Monday, June 20, 2016

Brick By Brick

Every one of us has walls built up in our lives.  Some walls we build to keep others out.  Some walls we build to make us feel  There are times we build walls only to surround certain parts of our lives.  And other times we build walls completely around us.

I have walls too.  Large walls built out of many bricks. Walls that surround every angle.

The walls weren't built in a day.  The bricks were laid one at a time.

Sometimes I feel like I'm not even sure when I laid some of the bricks down.  Or how they appeared.  They just were there.  Keeping me safe.  Secure.

There have been times in my life where I've allowed someone to bring a pickaxe, sledgehammer, or small tool and chip away at some of the wall.  I sat there on my side of the wall...heard the beating...and let them break through.  Not completely mind you.  But I let them tear down a few bricks to glimpse inside.  To see me.

Every time I do it's terrifying.  Will they like what they see?  Will they quickly replace the bricks, or just turn and run and leave the gapping hole for anyone to walk by and see?

My walls are jagged.  They've been re-built many times.  My fear gets the better of me, my self-judgement, my insecurities.  The spaces that are torn through never last long.  I quickly grab the scraps of bricks and plug the holes.

If someone can see beyond my walls for too long, they'll see everything.

I sit behind my walls alone.  Bounce the ball against the wall.  Stare off into the distance.

There are some who keep trying to break through.  They catch a glimpse, they're not scared away, but I keep plugging the holes.  I keep pushing them out.

And they get tired.  They always get tired.

There are others who walk away from the walls because when they do break through, I yell at them.  I say mean things.  Not because I'm angry at them, but instead because I'm scared.  Or because I allowed someone else to break through and they used what they saw behind the walls, against me.

Everyone has walls.  We all build them. Brick by brick.  But if walls were meant to protect us, why instead do they do the opposite?

The walls block us out.  They separate us.  They keep us alone.

The walls that we built, with the best intentions, only seem to instead make things worse.

I think in some aspects, some walls, are ok.  There are parts of our lives that should be protected.

But walls should come with doors. They should come with windows. They should have ways for people to access what's beyond the wall, without having to destroy the wall.

Brick by brick.  Day by day.  I find myself building a new wall.

But as I build, I'm starting to stop and re-analyze.  Can I place a door in this wall? A door that maybe I'd be willing to open to allow someone to walk through.  A door that could give them easy access?

I could sit in fear. I could build the walls higher.  Thicker.  Stronger.  I could.

But if I keep building the walls, how will I grow?  How will I learn? How will I trust?

We all have walls.  We think we build them to protect us.  We think we build them to keep us safe.

Brick by brick.  That's how the walls are built.  Painful brick by painful brick.

But today, instead of just walls, I am going to choose to build doors.  I choose to build windows.  I choose to let eyes gaze inside.  Bodies walk through the doorframe.  Sunlight seep in.

Today, I worry less about what the thoughts are when parts of my darkest corners are glimpsed.

Today, I remember my worth was never defined by the opinions of others.  My worth was always defined by someone who forgave every dark corner, every painful brick, every locked door, long ago.  Someone who loves me in spite

Everyone of us has walls that we build every day.  Today I choose to notice when I lay a brick.  To pick the brick up and decide if it really needs to be placed along the wall.  Or if instead, I can set it off in a pile.

We all have walls.

But we can choose to also build doors and windows.

We can choose to accept the forgiveness, the love, the mercy so freely given and allow others to go with us on our journey.

Brick by brick.  That's how the choice is made.  Brick by brick.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

When There's No Closure #KidsDeserveIt

Wow, what an ending to a school year.  But as my brother and mentor, Ben Gilpin always tells me, share your story and share it honestly.  So here it is...

I just completed my second year as a Principal.  It was amazing.  By far the best year of my career.  There were so many great memories, tears, laughter, and more.  This year we truly became a family.  We went through death together, we celebrated new life together, we danced, we played, we worked our tails off to give our students the best education and school year ever!

Then, something happened.

This past Thursday and Friday were our last days with students.  Or they were supposed to be anyway.

Both days were scheduled to be half-days, meaning we release at noon.

