jay and I created this Google Doc to collect ideas to KICK up those first days of school. We would LOVE it if you would add your amazing ideas as well. Imagine the possibilities of a year that starts in such a positive way. That snowball will continue to roll into the BEST YEAR EVER! Together, We CAN change the way things always have been those first few days of school. The challenge is ON! Let's make it happen!

Google Doc for sharing:

Last fall, I had the opportunity to partner with the outstanding educator, Shelley Burgess to begin Lead Like a PIRATE. We hosted weekly challenges through our #LeadLAP hashtag to help us become intentional about our leadership practices and build support within our PLN. Our first challenge for the 2016-2017 school year is from the blog above. How can you TRANSFORM back to school to lay the foundation for an unbelievable school year? Please share out your ideas on the doc above and the #leadlap hashtag. When we share, we help make everyone better! Shelley and I can't wait to see the amazing things happening in your school. Here's to the #BestYearEver!

Toasting to change with our FMS Staff!

Greeting our students and parents on day one!

Opening day assembly with a principal dance off!
Mr. Kerr had a mean stanky leg!

My whip and nae nae was pretty sweet!

But I definitely went down in defeat!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Together, We Can!

I’m finally coming down from my #ISTE2015 high. What an amazing experience. I learned so much, met incredible people and was inspired beyond belief. This was so much more than a conference about was about people. People willing to do whatever it takes for kids. There was a common thread with the interactions that I had throughout the conference…Together, We Can! 

Together, we can share best practice to help make a difference in the lives of our students.

Together, we can connect and support each other as educators.

Together, we can reflect and inspire new ideas to support the varied needs of our students.

Together, we can relax, recharge and have fun. This is important and often forgotten in the busy lives of educators.

Together, we truly can change the world and inspire this thinking in our students.

This is what it is all about. When we talk global education, to me that means we are all working for the same team, the same school. The children of the world are ALL our students and positive change can only happen when we truly work together. 

So what will I do to make this happen? I’ll continue to connect with my amazing PLN to learn, share and collaborate. I will help others that may feel isolated develop a PLN of their own. I will lift up my colleagues and be a fountain and not a drain. I will push myself to take risks and continue to learn and grow daily. I will take time to relax and recharge so I can be my best self.

And most importantly to me, I will work to drown out the voices of the critics of our great profession by showcasing the AMAZING that happens every single day in our classrooms and learning communities. So many people truly have no idea what goes on in schools....together, we can change this by making it visible. I challenge anyone reading this to do the same. 

Together, we truly CAN make all of this a reality! Let's do this!

Friday, May 1, 2015

What's Your Countdown?

Thanks, @StephFrosch for this GREAT reminder!

Like many of you, I've been feeling overwhelmed lately. So much to do, so little time, and exhaustion takes over before my to-do list is finished. My energy and attention has been pulled in so many different directions that I feel like I'm not giving anything or anyone what is deserved. I've found myself counting down the days instead of focusing on what makes the days count. It's amazing how interventions happen when you need them the most. Two things happened today that helped me remember what really counts.

I started my morning reading a great post by a fellow educator Craig Vroom (@Vroom6). He wrote about the importance of ending the school year with the same amount of PASSION and ENERGY as if it were August. It really helped me to refocus, recharge and be ready to go. Craig discusses shifting the traditional end of the year countdown. 

"Instead of counting down the days until summer vacation by removing a link of the chain each day, we will remove a link of the chain that will be counting the days of learning remaining, of being with friends, of getting the most out of our academic journey."

I highly recommend checking out Craig's latest post below:

Thanks to ideas from our staff, we started the school day with a TREMENDOUS send off for our student athletes competing at the Special Olympics. This brought Craig's blog post to life. It's about creating experiences that our kids will never forget...up until the final minute of the final day. Making each day count. Our staff and students made that happen this morning in a BIG way. I was overwhelmed with emotion looking at the faces of our athletes as they ran through the banners made by their peers. My heart was full of pride watching 400 other students and staff cheering on their classmates. What an AMAZING experience! What an AMAZING school family! What a AMAZING reminder to slow down and take time to make the moments count. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

April News

Happy April! Here is the link to our McIntire newsletter for the month. Have a great weekend!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Finding Comfort in the "Un-Comfort" Zone

Encouraging risk taking has been my focus as a leader this year. I have challenged our staff and students as well as myself personally to push comfort zones on a daily basis. As a school we celebrate risks and failing forward. We provide safety nets so that risks can be taken with support. We use data to help us know if our strategies are working. It has been incredible to see this unfold throughout our building. From our No Worksheet Holidays to STEAM Family Nights, it is evident that risk taking is becoming the norm, not only on special occasions but EVERY single day in our classrooms. I have also been sure to model risk taking as well as a leader. Our actions say more than any words could ever hope to accomplish. I have worked each day to model what I expect in our staff and students. I had found my "Un-Comfort Zone." Or so I thought...

