Leading with an Innovator’s Mindset #IMMOOC



One of my goals this year is to help create a culture of innovation and risk taking on the campus I serve. My last post highlights why that’s so valuable to me, so I won’t retread that conversation here.

Innovation, creativity, and change are not ushered in through announcements. Most of what is worthwhile in education just isn’t brought about that way. But that’s left me wondering this: In my role as an assistant principal, what do I need to do to make our campus a place where innovation and risk taking are embraced?

My first answer is that I need to practice what I preach (meaning I better be taking some risks myself if I want them to).

I wrote recently about how we often position ourselves in the safest positions in education. What do I mean by that? We find all the symbolism and then lead the discussion. We work all the problems and then share them with the class. We find all the pitfalls and then carefully avoid them as we lead instruction.

While it’s good to provide solid examples, I think it promotes an “I have it all together” attitude and persona that is really detrimental to a growth and innovator’s mindset.

So I think it’s worth our time to look at ourselves as learners in light of these eight characteristics that George Couros claims are essential to an Innovator’s Mindset. Here’s a great graphic from Sylvia Duckworth that outlines the eight characteristics.


I’m a big believer in the idea that models accelerate learning. But although modeling well is crucial for our success and the success of others (especially as innovators), I think we’re fooling ourselves if we believe that being a model is enough to lead widespread innovative change on any significant scale.

For me, the problem is that I feel really comfortable reading a book like The Innovator’s Mindset, determining what I need to do to grow and innovate, and letting that be my method for bringing about change. In the long run, I think it will bring about some change, and it’s certainly better than letting the status quo roll forward for another year. But I think we can do better.

Realizing that modeling alone cannot be my answer, I kept coming back to this question, “What can leaders do to cultivate an Innovator’s Mindset in both themselves & among those they lead?”

Not surprisingly, that’s not a quick question to answer.

I tried to tackle it as a big question, but I just couldn’t. Innovation is so intricately layered and multi faceted in many ways that I couldn’t manage it as one big, huge question. So my answer to the question above is broken down into the 25 questions below. Each is tied to a particular element of Couros’ 8 Characteristics of an Innovator’s Mindset.

innovators mindsetWhat follows is really a reframing of chapter 3 in George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. Where his recommendations (at least upon my reading) are for teachers setting up innovative learning spaces for students, I’ve tried to draw out what will challenge me to be a better leader on my campus. It’s not a linear list; don’t try to do all this in one PD day. But as you plan for your year and ask your teachers to be innovative, remember to hold yourself to the same standard.

25 Questions for Creating an Innovative Campus Culture

  1. Empathetic
    • What did I want from my leaders when I was in the classroom?
    • In what ways am I the leader who frustrated me?
    • Do I lead PD that I would want to attend?  Do I offer any PD that I could sell tickets for? (With special thanks to Dave Burgess for inspiration…)
  2. Problem finders
    • Where have I asked for a linear solution to a messy, complicated problem?
    • How can I provide structures that validate messy, non-linear professional learning?
    • Where am I providing too many answers and robbing teachers of the opportunity to become problem finders?
    • How will I develop a clear understanding of teacher needs?
  3. Risk-Takers
    • What are the best opportunities for growth you are doing for teachers on your campus? Compare what were you doing two years ago with what’s new this year. Consider opportunities for innovation.
    • Where are the areas in greatest need on innovative change on campus? (And don’t just ask yourself. Ask your teachers this, too.)
    • What are you doing as you lead professional learning that was happening 10 years ago? There’s probably an opportunity to innovate on your list. What will you change first?
  4. Networked
    • How are you learning about the awesome things that are happening in classrooms and on campuses across your campus? Your district? Your country?
    • How are you using connections to other educators online to improve professional development on your campus?
    • If collaboration is important to you, how are you creating time for it to happen during scheduled professional development?
  5. Observant
    • Dream big–What would it look like for your school to become a model of innovation for your community, even to those outside the education world?
    • Where do you get your inspiration from inside the education world? What about outside sources?
    • How are you giving teachers the necessary autonomy for innovation to occur on your campus? Is this the model you want teachers to follow for students?
  6. Creators
    • If “learning is creation, not consumption,” how do your PD sessions allow for teachers to create as they learn?
    • What could teachers create during PD to show their learning?
    • What have you flipped in your professional development? How might this be beneficial to professional learning?
  7. Resilient
    • Change is uncomfortable for many. What pushback should innovative leaders anticipate?
    • What barriers can you take down for teachers who want to be innovative on your campus?
    • As you move through the change process, how will you invite and provide space for teacher feedback?
  8. Reflective
    • How will you inspire others to be more reflective about their professional learning?
    • Reflection will draw out failures, and failure is scary. How will you recognize the role of failure and welcome it into the larger conversation about innovation?
    • Leading well is tough. How will you be innovative about your support system as you lead others toward innovative change?

I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. I’ll also share throughout the year as I try to innovate and help others do the same. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education.

Why Educators Must Innovate #IMMOOC



Take a look at this image.


Do you know what you’re looking at?

That’s what they were stealing in the first Fast and the Furious movie in 2001.

That’s crazy to me. They could have filled that thing with anything they wanted, any technology imaginable, and they filled it with a bunch of VCRs, TV/VCRs, and camcorders. I remember watching the movie and being totally enthralled. It was entirely believable and absolutely appropriate for them to be chasing down a Semi-Truck full of this stuff, but when you look at it now, it’s laughable.