Thursday went off without a hitch.  We began wrapping things up, we had all plans set for Award Ceremonies and End of Year Parties on Friday.  The kids left at noon on Thursday and the staff stayed on campus to complete our work day.

Then about 2:45pm we got alerts on our phones.  Tornado warning.  Flood warning.  Severe Thunderstorm.  The whole nine yards.  Now you see, we don't get too many tornadoes ever around our parts.  And flooding?  Well that happens a little more often but only maybe once a year.

So quickly our entire staff took shelter in the middle of the school.  We were thankful the students weren't there (as this would have also been dismissal time), but we all were worried about them at home, their families, and our own families.

We stayed in our positions for about 30 minutes or so.  Then the warning was lifted.  We began to hear reports about tornadoes touching down 15 miles north of us, then 1 mile south of us.  Buildings ripped apart, semi-trucks flipped over on the highway, and more.

But the storm didn't let up.  It wouldn't slow down.

At about 4:30pm the storm let up a little and some of us started to venture out.  But we were hearing most roads out were closed due to tornado damage or extreme flooding (we found out later, that Brenham, where I live, in particular received about 13 inches of rain in less than 2 hours).

I tried to head home....I live 30 miles from Navasota.

I got 1 mile through town, and then every road was closed in town. Every city road was under water and it was deep. Just trying to get back to school my SUV almost stalled out.

When I got back to school there were still about 20-30 employees there.  Waiting it out.  Trying to figure out what to do because it seemed every road was closed.  (several ended up having to stay the night at the school)

About an 2 hours later, rain had slowed considerably so I decided to try and head home again.

I found a road that leaded to my highway that wasn't flooded.  And I took it.  My 30 mile trip, then took 5 and 1/2 hours for me to get home due to downed trees over the highway and flooded bridges.  It was terrifying.

But then we got the news, school was cancelled for Friday.  And it wouldn't be rescheduled as it was our last day.

That meant no goodbyes, no parties, no awards, nothing.

Then the flood of phone calls from teachers in tears came in.  You see, our student population is one that we give our all for.  One where we become their school-parents.  They become our children.  And it was heartbreaking to know we wouldn't get closure.

It also meant no end of year staff pot-luck like we had planned. No end of year awards. No goodbyes to staff that were leaving.

Why?  The devastation was huge.  Many of my team were still without power or not even able to reach their homes.

How do you end a school year when there's no closure?  How do you feel like it's completed?  My heart is so torn.  I don't feel like school is over.  I never got to say goodbye.  We never got to have that final celebration.  It definitely isn't the closing I was expecting to this year.

But my team is amazing.  Within hours of knowing we wouldn't have school, every team got together and planned a time this next week where we were going to invite families up by grade level to tell their teachers goodbye, to celebrate the end of the year, to celebrate our kiddos.

That's family.  That's my team at Webb.  Without one complaint, they chose to gave up their just beginning summer break, because they couldn't go through summer without getting their goodbyes.

The end of the year didn't happen as planned. It wasn't ideal.  But even in the midst of unplanned chaos, we can learn something.

So what do you do when something unexpected happens? When there's no closure?  Well, you just do the best you can.  Life loves throwing curveballs, but it's all in how we react to those curveballs.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Pre-Order "Kids Deserve It!" NOW! #KidsDeserveIt

Who knew that less than a year ago this day would arrive.

Just 11 months ago, we (Todd and Adam) connected at NAESP in Long Beach, California. Over breakfast and a blog post one morning, the #KidsDeserveIt dream was born.

Now, in just over a week, our first book “Kids Deserve It!” will be released!  

We are thrilled to share with the world a piece of our hearts.  This book was a true labor of love.  It was written so that we could not only challenge the way things have been, share some of our own stories, but also so that we could hopefully encourage those in education and inspire change!

We’ve watched the hashtag take off, guest bloggers on our site challenge the status quo, t-shirt sales (and Donors Choose donations) explode, and more!

And guess what?  This is only the beginning!

So what are you waiting for??  Join the movement.  Pre-Order your own copy of “Kids Deserve It!” now and share with us your thoughts when it releases June 1st!

