Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Little Things

This summer has been a true summer of learning for me.  One in which I learned the most from examples that others around me set.  And as I took those lessons and started changing the ways I did some things in my life, I figured it could be good to share a few of those lessons with you!

What I learned the most this summer, and it was something I already knew but it was nice to be reminded of, was that the little things truly are what matters most.

It's those little things that can end up making the biggest difference.  But because it's "the little things" sometimes we overlook making sure we do them.  Here's a few "little things" I was reminded of or taught this summer....

1.  Make People Feel Important

This summer I had to book a last minute hotel for one night in Austin.  I was trying to find somewhere pretty cheap to stay and I had seen that a new Holiday Inn Express had opened up on the south side of Austin, so I went ahead and booked there.  While at the first day of a conference I was attending, I got a call from the hotel, before I had even checked in.

It was about noon, and and I answered the phone.  The hotel told me that they were just calling to tell me how excited they were to have me as a guest that evening and they just wanted to check if there was anything they could do before I got there to make sure I had a great arrival.  I was taken aback.  Never before had I had a hotel call me before I checked in to tell me they were excited I was staying with them.  Much less even ask me if I needed anything prepared.

When I arrived, they were incredibly friendly and kind.  And when I woke up the next morning, I had a hand written card slid under my door.  The card was written to me and told me that they hoped I had a great stay and that they hoped I would return again.

These little things this hotel did didn't cost them anything.  But man did they make a difference.  That was over 3 months ago and I still tell everyone about that stay.  I even called the manager to let him know how important his staff made me feel.  The next time I stay in Austin, I can guarantee you I'll be staying there again.

2.  Use a person's name when speaking to them

I had the extreme pleasure of spending, on several occasions, multiple days with Brad Gustafson.  If you haven't heard of, or aren't following Brad Gustafson, you are missing out.  This man is a fireball of energy and one of the most encouraging and inspirational people I know.  Brad doesn't even know that he taught me this next lesson.

As I spent over 9 days total with Brad this summer, there was one thing that he continually did that I noticed and it impacted me pretty greatly.  Every where we went, every place that we came in contact with others, he spoke to the people working at that establishment and used their names.  His first question was always "what's your name again?".

When we would check into a hotel, get in a cab, eat a restaurant, it didn't matter.  Brad asked for their name and in the entire conversation we would have with the person, he would continually use their name.

It was something so simple.  So easy, but I swear we consistently received better service because he did it.  And I watched the interactions.  The people Brad did this with had a more pleasant air about them when he did it.  Do you know why?  Because they felt noticed.  They felt seen.

Any job that requires the worker to be a servant to others can sometimes be thankless.  And just that act of using their name makes such a difference.

3.  Notice the Loners

People see me present or spend time with me in a small group and get this picture of me as a boisterous and outgoing person.  The reality of the matter is that I can be very introverted in large groups or crowds of people I don't know.

I'm the person, in a room of people, who will go find a back table in a corner and sit at it and sip my water (Erin Klein and I love sharing this in common).  I'll talk if you come up to me, but I don't actively seek out others.  In my traveling and speaking I've found that there are quite a few of us presenters who are full of energy on stage, and off stage more low key and reserved.

What can happen though is people like me can begin to feel out of the "circle" of people actively interacting.

Something I learned from Ben Gilpin, Adam Welcome, Theresa Stager, Tony Sinanis, and Melinda Miller this summer was the act of continually seeking out those "loners" like me, and finding ways to make them feel involved or included.

Ben, Adam, Theresa, Tony, and Melinda have no idea that they ever did this for me, but each of them did in different ways.  Whenever I would try to slink away or hide off at a quiet table, one of them would come find me and either sit with me or pull me back into the circle.

It reminded me that I need to do the same with others.  When people get into social settings they can feel intimidated, not worthy, sometimes an outcast, and so many other things.  What people need are reminders that they belong.  They need someone to reach out a hand and pull them back in, or to just go and sit with them.  This again goes back to wanting to be noticed.

4.  Give them a Voice

I remember creating a session for a conference I was attending this year.  It was a panel type discussion but I hadn't selected any of the participants when I submitted the proposal.  I just said "Tech Ninja and Friends".

When I arrived at the conference, I reached out to a few people I knew to see if they would present as part of the panel.  These weren't "well known" or "traveling presenters".  They were teachers who only left their school for this one major conference and for edcamps.

But I remembered what it was like when someone I respected asked me to speak with them, and I wanted to return the favor.

I still remember what one of the presenter's wives walking up to me after the presentation (which had about 1,500 people in attendance to watch) said to me.  She had tears in her eyes and she said, "thank you for including him.  It made such a big deal to him that you would even ask him, much less share a stage with him".

What that reminded me of is that those of us who have large followings or influence, we must continually bring others up with us.  We must continually find ways to give others a voice to speak and share.  Each of us are in education for a reason and each of us have something of incredible worth to share.

5.  Favorites, Retweets, and Interactions

Finally, something I was reminded of this summer was yet again the power of social media.  I have people that I look up an incredible amount to.  People I respect immensely.  People that when I finally get to meet them in person I get shy, really want a picture, and want to shake their hand.  I think we all get like that sometimes.

Throughout this summer I had the honor of having online interactions (and a few face to face) with some of my EduHeroes like Erik Wahl, Steve Spangler, Dave Burgess, Kim Bearden, Ron Clark, Angela Maiers, and so many more.

Interactions that my wife can attest to, had me taking screenshots of things and dancing around the house.

Just the simple action of favoriting someones tweet.  Sharing their idea and giving them credit, or just sending a "you're doing awesome things!" message really makes a difference.

And then I remember one of my last keynotes of the summer having the organizer come up to me and say, "you know we have a lot of guest speakers, but you do something I haven't seen the others do.  Every time any person comes up to you and talks to you, you give them the same excitement, the same attention as the other 100 that came up to you before them. You make each of them feel like they're the most important person and like they're the first person who's ever come up to you".  I had never really thought about it much before, but I know I do it for a reason.

I do it because everyone deserves to feel special and to know that they're important.  And if I've been given even a little bit of a platform to speak on I want them to leave knowing at least that, because I also know exactly what it feels like to feel invisible.

So there are a few of my lessons I learned from this summer.  A few "little things" that can make a world of difference.

I know I'm not done learning, and by no means am I an expert at any of the above listed items, but I am continually practicing.  Continually learning. Continually getting better.

So, what are some "little things" that you've noticed that can make a big difference? Share them in the comments below!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A MUST Read: "Crash Course" by @KimBearden

Ever since I was in High School, I've always admired Ron Clark.  He's been someone who has inspired me, and was one of the reasons I knew teaching was for me.

Almost 3 years ago I was afforded the opportunity to attend the Ron Clark Academy.  It was an absolutely incredible opportunity.  One that still helps shape decisions I make today, now as an administrator.  It's one of those experiences I will never ever forget.

While at the Ron Clark Academy I met a woman by the name of Kim Bearden who taught at RCA (who also happens to be the co-founder of The Ron Clark Academy).  The moment I met her I was in enamored and in awe.  Her passion, her grit, her creativity, just everything!  I soaked up every once of information I could from her.

Over the last three years I've had several interactions with Kim and Ron through social media, at different conferences, and Kim even came on my EduAllStars podcast! (you can watch her episode HERE).

Then last year Kim released her first book "Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me".  Because I loved learning from Kim, I bought the book immediately.  But it wasn't until just a few weeks ago that I actually found the time to sit and read it.

And I don't know why I waited.  There are only a few books that I have cried while reading.  As I sat on a plane, flying back from Indiana, I didn't just cry, I sobbed.  I couldn't put the book down.  The honesty, the heart, the passion, the joy, it was all there.

I shared about my love of the book on social media and Kim tweeted back.  It's one of those moments, when one of your teaching heroes, messages you back and you can't believe it!  I still have the tweets screenshot haha.

But the book moved me.  It showed a side of Kim that I hadn't known about.

It moved me so much, that I contacted Kim, found campus funds, and purchased a copy of the book for every single member of my staff at Webb Elementary.  The message in the book is one that every teacher should hear and I wanted my staff to be able to experience it, as well as have it serve as our fall book study book.

What I love about Kim's book is how it's written.  Every chapter is written as a "course".  They're all bite sized so that it's not overwhelming.  I also absolutely love that every chapter ends with a "Class Notes" box (little reminders from the chapter) and a "Homework" box (ideas of ways that you can stop and think about what was shared and implement it in your own classroom.

From connecting with your students, abandoning needless worries, recovering from mistakes, embracing your gifts, to nurturing ingenuity and originality, to so much more.  This book really feels like it hits every note!  I especially love how Kim talks about creating magic moments.

But in the end, what hit me the most was Kim's extraordinary heart for her students.  It is evident and written onto every single page of the book.

I am still so deeply moved by this book I had to write about it and share it with all of you.  So, if there is one book you stop and read this school year, I truly hope it's "Crash Course" by Kim Bearden.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Head Held High

I've always prided myself in the fact that when I blog I try to share a real and honest portrayal of education and who I am.  I've been passionate about sharing the good as well as the bad.  So today it's time for me to share....

If you've been following this blog for any amount of time, you know that I took over a reconstituted campus this past school year (Navasota Intermediate).  I hired my entire staff.  We worked tirelessly hand in hand to change the course of the campus. We utilized technology, we connected with others from around the world, but most importantly we were able to teach our kids just how much each and every one of them mattered.

We took children who were beaten down and believed they were worthless, and made them believe something totally different.  We taught them that each one of them were a genius.  That each one of them deserved to be celebrated.  We connected with the community through food drives, hot dog cookouts at apartment complexes, family fun nights, and more.

We brought in guests for our students, learned from Olympic Gold Medalists, authors, singers, other classes from around the world.

We had "Teach Like a Pirate" Day, Book Prom, Superhero day, Huge reading initiatives and so much more.

We welcomed our kids with a red carpet and all my teachers dressed up as superheroes.

My teachers got to learn from some of the best in the field; Tony Sinanis, Erin Klein, Tom Murray, Greg Smedley, Angela Maiers.

I worked hand in hand with my administration to build up my team and to continually show them throughout the year how important they were.

I lead after school tutoring, Saturday school, and we all pulled small groups.

Every single person on my campus, parents included, worked their tails off this year.

And this year definitely had it's trials. It wasn't an easy year by any means, but I was proud of the work we did.

Then last week, I got accountability information from the State of Texas.

When we look at campus accountability there are four areas we ultimately hope to meet.  But if we meet at least 3 that is a success.

I sat in a meeting with 5 other principals in my district.

As I sat in that meeting, one by one, I heard campus after campus celebrate that they had either met 3 of the indexes or all four.

Then we got to my campus.  I flipped open the accountability packet.

One.  Just one.

We met one of the accountability indexes.

I was crushed.  I felt like every eye was on me.  I felt destroyed.

I didn't say a word the rest of the meeting.  I cried the entire way home.

I remember sending a Vox to two of my best friends and I told them I thought I was done.  That I clearly didn't know what I was doing.  That obviously I wasn't a good leader, that these scores showed otherwise.  That all that work was for nothing.

I've debated long and hard about sharing this story.  This side.  But it was Ben Gilpin who encouraged me to share.  The reason why?

Because this is what a high stakes accountability system can do to us.  It can, in the matter of a few seconds, make us forget all the ways that we touched and changed lives, and instead focus on the scores and act like that is the only true measure of a "good education".

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that the scores aren't important.  They are.  BUT, they are only a piece.

And in a matter of minutes, I got lost in the scores and judged my entire year on one day of testing.

It breaks my heart to think of how many other educators feel the same way with this high stakes testing that has become so common place.

I'm still reeling, but today I can sit here and still look at last year as a resounding success.  I know lives were changed.  I know we made HUGE strides in so many areas that those 4 indexes don't and can't ever measure.

So today, even though I've cried many tears, I stand up ready to face another year.  To keep growing.  To keep stretching.  Today, I stand with my head held high.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

#periScopeOut: Educators Sharing their Spaces and Stories

Almost two weeks ago I was talking with Jeff Herb on Voxer and he mentioned that he would love to see my new school sometime. While traditionally that would mean a trip from Illinois to Texas (which still isn’t out of the question), a new tool has emerged that has enabled video broadcasting to anyone interested in watching. I suggested that we Periscope our buildings sometime and after about 15 minutes of rapid fire ideas, the periScopeOut was born.

We want educators to share their stories. Whether that means touring their building or talking specifically about avenues to student learning, the power of diverse ideas is what will continue revolutionizing our profession.

There is great wealth in having the opportunity to ‘scope out’ the ways in which others are doing what you’re doing (or looking to do).

What the heck is Periscope?

Periscope is an app that allows users to broadcast a live video stream. People can watch the stream via the Periscope app or simply by clicking on the link that gets shared via Twitter.

So what is #periScopeOut?

It is a day full of Periscope broadcasts that are specific to a certain topic or idea. You schedule a 15/20 minute time slot to periScopeOut your space so everyone can view and learn.

When is the next periScopeOut?

The next (and first ever) periScopeOut is August 6th starting at 8am Central. The theme is simply, "Building Tours"! See 24 different buildings from across the world in the course of one day.

How do I tell my story?

Anyone can sign up to share your story or space. Sign up here. The upcoming periScopeOut has 24 time slots available.

How do I spectate?

Check out this site for the details. Follow the @periScopeOut Twitter account and #periScopeOut hashtag.

Wait, what is happening?

Still have questions? Read this page and if you still have questions reach out to @jeffherb or @techninjatodd and we’ll help!

How can I help?

Tweet this out and spread the word!

Educators are getting ready to share their story on Aug 6th via @periScopeOut! Find out more here: and join us! #periScopeOut

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

10 Leaders Worth Following

Over the last couple of weeks, I've had a unique experience.  I've been able to attend several conferences where the audience was primarily education/school leaders.  Now before I go any further, let me make sure to state that I feel every single person on a school campus is a leader in one capacity or another.

I've been able to come in contact, many for the first time, with people I have looked up to for a while.  People who I've learned from, who've challenged me, who encouraged me, who have inspired me.  After meeting some of these people face to face, I was even more blown away.  And getting to sit down and just talk with them, has created an even bigger respect.

So since I blog about things all the time, I figured, why not share with you some leaders I think that are worth following!  This list is by no means all inclusive.  I could list 100 leaders that I enjoy learning from.  These are just a FEW of the ones I've been able to spend some time with lately and be blown away by.

Theresa Stager is in Michigan. She is incredibly passionate and at the same time extremely funny and witty.  I loved so much getting to sit and talk and laugh with Theresa and really see what a huge heart she has for kids.  Theresa also had a unique ability to make me feel comfortable from the moment I met her!

Adam Welcome is in California.  I have admired the work Adam does for a while, and loved that when the opportunity came for me to meet him face to face, I was not disappointed.  Adam has such a strong sense of his views and is so dead set on always doing what is best for kids.  It's so clear how passionate he is.  I mean, I was so impressed by Adam I started Kids Deserve It with him!

Brandon Blom is in California.  Brandon and I connected pretty quickly when we met at NAESP.  Brandon is, like me, a fairly new administrator.  But in his short time he's done some pretty amazing things.  I was so impressed with Brandon's honesty and willingness to connect and share.  Brandon has such a huge heart for kids and it shines through.

Nathan Lang is in Tennessee.  I "met" Nathan online a few weeks ago, and was finally able to meet him face to face just this week.  What I love about Nathan is that the passion he exudes online is the same as in person.  Nathan is a ball of energy and someone who seeks to have deep conversations about education and not just keep it on the surface.  Nathan is one of those people you are drawn to because of his dynamic personality and incredibly quick wit.  I have learned an incredible amount, in a very short amount of time, from Nathan and truly value his opinions and ideas.

Melinda Miller is in Missouri.  Melinda is a wealth of knowledge and experience.  But even more than that, she's always willing to share at the drop of hat.  She doesn't hoard or keep all her ideas to herself.  I can vividly remember Melinda sitting with me for over 45 minutes and answering my hundreds of questions and sending me resource after resource that she had tucked away.  I am still amazed by her humor and kindness.

Jeff Herb is in Illinois.  I finally got to meet Jeff this week at EdCampLDR.  I have followed Jeff for some time through his blog and twitter.  It was great to finally put a face with a voice and to see how genuine and honest Jeff was.  Jeff is also full of great ideas and deeply concerned with doing what's best for kids.  Laughing with Jeff was one of my favorite parts of EdCampLDR.

Tony Sinanis is in New York.  Tony is such a fun and caring guy.  He is honest, he shares his successes as well as his failures.  He is also always trying to push the boundaries of what's expected in education.  But what stands out the most to me is just how encouraging Tony is.  How much he makes sure that those around them are reminded of their worth.  Plus he's super funny!

Jessica Johnson is in Wisconsin.  I was so thrilled to finally meet Jessica face to face this past week.  I have loved learning from her for years.  I loved how accepting and kind Jessica was from the start, but also how quickly she made me feel like I belonged and had me laughing hysterically.  Jessica has such a wealth of knowledge and such a big heart for kids.

I can't write about "Leaders Worth Following" without mentioning two men who've had a tremendous impact on the leader I am today.  Brad Gustafson (from Minnesota) and Ben Gilpin (from Michigan) are two of the most passionate guys I know.  But more than that they've become like family to me.  They are who I go to to vent, get advice, celebrate, and more.  I made it through my first year, in big part, to the support of Brad and Ben.  And every single time I get even 5 minutes to spend with these two, I leave a better person.

Like I said before, I could continue this list for days.  I could tell you about Principal El, Derek McCoy, Eric Sheninger, Jimmy Casas, Tom Whitford, Leah Whitford, Curt Rees, Dan Butler, Amy Fadeji, Amber Teamann, Erin Klein, Joe Mazza, Jeff Zoul, Kathy Melton, Joe Sanfelippo, Tom Murray, Daisy Dyer Duerr, and so many more people that have impacted me both personally and professionally.

But what I love most about this, as I read back through this post, is that me, a little guy in Texas, has been able to connect with others from all over the country (and world) through social media.  It blows my mind when I stop and think about the power that lies with putting yourself out there and connecting.  I still don't understand why I wasn't doing it sooner!

So I write this post to encourage you to connect with some people I've meet over the last few weeks and hopefully grow your circle of learning as well!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Give More #KidsDeserveIt

Just the other day this video come across my Facebook feed.  I was so emotionally impacted by the message and the powerful story, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels that exists in education.

This is such a powerful video. Without saying much, it says a lot. I had to share.
Posted by Frankie J on Monday, August 18, 2014

Sometimes we can become very hardened by the experiences we’ve had in our lives or in education.  We close our doors, we keep to ourselves.

Sometimes our classrooms are filled with amazing adventures, creative experiences, laughter, and more!  We do great things, and love our students, but we stay within our four walled classroom.

But even more so, when you have all the great things going on, or you’ve got exactly what you need, we forget. We forget about that struggling teacher down the hall.  We forget about that hungry child in the grade below the one we teach.  Our focus becomes us, and our classrooms.

This video caused a sort of mind shift for me.  It was powerful to see those with food and money choose not to share, for whatever reason.  But yet when a homeless person was shown kindness, they immediately passed it along.  Is this always the case?  Of course not.  But a lot of the time it is.

Each one of us at one point or another has had someone believe in us. Help us. Teach us.  Share with us.  Each one of us now has the opportunity to pay it forward to someone else who needs a hug, high five, a kind word, or a helping hand.

Don’t miss your opportunity.  And don’t wait for those people to come to you to ask for help.  Seek them out.  Our Kids Deserve It.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Be Brave - Take a Risk #KidsDeserveIt

Kids Deserve It.png

While driving today I heard this song, and the lyrics rang so incredibly true to where I am right now.  It’s a song called “Brave” by Nichole Nordeman.

The gate is wide, the road is paved in moderation
The crowd is kind and quick to pull you in
Welcome to the middle ground
You're safe and sound and
Until now it's where I've been

I've never known a fire that didn't begin with a flame
And every storm will start with just a drop of rain

So long status quo, I think I just let go
You make me wanna be brave, I wanna be brave
The way it always was is no longer good enough
You make me wanna be brave

As educators we can quickly, and often without noticing, get swept away in the everyday things.  We get caught up in what’s directly in front of us, that often times we miss the big picture.

This week I had the pleasure of getting to really get to know a member of my PLN, Adam Welcome.  I had interacted with Adam through Twitter and Voxer, but never face to face, until this week at NAESP.  For whatever reason Adam and I hit it off immediately.

After many conversations stemming around pushing ourselves and others outside of our comfort zones and really driving ourselves to do what’s best for kids, an idea was born.

That idea is, Kids Deserve It.  Adam and I are veering off into new and uncharted territory for each of us.  We launched our Twitter on Saturday, and will be officially launching our new blog on Tuesday (July 7th).

This in no way is replacing our current individual blogs.  But through countless conversations, Adam and I just felt like we had been given a mission to complete.  An adventure to travel on together.

We can’t wait to see where the Kids Deserve It adventure takes us, but we believe in being brave, stepping out on a limb, and trying something new that we’re really passionate about.  We hope that you’ll join us for the ride.  We’ll be blogging, tweeting, voxing, pushing boundaries, creating challenges, and so much more.

Along the way we’ll also be seeking out YOUR voice as well and asking for help, opinions, and thoughts from all of our PLN.

So we hope you join us on this new journey we’re taking.  For no other reason than the Kids Deserve It.

Follow us on Twitter at: @KidsDeserveIt
Our New Blog:
Like us on Facebook: Kids Deserve It
Use the Hashtag: #KidsDeserveIt