My 2017 MEMSPA Experience


Each year at the “MEMSPA” state conference I go back to my room on Thursday night and take some time to really think about the first two days of the conference. The time allows me to process, ponder, reflect, and prioritize all that has been presented to me and all I’ve considered. There are a lot of thoughts to be sorted out. One of the things that stood out to me is the last few days is that I need to take more risks. I need to trust my gut and my instincts. One way to do that immediately is to be transparent and share my learning from this week that I normally keep to myself or share with selected others. I could write pages as I was influenced by so many and heard so many great things, but I wanted to hit on some big takeaways. I broke it down into 4 categories, made me think, things that inspired me, need to improve and things to implement ASAP.

Made me think – Right when I thought I was gaining ground on technology, this conference helped me realize that there are other options to think about. We need to consider increasing the use of technology in our school to include such options as Voxer, Mentimeter, Facebook Live, YouTube channel for parents to view instruction, Seesaw, and green screens. The team from Saline and their session on flexible seating made me realize it might be time to go with a big move and not just a few small moves. Conversations with Ken See, Scott Haid, and Kim VanAntwerp were so thought-provoking. We sat down to talk about one thing, but I left thinking about a dozen others. I greatly valued their perspective and time. Desk on wheels? How about a temporary office in the hallway or in a grade level wing? Something I want to think more about. Dan Butler and Allyson Apsey made me think about something I thought was a strength of mine, staff relationships. Their very specific ideas about how to improve in that area is going to be on the forefront of my mind during the drive home tomorrow.

Inspired – Regardless of content, when someone has crazy levels of passion about something in education, that inspires me. The two stories that Ben Gilpin told in his session about how went above and beyond to be there for his teachers inspired me.    Listening to Paul Liabenow talk about his passion for people inspired me. When I listened to Mike Domagalski talk about #MEMSPAChat, I got fired up. Jon Wennstrom and Allyson Apsey inspired me with how genuine they were and with their risk-taking. When I think there is something that is too out of the box for me to do, I think of the risks they take for the betterment of their teachers and students, and it inspires me to take another step. The professionalism and poise of our MEMSPA president, Jeremy Patterson, with all the hats he wears and responsibilities he has, inspires me. 

Need to Improve – Dr. Steve Constantino’s message was a bit of a slap in the face, but in a good way. My mindset surrounding engaging families needs to change. It’s not about events, it’s about process. It’s not about the percentage of families that come, it’s about who doesn’t. As he says, “we are really good at engaging families who are already engaged.” At Jamestown, we need to continue the work we’ve started with building relationships with our families that are least likely to become engaged.  By going above and beyond to build that relationship and trust, we can better find out how the partnership is best constructed. My session with Arina Bokas and a tablemate (can’t believe I missed his name) who shared some great thoughts cemented home those next steps in parent engagement. I also need to be less focused on my phone at work. Yes, there are times where communication comes to me that needs to be addressed right away, but it doesn’t need to happen at the expense of an interaction I may miss. I will get better at that.  

Implementation TimeThere are a few things that can go into effect right away. Something as specific as communication that is “Dear Families” instead of “Parents/Guardians” is a simple, yet important change to make. Continuing the work of our differentiated PD for teachers needs to happen and Marie DeGroot and I have some great ideas about how to keep improving it. Our staff needs to continue to partner with other schools and districts for lab classroom experiences that have mutual benefits. It’s a piece missing from our educational system and I just can’t figure out why. Finally, we always hear about building culture and relationships. The difference this week was the number of specific strategies that I learned to do just that. I will start two of them tomorrow and I can’t wait to see their impact.  

Make no mistake, this conference is full of learning. It’s a ton of information, processing, and collaboration.  For me, it’s not about refreshing or rejuvenating, it’s about GROWING. If I’m going to spend a couple days out of the building, I have to get better, immediately. I’m beyond excited to think, learn, and collaborate even further to see how these ideas can impact Jamestown students and staff.

MEMSPA Presentation Materials – “Differentiated PD for Teaching Staff”

I am fired up about differentiating professional development for teachers!  It’s a topic that I’m constantly researching and reading about. 

Here are the materials that Marie DeGroot and I used for our presentation at the “Michigan Elementary and Middle Schools Principal Association” conference in Traverse City this week.  This presentation was on differentiating professional development for staff by creating small group/cohort professional learning communities.  You may need permission for some documents, so just email me for that. If you would like any additional information or I can be of help in any way, please let me know.

