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Showing posts from 2016

Day 9 (21 Days of Gratitude)

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I have been off the grid for three days with the Thanksgiving holiday, but that is no excuse.  I will be back to blogging my gratitude each evening.

In my writing and discussions in the past, I have talked about my educational heroes, and how they have shaped my educational beliefs.  These people are incredibly important to me, but they do not even come close to my true hero.  Many of you who have known me for a number of years have heard me talk about the influence that he has had on me; the guy is tremendous.  Simply stated, my dad is the hardest working and most knowledgeable person I have ever seen.

He has fixed my vehicles, catcher’s mitts, kitchen sinks, garage doors, and heaters more than I would like to admit.  A couple of years ago, I was having issues with my garage door, and to no surprise, I had to call him to save the day.  Afterwards, we spent about an hour talking in my driveway about the challenges of leadership.  My father worked at John Deere for more than 35 years,…

Day 8 (21 Days of Gratitude)

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A little more than three years ago, I was asked to serve on a grant writing committee that would put together what I was told would be something pretty special.  I am going to be completely honest when I say that I was a little skeptical about this entire process.  I have been told more times than I can count that a new committee, action team, or curricular implementation is destined to be the next big thing.  I accepted the offer to participate in this research gathering and grant writing group that would embark upon something truly historic in the state of Iowa.  Our school district decided to take the leap and apply for the first year of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation grant that would provide the opportunity to create a number of teacher leadership positions within our district that never existed in the past.

We were fortunate to receive this grant in the first year that it was offered within the state which allowed us to create nine instructional coaching positions withi…

Day 7 (21 Days of Gratitude)

We have lived in our home for exactly five years and I couldn't be more grateful to be where we are. Our home and community provide a comfortable place for our children and an environment that is safe, fun, and full of energy.  I am so incredibly grateful to be living in a community and school district that see the value in education.  We are surrounded by fantastic schools full of adults who are passionate, technically skilled, and ready to make differences in the lives of kids.  I have never seen a community so supportive and willing to help those in need at the drop of a hat. We are living in a special place and for that, I am extremely grateful.

Day 6 (21 Days of Gratitude)

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I have spent the better part of my educational career coaching student athletes in various sports. These opportunities were so enjoyable and memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.  As football and baseball season approach each year, I am often asked by people within our community what I miss most about coaching.  My response is the same every single time.  Yes, I miss the competition, game planning, and bonding with fellow coaches.  However, what I miss the most is the relationships with kids.  It was truly amazing to hear their stories, see their passion, and watch them achieve at levels that they never thought were possible.  Athletic fields are some of the best classrooms that we have within our school system, as kids are able to learn about perseverance, resilience, grit, teamwork, integrity, responsibility, and many other critical life skills. I will never forget the great times that I had coaching; it is something for which I will be forever grateful.

The Gap

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Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to attend a number of professional development sessions and learning opportunities within my district, state, and across the country. These sessions have focused on visible learning, growth mindset, instructional coaching, literacy, mathematics, technology integration, and the list goes on and on.  I love attending conferences and professional development sessions while learning from experts within the field and having the opportunity to connect with many members of my personal learning network (PLN).  I always leave these sessions inspired and armed with a number of ideas to bring back to my building and school district.
The problem that I have following learning sessions is certainly not inspiration, motivation to be better, or innovative ideas to get me there.  There is a gap from what I want to do between what actually happens within my school or district.  I honestly do not think that I am alone in this struggle. Someone very…

Day 5 (21 Days of Gratitude)

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Day 5
I am not going to go too deep on my gratitude today; quite simply, I am grateful for college football. There is not much that I enjoy more than sitting in my living room and watching games on Saturdays throughout the fall.  There is something about the atmosphere of a college campus during football Saturdays that I love including tailgaiting activities, crisp fall weather, and an unbelievable amount of excitement and pride.  I have been very fortunate to attend a couple of games this season, as I traveled to State College, Pennsylvania and Iowa City in consecutive weeks.  Whether I am watching a game with 107,000 people in Beaver Stadium or taking in USC vs. UCLA in the cozy confines of my living room, I love everything about the game of college football.



Day 4 (21 Days of Gratitude)

Day 4
I am grateful for the opportunity to grow professionally each day.  There have been a number of opportunities that have been provided to me whether it is attending conferences at the local, state, or national levels, reading books, following an individual or hashtag on Twitter, or having a conversation with one of my colleagues.  I love to learn and have been blessed with the ability to purchase a number of books that pique my interest, attend conferences to help me grow, and connect with a large number of people within my professional learning network (PLN).  I would like to think that I have learned more about education and leadership within the past four years than I have in the previous 9 combined.  I attribute this to my PLN and the unbelievable wisdom, resources, and philosophies that they have shared through a variety of tools.  There has never been an easier time to learn with the tools that we have at our disposal.  It makes me smile knowing that I have the opportunity …

Day 3 (21 Days of Gratitude)

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Day 3:
I am a day late with my note of gratitude, but it is better late than never, as I am really trying to make this a habit.  I am grateful for airline travel.  Some people reading this may think that I am absolutely crazy with this comment, particularly when they have experienced frustrations, delays, cancellations, and poor customer service on a regular basis.  Another thing that may seem crazy is that I was just informed that our flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids has been delayed 3 and a half hours.


