How Are You Growing and Developing?


Here in my 36th year as an educator, I’m more energized and enthused now than I was earlier in my career. I believe it’s due to the variety of opportunities to grow and develop available to me. Technology has also provided me with tools to connect and learn from others by giving me a PLC through social media and the ability to connect virtually and in person with them.

This week I brainstormed a list of ways I grow and develop professionally and personally. This list is not meant to be exhaustive of potential opportunities, rather my list contains ways I’m currently most engaged in my growth and development.

My list contains social media (Twitter, Voxer, Facebook, Instagram) and in person connections; attending local, state, and national conferences; reading for pleasure and professional growth (blogs, social media posts, articles, children’s books, leadership books); spending time exploring my passions (cooking, traveling, coding, robotics); involvement in my state principals’ association; engaging in professional development at the building, district, and state levels; attending EdCamps; participating in Webinars; listening to podcasts; and reflecting by blogging. What’s on your list?

Reflecting and writing down my professional growth opportunities, it’s no wonder sometimes I feel scattered and that I’ve got my hands in a variety of activities, because I do! I just remember these growth opportunities keep me supplied with ideas, mentors, and ways to keep becoming a better principal.

Find what you’re passionate about, connect with others, and remember growing and developing is a step by step journey. I had to learn to take my own journey and not try to copy someone else’s. Sometimes it was challenging but also turned out to be more rewarding for me.


“Hello, this is the Principal Calling.”


In the summer of 2015, I (Mark) was participating in a Twitter chat and was impressed when a teacher shared that she made a positive phone call home for one of her students every day. I thought, in my school I have 750 students and can certainly find one student a day deserving of a positive phone call home, thus #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay was born. That year (2015-2016) I created a spreadsheet and tracked my 130 different positive phone calls. Actually, I made more than 130 calls, I selected 130 different students that year. For some students I called both parents or other family members, whoever they wanted me to call. I also took a selfie with the student and shared the photo and reason for the call on social media. The following year (2016-2017) I continued my #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay making calls for 135 different students that year. I continued with the selfie and sharing on social media and I bought #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay wrist bands to give each student for them to remember and show others. This has turned out to be a powerful practice taking less than 15 minutes each day and using an easy technology tool, the telephone. Making my positive phone call home is the best part of my day.

During the 2016-2017 school year, I (Jay) had a goal similar to Mark’s – make one positive phone call home. I failed miserably except for one beautiful Friday in April. I had every teacher provide me with at least one student and made phone calls most of the day on that Friday. It was one of the highlights of the year for me and, more importantly, it made our kids and their families feel good. After a summer of learning and challenges by #principalsinaction, I renewed my goal of making a #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay but with a little bit of a twist. I meet with our grade level teams every Thursday and one of our agenda items is to provide me with a name of a student to receive a #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay. Those not on grade level teams have also provided me with names. If there are any “extra” names, I encourage the teachers to make the calls themselves as it’s a great way to build positive relationships with families. This week I added one more twist as I asked staff to nominate a colleague for a #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay. They did, I called the husband of the teacher, and the three of us had a really good cry. The relationships fostered by sharing good news to a student or staff member’s family cannot be underestimated.

When I (Ryan) became a vice principal of a high school, I knew that I needed to do something to make sure that I wasn’t only calling home for discipline issues or problems. I needed to get parents and students to understand that we care about the positive things that are going on as well. Thinking back to the first call I made, the parents were shocked. I had chosen a student that had been in trouble before, but on this day made a great decision and helped out a student who was down on their luck. As soon as I caught him doing something good, I jumped at the opportunity to spread the joy. As I transitioned into becoming an elementary school principal, calling home for good things was a must. These phone calls have established positive relationships with parents and with students.

You can check out the Twitter hashtag #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay to see other educators making positive phone calls and smiling students. Make it a practice to share the positive and recognize the good things happening in your school. Remember, If you’re not telling your school’s story, someone else will.

Trust Your Gut


Call it your gut, instinct, intuition, or conscience, that little voice you hear is worth paying attention to.

Two incidents this past week, our first week of school, made me reflect and confirm that I really need to trust my gut. I won’t go into details, but I can describe my thinking, behavior, reaction, and reflection, hopefully to encourage myself, and you, to trust your gut in the future.

