Professional Development is as easy as 1, 2, 3

Encourage staff to collaborate using tools

Professional Development is as easy as 1, 2, 3

How do we grow as professionals in the ever changing world of the 21st Century? How do we make learning relevant for adults and children? If you are asking yourself these questions, the answers could be as easy as 1, 2, 3. Step 1 – Identify The Problem

Problems are not necessarily bad or good but should be seen as opportunities. One easy way to identify a problem to explore is to get your key stakeholders together and ask them 3 things your organization is doing well and three things they are struggling with. Chances are, no matter how many people you involve, there will be 4 to 5 themes. After you reveal your themes, then you can narrow your focus.

Step 2 – Explore Solutions

After you have identified your problem, it is time to begin working on possible solutions. We suggest that you ask your key stakeholders what they think the organization will need. This will require you to brainstorm creative approaches to address the problem. After you have brainstormed areas to address the problem, it will be important to create an action plan focused on how long the professional development will take as well as resources to support.

Step 3 – Relevance, relevance, relevance

In order for the professional development to be effective it needs to be relevant. We suggest that you tailor the professional development to meet the individual needs of the participants. For the most part, people want to know why this would be beneficial. Every professional development needs to address the why (want to know more about this, please check out Simon Sinek TED Talk). If you can not provide the relevance, ask the participants to identify their own why and tailor the learning to suit their needs.



The First 90 Days: A Reflection and Lessons Learned


My main man… Corell

About 90 days ago, I embarked on a new venture as the Principal of Lakeside Middle School. I used the book, “First 90 Days” as a guide to help me transition into the school and my new role. Throughout the process I am gaining knowledge on so much: learning, teaching, leading, and the most important part… people!

“Where have you been?” 

In my last post (First 13 Days) I was able to capture the initial transition, which was April 2, 2016 and, now today is June 26, 2016. It is not as if I lost internet connection or my blog expired, but there was no way I could get back to here until now! For me blogging is an ebb and flow, blogging every day for a year or taking time off balances it all out. Honestly, there was a little blogger guilt that I wasn’t able to get back here, but I believe it was due more to the sheer volume of change and transition I was experiencing. I did get a few messages from friends asking if I was OK, I was more than OK, I was focused on the task at hand.

Lakeside Running Man Challenge – What Teachers do When the Students Leave

Reflection on the first 90…

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” ~ Drucker


Students on a field trip having fun!

As I reflect on my first 90 days at Lakeside I am amazed at the energy of the building. In a school with over 120 staff members caring for about 1200 kids a mountain of variables is expected. My first goal was to individually interview every staff member. I was able to get through 75% of the staff for one on one interviews, asking them two questions: what is going well and what needs to be improved on? One of the constant themes in these conversations were how much they like each other and the school. Every single person I interviewed had a similar response and it was genuine. As the new person on the block it was remarkable to continually hear such positive statements. I just wish they would tell each other more often how more much they like each other 🙂


During the first 90 days I was able to scratch the surface on the climate and culture of the building. Throughout the transition period, I paid particular attention to the symbols, beliefs (mission/vision) and the language. Often listening to what was being said and comparing it to what was being done. For the most part, there is a match on the espoused theories and theories in use. Most people are passionate about their craft, no matter what role they play, which leads to a lot of conversations centered on “how do we get better?”



Autism Awareness Month.

So what needed to be improved? In the beginning I was hearing a lot of comments such as “staff morale, communication, and admin turnover.” All of these factors are not attributed to a particular person, and honestly some morale issues are a result of local, state and national perceptions of our profession. But then, there became a shift in the initial interviews, changes were already beginning. I am not quite sure when the shift in the conversations happened. I do know that people were no longer mentioning staff morale or communication. So maybe it was the Lighting Round, Teacher Appreciation Week, staff meetings, becoming a regular on the morning announcements or everyone began to tell their co-workers how much they liked each other.


In my opinion, the administrative team played a huge part in the shift. Everyone from Vice Principals, Supervisors, Guidance Counselors, and the Child Study Team stepped up in ways that teachers and students needed. All of the support personnel (secretaries, security, maintenance, cafeteria) played an incredible role in the transformation too. I began to hear parents, students and other staff remark on how everyone appeared to be working collaboratively. Honestly, they have always been collaborative and positive but maybe it was just a difference of getting the story out there.

