Educators: Do you know about VUCA? Here is why you need to ASAP!

How many times during the COVID 19 Pandemic have you heard this phrase, “We are living in unprecedented times.” No truer words have been spoken. Our entire world has been impacted and we are going to need our educational institutions to be prepared with a different way of doing things.

We were warned about this by thought leaders and future thinking writers. In fact, over the past few decades, as we finally started transitioning into the 21st Century, schools began integrating higher order thinking, problem solving, technology and cooperative learning. We shifted our mindset about education.  Without knowing it, we were experiencing VUCA.

According to Mindtools, “VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. It describes the situation of constant, unpredictable change that is now the norm in certain industries and areas of the business world. VUCA demands that you avoid traditional, outdated approaches to management and leadership, and day-to-day working.

The term VUCA goes back to 1987 and was developed on the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nannis. The characteristics of a VUCA world is an environment that requires you to react quickly, take action in uncertainty, is a dynamic experience and is unfamiliar. Doesn’t this sound like the past year?


So how does this impact schools? 

I know what some of you might be thinking…. Not another acronym. We are filled with ACRONYMS in education. Yes we are but VUCA may just be the acronym we need to become fully ensconced in the 21st century. Kids have been telling us for years… they are bored in school and take too many tests and there is little real world connections to their learning.

Our education organizations need to be poised with the ability to do the following:

  • Volatility – Respond quickly and efficiently to an event or series of events that can impact our schedule. For instance, everyone is on their device and the internet goes down. What do we do? The best solution is to be transparent and upfront about the situation and how it was handled. We also need to have a plan B, C, D.
  • Uncertainty – We have been living in uncertain times for sure. How long will this pandemic go on? Social unrest? Stock markets? etc. etc and the list goes on. How do we prepare? One suggestion is to assemble a leadership team with members who operate with a growth mindset and are problem solvers.  The days of the “boss” and “manager” are over. We need to have equal voices to solve some of these issues that we didn’t even knew existed!
  • Complexity – We make decisions all the time. There are days when we make 100 decisions before noon. This can be challenging. How do we revisit “tried and true” or “we have always done it this way” thinking? For instance, we have learned that “school” and “learning” can take place anytime or anywhere, so does it make sense to have 180 days of school each year? What are the implications of revisiting of these complex decisions? According to the experts, we do not need people to make complex decisions more complex due to their fixed mindset thinking.
  • Ambiguity – We have developed a schooling process that is sequential and precise. We value organization of learning, increments of time, and building blocks of knowledge. We know that is not necessarily how the world works but it is easier (or so we thought). Rigid structures in an ambiguous world will not stand. Again, look at the schedule of learning over the year. Districts have used hybrid, online, remote, and in-person interchangeability based on the situations. Some people have really struggled with this because they think that school should be ________ (fill in the blank).

As schools learn more about VUCA, there will significant gains in our effectiveness to provide a relevant, flexible educational experience for our communities. There will be messy times filled with challenges where we will make a lot of mistakes along the way, but isn’t that one of things that characterizes learning?

What do you think? Be sure to leave a comment.

Want to learn more? 

About the Author

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership: It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is an Adjunct Faculty member in the Masters of School Administration Program He is featured in Twinkl’s 30 Education Influencers You Need to Follow and Klear’s Top Ten Middle School Influencers. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter, YouTubeLinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.

Ground Yourself With This Simple Exercise

Ever feel like your anxiety is rising? Maybe you are nervous of a difficult conversation or activity? Or you want to do something to keep yourself grounded each day? This simple exercise can help bring some balance to your day and it only takes a few minutes.

In this post I will give you step by step directions on how to give yourself a much needed hug. Did you know that you could even give yourself a hug? If this exercise works for you, it could be transformational in your mindfulness practice.

Give Yourself a Hug

  1. Find a comfortable seat in a chair with feet on the floor and have your feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Take your arms and extend out in front of you.
  3. Interlock your fingers (right hand over your left).
  4. Pull your interlocked fingers back to your chest.
  5. Cross your feet (right over left)
  6. Breath in for a count of four.
  7. Breath our for a count of six.
  8. Repeat at least three times.
  9. Unlock your hands and feet. Place your hands on your lap and breath three more times.
  10. Variation – After finishing the right over the left you can repeat this exercise with the left hand and foot over the right hand and foot.

What is happening when I give myself the hug?

This meditative practice creates an opportunity for your parasympathetic nervous system to calm you down. Practicing this exercise also allows your brain to access a cross limbic experience due to the arms and fingers being twisted. Lastly, the breathing helps to signal your brain and body that it is time to calm down (which is why it is much more effective to tell someone to breath than to calm down or relax).


