**** Reflections of an EduDad ****

Dr. Joe Mazza

Let’s stop faking it

July 10, 2015


FullSizeRender-1I might not “look depressed.” I might seem exhausted or complain about always being tired to those who know me personally. Sometimes I’m unusually irritable. I have a tough time responding to affection, concern or compliments. Frequently I turn down activities I used to really enjoy. My eating habits are fairly abnormal. I might need more from you that you can give. I have bad days and “better” days.

These are just a few of the things I feel daily but just recently began to become vocal about. It’s time for me to #stopfakingit, because let’s face it, that doesn’t help anyone nor does it role model for today’s youth and my own kids. As adults, we have to stop looking at mental health as a weakness and starting valuing it just as much if not more than our physical health.

There are a couple people in my life I’d like thank for helping me make progress in this area.

Family Friend – Bryn McMahon (@Bryn_McMahon)

Bryn recently spoke out on her attempted suicide after 5 years. She was a 15 year-old high school student in NE Philadelphia before her mental health issues became too much for her to bear. She faked it. She is lucky to be here with us today. Now, a paraplegic with a powerful story, she has started speaking out around the country to students in middle school and high schools, as well as parent forums on the signs, the thoughts and what she wished she would have done instead of faking it.

Friend and PLN Met on Twitter – Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher)

Nick is Michigan educator, a Dad and husband I have known for years on Twitter and learned a great deal from since 2011. I’ve Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 9.30.30 AMhad the chance to get together personally with him, but didn’t feel close to him until he went public with his own struggles with depression about a year ago with A Post I Can’t Seem To Title, So I’ll Tell You It’s About Depression. After reading Nick’s post, I reached out to him over a DM just to say thank you for taking me off my island. When I read the words, I felt human. I felt like as bad as I thought I had it, there were other people. I didn’t have to fake it. His reference to the “dark friend” hit home for me. Now matter how much really cool stuff you get to do or accolades you receive, you have this wet blanket that just shows up and forces you to retreat.

In the following TedTalk, I reflect openly for the first time on my own #10Assumptions while growing up. One of these assumptions focused mental health, as well as nine others things I was dead wrong about growing up. I chose to assume and to listen to someone else rather than go out and dissect the world myself and with the help of others. The full preso can be found here.

Mental health is one of those things in life that just doesn’t get talked about enough until someone ends their life and a family is destroyed. I’ve been told verbally throughout my life and by example that I need to “be tough” and “grit and bear it.” Sometimes this is true and we need to persevere. Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to seek help. As an educator who has always worked as if I had to be this perfect person, the “pressure cooker” we have created across the field is inevitably contributes to decreasing teacher morale is nothing less than dangerous. We have to take care of each other. We have to stop faking it and be honest. We have to believe in relationships across the board, not just on retreats and special outings. It has to be the common thread that gives us permission to reach out without embarrassment when all we feel like doing is giving up. Your story isn’t over.

My name is Joe. I’m a dad, husband and educator. I suffer from depression every damn day. I’m not going to sweep it under the rug from my family and friends anymore. I, along with my friend Nick Provenzano fully support Project Semicolon, and are teaming up to encourage our PLN friends across the education space whether students, parents, educators, leaders, policymakers to come together for support.

We’ve all got a lot of ass to kick to get our educational system to the place where we can be proud of its direction before retirement. I’m stubbornly optimistic we can change the current culture. I’m just going to focus on taking my meds, getting good exercise, forcing myself to sleep, finding a balance and loving those around me a little more. I’m going to stop faking it. I want other educators who are suffering (and I could only name 10 right now but there’s many more) to be ok with not faking it anymore either. I’m here to pay it forward and do for you what Nick did for me. If I see you at a conference or an edcamp or on Voxer, I WILL talk to you about it. I WILL make the time. You are NOT bothering me. You ARE that important to yourself, to your family, to me and to the field. We need to take good care of each other.


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My new semi colon. Green for Bryn.

In the words of Nick Provenzano… I want people to ask us about this punctuation mark on our wrists so we can share our story. The more people know about mental health issues, the more we can get rid of the stigma. The more we get rid of that stigma, the more people will feel comfortable sharing their stories. We need students to feel comfortable sharing these feelings with their teachers and we need teachers to better understand mental health so they can support these students and their colleagues.  It is not a fun conversation, but it is one we need to have if we want to help people and possibly save lives. There is something all of you can do to show your support.

