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Why I am blogging every single day

About five years ago, I started Transformative Principal. Before that, I blogged regularly at my other blog. My podcast goes there automatically, and that is all well and good, and the posts there have been consistent with the podcast.

When I started the podcast, I said to myself, "This podcast is putting something out there, so that is good enough."

Eventually, I started writing a book, and while Seth Godin has been telling me for years to write daily, I haven't done it, until I started writing the book. Once I did that, I was writing 1000 words per day, sometimes much more.

I had been making excuses about not writing.

On November 1st, I just decided to stop that line of thinking. It had nothing to do with it being the first of the month.

I was ready to start my final 66 day challenge for 2018, and decided I would blog every day. Right now, I am 41 days into my 66 days, and I'm going to continue after the 66 days are over.

Here's three things I get from blogging daily:

  1. An outlet. Sometimes, we are so caught up in our own mind games, we just can't handle it. Blogging daily helps me get that out.
  2. Clarification. There is a lot that goes into writing, and it's not just about the writing. Writing helps me clarify some of my own thoughts.
  3. Reflection. While clarifying my own thoughts, I have also been able to reflect on lessons learned.

It's good. I have missed blogging daily, but glad to be back at it.


I saw an act of kindness by a teacher the other day that was really great.

She saw a student do something that wasn't right.

She gave him the teacher look, and he stopped.

She said, "I know I don't have a relationship with him, and so if I said anything to him, it wouldn't matter. I got him to stop, but I know I can't change his behavior without a relationship. I need to talk to the teacher that does have a relationship with him."

Why is this kindness?

She honored that student by thinking of his needs before her need to be "right." She thought of him and his growth, and rather than lecture him yet again, she cared enough about his growth to say, "I'm going to get the right person to talk with him when he is calm."

It's inspiring.

Teacher Guilt

Teacher Guilt is something that afflicts every educator at some point in her career. Teachers grew up in and were trained in a system that set them up to believe certain things about education. Teacher Guilt is the idea that when teachers do something that is not traditional, they feel like they are missing out on doing what good teachers “should” do.

The best way to illustrate this is by giving a couple examples.

First, a school district adopts a curriculum and books that are not a good choice for kids to learn. Let’s say, for sake of the argument, that they are racially biased, portray dark-skinned people in a negative light, if portrayed at all, have few multicultural voices, and the content is too challenging for students in a teacher’s class. Even though Mrs. Jones knows that this curriculum is not a good match for her high-poverty, multicultural class, Mrs. Jones still goes back to the book again and again for her lessons, because she “has to follow the curriculum.” This is intentionally an extreme example, because most educators today understand that they need to supplement this curriculum, at the very least.

One district I worked with adopted a math curriculum that had lots of errors, taught advanced concepts before foundational concepts, and had many typos that hindered the work of the children. The math teacher consistently said for all the years that the textbook was adopted, “This book is no good, and I don’t like using it.” But she still did because it was the adopted curriculum. You see, she couldn’t overcome her teacher guilt and do the right thing.

Another area relates to grades. Great teachers all over the country are still using grades as punishment. I’ll talk more about this later in the Student Experience section, but for now, I’ll leave it at this: teachers give bad grades to students to “teach them a lesson” or “prepare them for the next level” or whatever. Rarely do school district policies outline how much of a percentage of the overall grade should be based on participation or homework or tests. And yet, teachers still feel the need to include all those metrics in a grade. One more example before I close. I’ve talked with many teachers who want to do innovative things in their classroom, but they are worried about the innovation parts taking too long, and not being able to cover all the content. It’s better if they are looking at standards than content, but the challenge still remains. “I’d like to engage my students in a project about how government works,” a teacher might say, “but I need to cover the civil war.” They feel a pressure to accomplish everything but they know they don’t have enough time, and so they feel guilty about it.

What are some other aspects of teacher guilt that you see?

An elementary school just acquired a startup!

Many educators today are worried about the competition they are getting from private schools, voucher options, and charter schools. In my research, the vast majority of these schools are still doing “school” essentially the same way. There’s a teacher up at the front of the room, teaching, and kids are “learning” from that teacher.

This is not that disruptive.

What is disruptive is something like this: WeWork’s WeGrow acquires education startup MissionU

You may have read that and thought I was speaking a foreign language.

