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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.

#AKPrincipals Presentation on SLOs

I really love presenting to groups. It is very fun for me. I know it makes some people nervous, but it is just awesome for me. It fires me up and gets me excited.

I just finished a presentation to principals at Alaska Principal's conference in Anchorage, AK. Here are the downloads. Student Learning Objectives are a part of our Evaluations, and they have caused a significant amount of stress for some people. This presentation was all about sharing what we are doing at Kodiak Middle School to reduce the stress level.

In short, we are taking the team approach to the SLO and working together on it, so we are not left alone and aimless. It is pretty awesome.

Two things I should have done that I forgot to do:

  1. Ask for feedback from the participants (using a form).
  2. Record myself so I could use it as part of the podcast. (duh!)

Oh, well, two more presenations tomorrow!

✓ Home Visits!

On August 19th, 14 dedicated teachers, 3 super-star paraprofessionals, and a mental health clinician joined Assistant Principal Damon Hargraves and myself as we visited the homes of all 435 students in our school! We originally got this idea from the1199 and added our own Kodiak twist to it.

It was amazing.


We wanted to make sure that every student had a positive interaction with an adult before school started.

There was a little surprise and skepticism that we could actually pull it off, but I knew we had enough dedicated staff to be sure we would make it happen.

We delivered planners, a bookmark, and a ticket for a free smoothie on the first day of school if kids answered one of four questions.


Take a look at our facebook page to see some of the positive feedback we got. Students and parents alike were very happy to see us. Many people commented that they saw us out and about.


We let people know about it by creating a communication calendar. We used social media, a presentation to the board, and an all call to make sure the word got out. The school board supported the idea.

Coast Guard

Normal civilians are not allowed on the Coast Guard base without an escort. Thankfully, we had two teachers who are Coast Guard dependents who volunteered to be the escorts for me and Mr. Hargraves. We notified the CO of the Coast Guard early on to make sure we would be able to come visit, and they were very supportive of the visits.


Oh, man, this was crazy. We had to figure out how to visit 435 homes with limited staff and a largish geographical area, including a Coast Guard base.

We worked with our student information system managers to export a list (CSV) of students from the system which included:

  • Student name
  • Address
  • Zip code
  • Phone number
  • Dad name
  • Mom name

We added a couple checkboxes to the end to track if the student was home or not.

After the export was completed the information manager for the district found a way to place all the students’ names on a map on Google Earth. It was amazing. Sadly, the file got corrupted, and we had to start that process over. We used a web site called batchgeo to do the same thing. The free version is limited to 250 addresses, so we had to run two of them. When you download a map for Google Earth, you need to place a “kml” in the URL after the /map/, as seen in this support article. This was difficult to find, but eventually we figured it out. We just opened up that file, and it overlaid on the map in Google Earth.

There was a problem with the output file in that it didn’t have the addresses labeled on the map. What I mean is there weren’t student names visible on the map. To rectify this, I opened the KML file in TextWrangler and did a find for:


and replaced it with:


The only way I knew about that was because I compared the code between what the information manager had done with a non-corrupted KML file he had sent earlier said and what the one said that we downloaded from geobatch. #pointStyleMap for the win!

Once we had a map with marks for all their houses, and student names visible, we took screenshots of what we thought would be good routes and printed those out for our teachers to carry around with them.

After all the routes were printed out, we had to arrange the students. We went back to the spreadsheet and and added a column that designated route. Damon took the map, and typed the names into a Google Doc, while I had the Google Doc open behind the spreadsheet and searched for the student names, and added the correct route to the spreadsheet for that student. What? Are we crazy? Yes. Yes we are! At first Damon was reading the names to me, but it went much faster to have him type them and we could each go at our own speed. Each route took about 10 minutes to type up once we figured out the right way to do it!

When all the names had a route, we had a few that didn’t show up on the Google Earth screenshot. They didn’t show up because we didn’t know where the address was, or because they were overlapping. So, we just looked at those ~20 addresses and made a call for the route.

Then we sorted the spreadsheet by the route column and made sure every group had a manageable number of students to visit. I think 75 was our highest number of students on a route.