I would love to see pictures across the Internet from all of my PLN on Tuesday July 14th with a

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Nick’s new semi colon

Semicolon drawn (or tattooed if you are up to it) on your body to show support for all of the educators dealing with mental health issues. Use the tag #semicolonEDU to show your support on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Let’s show the world that we can come together and fight mental health stigmas by showing our support for one another. I know we can do it. Read Nick’s full #semicolonEDU post here. 

Thanks for giving me the courage to get these 887 words out.
Special thanks to Jason Bodnar (@EagleLeadLearnr) for providing a forum for me to voice what I wrote above. Here’s his latest podcast episode of Principally Speaking.

#10Assumptions I had as a kid.

May 23, 2015



As a father and a constant learner, I consider it my responsibility to make sure my own kids do not grow up with the same assumptions I did – Not because my parents and teachers didn’t do a good job, but because they taught me what they knew and believed. Well, we know more now, and continue to learn more about this world each day.

Bridging my own learning, perspectives and networks with my own children is something I’m starting to do more of each day as a father. I have a crazy and cute son named Mark who is almost three years old, and a brand new and beautiful daughter, Molly, who is nearing three months and has helped me become more comfortable with the color pink.

Today’s #TEDxYouthBHS talk “Philempathy” centers on the assumptions I formed as a kid and into adulthood and the empathy I continue to develop now 37 years young. Typically, I speak about educational leadership, family engagement and social media’s impact on connectivity and global collaboration. I’ve spoken internationally for the past three years at over 100 engagements. Today will be the first time I talk about some really vulnerable topics for me, my family and my friends. These are my own views, and do not necessarily reflect the views of our employers, now and in the future – but I hope so.

I’d like to thank the fourteen TEDxYouthBHS speakers who went before me today, including 21 year old Edinboro student @Bryn_McMahon and 2015 Penn graduate Talon Ducheneaux (@BazilleDx) for modeling courage and strength to be vulnerable and comfortable in their own skin. I’m so lucky to call you both friends and look forward to following your work.


Upper elementary kids through grandparents. Not just youth, but adults of all ages have a responsibility to take an ongoing inquiry stance in life. We should never stop learning, gaining perspectives and reflecting on this learning publicly and/or privately, online or offline.

Link to my slidedeck

Rafranz Davis, Dr. Tony Sinanis and Nick Provenzano – you have each helped me get through some really hard times and I’m so happy to be connected to you. Much love to my family Marky, Molly, Lauren and Oliver; my parents Carol, Joe, Bonnie and brother Jon; as well as my in-laws Peg, Tom, Tommy and Mark for being a big part of my life. You each keep me going and support what I am lucky to do every day.


Kids, Moms, Dads, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Friends: What are your 10 Assumptions? Adults – Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean you can’t still work on dissolving your life long assumptions, and finding knowledge and empathy through trips (physically or virtually) to literally anywhere you want. If you need help, please reach out.

Connected educators and families – Using the hashtag#10Assumptions on Twitter and/or the comment section below to articulate one or more of your own assumptions. You can also add Voxer audio links as comment messages as well if that is easier. I’d really like to hear from you, as I continue unpacking my own assumptions.

Thank you.

Joe Mazza

Digital Learning: Not Just For Kids

March 12, 2015

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serial-social-logo#EDLISTEN: What Can Teachers and Ed Leaders Learn From @Serial Podcast Mania? (listen above or read below).

Our students aren’t the only ones who benefit from learning through a variety of digital mediums. With the rise of mobile technologies, teachers and school leaders are also finding value in engaging media including short videos, podcasts and user-friendly messaging tools.

Over winter break, one of my Voxer groups (made up of ten school leaders from around the country) began listening to and discussing the Serial Podcast. Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, and is hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial tells one true story over the course of an entire season. They follow a plot and characters wherever they take them. Each week they bring you the next chapter in the story, so it’s important to listen to the episodes in order, starting with Episode 1. (Serial’s website)

This twelve-part, real life story featuring a 1999 after school murder mystery in a Baltimore City community is now the all-time most downloaded podcast and the fastest ever to 5 million downloads. Now, when you hear the word “podcast,” one might think of a long, single voice narrator, loaded with information that you might find on iTunes  or some other media player like Soundcloud or Stitcher. You might even think it is something that used to be popular about 10-15 years ago. The truth is, some podcasts are quite interesting and include really engaging guests, but sometimes you want to turn it off five minutes because it’s just not that interesting for one reason or another.