What do the kids think? 

Lunch with the Principal

Lunch with the Principal

Granted the Principal’s main responsibility is the staff, but it is extremely important to connect with students. I was fortunate that I knew a small percentage of the kids at the school because they went to the elementary school where I was Principal for the past 5 years. When I first started I made it a point to talk with kids I didn’t know. I asked kids the same questions “What do you like about this school? What do you want to change?” I also visited classrooms to get a chance to see what the learning look liked.


I scheduled a “Lunch with the Principal” day. I asked each teacher to select one or two students that were model students to have lunch with me. I gave the kids awards and read the comments their teachers made about them in the Google form. At the end of the lunch period, I asked them what they liked about the school and what they wanted changed. In addition, I attended as many extra curricular activities (dances, sports, music etc) as possible to see the kids in a different setting.

Lessons learned…

image2 (4)

You have to be willing to be dunked!

I learned so many lessons over the first 90 days. As I stated before, I had to focus on the transition to the new school. Requiring me to let things go of things such as Social Media, writing, podcasting, etc… because I needed to be mindful of my time and mental state. Days were busy and at times exhausting, so I had very little gas left in the tank to write a post, or sign up for a conference. Temporary sacrifices for long term progress.


Laughter is the best medicine. Hopefully the staff can see that I don’t take myself very seriously. I laugh at myself and the unusual events that happen in the school. My goal is to make people want to have fun at work. I firmly believe that this will translate into happier kids. Let’s face it, middle school kids can be disenchanted, or appear to have a chip on their shoulders, but they like to laugh just like we do.


I want to work at a school where are no mistakes, no boxes, and everyone is encouraged to take risks. I feel it is important to create a culture of learning. In order to do that you have to think outside of the box, learn from mistakes, and take the opportunity to try new things. I made a lot of mistakes over the first 90 days. Many days I drove home without the radio or podcasts playing and reflected about my mistakes, or learning experiences. Often times I would walk out of the school wondering if I made any difference. Reflection really helps and I began to find people to help me decompress. These people are the true gems!


6 suggestions for transitioning into a new position

  1. Focus on what is important – People. Learn names, positions, family and whatever else you can.
  2. Do not try to change things too fast. It should take you a complete year to fully understand the organization. Proceed with caution and remember only fools rush in!
  3. Actions speak louder than words. Want people to be visible? Be visible. Want people to be positive? Be positive.
  4. Find and use your Principal voice (See Corwin Connect article here). What can you do to amplify the awesomeness of the school?
  5. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Be prepared to discuss everything and allow opportunities for open dialogue.
  6. Interview everyone. Interview kids, parents, staff about the school. Look for themes on what is working and what needs to be improved.


So, what’s next? 

I know this will be a long journey. I often think of these two quotes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and “We are planting forests, not gardens.” This is just the beginning. Stay tuned for more!


First 13 Days out of 90

In preparation for my new position as the Principal of Lakeside Middle School, I re-read The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. Even though I had read the book before and was a Principal for the past 5 years, I wanted to ensure I wasn’t under estimating this transition.

The President gets 100 days to prove himself; you get 90 ~Michael Watkins




In the book, Watkins emphasizes a period of planning prior to the transition. This time spent planning is invaluable as you must develop a transition plan. For my transition, I researched as much as I could about the school. Fortunately, I already worked in the district, but I had no idea about the most important aspect of the school: the culture. It didn’t matter how much data I could collect on the website, I knew I had to develop a transition plan to understand the culture. This is why I set out to interview every person who works in the building. Obviously, this can not happen over night but over the first 13 days I was able to meet with 27% of the staff.

In addition to the individual meetings, I hosted 6 group meetings. In each of these meetings I asked the same questions:

  • What are three things going well at Lakeside?
  • What are three things we need to improve?

The meetings and informal data collection have helped me tremendously to understand, as Watkins suggests, “The norms and patterns of behavior.” These meetings require me to listen, listen and listen. There have been times when people want to know what I stand for or to discuss my vision for the school. When I articulate my vision, I say the following:

  • I want to create a culture of learning
  • I want to promote the awesome things going on in the school for the world to see
  • I want to increase student achievement, decrease discipline, and increase student attendance

At my first staff meeting as the new Principal, I reported out on my first 13 days. Part of promoting a culture of learning is modeling transparency. Here is the presentation I shared with the staff. It includes the highs and lows of the first 13 days as well as outline the next 18 days until the next staff meeting:

Change can be tough. I will not underestimate the impact of change on the staff. In my last position, I had a teacher tell me that it took her 2 years to trust me. I never realized that but knowing it puts things in perspective. It is crucial to prove yourself every day. Never take people for granted!