I mean, really… a 13″ TV/VCR is front and center.

If that’s not enough, check out the storage for the plans they used:


Obviously a lot can change in 15 years.

We all know this, but these images put that reality into perspective for me. It makes me wonder about things. It make me ask myself, “If that’s what was on the movie of the summer, what was in our classrooms? How much has changed with technology? What about in our classrooms?”

Why innovate?

Here’s my worry: Schools that don’t innovate are going to look like this, and it likely won’t take 15 years to happen. In all likelihood, it’s probably happening more places than we’d like to admit right now.

If we don’t change, we’re going to end up looking like that picture appears to us now–irrelevant, a relic of the past. For some (maybe even many) what we were doing now will be nearly unrecognizable in the not so distant future. In hindsight, some of what we understood as best practice not too long ago seems that way.

We can’t control the fact that our schools will continue to grow, but if we don’t start getting some movement now and gaining momentum today, we’re going to end up so big and so settled in that our own inertia will keep us from moving forward. With each day that passes without innovation, we only make it harder to make change happen in the future.

So what can we do?

I love the simple definition that George Couros shares often of innovation.

It’s not about the tools. Not about the technology. Not about an app or about a device or even necessarily about anything that might be considered forward thinking otherwise.

His definition? It’s innovative if it’s new and better.

I like that. It opens things up for me in a way that’s really helpful and encourages me to consider some ideas I’m trying as a little more innovative than I would have at first glance.

It makes all sorts of things (not just what’s technologically cutting edge) an innovative effort, and the desire to innovate under this definition prompts me to be always looking forward.

I need that push to make sure I’m not getting comfortable. I think we all do.

Because so much is changing so often, educators have a choice to make: change or be changed. I, for one, prefer to take an active role (as much as is possible) in that process.

What are you doing this year to be innovative?

I’ll be writing more about my own journey with innovation over the next few weeks as part of this MOOC (massive open online course) centered around George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset. I’ll also share throughout the year as I try to innovate and help others do the same. Check out the #IMMOOC hashtag to see some conversation about innovation in education.

Everyday Vulnerability


This post was initially published here on the LeadUpNow blog.

“Vulnerability is not weakness, rather it is our most accurate measurement of courage and the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” – Brené Brown

I have a confession to make: Even with all the conversation out there about risk taking and vulnerability and the benefits of failure, I keep looking for safe risks to take.

I nod along, agree that it would be great to take risks (especially if I were someone who was more willing to take those on), and then move forward not sure about how exactly that is going to change anything for me at work the next week (you know, other than the things I’ll tweet, right?).

I think that Brené Brown has it right when she claims that “Vulnerability is not weakness, rather it is our most accurate measurement of courage and the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” I don’t think many would argue with her, but agreeing with her and implementing change based on that reality are two different things.

So, what do we do differently?

I’m not your magic eight ball, but I do know two things about myself that complicate my relationship with vulnerability in my work: I tend to put myself in the safe place and ask others to be vulnerable, and I often consider vulnerability as a thing that I can put on my calendar–a task to be completed.

The reality is that this sort of reflection, although it can be productive, really stretches me in an uncomfortable way. So it’s helpful to keep Brown’s reminder in perspective: This is all worth struggling through because there is great value in students and teachers seeing real “innovation, creativity, and change” as part of their learning experience.

If we want our classrooms and campuses to be places full of innovation, creativity, and change, we have to do better in both of these areas (not just these areas, but that’s all I’m taking on here).

Mistake #1 – We put ourselves in the safest places

It’s often our habit (at least I hope it wasn’t just my habit) to want to look like I have it together in front of the students. As a teacher, I worked hard to make sure that I felt I could answer any and all of the questions that might have come my way about the literature we studied. I was motivated to build student confidence in me, and the result was that I (almost exclusively) operated out of the most secure place in the classroom.

I’m better at identifying my issues than at coming up with solutions, but I don’t think that recognition is enough.

What can we try? Try this. Pick out something new (maybe a short story, an article, a new picture book, a new experiment, or a new math problem you haven’t worked before) and tackle it in front of your students students as a first time learner. Talk about it like a first time learner–with a little less polish, a little more guesswork, and with the mistakes that come with learning something new displayed front and center.

Doing this isn’t magic. Your students aren’t going to leap out of their desks with a newfound growth mindset and be ready to take on the world, but I do think that stepping into the vulnerability that comes with learning in a public setting like this will help demystify some of the process for students. That, over time, will have an impact. They’ll know you aren’t perfect, they’ll see that you struggle too, and they’ll know how to overcome those struggles they come across as learners.

Mistake #2 – We see vulnerability as event instead of a mindset

The first mistake seems easier for me to tackle. The second is that I end up doing one or two of those things to fix the first mistake, and then I check vulnerability off the to do list for the week.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying it’s your job to constantly be including others in all of your business and over share.

What I do think is this: For us to create the schools we want our kids educated in, we’re going to have to do things differently. That’s going to take some calculated, researched risks, and implementing those will not only cause others to question us, but it will also result in their questions being warranted and their worries about the down side turning out to be accurate at times. We have to be ok with that. We cannot allow ourselves to think that a couple of risk taking opportunities are enough to get us all the way to “innovation, creativity, and change.” If we want that, we have to do more.

This isn’t a “do these steps” sort of answer. Nor is it one that can be fully answered in isolation (at least in my opinion). But, in community with some folks you trust, it is one that can and should be wrestled with, considered, reconsidered, and answered over time.

