There is a lot to laugh at (39:365)



Ask anyone who works for me what I enjoy most and you will most likely hear “he likes to laugh and he likes others to laugh.” After a rough day, week or even just to lighten things up, I seek laughter. Good laughter that does not come at the expensive of others (unless it is myself). I am so glad the staff I work with gets this about me. I truly believe if you can’t laugh at yourself, then there is nothing to laugh at.


Usually the staff will hear me say off the wall things to parents, teachers or students. For instance, this week they over heard me imitating a duck call for a parent of a student who was distracting others. Yes, I made the duck call. Or the other Spike-isms I have developed on the fly. I strive to be real and not have the air of a distant “school administrator.” When the day is over, I am a father, husband, friend, and jokester. I am a person!


So on Fridays, we love to hang out after dismissal and laugh! We laugh at each other, the silly things that happened during the week or crazy stuff I have done or said. It is therapeutic and necessary. It is a way to shake off the stress.


Laugh! Because there is a lot to laugh at!



Butt-ing in Line (38:365)



Ask any elementary principal this question and I can guess their answer, “Do you have problems with kids in lines?” I guarantee you that everyone will say YES! I was thinking about this today when I saw yet another write up of a kid in line.


No one likes when kids butt in line. When I was a kid I didn’t like it and I am sure you didn’t either. I talk to kids all the time about butting in line. I ask Why so often. Why do you care? Why do you butt? Why did you step on their toe? Why did you push him/her? It’s not like teachers aren’t teaching it because I see evidence of their efforts. Teachers in early grades practice standing in line. They try different combinations of the line. There are line leaders, tails, trails and the strong middle. Everyone has a place. Everyone will get a turn. Yet it goes on and on.


Fortunately, the older I get, the less I have to stand in line. I find myself in lines if I am going to a busy concert, sporting event or a supermarket before a snow. I am thankful I don’t have to sit in traffic because some of those lines are long! I have been more than annoyed at adults who just can’t wait their turn and butt in line. When this happens, I think of what I tell the kids and try to find peace with it.


Somewhere along the line (no pun intended) it stopped mattering….



Does size matter? (37:365)



Now that I have your attention… Does class size matter?


There has been an ongoing debate in education regarding class size. In researching for this post, there were many research articles that basically said size didn’t matter, and those who said it did. Want to read a book about the debate? Check out The Class Size Debate .


As I walk-through classrooms, I can see a distinct difference in classes that are in the 25 student range and those around 18. I use those numbers because in my building, I see a vast difference when class sizes reach 25. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the teacher is new, seasoned, focused on Math or LAL. They all report similar findings. Here are some of the responses, I have heard from teachers and students regarding higher class sizes.


Large class size

  • I don’t have as much time to spend individually with students  – Teacher 
  • My teacher always has to balance their time with all the other kids – Student
  • There are more disruptions – Both teacher and student

Smaller class size

  • I can help students who are struggling, and spend more time with them – Teacher 
  • My teacher can concentrate on me – Student
  • There are less disruptions – Both teacher and student

What is the magic number? Is it different for different types of schools? Ages? Does technology assist or detract in this debate?

It’s all about perspective (36:365)



No two people see a situation the same way. Unless we use the scientific method and eliminate variables, it is difficult to truly see the same thing. In education, there are many examples of how our perspective can impact others. For instance, take the perpetually “bad” student.   If an early grade teacher has a negative experience with a student, chances are they will let the next teacher know. Then, armed with that perspective,  they can choose to fulfill the perspective or change it. Guess what usually happens? You guessed it…. and it goes on and on…


As an educator, how do you eliminate variables or others’ perspective? How do you see things from your perspective?

Where is the student voice? (35:365)

We talk a great deal about students. We create charts on their performance, discuss trends in their achievement, differentiate their instruction, but when do we listen to what they have to say? Let’s be honest, we as educators get mad when “no one listens to us” and the politicians, administrators or even Boards of Education make decisions. Are we doing the same thing to students?


I recently read a great blog post that could assist teachers with listening to student voices. The post Share This With All the Schools, Please discusses a parent/teacher conference session that ended up revealing something interesting about the importance of listening to children. In the post, the author talks with a teacher about how to help her son (and herself too) with math. After the lesson, she asks the teacher about students and trust. The teacher goes on to tell her about something she does every week.


Every Friday afternoon Chase’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week. The children know that these requests may or may not be honored. She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.

And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, Chase’s teacher takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her and studies them. She looks for patterns.