I have spent the past four days in Alexandria, Virginia learning about positive psychology and how to incorporate this framework within our school district and my personal life.  It was an impactful conference full of thought provoking discussion about The Happiness Advantage, intentional acts of gratitude, and challenging conventional social norms.  I loved learning about these things the past three days while having the opportunity to visit a few monuments in Washington, DC.  A …

Day 2 (21 Days of Gratitude)

Day 2:
Today is a simple, but important gratitude.  I am grateful for the opportunity to work in the Western Dubuque School District as a principal at Epworth Elementary School.  This has been the most fulfilling job in my career in education.  I feel blessed to work with such a dynamic group of teachers and staff members who make excellent decisions to benefit students on a daily basis. The students and families that we serve at Epworth Elementary School are second to none. They are invested, engaged, and willing to partner through this important work.  I can honestly say that I am excited each morning when I get to go to work.  It is my ultimate hope that our students and staff members feel the same way.

I have been part of the Western Dubuque School District for fourteen years and honestly cannot imagine a better place to work.  Our people are friendly, welcoming, incredibly skilled, and willing to do whatever it takes to help our schools and greater community.  There is truly som…

Day 1 (21 Days of Gratitude)

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Over the next three days, I am participating in the Orange Frog Workshop in Alexandria, Virginia. This work is based on the research on Shawn Achor, author of the The Happiness Advantage and focuses on positive psychology and the benefits that the Orange Frog framework can bring to your organization.  Shawn has a TED Talk that has been viewed millions of times which outlines the basis of his research and provides context into what I am learning about within these three days.


One of the practices that Shawn recommends within this professional learning opportunity is to create positive habits, targeting specific behaviors to improve.  I have accepted this challenge and for the next 21 days, I will post a blog each evening about things for which I am grateful in my life.

Day 1:
There is not a day that goes by that I am not grateful for my immediate family.  I am so incredibly fortunate to be married to my best friend who keeps me focused, makes me laugh, and loves me unconditionally.  Joh…

Assume the Best

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I’ll never forget one day when I was an eighth grader in junior high school and walking down the hallway with one of my best friends, Michael.  I was a pretty good student from a behavioral standpoint (for the most part) and the staff liked and trusted me.  However, my friend, Michael, was seen as a behavioral issue and was scowled at often by teachers and administrators.  Michael was not a bad kid by any stretch of the imagination, but he would often ask a lot of questions which was viewed as a bad thing.
We were two minutes late to study hall in the library when the librarian greeted Michael with a frown and immediately asked, “WHERE WERE YOU AND WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG!?”  He started to explain himself and she immediately cut him off and said, “I DON’T EVEN WANT TO HEAR IT!” Even though I was late as well, not a word was said to me.

What the librarian didn’t know was we were late because Michael saw one of our classmates fall down the stairs going to the first floor while spilling the …

Caught in the Moment

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There is definitely no shortage of initiatives or focus areas within education; researchers, authors, administrators, teachers, and anyone connected to schools are continually developing new strategies, frameworks, and instructional systems designed to meet the needs of all students.  I have seen a number of changes and program developments in my fourteen years as an educator; some of these changes have been outstanding and truly transformed the way that we teach and learn while others have been "flash in the pan" ideas that have gone away quickly.  Regardless of the intensity of the changes that we have seen as educators within our careers, there is no doubt that we all have experienced many new ideas and have been exposed to the next "silver bullet" in education advertised as the answer to all of our problems.

Change does not scare me and I am always searching for better ways to do business, whether that is a more efficient data collection mechanism, a promising …

The Struggle is Real

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When I was a little boy and first learned how to ride my bike, I had all kinds of difficulties.  I would struggle with balance, fall down often, and accumulate my fair share of scraped knees.  This was not an easy task, as it took several hours, days, and weeks of guided practice before I mastered the proper technique.  I don't remember a great deal about the process other than my mother and father pushing me to stick with it while providing me with a great deal of feedback and encouragement.  I bring up this memory not only because I am in the process of unsuccessfully teaching my six year-old how to ride a bike, but also because I think it is applicable to our work with students.


