The Digital Footprint (90:365)

Imagine everything you have ever said or done being available for all to see? This could be a scary or enlightening experience, especially if you didn’t know it was happening.

(Source: Common Sense Media)

The digital footprint will capture everything that is put into the web. Once we understand this, and no matter the platform, it makes things a lot easier. Develop a positive digital footprint and it could help someone land the job or career they have always desired. Develop a negative digital footprint, and it could prevent someone from achieving their goals.


Your choice!

Are you managing decline? (89:365)



Oh, is that a tough question. Are you managing decline? Most likely, as a leader, if you are managing decline then you might not even know it. Hopefully this post will shed some light on why you might be doing more to damage your organization then you think.


Like the way things are? Think that change is “too much” for your organization? Attend meetings and come back to your division and try to make things easier for your people? Don’t see how the 21st century is vastly different from the 20th? Want to just clock in and out? Still following the directives of your predecessor? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be managing decline.


Competition permeates throughout every organization. For instance, think Health Care providers want to be average? Well, chances are you wouldn’t want to take your insurance money back if you felt they were not top notch. You want to find the best, because it’s your health. Or, how about your cell phone (personal learning device)? Are you OK with average speed? Since there are so many “competitors” out there, chances are the next time you purchase a cell phone, if you do not think the company is striving to provide you with the best product, you will go somewhere else. Are schools any different?




Schools are no different. In fact, the stakes are getting high in the competition for students. Parents, armed with their perceptions or analysis of data, are making choices of where to send their children. Think they want to send their kids to a school where the leader is viewed as “managing decline”? Not anymore! Not with all of the options out available to them.


By maintaining the status quo, you are managing decline. You stay the same and everyone else is working to improve and stay competitive. The world is changing rapidly. So if you keep your classroom, school, or district the “same” you are actually declining. When you analyze your school, what are your doing to improve technology, customer service, appearance, before/after school offerings, social media, devices, student learning, teacher learning, leader learning, assessment results, discipline and the list goes on and on.

Continuous improvement? Or Continuous decline? Which do you want to “manage”?

Define World Class (88:365)



We all want our schools to be world class (Well, at least I hope we do). What does this actually mean? Who can articulate it? Can students? Parents? Teachers? Custodians? Secretaries? At our school we are embarking on a project to define the meaning of a world class school. We want it to be able to be articulated by the aforementioned members of the school community.


In researching this topic, I came across a blog post by Brad Feld, managing director at Foundry Group. He wrote a blog post a few years ago about this very question. He challenged all of the definitions that people gave about their world class status. He challenged the readers to be able to articulate the meaning more then “we suck less then our competitors.”


So what does “world class school” mean to you? Is it a journey or a destination? Help us define it, because eventually we plan to be there….

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

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Write through it (85:365)



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)



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.