Brian Whiston meets Jamie Vollmer

Making Moves


Many of you have heard about the move made yesterday as the Michigan House panel voted to eliminate the M-STEP (standardized test in Michigan).  Much of these moves are being made based on the thinking and influence of  new state superintendent, Brian Whiston.

While this certainly doesn’t mean the end of standardized testing in Michigan, I do believe it is a strong step in the right direction.  The experience last year of having students take the M-STEP that took  close to 10 hours, with the results given some 7 months later, was a calamity and an indictment on standardized testing as a whole.  The first step taken this summer to reduce the time on the test was a good start.  The news this week that it may eliminated entirely, was another victory for students and educators.

I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Mr. Whiston speak on this topic and read many other quotes and thoughts from him.  He wants to move to a test given multiple times a year, with less time spent, and data readily available to staff and parents.  We are fortunate to have someone leading education in this state that is realistic, so tied to current teaching and learning in schools, and willing to fight for his vision and beliefs of education in this state.  He “gets it.”  Because he does, he is able to redirect and support some of our friends in Lansing who simply don’t.

It Is About Student Learning

Teachers, administrators, schools, and districts do not fear being evaluated or measured based on student learning.  Quite the contrary.  We are upset because we know the snapshot of standardized testing is not the best way to measure student learning.  Sports analogies always seem to help me put it into perspective…the Michigan State basketball team plays 30+ games over 5 months.  To measure them based on how they played on March 2nd, in only the 2nd half, at Purdue, would be foolish.  We wouldn’t give out grades or scores to Denzel Valentine or Coach Izzo based on that small of a snapshot.  That would be foolish, inaccurate, and incomplete.  So why on Earth would we do the same to educators?   There are better ways and they should be pursued immediately.

Value Educators with Accurate Measures

The cry then immediately turns to, “what else do we use?”  I argue that is not as difficult of a question as some would make it.  Ask any teacher and they would tell you that there is no shortage of assessments students are taking.  Teachers, district leaders, and school boards have the knowledge base to look at current assessments and determine growth measures for students.  Give them that task, have them report to their ISD’s, and the ISD’s to the state.  Use the standardized test as a small portion of that formula.   Also include how a student feels about their teacher, their school, daily work, and common assessments.  I think many would be surprised at what a good job districts could do once presented with that challenge.

In addition, when we use that small of snapshot to “score” a teacher, principal, school, or school district, we devalue all that they do over the 180+ days of the school year.  Our educators need to be built up, not beaten down.  Value and honor all they do to help students on a daily basis, both emotionally and academically.

It’s Not a Business — Jamie Vollmer

Take a look at this video.  While a little old, it’s a great message from businessman Jamie Vollmer.  It describes how he learned that one simple component makes education different than business.  We are actually dealing with human beings.  Not products.  Not numbers.  People.

Well-said, Mr. Vollmer.  We take them all, love them all, care for them all, and support them all.  I never thought I’d be referencing Jamie Vollmer and Brian Whiston in the same post.  But when I consider measuring and valuing educators, they certainly have some beliefs in common.

Thank you, Mr. Vollmer, for realizing the uniqueness of our profession.

Thank you again, Mr. Whiston, for the actions taken with the M-STEP and I hope they continue.


Egocentrism — In education and in Life

“Egocentrism, as put forth by Jean Piaget, refers to a young child’s inability to see things from another’s point of view or perspective.  Unfortunately, some adults hang on to the characteristic.”

Many issues facing our school districts, communities, and society in general, are very complex.  Each issue contains various layers, facets, and what seems like tangled webs of information.  What I have noticed is that the lack of one key skill seems to stifle individuals, teams, and groups as they work towards solutions.  That skill is the inability of people to see another’s point of view.  People will view things only through their lens and perspective.  Whether or not people are unable to, don’t want to, or refuse to, is really beside the point.  What becomes very clear in the way they speak and act, is that they don’t.  You have likely spoken with someone in that frame of mind and it’s very obvious they are not considering all the alternatives.  They just continue to state their case, over and over, louder and louder.  Therefore, problems that have been created either continue or worsen.


I talk with students about empathy on a daily basis.  Sometimes the discussion is based on a behavior misdirection and other times it is applauding the actions of a student.  Some students seem to naturally understand the concept while others need additional support to grow.   I find it ironic that something I talk with 10 year old’s about on a daily basis is something many of us still struggle with as adults.  It has hit me at times when I’ve been quick to judge.  I haven’t always done a good enough job considering the background of others but judged them based simply on their actions.  I haven’t really worked to understand their point of view, their outlook on the world, or how the hand they have been dealt impacts them on a daily basis.  Did I always ask questions about the background of a person before jumping to conclusions/decisions?  How well did I really seek to listen and understand the other side?  I know that it is something that I can work on and improve.

