Showing posts from 2015

Beliefs and Actions

I have spent a great deal of time in my career thinking about what I stand for, what I believe in, while defining my core values.  All of these things guide my decision making and shape my work as principal, teacher, father, husband, coach, son, brother, and the other roles that I play.  It is very important to define our core values and beliefs; I have talked and written about this in the past. However, I have come to realize this is only the first step in the improvement process.  The next step involves action.

Most of us would agree that saving money is a necessity for a productive life, as unexpected circumstances rear their heads.  I believe this is an important practice; however, if I am not intentionally setting money aside in my savings account, there is a disconnect between my beliefs and actions.  I can think about, talk about and even publish my beliefs about saving money, but if my actions are out of alignment with my beliefs, I am not going to have additional money in my …

Look Closer

Throughout the course of any given day, I have a number of interactions with students, teachers, parents, support staff members, administrators, and community stakeholders about achievement, performance, instructional techniques, strategies to serve students who struggle, events taking place in their lives, among many other topics.  I love these conversations, as I am able to learn about great things taking place in our schools, struggles or areas where I can support, and often times thoughts or plans are generated about how we can become better.  Some of these conversations are exciting, as teachers share how much their students are producing with the Lucy Calkins Writer's Workshop model of instruction.  Other times the conversations are full of frustration, as people are struggling to meet a variety of needs and don't know what to do moving forward.  Sometimes I have a hard time figuring out where the person is coming from within these interactions which forces me to look cl…

What Great Educators Do Differently

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the inaugural What Great Educators Do Differently Conference in Chicago.  There were so many fantastic educators at this event willing to share their expertise related to teaching, learning, leadership, technology, and making connections.  After attending various sessions facilitated by Paul SolarzDwight CarterAmber TeamannAngela Maiers, and having conversations with other participants, I have developed a list of what I feel great educators do differently.  The list and descriptions will not seem mind-boggling in any way; however, I believe that truly great educators do these things consistently within their daily practices.

Great educators know their strengths and where they can grow:
I have faced a hard truth over the past four years serving in my role as elementary principal of two schools: I cannot be everything to everybody.  That is a tough pill for me to swallow because I am a helper by nature.  I know that I am surro…

A Walk to Remember...

The embedded podcast above features a conversation that I had with Josh Allen, Brent Catlett and Devin Schoening from Dads in Ed; it takes a deeper look at the content within this post. I hope you enjoy it.

School started on Thursday, and just like every year, there is excitement and anticipation in the air. Students arrive with new clothing, fresh haircuts, and summer tans ready for new experiences and opportunities to connect with their friends.  Teachers and staff arrive energized with hopes of making differences in the lives of children.  This year has not been any different, as there has definitely been a buzz the first two days.

Dismissal time in any school is always somewhat chaotic with many people moving in many different directions in a short amount of time.  It usually takes a good two weeks before the wrinkles are ironed out and the flow at the end of the day becomes smooth.  We experience a number of small issues that work themselves out after students get into the routi…

What Can We Learn from Disney?

I recently returned from the National Association of Elementary School Principal's Conference (#naesp15) in Long Beach, California and finally have time to quietly reflect on the week filled with fantastic memories.

There is nothing like attending a conference in 2015.  It is truly amazing seeing people from my Personal Learning Network (PLN) face to face after interacting through Twitter, Voxer, and Facebook over the past several months.  I wrote about this very topic last year after attending #naesp14 in Nashville.  I am extremely blessed to be surrounded by incredible people within my network who truly care about students, staff members, families, and making their schools as great as they can be.  Throughout the past couple of years I have been provided with opportunities to present and share my learning with small and large groups of people at the local, state, and national levels.  This would never have been possible if I did not make a conscious effort to connect though soci…

Belding | Vernon | Rooney

Imagine that you are not an educator, and do me a favor.  Close your eyes and think about what comes to mind when I say one word...principal.  Most of the people that I know outside of the educational field will mention one, if not all three of these names: Richard Belding, Richard Vernon, and Edward Rooney.

