Common Core: Let’s Talk “Why”, Not Just “What”

Since the adoption of the Common Core there has been much discussion about what it will mean for education in this country.  It has sparked thousands of debates, blog posts, articles, and books.  Marketing campaigns from publishers and professional developers flood our inboxes all claiming to have the answers for us in how we move forward with implementation.  Most of what I read and hear is focused on the “What” of the Common Core.  You’ve no doubt seen many of the same documents I have that summarize some of the big shifts full implementation of the Common Core will require.  Here are a few:
  • Independent reading and comprehension of increasingly complex texts
  • Emphasis on reading informational text
  • Significant focus on evidence-based questions and responses
  • Increased levels of complexity required in student thinking and responses (Webb’s DOK is huge here!)
  • Greater importance placed on writing – particularly on informational and argumentative writing
  • Integration between and among subjects with  literacy and technology being an integral part of ALL content areas
  • Integration of the eight mathematical practices and a clear focus on conceptual understanding and application
Last week I attended a session at a Literacy Institute Lead by Angela Peery where she reminded us about what we have learned from Simon Sinek in his book: Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.   She shared this great video with us: Why We Need Common Core: A Parody

We have been doing a lot of work in my district around the Common Core, but upon reflection, we have done a lot of the “What” and not nearly enough of the “Why”.  So here is a start on the list of “Why Common Core” – thank you Angela Peery and for some of these thoughts and data!
  • The US is declining in competitiveness with other developed countries
  • Colleges and universities report higher rates of remediation courses needed than ever before
  • College instructors and employers report over 40% of incoming students/workers are not prepared for college and work
  • The global economy is changing the nature of work and the kinds of jobs our young people will enter.
  • Jobs that once required a high school degree and paid a family-sustaining-wage and included retirement and health benefits are disappearing, and new jobs require more knowledge and skills than ever before.
  • Today, roughly two-thirds of all new jobs require some form of postsecondary education.
  • What it means to be literate in today’s global society is dramatically different
  • With all of the information coming at us, the ability to think critically, to question, to synthesize, analyze and apply information is crucial
  • Communication and collaboration skills are critical in today’s workplace
  • US students need to be college and career ready in a global world
  • Our students need to develop skills such as independence, perseverance, resiliency, and a sense of “agency”
As educational leaders, it is critical that we understand the why… the purpose… the rationale… behind the Common Core, and we must be able to communicate it effectively to our teams and our stakeholders.  Building commitment to the “why” will help ensure implementation of the “what”!

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it  – Simon Sinek

Watch Simon Sinek’s TED talk here – thought-provoking!

It’s Not a PLC Without All Three Letters!

Over the past few months, I have had many experiences with colleagues and other educators  that have truly inspired me and pushed me to be an even better educational learner and leader.  Unfortunately, I have had a few that have also disturbed me.  I have had trouble thinking of a way to describe exactly why some of my interactions left me unsettled until a couple of weeks ago when a colleague and I facilitated a series of professional learning sessions for our schools’ Instructional Leadership Teams.  As a part of our learning together, we revisited the critical components of professional learning communities.  In doing so, it got me thinking of each of these three words “Professional” “Learning” and “Community” and it hit me…  every time I have been disappointed in an interaction, an experience, or another educator, it is inevitably because one of these three critical components was missing.  I believe deeply in the power of professional learning communities as a catalyst for ongoing change, improvement and innovation in education; as such, I also believe it is incumbent on all of us in the field of education to be professionals, to be learners, and to work as members of communities or teams.

As I think about each of these words and their characteristics, here are few ideas that resonate with me (Please feel free to add to the lists in your comments):


  • Professionals have specialized knowledge and expertise in a particular field initially gained through extensive education and ultimately through continued practice and learning in the field.  When we seek out a professional, we have confidence in their abilities.  We expect them to keep their knowledge and expertise up-to-date, and we expect them to perform at high levels and produce high quality work.
  • Professionals do what it takes to get the job done and to get it done well.  They are not bound by time clocks, and they understand that it often takes more than the allotted time in a “work day” or “work week” to meet the demands of the job.  Professionals produce results and exceed expectations.
  • Professionals use good judgment, communicate effectively and politely, they maintain their poise and treat others respectfully.
  • Professionals take responsibility for their actions, and they do not blame others for their lack of success.