Seek to Understand

My guess is that you have a personal issue, something happening in your school, or in your community that you have formed a strong opinion on.  My intent is not to dissuade you from forming strong opinions.  Not at all.  Instead, if that opinion has placed you in some type of conflict, I’d encourage you to dig a bit deeper…especially if you want to be part of the solution.  Before you move any further, I’d encourage you to stop and do these 4 things:

  1. Ask yourself if you truly have all of the information.  Not just the information that backs your claim, but all of it.  If you do not, reconsider how strong your position should be until you have gathered more.
  2. LISTEN to 2-3 people who have the exact opposite position that you have.  Don’t talk, don’t share or try to counter each point, just listen.  Your goal is not to debate, it’s to understand.
  3. Reflect on any information you gained from #1 and #2 and see if there are any adjustments you want to make to your position.
  4. Ask yourself if you want to be part of the solution.

Finally, if you want to be part of the solution and not just an egocentric complainer, then you must do something about it.  If you choose to work towards a solution, do so actively.  Engage people on both sides of the issue to go through the process listed above.  Speak with individuals, groups, and with a mindset of working towards a solution.  This will take strength and courage.  Others are probably not going to be taking this path, so you will need to deal with comments and actions that deter you.  If this is the path you do not choose, you will likely find yourself only being happy if decisions are made in your favor and miserable when they aren’t.  And that my friends, is no way to go through life.



Inspire, Motivate, Energize

Politics and Basketball

Election season is in full swing.  It’s hard to turn on the TV without hearing another speech or seeing primary results.  While this is not a political commentary,politics I  will share that haven’t been exactly moved to action by anything I’ve heard from any of the candidates.  There have not been words, speeches, or advertisements that have gotten my political blood flowing.  Meanwhile, my favorite month of the year has started.  That love for March has a little to do with spring and reading month, but at the root of it all is the NCAA basketball tournament known as “March Madness.”  As soon as I hear that CBS theme music or “One Shining Moment,” I know that one of my favorite events is just around the corner.One of those I just want to turn off and the other I can’t wait to turn on.  As I thought about why that is, there is clearly a direct tie back to my beliefs in leadership.  During the last few months, numerous leaders of political parties have failed to motivate me in any way.  But, during the NCAA basketball tournament, you hear so many stories of coaches and players who give amazing pregame speeches or employ magnificent motivational strategies.  There in lies my disdain with one and infatuation with the other.


There are several traits that I believe made me a successful basketball coach over 15 years that I’ve carried over into my role as a building principal.  While it takes many traits to be a successful coach, I believe the ability to inspire, motivate, and energize are among those most important.  I first learned the importance of those as a 22 year old assistant coach for Dave Schlump in Cedar Springs.  I began to learn that to energize others, you have to have energy yourself.  You have to exude that passion for your job, profession, field, or your sport.  Your players need to see it and feel it.  As the picture to the right shows, Dave coaches with 100% passion at all times.  He never takes a possession off, in practices or in games.  His intensity picks players up when they are really down or matches their positivity when things are going well.  His players know that he loves the game, the job, and coaching them.  That rubs off on them and their ability to play with energy and passion.  As Dave moved on to the collegiate level and I took over the head coaching job, I realized I couldn’t be be exactly like him.  I had to become my own coach, putting my own twist on how to motivate, inspire, and energize my players.  Having coached Austin Thornton, I was fortunate enough to get to meet Coach Izzo, go to a few practices and games, and even pick his brain on an occasion or two.  I have never been around someone who knows how to motivate individual players.  It all starts with his relationship and how well he gets to know them.  From there, he can tell who needs a pat on the back, an earful, or support from a teammate.  It is amazing how he can make the right moves, at the right time, with the individual or team, to maximize their effort and energy in a given moment.

Connections to the Principal’s Role

All of those things have had a large impact on my transition into the role of an educational leader.  I want students to be able to hear, feel, and see my love for education.  I want to model that for them in my words and actions.  One of my goals this year is for all teachers to leave staff meetings more energized, inspired, and motivated when they walked in the door.  I need to be able to take the pulse of the staff and then figure out what words, videos, or stories may inspire them to continue the great work they are doing.  Most importantly is the desire to find out what individual staff member needs and provide exactly that, so they can be there best.  Inspiring, motivating, and energizing.  Truly important characteristics, of any leader, in any leadership position.  Maybe I’ll stumble upon it somewhere during this political season, but I can guarantee you it will be everywhere starting 15 days from now in “March Madness!”