Presentation Slideshow:  MEMSPA — Creating small group PLC’s for Teacher PD

Additional Documents: A Plan for Differentiated Teacher PD (1)

201718 PLC Meeting Calendar – UPDATED 81517

Previous Blog Posts: Differentiated PD for Teachers in a One Year Plan






Teacher Evaluation: What Are the Students Doing?

OK, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one guilty of this and other principals who read this will be shaking their heads at how unskilled I am. I promise it’s not a habit, just a correctable error. I will admit that when it comes to teacher evaluation observations, sometimes I find myself watching more of what the teacher is doing than what the students are doing. Not always, probably not even often, but sometimes.  I need to keep working to change that and a couple observations last week helped me to recommit to that change.

Like many other principals, I’m in the heat of teacher evaluation season, which I love!  There are very few parts of my job more rewarding than collaboratively setting a plan with a teacher, observing them teach, and then supporting their instructional growth in specific areas throughout the year. Look, I love kids, it’s at the heart of why I do this job.  But that entire process of being side by side with teachers to improve parts of their practice over the course of the year, I eat it up.  Can’t get enough. Outside of keeping people in our building safe, putting a highly effective teacher in front of every student is my most important job. Regardless of what “research” you read, teacher evaluation can support the improvement of instruction in a school. You can cite whatever you want from whatever book you want, I can give you real-life examples. Lots of them.

Back to watching the teacher too much. The name on the evaluation document is that of the teacher, not the student. You meet before and after observations with the teacher, not the students. The teaching staff is trained in the evaluation model. A summative score is given to teachers, not students, at the end of the year. Maybe those are all my excuses but think about it. All of those things, as well as how teacher evaluation systems were set up in the past, point to the teacher. Thankfully, we are past the days of nit-picking each and every word the teacher says so we can tell them what words they should’ve said during our post-observation meeting. That is the structure that has a minimal impact on long-term teacher growth. A heightened focus on the student drastically improves the process. I’ve always known that and done that, but I can still get better.

Having been trained (and trained others) in the 5D+ evaluation model, I should know better. 5D+ puts a high level of emphasis on the shared ownership of learning between teacher and student. We are constantly talking about who is doing the talking, where the burden of cognitive work lies, and the student role in the self-assessment of their learning. It was actually back to back observations last week that helped me to refocus back on the student. The students were primarily working independently and it reminded me how many key observables I can pick up on if I focus more on the students.  During the second observation because of how much data I was collecting on the students, I realized that I had started to shift a little more towards the teacher.

My hope moving forward, starting this week, is to start student-first, as I should. There will be plenty of teacher observables, too. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to do those observations last week as they helped me to refocus and improve on something as important as teacher evaluation.







Life, Adversity, Sports, Resiliency, Mark Dantonio and Faith

Mark Dantonio after the MSU vs. Penn State game – “I don’t want to get too philosophical for you, but I think mankind in general responds to adversity. When they see something happens to them negatively, you can either go in the hole and bury yourself or you can fight your way out of the hole a little bit. You can go back to work.”

Sometimes sports and real life collide.  Life makes more sense to me when different facets of my life connect.  Yesterday was one of those

This is the 37th consecutive season I’ve been part of a sports team as either a player or a coach.  Those seasons range from the youth level to varsity to college.  Yikes, that’s a lot.  What I’ve learned during those 37 seasons is that sports mirrors life in many ways, but maybe none more than the adversity it puts you through.  Wins, losses, injuries, chemistry troubles, parent issues, ups, and downs – are all common – even in the best of seasons.  When I see my kids play sports, that is what I see.  There are many things I’m not good at, but being a sports parent is a strength of mine.  All of those 37 seasons play a big role in that.  I don’t worry about how many points my kid scores, I’m not tracking it on a piece of paper in the crowd.  I’m not worried about college scholarships.  When my daughter persists through a shooting drill, I see her persisting through a tough marriage.  When I see my son react to a teammate who has made a mistake, I think about how he might be as a collaborative teammate in the workplace.  I see life, not just sports in the moment.  The ability to be resilient in the face of the most adverse situations was the difference between the most and least successful teams I’ve been a part of.

Well, that sounds an awful lot like our personal lives.  Adversity comes flying at us every day.  For some of us, that adversity can be self-imposed due to choices we have made, I’ve been there.  At other times, it’s just what life throws at us.  I’ve been there, too.  My bet is you have adversity in your life right now, have had some in your past, or have some that will be coming towards you soon.  What type of resiliency you have will allow you to respond and recover, or dwell and erode.  The ability to be resilient in the face of the most adverse situations has been the difference between some of the least and most successful people I’ve ever met.