We gave everyone a map with student names on it, their list, and their goodies to hand out and sent them on their way.

Mission Accomplished

All in all, it took 18 adults from 9 am to 2:30 pm to visit all the homes in our district. Organization and effort on the part of Damon and me ensured that teachers got out of the school on time and were able to get to the houses quickly. A couple people finished before lunch, and the rest finished after lunch. The fact that we finished in less than a school day is pretty amazing.

Planning for the future

There are a couple things that would have made things easier. Here are lessons learned:

  • Plan earlier - we are going to do this again next year. And, knowing that, we can make some plans beforehand. Teachers will be able to go to kids they actually teach. We would also like to give students their schedules at this time.
  • Include more teachers - By planning earlier, we can help teachers know what will be happening before school starts. Many teachers wanted to do this, but were unable because of their travel plans.
  • Coast Guard Escorts - next time, we will ask the Coast Guard to supply escorts. They said they would, but I thought it would be easier with our Coast Guard dependent teachers. It worked, but there were a few places that people from the Coast Guard could have helped us find a little faster.
  • Provide more goodies/prestuff goodies - it would be nice to have some more fun things to give students, like school supplies, or something like that. It would be especially cool if we could give them some KMS Grizzly Gear. We will have to work on relationships with community organizations to make that happen, probably.

Some good things we did that we want to remember to do next year:

  • The day before New Teacher Orientation is a good way to get the new teachers to be able to join in on the fun. I’m glad we did it that day.
  • Wearing KMS shirts. All our staff wore KMS shirts and this let the community know that we were out in force!
  • Tell everyone. We told a lot of people what we were doing. There was a time that I wanted to forget about it and not do it, because it was hard. But, do you know what? We can do hard things.
  • Outreach. Reaching out to our students to say we love you is amazing. We are so glad that we did this. It was not only fun, but very rewarding. We built some great relationships. One student was waiting for us to get there, and was super excited to see us.


Want to see what we did? Here are some uploads:

✓ Educational DNA

In his blog post, What is Your Educational DNA? Chris Lehman writes:

It’s a phrase I use a lot when I talk about SLA, “It’s in my DNA.” The ideas that form the backbone of SLA are the ideas that hold most dear about what I believe school can be. Much of the work I have done over the years has been developing a language for what I believed, refining the beliefs and figuring out how to make those beliefs easy to put into practice for teacher and students.

I attended five elementary schools (Rosecrest, Mae Ellis, Fallbrook, La Paloma, and Live Oak), one grade in a junior high (James E. Potter), and the different high schools (one giant school, Fallbrook; one low SES school San Juan; and one affluent school, Joel E. Ferris). I had very different experiences in these different schools and that taught me a lot.

One of the most frustrating parts for me was "learning" things that I had learned at my previous school. It really bothered me to see that I had to re-read our relearn things that I already knew how to do. My previous learning experiences were not valued and recognized. It made it very easy for me to feel like school didn't matter much.

I was very comfortable being the class clown, as well, which meant that I was often in trouble. Many times the teachers just wanted me out of their class. There was one teacher, Mr. Hughes, who understood the attention I was seeking, and gave me the attention in a positive way.

Guess which class I never goofed off in? His.

One teacher decided that because I had a behavior problem, I must not be "smart". She made it her personal mission to get me kicked out of all advanced and honors classes. So, I had to go to the "dumb kids" classes. Because that happened in 10th grade, I was never able to take any more Honors classes or AP classes. My high school classes very easy, but also very boring. I didn't have to try hard, and never had homework, because the expectations were so low.

Those experiences encouraged me to go into education. My strong desire to serve others solidified that choice for me. My job is to serve my teachers and students, to make them the best they can be.

Moving from Technology to Leadership

I'm really fascinated when I hear that people want to change their identity. I applaud Amber.

Amber Teamann:

The evolution of this blog has come a long way. It began as a tool I used in my fourth grade classroom. It then became a place I could share all of the great things I was seeing in classrooms and share techie resources as a technology facilitator. It then became a place to share weekly happenings as an administrator. It became less and less about “technology” and more and more about leadership…about quality instruction…about all the things I am passionate about.