The first incident involved something I observed at the end of last school year. I wanted to make a change at the time, but thought I’d give myself some time to process. I continued to consider it over the summer, but I never quite made the decision, partly because I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. The first day of school arrived and because I didn’t go with my gut, there was a minor eruption. Thankfully, I finally made the decision I considered last spring and all summer, it just took me too long to realize my initial instinct was correct. I could have saved time, energy, and a bit of drama if I would have trusted my gut last spring.

The second incident involved a decision I should have made but didn’t. I actually remember the thought passing through my head then quickly leaving. I also gathered input from others, but things still didn’t feel right. Then, the event happened and I received some unhappy feedback from others. What I learned is to pay attention and spend time with those fleeting thoughts. Because it was the beginning of school, my excuse is that I was too busy to trust my gut. Like the message above says, “If you truly feel there’s something, chances are there is.” I needed to notice that quick gut feeling and spend time with it. Had I done that, I believe I would have made a better decision.

So, pay attention to your intuition, use your instincts, and trust your gut. When you do that, I believe you’ll make the right decisions and save time, energy, and stress.


Dress Code Controversy


Yesterday, I posted the above graphic I created on Twitter to encourage other educators to have fun and participate in Bow Tie Tuesday this year.

Someone read that post and wondered, “Why aren’t teachers expected to wear ties every day?” I asked if they were a public school teacher and what would they recommend for a dress code for teachers.

Hundreds of notifications later, clearly this has touched a nerve with folks.

Someone remarked, “If teachers want to be taken as professionals, then they should dress like professionals.” Another person commented, “It doesn’t take clothes to make for a professional.”

I believe something in the middle works best.

For the past twenty years in the two districts I’ve worked in, there has not been a dress code for the adults who work in the schools. However, there were many iterations of dress codes for students. I always thought it was curious that we had many standards for student dress but none for adults.

My style is to wear a suit, shirt, and tie most days. I’m comfortable in that attire but I don’t espouse that for everyone. There are many opinions about dress expectations for educators. While on one hand, dressing casually and comfortably for physical education, art, recess, hand-on activities, field trips, outdoor learning, and sitting on the floor makes sense, you don’t want that casualness to be extreme. Some folks on Twitter felt jeans, t-shirts, leggings, and shorts are too casual for the workplace.

Do teachers need to wear suits, ties, dress shoes, dresses, pantyhose, or heels to be taken seriously and look professional? Do teachers who wear jeans need to work harder to earn respect and be treated professionally?

I don’t think there’s a right answer. I do believe teachers need to find a balance and discover what works for them.

Another comment in the Twitter conversation was, “If you want to be treated like a professional, act like one.” I totally agree. I believe professionalism encompasses much more than dress. It includes attitude, behavior, language, personality, spirit, relationships, and work ethic, and I get to see great examples of professionalism every day.

Make Someone’s Day


Last Monday, I received one of the greatest surprises I’ve ever had. One of my role models; someone I follow and connect with on Twitter, Facebook, and Voxer; and an educator who has reenergized my spirit, stopped by and surprised me as I was welcoming staff back for our first professional development day.

Adam Welcome, amazing and inspiring California educator and cofounder and coauthor of Kids Derserve It, stopped by my school to surprise and meet me for the first time while on his way to central Minnesota for keynoting engagements. This speaks to the quality of this guy that he would take time out of his busy schedule to surprise me and make my day.

Now, I know we all can’t travel across the county to surprise each other like Adam was able, but there are other acts you can take to make someone’s day.

You can make a phone call; write and send a note; text a photo; schedule a Google Hangout or Facebook Messenger video chat; send a heartfelt email; post a funny Tweet or direct message; leave a Voxer message; create and send a video; give a face-to-face greeting; and/or leave a treat on someone’s desk, chair, or mailbox.

I remember the kind actions members of my PLN have taken the past couple years. I have received cards, letters, notes, gift cards, wrist bands, t-shirts, stickers, drawings, phone calls, email messages, Twitter direct messages, Voxer messages, and visits, and I save and remember them all. You probably remember the things you have received from others and now it’s time to pay it forward and make someone’s day.

