Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Honoring the Moment

As educators, we tend to take information in at breakneck speed. Our brains are constantly on overdrive and it feels as though there are at least twenty tabs open at any given moment. I had the privilege to serve as a facilitator for our state leadership academy’s outdoor leadership experience this past week. From Wednesday to Saturday, I spent my time in the Missouri woods. In 75 hours, eleven strangers became lifelong friends. Truly an amazing experience that will never be forgotten. The days were filled with team building, experiential education activities, rock climbing, rappelling, orienteering, canoeing, journal making, reflection, campfires and an eleven mile hike where participants had to use compasses and maps to find 13 markers in the forest. My co-facilitator and I were tasked to teach specific leadership tools through the experience while ensuring both physical and emotional safety of each participant.
Filling the Toolbox
  • Articulate the Plan (Does everyone know the plan?)
  • Shared Mental Model (Does everyone know what the plan looks like?)
  • Phantom Rules (Have we made up rules that could hold us back?)
  • Rule of Three (Trying a plan three times before changing often increases likeliness of success)
  • Rule of Thumbs (Building consensus-thumbs up means fully support, thumbs sideways means I can live with it, but not completely on board, thumbs down means I do not support the idea and have questions that need to be answered before moving on. Any thumbs down means we continue working on the plan/idea)
  • Failing Forward (Do we learn from our mistakes to propel us forward?)

Each initiative was brought back to parallel the work we do each day in our buildings. The connections were definitely powerful. Although I’ve facilitated for several years, I’m always amazed at how much I learn with each group. Our participants developed norms for our time together. Most of these were the traditional norms we see in education, but one was developed that stuck with me...Honoring the Moment. WOW! How often do I forget to do this?!? While this was specific to our time together in the woods, this norm hit home for me. How often do I honor the moments that are happening around me? How often do I instead race from moment to moment until they each become a blur?

As educators, it seems as though we work to honor the moments for so many others. But can we say the same for ourselves? More often than not, I spend more time taking care of everything but myself. This experience reminded me of several things:
  • Slow down, breathe, smile
  • Feed the body, feed the soul--be purposeful in my wellness habits
  • It’s going to be ok--spend less time worrying about what could go wrong and let people work through solving problems with your support
  • Love your people--relationships matter
  • Email can wait
  • Text messages can wait
  • Social Media can wait
  • Family and self care can not wait.

My time in the woods also had significant connections for me to the current #IMMOOC ( that I have been participating in this month. Connecting with educational trailblazers such as George Couros, Katie Martin, Tara Martin, Jo Boaler and Alice Keeler as well as all of those that have contributed via the hashtag has helped me to reflect on my own practices and work for continual improvement. The blog prompt for this week that grabbed my attention was what is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change?

I used to think I had to do it all as a leader. I used to think that anything less than that was not acceptable. Always the first to get to school and last to leave. Always accessible to everyone at anytime. Now I realize that shared leadership is a much more valuable tool. If I am the only one that can truly support and help, sustainability will never happen. Building the leadership skills in our staff and students (and parents) has to be an utmost priority, all the while still supporting each of them. When I am doing everything for everyone, I rob them of building their own self efficacy. I also rob myself of truly honoring the moments that are happening around me.

The challenge I pose in this blog is to share ways you can honor those moments that can go by in a blur. What suggestions do you have for educators to slow down and close of few of those open tabs in their brains? What can you intentionally do to make this a reality for yourself? For your staff? For your students? Please share your thoughts and ideas to the #LeadLAP hashtag. I can’t wait to see all of the amazing ideas from our PLN to help us all honor the moments.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Power of the Positive Office Referral

You are summoned to the principal’s office. No matter if you are a student, teacher or parent, you typically have the same reaction. Fear! As a school leader, I have worked hard over the past several years to help take this negative stigma away from these visits. One practice that has helped to make the shift is the implementation of the positive office referral. We started using these with our students four years ago. The goal is to recognize our students for going above and beyond with our school expectations by sending them to the office...for a good reason. We’ve found at our school when we focus on the positive happening instead of just getting hung up on the negative, amazing things happen. When positive referrals go up, negative referrals go down.
The excitement is contagious! 
Our Process at FMS
  1. We’ve committed as a staff to writing one positive referral per day. We feel strongly that we can find at least one student going above and beyond each day. We use the following paper form, fill it out and send the student to the assistant principal’s office. Students can also refer peers with positive referrals. Our bus drivers utilize the same practice as well. WOW! Driving a bus and finding time to celebrate amazing!
  2. When the student gets to the office, they are celebrated with a high five, impromptu dancing and excitement by administrators or the office staff. Students then call or email parents or someone special to them about why they are in the office.
  3. Our students earn Hornet Bucks for positive referrals (much like a bonus for a job done above and beyond). These can be used in our school store, The Thrive Hive (items included needs and wants) as well as toward House Points for our House Cup.
  4. Students hang up referrals on our FMS Brag Board. These are displayed for a week and then sent home.
  5. We log all the positive referrals into our student information system. This helps us to check to see which students aren’t being referred as well as to monitor our goal of 4:1 positive to negative referrals.

Lessons Learned:
  • Avoid competitions between staff. This causes animosity as well as a pile up of referrals that aren’t sincere. Instead, we have individual conversations with staff that aren’t taking time to write referrals as well as shout out those that are fulfilling our collective commitment.
  • If a leader isn’t in the office, the referral is left and then the student is called down at a later time. We want to be sure that at least one administrator has the chance to celebrate with the student.
  • Take time to share the data and celebrate accomplishments!
  • There is nothing better after a stressful day in leadership land to the excitement of a student ready to showcase their amazingness! One of the best parts of the day for sure!

As learning leaders in the building we work hard to also model what we expect by committing to write positive “referrals” for staff each day. These are notes of genuine appreciation for the outstanding work done by the adults in our building. We also write student referrals as well, but we know that the first step to putting students first is to support, motivate and inspire the adults that teach them each day.  Want to get positive referrals going in your building? Feel free to reach out and we would be happy to help get you started!

Our FMS Brag Board!
Dropping Anchors of Appreciation for staff!

Friday, July 28, 2017

My Leadership Shelf UPDATED

I realized that it was time to update my leadership shelf from January. So many amazing books out there I've had the chance to read since then! Also pretty pumped to be a co-author of my very own leadership book as well! Such a joy and honor to write Lead Like a PIRATE: Make School Amazing for Students and Staff with Shelley Burgess! Can't wait to keep finding more book treasures.

Happy Reading,

I recently saw a request on Twitter for a list of Leadership Must Reads. I am literally addicted to reading, so I knew my list wouldn't fit on a tweet. Here are a few of the book, in random order, that have shaped me as a leader. Of course I realize I may be missing a few. Always adding more to my collection and will update soon!

What I'm Reading Now
  • Disruptive Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst
  • Empower by John Spencer and AJ Juliani
  • UnSelfie by Michele Borba
  • SocialLEADia by Jennifer Casa-Todd
What's Up to Read Soon
  • The Power of Positive Leadership by Jon Gordon
  • Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
  • Ditch That Homework by Matt Miller and Alice Keeler
  • Spark Learning by Ramsey Musallam
  • Unmapped Potential by Julie Hasson and Missy Lennard
  • The Coach Approach to School Leadership by Jessica Johnson, Shira Liebowitz & Kathy Perret
The Books That Are Always on My Desk
  • Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess 
  • The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon
  • What Great Teachers Do Differently by Todd Whitaker
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  • Visible Learning by John Hattie
  • Move Your Bus by Ron Clark
  • Start with Why by Simon Sinek
  • 101 Ways to Create REAL Family Engagement by Steven Constantino
General Leadership 
  • The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros 
  • You Win in the Locker Room First by Jon Gordon and Mike Smith
  • Anything at all by Patrick Lencioni 
  • Drive by Daniel Pink
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (well and anything Malcolm Gladwell)
  • What to Do When It's Your Turn (and it's always your turn) by Seth Godin
  • Purple Cow by Seth Godin
  • Mastering the Media by Julie Smith
  • Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell
  • The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader by John C. Maxwell
  • FISH: A Remarkable way to Boost Morale and Improve Results by Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul and John Christensen
  • Positive Words, Powerful Results by Hal Urban
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck
  • Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie
  • Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  • A Sense of Urgency by John P. Kotter
  • Renegade Leadership by Brad Gustafson
  • Escaping the School Leader's Dunktank by Rebecca Coda and Rick Jetter
  • Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun
The Craft of the Principalship
  • Transforming School Culture by Anthony Muhammad
  • Leading Change in Your School by Doug Reeves
  • The Ten-Minute Inservice by Todd Whitaker and Annette Breaux
  • Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker
  • Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston
  • Results Now by Mike Schmoker
  • The Principal by Michael Fullan
  • Leaders of Learning by Richard DuFour and Robert J. Marzano
  • School Culture Rewired by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker
  • School Culture Recharged by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker
  • The Collaborative Administrator by Solution Tree (compilation of authors)
  • Digital Leadership & Uncommon Learning by Eric Sheninger
Pure Inspiration
  • Kids Deserve It! by Adam Welcome & Todd Nesloney
  • The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • Wonder by RJ Palacio
  • The Man Who Loved Clowns by June Rae Wood
  • The Zen Teacher by Dan Tricarico 
Thinking Outside of the Box
  • Pure Genius by Don Wettrick
  • Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller
  • Learn Like a PIRATE by Paul Solarz
  • Play Like a PIRATE by Quinn Rollins
  • Shift This by Joy Kirr
Building a Better School
  • Instant Relevance by Denis Sheren
  • Building School 2.0 by Chris Lehmann & Zac Chase
  • What's Under Your Cape by Barbara Gruener
  • The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
  • Teacher Teams that Get Results by Gayle Gregory and Lin Kuzmich
  • Visible Learning by John Hattie
  • Improving Student Achievement by Terri Martin and Tim Brown
  • Whatever it Takes Richard DuFour, Rebecca DuFour, Robert Eaker and Gayle Karhanek
  • ANYTHING by Doug Fischer and Nancy Frey but especially love Checking for Understanding and Rigorous Reading
  • Simplifying RTI by Austin Buffum, Mike Mattos and Chris Weber
  • The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo
  • Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller
  • Launch by AJ Juliani and John Spencer
  • Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth by Aaron Hogan (perfect for new teachers!)
  • Visible Learning for Mathematics by John Hattie, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey
  • Visible Learning for Literacy by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and John Hattie
  • Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler
  • Start.Right.Now. by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul and Jimmy Casas
  • Hacking Project Based Learning by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphey
I'm sure that I will have more to add soon! Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Leading Together

