July 14

Pure #Geniushour Reflection on Year 1



This past year our school embarked on the Genius Hour journey. (For previous posts that lead to the Genius Hour: inspiration;  80/20 staff meetings; my passion). In short, I took 20% of the the Staff Meetings this year and made them Genius Hour. The staff could do whatever they wanted with the time (it just had to be something they were passionate about, and could benefit students or the school). We had many ups and downs with the process which lead to successes and failures. It was such an amazing experience!


At the conclusion of the school year we scheduled a meeting to review Genius Hour. Honestly, prior to the meeting, I though that the staff was going to vote to abandon it completely. The sad reality is that education doesn’t support geniuses! Let’s be honest with ourselves on why education doesn’t support Genius Hour:

  • We have so many “compliance” activities from the district, state and federal government
  • We have to get our test scores up, and achieve our School Improvement Goals
  • Time – How are we going to fit all this in?
  • Not everyone is passionate about something that can translate into a school setting
  • General apathy and malaise from teachers that think “this is just another passing phase”


To my surprise, the opposite of everything listed above was unfounded. The teachers, for the most part, loved it. Of course they are well aware of the factors, and despite those factors were willing to put themselves out there for their passion. They want a lot of the things that are out of our control (the compliance stuff) to go away and do more with their passion!


In the final report out, I didn’t require everyone to present…. only those who wanted to. I stressed, prior to the report out, that failure was absolutely acceptable. In fact, my own project failed miserably. What is most important (as you will see) is how each person or team talked about what they would do differently!


My project – Genius hour was Podcasting for the district. I only completed 4 shows. I hit road blocks such as getting people to schedule, storage space, and time. Next year, I would like to focus on our school, parents, teachers, and students.

Here are the other takeaways:

  • 2 Kindergarten teachers – Genius hour was focused on increasing technology. They both learned how to use their Brite Links. They were very proud to have used it with the interactive pen. They were able to integrate it into several topics in the Kindergarten curriculum.
  • PBIS Aide- Focus was on developing an incentive program to increase the attendance for the students. She reported out that the attendance board (first project)was difficult to maintain, but then she implemented a daily Bingo game which was very successful. There were road block such as prizes for younger kids and how to reach them.
  • 2 Special Education Teachers – Genius Hour was on Crafts. She taught kids how to cross-stitch, and crochet.  They really picked it up after PARCC was completed in each grade. The students really enjoyed it and were excited about the project.
  • Art Teacher – Genius Hour was having students do video interviews about their artwork. There are some videos on You Tube. Her target group helped kids working on existing art work.  A couple videos were made.  She started too late but will be doing it again because the kids loved it!
  • Music Teacher – Her project was to bring in a Chamber Group. Prior to that she had to focus on listening skills. She determined early on that the students were not where they need to be able to appreciate the music. She would eventually like to embark on this project.
  • 1st grade teacher – Her Genius Hour was based on her passion for school safety. She realized a lot is more than just a school building level. The other factors were money and district support. So she started a Girl Scouts and Daisy/Brownie groups with another teacher.  A lot of group character education lessons were integrated into the program. They involved community members into the project.
  • 7 teachers started a Gardening Club for their project. They wrote and received a Grant for 2,000 dollars. In September, the group will be starting a school garden club for kids. They will plant things that can be eaten right away.  They will also incorporate green houses in some of our classrooms which will be brought out to the outside garden outside. LOWES will be working school closely.
  • 3 teachers –  Their goal was to look into grant money for problem solving for 5th grade students. She used the Genius Hour (Along with the 2 other teachers) as an opportunity to get to know what the students were passionate about in the beginning of the year.  The kids shared ideas such as developing new applications, chicken coops, school newspaper, photography, and dirt bike tracks. The students began their own fundraising in school lunches (pencils, Valentines dance, and coupon books).


At the end of every meeting, we do a Plus/Delta (for more information Plus/Delta click here).

Plus (or things that really worked well)

  • Such a positive experience
  • Hearing all great things people are doing
  • Talking with each other and working together
  • That Principal is supporting us
  • Failure was acceptable
  • Everyone did something different that can impact all students
  • Thanks to Principal for challenging Staff to Genius Hour

Deltas (or things that didn’t work well and can be improved)

  • Time
  • Resources
  • Took awhile to understand the concept
  • Not everyone shared


Overall, I am very excited about the continuation of Genius Hour. I will be scheduling 4 “meetings” during the year, and a time at the end of the year to report out. Now, I have to go back to the “drawing board” and work on my project :)

June 27

Reflect and plan: It’s as easy as 3, 2, 1

IMG_3667 (1)

RM Bacon Teachers engaged in the 3-2-1 activity

A few weeks ago I read the ASCDEdge blog post 3-2-1 Countdown to Summer by Kevin Parr. It was just what I needed. It was just what our staff needed. Since the concept was so applicable, I was able to integrate it into my final staff meeting of the year. Our purpose was to reflect on the year and to begin to plan for the next school year.