Principals, It’s Time To Be Silly

Principal Eric Sacco in Kansas wears his school’s eagle mascot costume on the first day of school. Principal Lindsy Stumpenhorst in Illinois plays a game of hot potato with her staff during the school day. Principal Andy Jacks in Virginia dresses up as Elf on the Shelf and hangs out in the media center. Principal Tonya Hilburn in Louisiana dresses up every Friday and brings the Treat Trolley around to her staff members. I could keep going on about what I have seen from principals in my PLN and how they inspire me, but the point is, principals, you need to be silly.

As an aside, I am an extroverted introvert, and many of my principal friends are, too. We can be “on” and exhibit outgoing characteristics, but we can also be “off” and need time to be by ourselves to recharge. I say this because, although I’ve been silly and worn costumes like a pirate, Horton from Dr. Seuss, and the Mad Hatter for years, it takes preparation and energy to do so. But, principals, being silly is so worth it.

Students, families, and staff members love to see you dressing up, singing, dancing, kissing a pig, camping on the roof, taking a whipped cream pie in the face, all those crazy things principals do.

Being silly also demonstrates to staff members that it’s important to step out of your comfort zone and take risks. We expect students to do that so we educators need to role model that for them and who is the lead role modeler for silliness? It’s the principal.

Being silly makes you human, accessible, and let’s others get to know you on a different level. You can share hidden talents, passions, unrealized dreams, and show a side that many don’t always get to see from the principal.

A final reason to ride a tricycle through the hallways, zip down the slide, jump rope, and sing karaoke is that it adds to the spirit and culture of a school. If the principal is willing to be silly and have fun, that attitude will be contagious and fun will permeate your school’s hallways and spaces.

So principals, step out of your comfort zone, have fun, and be silly. After being inspired by watching other principals’ silliness, I sang a version of Adele’s “Hello” in my welcome back-to-school video, live, no lip syncing! The reception has been positive and amazing and I’m already thinking about my next act. Dancing anyone?







What Is This #PIAchat Thing All About?



#principalsinaction is a wonderful group of principals who are always working to be better for their kids and their schools. There is a running hashtag on Twitter where principals, and others in and out of education, can see the great things principals are doing every day. The group consists of about 100 principals that stretch from coast to coast across this beautiful nation.

But there is also a Twitter chat that occurs on Tuesday nights at 8:00 CST that is what we consider the fastest 30 minutes on Twitter. Moderators post a few questions and principals from all over the country respond. We end with a call to action or a challenge that many of the principals take on as the focus of sharing the great things in their school.

For me (Mark), engaging in Twitter chats has provided some of best professional development I have received, and it’s free! I started as a lurker, advanced to answering questions and contributing, to these days volunteering to facilitate and lead Twitter chat discussions. After four years of Twitter chats, I can even engage in two chats at once provided I’m using the TweetDeck tool.

For me (Ryan), Twitter chats have been a way to constantly push my thinking and hear what others have to say on topics that I am not so comfortable with. It took my awhile before I felt comfortable with jumping in and actively participating in the chat. I would sit and watch the chat, but thought that no one could learn from me. I was wrong! There is so much power in sharing your thoughts and your story. Your answer to some of the questions might spark a thought of another person and that is what it is all about. Pushing each other to be better leaders and better people.

For me (Jay), Twitter chats really got me started in the Twitterverse. I initially was a lurker, like Mark, but when I jumped into the discussion, I realized I could learn so much more. The connections began and with it came a comfort level to connect with others face to face at conferences and EdCamps. Before Twitter, I either wouldn’t have known other attendees or I would have been nervous to walk up to speak with them. Twitter became the conduit to deeper professional relationships that fostered learning unlike any other learning before.

Why take part in a chat?

Chats help to focus a conversation. Moderators or co-moderators post questions that pertain to a topic, often in a Q1 (Question 1), A1 (Answer 1) format. Chat participants answer the questions and this oftens provides ideas and suggestions that hadn’t been thought of before.

Chats provide connections to others with similar and different perspectives. This allows participants to grow and learn that don’t occur in other ways, like reading books or blogs. Participating in chats helps to grow your professional learning network, or PLN.

Chats can be searched by hashtag. Our hashtag is #PIAchat, short for #principalsinaction chat. If you happen to miss the chat, you can always go back and search the hashtag to see what you missed.

Hopefully you can join us for the next #PIAchat on August 22, 2017, at 8:00 CST and learn what this #PIAchat thing is all about!