Saturday, November 5, 2016

Culture Matters!

I just had the wonderful opportunity to co-host an inspiring #satchatwc with the theme #CultureMatters with my good friend Jay Billy (@jaybilly2). It was evident throughout the chat that culture trumps everything else in a building. No matter what terrific structures you have in place, systems you have established, facilities, resources, etc. the school culture drives everything. Period. Our #LeadLAP (Lead Like a PIRATE) challenge for this week is for each of you to reflect on how you are adding to the culture of your organization. These are some of the questions that emerged this morning that I invite each of you to reflect on this week:

  • Am I presuming positive intentions of our students, staff and families?
  • Am I being solution-oriented instead of complaint-driven?
  • Am I truly following our norms in our team meetings?
  • Am I bringing my coworkers down by my body language, complaining or gossip?
  • Am I taking time to think out engaging lessons for students that will minimize behaviors and actually get our students enjoying school? As an administrator, am I doing the same for staff?
  • Am I pushing myself to take risks to add to the culture of growth mindset?
  • What practices do I have set up to celebrate students, staff and families?
  • How am I confronting behaviors that toxify the school culture?
  • Is what I am projecting worth spreading to the whole school?
  • What can I do the very first thing on Monday morning to make a positive difference in our school culture?

What is one thing you will intentionally do this week to make the culture better at your school? Also, this is a great topic to take to our students. How might you offer a similar challenge to them? Please share your ideas to the #LeadLAP hashtag so we can all learn and grow together. Have an amazing week! #CultureMatters

Resources on Culture:
If you have a favorite to add, please tweet to #LeadLAP or @BethHouf

Transcript of Today's Chat

BAM! Interview with Rosa Isiah and Ken Williams

Blogs by Rich Czyz on Culture

Cybraryman's Culture Page

Powerful Reminder from Matt Miller

Resources from ASCD

School Culture Rewired-->Book Spotlight

Transforming School Culture-->Book Spotlight

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Setting the Foundation

At Fulton Middle School, we just completed our first full week of school and it seems like we have been back for months a good way! Students and staff have worked hard to build a positive school and classroom culture. Routines are well established and the buzz of learning is palpable when you walk through the doors. We have worked hard to develop relationships with our students and families through positive contacts as well as virtually knocking down the walls of our building through the use of social media to showcase our story. Our staff have stepped up to lead the mission of our school and the energy is spreading like wildfire! It's been a great start to what looks to be the #BestYearYet as an educator. I can tell our staff feels this way as well. 

But I have work to do as an administrator. This is also the time that our staff begin to feel overwhelmed by maintaining this energy. I begin to ask myself, how can I best support our staff? To me, it starts with appreciation. Something that I was inspired to do from the book Kids Deserve It by Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney is to put together a form to get to know staff better. This form (HERE)includes a place to get contact information for the families of my staff so that I can showcase their amazingness to the people that matter most to them. I am also dedicating this week to not only be in each room, but drop an {anchor of appreciation} to each staff member. To take this to another level, I'm also going to send anchors of appreciation to the other building leaders in our district. Never underestimate the power of appreciation.

One thing that I've also started doing this year, that I should have done years ago, is work to secure subs for our mentor teachers and new teachers to observe, model and give and get feedback from each other from the start. We can't rely on already busy teachers to use their already full plan time. Something else is that at our school, we encourage ALL staff to support our new teachers by checking in on them during plan, lunch and before and after school. We are all in this together. Just because you aren't new doesn't mean you don't need support though. Our school has Team Tuesdays each week. This is a time when all of the teachers of a grade level, the principal and assistant principal, counselors, and special education teachers come together for professional development and data teaming during team plan. A rolling agenda item and focus is "What support do you need?" We are shifting the culture to one of support and collaboration vs isolation, blame and shame. We shouldn't be nervous or worried if our colleagues are in our rooms asking how they can help, we should be nervous if they are not. 

The next #leadlap challenge is to reflect on how you can take time to support and appreciate those you serve from the beginning. Don't forget others in the district that could use appreciation..other building leaders, district leaders, etc. If you haven't started school yet, how can you reach out before the first day? If you are in full swing, how can you be sure you build these practices from the beginning. Please share your ideas, thoughts and reflection to the #leadlap hashtag. Shelley and I can't wait to see all of you ideas! Have an amazing week! 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

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!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Everyday Appreciation

Last week's staff appreciation was wonderful at our school. It is always a favorite week of mine to show how much I appreciate all that our staff does for our students. Through the positivity, I had a nagging feeling throughout the week. As much as I loved the celebration, I wondered how I could do a better job of appreciating those that surround me all year long. Special weeks and presents are great, but it's the day to day interactions and meaningful expressions of gratitude that last through the years. For me, this means I need to slow down and take time to listen. Sometimes I get so driven that I forget to ask how those around me are doing. Small talk can lead to rich conversations and deep trust. I also need to take a few minutes each day and take time to appreciate those that have gone out of their way to help me. I've put a stack of blank thank you notes on my desk to help remind me to make this a daily habit. Before I leave school each night, I've also started to fill out at least two student positive referrals. This small task has helped to keep my focus each day on looking for the amazing things that our students do. It's wonderful what you see when you look for it. Lastly, I need to remember to take time to appreciate the work that I do instead of beating myself up for what I haven't done yet. It's hard to appreciate others when our own appreciation reservoirs are low. 