That’s what that everyday vulnerability looks like.

I need the reminder to correct course on each of these mistakes, and I hope you’re able to push the students in your classroom and on your campus toward “innovation, creativity, and change” in real ways this year by doing the same.

An Educator’s Social Media Guide

An Educator's Social Media Guide

An Educator's Social Media Guide

There’s a lot of talk these days about how worthwhile it is to be a connected educator. I’m one of those people doing that talking. I’m trying me best to be out there doing what I can to help people get connected. Odds are, you are, too. I might even be a nuisance to some people about it, but there’s good reason for that. Here’s why—There’s nothing that I’ve done that has had a bigger impact on me as a professional than getting connected online.

It’s not hard to find these crusaders for the professional growth online. The “Why get on Twitter?” message is pretty powerful, but the “How to get on Twitter” conversation is often oversimplified (or nearly neglected). Jump on Twitter, find a few educators, and let the magic happen, right?

Well, sometimes it’s not that simple.

The truth is that I jumped on Twitter in 2009 and proceeded to do nothing with it for 5 years.


5 wasted years.

Don’t get me wrong; I learned a ton where I was planted. My story is not one of those where I am the lone educator wanting to reimagine our current reality, struggling against all odds, and so on. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m surrounded by an incredible group of educators in my school district who want to do what’s right for students whether that looks familiar or new. They’re amazing educators and even better people, and they push me to get better all the time.

I know that’s the exception to the rule, and I’m thankful for that each and every day.

In a certain sense, though, part of those 5 years was wasted.

Every educator has his or her own reasons for being on Twitter. For me, the really short version of why I engage in professional conversation on social media is that Twitter is a space where educators reject isolation, celebrate together, and continue professional growth.

When I first jumped into the Twitterverse, I wanted those things (I probably couldn’t have articulated it that way, but I think that was all in there somewhere). But when I got into in, I didn’t know what to do. I looked at tweets from famous people, tweeted 30 something times, and then gave up. For 5 years.

This post is what I wish I would have known then. If someone had stepped in and provided a little direction in any one of these areas (or their 2009 equivalents), I think it’s pretty likely I would have stayed.

I Knew I Should Be On Twitter, But I Didn’t Know What To Do When I Got There

My first issue was that I had no idea what to do once I got to the app. I’d share a bit about something foolish I’d seen or about the Astros or about Texas A&M football, and none of it ever seemed to matter much to me or to anyone else out there—especially educators. Nobody had ever told me there was a better way. What I wish I had known—there were educators gathering together for chats (in growing numbers) to discuss ideas that would push my thinking and challenge me to consider new perspectives as I grew professionally.

Initially this change came from who I followed. My process wasn’t exactly scientific. If I saw people saying something I liked (meaning it was encouraging or challenging), I followed them. I think it really is this simple. Pretty quickly you begin to trust a few voices out there, and when you do, look at who they follow. They might not all be a good fit, but there’s likely to be an educator or an organization that will push you, too.

The other thing to check out is people’s lists.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 1.09.32 AM

I have one that includes a bunch of people who push my own thinking (here’s the link), but there are tons of them out there. You can also find tons of great educators on Fridays by looking at the #FF posts of those you follow and trust.

I also love the advice from Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe at a conference this summer. Whether you’re sharing for your school of for yourself, with each post, do your best to engage, inform, and inspire others. It’s about as succinct a summary as I can find for what we as educators should be about online. If we accomplish that, we’re heading in the right direction.

Once I was following some folks who challenged, encouraged, inspired, and grew me, it didn’t take long to notice that Twitter chats were going to be pivotal in my online learning experience.

A Twitter chat is a conversation that happens around a particular hashtag at an agreed upon time. They often happen weekly, and they’re usually an hour long (though more 30 minute chats are starting up). More than anything, they’re my favorite place to connect with new educators and try on new ideas.

Here’s Cybraryman’s list of more chats than you can hope to every participate in. Check it out. There’s something for everyone. While you’re there, check out Jerry Blumengarten’s other great resources like this page on how to actually engage in a Twitter chat. I also put together a short (really rough) video on how to use TweetDeck when chatting (it’s a must). Check out that video here.

Now that I’ve dumped a good bit of information on you, here’s a bit about my journey into the Twitter chat world.

My first interactions with Twitter chats weren’t really interactions at all. I was there, but I didn’t say anything. An avid twitter chat lurker, I was there looking at the questions, seeing the responses, and—on the rare occasion I was feeling especially bold—marking a few as favorites (now rebranded as “likes”).

I watched what must have been months of #TXeduchat before jumping in. It was great (and a little scary), but mostly great! If you’ve not been in a chat before, this is a great place to shift your online learning into the next gear.

Two pieces of advice here: You have more to say than you likely give yourself credit for, and your work is worth sharing. Nothing sums this up better than this video from Derek Sivers:

I love what Dave Burgess says about this: “If what you know or have can help educators, you have a moral imperative to get good at sharing it.”

When educators share like we’re talking about here, we all get better. The snowball picks up the best sort of momentum as it rolls, and each time we’re online we find new educators to push us as we grow.

Until it starts to feel like too much.

The Blessings and Curses of So Much Good Content

At first, you can read most of what is in your timeline, but soon enough, the great ideas are going to become overwhelming in number.

