As a Principal, how will I deal with this?

I just posted on my school blog. That was the most difficult post I have ever written…. until now. As a reflective educator, who admittedly does NOT have all the answers, I am left with this question…. How am I going to deal with this? I am supposed to have all of the answers. I am supposed to be strong, brave, committed, and everything else that comes along with being a leader. Me? I am reeling from this tragedy  just like everyone else.


I spent yesterday morning reading the tweets of Dawn Hochsprung the Principal of Sandy Hook Elementary who was killed by the shooter defending her school. I hope to think that I would have had the same courage as Dawn, when faced with the same situation. I know through her tweets that she was doing everything she could to make her school safe, as well as create an atmosphere of learning for her students and teachers.


I have received several emails from my staff that have outlined their concerns about our safety and security. These valid concerns have made me rethink almost everything about our school. I will begin the process of working with the staff on Monday morning, but once again, I know that I don’t have all the answers.


In an attempt to be proactive, I have set up a meeting with parents on Wednesday evening before our Talent Show. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss their concerns about the tragedy, and to ensure that they feel comfortable sending their children to our school. It is my hope that this meeting will be a springboard for the future as we embark on a lengthy process of examining our entire school day from 6:00 AM – 11:00 PM.  Again… I do not have all the answers.
Then I had a epiphany….


I read a blog post from my friend Angela Maiers that really helped me. In the post, There is No Lesson Plan for Tragedy, she discusses how WE know what to do because, “Together we are smarter.” I truly believe that statement. Once I get away from the notion of I, and change to WE, I feel more confident, brave, and ready to face the challenges of leading an elementary school after this horrific tragedy. WE will continue to create a world class school, WE will help each other heal, WE will create a safer school, We are a lot stronger because WE work together to solve problems.


I know how to deal with this…. WE will deal with this!



There is no lesson plan by Angela Maiers

Dawn Hochsprung tweets

How to talk to kids about a school shooting by Dr. Laura Markham

Useful resources from Larry Ferlazzo

More resources Dr. Michele Borba

Sandy Hook Elementary information


Watch out 21st century world, our kids are Blooming!

Isaiah working on one of his experiments

One of our 5th grade classes recently conducted a “make over” on their class. This idea emerged after a group of students requested a “real” 21st Century learning environment. Their teacher, Mr. Hudson, asked them, “So, what does that look like?” Well, they took him up on the challenge and asked if they could replace their desks with tables in order to increase collaboration. They told their teacher that they really liked his teaching, but they learn more when he lets them take what they learn and “run with it” through a variety of projects and activities with their classmates. “Fine,” he said, “Then what?” Well, then they said they each wanted their own device (ipod touch, ipad, computer, or laptop, etc.). “OK,” he replied, “I might not be able to get one-to-one in here, but we can get pretty close.” They compromised…for now.


Here is the imovie trailer the students made about their classroom make over:

Anthony met Millville Mayor Tim Shannon and presented an idea for a skate park


So after they completed their filming project with Pearson’s EnVision Math (Yes, they were picked out of hundreds of classrooms to highlight the new math program) we treated them to new tables. They really have been working hard this year! Did I mention that they are all avid bloggers? This class, through has been actively blogging before, during and after school not to mention the weekends and some long after they should have been sleeping. Their blog, Bear Necessities, is comprised of the teacher, the entire class, librarian, principal, parents, and even former students. This learning environment allows them to create ideas, complete class projects, and pontificate on what the town needs to do to improve. Did I mention that this is all optional and not required by the teacher? Neither is the “H” word… Homework. Students in this class have designed their own learning games, study guides, and blogs in the most self-directed manner…. because they want to, because the culture of the room encourages it, because no one has to tell them no. It’s a culture of yes, a culture of innovation, of experimentation.


Recently, Mr. Hudson’s class enthusiastically accepted a unique opportunity to host TeacherCast for RM Bacon’s FIRST EVER live podcast. The students invited the superintendent, assistant superintendent, and me for a 45 minute session on education. They read our blogs, tweets, and even our resumes to formulate their questions for the podcast. In fact, TeacherCast was so impressed with these kids that he is starting a section on his website for students!


RM Bacon’s first podcast was hosted by Mr. Hudson’s class

Administrative walkthrough reports from this class have produced some interesting data trends. 27% of the observed time, this class has been engaged in Generating and Testing Hypothesis, specifically problem solving. 100% of the time the students have been able to articulate the learning objective. 94% of the time there has been teacher directed technology, and 100% student directed technology. As for student grouping, the class was observed (Whole group 33%; Individual 6%; Small Group 44%; Cooperative Group 11%; Pair 6%).


