The world of education is in constant evolution as we strive to improve the quality of the learning experience for all students. We have our own lingo, and it does not take you long to realize that within the educational world there are lots of ways to say things. We spend lots of our own money on resources aimed at creating a challenging learning environment. We speak of differentiating, increasing the rigor, developing critical thinking skills and using higher-order questions as means to deepening the academic experience for our learners.   We spend countless hours in professional development sessions learning new strategies. In fact, just look at the session agenda of any educational conference where you will find lots of sessions on “How You Can Have a Challenging and Differentiated, Rigorous Classroom Where Critical Thinking Skills are Developed Through Asking Higher Order Questions.” 

Just google the word differentiation and you get no less than 16 millions hits. Wow! With all of this emphasis on what these types of learning environments should be, we often neglect to talk about how things are in getting to these types of classrooms.

Let’s face it. It’s awkward. What do I mean by that? In our best intentions and desires to have a challenging classroom, we do not mention that it creates a time of awkwardness on the part of the teacher and learner. This awkwardness, or sense of being uncomfortable, is created when the learner struggles to achieve at higher levels. This can be seen in the form of students struggling before they answer, being unsure about what to do, students who typically respond with confidence getting things ‘wrong,’ et cetera. In reality, it is this awkwardness that you WANT within your classroom as you are designing an academically challenging class or school. If the instructional level presented by the teacher does not create a sense of dissonance (uncomfortable), then is the instruction at the appropriate level? Instead of this awkwardness causing the teacher and learner to give up, it should be seen as a sign of success and a step toward getting the type of learning environment that matches the learner’s needs.

If struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it. (MindShift)

So, embrace this uncomfortable feeling as you are intentional about raising the level of instruction in your classroom. It’s a good thing!


Experience Doesn’t Make You Better, Only Evaluated Experience Makes You Better. (Dr. Howard G. Hendricks)

I recently heard this quote in a series by Andy Stanley. As I began to think about this statement, I continued to see its application within the educational setting and mentoring aspects of leadership and leader and teacher development. Educators know that providing descriptive feedback to the learner is a critical element for learning and growth.

Marzano and others have long researched the benefits of consciously providing feedback to the learner.

W. Fred Mizer stated, ‘Feedback is an objective description of a student’s performance intended to guide future performance.’ Teachers have long understood that the more specific they are in their feedback to the student, the higher the ensuing achievement of the learner. No longer are ‘Good Job’ or Smiley-Face stickers appropriate for providing feedback about learning. Feedback is specific and non-judgmental. It is merely a statement of what was observed and what can be done to improve the next time.

The same goes for educational leaders responsible for providing feedback to the instructional staff. No longer are comments like ‘Good Job’ or ‘I enjoyed the lesson’ appropriate as end conversations about the teaching and learning that has taken place in our classrooms.

With the renewed interest in teacher evaluation systems and the emphasis on learner outcomes, it is important that current educators realize that our emphasis is also on the input. As Dr. Hendricks stated, it is ‘evaluated experience’ that improves practice. We must embrace the benefits of descriptive feedback that we can both provide and receive from colleagues. Too often we simply reflect on our practice by answering, ‘What worked? What needs to be improved?’ Please do not misunderstand me. These are valuable questions to ask, but we also need to utilize the benefits of having someone else provide feedback to us in the course of our daily practice in order to effectively answer these questions.

As building leaders, we must continue to provide the kind of descriptive feedback to teachers of all levels in order to promote growth and the best instruction for all of our learners, student and adult.

The next time that someone says ‘Experience makes you better,’ remember that only ‘evaluated experience’ makes you better.



One of my passions is photography. I absolutely love the ‘click of the shutter.’ I am an avid iPhoneographer, Instagram user, Photoshop editor, Canon, Nikon, and even Olympus 35 mm fanatic. Yes, I say I am an amateur. When people ask me about photography I simply reply, ‘It keeps me sane.‘ It is an outlet for me.

As a continual learner, I am also currently enrolled in a digital photography class. I am operating in my own sense of ‘flow‘. In our first class, the instructor said that basically a photographer’s job is to…

‘create art out of a cluttered and unphotogenic world.’ (via Phil Winter).

This statement has rolled around in my thinking since last Tuesday’s class. As I have thought about it, I see a parallel to the work we do in schools and as leaders. No, I am not implying that our students and staff are ‘unphotogenic’ on any level,  but I am suggesting that our role is to help the learners in our organization make ‘art’ out of the vast amount of information that is readily available to 21st Century learners at an alarming rate.

How do we do this? Well, I will be the first to admit this is not easy and has many factors, but one critical and nonnegotiable piece is enabling the learner-student or staff member-to take ownership of their own learning. We must become facilitators and not the traditional ‘sage-on-the-stage.’ We must help them create ‘art.’

Breathe in! Ahhhh! That clean crisp smell of New. It is unmistakable, isn’t it? In fact, one could even say that it is ‘intoxicating.’ Did you know they even make an air freshener called ‘New Car Scent‘?

How conscious we are to keep the New Thing…New. We are extra careful to maintain its original and pristine condition making sure that any particle of debris is quickly brushed away. How quick we are to make sure the exceptions to keeping the New Thing as such are not allowed. The New Thing can even, if only temporarily, change our behaviors…until..

Until the New Thing becomes the ‘thing’. And so it goes. Our behaviors revert to our comfort zone as is typical to the human experience. In fact, it is often this ‘comfort zone’ the speeds the process from the thing being the New Thing (shiny, clean, crisp, that ahhhh smell) to it being just the ‘thing’.

