Saturday, January 30, 2016

It's Only 30 Minutes #KidsDeserveIt

I've always said that I believe January and February to be some of the hardest months of the school year.  It's getting over that hump into the spring, testing is kicking in (at least in Texas), behavior starts to escalate again, people are getting on other people's nerves, and you feel like there's way too much on your plate.

As an administrator now, and knowing what I know, I have to be aware of that when making decisions and asking for my teachers to help with things.

And I feel like it's also my job as a leader to be aware when stress exists and try to help ease or alleviate that stress.

Sometimes with things that I'm told I have to pass down to my staff, I don't get a lot of options about what I have to ask my team to do.  But you see, there ARE things I can do.

I have plans for something for our February staff meeting, but I'm not sharing those secrets yet haha.

BUT, I will share something I started this week, that I'm already seeing great results from....

Sometimes we just want someone to notice how hard we're working.  Sometimes we just need a minute, we just need a break.

As the leader, I have a lot of things I have to complete and do, but most importantly I have to take care of my team.  Those kids and my team are my number one priority.  Paperwork and other things can happen second.

So this week I started by selecting 7 "winners" and notifying them by email they were selected.

Within the email I let them know that this week was their special week.  They could select a 30 minute time period, that matched with my calendar, that I would come and cover their classes and give them a break.

Some chose the first 30 minutes of the day so they could show up late, some chose a period combined with their lunch to get an extended lunch, and others just chose a time that worked for them.  But the point was that I noticed they needed a break, and I stepped up to the plate and gave up my time to show them I noticed their hard work.

I did a bug lesson with Kindergarten, I read to PreK and worked in centers with them, I did a writing activity with 3rd grade, I helped give a test in 5th grade, I read to and taught a writing lesson to 4th grade, I helped 1st grade at recess and came inside to finish an assignment, and two teachers said they didn't need the break but appreciated the thought!

Did it require me to give up my own time where I needed to complete things?  Of course it did.  But I've always said that I was never going to be an administrator who left the classroom, so this "gift" from me also allowed me to get back into classrooms and have face time with kids as their "teacher".

I hear leaders tell me, "I can't give up that kind of time" or "My teachers would't take me up on it", but my response to that is that as the leader of this campus I have to give up my own time for the benefit of the team.  There are so many of my responsibilities that I can get done when kids aren't in the building, and in reality, when those kids are in the building I should be spending every moment I can working with them and the rest of the staff.

So when you notice the stress.  When you see that people aren't feeling noticed are heard for their frustrations or hard work, it's time to step up.  It doesn't have to be covering their classes, it can be something totally different.

But the way I look at it is, it's only 30 minutes.  And I loved every one of them.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Journey: Race, Economics, and White-Privilege #KidsDeserveIt

Inequality is something that has received more and more national attention lately.  From economic injustices, to racial prejudice, and so much more. From shootings, to marches, to court cases.  It's everywhere.  And it's something that is heavy on my soul.  Something that my personal journey has led me to.  So I wanted to take this place to share my thoughts, my story, my heart.

I'm white.  There's no denying that.  I grew up in a home of white middle-class parents.  From birth, my family was able to provide all my basic needs.  I was never denied a service when I went somewhere.  I wasn't stared at because I looked different or whispered about as I passed by.  Women didn't clutch their purses as I walked past them, I wasn't called racial slurs, I was able to

Growing up in southeast Texas though, I saw prejudice.  Especially racial-prejudice.  I just didn't know it at the time.  But, oh what I know now.

My parents divorced when I was leaving 6th grade.  I moved with  my single-mom to a new town.  A town a little more racially diverse.  I learned what it was like watching my mom struggle sometimes to make ends-meet.  To provide my brother and I with things we wanted or needed.  I saw fear of being able to put food on the table.  I learned about hard work.  I caught a glimpse, just a glimpse, of what it felt like to be "poor".

When I was little, I grew up around people who looked like me.  I often heard the n-word, derogatory names for Mexicans, hurtful terms used to describe the LGBT community, and more.  But the funny thing is I never found myself using the words.  Not once.  For whatever reason, I could sense the pain in those words and knew they'd never leave my mouth.