Twitter isn’t designed to be a “read everything that’s posted” experience. If you try to treat it as such, you’re going to drive yourself a little crazy. Still, there’s all this great content that’s out there that could be just the sort of tweet you need. Maybe it’s the article you’ve been looking for or the blog post that everyone’s reading. You wouldn’t want to miss it, but you can’t read everything. What do you do?

nuzzelEnter Nuzzel.

Nuzzel is an app that aggregates all the blogs and articles shared by the people you are following. It’s like a best of list that’s automatically updated daily with what’s new and notable for you. And it’s awesome.

I use it every signle day. Zero exaggeration. It’s the first place I go when I have a few minutes to engage, especially when I come across a surprise gap in my day (like when you finish up something and have 8 minutes before afternoon duty).

The app is slick, the posts are customized to me, and it’s easy to share what I like right from the app. You can even check out the feeds of other Nuzzel users. I like that opportunity to see what my friends are seeing as well as those who are far away from me.

I promise I’m not getting anything from them; it’s just a great tool to keep in the know when time is at a premium (which is nearly every weekday of the school year, right?).

So Many Tweets, So Little Time

It happened again last week. I got asked if I ever sleep because of my Tweets.

It doesn’t bother me at all. Really it’s a conversation starter.

As I look through my feed, I often came across people who would binge post—you know, post all 25 ideas they had in about a 10 minute time period. While that certainly shares your thoughts, it does so in a way that concentrates all of your contributions to a single time period (and, at times, can annoy some of the people who follow you). You can definitely overdo it on the worrying about what others think of your Twitter posts end (really quickly in fact), but this is where I come back to a previous idea—you have so much good stuff to share that I hate it when little things get in the way of sharing great ideas.

So, take it or leave it, here’s an idea for sharing content at different times of the day. What I, and many others, do is schedule out much of the content (i.e. blog posts, articles, info about upcoming chats) beforehand when I have time. It helps me find time away from my phone and social media while still sharing ideas that stretch and refine me. bufferI use an app called Buffer to do this for me. It integrates seamlessly with Nuzzel, and it allows you to push posts into a queue to be shared at scheduled times in the future. It’s another app I use daily, and it helps me manage being a connected educator while giving me time to be a fully engaged husband, dad, and friend.

My “Internet Friends”

My wife thinks it’s hilarious that I have what she calls “internet friends.” You see, at some point, my connections online reached a point where it was far more appropriate to call these folks my friends than someone I followed on Twitter. Even as I type it, I know it sounds a little ridiculous. The internet isn’t supposed to be a place where you strike up friendships, but I can truly say I have found a group of friends there. I’ve asked their advice, heard their struggles, shared in victories and in hardships, and I’ve even had them and their families over for dinner. It’s great, but none of it would have happened if I only used Twitter.

voxerOne last app suggestion for you—Voxer.

Voxer is a push to talk, walkie talkie app that many educators are using to find deeper connections than communication in 140 characters allows. Even if you could send longer text, there’s something different about hearing the passion in someone’s voice or their heartbreak as they share their heart about how they want to make a difference in the lives of students and teachers. For me, Voxer provides me a space for that. It’s how I start and end each and every day at work. As a result, I’m connected to people across the country and across my district in ways that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

The real value of pursuing professional growth on social media is the people you will meet.

They’re amazing.

They will challenge you, know you, push you, support you, encourage you, and inspire you.

There are educators who will be better after interacting with you, and you will be better after interacting with them.

More than anything, I hope that educators find what they’re looking for and more as they jump online. My challenge to you is to find someone in your building as the year starts to join us as we all get better together! There’s a decent chance they’ve heard they should get online, but they just don’t know how yet. Learn from my mistakes; start sharing today!



My first day in the classroom was terrible.

It wasn’t bad in the “I’m supposed to say I was bad because I can tell I’ve grown since then and I don’t want to boast” sense either. It was bad.

I had first period off (which is great any other day of the year for most people, but especially for this non morning person). On this first day, though, it just left time for the knots in my stomach to tighten themselves into even more knots.

As I was walking back into the main building to get some water, the power went out. I was going to get a day reprieve! We couldn’t have school with the power out, right?


My department head comes walking around the corner, and instead of telling me she would see me the next day, she said in a really positive, supportive manner that they were working on getting everything fixed up as quickly as possible and that I would do a great job and that she was excited to hear about how my first day went.


So I go back to my portable and begin to put on this ridiculous costume that I decided to use during my first minutes of teaching ever. On top of my uncomfortable shirt and tie teacher clothes I put on a rain jacket. On top of that, I’m wearing my graduation robe. The plan was for me to start with the end (graduation) in mind, then point to how I was going to be their guide on the path toward that goal, and then end with the realization that I was the teacher who could get them there. At this point, they would realize how much they were going to love me and this class, but things didn’t exactly go according to plan.

What actually happened was more like this.

I put everything on and began to sweat. Blame it on the first day of school or on it being MY first day of school or on not having any power on August 25th in central Texas or whatever else you want. Regardless of where fault lies, I’m really sweating by the time students arrive. Like beads of sweat I can feel. Not fun and not exactly how I wanted to start the day or my career.

I’ll spare you the details about the rest of the day and offer this summary: I pushed through the entire morning of classes packed with 30 high school juniors in a portable with no power for the video clips and slideshow I prepared or for the music I had carefully chosen to let them know I was someone they could relate to. Also there was no power for the air conditioning.

I remember sitting in the lunchroom thinking about what else I could do with my life. The morning left me embarrassed, frustrated, and pretty intimidated about actually coming back for day 2.

