Newsletters made easy (253:365)



I needed a make over on the newsletters for my school. I’m not a graphic designer, and I needed something that could be utilized in several different areas. Even though we use social media at our elementary school, I still feel it is important to send home printed newsletters. I also think that emailing, pinning, tweeting and facebooking a newsletter is extremly important.


Enter Letterpop.


Letterpop is an easy to use newsletter builder that allows you to print, email, and post to social media outlets. A basic subscription is less than 5 dollars a year (and schools can get a yearly subscription for less than 40 dollars). It is so easy to use. You literally create, publish and share. There are so many templates to choose from, and if you are interested you can build one yourself. So, the next time you are looking to make something pop…. try Letterpop!

Here is the introductory video

Reading Principally (252:365)

enemy pieOne of my personal goals this year is to read to every classroom at least 4 times. The first book I chose to read was Enemy Pie. I was exposed to this book through Joe Sanfelippo, a connected Superintendent from Wisconsin, who visited my school last year.

Joe delivered the book unlike anyone I have seen. That’s right, he didn’t read it, he delivered it. After seeing him, I made a promise to myself that I would one day do the same. I asked Joe how he was able to deliver the book so passionately and he said, “I had a lot of practice. I read it to kids all the time, and then started to memorize it.” Honestly, when he told me that I was a little taken back….. Guess what, as an elementary principal, I rarely read to kids, and I fancied myself as the “lead learner.”


So I am reading Enemy Pie and working on my delivery, and once I have it down, I will move onto the next book and the next. If I want the teachers and students to be steeped in reading, I know I need to be in the classroom….. reading principally!


Check out Joe delivering Enemy Pie

What type of trail are you willing to build? (251:365)



This post is inspired by one of my favorite bloggers/writers/entrepreneurial thinkers Seth Godin. In his post, Are you willing to build a trail? Seth asks some really interesting questions in a help wanted ad. Seth is asking the right questions, and I wanted to see if this could apply in education. Here are my questions….

Tell us about your personal website

Show us some examples of lessons that had an impact on student learning

What are you passionate about? How would you use that to make the school better?

Tell us about a blog post that changed the way you look at an issue. How did you share this with others?

Have you created anything on You Tube or Vimeo that is worth watching?

What is your favorite hashtag on twitter? What’s your favorite twitter chat you learn from?


Here are some things to ponder…

How would you respond to this ad?

What type of school would ask these questions?

What are you doing to create a positive digital portfolio (trail)?


Thanks for the inspiration, Seth!!!!

So, what’s your passion, Dr. Cook? (250:365)



The other day I was leading a staff team building session on Genius Hour (I blogged about it here and here). After everyone reported out, one of the teachers asked, “What is your passion, Dr. Cook?” Right on, I thought. Great question.


What is my passion? I can honestly say that my passion has changed and developed over the years. I used to love running. I would integrate running into my lessons when I was teaching. I read everything I could about running. I even worked at a running store on the weekends to become more engaged in the running community. I ran a marathon, 10 K’s, 5 K’s, and I even did a triathlon. Then I got hurt and I could’t run as much. I went back to graduate school, and my passion changed.


So what are my passion interests now? Thankfully, my passions are in line with my profession. I am really passionate about the following:

  • Blogging
  • Writing
  • Podcasting
  • Speaking
  • Presenting
  • Movie Making
  • Comedy
  • Learning


For my Genius Hour project, I am going to start a podcast for our school district. To me, doing another podcast is not “extra work” but rather it is a passion. When I am podcasting, it doesn’t feel like work! I love talking with people, laughing, and learning about their passions. I have a lot to learn about podcasting because I have only hosted a show. I have never made intros, and outros. I’ve never edited and uploaded a show to the various sites. Who knows where this will lead? I am hoping that others will be able to use the podcast to share their passions, and maybe someone will even start their own!


Thinking about starting your own Genius Hour? Start with finding your passion. See how it relates to making your job better. Take a leap and get started!

The Principles for Principal Safety (249:365)

Design by Chris Nesi

Design by Chris Nesi

The PrincipalPLN tackled one of those subjects that are not usually listed at the top of our job description…. school safety. Unfortunately, in this day and age, we are required to plan for weather, fire, intrusion, bombs, shooting, and other catastrophes. Surely not a fun topic to discuss, but one that is ever present in our life.


In this podcast, we just skim the surface of the safety issues. One of the most interesting things that came up in the poscast was the fact that different parts of the country have to plan for different things. In the East Coast we have to plan for hurricanes, and in the Midwest they have to plan for tornadoes.




Check out the podcast and let us know how we can expand this for a future show


Passion based learning (248:365)

photo 2 (40)Part 2

The other day I blogged about using a team building exercise to help staff share their passions. So what did this activity produce? In my humble opinion, teachers have a greater understanding for how their passion is not something they should check at the front door of the school.