Last weekend, I had the chance to spend some time with a few of my friends that I haven't seen in a number of years.  The conversation was pretty typical, as we caught up on each other's work and social | family lives.  Within this conversation and on two additional occasions in the last week, I was asked about my job and what exactly I do as an elementary school principal.  When I explained my job and responsibilities to my friends, I don't think I highlighted the key points as much as I would have liked.

"So are you like a modern day Mr. Belding, or what?"  This was the first question that one my friends asked during our conversation.  We all know Mr. Bel…

Connecting with Purpose

*This post is a compliment to an article that I wrote for NAESP's May/June edition of Principal magazine. The full article can be found here.*

A few weeks ago, I wrapped up my third year as principal of Epworth and Farley Elementary Schools, and cannot thank our students, staff, families, and community members enough for another fantastic experience.  Being the principal of two elementary schools is extremely rewarding, and like all educators at this day in age, never short of daily challenges.  I consider myself a connected educator, and about three years ago, I made a conscious effort to connect with educational leaders to build my skills while learning from great minds in the field.  The platform that I chose to utilize was (and is) Twitter which I tried to aggressively push upon fellow administrators and teachers within my district. After three years of connecting with my Personal Learning Network (PLN), I have learned a few things and altered my approach.

Begin with the End in…


Over the past few years, I have attended a number of retirement parties for teachers, administrators, and support staff members.  Within these gatherings, I have interpreted a common theme from the comments and speeches centered around what type of legacy has been left by the retiree. As I listened to the various comments in recent weeks, I couldn't help but think about what I would like people to remember about me when my time in education has come to a close.

We have all been in a composition or early journalism class where we were given an assignment to write our own eulogy.  I first completed this task in high school and wrote something ridiculous about being a millionaire Major League Baseball player or something along those lines.  I started thinking about this exercise much more seriously after I first read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by one of my heroes, the late Stephen Covey.  After reading Covey's work in 2007, I realized that my daily practices and …

What's This All About?

It's hard to belive that we are down to the final two weeks of the school year.  Time flies, and there is still a great deal to get accomplished in the next ten school days.  This time of year is filled with excitement, but also a fair amount of anxiety, as teachers work diligently to get everything wrapped up.

I have been thinking a lot about many things as this year closes while preparing for 2015-16. Assessment results, leadership teams, Response to Intervention, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, collaboration time, schedules, instructional coaching, staff morale, etc, etc, etc.  All of these items are very important and plans will need to be made to enhance what we're doing to serve kids on a daily basis, but they were not in the front of my mind in later part of last week.

We had two events that truly displayed the power of community, engagement, connection, and pride.  The Epworth Elementary Parent Teacher Organization hosted the second annual walk-a-thon e…

Understand Your Impact

We are entering a very busy time of year that is challenging for just about every educator in the country. Deadlines need to be met, uncertainty is in the air with next year's plans, and teachers are doing all they can to meet the needs of their students in the remaining weeks of the school year. Typically February, March, and April are difficult months with a fair amount of negativity in the air, as educators often ask, "Will winter ever come to an end, where am I going to be teaching next year, or even, will I have a job next year?"  It is easy to get sucked into the end of the year busyness and stress: we sometimes need to be reminded why we are here.

There is also a certain amount of excitement with upcoming graduations, students finalizing choices for colleges, end of the year activities, and an overall buzz in the air. This year has been no exception at Epworth and Farley Elementary Schools, as students are expanding their learning on field trips, outdoor activitie…

More than a Number

Recently we were given the results of Iowa Assessments (the standardized test in our state) for third and fourth grade students.  I spent some time with teachers reviewing this data while examining areas of strength and opportunities for improvment, a routine exercise that we go through every year.  As I was looking at the data and the blue, green, and red colored cells on the spreadsheets, I couldn't help but think of a conversation that I had with one our instructional coaches a few weeks ago...