One week ago I had no idea that I would be accepting a new role as middle school principal in our district for next year. This was a very bittersweet and "Un-Comfort Zone" decision for me. I am excited to work with the middle school staff, students and parents. However, having to tell my existing staff about the move was one of the hardest things I've ever done. We are a team and a family. We have been dedicated over the past seven years to develop and truly live our mission, vision and collective commitments. We've overcome failure and roadblocks by rising out of school improvement due to our tireless efforts.  We said goodbye to two students that left this earth way too early. We've celebrated weddings, babies and family milestones together. We have built a student-centered professional learning community. We have grown and learned so much together. We've found comfort in our "Un-Comfort Zones." 

I then think back to seven years ago and remember that same "Un-Comfort Zone" as I started the journey of my first principalship. I had the same bittersweet feelings saying goodbye to a classroom of students and amazing colleagues. As hard as it was to make the  move, it was the right decision. I have learned so much from the experiences and opportunities. I have grown in more ways than I ever thought possible. I am eternally grateful to my McIntire staff for teaching me more about leadership than I could read in any book or learn in college classes.  Each person has taught me in his or her own way how to strive for greatness.  They have taught me to take my job very seriously, but not myself. They have taught me that it is all about our kids, but we can't forget to support each other. They have taught me that a leader has to take risks and model what is expected for staff and students. They have taught me that there are no excuses when striving to meet goals, no matter the roadblocks. They have taught me that a leader takes people where they need to go, which is not always where they want to go. They have taught me to lead not only with my head, but also my heart. They have taught me that we truly can build a school that students, educators and parents want to run INTO each day and not out. They have taught me that we must celebrate our students and each other every day. They have taught me that when we put our focus on raising human potential that better test scores will result and to never mix up the emphasis. Most importantly, they taught me that AMAZING things happen in our "Un-Comfort Zones." They have taught me all of this and so much more and for this I will always be thankful. 

I know that because of the amazing staff, the students of McIntire Elementary will continue to climb to greatness no matter who sits in my chair next year.  Our processes and structures are strong and shared leadership is the norm. The McIntire team will continue to drive our relentless mission of high levels of learning for ALL. This is the reason that, although it won't be easy to leave, I will be able to find comfort in my new "Un-Comfort Zone."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

March News and McIntire CHALLENGE!

McIntire Elementary March Newsletter

Finding a Cure that STICKS!

Help our students make a difference and maybe even duct tape their principal to the wall!

Monday, February 2, 2015

February Newsletter: Full STEAM Ahead!

Join us this Thursday night for our first McINTIRE FAMILY NIGHT of the year! You don't want to miss it! Get all the details for this fun event and everything else happening at McIntire Elementary in February here:

Have a GREAT day!
Mrs. Houf

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Two Words, One BIG Impact!

The first email that I open each morning is the daily substitute report. Some days it's good, some days it's bad and some days it's just plain ugly. Today, I'm not going to lie, it was almost unbearable. We were three subs short. AGAIN. I had several moments of denial, panic set in and then I decide! This can be a great day or a horrible day, the choice is mine. My outlook immediately changed.

On my drive to work, two phone calls meant two more subs were needed. My mindset had already shifted. It wasn't about being short on subs, it was about how we make it decide! So often we let situations handle us and we don't handle situations. Even more importantly, our attitudes influence the attitudes of the people around us. As educational leader Todd Whittaker says, "When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold. This is neither good nor bad; it is just the truth. Our impact is significant; our focus becomes the school's focus"  I wanted my attitude to be worth catching. I wanted our staff to know I was ready to help support them in whatever way I could. I wanted to model to our students that attitude matters. You decide!

I was lucky enough to substitute in a 4th grade classroom for the morning. We sang, we danced, we connected with another 4th grade class in Boston, we acted out vocabulary words, we had a worksheet snowball fight and most importantly, we built relationships through learning. It was evident from the moment I walked in the door the amount of time and energy the teacher had spent building a caring, learning-centered community with her students. This class truly lived our school mission of high levels of learning for all. Had my sub report not been unbearable, I couldn't have had the opportunity to share this important time with our students. I wouldn't have truly been able to experience the strong classroom culture that has built by the intentional practices of the teacher and the students. Had my attitude been negative, my subbing experience could have been boring and mundane. You decide!

Don't underestimate the power of positive thinking. Your attitude is contagious-make it worth catching.  A day that I thought was going to be unbearable was unbelievable--and it happened because of two little words that make a big difference. You decide!
Playing cards to sharpen our math facts. I promise it was in the plans!
Google Hangout with Mrs. Bartley's 4th graders in Boston.
Google Hangout with Mrs. Bartley's 4th graders in Boston.

Acting out our social studies vocab. We definitely know what our words mean!
We worked on our multiplication facts and goal setting.
We found a fun way to learn about plural possessive nouns. SNOWBALL FIGHT!

Friday, January 2, 2015

January Newsletter

Happy New Year and WELCOME to 2015! Below is our January newsletter. I've embedded a video newsletter and read aloud with a special NEW YEAR CHALLENGE for our students. Can't wait to see everyone on Monday!