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.

Monday, December 14, 2015

KDI Minds Collide #KidsDeserveIt

Kids Deserve It! 

 Writing our last chapter!

Sometimes things just fall into place.  It doesn’t make sense all the time, but it always seems to happen at just the right time. The important thing to remember is - just go with it, there’s a reason it’s all happening!

Who would have known that six months ago, we would have met face to face and hit it off so well at NAESP?  That it would have led to the creation of Kids Deserve It and a book deal?

That the working relationship would turn into a friendship where it was like we’d found our long lost brother.  Where our world’s began to collide on more than just a work level.

This weekend we finally had the opportunity to spend some time in person together since July!  And even more than that our families got to meet as well.

Friday began the excursion.  Todd was able to spend the entire day at Adam’s school shadowing him and meeting a few of his teachers.  We even had two other principal buddies of ours, Brandom Blom and Jesse Woodward, show up!  It was a day filled with great professional conversation.

But the best part came the next day.  On Saturday our families collided and we spent the entire day touring San Francisco.  We visited the Golden Gate Bridge, rode a cable car, walked the streets, saw thousands of Santas, rode on BART,  ran to Twitter Headquarters, and even rode (yes, all 6 of us) in a Pedicab.

And as we sat across the table from each other writing the ending of our book on Sunday morning while Adam made blueberry pancakes, it all hit us.  Look at the world we live in.  A world where when we choose to connect with others and put ourselves out there, we can really find something special.

Over the last six months our worlds have been flipped upside down.  There’s so much awesomeness that has happened.  And this weekend, spending it together with our families, was only a further reminder of even greater things to come!

So please remember - take the time to connect with people in person. With Social Media we all have so many ‘friends’ and it’s the real friends that we believe truly make the difference. They make you a better person for  you, your family, your job and for those around you everyday.

Be awesome, connect with others, practice gratitude and don’t forget to smile - you deserve it!

Writing + breakfast at Adam's house!

 Pedi cab with both families, thanks to Chris for pedaling us!

 Everyone loves a cable car ride!

Golden Gate Bridge

The Welcome Family

Monday, November 23, 2015

Learning. Always Learning. Thanks @benjamingilpin

Time and time again, I have shared about the power of social media.  The power of taking time to connect with others.

One of those people I've connected with is Ben Gilpin. Ben is a principal at Warner Elementary in Michigan!  I've known Ben for a few years now, and through daily Voxer conversations (with Ben and Brad Gustafson) we've built a really great friendship.

Ben is that guy that is incredibly intelligent, level headed, and always has great advice.  He's calm but deeply caring about others and he's always trying to push himself to be better.

I've learned so much from Ben through face to face conversations at conferences, voxer, twitter, and his blog.

This year I had a week off at Thanksgiving with no real plans (hey don't judge, we haven't had a day off work since August 10th in my district!)

One of the best ways to learn from someone is to see them in action.  To see their team in action.  So I talked with Ben and planned a trip up to Michigan to visit his family and his school.

So today, I spent the day in FREEZING Michigan, at Warner Elementary.

It.  Was.  AWESOME!

I learned so much just getting to sit and actually talk to Ben, but more then that, I got to watch his teachers in action, I got to meet his students, I get to be in the walls of the school and truly feel its pulse.  And I learned.

I watched his interactions with his staff, his conversations with the students, his love and compassion to everyone on that campus.

I saw teachers toying with new classroom design ideas.  I saw ownership of the campus by they way teachers had painted their rooms and the student bathrooms (genius, right??).  I watched a MakerSpace in action, saw kids building circuit boards, played with a 3D Printer, sat in on a Podcast with 2 kindergarteners, and so much more!

And as I sit in the airport writing this, I know this trip was worth every dime.

Not only did I get to spend time with someone I consider a brother, but I also got to learn from one of, who I believe, is the best leaders in the business.

So thank you Ben for housing me and allowing me to visit.  Thank you staff and students at Warner Elementary for welcoming me with open arms.  And thank you to Amy Gilpin and Troy and Drew for allowing me to crash at your house and letting me join in on family games :-)

Three years ago, when I chose to start connecting with others, I never would have imagined I'd be flying across country to spend some time with a friend and to go learn from him.  But I am so glad I did.  Today I grew, I learned, I took lots of notes and pictures!  Michigan, more specifically Warner Elementary, is doing some great things!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lessons Learned from The #PeanutsMovie

So my wife is a huge Charlie Brown fan.  Every year, we must sit down and watch all the holiday specials.  And when she heard the Peanuts Movie was coming out she made sure it was scheduled in for us to see.  And if I must admit, I haven't ever been that big of a fan of the Peanuts gang.  There's no real reason in particular, it just hasn't really appealed to me.

That changed though after I saw The Peanuts Movie.  It was so genuine, innocent, and heartfelt that at it really tugged at my heart strings.  And throughout the movie I felt like I was learning one lesson after another.

Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from the #PeanutsMovie.