Back to Coach D and the dumpster fire that was the 2016 MSU football season and the download.jpgresurgence that is the 2017 MSU football season.  “Mankind in general responds to adversity.”  His quote after the game spoke to all the negative the program went through for 18 months.  Some of that was self-imposed by the MSU staff and players.  But at some point, the circumstances don’t matter.  You find yourself in that hole.  You get to choose to stay there or dig yourself out.  Coach D relies heavily on his faith in those situations.  He handed kicker Matt Coughlin a small prayer card yesterday before he kicked a game-winning field goal.  It’s who he is.  Maybe that’s the same for you, maybe it isn’t.  Maybe for you, it’s a family member or a friend.  I’ve had times in my life that felt like the 2016 MSU football season.  My faith, friends, family, and an ability to be resilient helped dig me out of that hole.  Daily reminders hang around my neck and are tattooed down my spine.  Kind of like that prayer card that Coach D just so happened to have yesterday.  That has meant better days ahead for me, kind of like MSU football 2017.  Life makes more sense to me when different facets of my life connect.  Yesterday was one of those days.

Life, Adversity, Sports, Resiliency, Mark Dantonio and Faith.



Teachers and Principals: Run Through a Wall for Each Other  

Think about the expression, “run through a wall.”  Literally to hurl oneself into a wall made of bricks knowing the outcome.  The passion behind that statement is what I’ve always connected with.  images.jpgThe belief in the leader that running through the wall seems like the only choice.  I’ve been led by people that have made me want to do that and hopefully have led others to feel the same way.

As a leader, I am working tirelessly towards one main goal with our staff.  I want to create a culture where every single person on the staff is willing to run through a wall for me.  Now, it’s not actually for me.  It’s for a student in a tough situation, a parent who is very upset, a new state mandate, or a curriculum change.  The “wall” is really all of the adverse situations that come up during the year and the mindset of the staff members which is put to the test.  It happens every month, possibly every week, and maybe even every day.  I want them to be able to run through a wall for our common vision, our purpose, and what our staff is striving towards.  “How” you do that is an entirely different blog post, but it’s built on relationships, trust, shared ownership, and a common vision.

What is the potential for a school staff when you want to run through that wall for each other?  The leader does for their staff?  The staff does for their leader?  The staff does for each other?

None of those thoughts are unique or new to me.  But this week, something did change. During “Boss’s Day” on Monday, I received an amazing gift from the staff here at school.  It was about 30 individual note cards of what people appreciated about my work as a principal.  I’m not exactly sure why, but they really hit a chord.  I maybe dropped a tear or two in my office as I read through them.  I think they were especially touching because they used so many of the words/phrases I strive towards as a leader: person first-employee second, transparent, real, work-life balance, approachable, passion for my job, and relationships with students-staff.  But it made me stop and think something that download-1.jpgI’m not sure I ever thought before, at least not in these terms. 

In a career where I’ve focused so much of my time and energy trying to get the staff to run through a wall for me, would I run through a wall for them?

I feel like I’ve always supported teachers.  I hope they would say I’ve had their back.  But that’s not exactly the same as “running through a wall” for them.  While trying to get 40 people to run through a wall for me, would I run through a wall for each of those 40?  Well, moments like reading those note cards made me stop and consider it. I’m sure I’ve thought of it, but never quite in this way. 

Back to the drawing board.  How can I help to create the culture where the staff wants to run through a wall for the leader, for each other, and the leader for the staff?











What Being a Principal Means to Me

October is “National Principals Month.”  It probably always has been, but I never noticed. As I was scrolling through Twitter the other day, for some reason, I finally took notice. There was a short article about the role of a principal and the types of impact they can have on a school. I tend to have reflective moments out of the blue, not always spurred upon by a powerful moment or event. This was one of those times. It wasn’t hard to do, but it was really fun. It made me think, ponder, question, smile, and laugh. 


I love to promote the profession of education. I’m pretty open about sharing my thoughts and feelings as it relates to the work that takes place in our schools on a daily basis. I wanted to share what I ended up writing down about what it means to me to be a principal. I hope fellow principals can take a moment to reflect and write, teachers will take a moment to read and see if I’m hitting my mark, and parents will know more about my beliefs.