I LOVE working with and interacting with educational professionals!  They inspire me, push me, challenge me to be my best and make an incredible difference in the lives of children.  Professional educators transform classrooms, schools and communities because of the work they do every day.  I encourage all of us to push ourselves and our teams to always remember that when we say we are educators, it should also mean we are professionals!


  • Learning means to seek out new knowledge and better ways of doing things.  Learners read, connect and share in order to stay current and get continuously better at their craft.
  • Learning is a critical component of being a professional educator.  Educational research has exploded in the last several years.  We know more now about how to create highly effective schools and classrooms than we ever have before.  Learners seek this out and make changes to their practice based on their learning.
  • Learners take responsibility for their learning.  They don’t wait for someone to tell them what to learn; they seek out new learning on their own.
  • Learners take risks, try new things, and learn from their successes and their failures.  They make deliberate efforts to create new knowledge when they are uncertain about something or when they have had less success than they had hoped.
  • Learners seek feedback.  They search out the opinions and advice of others and welcome a second set of eyes or a second opinion.
  • Learners reflect!  They take time out once in a while to reflect on their successes and their failures, and they make adjustments accordingly.  They have confidence and understand that through their own learning and reflection they will grow in their craft.

I read this tweet yesterday from Steve Anderson @web20classroom and it resonated:

“I dunno about you but if I want to learn something, I go learn it. Not for credit or for licenses. I learn it ‘cause I want to.”

As educators, we are in the learning business – it is what we are ALL about.  Schools and Districts across the country have mission statements that promise to graduate students who are committed to life-long learning. Almost every minute of our work days committed to the learning of others – we should value it for ourselves.


  • A community is a group of people who have a set of shared interests and who support each other in achieving common goals.
  • Community members get involved.  In order for a community to thrive, people need to work together.
  • Communities have a certain set of norms or rules they follow in order to be respectful of each other.
  • Community members take responsibility and they don’t allow an individual to undermine the work of the group.  They act in ways that demonstrate the community values.
  • Community members make decisions based on what is best for the group and what will best help the group move forward in achieving its goals – they do not make their decisions based merely on self-interest.

Strong communities do amazing work.  It’s true that all of us working together can accomplish so much more as a team or a community than we ever would be able to working alone.  The work of teachers and administrators can no longer be done in isolation.  With all of the changes coming at us in education right now, we must insist that our work is about “us” and not about “me”.

Initially in my planning of this post, I thought I would share with all of you the recent encounters I have had that led me to reflect on Professional Learning Communities, but I decided against it. Not only would it be unprofessional, it would not contribute effectively to our collective learning, and would only serve to undermine my community, which all in all is doing unbelievably fantastic work!

Are Your Kids Just “Doing School?”

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my 8 year old daughter and watching school play out for her in my role as a parent.  School has a different impact on my son.  Hayden is 11 years old and will start 6th grade tomorrow – his first day of middle school.  Like my daughter, he is very bright and has recently been identified as Gifted and Talented.

Hayden “does school” (a phrase I picked up several years ago during a workshop presented by Robert Marzano and Deborah Pickering).  Unlike my daughter he does not dislike school.  He finds it tolerable.  Mostly he looks at class time as something he has to endure to get to recess, lunch,  and P.E. where he can hang out with friends and play sports.

Hayden knows we expect him to do well in school, so he does.  He is well-behaved in class, he completes his classwork, and he turns in his homework. He does not want to get in trouble, he does not want to struggle, and he does not want to fail.  He is always a recipient of the report card comment “Hayden is a pleasure to have in class.”

Hayden always does what his teacher expects of him – he does no less … and he also does no more.

Despite the fact that Hayden has always scored advanced on his standardized tests, he mostly submits “proficient” work and receives “proficient” marks on his report card.  That is the standard that we as educators often set– strive to be proficient.  I have watched this play out in my household in a number of ways, but here a few examples:

I have witnessed Hayden study for several spelling  and vocabulary tests;  once he knows 16 of the 20 words (enough to score proficient), he no longer cares if he learns the rest.