I’ve listened to hundreds of podcasts over the years, and the difference in podcasts of old and recent WBEZ Chicago’s This American Life and Serial podcasts is hands-down the engaging authenticity factor. In any 40-50 minute Serial podcast, you may hear as many as 10 unique voices with varied tone, empathy, music that fits the event storyline, seamless transitions and a carefully planned build up to the plot. When you listen, you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat because the narrator, Sarah Koenig, has provided you just the right amount of details to stimulate your imagination and lead you toward your own conclusions. Both Serial and This American Life are excellent listens, so I won’t give away the details of what happens. But in an age where primetime entertainment shows like 24, Lost, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Game of Thrones and so many others are “must watch/DVR TV” for some, these new scenario-based podcasts have in a way brought “radio” back to relevance in popular culture and across age groups. When you can put yourself in the shoes of the characters, you become “hooked” and want to not only listen more, but talk about it with your friends/colleagues/eduvoxers. 

Resource: What Teens Are Learning From the Serial and other Podcasts via @MindShiftKQED

So why are so many choosing only to listen versus listen AND watch?

The rise of the mobile phone is one reason. Many adults, like today’s youth, have an Internet-connected mini-computer in their pockets during the day. Our mobile world is always on the move, whether that means a commute, a treadmill or a walk around the town, apps like iTunes, Soundcloud and Stitcher provide ease of listening to those who have found value in podcasts. The second reason? Today’s ubiquitously connected world tends to share freely and passing something on you enjoy to your personal and professional networks has never been easier. Add that to the fact devices are easier to come by, and prices have dropped to have the bare basics of Internet access on a “smart phone.”  A challenge that remains is access and costs of wifi, especially in rural areas, but more and more stores, restaurants, coffee shops and even whole cities (e.g. San Francisco).

Back to Serial.

At no time during any of the twelve-part series did the host encourage listeners to use social media to actually “backchannel” the content. However, thousands of social media posts talked about the shoe each week (and continue to share as new listeners emerge).

For those who want to understand more about the term “backchannel,” Educause did a great job defining it in this 2010 report entitled Seven Things You Should Know ABout Backchannel Communication:

Backchannel communication is a secondary conversation that takes place at the same time as a conference session, lecture, or instructor-led learning activity. This might involve students using a chat tool or Twitter to discuss a lecture as it is happening, and these background conversations are increasingly being brought into the foreground of lecture interaction. Digital technologies allow background discussions—which have always been a component of classes, conferences, and presentations—to be brought out of the shadows and, perhaps, incorporated as a formal part of learning activities. Instructors and presenters alike should be aware of this dynamic and the opportunity it presents to add another dimension to learning. For more information, download the full report here (PDF).

So the hashtag #serial and #serialpodcast continue to trend on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other popular mediums. Why? Because here in 2015, many kids and adults alike are accustomed to talking about what they’re doing and what those in their circles are thinking about. When watching most TV shows, the entire cast is live-tweeting with fans oftentimes using a hashtag followed by the show’s name (e.g. #chicagofire) to talk about that episode in “real-time.” Next time you are unable to attend a conference physically, enter the hashtag into Twitter to pull up what educators are sharing in real-time. (If you’re not registered on Twitter, simply visit this website called Twubs and you’ll see this played out for this week’s #SXSWedu Conference Austin, Texas), but you can also change the search term at the top). Here’s the link to follow all the “backchanneled” tweets from Digital Learning Day on Twubs and on another popular real-time social media broadcasting tool called Tagboard.

When you click, what are you finding others are “backchanneling” about? For sports fans, backchannels can be quite helpful when you’re unable to see or listen to your favorite team as people watching around the world provide the play by play using social media. As a Philadelphia fan, this is not typically a positive experience.

Now back to education and where some windows of opportunities lie educator and leader development with the rise of mobile technologies. Professional development has received a major shot in the arm with the #EdCamp movement, which has put the ownership of professional development and learning directly on the shoulders of all educators in a relationship-based, informal and fun way. Valuing the expert in the room, AS THE ROOM, is not only good for cultivating teacher leadership but building a strong school culture and close knit learning community. EdCamps are also great places to connect with others and expand your personal learning network (PLN), as Twitter handles are shared as freely as business cards at more formal events. 

When we think of personalizing professional development for teachers and personalizing learning for students, we must plan with their interests and everyday practices in mind. Right now, there’s a huge buzz around using media whether that be learning social media like Twitter and Voxer via online tutorials or planning an interactive podcast based on topics that fall within your school, district or administrative goals. All it takes is a concerted effort to embed an innovative mindset in the bricks of what we do. Innovation can’t be a thing we check off but rather a mindset that keeps our ears to the ground listening, learning and responding to the needs of students, staff, our community and the collective education field. Who on your team thinks this way by default that might serve this role? Who can constantly be thinking with two screens up to guide your team’s efforts be more relationship-based, engaging and sustainable on a daily basis. Thinking more long term, how might we build an innovative culture across stakeholders by default?

A New, Free, Open and Interactive Podcast for Ed Leaders

We’ve recently taken an “edurisk” here at Penn to try and understand what value may lie in leveraging interactive podcasts for educational leader development. Two weeks ago, we launched a new project from our new studio within the MCDPEL Innovation Lab.

Produced weekly by the Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership (@MCDPEL on Twitter), #B@CKCH@NNELedu is a weekly (10-15min) scenario-based podcast based on connecting research to practice across the educational space and involve real roles, real leadership scenarios complete with real voices from the field, cutting across race, gender, class, ethnicity and sexuality. Social media is embedded throughout the process (School leaders are encouraged to “backchannel” throughout week using #backchannelEDU or on Voxer in this new, interactive and innovative “podcast series.”

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Of course, the inspiration for the podcast was inspired by WBEZ Chicago’s Serial and This American Life podcasts, as we couldn’t help but listen but then also “backchannel” our reflections daily using social media tools.

Follow @BACKCHANNELedu on Twitter. Visit the @BACKCHANNELedu website.  Listen to the trailer below…

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There are variety of different mediums on mobile devices (great for the commute) or on your laptop.desktop. If you’re on iTunes, you can subscribe to this weekly, twelve part ed leadership series by clicking here. For Stitcher users, click here. For Soundcloud users, click here.

We’ve partnered with the National Association of Elementary School Principals (@NAESP) to make each of the twelve episodes not only engaging with a variety of unique voices, but targeted to some of the most challenging situations and topics for today’s educational leaders. Have a really engaging situation that might help another leader?  You can submit your own scenario for episode consideration at the bottom of this page. No identifying information or location will be used, and you will approve and sign off on any content you provide.

Digital learning is not just for the kids. Actually, if we as educators and leaders can find ways to leverage it to learn personally and professionally, we will be better at responding to the readiness today’s youth are walking into our school doors with.

Thinking Deeper

What can we adults to make our precious time together most valuable, and also innovate to take advantage of the times we are unable to be face to face with each other but could possibly benefit from asynchronous simulations or interactive podcasts like those mentioned above?

I’d love to have your feedback after you’ve listened. I do not claim to be a communications/podcast expert, so any support you can provide me will be taken very seriously and greatly appreciated.


For Better Or For Worse – It’s Our PLN

February 4, 2015

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#EDLISTEN (Choose to listen above and/or read blog below) – I’m collecting metrics to understand better the value in offering multiple mediums for those who visit my online learning space. Will post future blogs w/ “listening” component on Twitter using that hashtag. 

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, and as I work with new educators and leaders at the University level, I find myself introducing folks daily to “the PLN.” This work has caused me to do a great deal of reflection based upon raw feedback on the PLN’s “culture.” I’ve heard publicly and privately from those just beginning to discover personal and professional value in these spaces. I have some strong thoughts, and after seeing something extremely disturbing a friend and colleague shared with me this morning, I simply cannot remain silent any longer. My own silence and lack of action means I condone the behaviors that I witness. I’ve seen various levels of impact in my evolving Personal Learning Network (PLN). For a second, think with me about the good, bad and ugly of our PLN.

The Good

  • Here in 2015, educators can reach out to just about anyone to enhance the engagement in and out of class. Lyn Hilt, Chris Lehmann and Eric Sheninger, who I studied closely during my dissertation study, were a few early adopters. Their work and the press that followed has helped many of us become more comfortable and unlock some previously blocked policy on social media as a tool for teaching, learning and leadership.

  That was 4 years and 36,600 tweets ago.