At first it is going to feel really awkward. There are many variations you can use to modify if you can not interlock your fingers. You can extend your arms and put your right hand over your left and when you pull back put your right hand near your left shoulder and your left hand near your right shoulder.

I use this exercise in my daily gratitude practice, when I am stressed or when facing a stressful situation. It can be done anywhere and only takes a few minutes but the effects can be lasting.

Give yourself a hug and let me know how it goes!

About the Author 

Spike Cook, Principal, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership: It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. He is featured in Twinkl’s 30 Education Influencers You Need to Follow and Klear’s Top Ten Middle School Influencers. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter, LinkedInFacebook or Instagram.

Dealing With a Difficult Person? Try This Exercise

Take a few moments and think about someone who is causing stress in your life. It could be a family member, irate customer, someone who cut you off in traffic, or maybe even a coworker. Have you identified this person? I am sure it didn’t take long. Ok now you have the person in you mind, what I am going to show you could transform the way you view them.

Compassion Exercise

I learned of the Compassion Exercise from a Professional Development workshop by Dr. Aili Pogust. She was presenting to our staff about stress management. In the exercise, she asked us to identify someone that was a trigger for us and causing stress in our lives. She then had us spend some time writing about the person and reflecting on the impact they were having on our lives. Then she handed us these cards:

Just like me, this person is seeking some happiness in their life

Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in their life

Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair

Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfill their needs

Just like me, this person is learning about life ~Dr. Aili Pogust

We read through the cards and then she asked us to go back to that person who was causing the stress and anxiety in our life. We were then directed to read the statements while thinking about this person…… Wow, what a simple exercise with such powerful results.

Personally, I walked away from this exercise hopeful of how I could use this in my life. I began to integrate this into my daily morning exercises as I saw how it could complement my work on gratitude and mediation. This daily work on my personal triggers was transformational. I began to see others in such a different light.

On Being Triggered 

Something I have learned from this work is that our triggers are very powerful. If we take responsibility for them, we can stop giving others all of this power over us. Let’s face it, as people trigger us they walk away and keep going with their life. We are left holding that baggage that manifests in stress, anxiety and frustrated. So stop giving these people all of this power!

Reflect on this….

  1. We all get triggered
  2. It is not the responsibility of the person who triggered us, it is our responsibility
  3. We have to deal with what is in front of us whether we caused it or not
  4. Our triggers are our responsibility

Important Note: This is not about forgiveness or condoning other’s behavior

Please be clear that this exercise is about you, not the other person/people. There are some people out there who have done awful things to us. In fact, this exercise is not about forgiveness either. You do not need to forgive or forget things that people have done to you. I recommend in dealing with trauma in your life to work with a certified therapist.

Changes to come 

These changes will not come overnight but I can tell you from my experience they will quickly cause you to look at people (and situations) very differently. This is why I wanted to share this exercise. If I can implement it and change the way I view those who trigger me, you can too.

Let me know how this helps you. Comment below. I am looking forward to learning from you 🙂

About the Author 

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership: It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. He is featured in Twinkl’s 30 Education Influencers You Need to Follow and Klear’s Top Ten Middle School Influencers. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.

Maintaining Balance for Learning During Crazy Times: A Thoughtful Guide for Parents and Educators

In honor of November being the month of Gratitude, Dr. Aili Pogust and Dr. Spike Cook will be hosting a 5 part weekly series on maintaining balance during these crazy times. There is no cost for the workshop and if you are interested you can sign up here. We are asking those who are interested to attend all 5 sessions. 

Promo Video 

About the series 
Is what you have been doing to maintain your balance working for you these days? You are living in a crazy time. Perhaps you’ve noticed that you can no longer follow the paths to which you’ve been accustomed. Creating new paths, however, requires a better awareness of how the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of your life need to remain balanced.

Your children and your students are counting on that. Before you can help them you have to help yourself. This workshop will offer you some thoughtful tools to get started. In closing, here’s something to consider. Our western culture has focused intensely on the physical and mental aspects of our lives. Notice if you have an urge to attend only a select date. What might that be saying about your state of balance?

Dates and times 
Tuesday on November 10, 17, 24, December 1, 8 (2020) Time: 7:00 PM EST – 8:00 PM EST (Zoom link will be provided to those who register.) Register here. Registration ends November 9 at 10:00 PM. 

Overview of each week 
November 10

  • You will assess how you currently utilize the four aspects of your life physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. You will also learn and practice a four-step balancing process: Set intention. Self assess. Select options. Survey progress.