** If you’re interested in purchasing “Kids Deserve It” in bulk for your staff/organization please contact us at at

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Switch Day at #WebbElem

A few years ago I worked under a principal who had us do a "Switch Day" one day.  What is a Switch Day?

Well we were given a teacher in another grade level and we had switch classes for about an hour or so to get a glimpse of what it was like.

So this year, as the leader at Webb Elementary, I wanted to do the same.

When I mentioned what was going to take place, I got three reactions.  I got groans, excitement, and fear! But as we talked about the experience, people's fears began to be eased a little.  We can do anything for an hour, right?

So I assigned all our classroom teachers partners to switch with.  Someone who was at least 2 grade levels away from their current grade.

I wanted my team to get to experience other grade levels.  To see what other teachers go through.  To see that we all face different challenges.  And to give a better perspective.

We did our Switch Day this past Friday, and it went GREAT!  Teachers were buzzing everywhere about how much fun it was.

Now, some people have asked, If I make the teachers plan the lessons for the classroom they were entering?  Well, they were able to decide that with their switch partner.  Most teachers left a lesson (like they would for a sub) for the incoming teacher to teach.  But I loved walking by classrooms all day and seeing amazingness happen.

I gotta say though, my favorite was seeing science experiments from 2nd and 5th grade teachers being done in PreK.  Those kids were just eating up every second of it, AND learning amazing vocabulary too!

When it was all said and done I asked my teachers for some feedback/ was some of what they said:

It was very fun! 
-Pre-K teachers are amazing! :-) -I enjoyed pre-k WAY more than I thought I would!  Thank you for this opportunity. My mom served as a pre-k teacher/director for years. I definitely have more appreciation for what she did on a daily basis. And, I'm SO thankful for our pre-k teachers. 
I truly enjoyed switching today. It was kind of like the TV show WifeSwap. When I returned to my class my students acted as if they had not seen me in a week! I had missed them as much as they had missed me and it was only for an hour! The kinder students were fantastic but I just missed my kids. There was nothing wrong with the teacher they had and my students all said they had a good time but they missed me for some reason... It was great!
It was neat to interact with kids that I do not usually see other than the hallways or in the cafeteria. I loved being able to see how I could scaffold down activities to suit a lower grade. It was also interesting to see how I needed to adapt my management to a lower grade level as well. VERY eye opening. I would suggest for next year, doing one in the fall and one in the spring.
I loved it!!!!
Loved it!!!
While in the third grade classroom I did not tie any shoes!!!! If we do it next year, I would like to do earlier in the year. I think January would be a good time.
I liked it because it helped me appreciate the teacher I switched with and see what she deals with everyday.
I loved it. We got to plan the activity and the kids were excited to participate. The only thing I would change is the date because the last weeks of school are hectic.

As you can see it went over great!  And I totally agree with some of the feedback of doing it earlier in the year!

I can't wait to continue these conversations and try even more exciting things next year!

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Book, #KidsDeserveIt, and @DonorsChoose

Well it's official, my first book "Kids Deserve It!" will be released in a month or less!!!  I am so stinking excited to have co-authored this book with my buddy Adam Welcome.

In celebration of the book releasing soon, Adam and I are selling #KidsDeserveIt t-shirt!  We've got SIX brand new colors and a new t-shirt fabric that is super comfortable.

Get your shirt here: (only a few days left!)

What's even better than that?  100% of the proceeds from t-shirt sales are being donated to Donors Choose projects!  We've already supported over 30 Donors Choose Projects with past t-shirt drives, so we're super excited to continue supporting teachers.

If you haven't checked out Kids Deserve it on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram I encourage you to join the conversation!  You can also check out our website Share constantly the great things your doing using the hashtag #KidsDeserveIt.

There'll be more info on the book coming soon!  Thank you everyone for your support, encouragement, and more over the last couple of years!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Our #RonClarkAcademy Visit #WebbElem

Last Friday I had the extreme pleasure of visiting the Ron Clark Academy for the second time.

I can still remember every moment of my first trip to RCA three years ago.  I was a 5th grader teacher, wide eyed, finally getting to meet my teacher hero.  It was an incredible experience that I will never forget.