Our #LeadLAP challenge for this week is to reflect on how you can show appreciation for staff all year long. How can you ensure that those that surround you in your school community know how much you appreciate what they do each day. It's amazing how small gestures can make deep impact. Share your ideas to the hashtag and include pictures if you have them. As always, Shelley and I look forward to your wonderful ideas! Have a great week!

Sunday, April 10, 2016


Graphic credit to @JohnWink90

Happy Sunday! Our #LeadLAP Challenge is a two part challenge for this week. The first step is to take part in the #LoveMySchoolDay which is happening tomorrow! Basically, take time tomorrow to share out the amazing happening in your classroom or building using the #LoveMySchoolDay hashtag. (if you can squeeze #LeadLAP in, too, that would be awesome!) Of course, every day is #LoveMySchoolDay, but the WHY behind this is to connect our schools globally to showcase the awesome learning opportunities happening for students. John Wink (@JohnWink90) is the creator behind this special day. You can read his thoughts here:
So inspiring! Part two of the challenge is that we ask that you continue #LoveMySchoolDay throughout this whole week! Post at least 5 tweets daily throughout the week to the #LeadLAP hashtag to spotlight the amazing at your building. Shelley and I can't wait to see the posts and learn new ideas that we can bring to our schools. Have an amazing week!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Who's Your Champion?

"Every child deserves a champion: an adult that will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they be the best they can be." Rita Pierson

A week ago our community had to say a much too early goodbye to a champion of education. Mr. Bob Hogan was a champion to so many students, staff, parents and community members. I had the utmost privilege to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Hogan as principal of McIntire Elementary upon his retirement. Mr. Hogan served as my mentor, role model, comic relief, father figure and friend. Most of all, Mr. Hogan was a champion to me. He taught me so many important things about leadership that I could never learn in any class or professional development. As I've made decisions over the years, I've always thought to myself, "What would Mr. Hogan do?" I was honored to be asked to speak at Mr. Hogan's funeral service about his impact. I shared these important things that have helped to build my own leadership philosophy. Mr. Hogan reminded me to:

  • Keep the passion and fight for what's right in our noble profession that sometimes can get minimized to a fill in the bubble test. But....don't forget when to be more poodle and when to be more bulldog.
  • Take time to enjoy what you are personally passionate about. Take a personal day to go to the ballpark. Spend your weekend away from work. Enjoy life!
  • Always do what is best for kids, but remember to take care of those special people that are teaching our kids. 
  • Don't forget there is a time to ask for permission and when to ask for forgiveness.
  • It all comes down to relationships...with students, with staff, with parents, with the community, but most importantly with your own friends and family. Take time to enjoy the relationships in your life. Days are too short and you never know what the future holds.
  • Take your profession seriously, but not yourself.
  • Keep creating those unforgettable experiences for students, staff and your own kids. You just never know the influence it makes.

Mentors are hard to find, difficult to part with and impossible to forget. Thank you, Mr. Hogan, for making the world a better place, with your passion, compassion and that big smile.

As I said goodbye to Mr. Hogan, it made me think of all of the other champions in my life that have helped make me the leader I am today. Our #LeadLAP challenge for this week is to take time to thank the champions in your life. Feel free to share a blog post, memory, or shout out to the #LeadLAP hashtag or if you would rather just share privately with your champions, that is wonderful as well. Shelley and I can't wait to hear about the incredible people in your lives. Have an wonderful week!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Through Their Eyes: Shadow a Student Challenge

Shelley and I both have been inspired by blog posts that we have seen recently from educators taking the #shadowastudent challenge. The premise of this challenge is for educators to take time to spend a day shadowing a student at his/her school and looking at teaching and learning through their eyes. Our challenge to you this week is to read through the posts below and take the challenge to shadow a student in your school. Then take a moment to reflect and share to the #LeadLAP community through our hashtag. I look forward to taking this challenge along side you and can't wait to read your reflections. Have a great week!

Shadow a Student Homepage:

Inspiration from Dr. Neil Gupta, District Administrator from Ohio:

Washington Post Article:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

T is for Transformation: Creating Experiences for our Staff

It seems like February can be the month of the winter blahs in many schools. The sparkle of the new year may have faded, the weather can be less than predicable and the reality of state testing can push staff stress levels to new highs.  How can we bust these winter doldrums in our schools? Let's start first by rethinking professional development time with our staff. In Teach Like a PIRATE, Dave Burgess asks of us a pivotal question when planning lessons, "If our students didn't have to be there, would we be teaching to an empty room?" As leaders, how can we TRANSFORM the typical staff professional learning into EXPERIENCES that will carry over to make a true impact into instruction? How could we ensure that if our staff didn't have to be there, the room would still be full?

