Insights Into Learning

Knowing the learning environment (225:365)



I operate under the assumption that we all learn differently. Sure, there are some trends, but each of us is hard-wired to process information in a unique way. Understanding how you learn is always the first step in creating a learning environment. Think about this for a minute… can you articulate how you learn information? Do you share that with your staff, students, or colleagues?


For instance, I like to make connections. I like to think outside of the box. I like to take risks, and challenge the process. I struggle with problem solving, fixing things, or doing hands-on projects. I have to work hard to do anything technical. Ironically, I do like order, but only for a little while and then I like to change. I like working in groups, but I struggle with always staying on task. So, this is my learning in a nutshell. Knowing this, how would you teach me? Work with me? Challenge me? Please understand that this has nothing to do with how much information that I know, and you can not find this information out on a test.


Learning about the learners in your environment is critical as you begin the new year. What steps will you take to learn about your learners?



Leadership: Through What Lens? (224:365)



Could it be that leadership boils down to one answer to the age old question, “Is the glass half filled or half empty?” In many ways, it could be that simple, and in other ways it could be much more complex.


I’d like to think that the mindset of a leader has a profound effect on how they choose to lead, and more importantly hope that others will change. Can people change?

So much to reflect on….


Here are some guiding questions to help understand your leadership lens:

  • Is your glass half filled or empty?
  • Can you change?
  • Are you fixed or growth minded?


Leadership starts with, you guessed it, you, the leader. What lens will you see the organization? Others? It all comes down to you.

Get out of my head! (223:365)



I read The Miracle Morning, and joined TMM voxer group to help maximize my mornings. We contacted the author, Hal Elrod, and he signed up for voxer and joined our group. The power of social media!


One of the key aspects of The Miracle Morning is Silence. Sounds easy, right? You just sit in silence for 5 or 10 minutes, and viola…. Well, I will admit, sitting in silence in not that easy. I never liked sitting meditation, and it seems like any time I have ever “meditated” I get extremely distracted. Then one day, Jessica Johnson suggested the app Headspace for guided mediation. I am so glad she did.


This free app (for the first 10 sessions) has made meditation something I look forward to! The person who guides you along the meditation is just real. He allows you to be distracted, allows your mind to wonder because, if you are like me, starting meditation can be difficult. Each day he takes you through a progression, and 10 minutes later you will feel refreshed!


Check out the app Headspace if you are looking to learn more about meditation. Their website is very informative, and provides information about the science behind their app and additional resources. Good luck!


How do you measure leadership? (222:365)



Much has been written about Leadership. Take a look at your local bookstore (if you still have one) or on one of the online book mega-stores and you will see hundreds if not thousands of books dedicated to leadership. On Amazon, there are about 27,000 titles! There are significantly less books written about measuring leadership. In my cursory glance of measuring leadership, I came across a few titles that sound interesting for further reading.


In reading the synopsis of these titles, it validated that leaders are measured upon their impact on the organization, their ability to collaborate, innovate, and how they build a supportive network. In short, leaders are measured on how others perform. Seems like a daunting task… much like measuring teachers on student performance. Either way you look at it, a leader is entrusted with a lot of responsibility. So, how does that effect the decisions that you make? Since everyone is impacted by your decisions, everyone will have a different opinion of your leadership.


As a school leader, how do you measure your leadership? How do you think other’s measure your leadership?

A Principal Legacy (221:365)

Spike and Eric in 2012

My visit to New Milford in 2012 

For the past few years, NJ educators have been fortunate to have one of the trailblazers in Digital Leadership in our state. This September, we will start the school year without Eric Sheninger as a NJ Principal. We certainly wish him well on his new venture, and he will always be a click away, but there will be a part of us that will miss having him in the principal’s office.


As a principal, he was the example that we all pointed to when people would say, “It can be done.!” Over the years it was Eric who opened up social media at his school, began the BYOD initiative, integrated technology to meet the pedagogical needs of the kids, showed us how to “tell our story” and more importantly… why!


As an ambassador for the NJ educators, Eric opened up his school every year for Edscape. He worked with local and national partners to create an environment for the rest of us to present, learn, and connect. By doing this, he flipped learning and the understanding of conferences that were traditional NJ practices for over 150 years.


Anyone who knows Eric, could see how he embodied the spirit of Kouses and Posner’s  Five Exemplary Practices in Leadership. Throughout each of the frames, Eric used his experiences and vision to create a 21st century learning environment for all of us to see. In their framework, exemplary leaders:

  • Model the way – He set out to model Digital Leadership and appropriate Digital Citizenship
  • Inspire a shared vision – Early on, Eric knew that social media tools would connect us and through those connections, improve our practice
  • Challenge the process – Eric was determined to break down the barriers to social media
  • Enable others to act – Eric initiated countless opportunities for other educators to present, connect, blog
  • Encourage the heart - Eric provided support and guidance not only for NJ educators but throughout the world. Chances are, if you had a question or a concern, he had faced it and was able to provide advice


Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, talks about the impact of Level 5 leaders. These leaders, once they move on, have developed the capacity for others to continue to grow and take the organization to the next level. That’s what Eric did for us in NJ. As a trailblazer, he spent countless hours assisting other educators in NJ (and then the world) to become connected. Now, we have a growing number of NJ educators that will continue on his legacy. There will be no leadership vacuum in NJ.


So, as the kids come back to school in NJ this fall, Eric will be taking his message throughout the world as a  senior fellow of Leadership in Education through Scholastic. We all (#NJED) wish him the best of luck, and thank him for all he has done!


The End is Only the Beginning 

Student Choice, Student Voice (220:365)



This week I had the pleasure of attending Edcamp Leadership and Padcamp. Both of these were un-conferences where educators gather to focus on learning, their learning. In the morning, the educators choose what they want to learn about, and either sign up to present, or sign up for help. Either way, it’s an organic learning environment that everyone should experience.

