Principals’ 15 Point Winter Break Inspection

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
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.

Lessons From Ferguson: Bias, community engagement and privilege

By way of various media, research reports and opening up dialogue to family, friends and colleagues on Facebook, I’ve been constantly engaged in gathering perspectives on the #FergusonDecision as a white, middle-class Philadelphian. I’ve followed the events of Mike Brown’s death since August, but when the decision not to indict was made last week, I became glued to the TV, and of course the #Ferguson & #FergusonSyllabus hashtags on Twitter. My Facebook wall has become a place where every opinion you could ever imagine is shared in the most unorganized and sometimes visceral way. I’ve really gotten to know much more about the unique sense of “privilege” my family and friends carry with them as I read each post. Some comments are quite disturbing, but offer a window into the real-life perspectives WE ALL HAVE in our communities that educators need to be prepared to engage. I’ve struggled to make sense of where I stand in many places, as it’s hard to have a definitive line in the sand with so many details absent. I can say that this particular situation has encouraged me to be even more transparent about the white privilege I’ve been fortunate to have with me my whole life.

Last night CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts. Batts speaking on his leadership of the BPD immediately caused me to reflect back on the work of today’s school leaders. As you listen, what themes strike you as you during the three-minute clip below?

Cooper asked Batts two questions that could have been answered in a similar fashion by a school superintendent and/or principal.

AC: Can training really be effective in reducing the impact of bias? 

AB: Absolutely and shares the following keys in his experiences as the leader of three large urban police departments:

  • Bias-based policing
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Tactical proficiency
  • Embracing that every human being has bias
  • We need to move beyond our bias based on scenarios
  • We have opportunities to back away from situations, call for back up, in effect take the bias out of the situation

AC: How important is it that the police force resemble the community they are policing? 


AB: There is a need to have diversity in the workforce – not only in race, but in gender and ethnicity.

  • Police force must understand what its like to live in the unique community.
  • New officers should come out of the Academy away from theory and get into the community to get them to know the people they serve.
  • There is culture, norms and issues going on in community. It’s more important to have the pulse of these things than to have a workforce that mirrors the community.

I also watched Batts’ introduction speech as new BPD Commissioner in November, 2012. At the 6:50 mark, he talks about community engagement. From an educator lens, there are many parallels to our work inside the school with students and out in the community with families. We need to build trust, get to know the norms, culture and issues they are challenged with to best serve them when they are in our care.

What have you learned from the Ferguson movement? Please detail your own takeaways as it relate to your work in the comments below.

Looking for support in the classroom? Tonight’s #PTchat (via @IELconnects) features special guest, Georgetown Professor Marcia Catelain (@DrMChatelain), as she details the hashtag #FergusonSyllabus, she first used in August after Mike Brown was killed by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. The one hour conversation will be about supporting healthy dialogue in the classroom with students on these and other issues involving sensitive topics.

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Innovating within Twitterchats through Leadership Simulations

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I’ve been a participant and a facilitator in Twitter chats for over four years now. I’ve learned so much and connected with some really inspiring and hard-working people and organizations. The majority of these chats out there follow the format of Q1, Q2, Q3 followed by A1, A2, A3. There’s an awful lot of “group think” going on where agreement and praise is a great core value of the conversation. I think this is a real area of concern as social media conversations around educational issues evolve and it’s up to chat moderators to encourage a rich conversation that digs deeper, doesn’t shy away from the tough conversations and works toward actual strategies and solutions that can be taken into school conversations the following day.

Tonight, my colleagues at PennGSE will join #PAESSPchat to host a LIVE online Leadership Simulation using the PELS program. Instead of the chat being based on six or seven questions, participants will experience a real-life scenario supported by audio and video from a school principal. You can check out the Penn Ed Leadership Simulations “sim” we’ll be using here that is open for the duration of the chat thanks to Ken Spero, Eric Bernstein and Mike Johanek.

My message here is that many organizations have fallen into habits of “group think” and steer away from critical conversations that could yield positive results for all stakeholders. By offering a variety of leadership scenarios based on actual issues school leaders face, we can provide hands-on PD opportunities for school leaders in an admin meeting to break down in a collaborative manner, forcing us to tackle a myriad of issues that will undoubtably come up.

Below the SIM Screenshot is the 11/20/14 #PAESSPchat (Pennsylvania Association of Elementary & Secondary School Principals Chat) where we walked school leaders on Twitter through the following SIM:

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Embracing Vulnerability

So I have a tumor in my head. There I said it. I struggled to write this, so please bear with me as I reflect a bit on why I’ve put social media on the back burner as of late.

I’ve been working to find some answers that started with a prolonged stiff neck back in July. Traveling back and forth to the hospital for check-ups is getting old. Every week more blood tests, ultrasounds, MRIs. I think I spent more money on co-pays this past month than on the mortgage. It’s been the hardest secret to keep from those around me, because honestly, you’re thinking, talking, focusing differently than you normally do each day. I literally waited to tell my parents and brother yesterday because I didn’t want to worry them – that was wrong and I shouldn’t have tried to go at this without them.