I share that background of myself first, to lead into who I've grown into as an adult.

I remember being in college, working to be a teacher, and being in a city that was filled with families who did not speak English.  I remember saying things like "if you're gonna live in this country you need to learn our language, ENGLISH!", "you shouldn't come over here if you're not willing to put forth energy to learn it", and so on.  I was convinced I was right.  I heard others backing me up, telling me they agreed, so why would I be wrong?

My how things have changed for me.

I remember my first eye opening experience was when I visited Venezuela for 3 weeks in 2009.  I went to visit a good friend of mine and stayed with his family.  It was my first trip out of the country.  And I was surrounded by people who didn't speak my language.  The only person I could comfortably communicate with was my friend.  No one else spoke English.  The first few days were ok, but then it became overwhelming.  Not being able to feel like I could express myself.  From that moment...something in me clicked.  Working with students where almost 40% of them were hispanic, I came back with a different appreciation and understanding.  Not a complete one, but a deeper one.

Then, I became a "connected educator" about 3 years or so ago.  I stepped outside of my realm of familiarity and my eyes were opened.  I connected with educators, students, thought leaders from around the world, and my eyes were opened.  I met people of all educational, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds.   And I did more than talk, I listened.

I then started EduAllStars podcast (with my buddy Chris Kesler), and began interviewing game changes in education from all walks of lives and I heard their stories.

I think to me that made the biggest impact.  Stopping and listening to people, where they came from, what they fought through, the struggles they faced and still faced.

I remember talking with a Hispanic Principal and hearing him tell me that to this day, even with National Awards and World Wide recognition, he will still have parents call him a "stupid Mexican" or a "wet-back".

I remember talking with a teenager at an educational conference who told a small group of us what it was like being bullied because of his sexual-preference.  To see the incredible work he's done worldwide to help others, and the daily battle he himself still faced at school.

I listened to an African-American teacher tell me about how a parent of one of her students said she should teach his child because she was a "stupid n-word" (he used the word).

I sat in a room with a group of diverse kids and listened as they told me the hardest thing about school was that there weren't adults that looked like them.  That all their teachers were white, and often the felt like they didn't connect.

My heart broke.  It still breaks.  These stories aren't from years ago.  All four stories listed above are from the last 8 months.

I feel like we can do more.  I feel like we can work together more.  And I don't mean just one group.  I mean all of us.  Every single one of us has played a part in the way things are now, and it will take many of us to make a change.

I love Margaret Mead's quote "Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world, when indeed it's the only one that ever has."

I look around now and on the news see constant hatred still spread.  Telling us to kick people out of our country because of race or religion.  Telling us to shoot at or boycott cops because of skin color.  Telling us one person is better than another because of money, skin, religion, language.

I know I'm white.  I know I'm middle class.  I know, now, that there are privileges that have been afforded to me because of those things.  But I also understand more.  I also now am aware of those things, and being aware makes a difference.

I'm by no means saying I completely understand the plight others face.  I never will.  You don't understand, until you walk in those shoes.  But the more I watch on social media of people still proudly spreading hatred and misunderstanding, I couldn't stay quiet.

I teach in a school where only about 10% of the students are like me.  I work with little hands, bright smiles, tiny bodies.  I work with kids who have limitless potential.  Kids who will change the world.  Kids who sleep on dirt floors.  Kids who eat only what is served at school.  Kids who have skin color that is darker than mine.  Kids who speak more languages then I can.  Kids whose dream is just to make it to college.  Kids who coming to school is the only time they're guaranteed a hug.  Kids who battle drug use at home, violence, abuse.  I have 750 students under my charge, who I have no choice but to fight for.  To try and understand.  To connect with.  To be their voice.

I want to be more.  I want my voice to speak more, louder, out for those who aren't like me.  I want to be a voice for those who don't feel they can stand up.  Who don't feel they'll be heard.  I want to stand along side them.  I want things to change.

So today, I share my story.  My journey from being who I was to who I am right now.  I'm not done growing.  I have more to understand.  But I'm in a place where I can see that all of us matter.  Every skin color, every language, every religion.  And I'm tired of what I see around.  I want to be the difference.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Game Changer: Teacher Meetings #KidsDeserveIt

So I'm in the middle of something that has already become a game changer for me (and hopefully my team too!)