I have marveled over watching him write his spelling words five times each (my thoughts about the assignment aside)… He works vertically – writing the first letter five times down the page, then the second letter five times , the third etc. until he’s finished.  I am certain that the way he completes this assignment has done nothing to improve his spelling – but the assignment is complete and turned into his teacher.

He has been asked to read books of his choice for homework and then write summaries of what he has read.  During one school year, I watched him frequently “make-up” three sentence summaries about something he had not actually read.  When I first challenged him on it, his response to me was “My teacher doesn’t even read them, so it doesn’t matter.”  Despite my best efforts, the teacher’s lower expectations won out over my higher ones of him, and he wrote very poor summaries of things he had read (and things he hadn’t) all year long.   It just was not worth the weekly battle in my home to get him to write better summaries when his teacher accepted the lesser ones and always marked them with a little red star.

If Hayden is asked to write an essay and the teacher says it needs to be 250 words, he will write 250 words – not 251… seriously – I have watched him count, and even if he has another great idea, he is finished because he has met the expectation.

When Hayden’s teachers have high expectations and raise the bar for him – he perseveres through the challenge and produces amazing work – advanced work.  He has had many teachers do this for him.  Unfortunately, he has also experienced instances of low expectations, and much to my horror as a parent and an educator, he has always met those too.

As an educational leader in a district that entered Program Improvement a few years ago, I have spent a lot of time working with my colleagues figuring out new and better ways to help more of our students attain proficiency in language arts and mathematics.  We have had several  great, and necessary conversations about helping more students reach proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics – and they have resulted in far more students attaining that proficiency.

Now, however, I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about how we push beyond “striving for proficiency”.  As I watch my son “do school”, I know there is so much more I want for him.  I want him to excel as a reader, as a writer, and as a mathematician, but I also want him to engage in challenging work that requires critical thinking, and creative and collaborative problem-solving.  I want someone to push him to take an educational risk and let him know that it is ok to do so and that it is ok to fail.

I want the same for the students in the schools in my District.  It will require us to take some risks that may push ourselves out of our comfort zones.  It will require continuous learning and collaboration. It will require us to have different types of conversations and to think about evaluating learning in new and different ways.   I am excited about the possibilities.

Rolling our Snowball

My husband (@burgessdave) recently wrote a blog post titled,  “Rolling Snowballs Downhill”.  He compared the process of changing school culture to rolling a snowball downhill; the snowball starts small, but as it rolls downhill, it gains momentum, picks up more snow, and can eventually grow quite large.  In his post, he writes:

“Change is created by starting small and building powerful relationships with a committed but often small initial group. This group can then hit the ground and start moving forward. They will find it easier to overcome inertia because they will not be weighed down by the naysayers, the reluctant, and the largest group of all…the comfortable. They will be free to build momentum unencumbered by the resistance and friction that so often dooms forward progress in projects that try to bring everyone along for the ride from the beginning. As they build speed rolling down the hill, they will attract others to the cause who will now want to get involved with a successful and positive movement. Eventually, the size of the snowball reaches the point of critical mass, drawing in all around it and becoming an unstoppable force for change and progress.”

In the past few months, I have recently discovered for myself the power of social media and many web 2.0 tools… I am more connected than I have ever been before, and the professional learning I have experienced  through social media is the best I have had in years.  I want this experience for EVERYONE in our district.  As a district leader, I also have started to think about flipping classrooms and meetings, hosting edcamps, having students and adults write and reflect through blogging…  there is so much more I think about doing as I continue to connect and learn from colleagues around the world who are part of my PLN.

What I know, though, is that many are as sceptical as I was a few months ago; some do not understand or believe; some do not know how these tools might impact them professionally; some are intimidated; many do not know what they are missing!

As much as I want social media and web 2.0 tools, and all of the possibilities they have to offer, to be an integral part of our system, I am convinced that in order to make this happen, we have to roll a snowball downhill.  I am fortunate to have a colleague (@directoramy) who is as committed about the use of social media as I am.  With our initial enthusiasm, we were able to recruit two principals and one of our coordinators to join us.  A dedicated teacher joined in! We have added a few of our academic coaches to the mix and just yesterday hosted an open invitation to our first “Connected Leaders” series where we offered a Twitter tutorial.  We helped strengthen the understanding of Twitter for a few of our colleagues, and we had four more start their accounts and send their first tweets – one of whom will quickly be our next Twitter addict.  With about 15 of us now connected, we have even started our own District hash tag.