I know that I will spend the majority of the rest of the school year learning about the culture and climate of the building. Of course there will be some decisions that will need to be made, observations to complete, and a whole host of end of the year activities. For me, I am building relationships (which is paramount) with people who I will be working with for a long time. I committed to building a strong foundation!



Thanks for the memories

IMG_0344The last few weeks have been extremely busy and life changing. After 5 years at RM Bacon Elementary, I am moving on to a new venture as Principal at Lakeside Middle School.

At our last staff meeting, I made a video for the staff because they truly are my “heroes.” Not to be outdone, the wonderful staff at Bacon made me a video tribute. It was one of the nicest things I could have ever imagined.

I will always remember my time at RM Bacon. I learned so much about my leadership through the experience.  I know “Once a Bear, Always a Bear” and “Then, Now, Always Family.”

Here is the video the staff made for me:


Here is the video I made for the staff:

How to Create a Technology Culture in Your Classroom

Technology is a valuable addition to any classroom—when used correctly. In order to make the most of technology in learning, it’s important that you build a culture of tech in your classroom, rather than simply using it to “drill and practice.” This is not only boring for students, but is not as effective as when technology is used to immerse students in learning, according to Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning.


Immersing students in tech-based learning creates a more interactive experience, which ultimately improves learning and engagement. “One of the benefits of well-designed interactive programs is that they can allow students to see and explore concepts from different angles using a variety of representations,” according to the authors of the same technology study.


Here are three simple, yet effective ways to begin building a culture of technology in your classroom.


Make Technology Your Default


To create a culture of technology in your classroom—one that improves the learning experience—you must make technology your default for as many things as possible.


“Use it to time a test, record a presentation, or play music during reading time. Encourage students to see technology not as the iPad or Chromebook they pull out for a project, but the go-to tool for all sorts of learning needs,” says Jacqui Murray, edtech author and K-8 technology teacher.


When you do this, students may begin to see value in technology outside of what they consider technology, like cell phones and laptops. When this happens, students will turn to technology more frequently, ultimately empowering them to create their own learning journey and become (and stay) more engaged.


Replace Manual Tasks


When making technology your default in the classroom, it’s important that you start by replacing as many manual tasks as you can. This further enriches the technology culture and shows students the many ways in which technology can be used.


Some manual tasks that can be easily replaced include:


Paper reading Logs: Replace traditional reading logs with Whooo’s Reading, an online reading log that allows students to track their reading online. Bonus: This tool also provides you with insights on student reading progress.


Attendance: Throw away your attendance book and replace it with an attendance app like TeackerKit, a free attendance-tracking app. With it, you can also track behavior and manage your seating chart.


Homework Submission: Whenever possible, encourage—or require—students to submit homework via Google Classroom (if your school uses it) or Google Docs. You can organize your Google Drive based on students, classes, assignment types, etc. You can even download Flubaroo, an add-on that automatically grades work for you.


Bring Digital Citizenship Into Lessons


There are so many ways to bring digital citizenship into your lessons on a regular basis—you don’t even have to tell the students that that’s what you’re doing. However, using social media, blogs and online research in the classroom opens up the doors to these discussions on a regular basis, which also helps to create a culture of technology in your classroom.


A few easy ways to bring digital citizenship into the preparation and instruction for average, tech-based assignments include:


  • When students are doing research, require them to explain with one or two sentences why each source they chose is reliable and credible. This gets students thinking about what’s on the web and how to decipher what they should and shouldn’t believe and trust.


  • Begin any social-media based assignment with a quick discussion about what is and isn’t appropriate—it’s easy to bring up the subjects of privacy, sharing, and digital footprints in this case. You can choose one digital citizenship “lesson” to focus on with each assignment, to make the most of these opportunities.


These digital citizenship resources will give you hundreds of other ideas for tying digital citizenship into your lessons.