For this week's #LeadLAP challenge, think about a meeting, professional development day, inservice, etc. that you have coming up in the next week or two. Ask those transformational questions of yourself as you begin to plan:

  • If your attendees didn't have to be there, would the room be empty?
  • How could you make this a experience that you could sell tickets to?
  • How could you alter the room or setting to make the learning more meaningful?
  • When planning the content, how could you make it relevant to all that are in attendance?
  • How could voice and choice of participants be honored?
  • Which #tlap hook could you use to increase learning?
  • If you were a participant in the training yourself, would you want to be there?
  • How could you get prior feedback from the participants to help with your planning to personalize and differentiate the experience as much as possible?
  • How could you ensure that the transformation would only add to the learning and not take away?

At our professional learning day this past Friday, the leadership team and I wanted to be sure that we devoted a portion of our time to the opportunity of leaning new information. Collective professional development with staff is much needed to create a common language and understanding, but offering staff options for personalization of learning is also a priority in our building. One of our goals is to deepen our knowledge of best practice at the middle level. I first thought I would find a shared article to read and process together as a staff. As I looked for an article on, I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to let our staff choose the reading that best matched what they needed, as any of these articles would help us live our school mission. The next question was how to transform the traditional read and respond method in our meeting. Through our school hashtag #FMSTeach, I had seen a teacher in our building showcase "speed dating" with a book to help students narrow down their next read. That sparked a an idea in my mind of how to make this work with our staff. FMS Speed Dating PD was on it's way to reality! The big day arrived and our staff selected their article and took notes on their advanced organizer that I had created. (PIRATE-style, of course Template:

We then revamped our library to speed dating central by moving our chairs into two circles to face each other. Staff would have three rounds to share their learning and then in turn gain learning from their colleagues. The first partner had 90 seconds to share the most important points from his/her article. The second partner then had 30 seconds to paraphrase (a norm of collaboration that we are practicing) and ask questions. Partners would then switch roles and repeat the process. I modeled this specifically before beginning and ran the timer on the Smartboard to keep us on track.

After two rounds, I asked for feedback from staff on effectiveness of the structure. A few ideas were given, we adjusted and moved into the third and final round. I made sure to point out during this feedback time that we often get formative assessment about the content of what we teach in our classrooms, but asked the question of how often do we ask for formative assessment on our methodology of delivering that content. We ended the session with reflections and continued sharing through our school hashtag.

Remember the power of the PLN as you begin planning your ideas for transformation. Feel free to reach out to the amazing leaders on the #LeadLAP hashtag for support or ideas. Together, we really are better! Shelley and I can't wait to see your amazing ideas unfold over the coming weeks!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What's Your Focus?

Happy 2016 to the #LeadLap community! Shelley and I both hope you have had a wonderful holiday season! I had the opportunity to relax and recharge over my two week break. I enjoyed my family, friends, food and long lost sleep! I also had the chance to catch up on my reading. One of my favorite books was One Word that will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton and Jimmy Page (

This book made an amazing impact on me because, unlike resolutions that are typically a to-do list that is either finished or forgotten by February, #oneword is all about how to be. The first challenge of #oneword is to take time to unplug, be mindful and look inward about what is needed in your life. The second challenge is to look up to confirm your word to a higher purpose. Your #oneword is truly bigger than you. For those of you that know me, I am a collector of words. I love quotes and start each day sharing one with my staff. I expected my #oneword choice to be overwhelming, but it came to me very quickly...FOCUS. Focus on what is important. Focus on what is essential. Focus on what makes a difference. Focus on clarity. Focus on mindfulness. Focus on relationships. Focus on your family. Focus on yourself. But most of all, don't focus on everything at the same time.

The third challenge of #oneword is to share your word with others for support and accountability. I shared my word and have challenged my students and staff to discover their #oneword as we begin the second half of the year together. (students: staff: This is where our #LeadLap challenge comes in...where is your focus for this year? How have you communicated this to those that surround you? Our challenge for you for the week is to truly find your #oneword or focus for 2016 and take time to share that with your school and #LeadLap hashtag. Need some inspiration? Check out some of these great blogs about #oneword from inspirational educators:

Jay Billy @JayBilly2 Relentless

Robert Abney @Abney45 Finish

Amy Illingworth @AmyLIllingworth Rejuvinate

Marci Houseman @MarciHouseman Glorius

Also LOVE the #edbeat spin #oneword #onesong

Sean Gaillard @smgaillard Fearless

Can't wait to see how the #LeadLAP community will focus this new year!

Beth and Shelley