Becoming a “connected” district and harnessing the power of web 2.0 tools may not happen as quickly as I might hope, but we are moving forward with a small, committed group.  We have made our snowball, and we are getting ready to roll it downhill!

What Story Will They Tell About You?

I have had the unusual experience of attending two Memorial Services this week – one for a member of our school community and another for my neighbor.  Both passed away unexpectedly and both well before their time.  At the service I attended today, the priest gave a powerful and moving sermon about the spirit someone leaves behind as they move on.  Although my words will never do his justice, he proposed to us that when someone passes, their spirit lives on as the collection of stories people tell about them.  How people remember us, the stories they tell, are in the end our legacy.  In fact, these stories are often the most powerful and moving part of any memorial service we attend.

I have also recently read three blog posts that struck a chord with me, and it is because they carry a similar message.  The first was Leave a Legacy  by Justin Tarte (@justintarte), the second was Leaders… What is Your Family Footprint by David Culberhouse (@dculberhouse), and the third was My Son the Volcano by Jennifer Marten (@jenmarten)  All three of these posts ask us to think about the legacy, the footprint, the words, or as the priest today said… “the collection of stories” we ultimately will leave behind.

As a San Diegan, I was deeply moved this week when I read an article that came out in the San Diego Union Tribune about an SDPD officer who was murdered a year ago.  Three minutes before the officer’s death, his last conversation, which happened to be with a child, was captured on video.  It was shared with us in a story Officer’s Last Conversation Reverberates posted on August 7th. He was in line behind a 13 year old boy in line at McDonald’s – he engaged him in conversation, and when the boy did not have enough money to pay for his items, Officer Henwood paid for the rest.  The story inspired one of our Council members to say this:  “All of us can show kindness to a stranger… All of us can leave the world a little better than we found it.” It is a testament to the type of man he was, and his spirit lives on through this story we are all telling.

The day after this article came out, I was engaged in a conversation with one of my colleagues who shared with me another story of a series of interactions an adult (a teacher) had had with a very special child in my colleague’s life.  In telling this very personal story, she actually used the words “the teacher killed his spirit” – that is the story being told about this teacher.

As educators, our voices are loud, our words and our actions critical.  What we say and do has amazing power.  We make hundreds of decisions every day that have an incredible impact on the children we serve.  I encourage all of us to remember the story being told about Officer Henwood and to think about the collection of stories we want people to tell about us.

Through my Daughter’s Eyes

I have learned an incredible amount about learning, teaching and leading from many people in my career, but for the past few years, I think I have learned the most in my role as a parent and through the eyes of my children.  This post is about what I have learned through the eyes of my eight year old daughter who will be entering 4th grade in the fall.

I know I’m her mother, but Ashlyn truly is one of the brightest children I know – all the “numbers” support this – she scores advanced on every assessment, usually with a perfect score; she has scored high enough on a myriad of assessments that she has been labeled “gifted and talented”, her report cards are perfect, she wins numerous academic awards etc., etc., etc.,

More important to me… she is a voracious learner!  She spends most of her free time asking inquisitive and amazing questions, and she diligently seeks the answers through any source she can get her hands on.  Google and You Tube are two of her best friends.  We have spent countless hours researching every minute detail of her favorite animals so she can write books and stories.  For every bug, lizard or other obscure creature she catches in the yard, we have to hunt down its species, its ideal environment and what it eats so we can care for it in our home.  For every pet she has wanted us to buy her she has combed through online research so she can make her plea to us with all of the evidence to back up why it is a good idea – she does this so well; we now run a small zoo.

Through books and online tutorials, she has taught herself to draw, to play songs on the harmonica and the keyboard, and to fold origami.  She conducts science experiments. She has learned how to care for every one of her pets.  She recently started her own blog and has written to the Humane Society asking for their advice on the best way an eight year old might give back to their organization because she wants to thank them for bringing us her cat.  Ashlyn is a reader, a writer… a highly effective communicator.  She is a creator and a critical thinker.  She is passionate about learning

…and she does not like school. 