1.  Everyone Needs A Cheerleader

I wrote about this concept before, but watching the movie and throughout it seeing how much of a shoulder, support, and cheerleader that Snoopy was to Charlie Brown gave me a new insight.  Snoopy never speaks in any of the cartoons or movies.  Yet, he shows so much support and devotion to his friend, Charlie Brown, that even in Charlie's darkest moments Snoopy is there.

Sometimes we can feel really down and out and alone.  We can feel like we have no one.  If there's one thing I've learned really well over the past years is that how important it is to find your people.  To find those who will not only cheer you on, but those who will be there in your darkest hour, those who will provide a loving yet honest voice, those who won't let you forget or fall alone.  Everyone needs their own Snoopy.

2.  Be Brave

This is our number one rule at Webb Elementary.  We tell our students every day to be brave, and I loved how a theme throughout the entire movie was how hard, yet how easy, it was for Charlie Brown to be brave.

From flying a kite to talking to the new girl, everyone has something that puts a little fear in their hearts.  But it's in those moments of doubt those moments of wondering if we can or not, that we must.  We must be brave enough to take risks, to keep going when the path gets rocky, to try again when we've failed.

It's so very important for us to be brave.

3.  Everyone Deserves to Be Celebrated

Through a mishap, the entire school comes to believe that Charlie Brown is a genius.  And what does Charlie Brown do?  At first he doubts, but then he begins to believe it himself, and it changes the way he looks at himself.

This reminded me so quickly of the power our words have.  It reminded me of how quickly we all forget our worth and sometimes it takes others telling us how awesome we are and believing in us, before we can believe in ourselves.

When was the last time you truly celebrated someone?  Like really celebrated.

4. Someone is Always Watching

Charlie Brown does a lot of selfless things and never does them to be noticed.  He doesn't do them for accolades or applause.  And he never things anyone sees them anyway.

But what I loved was that at the end of the movie, Charlie Brown learns that everyone saw.  That there were people who looked up to him, who admired him, for the decisions and example he sets with his actions.

It reminded me that someone is always watching.  Someone is always seeing the choices we make, the actions we do or don't take, the words we do or don't speak.

What are you showing about your true heart?

5.  Don't Give Up - Have Hope

This one probably hit me the hardest in the movie.  Charlie Brown has always been that character that lots of things happen to him that work against him, but he keeps going.  Even when it seems like every single thing has gone wrong, Charlie Brown still charges ahead.

But what I found most moving, was a portion of the movie when Charlie Brown met a little boy who was trying to fly a kite.  Throughout the move we learn that Charlie Brown has been trying to fly a kite for a while yet one thing after another keeps him from achieving it.

When he sees the little boy getting things set up, the boy asks for help. Charlie Brown gets him all set up, and off the boy goes.

And where it hit me hardest, was as the boy was running trying to get the kite in the air, Charlie Brown is whispering "Come on.  You can do it.  Don't give up yet.  Don't give up hope.  It's going to fly!"

Even in the midst of constant failure, when Charlie Brown meets someone else who believes he can do something Charlie Brown has yet to do, Charlie Brown doesn't beat him down.  He doesn't cover him with negativity or all the reasons why it won't work.

Instead, Charlie Brown lends a helping hand and holds out hope.  He believes in something.

That part of the movie almost had me in tears.  Because how many times have I stifled someone else because of my own insecurities?

These were just a few of the lessons I learned from the Peanuts Movie.  I love when I walk into a movie that's clearly designed for kids, and leave with something myself.  Something pure and honest.  I love movies like that.

Have you seen the Peanuts Movie yet?  Did it move you like it did me?  Share in the comments!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Crash Course Day w/ @KimBearden and #WebbElem

Back in August I wrote a review on a little book called "Crash Course" by Kim Bearden.  You can read that post HERE.

Well our staff read that book together as our fall book-study book.  To say that it was a game changer is an understatement.

When we began reading the book we decided we would be finished reading it by November 16th, and on November 16th we would celebrate "Crash Course" day on campus, as kind of our culminating activity, to show all that we had learned and been inspired by.

What the staff did not know, is that I had been working with Kim Bearden to get her to surprise them by coming down that day as well!

So about 2 weeks before Crash Course day, Kim and I broke the news to the staff that she was coming.  There were screams, there were tears, but most of all there was excitement.  The staff was buzzing.

Then Crash Course day arrived....and to say I was blown away is an understatement.  My team blew my mind as well as the kids.  There were underwater adventures, using your 5 senses, baking, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, pickles, Thanksgiving Feasts, and so much more.

And rather than me sit here and write about it, I'll let some of the photos do the talking....

I want to close with saying this day was a game changer for us as a campus.  Every staff member went above and beyond what was expected and truly created a magical experience for kids.  And I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

But I would wrong if I didn't also say thank you to Kim Bearden.  That woman is one of the most incredible people I have ever met.  She is kind, genuine, energetic, exciting, and so much more.  She made each member of my staff feel so important, and she gave up time of her own to be here with us.

This was a day none of us will forget any time soon.  So, here's to hoping you've been inspired to try your own Crash Course lessons at your school!