Building Ranks

Four Questions to Ask Teachers on Creativity

How do you lead and model creativity? That’s a question many school leaders ask themselves. Many of us can get our arms around collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, but why is it that creativity is one area where we frequently struggle and sputter? I think it’s because we fear creativity—it doesn’t fall into a nice box that is neatly packaged with structure and details. You see, creativity is often messy, frequently busting the seams of our comfort zones and almost always requiring us to stretch and grow. (more…)

A Roadmap for Implementing Standards-Based Grading

Fair, standards-referenced grading systems that communicate what a student knows and can do are often difficult to design. Developing grading systems that are fair and consistent across an entire school district can seem like an impossible task. However, it is a task that is necessary and worthwhile. (more…)

Leading Through the Struggle

We spend a great deal of time as school leaders talking about building culture. We often consider the day-to-day elements of this work: eating lunch with the kids, visiting classrooms, being visible at all kinds of school events, and having meaningful conversations with teachers and students. The work of leading a school and building a culture is much like leading a family, full of joy and, inevitably, pain. (more…)

Three Principles for Improving Practice

My school, long rated as top-performing, was this year given a rating of “targeted” for underperformance among student subgroups—including African-American, free and reduced-price lunch, and special education students. Though this is understandably not an ideal rating, I look at it as a blessing in disguise. We now have a very clear mandate to look at the performance of these subgroups and make immediate improvements. To me, this gives us an opportunity that will ultimately benefit all students, depending on the measures we put in place and the kinds of practices we implement. As an instructional leader, I am reminded that this work starts with me. (more…)

Learning From My Daughter: Unfiltered Feedback

Over the past three years, I have had an amazing opportunity to view my school in a different way as the principal to my daughter, Sidney. As you might expect, I think that she is a pretty amazing young lady, and I eagerly anticipated her sixth-grade year at Messalonskee Middle School (MMS). Before she started, Chuck Pullen, the tech education teacher at our school, told me that I would never look at MMS in the same way after she attended. How right he was! I have had hundreds of conversations about school with Sidney, and through those discussions, I have come to see MMS through her lens. (more…)

Character Champions: Teacher Leadership to Address Social and Emotional Needs

Over the past couple of years, our school has been challenged by the social and emotional needs of our students. The impact of increased behavioral incidents has put a strain on our previously steady school climate, and while we are learning a lot, we have also found that we are not very well prepared to handle some of these needs. In an attempt to foster real teacher leadership in addressing these challenges, I had to step aside and allow the energies and passions of our staff to take shape. (more…)

Making Student Connections: Will You Check on Me?

When a former colleague of mine, Joe Turner, was named teacher of the year, a reporter asked him for his advice to new teachers. He responded, “Teach every child like you’re their lifeline—like you’re their last chance to succeed.” (more…)

Student Discipline: It Takes More Than a Consequence

I vividly remember my middle level principal and the fear that hit my gut every time he would look at me or even walk by. He was six and a half feet tall, weighed close to 400 pounds, and his last name was Kevorkian. Who wouldn’t be afraid of that principal, especially if he never smiled and looked like he could be in the WWF as Andre the Giant’s tag-team partner? (more…)

Making Difficult Decisions In Students’ Best Interest

Like my colleagues across the globe, my daily battle revolves around how to make decisions through the lens of what is in the best interests of my students. This seems particularly trying in my current nontraditional school situation that is focused on dropout prevention, content mastery, and personalized learning—all still within the confines and with remnants of our traditional mindset. I often feel my opinion on what is in the “best interests” for our students can change several times within the same day. (more…)

How My Cellphone Reduces Stress

Has this happened to you? It’s Friday afternoon and, remarkably, the day has been unusually quiet. There are no extracurricular activities to support that afternoon or evening, and you can leave school by 4:00 p.m. guilt-free. Shortly after getting home, it happens—your phone chimes and an email comes through, which you casually look at and notice is from a parent. Do you read it right away? Do you wait until Sunday night? Monday morning? (more…)