But I came back, and things got better.

My Worst Decision

I made a lot of bad decisions that first day, but the worst decision from my first day didn’t have anything to do with what all was happening or not happening in the classroom.

My worst decision was to sit silently by my peers at lunch while I felt so stressed.

Right there sitting next to me were the people who could help me most, the people who became my friends, the people who taught me how to teach.

And I just sat there and beat myself up. The story ends well, but on that day I felt like I needed to pull this all together myself, like that was what the best of the best did. I had convinced myself that this was how to make it.

The single best thing that happened that day was that a nearby teacher came by, brought me a Coke, and said, “How’s it going?” and talked to with me about how things were, in fact, going. Don’t get me wrong, ditching the outer two layers was clearly an important choice, but engaging instead of retreating was the best thing that happened that day.

Thankful & Restless

I’m incredibly thankful for that teacher and her willingness to sit with me on her first day back which we all know to be exhausting. Even if it’s the best, most welcome sort of exhausting, it is absolutely draining.

That solved my day one problem, but it didn’t address the motivation that drove me so far out of my comfort zone.

You see, I think I believed that I could make the magic happen all in those first 50 minutes. I had thought and over thought what I wanted for my students that I had convinced myself I needed to be someone else to make that happen.

I had convinced myself that somehow I wasn’t the guy for that job.

What a lie.

I felt woefully unprepared for all sorts of things that first day, but I was the one they picked to do the job. Not the best teacher I could remember, not me with more experience, not me with more answers or more confidence or more whatever. Me.

Before the day began, my biggest mistake was to believe not only that I could develop a lasting legacy with my students on the first day, but also that I needed to. That to miss that mark was to fail.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that our legacy as educators is built in community over time. That’s easy to say, but tough to do. Still, that’s our job. If you want to be the teacher who leaves an impact, develop a space where students can learn with you and their peers together. So how do we do that as teachers? How do we take 30 people and an adult and create a place where both students and teachers thrive? How do we get past the barriers that we put up, the things that make us feel safe? How to we press into vulnerability and let others see us for who we really are, not who we want to be seen as?

We do that together.

We have to be real together.

We have to be willing to learn together.

We have to be ready to act now (& probably fail some) together (both of them).

Think about who you can engage when school starts up–maybe even who you need to engage before it starts. Those little interactions–just bringing someone a Coke and filling the space with some peer to peer conversation–they can make all the difference.

And what’s on the line? If we get this right, all of those with whom we interact–our old friends, our new colleagues, and our students who will walk our halls and learn in our classrooms–they can all walk toward success knowing that we are walking through each trial that comes our way together.

Thriving as an Assistant Principal

Thriving as an Assistant Principal

There’s a difference in feeling capable at a job and feeling that you thrive in it. I sure prefer the latter, but that isn’t something you often stumble yourself into. It takes planning and intentionality. So before the year begins, I decided to think through those things that I can be about as an assistant principal that will help me help our campus.

Assistant principals who develop lasting, trusting relationships with their staff build on a foundation created by doing their job and doing it well. An AP needs a foundation of credibility before he can earn the relational capital that creates trust. Establishing your ethos on campus comes in a variety of ways (and happens differently in each unique situation). I’ll be the first to say that each path toward trust is unique, but it’s never bad to start by managing the referrals that come your way fairly and efficiently, committing to being a learner in your leadership role, and moving toward each new year looking for ways to serve students and teachers in new ways.

Though that trust must be earned, your work as an AP is far from over when you reach that point. Having the respect of the teachers is not the same as having a relationship with them. Cultivating those trusting relationships is vital if you’re interested in creating change (and who isn’t interested in creating positive change). To do that, you have to take the time to ask good questions and put your to-do list of important things on hold long enough to really listen to what’s urgent for the teachers you serve. More often than not, those questions fall into one of these four categories:

1. Ask about the family.

We spend an incredible amount of time asking teachers to give of themselves at school. We know our students deserve the attention of their teachers, but we don’t always know how much our teachers are juggling outside of school. Asking about a teacher’s family can help us get to know teachers as a whole just like we often ask them to do with their students.

When I’m at my best, I’m often asking these questions:

  • How’s your daughter’s basketball team playing? Is she enjoying college like she thought she would?
  • So you’re son will be a freshman here next year; what’s he excited about? Worried about? Are there any questions I can answer about our school for you as a parent?

2. Ask about professional interests.

We do a lot of talking to teachers when it comes to professional development. If we’re going to ask teachers to customize and individualize learning in the classroom, we need to be ready to do the same for our staff. Matching our practice with our message builds trust with teachers.

When I’m at my best, I’m often asking these questions:

  • How’s the year going? Where are you doing your best work? What would you try if money or time weren’t barriers?
  • What if you could pick your schedule next year; what would it look like ideally? What are you doing this year that’s different/new?
  • That thing you’re trying out this year–maybe it’s stand up desks or ditching homework/the textbook–how can I help encourage others to do it too? Also, how is it different than you expected it would be?

3. Ask for input before making decisions.

All leaders know the power of buy in, but it’s not always the quickest road to a solution. However, getting buy in on the front end of change can make a profound difference on the success of any attempt at change in a large organization like a school.

When I’m at my best, I’m often asking these questions:

  • If we went from 4 to 3 lunches, where could we best use the time in our day? What could you do with 25 minutes a day?
  • What do you want to learn about during faculty meetings? What are you tired of learning about in faculty meetings?
  • What do we need to spend more time looking at?