Many teachers reported to me that they are excited to share their passions with the children. I look forward to seeing some projects such as:

  • TED talks for kids
  • Comedy channel, or even a comedy night
  • Knitting
  • Formal Tea
  • Student photography
  • and the list goes on and on!


photo 3 (34)The second part of the exercise was to begin a process of working with the students on what THEY are passionate about.

As I walked around the classrooms during the first two days, I saw so many cool activities that were designed to learn from the students such as:

  • (Older grades) writing about something they are interested
  • An icebreaker (our 5th grade did this) Truth, Truth, Lie – Kids had to interview each other and determine what was the truth and what was the lie.. Very cool!
  • One grade level took pictures of each student and they will be writing about their passions
  • Another grade level recorded each student and will make a movie for Back to School Night
  • An idea that works well in the younger grades was the “Passion” bag – Teachers modeled this by bringing in their bag to present to the kids, and then they will be bringing in their bags!

So many great things, so many great ideas, and all of this is designed to help our students generate passion for learning (and some pretty cool genius hours). I look forward to reporting out more progress!

Exit Tickets at Staff Meetings (247:365)



I know that teachers use exit tickets all the time. They try to determine what the students still need help with or are having trouble understanding. I use exit tickets after the staff meetings to determine if the meeting was effective.


At the conclusion of every staff meeting we always do a Plus/Delta (Basically what we are trying to understand is what worked well in the meeting and what do we need to improve on). I have been using this type of exit ticket for the past few years. I always reflect on the Deltas to help improve the meeting for the next time. For instance, one of the Deltas for a staff meeting was the lack of chairs. Brilliant! I should know better to have enough chairs for everyone and especially if we have guests.


I also used another type of exit ticket this year. After we concluded with the Plus/Deltas, I asked the staff to write a concern or question that was still on their mind on a post-it. The questions I received were awesome! Honestly, there were certain things I obviously didn’t cover in the meeting, and there were other things I needed to clarify! Some of the questions I needed to get answered from the District, and others I was able to answer immediately. Then, I typed up all of the questions and answers from the Exit Tickets and emailed them to the staff!


Of course there are other “technology” based ways of using Exit Tickets at Staff Meetings such as:

  • Today’s Meet – You can easily accomplish Plus/Deltas and Exit tickets with this free source
  • Google Docs – You can easily make a Google doc for everyone to respond to and then sift through the data
  • Exit Ticket – Personalized feedback using a simple approach to data gathering


No matter how you choose to use the Exit Tickets, the important thing to understand is how important they are in being transparent, reflective, and mindful of the power of the room!

What are you passionate about? (246:365)


Developing a school culture where teachers know about each other’s passion, and the teachers know about the students’ passion is very critical. How do you accomplish this? In my opinion it begins with the school leader.



First and foremost, the school leader needs to know what each staff member is passionate about. Social media is a big help with this. For instance, becoming friends on Facebook allows you to see the posts, pictures, and videos of each other. As you see each other’s posts, then you can begin to see what each other is passionate about. In addition to social media, school leaders should spend time listening to staff. When you visit classrooms, or have informal conversations with your staff you need to be listening and asking questions.


Recently, I wanted to ensure that the staff knew about each other’s passion. I developed a team building exercise that was very simple, yet effective. Try it with your staff, and see what great things happen:

  • Assemble the staff into groups (I used grade levels)
  • Provide post-it notes and a large piece of paper for reporting out
  • Have everyone (individually) write down as many things as they are passionate about
  • Have everyone share out and make connections with each other
  • Since this activity was at the beginning of the year, I then asked them to develop a grade level approach to how they would learn about their student’s passion
  • Report out to the whole group


This activity went really well. Tomorrow I will blog more about the outcomes….

T’was the night before school (245:365)

Design by Chris Nesi

Design by Chris Nesi

Season 2 Episode 4 of the PrincipalPLN.

We came up with this idea because Jessica is starting her school year tomorrow. Of course she was in her office and preparing for the big day. Theresa, who had her first day last week, was able to share some of her insights on the summer and the beginning of the school year. As for me, I was taking notes because our school year officially begins on Thursday.

The most important takeaways from this podcast is how crucial staff development time and the first few days of school are to getting off on the right foot. If you want teachers to build rapport with students, then you need to provide time. If you want teachers to be prepared, then you need to provide time. If you want organic staff growth, then you need to provide time.

Once the school year starts, the Principal needs to spend time in the classrooms interacting with teachers and kids. Jessica shared some really cool ideas on books to read in classrooms the first week of school (HERE.)


Check out the podcast:

What is Labor Day? (244:365)



In short, Labor Day is the celebration of the American Labor Movement. We began celebrating the holiday in 1882. At first it was hard to get people to celebrate because they worried about losing a day’s pay.

Why do we celebrate it is something to ponder… We celebrate it because we work, right? Actually by celebrating the holiday we are symbolically displaying our understanding that there is more to life then just work.

According to the History Channel,

“The average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages. People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.”


While we have our barbecues, put our white pants away, and prepare for school, remember why we celebrate they holiday. Take this day to spend time with family, friends, and loved ones. Then, it’s back to work tomorrow!


More information on Labor Day