  • Now, according to 2014’s ISTE estimate, over 600,000 educators are actively on Twitter learning and sharing, making their schools and classrooms come alive and the good collateral damage is that we’ve created glass walls around our schools to provide families a window into learning and allow opportunities for active engagement in the student learning process. You can’t find a conference that doesn’t have social media embedded throughout the entire event as we’re starting to understand more clearly that transparent use of social media leads to deeper relationships with local and global colleagues and an “all-hands-on-deck” mentality in working for kids. <– This is why I got on Twitter in 2011. The (new for educators) online community was selfless, folks were always sharing, playing “dot-connector” and all the associations and publications I had received in hard copy were tweeting out the articles 3-6 months in advance. That was the 30 second elevator speech on how I sold colleagues near and far on the positive power of social media for the field. While that still exists, there are also some things we (me included) need to be up front and honest about.

The Bad

  • As networks evolve, it is inevitable for hierarchies to form. These hierarchies are different based on our own perspectives, personal relationships with various individuals and what those in our circles have experienced. It’s life. I was not a very popular kid in high school. My mom gave me a perm in 6th grade. I was bullied because I was sensitive and lacked initiative and a voice. I was quiet about it and just focused on playing baseball and geeking out on technology – two of the things in life that gave me confidence. The more I participate in social media networks, the more I feel we all need to take a good long look in the mirror and revisit to the reasons we began this journey and took this “edu-risk” to put ourselves out there. Do they still hold water? How has our on AND offline behavior evolved since we’ve become “connected?”
  • There is no official “who’s who” in education, although some awards processes, press, associations, conferences, publishers and groups have certainly put various individuals in the limelight for various reasons – some well-deserved, some not so much. But again, this is only my lens.

The Ugly

  • The network is no longer the pristine, selfless PLN I became a part of in 2011. There is both on and offline bullying happening in this space. I have to be honest, it scares me that no one says anything about it except in DMs, voxes, side gossip at local and national conferences and other places that are not so public. One of things we forget in the craziness of our personal and professional lives is that we are role-modeling for kids at school and our kids at home with our online behavior, in what we say and what we don’t say. If we are constantly preaching how this has no place in our work in education, we need to walk the walk – no matter how crazy the situation is.
  • The social media waters are now murky and the choices you make as an educator online must be thought about more deeply than ever. Some in and outside of the 100s of weekly edchats are finding a difficult balance between selling their books and keeping a stubborn mindset on the learning, curiosity and innovation that got them there. Some behaviors I’m seeing too much off are adopting titles like “thought leaders” and promoting ourselves by retweeting every compliment handed out. Someone told me my Chuck Taylors were cool last week in Kentucky. Think about this. For me to then walk outside and broadcast for everyone in the world “SOME NICE WOMAN JUST TOLD ME MY SHOES ARE AWESOME!!!!!!!” only not once but multiple times a week — why must our behavior norms change just because we are online. I understand you are excited and someone has filled your bucket, but to be honest, I’ve just lost some respect for you. The hardest part about it? Some of those guilty of these self-promoting behaviors are actually my friends. But how will others know I’m doing such awesome work for kids? If you want others to know what is being said about you, all they have to do is search your mentions. Your Twitterfeed is the new business card, your resume and possibly your opportunity to land your dream job someday.
  • One final thought. “Group think” where the chat is 90% agreement and no one asks prompting questions or pushing the thinking is spreading like wildfire across various evening chats. I understand many of us got into this connected work as a means to be innovative, but innovation isn’t something that can be “checked off.” Just because you are on Twitter or another social media, doesn’t mean you are necessarily innovative, open-minded and someone others should follow. To have this innovative mindset, we must constantly be thinking of how we can be better for not only the kids and their families tomorrow, but our own local and global colleagues. We have to take care of each other. We have to have the tough conversations, continuously expose ourselves to new perspectives and keep our ear to the ground of those actually working with students “on the front lines.” We’re all on the same team, working in the toughest profession in the world (as it should be) – educating kids.

What the research says

As I’ve observed behavior on Twitter (or Twittiquette) I’m wondering if I should be doing more self promotion. After all, I like many others have never been through a social media course on what to do and not do. Does the PLN have core values? Should it? The beauty of this space is that you be who you want to be and go after what you need as an educator or a person or both. Setting out rules (IMO) is not an answer, but we should at least be talking about the behaviors and what they mean to various stakeholders if we’re committed to evolving the space. Here’s an article I found, and I’d love to read more along these lines if you’d add something you’ve read in the comments section below.

