Butterflies flying away (87:365)

Every now and then you have to stop and watch the butterflies

Every now and then you have to stop and watch the butterflies

This morning a group of 1st graders invited me to have them release their butterflies into the Millville area. I will be honest. I was in such a rush. I had meetings scheduled. I had people that needed to talk to me. I didn’t have my jacket. The last thing I really wanted to do was go outside. How could I say no to a 1st grader who said, “Dr. Cook, can you come out and watch us set our butterflies free?” So I did, and I am really glad that I made that decision. Sometimes, watching butterflies fly away is much more important than anything else.


The students, who have been studying the life cycle, have known these butterflies since they were in the cocoon. They were so excited to see them fly away. This process has been going on for a few weeks.


After I left the students and went back into the building, I was refreshed. This little activity made such a big impact!

Professional Learning Communities (86:365)

On Sunday, the PrincipalCast crew interviewed Tom Whitford about Professional Learning Communities(PLC). Throughout the interview, Tom shared his experiences with PLCs and how they have help to transform his school culture.


Check out the full podcast. If you would like more information, there are links at the end of this post.

Links to Follow

See more at: http://podcast.teachercast.net/pcast23/



Write through it (85:365)

source: scienceofblogging.com

source: scienceofblogging.com

I was certain that this would happen during the blog 365 challenge. I knew there would be times like this when I was just too busy to blog, too preoccupied to focus, or just too tired. Today is one of those days.


It was hard to stare at the screen and wonder what I was going to write for number 85. I was thinking of all the things I have to do, and blogging was low on the list. I knew I had to do something. I even tried to recycle an older post and that didn’t even help. I looked through my pictures and …. nothing. So, I am sure I will look back on today and remember the way I felt. Yet, I wrote through it!

Another Great Event (84:365)

It was a great night!

It was a great night!

Last night our Healthy School and Family/Community PLC put on a Reading and Fitness Night. We were able to get volunteers to facilitate reading, Kids Zumba and Kids Crossfit. There was a good turn out and everyone went home with books, school apparel, and a smile. The event was sponsored by a local real estate firm who provided fresh fruit and water for everyone.


As I write this blog, I realize that I didn’t even take pictures. I did 20 minutes of kids Crossfit. I did 20 minutes of kids Zumba. My legs feel like linguine!


I learned a few things… I am a little out of shape, and I need to take more time to exercise. I also learned that family and community partnerships are essential in developing a well rounded school. We have to do this together… parents, students, businesses, teachers… everybody!

How to determine a problem in your organization (82:365)

9781475800463_p0_v2_s260x420Yesterday I blogged about the importance of determining a problem before offering a solution. This is extremely important when you are approaching improvement in a process-centered, systemic manner. I hope this post offers a practical guide to help your organization determine a problem. I also want to thank the team of authors who wrote the book Journey to High Achieving School.

This practical activity can help your organization develop as many ideas about the problem:


1. What is the problem? In order to define the problem, you need to involve as many people as possible. For instance, at a staff meeting, you could hand out post-its to everyone, and have them brainstorm the problem. This helps people feel part of the process and involves many people. Keep it simple. 3 to 5 issues that your organization is facing. Each post-it should stand alone (note: subjects and verbs). This part should take about 5 minutes.


2. Group work – After everyone has filled out their post-its, have the group go through and read their post-it individually. Each person gets a turn to read. Since this is an idea generating activity, there is to be NO JUDGEMENT. Once again, everyone will feel part of the process! This part should take about 5 minutes depending on the size of the group. I suggest 4 to 6 people per group. Depending your organization, you may want to have people sit where they normally do or assign groups.


3. Affinity – This part of the activity really gets the group dynamics working. In order to curtail the “know it all” or the “loudest” a proper way to affinity the post its is silently.  That’s right, have your small group work silently until all post its are on a big sheet pf paper, and grouped by theme. Most likely, the group will have already seen the trends, and more often than not, the group will have similar ideas on the problem. The group, in silence, will need about 5 minutes to put the post-its together in themes.


4. Report out – After the group has organized their post-its in themes, one person should be appointed to report out to the rest of the participants in the meeting. This way, everyone can see what the small groups were working on. The heading of the themes should describe the ideas. For instance, if 5 people mentioned that the outside of the building is unappealing, then you would categorize that them as “appearance of building.” This should take about 5 to 8 minutes. It is important for the participants to not judge or criticize the group report out.

This entire activity should take about 40-45 minutes.

Next post…. How to get all the ideas into a priority matrix

For more information on this and other practical guides to improving your school, check out the book Journey to High Achieving Schools.