Some years have been better than others, but overall school is something we have mostly tolerated.

My husband and I are both educators, we believe in public education, and we support our community schools, but it has been a challenge for us watching her experience school – even as she attends a school that California has honored as “Distinguished”.

Despite the fact that the school has Promethean Boards in the classrooms and Netbooks for every child to use, we rarely see evidence of projects or assignments that demonstrate they are in use… even when I know my daughter and many of her peers are highly proficient users of the technology sitting in the rooms. The assignments and tests that come home most frequently are multiple-choice or fill in the blank type activities which require limited thinking.  While we save many of the projects, creations, stories, and books my daughter has created at home, most of what comes from school goes into the trash can – they are not things she is proud of… they are things she has endured. My husband and I have spent the past four years pulling teeth to get her to complete the packets of worksheets that come home weekly for homework – and to be honest, we have reached a point where we often do not even require her to do them anymore.  She writes her blog posts or learns something new of her choosing instead.

While my daughter has certainly had some good experiences in school and teachers I truly admire, I can’t begin to express my frustration over some of the conversations I have had over the years about different ways school might be able to better challenge and engage my daughter.  I have heard too many excuses… the class size is too big, we have too much material to cover, we have to get them ready for the test, the other students need me more… the list goes on.  It is not my intent to communicate here that I blame any of teachers – in fact, I believe that almost every year she has been in school, she has had hard-working teachers who are trying to do their best in the system in which they have been asked to work.

On paper, my daughter is a school success story, but in reality, school has been failing her.

So… who is at fault?

Every one of us who serves in an educational leadership role – whether at the Federal, State, District or Site level – has to accept a little piece of the blame.  Whether intended or not, we have created a system that values test scores above all else – they are what we highlight; they are what we celebrate; they are what we use to determine good schools, “distinguished schools”, from failing ones and “good” teachers from “bad” ones… And somewhere along the way too many schools and too many classrooms have left truly authentic, appropriately challenging and highly engaging learning behind.

We have done the same in my District, certainly not intentionally, but when we entered Program Improvement a few years ago (despite many years of consistent growth!), test scores became a primary focus, and while we have done a lot of good work over the past few years, we have also made some mistakes… particularly in our communication of what we value.

What I love about the conversations we are starting to have now, is that we are talking more about learning and less about test scores.  We are re-thinking our vision, and we know it includes so much more than what test scores will indicate.  We are talking about providing students with highly engaging and content-rich curriculum and instruction, and we are asking ourselves more questions about how to incorporate technology and make learning more relevant.  We are asking more teachers to step into leadership roles and to help us push our thinking, and we are telling stories of our learning.  We are making this shift one step… one day at a time but we are relentless.  I expect that this will be a great year for us and our students will learn some amazing things… and when this happens – the test scores will take care of themselves.

What I have learned from my daughter is that when a child is passionate about learning (which I believe every child is when they enter school), school should be a place they want to be EVERY DAY.  Seeing school through my daughter’s eyes has pushed me to think about the type of learning opportunities I want for her, and I want nothing less for the students I serve in my District. We should be creating experiences in our districts and our schools that cause students to celebrate the END of summer break – not the beginning of it!

It’s Up to Us

I work with an amazing group of principals who inspire and motivate me every day, and yesterday one of them shared something with me that made a powerful impact.  She is beginning her first full year in her position as principal (she started mid-year last year).  Since she started at her school last October, this new principal has been working diligently to build relationships and gather data.  She has combed through test scores, sat in on grade-level meetings and made a huge number of classroom, hallway and playground observations.  She has engaged in discussions with students, staff, parents and community members, and she has earned their trust and their respect.  She has been a colleague, a leader, and a decision-maker, but most importantly she has been a learner, an observer, and a listener… and each day she has grown a little bit stronger in her convictions about the kind of school she wants to lead.  This year she decided to set the tone of her first staff meeting using this quote as the theme for their work together…

It’s Up To Me…

“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.” – Haim Ginott

What I know from speaking to her afterwards is that she got choked up and had a few tears in her eyes as she read the words.  She knew the message she was planning to send might be harsh, but she knew it was the right one to send.  I also know she moved others to tears, and she inspired others to thank her, to give her hugs, and to speak encouraging words.  She had several staff members request a copy of the quote, and she sent it onto them with a message to “never underestimate the power you have as a teacher”.  What she did that first day took conviction and it took courage.