After applying what they have been learning through technology, the students realized they hit a glass ceiling in terms of their classroom infrastructure. Ironically, the walk-through data supported their findings, reflecting cooperative group activities identified 11% of the observed time. Hmm, it makes me think how cool would it be to pilot student walk-through’s? Empowered with problem-solving skills, they analyzed their current situation, evaluated what they needed to enrich their learning experiences, and are now in the midst of creating their very own 21st century learning environment. Our students are truly “Bloom-ing” in their very own and student-designed 21st Century classroom. 



Classroom Instruction That Works, 2nd Edition 

Bear Necessities



Moneyball, and the importance of systems-thinking, process-centered leadership in education

It was the day after Thanksgiving 2012, and I was not able to fall asleep. As I flipped through the channels I stumbled upon Moneyball. I remember when the book came about about 10 years ago and I really wanted to read it. I also remember when the movie came out last year that I really wanted to see it. So, finally this was my chance! Kids were asleep and I had control of the TV. Nice!

The importance of systems thinking

The importance of systems thinking

Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics with the help of his assistant General Manager, was looking to operate a team with limited financial resources. Their process, known as sabermetrics, was contrary to the conventional wisdom prevalent in baseball scouting for over 150 years. Scouts were looking at prospective players in terms of feel, disposition, and even looks. They asked questions of each other like, “How did the ball sound coming off his bat?” or “Does he have what it takes?” when referring to the players. In a sense, they were looking at the intangibles until Billy asked a familiar question that is often overlooked in organizations, “What is the problem?” I wondered to myself if Billy had gone through Six Sigma training.


Billy and his assistant GM used data to discover which statistics really mattered in Baseball. Instead of the flashy statistics that fans usually paid attention to such as home runs and stolen bases, they focused on batters getting on base, pitch counts, even where the ball should be hit. This paradigm shift caused an uproar to the scouts and baseball pundits who had been steeped in traditional baseball analysis. Throughout the rest of the film, Billy remains committed to this process-centered, sabermetrics. There are people within the organization who question him and even challenge him, but he remains process-centered. Eventually, the team found consensus and won. The data worked!

source: the Yankee Analysts

My school incorporates the utility of data analysis for everything. For instance, within the realm of Response to Intervention, we facilitate Universal Assessments for all students, and we use that data to determine whorequires basic  skills instruction in reading fluency, reading comprehension, and/or math. Then, after a cycle of individually and research-based interventions, we analyze the data to determine if the intervention cycle was successful. We also analyze our Office Discipline Referrals (ODR’s). We compare our ODR’s against the previous school year, where the referrals are occurring, and which students are committing the referrals. This data advises us on how to provide appropriate remediation. We no longer have to “guess” if a student needs basic skills or if the discipline is “out of control.” We use the data to inform us and keep us process-centered.


This movie reaffirmed Six Principles I have learned about leadership and systems thinking through working in the Millville Public School District with the assistance of our PEG consultants:

  • Organizations need to take time to understand their mission and vision – Why do we exist?
  • Leaders need to assemble key stakeholders to undertake a problem solving matrix
  • Processes need to be charted or flowed to identify how/why things happen
  • Action plans that are developed must be time bounded, and an “owner” needs to be assigned, and held accountable
  • Innovation is important, and there should be processes in place to allow people to push the limits, and take chances
  • Periodic updates on the process ensures a better flow communication, and helps everyone stay connected


The story of Billy Beane, and the Oakland Athletics ends with the notion that Moneyball and sabermetrics changed baseball.  They were able to prove that money doesn’t solve everything. I agree. All too often in education we are always looking to “buy” the latest program, or solution as opposed to determining the root cause of the problem and doing the difficult work to solve the problem. If we follow the methodological framework of revered systemic thinkers to identify problems at their core, we will find ourselves true competitors in a 21st century educational environment that we call schools!


Moneyball Trailer



Performance Excellence Group

My 2012 Edublogs Nominations

After much thought and consideration I have filled out my Edublogs Nominiations for this year. It goes without saying that I learn so much from these people, and I want to do my part to have them gain recognition.



And the nominations go to….

Good luck everybody. You Matter!