Amber realized that her leadership in technology was not enough. Becuase it isn't. Anytime we focus on the technology, we lose.

The leader who tweets and blogs is simply using a tweet and blog vehicle for helping accomplish the goals of the principal. It’s not bad. It’s a choice. The standards are standards. They don’t define the tools used to address the standards.

Using the technology is about helping us be better principals. It is certainly not about what we use, but rather what we do every single day.

Focus on the verbs, not the nouns.

This is one thing that I strive to do with my interviews for Transformative Principal. Yes, we talk about technology on there. Yes we talk about Twitter, blogs, etc., but what I hope we really focus on is what we are doing with those tools.

Let's talk about the verbs, not the nouns.

Update from Alaska!


If you didn't follow along, Staci and I wrote a blog describing our journey up here. It was really fun, and our kids did a great job!

Kodiak Middle School

Starting as a principal at a new school has been such a fun learning experience. There is so much going on, and everyone says you don't really know what it is like until you are sitting in the principal's chair. Many of the principals I interview for my podcast have mentioned that. It is so true. And it is fascinating. I am having so much fun! I love new challenges, I love learning new things, and I love working with people to create something really amazing. So, let's get down to some of the nitty gritty!

Assistant Principal

Damon Hargraves is my assistant principal and he is a rockstar! I am so lucky to be working with him. We hit it off really well to begin with. When I was interviewing, and I came up here for an interview, he invited me to stay at his house. I was only here for a weekend, and he and I stayed up late discussing educational philosophy numerous times and recognized quickly that we are on the same page.

Damon has been in charge of a distance learning grant for the last couple years, and this is the first year that is off his plate as the assistant principal, and so we are both able to focus fully on our school, students, and teachers.

He and I agree about a lot of things, and we have the same goal, to serve children. But what I am really liking about Damon is his ability to see things differently than me and reel me back in when I get too far off. We've had many conversations about how to do things, and he is willing and able to say "That's not a good idea." It is so vital to have someone like that. For example, we were talking about our building inservice and I had planned something and put it into place. When I told Damon about it, he said that while we may need that information, it wasn't what we needed at that time. So, we cancelled. He was right, I was wrong. We trade positions on right and wrong often, call each other on it, make adjustments, and move on. It is awesome.

Damon is also willing to do silly things. Follow our facebook page for some of our antics. We have made a couple videos, and done some phone calls home to get some parents involved. It is fun working with him. Our relationship will drive our school in a positive direction, and it is worth recognizing and being on the same page.

District and Building Inservice

For district and building inservice we wanted to create a positive climate in the building. We played games and got to know each other during the first couple meetings. Damon and I made breakfast for our teachers, and then played some getting-to-know-you games. We played fox and rabbit, concentration ball, and had a teacher do a team-building activity.

Then the NORMS. Norms are an important part of any faculty, and I wanted to show teachers that I was going to trust them to come up with norms that meant something to them. We took a long time to do this, but I felt (and the feedback said) that it was worthwhile. {" It was a hard process to go through, but that is OK because we can do hard things."} The teachers really showed that they can do hard things that day, and they showed that by their responses to feedback about the opening inservice.

The Teachers

I am super excited to work with this group of teachers. They are excited and eager to help students learn. That is really a great place to start. With 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, we have one science, math, and social studies teacher per grade. We have two ELA teachers per grade, and two STEM teachers that teach all three grades.


We are using the Marzano iObservation protocol for evaluations in our district. Going from a paper-based eval system in my last district to an all electronic version with support for walkthroughs is a game changer. The superintendent challenged us to be in three classrooms every day, and so far Damon and I have done a pretty good job of that. I know teachers are not used to that, but they have responded very well. We are learning this tool together and there is a lot of room for growth for all of us. But it is so fun to see growth after about 100 observations in the first month of school. As I said, our teachers are great, and it is exciting to see what they are doing. I've always said that when I was a principal, I would make it a priority to be in the classrooms to be that instructional leader, and it has been the best part of my job, so far. I love it!

It is going to be a great year!