Upon reflection, she also shared with me that while the journey of becoming a principal has not been an easy one, she feels strongly that she has been chosen to lead her school for a reason.  She has a vision, a sense of purpose, and a belief that she will make a difference.  She has developed what Michael Fullan has referred to as a “moral imperative”, and I am certain that through her leadership, her school will thrive.

My conversation with her made me think!

As site and district leaders…

  • It’s up to us to develop the collective sense of moral purpose.
  • It’s up to us have courageous conversations.
  • It’s up to us shape the school culture.
  • It’s up to us to hold up the mirror, even if some of us won’t like what we see.
  • It’s up to us to define what we stand for and act accordingly.
  • It’s up to us to inspire and to motivate.
  • It’s up to us to push people to places they never thought they could go.
  • It’s up to us to challenge the status quo and do what is right, even when it is not popular.
  • It’s up to us to create schools where we would be proud to send our own children.

It’s Up to Us

I have come to the frightening conclusion that as leaders we are the decisive elements in our schools and in our districts.  It is our daily mood that creates the climate.  As leaders, we possess a tremendous power to make a school exceptional or to make a school a failure.  We can use tools to create indifference or use instruments of motivation.  We can berate and blame or we can inspire and innovate.  In all situations, it is our responses that decide whether or not our schools will exceed expectations or fall below them.  It is the choices we make each day that ensure our students succeed BECAUSE of our schools, not in spite of them.


What’s Your Passion?

“A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”  – John Maxwell

We are just about to start a new school year this Monday. I am energized, motivated, and excited about all of the possibilities our team will have together this year to learn, teach, lead, connect, engage and reflect! We hosted our first  “Kick off” event for all employees on Wednesday which was a huge success.  We had opportunities to see old friends, make new connections and participate in healthy activities.  We had opportunities to think, to laugh and to come together as a community.  I loved every minute of it and have received incredible feedback from our staff.

 As a participant in the event, I also had the unique pleasure of seeing my husband, Dave Burgess, deliver the keynote speech.  You would think that as his wife this would not be new to me… but it was.  He has never stood up in our living room and delivered his keynote, and I don’t follow him on his travels as he delivers it in other districts – so it was a first for me.  While there are many things he said that caused me to stop and think, there is one that really stood out for me… it was when he asked us “What are you passionate about?”  He separated passion into three categories, and while all important, the one that has caused the most reflection for me was “Category Two” or my “Professional Passion”.  For the last few days I have been asking myself – what is it about my profession that I am passionate about?  What was it that got me into the business of education, and why is it that I would not want any other career than to be an educator?

“If there is no passion in your life, then have you really lived? Find your passion, whatever it may be. Become it, and let it become you and you will find great things happen FOR you, TO you and BECAUSE of you.” – T. Alan Armstrong

So – here are my thoughts…

  •  I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of students.
  • I believe that a quality education is the great equalizer, and I am passionate about making sure every child receives an amazing education every minute of every day they are in school.
  • I am passionate about eliminating the “achievement gap”.
  • I believe every child, regardless of their background and what they do and don’t bring with them into school, has an amazing desire to learn and to be exceptional, and I believe WE have the knowledge and expertise to help them realize they are exceptional.
  • I am passionate about providing every child with rich learning opportunities that prepare them to compete with any other child, anywhere, anytime in any subject area.
  • I believe we have the power, the ability, and the obligation to make sure every child leaves us fully prepared to excel in the next phase of their educational experience.
  • I am passionate about making sure every child thinks of themselves as smart.
  • I am passionate about seeing things in children that they don’t yet see in themselves and about nurturing and encouraging them to share their gifts and their talents with the world.

I am also passionate about working with adult learners, teachers and leaders.