Beyond the Bake Sale, Our Visit to Knapp Elementary

The Background

Our vision for RM Bacon Elementary is to provide a world class school for all of our stakeholders. We work tirelessly to develop our teachers, and provide the best instruction to our learners. But when I looked into the reflective mirror, I realized that we were not engaging our family and community members as well as we would like. So this year I made it my mission to improve in this area. I started out by finding a teacher who was willing to take on this quest with me. Leigh Simpson, our music teacher and aspiring school administrator, volunteered to join the team. I then met with our Home and School President, Beth Markee, and asked her to join our team and help us increase our family and community engagement beyond the traditional avenues.


The Research

We scanned the twittervese researching family and community engagement. We looked at a bunch of schools and districts to see who we could model ourselves after. We quickly came to one conclusion…. Knapp Elementary embodied the type of engagement we were seeking. Knapp uses twitter, facebook, newsletters, events, to enhance their school culture and engage the family and community unlike anyone else. So we fueled up the car and went on a ROAD TRIP.


The Visit

Our team was comprised of Leigh Simpson, Parent and Community Engagement Chair, and Beth Markee, Home and School Association President, and myself. Fortunately for us, Knapp Elementary is only an hour and half drive from my school so we were able to accomplish the visit in one day.

Welcome to Knapp

When we arrived at Knapp we paid close attention to climate and symbolism of the school. We were welcomed by very pleasant and excited secretaries who were happy to see us. We scanned the foyer and soaked in the pictures, artwork, and design that sent a clear message…. Welcome to our home!




Welcome in different languages

Joe Mazza, the lead learner of Knapp, came out to greet us. I have known Joe for about a year and have seen him speak, read his tweets, and blogs, but it was especially refreshing to see him in his element… Knapp! He introduced us to Gwen Pescatore who is the President of the Knapp Home and School Association. After we exchanged pleasantries, we headed to the conference room to get to work. Even though we were there to learn from Joe and Gwen, they wanted the conversation to be a collaborative, learning opportunity for both schools. They asked us to talk about our school, the successes, challenges, and what we wanted to learn. As we were talking, a quote on the wall caught my eye, and I had to capture it (see “in this house”).

Our conversation flowed easily for about an hour. Joe and Gwen talked about Knapp and their journey to provide true engagement beyond the bake sale. Knapp Elementary has more languages spoken at home then most schools have classrooms… 22! They admit that their journey has been and continues to be a work in progress. Joe and Gwen’ s overarching message was simple… the core of true family and community engagement  is face to face contact with caring teachers. According to Joe, “First impressions are happening every day.”

We toured the building and visited a few classrooms. As we walked the building the message that we saw in the front of the building extended to the rest of the school as well…. Welcome to our home.

Art work was on all of the walls

A fish pond in an out-cove

Joe talking about family engagement

Discussing the takeaways on the ride home

As we drove away from Knapp we identified 7 key lessons we  learned from the experience:

1. Face to face contact with caring teachers

2. First impressions are made everyday

3. Make sure to have a menu of offerings for families and communities including social media, and traditional avenues

4. Televise HSA meetings in case parents are unable to attend

5. Think of the school as a 5 star hotel, and work to make it look like one too

6. Make sure that the HSA resembles the cultural make up of the school and community

7. Have designated places to recognize students


Since the trip we have increased our focus on family and community engagement. Stay tuned because we have just begun our journey. We are looking forward to report back on our progress as we embark on this extremely important endeavor to get beyond the bake sale, and into real family and community engagement.


Joe Mazza’s Blog 

Knapp Elementary School Twitter 

Parent Teacher Chat on Twitter



Don’t forget the spark!


I love the spark! I love being in a workshop and getting the spark, or being the one to create the spark!


I recently had the opportunity to talk with about 50 educators in a nearby school district on web 2.0 tools, Project Based Learning, and Social Media. For information about the presentation or resources, feel free to check out my website.


Going into the preparation phase for the presentation I didn’t want to make assumptions about their knowledge or understanding, but it was clear to me early on that these folks (and their schools) were not very “connected.” I think it was when I said, “I am having problems with my prezi,” when someone politely asked, “Whats a prezi?” In my mind I thought, “He is right. Great question!” Hmm, the spark?


As I went through the presentation I heard such deep, and rich conversations. It was so refreshing to hear their enthusiasm, or trepidation regarding these 21st century teaching tools. The questions that I was presented with showed me that they were looking for a good place to start. Ahh, the spark?