WeWork is a company that allows people to come to their spaces and use them to work. This is a $20 billion company!

So, they started a school, much like an Acton Academy. It’s about creating a hyper-localized, student and family driven school that really meets the needs to kids.

Here’s this quote:

This fall, when $20 billion startup WeWork opens elementary school WeGrow, the 40 inaugural students will start their day with a laughing circle or a meditation session. At lunchtime, students will prepare meals using food grown on the farm they run, while live guitar and drums play. Throughout the day, there will be blocks of time set aside for the arts, including drama and dance. And during the week, there will be opportunities for students to meet with WeWork mentors, paired according to the students’ interests–or, in the parlance of WeGrow founder and CEO Rebekah Neumann, according to their “superpassions” and “superpowers.”>

There is the idea that a company can provide a better experience for their employees’ children than the school system can.

Imagine companies offering education of your children as a benefit, much like health insurance and retirement pensions used to be the big draws. And, it’s not just reading, writing, and arithmetic:

For example, WeGrow plans to include a parent lounge in the WeGrow school space that architect Bjarke Ingels is designing. The lounge will host programming for parents, as well as offer them a place to work while their child is in class. Parents will also be encouraged to engage with some practices, like meditation, alongside their children.>

The future is exciting, but we are not going to be able to continue doing education the way we always have.

And just in case you think this is crazy talk, Acton Academy has thousands of new applications each month to start satellite schools.

These are not scary things that are happening to us. These examples show me that there is a lot of ways to make sure that we are doing what is best for our students.

Turning Learning Upside Down

Twitter version: Read this book, and join me as I try to change education.

I have been trying to change education from the inside out for YEARS! Ever since I started, I have been poking and prodding and trying to change and adapt it to better meet the needs of our students.

It started with inner-city kids blogging on salvaged computers my first year teaching. Then, a standards-based RTI approach that allowed every student in my class for two years to pass successfully (400 kids!). When kids get D grades, they have failed their potential. When a student gets an F, it is the teacher who has failed the student.

After that, I sought to change libraries in a 33,000 student school district so that they were hubs of learning rather than just places to check out books.

Following that I moved to a curriculum specialist position that allowed me to coach teachers to implement a coteaching practice. We also created a middle school schedule that increased reading scores significantly.

Then, I started administration, and started focusing more on kids as individuals, hearing their concerns and treating them with respect, even though they were usually in trouble. We also raised attendance rates from 85% to 95% in a Title I elementary school by doing 1 simple trick.

In my next school, we added Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports to the school day, rather than forcing kids to be told they are dumb all day, only to be forced to attend an after-school program where they still felt dumb. Honestly, if we can't meet kids' needs during the 7 hours we have them each day, that's our fault.

At my current school, we are really upping the ante by making education personalized for our students. Not just lip service, which is what most personalized learning is. We are looking at big ideas to make things happen for kids in a powerful way.

Here's my Four Year Plan (TM haha):

 Click the image above to go to the podcast where I explain this in more detail. 

Click the image above to go to the podcast where I explain this in more detail. 

In the last month and a half, there has been a confluence of factors that have helped me see that it is truly possible to do what we need to do for our kids.

I'm a podcast nerd, so many of these links are to podcasts, which is worthwhile, because you get to hear the excitement in the voices as they talk about it.

I spoke a little bit about this passion in my podcast a couple weeks ago, where I suggested that we end college career readiness.

The dream I have had for education is already happening at a place called Acton Academy. At least a year and a half ago, Seth Godin suggested I talk with Jeff Sandefer, the co-founder (with his wife, Laura) of Acton Academy.

We really need to empower kids to make their own learning choices. I've been doing this with my kids for the last several months by just goal setting each week with them. It has been very powerful to see the goals they have set. Things that I have wanted for them for months they are choosing to do, without my involvement. It's awesome.

Last month, I interviewed Heather Staker for the Transformative Principal Podcast. That interview is not out yet, but you will enjoy it when it is, so please subscribe.

One of the things she said was that I must interview the Sanderfers and was kind enough to connect us.

While I was in the process of arranging that, the book Courage to Grow was released, and I bought it for me and my Mastermind right away. I suggest you buy it as well. I read it in two hours.