The Perils of Self-Confidence via Harvard Business Review

Reams of psychological studies show that being perceived as modest is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes. The message is clear: People do not value confidence unless it is accompanied by competence—and even when it is, they prefer to see as little confidence surplus as possible.

Also check out @drtcp‘s website with more research, resources and media.

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Moving forward

  • Purpose, Passion, Pride – Iowa HS Principal Jimmy Casas has these three words in big letters in his office. He is a champion for these three words. He walks the walk and owns it. These words remind me of the greatest part about being part of the PLN. It wouldn’t be fair of me to throw out my thoughts on the network without offering some ideas on how we can get better. I ask the same of students, teachers and community members when we challenges arise. If were not listening and open to feedback from each of these lenses, we’re probably just in a “job” and not embracing this work as our “vocation” – a whole different post for another time.
  • Embrace the role you have before you embrace the one you want. I love my new gig at @PennGSE and @MCDPEL. I get to collaborate with school leaders, faculty members and MCDPEL alumni all over the world on using social media for connected teaching, learning and leadership. I get to speak from experience on where I made gains and where I fell flat on my face as a leader. I’m not an expert, and I say this each time I speak regardless of what the promo flyer says about my work. We all must work hard to be “experts” of our own communities by listening the most and committing to evolving our work based on what we hear – even if it doesn’t tell us “we’re awesome.” In the words of my first principal, Dr. Maureen Cheever, “The kids are depending on us. Be crazy, be magnificent!”
  • Find ways to bring more voices and perspectives into the conversation. I’ve been trying to follow new people and those who are just joining Twitter that have less than 100 followers. These are folks who are dipping their toes in the water to see what the “PLN” is all about and why everyone is raving about it. Let’s set a good example across the board. This is a space many of us have worked very hard to evolve. We have to take care of it and be vocal and brave when we need to be. We can learn a lot from each other if we just stopped talking and listened.
  • A new twist to think about as we innovate school leadership. Look for a new style of podcast coming out of @MCDPEL (See #backchannelEDU for details). It will be based on connecting research to practice, taking an inquiry stance and involving real leadership scenarios complete with voices from the field. Social media will be embedded throughout the process of this new, interactive “podcast series” starting Monday, March 2, 2015. (Follow @backchannelEDU on Twitter and save the date via Remind) [RESOURCE] What is a “backchannel?” via @educause (2011).

I challenge those in my PLN to raise the bar for both themselves and others as we continue to innovate inside this space. We have successfully made the education world smaller by the daily interactions we have on a variety of different mediums. We have made the impossible possible. This work is about relationships and there is no “summit” where you say, “I made it!” Building and sustaining them is hard work. Jealousy, gossip, self promotion, lack of transparency, lack of attending conferences and hashtag chats anymore as a learner is very clear to the rest of us. You simply can’t “outgrow” these things.

If you’ve gotten this far, I appreciate you taking the time. These are simply some things I’m seeing too much of as of late and I couldn’t go one more post without putting it out there. I think we can do better. I will always think we can do better. We must if we hope to move our educational system forward as we evolve locally and globally. How would others (new, experienced, early adopters) describe the present “culture of our PLN? What are YOU doing to innovate in order to take it to the next level of support, collaboration, personal and professional learning? What would be your elevator speech to describe the PLN?

I’d be anxious to hear your thoughts, your experiences good, bad, indifferent. Please push my thinking as I continue develop my own lens on this work and “our” network.

Principals’ 15 Point Winter Break Inspection

December 24, 2014

Inspiration for this post – My father the mechanic. 
It’s that time again. You get a few days away from the office with a long list of things you want to have accomplished by the time students walk back in those doors in January. The following are 15 things to think about.
1. Get away from the office. Enjoy some quiet reflective solitude as spring break begins. You’ve earned it. Reflect on the first 5 months of the school year. Are you feeling like your ship is headed in the right direction? Hit some rough patches? What could you have done differently? What have you learned about yourself and your school?

2. Take your spouse/significant other out to dinner and enjoy some quality time without your mobile device. If you’re a connected principal, you’re probably used to checking your phone for work emails, phone calls or Tweets even at home. It’s time to take a little break. He/she will appreciate it. Take some times to discuss device time and some family-friendly guidelines while you’re out it.