Ron and Kim welcoming everyone

This trip, I got to attend with the viewpoint of an administrator now and the experience was just as magical.

My first trip to RCA I just couldn't wait to see Ron in action.  Then I learned about Kim and was blown away by her and some of the other staff members.

Kim in action

This trip was a little more special to me though.  First reason why, is that I got to bring 7 of my teachers, and one of my administrative team, along with me.

The second reason is that in the past three years I've learned what it means to be a connected educator.  And in that time I had formed friendships with Ron, Kim, and three other RCA teachers (Hope, Wade, and Adam).  I was beyond excited to finally meet Hope, Wade, and Adam face to face because they weren't at RCA when I attended three years ago.

Me and Ron

Visiting RCA is like getting a crash course in all that education could be.  It's not an experience that you come back from and want to do all of what they're doing.  It's more of a buffet kind of learning.  You see tons of great ideas, but pick a few that you know your school could do to really transform the teaching, learning, and culture.

Hope, Wade, and Me (with a photo-bomber in the back)

The staff are incredible and genuine.  The students blow your mind.  The facility is beautiful.  And so much more.

I do have to give a big thank you to Kim Bearden.  Without Kim and all she's done with/for Webb Elementary, I would not have been able to bring 8 of my team to RCA.  I will forever be grateful for the impact she's left on our entire campus.

The team and Kim Bearden

I also gotta give a big shout out to Hope, Wade, Adam, and Daniel (another RCA rockstar).  Four RCA teachers who took time out of their extremely busy schedules to sit and chat with me one on one, or have dinner with my team, tweet us, take pictures, share stories, laugh, and so much more.  Meeting them face to face finally after building a friendship through social media, was everything I had hoped for and more.

Dinner with Hope, Wade, and Daniel

It's just another example of the power of social media and why we should all be connecting with other educators.

Me and Adam Dovico

But instead of me continually sharing, I'll share what a few of my team said about their experience at RCA last week. (I've also hyperlinked their names so you can connect with them on Twitter!)

Having fun in our homemade RCA shirts!

Liz Griesbach - 5th Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

"Upon entering the Ron Clark Academy it is easy to be blown away by all the amazing things you see.  Educational wonders that make you think no one else could achieve this marvel.  However, when you look deeper at what is going on you realize there is a world of POSSIBILITIES that we all can achieve.  There is a world of high expectations.  These expectations apply to students, staff, and even families.  There is a world where everyone is working together to see our most precious resource of this country succeed -  our children.

We witnessed many techniques at RCA that we can replicate in Navasota ISD when we work together as a community for our students.  The standards of high expectations when it comes to community, behavior, academic rigor, and manners are just a starting point.  When we all work together, and hold each other accountable, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished."

Alex Anthony - 2nd Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

"The day we spent at RCA is one that I will not forget. The very realistic expectations, the respect, the creativity, the rigor, the teachers, the students, the hallways and classrooms all have inspired me. I have always wanted the best for my students. I have always had hopes, dreams and wants that I have for myself as a teacher. The list keeps getting longer and RCA has inspired and motivated me even more. 

The discussions that classmates were having with each other, as the teacher facilitated and re-directed if needed, were rigorous and thought provoking . Each teacher had their own unique teaching style but the entire school was united with expectations and how to handle discipline for their students. I was in awe the entire day. 

I know we work with what some would say are “tough kids”. A lot of our kids come from homes with no structure, no rules, and inconsistency. Their kids at RCA are not so different. They are taught respect and are expected to respect everyone they come into contact with. They are involved in their learning. The hallways were lined with pictures of the students and their families as well as graduations and student accomplishments. Yes, it was a school, but the halls were not white and plain. It was a second home for the students and teachers. 