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?

Who doesn’t even know who to request?

Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?

Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down- right away- who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.

– See more at:


According to the teacher, she has done this activity ever Friday since Columbine as a way to determine who in her class is isolated, alone, or just being overlooked.


Who is listening to your students’ voices?

Differentiation through Centers (34:365)

photo 3 (9)

Online programs such as SuccessMaker allow students to prepare for online assessments, receive differentiated common core based assistance, and increase student achievement

As we transition into 21st century learning, I see a purposeful trend emerging…. real “center” work. There are critics of “center” work because they feel that teachers can not control the learning. They claim that the variables are increased once the teacher is not at the center (no pun intended) of the instruction. I see something very different.


Purposeful centers in elementary school allow teachers to differentiate learning, integrate technology, and  even reach the goals of the common core. As teachers circulate throughout the room, or conference with individual students the learning opportunities become magnified. Students can work on projects collaboratively while other students could work on remediating their skills, while others can make connections to prior knowledge. To the casual observer, it may appear that the teacher is not “teaching” when in reality there are more engaged learning because it is personalized.



Guided differentiation can empower the learner

Guided differentiation can empower the learner

I do feel that whole group instruction is essential but I do not feel that teachers need to spend the entire lesson being the focal point of the learning. By empowering students to own their learning, and providing opportunity to do so in a purposeful manner, breaking students into “centers” can be an excellent opportunity.

Super Bowl: Winners and Losers (33:365)



In a few short hours approximately 140 million people from all over the world will watch Super Bowl 48. I will be one of them, but in doing research for this post, I came across some interesting statistics that made me feel we are not all winning with this game. I had to compare (some might say a major leap) this event with my occupation as a school principal.


The NFL is a “tax exempt” or non-profit league that generates about 10 billion dollars annually. In addition, when building their stadiums, tax payers (like you and I) have to foot the bill. An average stadium costs the tax payers about 200 million. Yikes. Not to mention the billions of dollars that the major networks pay to the NFL in order to broadcast these events makes me shake my head.


In education, we have been the subject of political, budgetary debates throughout the country. Teachers and administrators are often vilified in the press for their rising salaries, health care, work day, and even work year. School districts struggle to update, repair or (gasp) build new schools. The school I work in was built in 1929 and I am unable to have students with special needs, handicapped or temporarily handicapped (think: broken legs). The oldest NFL stadium was built in 1924 (Soldier Field) but was renovated in 2001-03 financed by, in large part, the taxpayers. Granted, the Chicago Bears will pay rent on the building, and like all of the big stadiums, the city will host other events that can generate money. Hey, I could start charging the local sports teams that use my gym on the weekend…. Hmmm?


So what is the message we are sending here? Who are the winners and losers?


Interesting article on NFL and taxes 

Go ahead and throw that snowball! (32:365)



Have I mentioned on this blog before how much I love my school? Well I do and it is because of the wonderful, creative minds on the staff that inspire me daily. Each month we have a Bear Bucks store for our PBIS program. Students who earn Bear Bucks for being safe, responsible, and respectful are given choices where they want to spend their bucks. We always have Bacon Bear gear in the store, or little trinkets for the kids. In addition, we have started to provide another choice…. the Bear Buck Challenge. Since we instituted the challenge, kids have been able to throw pies in my face, pick up rigatoni with spaghetti, and even blow bubbles across the gymnasium. We try to make the challenge something that kids will talk about, and look forward to participating in the following month. Part of the catch with this challenge, is that the kids have no idea what it will be. There is risk involved.




This month, our team came up with the “Winter Wonderland Challenge.” With all the snow that is still lying around our school, and rising temperatures (finally out of freezing) we set up 4 targets and allowed the kids to throw snowballs! How many schools actually let their kids throw snowballs? I know for a fact that no one ever encouraged them to throw a snowball on school property. I am sure in 85 years my school has been in session, many a kid got suspended for throwing snowballs. Well, when it is done in a structured manner, what is the harm? The kids (and the staff who participated) loved it! They were so excited. It wasn’t as easy as they thought because on 11 of the 80 who participated actually won. Once again, as a school we won! The challenge cost no money, and it just took a little outside the box thinking to institute.


For me the true test of the challenge was at dismissal. I stood at my normal post, and I saw kids running to their parents to talk about the challenge. “We actually were allowed to throw snowballs,” one kid said to their parent.


And not one student threw a snowball during dismissal.
Video of the Challenge: