Who inspires you? Hopefully your PLN (257:365)

Connected Leadership One of the hallmark benefits of social media, specifically twitter, is the establishment of the Personal Learning Network (PLN). With the click of a mouse you have instant access to educators throughout the world. I often say to people, “Oh, I have a friend in Colorado that opened a school, or I know a really good principal in Wisconsin (Actually I know several).”


I think some of my friends and family think it is strange that I “know” someone far across the country, but I do. More importantly, you can too.The PLN is an essential aspect to fostering a community of like-minded people around the globe. Another awesome benefit is that these good people inspire me! Whether they are posting a video, or participating in a twitter chat, or writing a blog post, I find myself a click away from being inspired.

Here are some of the people who inspire me to be better!

Peter DeWitt – If it wasn’t for Peter, I would not be where I am. He was a great principal, and is now a presenter, blogger, and consultant helping other educators be awesome

Eric Sheninger – Has blazed a trail for educators to connect and support each other. Taught us how to brand a school, and has inspired countless educators to become Digital Leaders

Kelly Tenkley – Kelly started her own school, blogs all the time, and is a wonderful resource

Thad Haines – Thad combines cross fit, mountain biking, and being a school leader like none other

Jeff Carpenter – Jeff is an awesome Professor in North Carolina. He is engaged in cutting edge research, connecting with other learners, and inspiring pre-service teachers

Daniel Krutka – Dan is  awesome Professor in Texas. Dan coordinates twitter chats, tweet-ups and inspires higher ed and K-12 through his involvement with Edcamps

Jessica Johnson – Jessica is an elementary Principal in Wisconsin. She is the co-host of the PrincipalPLN podcast, and is a tremendous blogger

Theresa Stager – Theresa is a K-8 principal in Michigan. She is also a co-host on PrincipalPLN podcast, is a voxer queen, and an amazing connector

Amber Teamann – Despite being a Cowboys fan, Amber is an ultra positive Vice Principal in Texas. She is a sought after presenter

Melinda Miller – Melinda has an innovative approach to educational leadership as an Elementary Principal. She blogs, tweets and inspires her school in Missouri

Brad Gustafson – Brad is an elementary principal in Minnesota. He has a creative, unique and always positive approach to school leadership

Ben Gilpin – Ben is an elementary principal in Michigan. He is a great presenter, and inspires many through his school blog

Curt Rees – Curt is an elementary principal in Wisconsin. Besides being a recess kickball legend, Curt is a blogger, podcaster, and technology guru


Each one of these amazing educators assisted me, and inspired me to write my first book Connected Leadership: It’s a Click Away. They are all featured in the book and I could not have done it without them! Please be sure to connect with them and make them part of your PLN!


I have learned so much from them, and they are all valuable resources 🙂

Put kids first! (256:365)

source: www.puttingourkidsfirst.com.au

source: www.puttingourkidsfirst.com.au

I truly believe that if you are going to be successful in education you have to start by putting kids first. It almost seems cliche, but it shouldn’t. We are in the business of teaching kids. Sure, there are plenty of plans, initiatives, and directives that are required, but they should be working to help us achieve our goal…. putting kids first!


The next time you wonder or ponder if you made the right decision, or you are unsure of a particular direction in the classroom, school or district, answer these few questions, and chances are you will be OK:

  • How does this decision impact the kids?
  • What are the long term benefits for the kids?
  • Have I considered asking a kid about a program or initiative?
  • Will this (insert question, idea here) help to create a learning environment that fosters a positive experience for kids?


Listen at your next meeting or event… See who mentions the kids, and thank them.


Curriculum as the foundation (255:365)

source: caseygsteachers.edublogs.org

source: caseygsteachers.edublogs.org

The modern day principal (insert: lead learner, instructional leader, etc, etc) wears a myriad of hats. One of the most important aspects to our job is monitoring and understanding the curriculum. The curriculum sets standards to which the students learn information and how the teachers teach that information. This leads me to a few questions for you to ponder (no matter your position):

  • How well do you (as principal) understand the curriculum being taught in your school?
  • How well does your principal know your curriculum?
  • What role does the lesson plan play in setting the stage for the curriculum?
  • How familiar are you (teacher and principal) with the standards?
  • How do you measure the effectiveness of the curriculum?

One of the reasons I am blogging about this topic is because I feel I need to place a greater emphasis on it myself. This year I will be working on a system to help support teachers and students understand the connections between the curriculum and their lesson plans, formative and summative assessments, as well as innovations such as genius hour, climate and culture, staff meetings, PLCs, and technology. I want everyone (students included) to get caught in the spiderweb of connections and bring the curriculum alive. How will I do this? Well, first things first, I will take out the i and replace it with WE!


We started out the year planning the cycle of assessments, and benchmarks with the instructional coach, teachers, supervisors, and district administration. We looked at the school year month by month and analyzed staff meetings, grade level meetings as well as assessment cycles, and professional development. We then began to plug in various activities that would assist teachers in reflecting on this information along the way. Once everything is finalized, we will share the outline with the teachers, students and parents to begin the process of  working collaboratively and taking it to the next level. It will be (and has to be) a team effort.


With the advent of technology, there are so many opportunities to enhance the knowledge of the curriculum. We plan to use tools to convey the message of curriculum to the stakeholders. For instance, our already established blog could be used to communicate important aspects of the curriculum. As students and teachers “unpack” standards they could easily make short videos to share with the school community. Perhaps we could make an app for each grade level curriculum. As an administrator, walkthroughs, lesson plan checks, and observations could be brought together under an umbrella using tools such as prezi, or mind mapping software. The possibilities are literally endless.


This approach to bringing the curriculum alive will have enormous benefits for the school community and will bring the curriculum (and learning) to forefront… What do you think?

Remembering September 11, 2001(254:365)

source: atlasshruggedtoday.wordpress.com

source: atlasshruggedtoday.wordpress.com

I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was teaching at a school in Camden when I heard the news. We didn’t have any TV’s in the school and this was before people had smart phones. It felt a bit like War of the Worlds. I only had a radio to listen to, and my imagination. It was scary. Real scary.


We had an early dismissal that day, and I rushed home. Once I got home I could finally watch the images, and I tried to piece together the story. My brother-in-law was right there. He worked in World Trade Center 7. He had to evacuate and was one of those people you saw on the news with the dust all over them. I couldn’t watch it for a long time. I went for a run and contemplated life. I wondered if this was the beginning of the end. I felt hopeless. It was quite and sunny. Really sunny that day. This was way before my kids were born. Before I was a Dad. My wife and I talked about it. We talked with our friends. No planes in the sky.


It got easier. The US really came together, and on September 12 we began to feel united. That was a great feeling. We slowly began to have hope. A year later I was in a different school and we had a very touching ceremony in the football stadium. We dedicated a plaque to the school. Each year that passed it got easier and easier. But I have never forgotten. Never will.

Newsletters made easy (253:365)

source: letterpop.com

source: letterpop.com

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)

source: edtechreview.in

source: edtechreview.in

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)

source: www.livebinders.com

source: www.livebinders.com

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
source: www.productionsolutions.com

source: www.productionsolutions.com

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!