From the car ride to Georgia full of laughs and raps to day we spent at RCA, it was a wonderful 4 days and I am so glad that I got to experience it! RCA is not only teaching and giving the students knowledge, they are molding them to be productive, respectful, motivated, hard-working adults. "

Lauren Neutzler - 2nd Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

Where do I even begin?! This trip to The Ron Clark Academy was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. For the first hour or so that we were there I could barely speak and I was on the verge of happy tears all day because I was so mesmerized. I was just completely blown away. The atmosphere was one of high energy, high expectations, and the highest level of respect I have ever seen. The way the students interacted with the staff and each other was incredible to witness. The teachers were very honest and sincere with their students. They teach to the top and don’t water anything down. They also teach much more than just academics because they are truly preparing their students for all aspects of life. They expect the best from their students because they give them their best every day. I  could write all day about the amazing things that I learned in just one day. I’ve already started a few new things in my room that I took away from my day at RCA, but I am so excited and optimistic about implementing much more in my classroom for next year and many years to come.

“You have one chance to make a difference….ONE! How dare you waste it sitting  behind a desk all day!”
-Ron Clark"

Melissa Neumann - 4th Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

Visiting the Ron Clark Academy was an educator's dream come true! As we arrived that morning, I had this nervous, giddy feeling like it was my first day of school. Entering the building, I immediately felt the love, saw the happiness and later witnessed the educational rigor. It was remarkable to listen to Ron Clark, Kim Bearden, Hope King, Camille Jones, Brandon Fleming and Daniel Thompson. Their energy and enthusiasm are beyond description. Their passion to teach the subject matter along with the disciplines of life is contagious. I learned many valuable lessons that day from new teaching strategies to a conviction of expecting the best from our students. I am most excited to share with my colleagues this special love for learning but more importantly to continue now and in the future to instill in my students the desire to be a grateful, successful person. Thank you to the Ron Clark Academy, Todd Nesloney and Navasota ISD for the opportunity to grow.

Cassie Reynolds - 4th Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

Our trip to Ron Clark Academy was definitely the trip of a lifetime. There was so much learning, laughter, and memories that it is something I will never forget. When I first applied, I knew it would be an opportunity to see engagement, high expectations, and creative teaching. What I was not expecting however, was a complete re-lighting of the fire within me. Many of us are “stuck” at this time of year. It’s testing season. Students are antsy. We are beat and tired. But the second we show that to the students, they mirror the same feelings. It was so inspiring to see what “always on” looks like even when the students AND teachers are exhausted. It can completely change the classroom environment.

While at RCA, it was difficult to hold back the tears in many of the observations and interactions with the students at RCA. The students reminded me of so many of my own students back home. In various conversations, they told us exactly what a great teacher is to them. Believe it or not, it is everything we already are or are striving to be. Caring and engaging, yet strict and has high expectations. I know we are so capable of bringing massive change to Webb if we implement strategies and ideas we saw at Ron Clark Academy. If we light the fire within all of us…can you imagine what it would do for all of our students? Our parents? Our community?

Lisha Crawford - 1st Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

I have been forever changed by the students and staff at RCA. The energy and enthusiasm was contagious throughout the school! One of the HUGE things that I took away was the importance of making learning fun and student centered. I always thought I was doing this in my classroom but seeing what they do at RCA has opened a door for a new level of learning.  I loved walking into the classrooms to see the students engaged in conversations amongst each other. The respect the student showed for one another was inspiring. I love how the students and staff set the bar high and always push each other to do their very best. I can’t wait to take what I’ve learned and incorporate it into my classroom. 

Aaron Marvel - Assistant Principal at Webb Elementary

I wanted to visit RCA because I wanted to see something different, something radical, something innovative, and while I found all these things I found something much more simple.  I witnessed a school taking basic principals that we all are aware of and taking them to a new level.

For example, education is filled with buzz words such as "high expectations", "collaborative learning", and "teaching soft skills", none of which different, radical, or innovative.  Although, all three have typically been done subpar.  What I witnessed at RCA was a group of educators that expected more from their students and likewise followed through with these expectations with consistent modeling and passion--a passion not for educating per say, but for seeing students truly be all they can be.    

The jumping on tables, dancing, clapping, and cheers are all but symptoms of a larger condition, and that is seeking excellence as a professional educator in the classroom and loving kids.