After introducing the concept, I had the teachers work individually to identify their 3-2-1.

3 to Keep – Taking from the blog post, teachers “identified 3 practices that were working for them.”

2 to Tweak – Teachers were asked to identify 2 activities/practices that they would like to continue, but that needed a little improvement or “tweaking.”

1 New – Teachers were asked to identify one area that they would like to try that is NEW to them.


Putting the activity into motion …  

RM Bacon teachers engaged in the 3-2-1 activity

RM Bacon teachers engaged in the 3-2-1 activity

After working individually, the teachers shared their 3-2-1 in small groups. These discussions were very rich with reflection, connections, and new ideas. Then we shared out in a large group for everyone to hear. We learned so much about the year. Here are some of the insights:


Teachers flipping their instruction

Using data to improve writing

Focus on the Whole Child

Class Dojo

Classroom blogs




Classroom management

Classroom behavioral plans

Professional Learning Communities

Genius Hour



First aide supplies for recess

Class Dojo


New components to reading series


 My reflection …  

RM Bacon Teachers engaged in the 3-2-1 activity

RM Bacon Teachers engaged in the 3-2-1 activity

After the 3-2-1 workshop, I challenged the staff to try this with the students. I was pleasantly surprised how the teachers then used this with the students. They had the students reflect on their class using the 3-2-1. This feedback will help the teachers as they plan for next year! One grade level even tweaked the activity, and had the students change the 1 new to 1 that should go. I liked that approach and if I do this again, I would like to see an area for one to go.


As the Principal, I felt this activity was very easy to implement, and the feedback from the teachers was amazing. I was amazed at all of the insights from this year. I was able to see what is working in the school and what needs to be improved. The activity gave me an opportunity to listen to teachers, and hopefully empower them to take chances to improve their learning environment.


I want to thank Kevin Parr for putting together the activity.

June 27

Join us at #empowerED

EmpowerEDlogoLooking for a conference in August that could invigorate your staff, district or most importantly, you? Join an action packed team at the EmpowerED Conference scheduled for August 6-7th.

There are so many awesome presenters that will be gathered at EmpowerED… For instance, the Keynote speaker is George Couros! George Couros is currently a Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning with Parkland School Division, located in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada, as well as an innovative teaching, learning, and leadership consultant. He is passionate about distributed leadership within my division, and believe that creating a collaborative environment with all stakeholders, will help to ensure that we meet the best needs of all children.


In addition to George, there are dozens of presenters that I learn from everyday! Here are a list of the presenters. These educators are accessible through Social Media, and can easily be part of your Professional Learning Network! Check out the list of presentations and strands where you will learn about:

  • Branding your school/district
  • Isolation in leadership
  • Becoming connected
  • Global learning
  • 1 to 1
  • App fluency
  • Flipped leadership
  • Empowering student voice
  • Transforming your Help Desk with students
  • Developing Digital Citizens
  • Understanding relevance in technology and leadership


Updates and pricing information:

  • $299 per individual
  • $274 groups of 5+ (must all register at the same time)
  • $25 off for attendees at ISTE, BLC and NAESP (see attached flyers with promo codes listed that they will need to enter at registration in order to receive this price)
  • “Bring a Buddy” – attendees already registered will receive a complimentary copy of their choice of a publication from the Connected Educator Series of their choice for referring a friend to attend the conference with them

Want to learn more about the inter-workings of the conference? There are many ways to connect:


Let’s pack Grafton High School with people excited to connect with each other and learn about integrating technology into our schools and districts!


June 7

Who is ready to learn how to Cram? Guest post by @flashcards

Source: cram.com

Source: cram.com

Every student has his or her preferences when it comes to learning. Some get excited about math while others prefer history or astronomy.

The formula for teaching many of these subjects can be pretty straightforward. Review a chapter or lesson in class, take questions, do some sample problems and send students on their way with homework to solidify their knowledge of that day’s lesson. This is a formula that works well when students enjoy the material.

But what can be done when they don’t? How do you motivate individual students without sacrificing the rest of the class? In my experience as the designer of an education technology software, the key is taking a learning tool and expanding it into something that can be used for fun.