Soon after that, Laura was on The 1 Thing Podcastt. Listen here. I was on The 1 Thing podcast, too, btw.

Then I interviewed Jeff a couple weeks later. Here is the early release, unedited of that episode.

We can turn learning over to our students and really empower them in a powerful way.

So, how do we change education? We empower students to be the learners they are innately, and stop letting our public education put road blocks up that bore them and destroy their creativity.

The 25' Airstream at the Coast Guard Campground

Last week we did one of my favorite things at school. We visited the homes of our students.

I learned about this from Rob Carroll and I just loved the idea.

It's got to be hard not having a home, especially in middle school.

I went back to work last week, but all my teachers came back this week. We also did something really cool: Home visits. I'd like to share the video we made with you. Click HERE to watch it. We visited 460 students' homes and even a couple that we didn't know about that were around.

We broke up into pairs of dedicated teachers and visited the home of every student that we had an address for (and even some new move-ins we hadn't met yet)!

There was even a student who had an address of "25' Airstream at the Coast Guard campground"!

The best part of the visits I did that day was visiting the student who was at the Coast Guard campground, who didn't have a home to live in yet.

Being a middle schooler, and living in a camper trailer that your family just towed across the country would be difficult in the best circumstances.

We made sure that this kid who didn't have a home knew that he had a home at the Middle School. We are excited he made it here and we can't wait for him to be a part of our school.

What a fantastic day.

My Daughter Ran Away and What I Learned about how to be an Effective Educator

My daughter ran away while we were camping. She was supposed to just go to the bathroom, early in the morning, but instead went to go find someone. That's pretty scary to begin with, but it is more scary when compounded with the following factors:

  • We were in Denali National Park.
  • There were signs everywhere about a moose charging people if they got too close.
  • There was a river not too far from our campsite.
  • My daughter has no sense of direction.
  • My daughter has no sense of consequences.
  • My daughter is very stubborn.
  • My daughter has down syndrome and can't communicate very well to all people. We understand her, but not everyone else does.

I went to a place where I thought she might go. It was a place where she and I walked two days before, so it is possible she might know the way. I told the workers there the situation, and one worker's response was

"Oh, just make breakfast. They usually come back when there is breakfast."

That one comment brought about so many emotions I could hardly stand it.

Anger - I was really angry that she would say something so insensitive. My daughter had no idea where she was or where we were. She has no sense of direction or ability to find her way back. She doesn't know what campsite we were at, only that we were in Denali. It wasn't just about breakfast. She was lost, and she would not miraculously find her way back.

Frustration - This lady was not listening to me. She didn't understand my daughter! How dare she make some off-the-cuff response that totally disregards all the information I had just given her about her disability and inability to find her way home.

Sadness - My daughter was lost, and nobody could tell me that she was going to come back home on her own. I needed help to find her, and someone who should have been able to give some help or advice on how to get help was completely unable to offer support.

Hurt - I felt like this lady was judging me that I was upset that my daughter was lost. She seemed dismissive about what I was going through.

Empathy - I suddenly realized that this lady was totally unequipped to help comfort a parent who was in a dire situation. She didn't have the tools to help me be successful.

What does this have to do with Education? I'll tell you:

  1. We need to be supportive allies of parents. One of my friends asked me a while ago, "How can I be a good friend?" Many times, with parents, that's what we need to do.
  2. We can't judge parents. Parents are likely doing the best they know how to do. We can't waste any time making judgments about what they are doing or how they can or can't do something. My daughter ran off through no fault of mine or my wife's. She had been to the bathroom at the campsite many times by herself, and she chose to run away rather than go to the bathroom. When that lady that should have helped me made me feel that way, I felt like I was a bad dad. I'm not. I'm not perfect, to be sure, but there was nothing I could do to have prevented it.

I hope I can approach situations with my students and their families with more empathy, respect, and lack of judgment.

I hope you'll join me in August for the #1 online conference for educational leaders: Transformative Leadership Summit Join me and over 40 amazing educational leaders to discuss all the ways you can improve your school this year.

I work in an awesome place

This is my newsletter for this week to my team. I'm really grateful to work here.

Hi Team!