Building a culture of technology in your classroom will not only engage students, but will give them a chance to see technology as the powerful educational tool that it is. Use it more in your every day tasks, such as tracking attendance, and encourage students to do the same by submitting homework online. You may be surprised at how the learning experience improves as your technology culture develops.


Bio: Jessica Sanders is the Director of Social Outreach for Whooo’s Reading, a San Diego-based education organization that motivates students to read more every day. It’s available to teachers, schools and districts. Jessica grew up reading books like The Giver and Holes, and is passionate about making reading as exciting for young kids today as it has always been for her. Follow Learn2Earn on Twitter and Facebook, and check out their new ebook, How to Bring Technology Into the Classroom, just $2.99 on

Pursuing less, being focused, becoming essential



I recently read the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. It was exactly what I needed, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is the first person to volunteer for things, spreads themselves too thin, or wants to become more effective.


The book has a powerful message…. It is ok to do less, say no, and unplug. Yes, it is actually encouraged if you want to be an essentialist. This doesn’t mean that we throw in the towel and sit on the couch all day, every day. In fact, by doing less, saying no, and unplugging we might become more effective in our work – no matter what type of occupation we are employed in.




Here are my 5 take-aways from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

  1. Essentialism is a “disciplined, systemic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, and then making the execution of those things almost effortless.” Makes perfect sense. We can only do so many things at a time. The more we spread ourselves thin, the less effective we become. When we focus on one thing, we can put in the effort to the point that it doesn’t even seem like work.
  2. “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will”  As a principal I am constantly asking people to do things. Let’s face it I can not be everywhere at the same time. I have come to respect those who have clear boundaries on their time. For instance, the other day I was talking with someone about an upcoming conference we are hosting at my school. I really felt like they would be a good addition to the amazing workshops we have scheduled. This person respectfully declined because the knew what their April weekends looked like. More importantly, they didn’t want to commit to something knowing they were not able to give 100%.
  3. The Pareto Principle (80/20) Did you know that 20% of our efforts produce 80% of results? This has also been referred to as the Law of the Vital Few. In the book, McKeown talks about how Warren Buffett, one of the world’s wealthiest people, has very few investments. In fact, he attributes 90% of his wealth to about 10 investments. In schools we cannot fix everything at the same time. We can focus on a few things that will result in a big payoff if we are truly focused!
  4. Remove Obstacles  When was the last time your supervisor told you that their job is to make you more effective, and in doing so, asked you what obstacles they could remove? McKewon writes about a hike he went on with his Boy Scout Troop. As they were hiking with group of young kids, he noticed that some were very quick and others struggled. This had big implications as he had to get the entire troop to the same destination. Along the hike he tried a few things to keep them together but nothing seemed to work. What worked was finding the hiker that was slowing the group down the most. After choosing “Herbie” he worked with him on removing the obstacles that were slowing him down, and ended up putting him at the front of the group. It worked perfectly. How do you deal with those in your organization (or class) who are dragging the group down? Do you work with them to remove obstacles, or do you react by putting more pressure on “Herbie” and creating more friction?
  5. Make it look easy Routines and habits can be very powerful if used in the proper way. If you can establish the right routine based on what is essential, your days will flow much better. McKewon suggests identifying your triggers, creating new triggers and then doing the most difficult things first. People (and students) seem to be more productive if they know what to expect, and once established, routines allow us to focus our energies on larger scale problems. Do you create your day or do you allow others to create your day?

I would highly recommend to read this book, and more importantly, begin to apply the principles. Pursuing less may be a change for you but it could result in better results. Be sure to let me know what is essential to you!


Here is a video of Greg McKeown talking about Essentialism

Education, Culture, and Climate: My Trip to China

Our team

Our team

In November 2015, I had the unique opportunity (along with 10 educators from New Jersey) to visit China. The purpose of the visit was to study the educational system, explore opportunities to start a language program, and to take in the historic sites.


I learned so much in such a short amount of time. There were so many awesome experiences that it was hard to boil it down to a blog post. I kicked the idea of writing something more extensive, and maybe I will do that if I return and spend more time. I framed this blog post around the most frequent questions I received upon returning.

What was the plane ride like? 

I spent a total of 32 hours on a plane during the trip to China!

I spent a total of 32 hours on a plane during the trip to China!