When designing out educational product we decided to focus on flashcards because they have been used since the early 19th century and have remained viable through massive changes that have happened over the last 200 years (the invention of the computer, cellular phones, wide spread internet adoption, tablets, etc). Today opportunities for students are better than ever because we can put an almost unlimited number of flashcards in a pocket or backpack by putting them on phones and tablets.



When we created our software, Cram.com, our intention was to load it up with features. We thought that turning the flashcards into a practice test, providing options in a lot of languages, allowing you to sort your cards, were all things that students and teachers would want.

What we discovered instead is that kids simply like games (surprise!) and that’s made the biggest difference towards people enjoying our product not just using it. We quickly attached two games to our product. The games not only help make learning fun but the competition aspect behind them helps push learning-adverse students to better themselves and raise their test scores along side their game scores.

With the competition aspect, points are assigned on a continuous spectrum, so every kid will get a different score. Some of our teachers have used that facet to award extra credit or the opportunity for the student with the highest score to skip a test. Even the kids who don’t get the opportunity to skip the test will have competed enough for the top prize that they are much more likely ace the test anyway.

Getting good user feedback has always been among our number one priorities. Through that feedback we’ve been thrilled to learn that when it comes to the internet and mobile apps, a lot of difference can be made in the classroom with a creative teacher willing to embrace a new technology. More importantly, these teachers all understand that learning can and should still be fun.

We’re also excited that Dr. Cook has been showing off our product to our third grade teachers and we thank him for letting us write a guest post on his wonderful blog.
Todd Clemens, Co-Founder Cram.com

May 31

Its lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to be


A few years ago I took the “plunge” and became connected to other educators throughout the globe through Social Media. I can admit that I have never been the same since taking that plunge. One of the best parts about the connections was the relationship I built with Jessica Johnson and Theresa Stager. We started the PrincipalPLN to help other administrators to become (and more importantly to stay ) connected. Throughout our journey we realized one of the downsides of leadership…. isolation! So we decided to write a book on the topic.

Getting connected is one thing, and many educators are taking the plunge to become connected. Once connected, how does the leader avoid the isolation inherent in leadership? We have learned from conversations with others that many educators need help balancing their connected journey, and working with their peers. We wrote this book to ensure that the leadership wheels do not fall off.

In this book we help the readers understand the importance of being connected to benefit individual professional learning, mindfulness, and avoiding the traps of isolation . We use vignettes of leaders to give a picture of what the connected leader looks like. We also address the common challenges that come with being connected, such as criticism, isolation and battling mindset.


Pre-orders are available by visiting the Corwin site. The book will be released in the fall of 2015.

May 17

All eyes on the sky!

source: dreamatico.com

source: dreamatico.com

In a recent PrincipalPLN podcast, we interviewed Kirsten Olson and Valerie Brown, authors of the book, Mindful School Leader. I highly recommend to check out the book and the podcast. The practice of mindfulness for educators is a relatively new practice. Of course, mindfulness has been around for centuries, but it has often been relegated to eastern philosophies, yoga, and meditation. Yet, Olson and Brown provide research as well as anecdotal information from school leaders throughout the globe who are all practicing the art of mindfulness to combat the stress, sacrifice and malaise that plagues the profession.


During the podcast, I really tried to be mindful. In fact, I didn’t really ask many questions. I just listened. Towards the end, one question popped up in my head, and I asked, “So what would be 3 things we could try this week to practice mindfulness at work?” Without hesitation, Valerie said, “1. Take your lunch and just eat. Don’t do anything but eat, and taste what you are eating. 2. Breathe – Focus on your breathing a few times throughout the day. 3. Look at the sky for one minute each day.”


It’s funny how her first two responses need to actually be mentioned. Yet, how many of us actually focus on breathe, or take 10 minutes to just enjoy our lunch? And looking at the sky? When was the last time you actually looked at the sky for one minute during work? For me, it was never.


So this week I set out to really enjoy my lunch, breathe and look at the sky for a minute each day. I was able to achieve those goals, and I can honestly say that I had a less stressful week. For a school administrator in May that is a real accomplishment.


How about you? What do you do to practice mindfulness?

May 5

Instructional Rounds with the #CCDOLPHINS



If it were not for my PLN, as I have said many times, I don’t know where I would be as a school leader. Today, I got the chance to meet up with a good friend, fellow principal, and active member of my PLN Douglas Timm. Doug, and his team of dedicated coaches and teachers, have recently implemented Instructional Rounds in their school. As a side note, you have to visit their active hashtag on Twitter (#ccdolphins) to see the amazing things going at the school.


The purpose of our (I was joined by Dr. Pamm Moore, Asst. Superintendent) visit was to experience the Instructional Rounds at Carrie Downe Elementary School. We were given a tour of the school by Doug. It was interesting to see the pace Doug has as he walks the hall. I know that pace. It is the early morning Principal pace :) We then met our team that we would be working with: Jessica Hoban, Stephanie Jones, and Tara Amsterdam who are all instructional coaches.