We are surrounded by data, numbers, targets, and goals that drive our work and decision making each day.  I am a firm believer in data and continuous improvement and feel that we have taken big steps in using the information we have to build on strengths and address deficiencies.  We utilize an assessment wall at Farley Elementary School that takes into consideration all available reading assessements to give the most accurate representation of where our students stand and what supports …

Everybody Has a Story

I was walking down the hallway of one of my schools the other day and passed three students who all smiled from ear to ear and waved when they saw me.  There is nothing like being the principal of an elementary school; there is so much positive energy and thirst for knowledge.  As I was walking by these students I couldn't help but think of the conversation that I had with one of our staff members just a few hours prior.  We were talking about relationships, student backgrounds, and the fact that everyone in the school setting has a story.

Some of our students have everything that they could hope for at home: loving parents, a nice house, lots of toys, food on the table, and a warm bed to sleep in each night.  There are others who come to school and the best two (and sometimes only) meals of the day are served in the Epworth and Farley Elementary School cafeterias.  Some students wear the same clothing multiple times per week, don't have a consistent place that they can call …

Compliance or Commitment?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation about instructional coaching with an educator outside of my district.  We were talking about the coaching model that we utilize in Western Dubuque, and how we have implemented this in the past seven months.  I was asked how we are able to get teachers engaged and enrolled in the process.  I told her that our instructional coaches wait for teachers to come to them. The look on her face was puzzling, as she asked, "What about the people that really need to improve and others who are struggling?"  She continued to tell me that coaching is mandatory in her district and teacher engagement in the coaching cycle is pretty low.

After I left the conversation I continued to think about a quote that Jim Knight shared with me over the summer, "When you insist, they will resist." Participating in instructional coaching is 100% teacher choice in Western Dubuque because we believe that if people truly want to improve, they will reach ou…

Life in the Gray

There are many days that I wish my life as principal was simple and decisions were black and white, cut and dry, or whatever you would like to call it.  Unfortunately, this is not reality for school leaders, as complex situations, dynamics, and circumstances have us living in many shades of gray.  We are faced with decisions and situations where simple yes or nos simply do not apply.  We often compromise to meet various people where they are while understanding that not all parties are going to fully "win."

When I think about some of the experiences that I have had as an elementary principal in the past three years, I have come to the conclusion that my core beliefs have allowed me to make the best possible decisions for our schools.  In the following paragraphs, I will explain my core beliefs and share how these values have carried me through tough times.

It's About People, Not Programs (Thank you to Todd Whitaker)
Let's face it, students and educators are living in …

Personalized Learning at EdCamp

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to attend #EdCampIowa at South East Junior High School in Iowa City.  Ed Camps are unique because they allow participants to build the agenda and learn about whatever they like.  It was incredibly powerful to see more than 100 educators gather in the library at South East on a Saturday morning to better themselves for the benefit of students.  Seriously, more than 100 educators showing up to school on a day off when they are not paid to grow professionally. Amazing.  Three other locations in the great state of Iowa also offered EdCamps on this day, making it the largest EdCamp event in the country.  It's a fine time to be in education, and there are so many people doing the right work in our profession.

As I participated in the first session of the day dedicated to personalized learning and differentiation, I got excited about the many things that our teachers are doing to meet the needs of students in their classrooms.  We have teachers dabb…

5 Years...

Last month, my oldest son turned five, which just doesn't seem possible.  Over the past couple of days, I have reflected about the changes that have occurred within education, the world, and my life during this time.  In 2009, I was teaching fifth grade at Peosta Elementary School questioning two technology tools that I saw as utterly useless.  These tools were none other than the iPad and Twitter. Why in the world would someone want a touchscreen tablet when you could get everything on a laptop/desktop computer?  Who really cares about what Ashton Kutcher ate for breakfast or who the first person was to gain 1,000,000 followers?  Five years later, I could not function nearly as effectively without a tablet, as it has increased my mobility and dramatically improved my productivity.  Twitter is so much more than a silly social media application, as it has allowed me to connect with a global network of professional learners who continue to push my thinking.

The development of the iP…