What is the problem? (81:365)

Source: lunchbuddiesplus.wordpress.com

Source: lunchbuddiesplus.wordpress.com

Budget cuts. Charter Schools. School Choice. Privatization. Declining enrollment. Assessment results. Transportation. Parents. Teachers. Perception. No jobs. Last in first out. Health care costs. Lack of retirements. Sound familiar? Inner city schools across the country are quickly figuring out that competition is heating up. Let’s face it, public schools are being asked to do more with less. Public perception and support is dwindling. Everyone has a solution. What is the problem?


The school I work at is wrestling with everything listed above. It has been a slow process but one that has manifested itself throughout the inner city school districts for the last 20-30 years. Our schools are becoming more segregated then prior to Brown vs. BOE. The schools of today are segregated based on race, socio-economics and the fact is that each “alternative” approach to fixing public education ends up exacerbating the problem. What is the problem?


Before we can start to offer solutions, we must define the problem. We must be honest with ourselves and our community, parents, teachers, students, and central administration. We must stay “process-centered” and not make this about specific people. Sure, it helps to put a face to the problem, but this is not a time to point fingers. What is the problem?


I feel compelled to blog about our harsh reality because I believe it will be the type of story that will one day make a great book, documentary, or even … a movie! Our teachers, students and parents will be working on this “harsh reality” for the next few years. We are not taking it sitting down. In fact, what you will see over the course of the next few months is a concerted effort to define the problem, and work in a systemic, process-centered manner to define and ultimately address the problem. Fortunate, we know we are not alone. There are countless other schools facing these same issues. There are schools, amazing examples, that have already blazed the trail. The first step… define the problem.


Never-ending positivity (80:365)

source: annechovie.blogspot.com

source: annechovie.blogspot.com

One of the roles of the 21st century school leader is what I like to call “Never-ending positivity.” Believe me, there are days when I question the job I am doing, or get upset at how others view me or the school, but when the day is over it is all about being positive. In education, there are so many hurdles, obstacles, concerns, not to mention that things are just not fair. The education system is far from perfect, but our kids and families deserve the very best each and everyday.


As I walk around the school, I always try to view the glass as half filled. Even today, as I am home battling a nasty sinus infection, my thoughts are centered on how I can be a better principal Monday morning. How can I, as the school leader, make things better for the faculty, staff, students, parents, and community members? Well, in addition to being competent, following through on promises, and providing a culture based on collaboration, I need to be the person who believes that things are getting better.


Here are some things to consider about promoting a never-ending positivity based leadership model:

– Be honest, but don’t complain about things you cannot control

– Smile

– Ask people how they are, and what you can do to help

– When the going gets tough, the tough stay positive

– No one (administrator, student, parent, teacher, staff) is perfect, and you cannot take things personally

– There is always tomorrow – You can improve every day

– Have a goal – Encourage people to “imagine a better school”

– When faced with budget cuts, insurmountable odds, or any other school based challenges, rally the troops, be honest, ask for help, build a positive reaction!

source: mattullrich.wordpress.com

source: mattullrich.wordpress.com


Yeah, I wore a Tutu (79:365)

Post performance!

Post performance!

I have had a busy few days, and with the onset of seasonal allergies, I almost forgot to blog today. Well, I have to admit, most of my free time the past few days has been spent practicing for the Talent Show at my school…. The perks of being an Elementary School Principal.


A few colleagues and I did our best Saturday Night Live impression and recreated the  Beyonce Knowles/Justin Timberlake “Single Ladies” skit. We tried to be as funny as possible, and the kids and parents loved it.The practices were grueling. We needed to make sure this skit was epic. For now, all I have is the picture to prove it.


I think the picture says it all.



Thoughts on learning (78:365)

Create your own dolls, dresses or whatever you want

Create your own dolls, dresses or whatever you want

I was sitting down chatting with my six year old daughter last night and she was showing me her YouTube. Since she has received her iPad, she has been glued to it. Like most kids her age, she plays games, Minecraft, and watches a lot of YouTube. I don’t even have to fight for the remote anymore!


As she showed me the things she does on her iPad I was amazed. She has found a plethora of tutorial videos to help her create scenes for her dolls. She showed me a whole how to use Play Doh to make dresses video. So that is why she is suddenly into Play Doh… She showed me a series of videos on how to create a house for your dolls. Hmm, scissors, glue, paper, drawing….. creation… That is why my wife is making trips to the store to get these materials;) 😉


I was so proud sitting there with my daughter as she showed me the videos, and talked about her projects. I pretended not to know anything and just learned from the 6 year old creative, innovative and resourceful girl…

21st Century learning. Technology allows for creativity

21st Century learning. Technology allows for creativity

Here are her recommendations:

My Froggy Stuff 

Disney CarToys