  • I believe all of us have an amazing capacity to have an incredible influence on the lives of children, and I am passionate about developing a sense of collective efficacy.  I want to make a difference – not excuses.
  • I am passionate about creating a culture among the adults that includes a belief that we in fact do have the power and the ability to help our students accomplish amazing things – even the students who others may have written off!
  • I am passionate in my belief that it’s not programs that teach kids… it’s teachers. An OUTSTANDING teacher who has nothing but crayons, a chalkboard, and blank pieces of paper in the classroom wins hands down, any day of the week over the best “program”.
  • I am passionate about collaboration.  Collectively we are stronger and better than we are individually; we need to hear each others’ voices and push each other to learn, to take risks, and to be even better than we thought we could be.
  • I am passionate about outside the box thinking, innovation and creative problem solving.
  • I believe being a part of a team of people coming around the table brainstorming unique ways to tackle a challenge (particularly when it comes to student learning) is one of the best ways to spend my time.
  • I am passionate about coaching and engaging in rich dialogue around teaching and learning that ultimately has an impact on student learning.

I know there is more, but this is what I have come up with so far!

I invite all of you to join me in reflecting on your passions!  What is it that you are passionate about?  How do you incorporate your passion into your district, your school, your classroom or your work?   I look forward to hearing what YOU are passionate about and how you incorporate that passion into your work!

On a side note – I shared this reflection (worded a little bit differently) with all of our staff and invited them to share their passions on our discussion board.  I am looking forward to what they have to say.

What’s on YOUR One Page?

Almost every piece of educational research on school improvement includes some version of focus, tackling one problem at a time, making a commitment to having a few well-articulated goals and priorities and sticking with them.

The real path to greatness, it turns out, requires simplicity and diligence.  It requires clarity, not instant illumination.  It demands each of us to focus on what is vital – and to eliminate all of the extraneous distractions. – Jim Collins

It turns out that “focus” is sometimes a difficult thing for us.  As educators, we are responsible for so much.  We are expected to teach all of the content standards in all subject areas to students at all levels of learning. We teach both language and content to students learning English.  We integrate character education, help students learn how to “say no to drugs”, promote anti-bullying campaigns, ensure our students develop patriotism and a sense of civic responsibility… the list goes on and many educators feel overwhelmed with the awesome responsibility of all they have to do.

As educational leaders, it is critical that we help our teams sift through all of this and get crystal clear about our focus.  We have all heard the saying that if we try to do too many things, we are not doing any of them well. I have watched this play out on too many occasions throughout my career.  We need to identify what matters most.  Not only do we have to identify it, but we need to communicate it at every opportunity. Then we need to spend the majority of our time on it.  We need to use it to plan what we say and what we do. We need to be the guardians of it.  As Stephen Covey so eloquently stated, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”.

A colleague of mine once used this analogy which sticks with me to this day:

When I think about how to focus at my school, it helps me to think about how I clean my house – every room is important and at some point in time needs a little bit of attention.  But my kitchen needs to be cleaned every day.  After every meal, I put things away, do the dishes and wipe down the table, the counters and the sink.  I can almost always put off the dusting or the vacuuming one more day, but my kitchen can never wait until tomorrow.

I have spent a little bit of time recently reflecting on our focus and what I wanted to share with principals as being our most important work for the upcoming school year, so I decided I was going to create a document that clarified it on paper.  As I started on this journey, I gave myself three criteria:

  1. It had to be aligned to work we were already engaged in – no new initiatives
  2. It could not include any more than 4 areas of focus
  3. It had to all fit onto one page in an easily accessible and clear format.


I pulled out several documents to assist me as I started down this path: our Board’s goals and priorities, our student achievement plan, our Title III plan, our Program Improvement plan.  All in all I reviewed over 100 pages… and I wanted to get it onto one!

This was NOT an easy task, but it was a critical one – it forced me to think about every aspect of our work and its impact on student learning.  It forced me to have to think about the connections between different pieces of our work and to make decisions about where a piece of work “fit”.  Should technology be its own focus or should it be something we use to help us achieve a different focus?  It also caused me to think about what we might need to stop doing.

It took me several hours over several days, several drafts and multiple versions of a “one-page” document, but I think I finally have something.  It may not be as “visual” as I would like it to be – I always admire great infographics, fancy charts and organizers – but it is done and it makes sense, and I believe it captures the voices of many people in our organization.