  • Being a principal means I get to be a leader. I love to LEAD. I love to shape, craft, and mold a team full of different individuals towards a common purpose.
  • Being a principal means I get to impact students, hundreds, and thousands of students.  That is the ultimate motivator…impact the lives of kids. 
  • Being a principal means I will work to remove the barriers that teachers encounter so they can do what do best, which is teach.
  • Being a principal means I get to develop relationships with families in the community where I work and live.images.jpg

That leads me to a couple goals. Simple to write, but remarkably hard to attain. I’ve never shared these with anyone before.  If I’m doing these two things, I’m extending a positive impact on as many lives as possible.

1. I want to impact as many lives as I can during my time as a principal.

2. I want teachers who have worked with me to list me as the best principal they’ve ever worked with. Why should teachers settle for any less? #ChaseIt

That’s what being a principal means to me.  Basically, everything.





Innovation in Education — What if…

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow” – Pollard

That quote goes underneath my electronic signature for every email I send.  Part of the reason is due to my desire to uncover what is next, to make life better for students and teachers, and to collaborate with others to develop impactful ideas.  It seems like I always have some swimming around in my brain.images.jpg
What if…

  • Our elementary school was open from 7 am – 7 pm each day, served 3 meals for students and families, and provided extra curricular options as well
  • Each school, by law, in the state of Michigan, had a mental health professional designated to support the mental health needs of students and families
  • Report cards didn’t exist.  Students traveled from year to year with their data binder and the emphasis was on growth, not proficiency
  • Students and their families could decide on school hours that worked for them. Some students could come 7-1, others 12-6, whatever worked best for the schedule and the needs of the family and the student
  • There were no grade levels.  Students entered a school building and were placed and moved with students of similar social/emotional and academic skills
  • Each intermediate school district worked with the local districts (all, not some) to coordinate community/business partnerships that allowed students at all levels real-world professional experiences
  • Students, even in elementary school, had various schedules based on interests and levels of academic progress
  • Each student had one hour of their day designed to explore their interests which may lie inside or outside of the curriculum standards.  The teacher simply worked as a facilitator and resource to that exploration
  • Entire districts and states made the move to adopt a balanced calendar, which is clearly best for kids

I could go on and on.  How can we rethink some past practices and adjust them to better our educational system?  On the flip side, those of you reading this could find details and reasons why my ideas wouldn’t work.  That is where innovation is put to the test.  No idea is stamped for approval upon its inception.  Too often, the reasons not to outweigh the desire to overcome those obstacles and thinking is shut down or rejected.  In other instances, people think to be innovative the idea has to be immediately earth shattering.  Not true.  Innovation is simply a new idea or method.  Don’t think your idea is too small or won’t have a profound impact.  You’d be amazed at what something can grow into and the effect it can have on our educational system if you take that chance and don’t wilt at the first sign of pushback.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” still exists.  Some things are great just how they are.  But some need to be tinkered with and others need a complete

So, what am I going to do about it?  Well, I am going to continue to push the envelope of innovation.  I will keep presenting ideas, creatively trying to solve problems and to rethink past practices.  But, for the short-term, I need to start somewhere.  Here are the three places I want to start and focus on for the 2017-2018 school year. 

  1. Differentiated professional development for teachers – I’m excited about the plan we have at Jamestown to develop small group professional learning communities based on teacher choice, educational impact, and personal growth plans.  The hope is for the principal to mimic the type of gradual release structures we expect of teachers and to move away from so much whole group time.  There will be reading of research, lab classrooms, discussion, reflection, and teacher exploration.  I hope we have groups working simultaneously on topics such as questioning, innovation, how to #TeachLikeAPirate, collaborative strategies, growth mindset, learning targets, and much more!
  2. “Genius Hour” for students – – Other schools have this up and running and all I hear is the benefit for students.  Need to find a way to make this a reality at our school
  3. “Innovation Station” for educators – My idea here is to create a professional learning network of people who get together and just talk about innovative ideas in education.  It would be a group from various districts, in different roles, including a wide variety of thinkers, and would meet with essentially no agenda other than to share and develop innovative ideas.

Don’t be afraid.  Don’t be afraid to look foolish, to present an idea, or to share something with your unique perspective.  Your idea could be the beginning of something great for one student, one classroom, one school, one district, or even bigger.  Our students need us to consistently refine, adjust, create, and push ideas forward.  Innovation is at your fingertips and on the tip of your tongue.  Just jump in and explore the world of “what if’s.”