November 17

  • You will learn and practice tools to balance your physical body. Application to children/students will be explored.

November 24

  • You will learn and practice tools to balance your emotional body. Application to children/students will be explored.

December 1 

  • You will learn and practice tools to balance your mental body. Application to children/students will be explored.

December 8

  • You will learn and practice tools to balance your spiritual body. Application to children/students will be explored.

Register here for the series

About the Presenters
Dr. Aili Pogust 
Aili has been an educator for over 40 years. She has taught elementary, middle and high school grades as well as graduate school. As an educational trainer, consultant and coach she has focused her work with educators on supporting effective practices in teaching literacy, communicating well and infusing curriculum with the social/emotional aspects of learning. Her focus as an educator is centered on the process of learning rather than the process of schooling. Aili received her doctorate from Temple University. She authored the book entitled: Communicating With Clarity: A Pocket Guide for Humans.   Aili is the co-founder of The Pogust Group: Mining the Gems of Human Potential

Dr. Spike Cook
Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

The Greatest Job in Education

principalcastTonight on the PrincipalCast podcast we will be discussion the greatest job in education…. the principal…

Why is the principal the greatest job in education?

What do principal’s do all day?

Do we really need principals?

Join us for the discussion on why we feel the principal is the greatest job in education….


We (Jessica Johnson, Theresa Stager and Dr. Spike Cook) love our jobs because we get to:

  • Work with dedicated professionals who are committed to educating our youth
  • Interact with students (learners) who have the capacity to transcend obstacles and love coming to school
  • Collaborate with community members to improve the area surrounding the school
  • Watch students collaborate, question and connect
  • Listen to students creating music
  • Watch students creating art
  • Provide the opportunity for learning new ideas
  • Be the cheerleader, coach, leader, and model for an entire school


Want to add to the list? Challenge it?


Tune in tonight to 



A special guest on the next PrincipalCast Podcast…


Have you heard the PrincipalCast Podcast? We’ve recorded 5 episodes now on the following topics:

#1 Social Media and Facebook

#2 Social Media in the School District

#3 You know you’re a connected educator when…

#4 Observing and Evaluating Teachers in the 21st Century 

#5 Evaluations and Observations

You can find PrincipalCast on iTunes or on Stitcher/Beyond Pod for Android.  If you watch us live (Sundays at 8:30pm CST) on you can also chat with us in the live chat box or using the twitter hashtag #principalcast.

This Sunday we are inviting our first guest to the show and we are going all out by having Todd Whitaker join us.  We are excited to talk to him about his newest book coming out this month, The Secret Solution. Do you have a question you want us to ask him? Share your question with us HERE.

What’s your decision making color?

Leaders are required to make decisions. Each decision, no matter how big or small, has an impact on the organization. It is crucial for leaders to understand their decision making color. Reflection on these colors (and their attributes) may help as you continue (or embark) on your leadership decision making  journey.





What is opaque? According to, opaque is defined as “not allowing light to pass through” and “hard to understand.” Is your decision making color opaque? If you do not share information with your colleagues, make decisions without the input of others, or attempt to build WALLS between you and those impacted by the decisions, then your color is opaque.


Impact on Leadership – Leadership can be a lonely place, but it doesn’t have to be. Granted, there are times that you are required to make decisions because you are the leader (sans input from others) yet are you able to explain why you made a certain decision? In order to overcome being opaque, it is important to seek advice from others, build a collective efficacy where stakeholders are involved, and be able to articulate decisions once they are made. Opaque leaders are viewed as shady, untrustworthy and unapproachable. Is this how you want to be viewed?





What is translucent? According to, translucence is “permitting light to pass through, but diffusing it so that persons, objects, etc., on the opposite side are not clearly visible.” Is your decision making color translucent? If you veil your decisions in an attempt to be honest and forthright, but ensure to leave mystique in decision making (or decision articulation) you may be translucent.


Impact on Leadership – Leaders have a tendency to want to be an open book, but may have difficulty with truly being open. The more leaders expose, as some may fear, they more they could be criticized or questioned. Translucent decision making provides others with the appearance of being open and honest, but are unable to fully commit. Decisions, in a translucent environment, are focused on the dichotomy of open access and veiled secrecy. Although translucent leaders are more open than opaque leaders, they may struggle with allowing others to get in too close, or feel that since they are in the leadership seat, they should make the decisions.