I cannot emphasize enough how important this exercise has been for me as an educational leader.  Not only do I now have more clarity and focus, but I am able to clearly share it with others.  I have something simple in my hands that I can use to make most of the decisions I make every day in my role.  I know what type of data I want to collect and review, and I know what types of data and products I will be asking principals to share with me.  I know what I will be looking for to highlight and celebrate, and I know what types of questions I will be asking when I visit school sites and classrooms.  I know the types of books and articles I want us to read and learn from as leaders of this work, and I know how I want to support my team.  I know what I want to say “yes” to and what I can easily say “no” to.  I also know that I will be a better learner and a better leader because I have gained greater clarity about our most important work. I am energized about the work I will be doing with my team this year, and I am positive this was an important step in helping move our system from being good to being great!

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good.  – Stephen Covey

If you haven’t done so already, I encourage all of you in my PLN to try the same exercise…  What’s on YOUR one page?

What If?

A few weeks ago I read the blog post “If” by an educator I admire, David Culberhouse  I have read, favorited, organized, archived, and retweeted several posts lately which have inspired me or made me think, but “If” is one I keep coming back to.

In his post David introduces the simple word… “If, the Great Qualifier”  He explains…

  • “If allows us not to be all in…it is an incredibly safe word. It is the antithesis of risk. If is a safety net. And we use it constantly at our places of work, with our families, and it even weaves its way into our prayers. It makes everything we do safe and risk-free.
  •  “If, the Great Qualifier” is the controller of the disrupters and the maintainer of the status quo… Too often, the “ifs” are all conditions beyond the school’s control, conditions that ultimately release the educators from responsibility for their students’ learning.”

I have heard too many “If’s” in my career and many of them sound like the ones David highlighted:

  • “yes, all kids can learn…if the students want to learn…if the parents are supportive…if our school had more resources…if the district, state, and national policymakers would stop hampering our efforts.”

My commitment as a leader this year is to push back on the “IF’s” with “WHAT IF’s”…

When I hear someone say IF?  I am going to respond with WHAT IF?   WHAT IF helps us see the possibilities; it helps us move from negative thinking to positive thinking.  WHAT IF has the ability to inspire and to motivate.  WHAT IF helps us dream and create a vision.  WHAT IF is powerful!  I envision that this year some of my responses to “IF” might look sound like this…

WHAT IF we believed every child could learn at advanced levels?

WHAT IF we believed that every child was capable of meeting challenging learning objectives?

WHAT IF we believed every child wanted to learn?

WHAT IF we believed every child had unique and valuable gifts and talents?

 WHAT IF we believed every child were a critical thinker, a creative innovator, and a dynamic communicator?

WHAT IF we believed every parent was doing their best to support their child?

 WHAT IF we believed every parent wanted their child to go to college and be successful?

 WHAT IF we believed every time a parent confronted us with a complaint it was because they had the best interests of their child at heart?

 WHAT IF we believed that every parent wanted to partner with us to do what is best for their child?

WHAT IF we believed every teacher was exceptional and was committed to doing what was best for students?

WHAT IF we valued every teacher as a professional and gave them a voice in decision-making?

WHAT IF we believed that every teacher was a learner willing to take risks and try new things in the best interest of students?

WHAT IF every time we had new information that told us a student was struggling we responded with timely interventions and WHAT IF we committed to learning new ways of intervening when everything we tried didn’t work?

WHAT IF we believed that the administrators working at the National, State, and District levels had the best intentions for students at the heart of their decisions, policies and mandates?

WHAT IF we assumed positive intentions every time a colleague or a parent said or did something?

The list goes on…

As leaders, we are responsible for cultivating the culture in our districts and at our sites.  We have to help each member of our team build a sense of efficacy  –  they need to know for certain that the choices they make each day have a profound impact on students and their learning.  When administrators consider their teachers to be exceptional, teachers excel.  When teachers believe every child in their classroom is capable of achieving great things, students excel.  We have to have high expectations for ourselves, our colleagues, and our students, and we have to believe they can and want to meet them.

When we have a sense of efficacy, we accept responsibility for learning, teaching, and leading; we don’t place blame on others.  When we have a sense of efficacy and are faced with challenges – we don’t qualify them with “IF”… we find ways to get better with “WHAT IF”?