Coming back from the holiday break I really wanted to get some one-on-one face time with each of my team members.  I wanted to spend more time listening to them and hearing them.  Now, my team has 80 members, so it was going to be no small undertaking.

Well this past week I met with every single teacher on campus.  I sent out a Doodle (which if you haven't heard of or used it, you must, it's so easy!) for teachers to sign up for a time to meet with me.  I let them know that it wouldn't take more than 15 minutes and I just wanted to chat.

So over the course of the week I sat down with each teacher and listened.  I asked them just a couple of questions:

1.  I always started with asking them how their break went and if they actually relaxed any.
2.  I asked them what their goals were for this semester.
3.  I asked them what their one word was going to be for this semester to focus on.
4.  I asked them how I could better help them (and then took time to share with them that my goal for this semester was to be more academically involved; team teaching, modeling lessons, taking intervention groups, reading to classes more, etc; so they needed to think of ways to take advantage of that!)
5.  Then I ended with asking them if there was anything heavy on their hearts about the campus or culture that they wanted to share.

For me, the meetings were a game changer.  It was so nice to just be able to give each teacher individual attention.  To just sit and listen.

I loved hearing the goals they set for themselves and the reason they chose their one word.

I also really enjoyed hearing their ideas on how I could better support them and what issues they may or may not have with how things are going.  It was great for me to really hear that our staff was really feeling good about the campus as a whole and work that was taking place.

One familiar phrase that kept being brought up is that they felt; encouraged, challenged, and like a family where we're all working towards a common goal. Loved that!

I took notes during every single meeting, because my goal is to have these meetings again in two months and check in with each member about how they're keeping up with their goals, as well as their one word!

And next week I meet with all our other team members who aren't classroom teachers.  I can't wait to hear from them as well!

So my challenge to other administrators is to make time in your schedule to have those face to face, one on one, conversations.  Remember that we have time for what we make time for.  It really makes a difference.

Friday, January 1, 2016

My #OneWord2016: "Ours" #KidsDeserveIt

I've thought long and hard about my #OneWord that I wanted to focus on for this year (2016).  I wanted a word that had several meanings to me.

So after much thought I finally chose my word.  This year my word is...Ours.

I think so often I can focus on things like "my" students, "my" family, "my" career, "my" school, "my"self, and so much more.  And I was thinking of a word to focus on this year I realized that a lot of the times the words I would come up with were very selfish words.  Words that were all about me, me, me.

Then the word "ours" came to my mind.

Being a connected educator has taught me a lot.  But I think the biggest thing it's taught me is how we are so much better together and that we can not do this on our own.

The school I work at isn't mine.  It's ours.  It's a family created by parents, community members, staff members, kids, and more!

The career I have isn't mine.  It's a reflection of the people who are around me.  Those who push me, make me think, challenge me, question me, encourage me.

The "me" I'm trying to better, isn't all about me.  I can't do it alone.  I have to trust more of those around me, I have lean on more people for help, I have to be willing to open up more.

The kids we service aren't mine.  They're ours.  And it will take every single one of us to help make an impact in their lives.  Because the impact I leave today, may be made even deeper by the impact you leave tomorrow.  We can't look at students as "mine" or "yours", we have to realize that every kid that enters a school is all our kiddos.

The family I claim isn't even mine.  Some people view family as blood relation, but I see it as so much more.  My family has grown greatly over the last few years and I don't even look at it sometimes as my family, more-so as our family.

So when choosing a word for 2016, I decided on "ours".  I want to think more about us.  About working together, sharing the spotlight, building together, crying together, celebrating together.

I want us to make this year OUR year!

What is your #OneWord for 2016?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: The Best Year Yet! #KidsDeserveIt

So when reflecting on a year, there's a lot that comes to mind.  There's accomplishments, failures, deepening of friendships, new friendships, those lost, new adventures, and so much more.

It's always been hard for me to write a good comprehensive post over a year of time because I know I always leave people or events out that were important to me.

But alas, I love reflecting and thought it'd be great to look back at a year gone by, before heading into a brand new adventure; 2016.  I'm mainly going to focus on all things education related!