So goes the parallel experience of opening a New School. The clean hallways, the newly polished floors, the clean painted walls without the evidence of hot glue or masking tape, the doors without nicks, the playground with lush green grass all serve to produce the same ‘intoxicating’ and invigorating feelings and emotions. As a principal who is  humbled and fortunate to be part of opening a New School, Kelly Mill Elementary (@KellyMillES), I truly cannot put into words all of the excitement, energy, passion, motivation, enthusiasm, etc that describes this experience.

Pretty soon, the New Car Scent fades because you begin to eat in the car and leave the wrappers on the floor. Pretty soon the New Car just becomes ‘the car’ without the intoxicating and invigorating smells that provide a level of motivation to keep it clean and shiny.

I can also say this, the New Thing ‘smell’ with the new school will also fade with time and rightfully so as the building becomes what it is intended to be – a place that is active and alive with students and adults as they engage with knowledge. At some point, the New School becomes the school. So, what’s the point?

Once the New Thing becomes the thing, we must make conscious and intentional choices to continue to keep the car clean, to keep it vacuumed, to keep it in its best condition for optimal performance. No less is true with schools and students.

Once the excitement and energies of the new building wear off, we must make conscious and intentional choices to maximize the learning experiences we provide our students. To do any less would be to miss the opportunity to do amazing things and to reinvent and recreate education in meaningful and applicable ways.

In other words, to ‘make the atypical, typical.’

So what are you doing to ‘keep the new car smell?’


Wow! This sign literally stopped me in my tracks the other day when I entered the gym. I shared with Michelle that I ‘had’ to take a picture of it, and that I would definitely be blogging about this one. My mind immediately went in a million directions when I read it. It was one of the most profound things I had seen lately.

I also thought about the post from Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby), Hypocrisy in the Profession of Education, and the harsh truth that he shared. He so respectfully puts it this way…

As educators, we strive to create life-long learners in our students. Many schools make mention of life-long learning in their mission statements. But why, I ask, does it only apply to students? As teachers, should we not be scholars? Should we not continue to learn in order to maintain relevance as a teacher? Do we not have a responsibility, or more, an obligation, to offer our students the most up-to-date education, adhering to the most up-to-date methodology based on the most up-to-date pedagogy? Should we not base our lessons on the most up-to-date information and employ the most up-to-date methods of acquiring, analyzing, understanding, creating, and communicating this information? Educators did not secure a diploma or a teaching license with all of this etched and updating in their brains. This stuff evolves almost daily. Most educators are not evolving at the same rate. Staying relevant is not a passive endeavor. It takes work, time, and effort.

As educators we must be learners first. If we are to be better educators, we must first be better learners.

After reading this, I realized that I totally agree and thought, ‘What have I taken the time to actually learn lately? What has challenged me and changed me?’ I immediately made a conscious choice to learn something entirely new. Yes, I am currently in doctoral classes and am learning, but the geek in me actually likes that kind of stuff, but I wonder if it challenges to me as a learner. Is it something that totally changes me as the sign states?

As Tom states, ‘this stuff evolves almost daily.’ So, Tom (and sign at the gym) I accept your challenge! I will learn something that is challenging to me, so that I can be changed. I will keep you updated.


barrier: Something immaterial that obstructs or impedes (

As I sat in my grad class this weekend, yes, this weekend, I was struck by a question that the professor posed in one of the moments of his lecture. He said, ‘What barriers hinder you from reaching your potential?’ Wow! Those words resounded over and over in my head after that. I have to admit that I probably missed the next few moments of his dialogue because I could not shake the profound nature of his question.

I began to think of the ‘barriers’ that exist in my workplace and started a jot list of them. I have to say that as the list grew I had a moment of sudden realization that the ‘barriers’ to potential may not always be the ‘things on the list’ but that the ‘barrier’ might actually be a person, and that person might be me. Oh my!

What if I am the barrier to someone’s potential??

I have to admit that I have found a recent addiction to the TV channel, TCM, as it has featured its ‘31 Days of Oscar.’  I have heard of many of the titles, but have not actually seen many of them until this past few days while I have been completing homework for my doctoral program. (Yes, I know…focus on the homework).

I truly appreciate what the actors, producers, directors, musicians, and the technical casts have accomplished in such treasures as Singin’ In The Rain, Lawrence of Arabia, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Now , Voyager…I could go on and on. There are so many great films that we should remember.

One of the films, Now, Voyager, was new to me so I was especially interested in seeing it since it featured one of my favorite actresses, Bette Davis.  She pays the role of a young lady who goes through a transformation reminiscent of ‘The Ugly Ducking.’  It was a heart-warming story of her attempts to find herself and then help in the transformation of someone who reminds her of her own story.  The movie ends with Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) and her friend, Jerry, standing at the library window looking at the sky.  Charlotte looks to Jerry and says, ‘Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.’

‘Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.’

I thought, ‘Yes, Charlotte! You understand.” (I now know that many others agree since this particular line is one of the most famous closing lines in all of cinema. Thanks, TCM for adding that bit of trivia).

I thought about my present circumstances with the opportunity to open a new elementary school in the fall, and I find that the more I visit the new school, @KellyMillES (Kelly Mill Elementary), the more excited I become about the possibilities that exist.

As I have been talking with some amazing teacher candidates, I have noticed that this enthusiasm and excitement are contagious!  The more we talk about creating the KME Family, I find myself sharing the vision of being the best school in the state (yes, I DO think it is possible and that you can intentionally design and structure events to cause that to be the likely outcome), and I ask the question, ‘What Can’t We?’

Like Charlotte and Jerry, why should we settle for ‘reaching the moon’ when ‘reaching the stars’ should be our goal?  Too often in education we settle for ‘the moon.’  Sure, it’s no minor feat to reach ‘the moon,’ but we often settle for that when with a little more determination, focus, passion, and fortitude we could help our students ‘reach the stars.’ After all…aren’t they worth it?