Source: theqlikviewblog/tags/transparency

What is transparency? According to, transparency is, “easily seen through, recognized, or detected: transparent excuses.” Think you are transparent? If you are able to articulate your decisions in an open, public forum and allow others to see through your decisions so that all questions are answered, you are probably transparent.


Impact on Leadership – Those leaders seeking to be progressive, data-driven strive to be transparent. For too long, organizations (insert any and all) have had trouble “opening up the books” and allowing others to see in. Transparent leaders are able to make decisions within a shared governance paradigm, and can explain rationale on their decision making. As the graphic on transparency illuminates, it is important to have the organization climate focused on transparency. Simply put… Keep it clear, and process-centered and allow others to see everything.


What’s your decision making color?

Let’s talk about …. Cheese!

As I was driving into work last week, I was thinking about our final staff meeting of the school year. I had an agenda, and was fully prepared to carry out the agenda. Then I thought about all of the changes facing my school next year: Model Curriculum (NJ’s transition to the Common Core), Model Assessments (NJ’s transition to the PARCC), new teacher evaluation, new principal evaluation, increased state monitoring of student data and not to mention any other changes that we would want to address our own, unique needs. Then it hit me… A great clip to show the staff (and myself included) would be the classic video, Who Moved My Cheese? based off the book by Dr. Spencer Johnson.


After the clip concluded, the staff actually began to clap. In talking about the clip, I stressed that I too have had my cheese moved and that next year we will all be in the maze… together. Throughout the rest of the week, teachers referenced cheese moving…


As you think of next year, what cheese has been moved? How will you deal with this change? Do you have a person definition of how you deal with change?



The end is coming…

summer sunYes, the end is coming to  the 2012-13 school year. We are in our last days. We are so close….. so why does that matter?


I feel the traditional school year (based on the agrarian calender) is antiquated and I am not alone in this thinking. For many students we provide something they are not getting at home, or in their community… What a juxtaposition… In a few short weeks teachers and administrators will be cheering, celebrating, and making their summer plans a reality…. and many students will be sad, upset, and realizing their summer will pale in comparison to the school year. Sad isn’t it.

I certainly do not have the answers but I sure do have a lot of questions as to why we continue to follow this antiquated system.


– Do we make school calender decisions based on our needs, or student learning needs?

– Could we restructure the school year to build in more time for students (Currently we have 180 days beginning in September and ending in June, can we get everything accomplished during this time?)

– Does the current calender maximize student and teacher effectiveness? (I hear a LOT of chatter about burn-out during certain times of the year)

– If given the opportunity to restructure the calender, what would YOU suggest? What are some other states, countries doing to maximize their calenders?


Let’s discuss… I’ve got all summer 🙂






We can do better…

Our school recently participated in the annual state testing of students in grades 3, 4 and 5. I noticed after the first day was complete that we had a lot “free” time in the afternoon. Not to mention, there were a fair share of kids who ended up in my office for discipline related issues that emerged from…. you guessed it…. “free time.”


Considering the fact that the actual assessments were only about 90 minutes (at the most) I was a bit dismayed at the lack of structure after the testing. I heard a lot of comments such as “they need a break,” “this testing is overwhelming,” and even “these kids can’t take anything more today.” I sent out a blanket email detailing my expectations, and highlighting what I valued. This whole situation took me back to my first year of teaching when I learned a valuable lesson about how we can do better.



I was finishing up my first marking period and I had to get my grades finished. In order to accomplish this task I put in the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about fall, Halloween or anything other than keeping the kids occupied so I could get my work completed. I needed time. My mentor, a fantastic, passionate teacher who I admired, asked me about the movie I was showing. I told him that I really needed to get my grades finished. He was understanding, but then he said something to me that I will never forget. He said, “I really hate it when my son comes home and tells me that he just watched a movie in school. I really think, as educators, that we can do better than that. These kids can watch movies anytime, we should be able to do more.” That was like a dagger through my heart. Ouch. He was right. We can do better.


Since that time I have never showed a mindless movie, and refuse to allow it as an administrator. I firmly agree with my mentor…. we can do better. Sure, kids can watch movies that are connected to the curriculum, or even parts of movies but we should always make sure that what we do is connected. We should always be raising the rigor, extending the line, raising the bar. Always! We can do better!


So what happened the rest of the week? Honestly, I saw more engagement, projects and even more of what I had seen before we started the assessments. I had to have some conversations with teachers about my expectations and why I feel so passionately that we need to continue to send the right message to the students, parents and community. I know some of the teachers were not happy with me and I understand. I was there before and I am so thankful that someone challenged me to keep the bar raised high! We can do better! 


We can do better!