So I thought I'd start first with some people who really made 2016 special for me.  Again, I know I'm going to leave people out, it always happens, but here goes anyway!

Ben Gilpin and Brad Gustafson - these two guys, where do I even begin?  These guys are my big brothers, my mentors, my encouragers, my friends.  This year saw us taking on new adventures together and getting to know each other on an even deeper level.  I still remember Ben and me flying to Minnesota in January to surprise Brad for graduating with his doctorate.  And man was he surprised.  But to form a friendship like that, where we'll fly across the country for each other is something special (I wrote about that trip HERE).  Then connecting again at NAESP in Long Beach and having our wives meet (and more importantly, get along!), to meeting up at EdCampLeader in Chicago, to meeting up with Brad and his wife in DC for the Bammys, to making a special trip to Michigan during my Thanksgiving Break to hang out with Ben and see his school for a day.  I can't even accurately express the impact these two have had on me, and I look forward to many more adventures in 2016.

Tony Sinanis - I met Tony very briefly in 2014 at the Bammy Awards, but after finding out we are birthday twins, I got to know Tony on an even deeper level this year.  Tony is such a ball of energy and encouragement.  He speaks honestly, but constantly with care.  I've learned a lot from Tony this year and have such appreciated his leadership and friendship!

Felix Jacomino - Felix has been a buddy of mine for a while but after inviting me to be a part of Miami Device again this year, and getting to catch up with him at other EdTech Events I got to know Felix even more.  Felix's commitment to kids and furthering education is inspiring and he always is pushing me to try something new.  Felix is that guy that always says "hey I found this new website/app, have you heard of it??" and my answer is always, "no, tell me more!".  Felix is encouraging but thought provoking.  He pushed me continually this year to try new things.

Brandon Blom, Theresa Stager, Melinda Miller, Jeff Herb, Brent Clarkson, Jennifer LaGarde, Donalyn Miller, Eric Sheninger, Ron Clark, and Dave Burgess - Each of these people I either got to meet F2F for the first time or actually got to spend more time learning from and alongside them.  Each of these I consider a friend, a mentor, a boundary pusher, an encourager, and so much more.  I think about my several summer interactions with Brandon, Theresa, and Melinda who challenged my thinking!  I think about finally meeting Jeff Herb who blew my mind with his awesomeness and building that friendship up and even starting PeriScopeOut.  From getting to know Brent Clarkson more and learning through the amazingness that he shares.  To continuing being challenged by Jennifer LaGarde and her brave fierceness yet deep compassion.  To finally meeting Donalyn Miller (and having her be everything I'd dreamed she'd be) and using her book to bring about drastic change on my campus.  To having Eric Sheninger spend a day at my school and help me identify some things I can do to help the campus, the teachers, the students, and to push me into being better.  He's always been so honest and real with me.  To the "prank call" turned into "real call" from my buddy Ron Clark that had Adam Welcome and I freaking out.  And to Dave Burgess, who's been a friend for a while now, but continually pushes my thinking, challenges me, and believed in me (and Adam) enough to sign me to a book deal.  Wow.

Jon Harper - Jon is someone I have yet to meet F2F, but is one of those friends who we leave 3-5 minute voxer messages for.  Jon is an incredible writer and makes me always want to blog better.  Jon also is such a deep thinker and honest man.  He's encouraging and thoughtful.  I can't wait to meet him face to face one day!

Greg Smedley - A great friendship that kind of came out of nowhere!  Greg was so kind enough to even visit my campus last year (and hopefully again this school year) and work with my teachers for two days!  Greg has been a great friend that I've loved getting to know more and more and watch how much he challenges himself to always be his best and to always provide rare and special opportunities for his students.  I have learned so much from him!

Aaron Marvel, Teresa Garrett, Kathy French, Geralyn Jackson, Cewilla Thomas - my admin team at Webb!  Everything we've accomplished we've done together.  I can NOT write a post about a year without including these people.  They work tirelessly, countless hours, and with many a broken kid.  Yet they show up every day ready to tackle whatever may come our way.  They've always got each other's backs and always want what's best for kids regardless of how much work it'll be.  I love these 5 people and am better every day I get to work alongside them.