Many years ago I was teaching fifth grade and the students were given an open response problem to solve independently as part of their first math assessment of the year.  These types of problems are based on real-world scenarios and require deep thought. There are infinite ways of coming up with an answ…

Reinventing the Game

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This post was written with Dr. Todd Schmidt (@tsschmidty); you can find his blog here.
In just a few short weeks, students all around the country will be getting ready to start school again. Invariably, on the first day, many teachers will go over the “rules.”  You know the ones…
Raise your hand if you want to speak Stay seated Turn in your homework Follow directions...and so on...
These are some of the rules to that game we call school.  Follow the rules to the game and you might get out alive.  Don’t follow the rules and you can be labeled all sorts of things.  We value the compliant student...the one who doesn’t get into trouble...the one who completes their homework on time and regurgitates the right facts at the right time whether it be in multiple choice or essay format.
Like many educators, we were successful at playing the game.  Homework was completed, tests were studied for, and essays were turned in...but in reality, did we really learn how to “do” anything? Not really...we got t…

Permission to be Great

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More than 25 years ago, I was finishing up my last day of fourth grade and walked out of school with one of my all time favorite teachers, Mrs. Lammers.  As we were heading to the walker line, she asked me about my plans for summer, how excited I was for the upcoming baseball season, and what I was most looking forward to in 5th grade.

I loved Mrs. Lammers for many reasons: her passion for baseball, the way that she brought characters to life when she read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and most importantly how she made an intentional effort to connect with me while pushing toward higher levels than I thought possible. I was not the highest achieving student, nor was I the hardest worker.  School was just not my thing; I really struggled with reading and did not put forth the effort to get better.  However, it was different with Mrs. Lammers, as she held this incredible belief in me and made me want to learn more each and every day.  She showed me that mistakes are not fatal, readi…

Modeling the Way

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Earlier in the week, I had a great opportunity to drop by two fourth grade field trips, each of them taking place at Four Mounds, a high ropes and team-building site that our students visit each year to wrap up a fantastic career in elementary school.  I have said for many years that this is the best field trip that I have ever been part of because of the incredible experiences that students gain in a short amount of time.  During their time at Four Mounds, students participated in high and low ropes courses that present physical, mental, and emotional challenges.  Communication, teamwork, encouragement, perseverance, mental toughness, and the ability to step outside of one's comfort zone are essential within the various activities.  As I observed, talked with others, and participated in the activities myself, I thought about key take-aways that can guide our work as educators.

Taking Risks
There is no question that students were pushed outside of their comfort zones as they rotate…

Lead Like Peyton

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I have been watching Peyton Manning play quarterback in the SEC and NFL for more than half of my life.  This man has dazzled me with touchdown passes, fourth quarter comebacks, competitive fire and unbelievable poise over the past 20+ years. I have been a fan of his since his days in Tennessee and even felt that he should have won the Heisman Trophy over Charles Woodson of my beloved Michigan Wolverines in 1997.  After 18 years in the NFL, two Super Bowl championships, five Most Valuable Player awards, and fourteen Pro Bowls, Peyton decided to officially hang them up earlier this month.  As I listened to his press conference and reflected upon his career, I couldn't help but think what leaders can learn from this incredible athlete.


Be Humble
Peyton Manning is an absolute superstar and simply one of the best to ever put on a uniform; however, when you listen to him speak, you would have no idea.  Peyton is quick to thank those around him including coaches, teammates, his family, an…

The Song Remains the Same

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One of my all-time favorite bands is Led Zeppelin; I own just about every one of their albums.  If you ask me, it doesn't get much better than the 6:45 mark of "Stairway to Heaven," and I have been known to belt out this song, particularly in my younger years, but that is a different post for a completely different setting.  The other day I was listening to another one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs as I was driving in between the two schools that I serve.  This song prompted some thinking about education, changes on the horizon and it happens to be the title of this post.


There is one certainty in 2016...change.  Whether we are studying a new instructional technique to engage students, establish more efficient methods of collecting performance data, finding different ways to connect with families or recruiting new members to join our teams, change is happening rapidly before our eyes.  We consistently look for better or more efficient ways of doing business with the …

What Matters Most...

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A couple of days ago, I attended an IEP meeting at the end of the day.  The beginning of this meeting with parents was typical as present levels of performance were presented, goals set and instructional supports discussed.  IEP meetings are predictable as they follow a particular format, but something out of the ordinary took place near the end that left me thinking about what matters most in our profession.

After the family was informed of their son's progress and plans moving forward, they shared how satisfied they are with the support that our school has been able to provide.  It is always great to hear comments like this because there are times when family support is not nearly as prevalent in these types of gatherings.  The mother continued to thank her son's teacher for her commitment and making an intentional effort to connect with him.  She said, "We love our son dearly, but also realize that he is a handful to say the least."  "You understand him and h…

Seeds to Plant...

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We all think of a brighter future and constantly discuss ways to get better.  I think it is human nature to want to improve while looking to increase the quality of our relationships, improve our skill sets, or work more efficiently.  I have given this a great deal of thought in the past few weeks and have come to the conclusion that the decisions and plans we make today will lead to a better tomorrow. I think of this practice as an investment and refer to it as planting seeds.  Within this post, I will share what I plan to do today to lead to a better tomorrow.

Take care of the hard stuff now: If you work in education, there are going to be difficult things that you will have to tackle almost daily.  Maybe there is a hard conversation that needs to take place with one of your colleagues.  A procedural change may need to happen that is going to upset a group of people, but is best for your organization.  Or maybe it is time for you to move on to a new opportunity.  Whatever the challen…