I had the pleasure of leading #SatchatWC (the west coast version of #Satchat) this past week. The topic was transforming the traditional interview and induction practices in our schools. So many innovative ideas were shared by the close to 150 participants that joined. One big take away for me was that I want to figure out how I can involve students in the interview process. I loved reading how other schools were making this happen. (You can check out the transcript here:

When we do interviews in our school, we work as a team. Our leadership team is always invited, as they represent the greater staff body. We also invite specific content area staff or others that may work closely with the candidate. These include veteran staff and new staff members. As I wrote the questions for the chat, my intended audience was truly anyone...teachers, support staff, admin, etc. Once the chat started, I quickly realized that we had a problem. Several participants in the chat immediately thought that if they did not carry the title of admin in some capacity, that they couldn’t have an answer or opinion. This was a little bit of a gut punch to me.  As building leaders, we must ensure that the voices of our staff are heard. When it comes to attracting and retaining the best educators, who better to glean ideas from than our current staff? On the flip side, we must also not assume that it takes a leadership title to lead.  It takes you, it takes me, it takes we! Don’t ever forget your influence on building the positive culture in your school. It takes us all to make school amazing!

Last week, we found out our assistant principal will be moving into a building principal role in another district next year. I am so proud of his accomplishments and know that he will do such an amazing job in his new role, but I will miss my co-captain tremendously. We have been through so much together and at first, I was overwhelmed by the idea of his absence. This was another reminder that, more than ever, it is the time for our staff to realize it’s about WE. The rest of us that will continue our journey at FMS must guarantee that we will drive positive school culture. At times, I feel as though people look to a single person to drive culture. While the building leader can never underestimate his/her influence on culture, it's so much more than a person. If you are not helping to build a positive school culture, you are hurting it. You can't wait until culture is negative to improve. takes us all to make school amazing!

#LeadLAP Challenge:
Join me in the challenges below. Tweet out your ideas to the #LeadLAP (Lead Like a PIRATE) hashtag so that we grow together as a PLN. Thank you in advance for your ideas!

Part 1:
Teachers and Staff: How are you making sure that your ideas are heard? How do you lead from your positions? How do you do your part to add to the positive culture of your school? What holds you back from leading?

Administrators: How are you ensuring that your staff feels as though they are leaders? What specific ways are you getting feedback and involving all stakeholders to empower everyone? How could this be more effective? How are you making sure that everyone in the building (admin, staff & students) are a part of building positive school culture?

Part 2:
Transforming the Interview and Induction Process

Think about your current practices for interviewing new editions to your team and the induction program after staff is hired? What is effective in your current practice? Why? What isn’t effective? What might you do instead? Take a moment to check out the chat transcripts and try something new.

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!