4. Ask for critical feedback.

We provide this for teachers routinely, but we rarely ask for it in return. Hearing critical feedback makes us better at providing the same for teachers, and knowing the concerns of those we serve allows us to keep a close watch on that which impacts those activities.

When I’m at my best, I’m often asking these questions:

  • What do you think of the new schedule? What problems did it solve? What is more complicated with the new schedule?
  • Talk to me about a particular student; what’s working, what’s not, and what is the best support I can offer to help him keep learning in your classroom?
  • What do you think we are missing as administrators that you see as a teacher?

Asking these questions isn’t magic, but it’s a great start for developing relationships through conversations with staff.

Finally, as an instructional leader, you have to walk the walk. Credibility has a short shelf life. We need to keep ourselves current, and we need to keep investing in our teachers. If your professional development sessions are lifeless and flat, you’re not going to earn yourself any points with teachers. Even though faculty meetings and PD days are important arenas in which we must excel, we can’t only show up then. A trusted AP will be looking for new ways to learn on his own and will be actively seeking opportunities to bring others into his learning. Invite people to a Twitter chat, help out with an EdCamp, create a Voxer group to highlight great things happening on campus. Do something to engage in a different way. Excellence in this area alone won’t create lasting relationships and trust, but it will steadily increase your credibility you’ve developed with the staff.

If you have any other ideas for ways to thrive in the role of assistant principal, please share! We’ll get better together!

4 Skills Every Student Needs

4 skills every student needs

One of the things I miss the most about the classroom is discussing novels with students and the way that set students up to thoughtfully approach tough conversations. We’d open up The Great Gatsby or Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Invisible Man and dive headlong into some of life’s biggest questions.

We’d talk about what it means to be valued as a person and walk through how easy it is to devalue someone and how hard it is to rebuild someone who has felt less than.

We’d spend time talking about the American Dream–what it meant to them, what it meant to characters in the text–and talk about whether it is alive today (and if it’s alive in the same way for everyone in our diverse classroom).

We’d invest time in serious conversation about those who are invisible among us. Those who might identify with the narrator of Invisible Man who declares that he is “invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see” him.

There’s a lot there, and that only scratches the surface of everything we would get into. It was great conversation, but it was even better knowing that I was sending students out confident that they knew how to engage with their peers and their community for the better.

Though the conversations focused either on the literature or on its implications, students acquired a number of soft skills through the process that were as valuable as the content of the exchanges. Removed from those conversations, I think our students’ education is incomplete without these skills.

Don’t hear me saying that these can only be developed over in discussion of literature. That’s not reality for many teachers, and it’s no longer my reality. Still, students with these four abilities have the skills to create peace, stability, and hope where it is lacking. If that’s not worth pursuing, I don’t know what is.


Disagree with an idea instead of a person. Too often, we treat this as an all or nothing. We mistake an opinion for an individual, and if we’re not careful, we miss out on a chance to learn something different. I think we’re pretty bad about this as adults. We have work to do to be the models we need to be, but I think it can be done. This, like many of these traits, is remarkable when it shows up. People notice. Look for opportunities to shed light on this concept for your students and peers.

Repay wrongdoing with kindness. This doesn’t fit with much of our mythology. Ours is a story of getting the most, getting the best, getting even, getting what you deserve. But at home, I ask my boys to do this. They’re 2 and 4, and although I believe that consequences are part of our actions, they’re learning from that I don’t care who started it. When wrong has been done, they repay it with kindness (and so does the one who bit his brother, for what it’s worth). I think there’s incredible potential for modeling this as adults. What power we could bring to students. What an alternative to lashing out. I’m not asking anyone to get walked on here. I’m just trying to imagine a better way.

See a situation from another person’s perspective. I loved asking questions that teased out this conversation (especially when students thought they had things figured out). I’m not big on ranking or creating a hierarchy of soft skills, but the ability to step into another person’s point of view, see things from his or her perspective, and respond differently to a situation as a result has to be up near the top. It’s not something that can be forced, and it’s rarely developed as quickly as we would like (or as would be beneficial for those who interact with the learner). But it is an absolute necessity to have this skill. Graduation requirements should be incomplete without it.

Find hope, even when it’s tough to see it. I’m not asking you to be Pollyanna, nor am I asking you to look past a situation that calls for grief or sorrow. What I do think is valuable is to train ourselves to find hope in situations where it is apparent and to quickly move toward it after we have walked through a valley. We know that our brains like patterns, and everything I’ve seen and experienced indicates that the positive patterns take more time to develop than their negative counterparts. So take time to find hope daily. Talk about it with your students. It matters so deeply.

These skills aren’t magic. They don’t eliminate hurt or sorrow or loss, and I would never claim they would. What they do is give us the power to navigate tough conversations with human responses. Responses that need to press into vulnerable spaces in conversations where we have to pursue understanding long before we seek to respond. But these are just four ideas. What else do you believe we need to instill in our students? When they leave your campus, what do they need to be successful, productive members of society?

4 Invitations for Students

4 invitations for students afhogan

Educators work in a seemingly contradictory space. All at once we are surround by people and secluded from our peers. For the vast majority of the day, we are literally walled off from each other in most schools. This undoubtedly impacts campus culture.

I recently wrote about the power of an invitation, especially in view of this isolated life that educators often live. After reading, Bill Ferriter challenged me to take this treatment that I had originally targeted adults with and extend it to the classroom.

I loved the challenge!