Prior to visiting the classes, we reviewed their model. It was clear that they have done a lot of work to establish a model (Modern Teacher) that complements their instructional mission. After we prepped, we headed into the classroom with our mission of finding evidence to improve instruction. Yes, that is it. At their core, Instructional Rounds are designed to provide evidence in a non-evaluative manner to teachers to improve instruction.


After the “round” we went back and debriefed as a group. We sequenced the lesson, and then went through the activities to determine if we were providing evidence or inference and at what level on Blooms the instruction was taking place. At one point, Doug commented,”This process of providing evidence to teachers has helped me with my formal observations, conversations, and feedback. It has made me a better instructional leader.” Sign me up for that!


So, what is it going to take? The models are out there. The research is clear. In my humble opinion, it is time for teachers to build collaboration and collegiality to improve classroom instruction with meaningful, non-judgmental feedback.  I am excited for the possibilities!

April 26

What if it came down to you?

Source: authorbrandikennedy.blogspot.com

Source: authorbrandikennedy.blogspot.com

It’s always easier to think that someone else is in charge. It is always easier to think it is someone else’s responsibility. We find it difficult to understand how important we are, and we often leave the work to someone else. Think about this for a minute… what if it came down to you? Guess what? It does come down to you ….. everyday!

There are countless stories of people who have changed the world, invented things, and helped people. We love to revel in those stories, and tell them to our students. Yet, we forget how important everyday decisions are, and how they may have the same impact on the world. You never know who you are going to impact, and more importantly, how.

What if it came down to you to be……

  • compassionate
  • understanding
  • inspiring
  • open-minded
  • responsible
  • positive


You have that opportunity everyday. You never know how it will impact a colleague, a parent, a student, or even an administrator. You never know how much you can impact others.



April 11

How do you plan for the end of year?

source: misslwholebrainteaching.blogspot.com

source: misslwholebrainteaching.blogspot.com

I just finished Spring Break, and it hit me…. the school year is ending soon! Well, honestly we still have over 2 months, but time is of the essence. As school leaders and teachers view the calendar, it is a perfect time to ensure the end of the year goes smoothly. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Is everyone on the same page? Just because the weather is getting warmer and the field trips are blooming, the last thing you want to do is lose focus. As educators, it is important to ensure that the learning process continues to bloom and that students are engaged.


2. Plan for next year. Of course, this is a perfect time to begin talking about the master schedule, class lists, and a focus for next year. These things take time, so use the time in April and May when the staff are not feeling rushed (like what happens in June).


3. Celebrate the learning. As we get closer to the end of the school year, this is a great time to review and celebrate what was learned. How did your Genius Hour go? What did your students create? What did your students solve?


4. Use reflection – admit mistakes! Yes, we all set out to do so much in September, and along the way we made mistakes. I know we don’t always feel comfortable sharing our mistakes, but once you can get over that, reflecting on them is powerful.


5. Avoid countdowns. Nothing causes more stress then the “countdown” to the end of the year. You may be looking forward to Summer Break, but that doesn’t mean your kids are.


6. End of the Year Assessments – In NJ we have another round of the PARCC starting in two weeks. Students need consistency and they need to know that they are supported.


Here are a few resources for end of the year planning:


Did I leave anything out? How are you going to plan for the end of the year?


March 28

Are you ready to give away your patents?

Source: www.digitaltrends.com

Source: www.digitaltrends.com

Did you know that Tesla gave away all of their patents to their competitors. Yes, Elon Musk, basically said to anyone who has an interest in electric cars ….. you can have the patents. This is revolutionary because patents are created to prohibit others from taking your work and your potential earnings from the patent. Sound familiar?


For hundreds of years in education, we have held tight to our patents. We close the doors, erect the silos, and continue the isolation cycle. Collaboration in education is difficult. The system does not lend itself to collaboration or sharing the secrets. It doesn’t have to be that way.


There are so many ways that we can give away our patents so that others may benefit, but we have to be ready. For instance, PLC’s are designed to assist educators with collaboration in their building. It should be a time to share things that work, and discuss things that are not working. PLN’s (Personal Learning Networks) are designed to assist educators with collaboration throughout the world. It is an opportunity to share things that work, and discuss things that are not working. Sound familiar?


As you reflect, as yourself these questions?

  • Am I ready to be transparent with my PLC or PLN?
  • Am I willing to share what is working, and more importantly, what is not working?
  • Am I willing to share my patents?