We flew from Newark, NJ directly to Beijing. This had its positives and negatives. Fortunately, we didn’t have any layovers, but on the other hand, we were on the plane for 14 straight hours! This was the longest time I was ever on plane and it was a test of patience. I don’t think I did very well on the test, and I had a lot of trouble sleeping.


14 hours is a very long time to be in a confined area 30,000 miles above the ground. As I scanned the plane, most people didn’t seem to have the same trouble. Most people were sleeping. I was able to do a little bit of reading and watched a movie. We flew over the North Pole, and we saw ice for miles and miles!


Flying within China was better than expected. Our trip from Beijing to Changchun took a little over two hours and since I had already experienced a long flight it was quite pleasant. I was a seasoned pro at that point!


When we were flying from Changchun back to Beijing, I had an interesting experience. Somehow I made it through customs quicker than everyone else but at the time I didn’t know it. As I entered, I scanned the seats for a familiar face from the trip. To my dismay, I didn’t see anyone. I double checked my ticket and even asked the stewardess if I was on the correct plane. She said I was and asked if everything was OK. I told her I must have been separated from group. After what seemed like an eternity, members from our group began boarding the plane. That was a big relief.


On the way back to the US, I was much more relaxed. The plane was packed so there weren’t many opportunities to move around the plane. I was definitely tired from the trip but I couldn’t sleep. I was also trying to front load the jet lag that was inevitable so I didn’t really want to sleep. I ended up binge watching a bunch of episodes of House of Cards which helped pass the time.


What were the schools like? 

Learning about the morning line ups from Cindy

Learning about the morning line ups from Cindy our guide

Throughout the course of the trip we visited 7 schools ranging from Elementary to College. Due to the size of the country, and how crowded the cities are, class sizes ranged from 30 to 50 and school’s had thousands of students enrolled. Although this may seem large (and it certainly is if you look through a personalized education lens) but for the current delivery of content it makes a lot of sense. Most teachers are positioned at the front of the class, and they are usually on some type of platform. Unlike the United States, teachers in China are revered and respected. Teachers spend limited time disciplining students or implementing classroom management. The stakes are so high for the students, it is extremely important for them to do the best they can on the exams.


Since the Chinese tend to value to the group as opposed to the individual, the whole class delivery is in line with their core values. One of the professors told us that the Chinese “dream” is to build a better, stronger China. Therefore, the kids in the classes are committed to learning the material with little emphasis on individualism. In fact, in one classroom we visited the teacher didn’t call the students by their names, but rather by “boy” or “girl.”


As much as things are different, they are the same

As much as things are different, they are the same

The schools in China, in many ways, are very similar to the schools in the US. There is a difference from the top level schools and those that are not. Results of the examination determine the middle school, high school and college that a student will attend. Obviously, not everyone can attend the elite schools and they have to settle for other options. This doesn’t happen in America either.


One option that wealthy Chinese parents explore is the “international” school. These schools are affiliated with universities in the US, Canada, England or other European countries.  The curriculum allows for more creativity and personalized learning with a goal to have the kids attend college abroad. It is unclear to me if these schools have earned the respect that is so coveted in the Chinese culture. My sense is that they are not.


International schools place a significant emphasis on the arts. We watched several intense dance classes that were similar to an expensive dance studio in the states. The instructors were intense and either kept time with sticks, drums or even a cane. The dancers were mostly girls and they were extremely focused throughout the classes. There was also a lot of emphasis placed on athletics at the international schools. Kids played basketball and soccer whenever they had the opportunity.


Most schools we visited had a residential component. Kids in elementary through high school tend to stay on campus for school. As the students progress in their grade level and the academic demands increase, they spend any free time they have studying. School is literally a full-time job in China.


What is Special Education like in China? 

Special education students in Changchun

Special education students in Changchun

When we visited Changchun University Special Education Division, I thought it was a college designed to prepare teachers to teach students with special needs. It was actually special education students in a class learning about massage, Braille and art.


The first class we went in was a bit of a culture shock. There were about 50 special education students learning about acupressure points. There were kids (late teens early 20s) that had all types of learning disabilities. Yet, they were experiencing a teaching style that was very similar to the one that we saw earlier. There was no differentiation. 


Next we went to a room where blind kids were learning about massage. We got a brief introduction and then they were looking for volunteers. I immediately raised my hand and ended up getting about a 30 minute massage. Eventually, everyone in our group got a message. It was viewed as good practice for the students, and after the long plane ride, we needed it.