Or at least the idea of it.

The more I reflected on this shift in focus, the more I began to realize that each invitation we might extend to students requires a certain amount of vulnerability. I’ve long been a believer that as the adult in the room, we should be the ones placing ourselves at the most vulnerable place in the conversation, but believing that and living that out are different experiences. The reality is that leading new, risky, “out their” change will almost always involve operating out of a vulnerable posture. Embrace it. (Just so you know, I’m telling myself as much as I’m telling you.)

Here are a few ways we can engage students in an invitation into something more. They start out relatively easy, but the level of vulnerability required feels like it exponentially increases as the invitations continue.

Invite Students To Share Your Story

I love the way that I have heard about other educators inviting students into the process of sharing the school’s story online. Adam Welcome even uses students as social media interns on his campus. There is such tremendous value in telling the story of our school (or of your classroom) online, and I love the idea of inviting students into that space. How great would it be to ask students to pay attention to the ways we celebrate our successes at school and value others by sharing about their accomplishments? I’m going to try this next year with the 5th and 6th graders I serve, and I’m excited to see how this invitation goes.

Invite Students to Teach

Many of us have had this experience: There’s a student in class who you think genuinely might know more about a given topic than you know as the teacher, and you have to “teach” him or her. Why not embrace that, model humility, and invite that student into a place to share his or her expertise? I think it would be great! A little out of the comfort zone for most teachers, but a valuable invitation to validate students and share the stage in your classroom.

Invite Students to Share Their Interests in Your Content

I came across these two tweets recently, and I don’t know if I can capture how much I really like this idea!

What would change if we operated out of this posture? What would we do differently? There would be practices we adopt and practices we shelve (some for the rest of our career). We would learn a great deal about what we’re trying to fish for most of the time–what’s engaging to students. I think it’s worth extending the invitation, but I’ll be the first to admit, it takes a leap of faith to put yourself out there for this sort of input.

Invite Students to Coach You

Alright. Stick with me. Some of the easier suggestions seem risky (at least to me), but this seems pretty out there.

I think it could work though.

You would need some clear scaffolding and some specific structures in place to make it work, but think of the power of inviting a student to speak into your life as a professional. There’s a part of me that thinks this is just too risky. Or too much work. Or just too much to fit into an already busy school year. Or just too scary.

I think the ceiling is pretty high on how beneficial this could be though. Even if you just brought in a former student (which might be even better), I think it would be a powerful invitation that would lead to a remarkable experience for both student and teacher.

Still, this seems like a big risk to take, and I want to acknowledge that here. There are well worn practices that could be overturned here. We could learn that a strength really presents to our audience as a weakness. We could find that our assumptions, in all sorts of directions, were off base.

And that’s hard. Don’t hear me oversimplify this. It’s hard. Really hard. But like most experiences that require us to step into vulnerability, it’s worth it.

I thought that this blog post was done here initially. Turns out it wasn’t. I’m going to share the rest here.

I truly see my role as an assistant principal as a teacher of teachers. Thankfully, I’m quite content to not be the sage on the stage. I sure don’t have all the answers even in the conversations I’m most comfortable engaging, and there are just so much that I defer to the expertise of others. Even if I wanted to, I’m not equipped to be the keeper of knowledge.

So, as I look toward next year, I feel the weight of these invitations in a very real way:

  • Invite teachers to share our school’s story
  • Invite teachers to teach our staff
  • Invite teachers to share their interest in what I have to share
  • Invite teachers to coach me (current or former or both)

All of a sudden, I feel the weight of these suggestions.

As a leader, I feel a great deal of pressure to get this right. After all, if my claim is that students will benefit from the ways their teachers live this out, I think that holds true for the adult learners as well.

I’m certainly not claiming to have all the answers or anything like that, but seeing these invitations in a different light reminds me of how important they each are. I’m glad to be reminded of it. It keeps me from thinking life is as simple as a list on a blog post can seem.

Beyond that, it energizes me to lean into vulnerability required from leaders (titled and untitled) as we do what we know is best for learners in our schools. It makes me excited for the next year, and it motivates me to be my best.

So, in whatever role you find yourself next year, find those invitations that need to be extended to those around you. Best of luck in your invitations! Such great growth awaits!

Make an Impact

Make an Impact

I don’t think anyone gets started in education without the hope of making a difference, but some sure seem to make more of an impact than others.

Why is that?

Even among the well meaning, I see a range of successes.

Like most people, when I think back on the teachers I had, I had good teachers and bad teachers, memorable teachers and forgettable teachers. I spent some time today thinking through what pushed teachers to the positive two extremes for me. Happily, the good, memorable teacher was not terribly elusive to me; still, I think it’s worth the effort to dig into what sets apart those teachers who end up being more memorable than the rest.

This motivated me to do all I could to be the teacher who made a difference.

If I could go back to first year teacher me, I would have a lot to say. These five suggestions would be part of that conversation.

Invest Time In Relationships

This should go without saying, but there are more possibilities for this to go awry than I’d like to leave it up to chance. I think it’s important for students to see teachers as professionals; I really do. Many teachers (especially those early in their experience as educators) err on the side of being the “friend” teacher. Don’t get me wrong–the relationships are key, but I think they are key in a different way. One part of the real power of the relationships comes from having a clear role as the teacher in the class and being someone who will care for the prerequisite needs of students in addition to those explicitly academic needs. These teachers make students feel welcome in class and create an environment that helps students know there will are consequences for failure (but one of those consequences is that we’re going to pick ourselves up and keep learning).