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I’m blogging about this news because I now have a greater responsibility to role model three things as I begin teaching graduate-level courses to current and future school leaders: 1) Acknowledge the day’s challenges head on; and 2) Allow those around you to lend support in the best way that they know how. 3) Stay positive because there’s always someone in your school going through something much more difficult whether that be a student, teacher or parent in your class.

I’ve written previously about Everyone Is Always Going Through Something after my black lab passed last year, but this is little different. The fact that something only 4.5mm long in the front of my brain is causing me headaches and has the potential to change my life in every way imaginable scares the crap out of me, and it’s hard to hide that – even for someone who is used to downplaying fears, taking pride in picking friends up and embracing the rock of the family role.

The fact that I’m going through something that (I hope is a whole lot of stress for nothing) is significant, and I can’t fulfill my role as a father, husband and educator without facing my fears and understanding that life is unpredictable and its challenges are imminent. How we attack them speaks to who we are and who we are striving to be as an example for our own kids. As much as I’d like to be superman and ignore things happening in my personal life when I’m in a professional setting, I’m human. I have real relationships with my local and global colleagues, and there is no pay-off for me to keep things like this from them. So to those I haven’t connected with as of late, I’m sorry. That was me trying to get my head around what do to with all this.

Now that that’s out of the way

Last weekend I began teaching my very first graduate course in the Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at PennGSE. The new and exciting course I’m teaching, Digital Instructional Leadership, is for second year doctoral students and features a brand new syllabus filled with on/offline transparency, anytime/anywhere professional development including EdCamps, a taste of relationship-based and collaborative social media tools for school leaders, all with PLN-infused learning experiences as a integral part of each class session. For those that know me, it is as much as a dream come true as it sounds. I absolutely loved the first class session with @MCDPEL Cohort 12 students, and left feeling invigorated and that the Leap of Faith I took last September was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself personally and professionally. I’ve really missed teaching since I left the classroom back in 2004 to start my administrative career, and now I have the opportunity to create engaging and PLN-based experiences within the same doctoral program I graduated from.

We started the course focusing on all things NOT related to technology. I wanted to frame very clearly, that as educators and school leaders, if we’re not transparent people offline, how can we even begin to think about online transparency? We spent the first class discussing offline transparency with the help of lead learners Dr. Sheilah Jefferson (NY) and Theresa Stager (MI), as well as connected superintendent Dr. Joe Sanfelippo (WI), who graciously Skyped into our classroom. Sanfelippo actually co-authored a new book with our 3rd year MCDPEL student / Cantiague Elementary School lead learner Tony Sinanis. We are reading all eight books in the new Corwin Connected Educator Series as our main discussion resource, as I’ve learned the majority of students in our program (and others across the country) do not feel they are prepared to confidently face the age of social media and connectivity we currently find ourselves in. I’m blessed to work within a school leadership program and under a Program Director (@MikeJohanek) that embraces educational innovation as a core value in teaching, learning and leadership.

Moving forward, I need to embrace the support of my family and friends. Anyone of us going through anything needs family, friends and colleagues to help them be their best on any given day. Whether it’s a text, phone call, post, vox, tweet, DM, quick visit – it matters to check in. It’s nice to have people in your life that let you know they care about you in a genuine way. These are the things that people who value relationships just do. People will choose to support you in the way that they feel they are helping. Sometimes what they say comes out sounding different than they probably imagined. Sometimes they do something that you wonder what they were trying to accomplish. I’m humbled that they even made an attempt. It matters.

So there. I offer some pellucidity on the latest challenges life has thrown my way. I have, however, nothing to complain about. I have everything I need in life. I live each day without any regrets. I’m blessed with a great family and friends near and far. It’s my favorite season – football season. I have a two-year old son who, when he smiles, erases every stress I have ever had. Whatever life has for me to deal with, bring it. I’m ready to roll.

*This post is dedicated to a good friend of mine who just began kicking leukemia’s rear end.

Where you invest your love, you invest your life – Mumford & Sons.

Update 10/27/14 – I got the phone call from the doctor this morning. It’s benign! Will keep an eye on it but incredibly happy with this news. Thanks for all of your thoughts and prayers of support. It means the world to me. — jm


On Expanding #EdCampLdr



On Monday, August 4th, our program hosted the annual EdCamp Leadership experience. For those who haven’t attended over the past since years of its existence, Edcamp Leadership (@EdCampLdr) is a free un-conference devoted to K-12 education issues and ideas. The goal of the day is to assemble forward-thinking school administrators, board of education members, classroom teacher leaders, parents/community members and anyone interested in K-12 education for a day of conversation, reflection and inspiration. The official website cn be found at

The experience brought together over 250 educational leaders from nine states for a free all-day conference. (Free thanks to the Program and supporting sponsors) Many, however, left many who attended wondering why we do not have more events like this in other parts of the country. There have been over 500 EdCamps around the world since the first event in 2009 here in Philadelphia. One of the goals of experiences like EdCamp or EdCamp Leadership is to motivate and inspire attendees to go back into their local learning organizations and create more participant (teacher) driven, relationship-based professional development experiences. 


Below are all 32 sessions held during EdCamp Leadership this year. Most are linked with a Google Doc of session notes (completed by participants) to give you a window into the discussion happening in each room.

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