After we finished our massages, we went to the Art Department. There were about 15 kids painting these amazing renditions of famous works of art. They were all hearing impaired. We talked a little bit to the art director and he told us that they put the finished products in galleries, send them to business and other places who want art to display. Then we toured the actually gallery and saw what had been established for the past 20 years as they established the college. They were so proud of what they have accomplished and it is truly amazing. It really hit me that they are educating the special education students on a deeper level than we are.


I am not sure how students with learning disabilities are treated within the K-12 system. Since the class sizes are big and there is such an emphasis on the exams, my sense is that very little it done to make “accommodations.” In some of the larger classrooms, there were teacher aides or student teachers that gravitated to students in the back of the class. This is certainly a topic that needs more research.

Describe the Chinese Universities you visited

Listening to a lecture on the Chinese educational system

Listening to a lecture on the Chinese educational system

We visited several colleges and universities. Our college tour started at Jilin University’s library. It was mammoth and packed bright and early on a Saturday morning. Of course we discussed how American university libraries were probably vacant on the weekend mornings because the kids were out partying the night before. I asked our tour guide if the college kids ever have fun and partied like their American counterparts. She said that they did but it was on such a different level. The stakes are so high and so much is riding on their placement in the university that they would be better off studying. The library was at least 5 floors and everywhere we went there were kids studying,  reading or on the computer.

 As we were walking around the library, someone pointed out that the students were using laptops that had the English keyboard. We all talked among ourselves about how that could possibly be and why they didn’t have a keyboard with Chinese characters? That is because there are so many Chinese characters. If they built a keyboard with all of the characters it would be extremely large. So they use a transcription method called “ping-ing.” I am still uncertain how it works but after two different people explained it looks like when we are trying to spell a word and the computer attempts to finish it. Then they select the Chinese word or words to insert into the text.


We had the opportunity to hear a professor lecture on the Chinese educational system. It was less about education and more about the cultural and economic underpinnings of the country. He gave us a brief history lesson, and talked about the Cultural Revolution and how much the country has progressed since the 1970s. During the lecture, I asked about the impact of poverty on education, and he seemed to understand where I was coming from (rich areas do better than poor). He felt our economic problems were easy to solve. The Chinese rich and poor are vastly different and the people who live out west are unbelievably poor and extremely disconnected from the entire system of expansion in the cities.


What is a teacher’s day like in China? 

The teacher is on the stage in China

The teacher is on the stage in China

While in Changchun, we got the opportunity to talk with an English teacher who went over her day. She gets to school around 7:00 AM and stays until about 5:00 PM. She teaches two courses that are 40 minutes each and the rest of the time is for preparation and grading papers. It was similar to a college professor’s schedule in the US. She said that they did have some issues with discipline and there were times when they had to write up kids, or have parent conferences.


We saw very few principals on the trip. There were some vice principals or deans but rarely a principal. I asked about that and they said that it was because they were busy and also some of them do not know English. I asked about administrative preparation and our guide said it was a little hard to explain. In order to be a principal, you would have to go through the bureau, and there is an exam and a vote.


 What was the most fun part of the trip? 

USA vs. China in Basketball

USA vs. China in Basketball

There were so much about the trip that was fun! First, the other educators I went with all made each other laugh. We developed a camaraderie that made the trip enjoyable. During our visits to the schools I tried to have as much fun as I normally would have at my own school. I participated as much as possible in the activities. 


In fact we went to an international school that had an arena where the kids had access to a basketball court, and track that was bigger than most colleges. Glenn, Steve and I asked if we could play basketball against the kids and they obliged. Considering we were playing in slacks, dress shirts and dress shoes, I think we held our own. I will say that the kids were skilled and it was obvious that they play a lot of basketball. I think someone had mentioned that a graduate of the school actually made the Chinese national team. After the game we took pictures with the kids and thanked them for their time. It was really fun and a good workout!


What will you remember the most?

That is me in the background of Glenn's picture.... exhausted!

That is me in the background of Glenn’s picture…. exhausted!