There were many amazing outcomes to the workshop. At least 5 teachers signed up for twitter. About 5 more who had twitter accounts were able to understand more about the “life of a tweet.” There were a few teachers who were interested in connecting with my skype resources Lauren Cooper, Sean Wheeler. Yes, the spark!


I am sure that there will be a new set of bloggers, pinners, tweeters, and edomodos as a result of this workshop. I know that this district will see the beginnings of PBL, and I am sure that there will be a few “flipped” classrooms. It will just take some time, but these students will benefit from their teachers willingness to try new things. Spark!


So my message to everyone out there looking to discover Web 7.89, or who snubs your nose at “un-connected” educators….. there is still a lot of work to be done at the introductory level to create the spark!


If you would have asked me to participate in a similar type of workshop just a year ago I would have asked the same questions. I would have had the same trepidation, or even more. Yet, thanks to those who helped me get started, I can now present on this same information. And sometime in the future, there will someone from this workshop presenting to me, and recreating the spark!




Why we need to support our #NJED

I was recently sent this badge to embed on my blog. Sure, I could easily have put it on my sidebar, but I really wanted everyone to know how important this issue is to us here in New Jersey. Our shore towns were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and there are many who are still without power. In addition to the shore line, there are folks in other parts of the the state who are waiting 3 to 4 hours in line for gasoline because the power is out. Schools in some parts of the state are serving as shelters for the evacuees. At times, it seems that there is no end in sight, but we all know that we must work together to help support each other.


Please help me in forwarding this badge, and more importantly the message that we need everyone’s thoughts, prayers and eventually donations to help our state.


Want to embed this on your blog? Just copy the link below and show your support for the #NJED!

<a title=”NJED Hurricane Relief Spreadsheet” href=”” target=”_blank”><img title=”NJED Hurricane Relief” src=”” alt=”” width=”200″ height=”200″ /></a>


For more information, check out this link


Back in the Saddle Again

I’m back in the saddle again, Out where a friend is a friend, Where the longhorn cattle feed On the lowly gypsum weed, Back in the saddle again ~Gene Autry 1939

One of “my” classes

Yesterday I had the opportunity to get back in the saddle again. The idea came to me as I read about No Office Days, You Matter, and the importance of being a Lead Learner. So, thank you to Patrick Larkin, Jessica Johnson, Angela Maiers, and Joe Mazza for your inspiration for me to get back in the saddle! 

Basically, this monthly program is designed to recognize teachers, and allow them to spend a day collaborating with their peers while I teach their classes! Its a win, win, win! Free Professional Development for teachers. Free time to collaborate with other teachers in the building or explore online learning. And here is the kicker – I get to teach again.


I arrived at my assignment a few minutes late (Cut me some slack, I was trying to get the building started). Once I arrived at the classroom I took on the persona of a guest teacher. I started from scratch and gave myself a pre-test. How many names did I really know? In my first class, a paltry 6 out 16. Yikes. As I went through the math lesson with the students, I was able to shake off the cobwebs and get down to some real teaching, and learning.


Here is what I learned:

– First day jitters never go away

– After about 10 minutes, the kids forgot I was the principal

– Before teaching the subject, you have to take time learning about the learners

– Interruptions require flexibility – I still had to take a few calls, speak with teachers all while teaching

– I needed coverage for a bathroom break

– I did get a walkthrough by our Fine and Performing Arts Supervisor, and I really want to know what he thought

– My Assistant Superintendent, upon hearing what I was doing said, “Your crazy, but I still love you!”

– Slate drills elicit participation, but the markers smell, so I had to keep the windows open

– Technology aides such as SMART boards, videos from EnVision math, ipods, and computer centers assist with application of learned math skills

– Since I missed recess duty, the other 4th grade teachers said I owe them 15 minutes

– The art teacher, when I handed “my” class off to her, wondered when I am going to choose a special area teacher for this program

– Teaching is still the best job, bar none

– My random songs, which used to be a lot better when I taught full time, still make kids smile

– I still have it (well, at least I think I do)


I am sure you are wondering how my assessments went through the rest of the day. In the middle of the first class I gave myself another, and I scored 10 out 16. At the conclusion of that same class, with the kids clapping and cheering, I earned a 16 out of 16! In my second class, my pre-test was 10 out of 19. I scored a perfect 19 on both the middle and the post test. Once again, the kids were cheering and clapping. What fun!


Most importantly, the 4th grade teacher who spent the day collaborating with other teachers came to me at the end of the day, beaming! He was able to get into about 8 classrooms throughout the day. He team taught, facilitated centers, and assisted teachers with any questions they had regarding math. It was so obvious that he really grew as a professional! And, he loved it!