Thanks for all your hard work last week in getting the Spring aimsweb assessments completed, graded, and entered. Here are the math results:

6th Grade MCAP

7th Grade MCAP

8th Grade MCAP

You’ll notice that the number of students still in the red is quite low (less than 13%).

Last week I asked you what things we should be measuring. A few of you responded and we have been able to have a great conversation over email about what we should be measuring. Most of the responses indicated that these kinds of scores are good to have, but not the indicators of real success. I believe that as we focus on helping our kids feel comfortable and safe these scores will take care of themselves. We need to pay attention to them, but we also need to recognize the benefits of other practices, like trauma-informed practices, recognition, and empathy. The little things we are doing, like providing standing desks, fidget boxes, and stools are not a big deal, but they let kids know that we understand that they are individuals. Thank you for your care and consideration towards our students. There are so many more things that you are doing that help our kids to be successful.

Upcoming Calendar Events:
We are in that weird time of year when the days will go by so fast, yet so slow.
Our Friday meetings are as follows:
May 6: professional development in the library
May 13: grade level PLCs planning for next year (recommendations for foundations, student groupings recommendations, etc.) - You can start the efforts in basecamp if you would like. I’ll give more information for foundations and special ed teachers and where they should plan to go for these meetings as we get closer.
May 20: Final planning and preparation for the last week of school activities in your grade level teams. You can also start this work in Basecamp.
May 27: We will have a farewell breakfast and celebration in the morning, and then you will have the day to prepare for summer.

If any of you are participating in the summer academies, or are planning on it, please let me know your intentions so I can help support you.

Three Tips for More Engaging PBL Projects - Here’s some ideas for helping your Project-based Learning projects more engaging.

Making the Courageous Choice - Sometimes we need to make a courageous choice. Courageous choices sometimes make us choose between two bad choices. They aren’t always easy choices to make.

Closing the Gate - We have a really great team at the middle school. We have grown and changed and understood each other better over time. As with every year, people leave and new people come. How can we help those who will be new next year hit the ground running and be successful? How are we going to welcome them to our school and make their new transition as successful as possible? You already do this, but we don’t really talk much about it.

Reflections on a Great #NASSP16

I'd like to reflect on the time I spent at the National Association of Secondary School Principals conference in Orlando, Florida.

I'm sharing my notes below but I first want to say that the best part of my experience down there was meeting all these people that I have been following online for so many years. Seriously, I can't say enough how amazing it was to make those in-person connections. Meeting Will Parker and Glenn Robbins and Bill Ziegler was just awesome. These guys are Giants to me, and it was so great to meet them and see who they are as humans, in person. It is so great. I also met people that I hadn't followed that I will start following because they were amazing.

People talk about how powerful Twitter (and other social media) is and how worthwhile it is to use. I've been using Twitter since 2007, and have gone through phases of engagement with it. I have learned, however, that Twitter really can be incredibly beneficial. The importance of connecting with people is incredible. It is not just about being ON Twitter, or lurking on Twitter. It is really about connecting with people.

The power of the connection is that you learn how to appreciate the other people, how to learn from them, and how to know how to help them. I'm so glad that I have been on Twitter, and I am sure that I have grown more through those connections than any other professional development I have experienced. I'm lumping my podcast into this because I would not have the idea, success or opportunity to do the podcast if not for my connections on Twitter.

My notes below are largely unedited. Be sure to follow the podcast to hear more interviews coming up from people I met there at the conference. Go here to listen to my interview with Todd Whitaker and Rick Wormeli. It was awesome.


Mental Health Issues

  • Overreact, undersensationalize
  • Mark Sullivan

School Showcase

  • Assistant Principal of Student services
  • Why did you give it that title?
  • Lunch period and special breakfasts.
  • Eagles Eye newsletter with new student interviews
  • Freshman stay for extra 25 minutes each day to get extra supports
  • What is the ACCESS program and what have you learned from it?
  • - why do you focus on mindfulness?
  • RENEW Tier 3 student-centered SEL program - visualization mapping process
  • Yes AND…the power of this thinking?
  • Yes but... regarding FedEx?
  • Innovation incubator
  • Apply to be part of it.
  • Design thinking process—empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, refine
  • Innovation class period - how does that work for credit?
  • How do you give freedom to teachers to be creative?
  • Good ideas come from everywhere. Steven Johnson—Where Good Ideas Come From.
  • Chance favors the connected mind. Chance favors the connected school.