Listen Without Judgment

As a high school English teacher, there were a lot of opportunities for me to explain ideas in an official capacity. As the teacher, the onus was on me to answer questions like “What did the author mean when he did X?” or “What’s the author saying about the state of society today when her characters respond like that?” Rather than answering those questions myself, I tried to model the struggle the authors were often encouraging readers to grapple with and pushed the responsibility for answering the question out to the students. Then, my role shifted from question answerer to conversation facilitator (which I greatly preferred). Like it or not, students found themselves free to sort through their beliefs lived out in the context of the narratives we encountered. I usually saw some who seemed so sure of themselves quickly left stuck really considering the implications of their positions, but more I often was floored by the quiet student who, given the chance, took the opportunity to share his or her brilliance with the class. This doesn’t happen if we’re giving them the answers.

Extend Grace

I’m a firm believer that students benefit from high expectations. But more than sending out individuals capable of meeting and exceeding the highest expectations from life’s next challenges, I hope that we send out young people who are ready to make the human decision when the time calls for it. Learning doesn’t happen in a linear fashion for most students. I certainly can’t draw a linear timeline to tie many of my own learning experiences together. And yet too often, I get the feeling that teachers feel they don’t have permission to yield to their better judgment and extend grace to a student. I don’t mean to say that we have armies of teachers out there waiting to enforce rules simply because they are the rules, but I don’t think we can do any harm by taking the pressure off (because as school progresses, we all know it is most certainly on) some of our students with the opportunity to experience a bit of grace under extenuating circumstances. It makes a huge impact.

Notice When It’s An Off Day

Students rarely enter the room and announce that their day isn’t going well. At least not in as many words, right? It comes in all sorts of other forms. Listing those off isn’t necessary here, but it is important to consider how we respond when we notice it. One day I came back from being out, and a student in my first period told me this: “Mr. Hogan, I was having a bad day, but you weren’t here. You always seem to notice it and make those days better.” As a fairly introverted teacher, I was always just looking for things I could make conversation about. I had no idea the impact I was having. I’ll never forget that.

Admit Your Failures

Somehow part of being a leader has morphed into being (or at least presenting yourself as) flawless. I can’t stand that. Reality is that we all are making plenty of mistakes. Not careless ones–just regular, everyday, accidental mistakes. If we don’t show our students a model for taking ownership of our mistakes, what are we saying to them about how they should handle this in the future. It’s important in all contexts, but it’s a special priority of mine to make sure young men see grown men take ownership of their actions–no matter how big or small they may be–and respond appropriately. So many teachers do a great job of this, but the impact is only increased as more educators step into that place of vulnerability talking about our missteps. It’s not always fun, but it’s always worth it.

These five suggestions aren’t magic. In fact, they’re far from it. If you try these out, it will make your job more complicated, more involved, but it will also make it more rewarding. Your impact as an educator doesn’t happen by accident. What are you doing this summer to make sure you make the impact you want next year? What else should we add to this list?

The Power of an Invitation



There is such great power in an invitation.

A while back, someone invited me in to help support a new chat that was starting up. I had spent time in a few chats, but although I knew it felt like I was learning a great deal, I sure didn’t think anything special was coming out of my engaging online that would make someone notice let alone recognize and invite me into a new chat. But someone saw something in me and asked me to be part of something new.

As a result, I’ll never be the same. And not just as an educator.

I think we underestimate our power as educators, as people to speak powerfully into another person. At least I do at times. And on the one hand, it feels like nothing, right? An invitation to join in seems so insignificant that I forget the power that we have to speak hope into situations, to speak life into those we are in contact with until I’m on the receiving end of the conversation. But I can think of several times when something that probably seemed like nothing to the speaker left significant, positive, life-giving impact on me, and I know that I need to stop erring on the side of caution, of reluctance to step out into a bit of vulnerability, and make this a significant part of my regular routine.

But I don’t want to just leave it at that. Acknowledging that invitations are powerful and that change is needed isn’t enough. I need to make a habit of including this communication, and I’d like to share a few ways I think we can make a positive impact with a simple invitation.

AnInvitationIn (2)

Invite someone to critique something you are working on

It’s not always fun to have a critical eye on your work, but asking someone to look over your shoulder to help you refine something that’s important to you is a big deal. To me, it’s a great honor to help someone accomplish a goal that has personal or professional important, and so often as educators our work has both components.

Ask someone to share their voice and expertise in conversation

I host a weekly Twitter chat with my friend and colleague Jeremy Stewart, so this is an easy place, but it’s still one I’ve neglected. I need to be better about thinking through the topics we are discussing and intentionally engaging those who have so much to offer in that conversation. Understandably, most people aren’t hosting chats, but I think there’s an easy face to face parallel; as conversations come up on campus, bring those informed voices into the conversation and take a moment to explain why you brought that person in before or after. It’ll make a difference.

If you blog, invite someone to write with you or to guest post on your blog

Most educators who are blogging are doing so to share the ideas they’ve been mulling over or sort through their learning. I’ve been awful at doing this, so I’m sharing it not only as an idea for others, but also as a call to action for myself. What a great opportunity to share that space and encourage another educator to connect and share!

Here’s our reality: We cannot do our work in isolation. We fool ourselves into thinking we can from time to time, but each time, after we’ve hit the wall (again), we remember that we need others. Take time to get ahead of the curve and invite others into something that matters to you.