Reflecting on both days, I really learned a lot about student choice/voice. For instance, as school increase their technology devices, they often wonder about how to “manage” them. Some schools in districts labor over policy and procedures. Yet others, are moving in another direction…. let the kids monitor their own devices! Honestly, it’s very similar to how I monitor my own child’s iPad or iPod… Want to take 7,000 selfies (my daughter)? Then how are you going to have any storage left on your device? Want to get another app but you don’t have any money in your account? These are the life lessons and responsibility that foster digital citizenship.

Here are a few examples of people who seem to be moving in the right direction:

Jimmy Casas – At Jimmy’s school in Iowa, once the devices arrive, they are immediately given to … you guessed it …. the students! Jimmy and his staff feel passionately that they have created an environment that supports learning, digital responsibility, and realize how much their students already know about the devices.

String Theory High School – I met Casey Cohen who teaches at String Theory High in Philadelphia. She presented on the unique curriculum (no paper, all courses are on iTunes). As an English teacher, Casey encourages her students to manage their own devices, even down to the apps they choose from the app store. She said it is almost impossible to keep up with the over 1 million apps, and by giving the students the responsibility they learn valuable lessons. At the end of each presentation on their projects, the students are required to discuss the apps they used and more importantly, why.

Ann Oro’s son Stephen- Ann brought her son, Stephen, to Padcamp so he could teach everyone about coding. At 17, Stephen is well on his way to creating apps through his knowledge of coding that was fostered as a freshman. It is kids like Stephen who are breaking the mold of being a consumer of innovation, and being a creator of innovation!

So, the next time your team sits down to review a roll out of devices, remember the most important part in the equation… the students! What do you want students to know, learn, and experience?



Preparing for Kindergarten (219:365)



In a few short weeks, we will open our school to the new Kindergartners. So what does the future hold for these little guys and gals? Well, let’s take a look a few important dates in their life….


They will graduate high school in the spring of 2027! If they attend college, they will graduate in 2032 or 2033. Hopefully, they will be able to peruse their life’s passion and begin a career that will most likely span several different jobs (many of which do not exist right now), and retire at the ripe age of 65 in the year …. 2074! Hopefully, I can attend one of their retirement parties. I will only be 100 years old!


With all of that said, what type of Kindergarten experience do we need to create in order for them to get started in right direction? Here are a few enduing understandings that could serve them well in life:

  • Collaboration is key – No matter what happens in school or in life, kids will need to know how to collaborate with others
  • Accessing resources – We, as the educators, do not have all the answers. We need to help these students understand how to use their resources. Everything will be at their fingertips
  • Find your passion! In my humble opinion, we should not be creating passive learners. We should find out early what these students want to learn and allow them explore. We should encourage innovation, and encourage them to not look at education or work as a “job” but rather a passion! They will be much happier!
  • Make stuff – Learning should be messy. Kids should tinker. Kids should make things, read things, count things, and play outside


Not sure about you, but all of that sounds really awesome… I can’t wait to they enter our school! We have a lot to learn from each other.

Stretch yourself (218:365)



Life presents us with challenges… Sometimes we face big challenges, and other times they may be small. Those who practice growth mindset see all challenges the same… an opportunity.

A great deal of the most successful people in this world have engaged in “playing up” or stretching.  Playing up/stretching is when an individual takes on a challenge that is above their current level. For instance, if you want to be better in baseball, you choose to play in a higher league with faster pitchers, better hitters, etc. Eventually, with the hard work and determination needed, you can elevate your play (or your craft) to meet and exceed those in the league.


This can be true as you seek to find a new job or a career. Does it matter that you may not have the experience? If you are willing to learn and stay true to your values, you can surprise yourself. Think about it.. everyone at one time had no experience.


The next time you are in a situation and you want to grow, try to “play up” or stretch yourself. You will be glad you did.



Back-To-School Dreams (217:365)

For many school districts in the USA, August has become either the actual Back-To-School (as many districts have already begun the school year), or the long wait for the new school year. There are trends (and I am not talking fashion here) that have emerged about August that are spreading throughout social media. I have seen countless posts about the school year that paint a very interesting picture. There are two camps forming. One that look forward to the return of the school year, and one that dreads it. Which camp are you in? Which camp does your prospective student or parent want you in?


In my opinion, the teachers who are most noteworthy are those who charge back with positive energy, and excitement for the new year to begin. These are the same teachers who most likely tried to grow over the summer by learning something new, or simply prepared to get better. They are excited to meet their new students and parents.


Unfortunately, there are those teachers who feel proud that they did “nothing” over the summer. They come back on the first contractual day, and scoff at the fact of engaging with their colleagues in professional development because they would rather just set up their rooms. They are preparing themselves at the last minute for the “inevitable.” How sad.


How are you going to spend your August? Preparing for excitement of the opportunities that lie ahead? Or dreading the arrival of your first day? It’s your choice :)

Do you regularly do something out of your comfort zone? (216:365)



Do you regularly do something out of your comfort zone? Maybe I should ask, when was the last time you did something out of your comfort zone?

For instance, most of us wake up the same time, maintain the same morning routine, and even drive to work the same way everyday. Most people park in the same spot when they go to their job, and so on and so on. Routines help us develop a comfort zone, and after some time, these routines end up consuming what we do.

Successful people regularly do things out of their comfort zones. Here are some of their activities:

  • Read books outside of their normal genre
  • Travel to new places
  • Attend conferences to learn from others
  • Try new food
  • Play
  • Learn from others in a new social group

This is not an exhaustive list by no means, and there are many ways that successful people get out of their comfort zones…. What do you do?