3. Read an unrelated magazine article, book, or anything that takes you away from “job-thoughts.”  Watch a movie or go shopping. Find the time to get back to exercising and taking better care of yourself. Some friends around the country are now using Fitbit devices to keep each other motivated.

4. Update your own leadership goals for the year. What have you accomplished? What is your next move? What resources do you need to get there? What will you focus on in 2015?

5. Pull out your staff roster.  Go top to bottom.  Who have you worked the most with this year. The least? Make some goals for the next trimester of the school year on how you can support your staff members, assistants, cafeteria workers.

6. Arrange a meeting with your office staff. How has the year progressed? Set goals for the new year. Talk to them about “PARTNER” and how you want to take your building to the next level in developing a family-friendly school – Share abbreviated research.  Ask them to consider the following mnemonic when helping a parent who has come to the office:

P- Put a smile on your face
A- Attitude-LESS
R– Recognize ESL or other needs (engage Language Line/interpreter)
T- Talk to them. Engage in conversation that shows them you care about them as people, they’re more than guests.
N- Never be satisfied that you have addressed the needs they walked in with. We can always do more.
E– Engage building resources (principal/guidance/teacher etc) each time the need arises.
R– Revisit reasons for visit and verbally confirm needs were met.
7.  Arrange a meeting with your head custodian. Reflect on the school year. Share any feedback from staff and your own personal input. When was the last time you provided the staff type opportunity to complete a quick school cleanliness survey using surveymonkey.com?
8. Take a walk around the exterior of the building. How does it look? Check for safety risks while making notes to continue building an inviting campus for your families.
9. Pull out any walkthrough data and observations you’ve done on staff so far. Go down your staff roster once again. Have you missed anyone?  Equity matters.  Make a plan for the next trimester.  Send an email to 5 teachers you observed referring to an observation and include a link to a related resource.  Consider moving to a free online walkthrough form.
10. Encourage a colleague to sign up for Twitter. Search #edchat, #cpchat #ptchat #elemchat. Find new resources and give yourself some new things to try over the last few weeks and during the summer.  If they are already on Twitter, join a hashtag chat and Tweet it Forward– help another educator in the family identify relevance in this amazing global resource and build their “PLN.” Consider using the great Twitter resources of Jerry Blumengarten or Steven Anderson or visiting the Learn Twitter page on this blog.
11. Reflect upon the level of feedback and praise you have provided your staff. Teaching can be a thankless job at times. Have you recognized the people in the trenches each day…the ones who lay it on the line with students and parents and make your school what it is? Send a text or write a note to them with authentic thanks and praise.  Start thinking about what you will do for Teacher Appreciation Week to make this year different.
12. Plan an agenda for the next Home & School Meeting that evidences any changes you’ve made in response to their feedback. Instill in them that you are serious about building partnerships with your families and meeting them where they are. Use research and some proven strategies.
13. Does your school truly integrate technology each day in classrooms and overall? Search #edtech and get some ideas together to compliment your curriculum. What traditional components of your school can go digital?
Newsletter/Website–> Blog.
Loudspeaker announcements –>Video stream, Google Docs
Photo gallery–>Picasa/Flickr/Twitter
Hard copies to all families–>Gmail distribution lists
Write to pen pals?–>Skype around the world #MysterySkype
Traditional phone chain–> Remind
14. Identify student leadership opportunities at your school. You can never have enough opportunities for students to take ownership of their school. Student council members, student bloggers, photographers, environmental club members, academic tutors, guest readers. How about student voice and how this differs from student council or government.
15. Pick up the phone and cold call 20 parents. Solicit feedback on how the year has gone. Thinking bigger? Develop a family engagement survey to help provide information on where your parents feel connected and where you need to differentiate further for them.  Here’s one that is based upon the important work of Karen Mapp.
Take pride in the fact that you are meeting the expectations of one of the most challenging jobs in the world. You are a reflective leader working to build your school into a 21st Century innovative learning community.  You’re committed to improving your own leadership and your school from one day to the next. You care about your staff and acknowledge the hard work they put in each day and night. You seek out new resources, make building relationships a priority and are working to be the transparent liaison between home and school.
In a job with so many responsibilities, you’re well aware that there are more than 15 points to write about. I invite your comments and encourage you to add to this list below.