  • Care - Advisory - 1 teacher 20 kids
  • PTC done through Advisory teacher. Kids can go to advisor to work with the teacher they are struggling with.
  • Homework is a legacy app in schools.
  • I teach the kids [subject]
  • How do you define inquiry? Purposeful Curiosity, Gerad Carrier
  • What changes when you help students develop their skill of inquiry?
  • With inquiry, it becomes more student-directed and less dependent on the teacher.
  • Assessment becomes more difficult. Control becomes more difficult.
  • Be willing to challenge the quiet classroom.
  • Personalized is when kids have real skin in the game?
  • Subject matters by Harvey Danielson
  • Reading scores improve because kids are reading deeply in every area.
  • TO meet the standards, you have to be a thoughtful curriculum planner.
  • Engagement is the wrong goal.
  • Empowered is better
  • Deep inquiry enhances care, compassion and empathy
  • We teach less stuff at SLA, but kids learn more.
  • Inquiry isn't us asking kids questions we know the answers to.
  • Inquiry is scary when we get a blank page. Starting can be scary.
  • Group collaboration guidelines can include firing a group member.
  • SLA Dell partnership to support
  • Important to front load the inquiry (structure and procedures) to make sure kids have skills to figure things out.
  • 9th grade teachers spend more time on process than content than any other grade.
  • Rather than have teacher's aide help grade papers and make copies, have the teaching assistant work with a teacher to really be a teacher assistant.
  • Fears associated with Inquiry-based learning?
  • What the worst outcome of your best idea?
  • What else changes at your school when you become inquiry based?
  • School schedule mod time with the principal from Missouri
  • Stop calling it a technology project, it is called a school.
  • Technology in an inquiry school is ubiquitous, invisible and necessary.

Daisy Dyer Duerr Link for BYOD agreement in their school. Rural schools that are doing awesome things.

Questions for podcast: * Why go BYOD and not buy tools for the few students you have? * How is BYOD different from 1:1 initiatives in terms of instruction? Do you focus less on teaching tools and more on teaching concepts? * Poverty is obviously a big issue in Rural Education. * Talk about PRMB - Flex mod schedule. * How do you attract and maintain great teachers?

Janice Case

Rick and Todd

  • Anytime I can make the faculty look good, do that.
  • Roland Barth - The achievement of any one school is based upon the relationship of the adults.
  • Make every decision based on your best teachers.
  • Get teachers in others' classrooms in a non-evaluative, non-judgmental things
  • Only need teachers to do two things each day: care and try.
  • Crummy teachers don't just close the door, they cover up the window
  • Ego is so tied up in what we are doing that we aren't willing to change.
  • Writing makes us more vulnerable and willing to discuss things
  • Record yourself as principal and share it with faculty.
  • The hardest person to change is the first one.
  • We have to validate those who want to intellectually engage.
  • Challenge: The other day I was sitting in my office, and I forgot what school was. I wanted to come in your classroom to see what school was like.
  • Teacher evaluation is an ongoing event, not an every 3 years issue
  • 3 goals for teacher evaluation: Reinforce good teachers, develop not so good teachers, get poor teachers out
  • The reason I try to be in classrooms as much as possible is because the good teachers like it and the poor teachers don't!
  • Don't do things that suck the life out of people.
  • Basis for being at my school: treat every person with respect and dignity.
  • Don't play it politically safe.
  • Don't ever give a student teacher to an average teacher!
  • Characterics of effective PD:
  • If teachers aren't taking control of their professional development, they aren't even treading water!
  • Send potential applicants a letter of expectations about the culture of the school.
  • Professional development just needs to be good. However it is done.
  • If teachers can be part of it, it is incredible.