Chris Pombonyo - Chris is a friendship that kind of came out of nowhere, but one that I couldn't be more thankful for.  Chris and I finally met F2F this summer and our friendship has only grown since then.  Chris is one of the most energetic and inspiring educators I've ever met.  His passion is hard to match and his creativity is off the charts.  I am dying to one day see him in action in his classroom because the things he shares are mind-blowing.  Chris has been a listening ear and a constant stream of encouragement these past 6 months.  He's pushed me outside of my comfort zone and for sure, 100%, made me a better educator.

Kim Bearden - Where do I even begin with Kim?  I met Kim three years ago, and had kept in little contact with her since.  We'd run into each other a few times face to face over the last three years, but for whatever reason really chatted it up on social media a lot this year.  I read her book "Crash Course" this summer, fell in love with it, and bought a copy for every staff member on my campus.  We then read it together and discussed it over the next 4 months, and to blow everyone's mind, Kim made a surprise appearance at our school as we celebrated "Crash Course Day".  Who does that?  Like who else is that AMAZING?  She did not have to do that by any mean, but that's just how incredible she is.  Kim is also one of those people where every moment you're with her you feel like the most important person in the world.  My wife loved her so much too, that after meeting her, she had to read the book!  Kim inspires me on a daily basis and is one of the most positive and uplifting people I know.

Adam Welcome - And then there's Adam.  My brother from another mother.  Adam and I formed a friendship through social media in early 2015, and never did either of us think we'd be the friends that we are now.  After meeting face to face at NAESP in Long Beach this summer, we hit it off immediately.  Adam is one of those rare people that I couldn't be more different than, yet at the same time we couldn't be more alike.  Not only has Adam pushed my writing to be better, but Adam has continually (on a daily basis sometimes) pushed me outside my comfort zones.  He brings up what others may be too afraid to.  He is always asking the question, "Why not?".  He makes every decision on "is that what's best for kids?".  He doesn't take excuses.  And even more, Adam is the guy who helped us start #KidsDeserveIt together.  From an idea, to a twitter/facebook account, to thousands of followers, a blog, and a book deal.  What???  Our families finally got to meet just a few weeks ago, and it was amazing.  It's one of those rare friendships where every single thing falls perfectly into place and you feel like you've known them your whole life.  You feel like they're family.  From facetime with his kids, to daily voxer conversations, I can't even express how thankful I am to have come across someone like Adam, my BFAM.

I could write about so many others too: Hope King, Erin Klein, Drew Minock, Angela Maiers, Carl Hooker, Dwight Goodwin, Colby Sharp, Chris Kesler, Todd Whitaker, George Couros, Jed Dearybury, Wendy Sanders, Andrea Keller, Mindi Vandagriff, Amy Pratt, Jake Duncan, Jennie Magiera, and sooooooo many more who've impacted.  Please don't look down on me for not mentioning you!


2015 was always full of some awesome Highs and Lows.

- Being awarded the 2015 BAMMY for Elementary Principal of the Year, where I still ask "REALLY??"

- Starting Kids Deserve It

- Signing a book deal with Dave Burgess Publishing with Adam Welcome for the Kids Deserve It book coming out in 2016!

- Traveling across the country to speak!

- Starting PeriScopeOut

- Wondering if I was cut out for what I was doing...having Doubt.

- Our Reading Initiative that took off like fire!

- Finding out we didn't achieve the growth we'd hoped for as a campus.

- Signing a deal to be represented by Premiere Speakers Bureau

- Starting the #EduLS

- Ending EduAllStars, but starting the Kids Deserve It Blab Show.

- Being asked to switch campuses and start a whole new adventure!

- Being named by the Navasota Community as their "Favorite Principal".

- Having our First EVER, Teach Like A Pirate Day

- Writing my "I Wish You Knew..." Series

- and gosh, so much more!

In the end when I reflect on 2015, I think of the lessons I learned.  The times I laughed uncontrollably, the times I cried in my car driving home.  I think about the opportunities I've taken advantage of and the ones I've allowed to pass me by.

But mostly I look at it as another year of growth.  Another year that I grew into the man I'm trying to become. The man I know God wants me to be.