Andrea Day - 1st Grade Webb Elementary Teacher

What an experience!  It is hard to find the words that can accurately describe my RCA visit.  My absolute favorite part of the entire experience was the atmosphere.  As soon as you walk in the doors you are welcomed with an excess of positiveness and love.  The amount of respect that the students have for each other and the staff is astounding.  At RCA they expect the best and accept nothing less.  The teachers and staff hold the students to the same high standards as themselves.  When I was sitting in the classroom observing Mr. King teach a lesson, I was blown away by the amount of student lead conversation.  It was amazing to see these young men and women address each other.  They stand to speak, each student turns their bodies to face the speaker and are expected to make eye contact with the audience.  I can’t wait to start implementing this in my classroom and watch my little loves blossom!

The team with Ron Clark

In the end the biggest thing I can say is that the best is yet to come for Webb Elementary.  We have big hopes and dreams and know that together we can create a school that every child in the nation is dying to be a part of.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Single Moment #KidsDeserveIt

This post was co-written between myself and Brent Clarkson.

Sometimes even the smallest moments can make the biggest impact.

During the first week of school in 2014, I (Brent) passed one of my students between classes and simply said, “Hey, Kyle**.”  He had been in my class for a few days so I didn’t have to dig deep to find a name.  All I did was say “hey.”  No effort required, right?  Within 24 hours, I had the following email from his mom in my inbox:

Every day when we walk into the four walls of our schools we’re surrounded by others.  By other students, parents, colleagues, and more.  Many people look at education and feel that the sole purpose of it is to educate children.  Those of us who are in this profession, however, know that our job is so much more.  One of the most important aspects of an educator is that ability to connect.  To build those relationships. To remind another student (or colleague) of their worth, genius, and potential.

As educators, even we sometimes lose sight.  We get bogged down by the expectations and check-lists of things we have to complete.  Testing season stresses us out.  Parent conversations don’t always go as we hoped.  Our students behave in ways unexpected.  Other educators (or administrators) say or do things that make us feel inferior.

We get beaten down.  And we forget.  We forget that our words change lives.  Our impact isn’t momentary, rather it can be felt for years to come.

Our students come to us with experiences that many times we have no knowledge of.  Drugs, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, abandonment, poverty, extreme expectations, and more.  Yet they show up every day and are expected to put forth 100% into their education.  As educators, our jobs as academic instructors are a waste of our time if we don’t also focus on the emotional side of our kiddos.

That simple act of greeting your students at the door by name and giving them a high-five, fist bump, or hand shake can help us connect to them.  The quick walk through the hallways visiting with students between classes.  The five minute visit to lunch when we know we have work to do.  The ten seconds it takes to see a student in the hall and tell them “good morning, ______.”  The ability to act like a child sometimes and play with them at recess or get on the floor and work.  

There are even moments when a child, on occasion, acts out, and we have to take the time to realize that we don’t necessarily have to jump straight to consequences.  Sometimes, all it takes is simple conversation about how much we care about them and then giving them the resources they may lack in understanding how to deal with the situation.

Now, let’s take this idea of knowing our students and flip it.  It’s crucial that we not only know and acknowledge our students, but that we allow them to know us as well.  We need to open our world to them.  Talk about family.  Share stories about things we enjoy doing.  

I (Brent) place a lot of value on frequenting the businesses and restaurants that my students and their families do.  Seeing students and their families outside of school gives me another connecting point for a short convo when I see them at school.  “Hey!  How was your Lupe Tortilla last night?”  Because we Houstonians all know that Lupe Tortilla is where it’s at when it comes to Tex-Mex (even though Todd will argue that Chuy’s is still the best Tex-Mex)

I (Todd) have always tried to attend their extracurricular activities.  It makes a world of difference to a kiddo when you show up at something of theirs outside of school hours.  Plus it proves that you don’t actually spend every waking moment at the school.

The bottom line is this: children can tell immediately when you care about them. When you genuinely care.  When we take time to know our students and allow ourselves to be known, we build healthy, authentic, meaningful relationships that can revolutionize our campus.

It only takes a single moment. That instant that will stick with someone for the rest of their life.  We all leave a mark on our students. Sometimes good, sometimes not as great as we would have hoped.  What mark are you leaving?

**The name in the story was changed for the purpose of protecting the identity of the student.