The one thing we did that far surpassed everything else was the visit to the Great Wall. I am not sure if it was the shear magnitude of the wall or the physical requirements necessary to ascend as high as we could, but it was a thrilling experience. The Great Wall has such history and significance in Chinese culture. I only wished that we would have spent more time on it. As we climbed the Wall, we met people from around the world. We met people from Mongolia, Nepal, Thailand, US, and Germany.

When we finally reached the furthest part of the Wall we could in the time allowed, I felt a sense of accomplishment. It was not an easy hike, and we probably traversed several thousand steps along the way. Going back down the wall wasn’t an easy feat either.


How was the food?


This is a goose head. No one ate it!

I thought the food was delicious. I am not a very adventurous eater (and I never eat seafood) and I was able to enjoy so much food. I felt that the food was always fresh and healthy. I struggled with the chopsticks but kept using them despite my struggles. Most of the food was very similar to the Chinese food I have experienced in the United States.

I watched our Chinese tour guides and interpreters during our meals. They didn’t really drink a lot of liquids during meals and if they did it was usually just hot water. They kept eating throughout the entire meal whereas we would usually eat too much and then slow down. There was not much dairy in their diet. I am a coffee drinker, and I really missed my daily cups of coffee. Whenever I was able to get my hands on a Starbucks, I took advantage of it no matter the cost.



What is going on with the Smog?

We were there 10 days and I only saw the sun twice. The first day we were in Changchun it was sunny, and the next time I saw it was on the flight to Beijing. The smog was everywhere, and it is a problem. While in Changchun I felt like I was camping in a city. I was told that the smell was a combination of the industrial manufacturing and the burning of corn stalks.


The smell here makes me I feel like I’m camping in a city.


In Beijing, it was not the odor, but more of a blanket of constant smog laying over the city. Our guides admitted that the smog is a big problem in China. They indicated that the people who wear the masks are not protecting themselves from the smog as much as they are making a statement. It is clear to me that until this gets addressed, China will struggle to get visitors.


Since you are always on Social Media, how did you survive with everything being blocked? 

I am a firm believer in the power of Social Media. It has transformed me as a principal. With that said, I was only in China for 10 days. I didn’t get an international plan on my phone and I didn’t use a VPN to access blocked sites. I wanted to disconnect from Social Media to engage in the experience. China does a have an interesting app that is not blocked called WeChat. It appeared that everyone in China is on it. You are able to text, call, video conference, upload pictures etc.


In talking with our tour guides and translators, the general consensus is that sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google will eventually be opened. Many of them had spent time in the US so they have accessed these Social Media sites and have seen the benefits. The Chinese government will ultimately decide when and if these sites are able to be unblocked.


What was your biggest takeaway? 

As much as things are different, they are the same

That hat will keep me warm!

That hat will keep me warm!

I’ve always believed that it important to travel and to see other cultures. I learned a valuable lesson while I was there. Despite what I might think of their educational system, culture or even environmental climate, it is really none of my concern. I think too often we travel and judge. I really tried to take my preconceived notions and cultural biases and put them on the back burner.


I was impressed with the Chinese knowledge of our culture and language. I think we would benefit from returning this learning and integrating a more global perspective in our educational system. As someone who professes to have 24/7 access to a global online system, there is so much I do not know about the world.


Want more information? 

Here is a link to a podcast I did about my experience

Here is a video I put together for my students and teachers 

Keep an Open Drive



I know the title of this blog post ironic. What type of “drive” am I talking about? Actually, this post is more about my fixed mindset. I tell people all the time to keep an open mind, and I get frustrated when I think they are being close minded or “fixed” in their decision making. I’ll admit it… when it came to Microsoft/Bing/One Drive I had made up my mind before I ever even tried it.


Over the last few years I have been hearing (and seeing) all of the really cutting edge innovations from schools using various platforms. Mac districts, Google Districts, it seemed like they were having all the connections. I was using Google in my professional world, and even used Google Docs to write a book with two colleagues that are across the country! Yet, my district decided to go with Microsoft and One Drive. I wasn’t really happy.  So what do you do in this type of situation? For me, I had to do some inner reflection. Here are some of my reflections:

  • Am I being open or fixed mindset about this?
  • Am I modeling what I want my teachers and students to do when presented with a new program or idea?
  • Is there something for me to learn that I am not seeing?
Teachers in PLCs using One Drive to analyze data and record minutes

Teachers in PLCs using One Drive to analyze data and record minutes

In September, I decided that I would give the One Drive a try. I can’t do anything half way and I jumped in with two feet and started to learn everything I could about One Drive. At one of our early staff meetings, I admitted to everyone that I was changing my approach. I would be enhancing our PLC’s and meetings with the One Drive. I admitted that I was going to learn along with everyone. I made a prediction that we could transform our classrooms using this technology (if we were willing to keep an open mind)!