I know that there'll be more to celebrate in 2016.  But I know that there is much to be thankful for this past year.  2016 won't be easy, no year ever is.

But I believe you become like those you spend the most time with, and I myself choose to surround myself with those who will help me grow more.

So, here's to another amazing year!

image from

Adults Are Just Big Kids #KidsDeserveIt

I still remember the advice someone gave me...they said, "Now you're dealing with adults.  And you're exceptional at handling children, so just remember, adults are just kids in bigger bodies."

At first I laughed at that, but the more I've worked with adults the more I see it's true.

One thing we started at my school was "hats off" cards.  Whenever a child was caught doing something exceptional, an adult could write them a hats off card, and that child would get to come to the front office and one of us up front would call home and let their families know what a great job they were doing.

When we started doing that it changed a lot of things.  It changed our kiddos; they wanted to be recognized, but more importantly in front of their families.  It changed our families; countless parents choked back tears as we called because no one had ever called home to tell them something great about their child.

As I made phone call after phone call, the advice I was given about adults came to my mind.  And I thought, "Why don't we do something like this for adults???"

And I took that idea and ran with it.  But I wanted to start differently.  I wanted to start as a surprise.  To have it completely unexpected.

So in October I sent out a Google Form to my school family and asked them for their parent(s) addresses and phone numbers.  I told them I was working on a campus project.  I also let them know that if they did not have a parent still living (or if they were estranged from them) to put someone who holds that kind of place in their life.

Then over the month of December, I wrote cards to each and every family member on that list.  I told them their "child" worked at our school, I listed some qualities I liked about that person, and I told them how much better our team is because of having someone like their son/daughter on board.

Then over Christmas Break, I mailed them.  I wanted it to be like a special Christmas surprise for the families over their break.

I think I got 11 different messages over the break from people telling how much the simple act of a card meant.  But I think it most hit the parents/family members.  Think about often do we receive feedback from our adult children's employer about how much they're appreciated?  We don't enough.  It needs to happen more.

So this was phase one.  Phase two, starting in January, will be to do random phone calls out to these parents about awesome things their "children" are doing at our school.  If we recognize kids for this, why can't we recognize adults too?

So get ready family at Webb Elementary, because "Hats Off" cards aren't just for kids anymore!

And to any other administrators reading this, I challenge you to do something like this.  It really makes a world of difference.  Did I have to pay for stamps for 80 staff?  Yes.  Did my hand hurt from all the writing?  Yes.  Did it take hours? Yes.  But my hope and belief is that the ripples will be felt for a while to come.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Leaders Park in the Back #KidsDeserveIt

A good leader will always be a servant leader.  That's a belief that I was raised with and one I've tried, sometimes unsuccessfully, to live out.

As a campus leader now I try to continually find ways to show my staff that I appreciate them and that I can serve them as well.  From covering classes and recess, to morning/lunch/afternoon duty, to helping write lessons, and so on.

But one thing I've learned is that even the things we deem as insignificant can speak volumes.  I remember working at a school underneath several different administrators.  I remember parking my car (or leaving the lot) daily.  You know us teachers, we always have to have the same spot, and God forbid if someone takes "our spot" haha.  But for some reason I always noticed where the administration parked.

One year I saw my administrator park at the back of the parking lot, even though there was a designated spot up front for her.  I asked her one day why and I will always remember what she said.

She told me, "Why should I get a special spot up front?  There are people who work just as hard as me, if not harder, so why should I think I'm above them enough that I should be allowed to park in a front spot every day.  A leader needs to be a servant and so I choose to park in the back"

As a campus admin myself now, I've taken that same philosophy.

Every day, I park in the back row.  I give up any front spots.  Does anyone notice?  Maybe not, but that's not why I do it.  I do it to remind myself that I am not above anyone else on that campus.  The buck may stop with me, and I may have to make the tough decisions, but I have a team of equally hardworking people, so why should I for a second think that I'm better than them?

Now for those principals who do have a "special" up front parking spot, I'm not telling you you're doing it wrong.  I'm not saying you're not a good leader.  What I'm saying is, that this idea never crossed my mind before I saw my own leader do it and I asked why.  What she said made sense, and it forever changed the way I look at where I park as a campus leader.