So what is next? Well, I have a 3rd grade class later this month and a Kindergarten class next month. I can’t wait to get back in the saddle again!

What if our schools were like 5 Star Hotels?

What if our schools were like 5 Star Hotels?

source hotel images – google

Picture this- you walk into your child’s school and are greeted by a concierge, not a security guard. This person knows everything about the who, what, where, and why of the school. As you gaze around the walls and the floors everything is in tip top condition. Mirrors are clean, the floor is immaculate, and the artwork on the wall symbolically represents the culture and climate of the school. Not to mention there is  fresh water and you can see the mint leaves, and orange slices at the top of the jug. Ahhh, and its fresh!

Your concierge takes you to your destination, and for this day you need to pick up your child. By the time you get to the office, your child is patiently waiting, chatting with the receptionist about her day (Somehow it was communicated that you were there and to get your child from class – no waiting). You swipe your license and you are able to take your child. But, we are talking about kids, so she tells you that she forgot something, and you both venture to her class to get it.

As you walk to her classroom there is a staff member in the hallway who greets you with a smile and asks if there is anything they can help you with. While your daughter is getting her work, the  staff member talks to you about the school, and seems very informed on the educational goals and objectives of the school. She even can share an anecdote with you about how your daughter helped her clean up spilled milk the other day in the restaurant (cafeteria).

Then, as luck would have it you need to use the restroom, so the staff member personally takes you to the restroom and makes sure the students aren’t in there. You look around at this “student” bathroom and the fixtures are all polished, there is artwork on the walls, everything is clean, and smelling fresh. As you wash your hands with the automatic sink, the smell of cucumber soap waifs through the air. This is a student bathroom, you think.

In the hallway, there is another person waiting for you with your daughter and the three of you walk to the exit. On your way out of the door, the staff member reminds you to scan the QR code. You remember hearing something about this at back to school night, but you haven’t tried it yet. The  staff member scans the QR code for you and on her phone she shows you how to access the days events, the teachers blogs and a 15 second tout from the assembly earlier that day. She then helps you scan it and laughs, “Just don’t drive and watch the tout because we don’t want you driving off the road. Off you go to the doctor’s appointment, knowing that your daughter is getting the 5 Star treatment at school!e

How Cool is Cool? @coolcatteacher’s keynote

The Coolest Gal in School!

I know why her students gave her the name that would become the twitter handle @coolcatteacher… because Vicki Davis is a cool gal. I had the pleasure of listening to her Keynote at Edscape 2012, and then having lunch with her later on that afternoon. It was a great day! It was really cool!




courtesy of Dana Sirotiak

Vicki began her keynote by discussing transition into becoming a connected educator. Her story, which is similar to most, began with overcoming a mindset that social media was somehow “negative” or even “detrimental” to education. Once over that mindset, and at the behest of her students, Vicki jumped in with two feet to the connected world. She began to take her classroom to places they had never seen or imagined they would know. Through social media she took them on a world tour. Like I said, she is cool!


Courtesy of Dana Sirotiak

She then talked about her recent research that focuses from her book “Flatting Classrooms Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time”  She presented charts and graphs that illustrated how important connectivity, engagement, and application of knowledge is so important to the learner. She pointed out the limits that certain districts or schools may be facing, but she also kept showing a slide over and over again that simply read “ME.” Ultimately, she had us repeat, we can’t change anyone but herself. Cool.

At lunch, Tom Whitby asked me if I ever met Vicki before, and I said I had not. Well, in his Tom Whitby fashion, he said, “You are going to have lunch with her.” He made sure she sat directly across from me. After we exchanged pleasantries, and in her southern belle draw she asked me, “So what do you do, Spike?” She had me there!


We talked about everything from the proper pronunciation of pecans (pee-cens as she said or pea-khans as I say), school, family, finance, and #you matter. I told her of my communication with Angela Maiers and the work our RM Bacon has done to show our community that they matter. I was able to show her the red carpet video, and she asked me to send her my blogs so she could post them on her site. So, cool!

Courtesy of Dana Sirotiak

There is no mystery as to why Vicki has become one of the most sought after speakers in education. As a mother, teacher, wife, Christian, teacher, learner, writer, presenter, as well as avid runner and fisherwoman, Vicki embodies all that is positive about education. She cares about her kids, your kids, my kids…. OUR kids. That is why she does what she does.

That is what she is cool.