It didn’t stop there. I explored the features more and made a few Excel Forms to collect information from staff. My first Form was for our Genius Hour. I set it up in a way that would help every manage their project for the year. I made another Form to collect ideas from staff about our before/after school clubs. Now, all of our staff meeting information is on One Drive, and is accessible to the entire staff. We can keep all the notes, minutes and resources in “one” space. This adds to the transparency, collaboration and communication that is so vital to our school.


one drive 2

Keep an Open Drive

In a few short weeks, we have begun to see the power of the One Drive. Teachers are now exploring how they can collaborate with each other using the One Drive. They are seeking ways to integrate it into the classroom to enhance the student experience. In addition, I learned a few things about students and their willingness to learn something despite the platform. Kids in our school are doing similar things that their peers are doing with the other platforms. They are sharing documents, editing peer work, creating presentations, and working collaboratively.


The best part of all this is that now I know two platforms. I think there are positive aspects to each, and I really think (no matter the platform) that students and teachers benefit from these tools. I look forward to sharing more about my journey this year with the One Drive.


What do you think?

China Tour 2015

There is so much to write and talk about regarding my recent trip to China. Here is a very condensed video version of the trip… Enjoy and more to be posted later!


It’s all about the culture


What can you make?

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Northfield Middle School. That’s the beauty of having a PLN. I reached out to Kevin Jarrett and Glenn Robbins because I had to see their new “maker room” and the EdCamp style afternoons for the kids. It was everything I thought it would be…. and more!


As I walked around the school, I was impressed with how the hallways had transformed into “Idea Streets.” Kids, middle school kids, were treated like college kids. If they wanted breakfast, they just had to go to the kiosk near the front office. If they wanted to sit down and collaborate, there were chairs for them to do so. If they wanted to write on the walls, or the windows, they could. There were no “bulletin boards” because they had been replaced by white boards.


Culture eats strategy for breakfast ~ Drucker


3D printer

3D printer

Kevin’s room is crucial to development of student exploration. It was obvious to me that Kevin is a perfectionist and it showed in the room. I followed the progress of the room over the summer, but I never imagined it would be so… inspiring. Everything had a purpose. Everything from the design of the room, the walls, chairs, tables, the lighting, material storage, and especially the course itself. As I watched kids come and go for their “class” I was impacted by the discussion, the cadence, the creativity, and even the coolness.


Culture eats strategy for breakfast ~ Drucker


Design flaws

Design flaws

As we were touring around, Glenn introduced me to a few kids. I was able to see what they were working on, and more importantly, why. One of the students was working on a design that he was hoping to get picked for the 3D printer. He shared with me how the site he was using helped him apply what he was learning from math, science and language arts. As I scanned the room, all of the kids were on their Chromebooks doing the same thing… pushing their learning, listening to music, creating, and designing.


Culture eats strategy for breakfast ~ Drucker


IMG_4375Glenn asked a girl to come out in the hall to discuss the afternoon EdCamp. She was the one who was working on the art in the for the Respect Campaign. As we talked, she said something that really struck a chord, “I  love how this school allows us to have a voice. We can choose what we want to learn in the afternoon, and the teachers listen to us. I’ve never felt like this in school.” Honestly, neither had I growing up!


Culture eats strategy for breakfast ~ Drucker


The EdCamp afternoon board

The EdCamp afternoon board

Very often we hear about cool things and immediately want to get them into our districts/schools/classrooms. What I saw in Northfield was the result of hard working, innovative thinking people who were ready to work collaboratively over the past few years to get to make a difference. This didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen by chance. Everything happened (and will continue to happen) because the stakeholders (parents, teachers, BOE, students, administration and community) worked collaboratively to create a culture that encourages doing what is best for kids!


People are talking about this school… Check out these blog posts about Northfield  Middle School:

Welcome to Idea Street 

An EdCamp Period

Kevin Jarrett’s Blog

Jay Eitner’s Blog