Ed Leadership Sims

Experience Design: Creating experience Simulated scenarios to help faculty experience difficult situations with simulations. * Narrative Flow - Power of storytelling * Choice options - Encourage Critical thinking * Consequences - make it memorable * Scorecard Feedback - make it realistic/measurable * Narrative Feedback - repetition/memorable * Small group debriefings and opportunities to share/expand the experience/consequences * Large group debriefings to * @edleadershipsim * Brain Rules by John Medina * Sims encourage a systems thinking approach * Sims provides an opportunity to learn from failure * Sims provide experience and emotional engagement * Many things don't feel wrong until you experience them. * Any stage of person's development can take advantage of leadership simulations * The difference between games and simulations is Alternative reality and Alternate reality. * Alternate reality could be my reality - has to be relatable. * Alternative reality is fantasy. * It has to be about what was learned, not what happened. * Simulating a period of time where X learning needs will be apparent. * The only way you're going to get better at some things is by experience * Deer in the headlights is never a good idea. * Spaced Learning and Simulations

Suicide Sims

Help staff know how to communicate and deal with suicide and suicidal ideation by going through a simulation: Password ignite16

Need to support each student. Not just the at-risk students. We need to establish a mentoring program for each of our students. Mentoring from staff and peers. Everyone is a mentor.

Who could be a peer model? Ask kids, then train the kids they identify.

Blue dot program: I have a blue dot on my door that means I will drop what I am doing to talk to you.

My Experience with Seth Godin's Leadership Workshop

A couple days ago, Daniel Bauer issued a small challenge.

He asked if anyone was interested in joining a workshop with Seth Godin. I had just listened to Seth on Tim Ferris' podcast, and I have been a follower for a while, but haven't really engaged with him, yet. This was an instant yes.

I saw the opportunity and I took it. This would mean getting up at 4 am on a Thursday, to make it to the gym before the 5 am start time. Which also meant that this three-hour workshop would be completed before I was even due at work. The beauty of Alaska Standard Time!

I like being productive in the mornings, and by the time this three hour workshop was over, I was tired.

The goal was eleven 15-20 minute modules in that time period. It was going to be a whirlwind.

The Process

Processes always fascinate me and this workshop had a unique approach.

All 660 participants were invited to a temporary slack team to discuss the agenda for that day. There are a couple awesome things about Slack:

  1. It is very easy to use
  2. You can have small "rooms" (channels) of 8-10 people instead of seeing a waterfall of 660 peoples' comments.
  3. Within the channel, you can create small, subject-focused discussions as well

With Posts or Files, you can upload something and then comment on it. This makes it so that you can have a little mini-discussion off to the side.

What I Learned

This is the best part. The modules were Seth being Seth, which is cool. He is insightful and asks questions that help you think.

The most powerful module for me was "Selling the Dream". In it, Seth asked us to define the vision from four points of view, all of which are true. I stretched a little on the fourth one, and it is not quite there, but here are my responses.

  1. Michelle is a 8th grade math teacher. She has been seeing great success in her students lately, and as she gets up this morning, she is excited to see what is on the docket today. Being flexible enough to see the needs of every student met takes a lot of work, but it is so worth it. She works hard to know her students strengths and weaknesses so she can meet them where they are.
  2. Rachel and John have always dreaded parent teacher conferences, and have thought about not attending, but this year, something in the their son is different. He actually says math is fun. The extra class he is taking is taught by a compassionate teacher who says he is actually doing well and not misbehaving. Rachel and John are actually looking forward to parent teacher conferences because it is the first time they aren't expecting a bad report.
  3. Coming home from school everyday has been the same for Billy for the last 5 years. "What did you learn in school today?" his mom asks. "Nothing." But this year, there is something different. Billy actually understands what he learned and why he learned it. He is able to direct his own learning at times, and is able to explore things he is passionate about, but knows he is still getting the education he is "supposed to get"
  4. Mr. Johnson has lived across the street from the school for years. He has complained to every principal about the rotten kids since his own kids stopped going to that school. The trash, the loud kids, the disrespect. But since this new principal came, the kids seem better behaved, the trash is cleaned up, and he actually sees kids outside doing things to make the community better. He doesn't know what they're teaching in school these days, but he is glad that school finally woke up and taught the right things.

This workshop stretched me, made me think, made me write, and made me grateful.

I am so excited that the first three on the above list really are true. There was a perception of the middle school before I came here that was not great. I've heard multiple times this school year that the middle school has changed, that it is now the place to be. I couldn't agree more.

I feel so blessed to be able to work where I do.

If you ever have the chance to take an intense 3-hour lightning-fast course from Seth, I'd highly recommend it.