Friday, June 26, 2015

Well, it's been two weeks...

Good morning, Merton family!  I hope that you have been enjoying your first two weeks of summer.  I have had the pleasure of seeing or tweeting with many of you so far and hope that our paths will cross often over the remaining days of summer.  As you probably know, I have participated in two fantastic learning opportunities since our school year ended.  I participated in #summerspark on June 15th and 16th and had the honor of presenting a few sessions with my good friend Tom Whitford (@twhitford) as well as suggesting an administrator session for the EdCamp that concluded the conference.  Our very own Heidi Jones also participated and presented.  Way to go, Heidi!

Earlier this week I participated in the National FCE (Family and Community Engagement) Conference in Chicago.  To say the least, I was completely blown away.  I met my #ptcamp PLN (Somewhat explained in this blog), the same people who signed a copy of "Beyond the Bake Sale" and had it hand delivered by my good friend Geniene Delahunty (@GenieneD).  If you want to know more about this experience, please stop by.  I'll be at school from time to time over the summer and would love to talk to you about my ideas and how you can support improving family engagement in our school.  I am meeting with our new PTO president, Mrs. Payne, next week to discuss having our own book chat of "Beyond the Bake Sale" with families and staff.  I am really excited about this and know that it will help to make our school an even better place for our students, our staff, and our families.  Neither of these opportunities would have been possible if it weren't for the connections I've made on Twitter and Voxer.  So what can I do to help you get connected?

Here is a graphic from this blog (tea@chtought) about the 27 things teachers do well.  I know that it's difficult to read all of the words so please check with in the blog link if you are interested.

Here is a link to the Meemic foundation grants.  It's a very simple process that I hope you all take advantage of this school year.  Who doesn't like "free" money?

Quotes, blogs, and tweets
"When a thing is done, it's done.  Don't look back.  Look forward to your next objective."- George Marshall, military leader
"I was born with an enormous need for affection, and a terrible need to give it."- Audrey Hepburn, actress and humanitarian
"The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise.  It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us."- Ashley Montagu, anthropologist
(image from
So I leave you all with this image, and a request.  As the summer continues, find something that you struggle with, either personally or professionally, and try it again.  The ideas in the growth mindset link above the image may assist you with this.  You can choose to share your struggle with others so that they can support and encourage you or you can keep it to yourself.  The choice is yours.  But please, take the challenge.  You'll be glad that you did, and so will your students and family.

Have a happy 4th of July.  I'll blog you all again after the holiday.

#ptcamp- Explaining the unexplainable

For the past year, I've been a part of a wonderful online, interactive community of learners.  The members of this community are from all over the world, nine different time zones to be exact, with parents, teachers, building and district level administrators, authors, and state and local school boards.  These individuals have become a family to me and I can't really explain why.  It's something that will probably only happen once in my lifetime.  I would love to have it occur again, but the perfect storm of people, conversations, and activities is nearly impossible to replicate.  That doesn't mean, however, that I won't give it a try.  I really think that you should, too.  So, here's what you'll need. (To my #ptcamp family, I hope you notice the use of "P" words!)

  1. People-  This is where it all begins.  You'll need a group of people that are willing to take chances, have honest conversations, share their ideas, and ask for suggestions.  The #ptcamp family which began in June of 2014 has people with all of these qualities.
  2. Passion- This is defined as a "strong and barely controllable emotion."  The #ptcamp family exudes family engagement.  Sure, we had conversations about things other than this, like our own families and schools, but ultimately the conversations came back to the main focus- family engagement within our schools
  3. Purpose- The purpose of #ptcamp family was to share ways that we all encouraged family engagement.  Like any good group of educators, we "stole" ideas from one another, came up with new ideas, and shared stories of things we tried that just didn't work.
So how did all of this work so well for the first edition of #ptcamp?  It started with a great book, "Beyond the Bake Sale", written by Anne Henderson, Karen Mapp, Vivian Johnson, and Don Davies.

Dr. Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza) pitched the idea of a global book discussion around the book, asked for people to sign up, and encouraged the conversations to begin.  Interested participants used Twitter, Voxer, Apprenet, and personal blogs to share their thoughts and ideas.  We all got to know one another through the social media apps, but no one could ever imagine the connections we would make during the book chat.

Although the formal chat ended in early August, a core group of passionate individuals stayed on board and continued the discussion throughout the school year.  This, I believe, is when the family started to gain strength.  The school year began and we spoke about all of the ideas we had to improve upon family engagement in our schools.  Some were successful, and others were not, but we celebrated the successes together and talked through the disappointments.  Just this week, many of us met in person for the first time.  But that is a story for another blog.  I'm still too overwhelmed to be able to put my thoughts into words about that.

The moral of the story is this.  Find a group of people who are passionate about a topic.  Connect with them, face to face or through social media.  Foster conversations around the passion.  Find your own purpose through these conversations.  Share your successes and your challenges with one another.  But, most importantly, take a risk and push yourself to places that are uncomfortable.  You will learn more than you could ever imagine, you'll connect with great people, and you might even find that you have a family that you didn't even know about.

Now, #ptcamp friends, who's next to share their thoughts?

If you are interested in joining the next #ptcamp, here is a link and explanation so that you can sign up.
Media preview

Friday, June 12, 2015


Way back on August 1, 2014, I emailed all of the staff a welcome back letter.  In the letter were three main areas of focus- relationships, PBIS, and family engagement.  They were to be my three areas of focus and I think I was trying to persuade you to make them yours, too.  Towards the end of the letter was the motto that I hoped that we could live by this year- "Let's make this the best school year ever."  The motto became a bit of a running joke with daily announcements and the final line to "make it the best Friday, or whatever day it was, ever."  In retrospect, I think that the motto has stuck with each of us and with the kids.  You have truly made this the #bestyearever.

  • Your relationships with our kids, their families, and with each other grew better and better every day.
  • Thanks to Matt and Katie, our PBIS program has a very strong foundation that can be built upon for an even more effective program for the years to come.
  • Family engagement is improving as seen by the number of volunteers we have visiting our school for academics, arts, athletics, and showcasing of student work at conferences and portfolio nights.
We now turn the page on the 2014-2015 school year and begin to look ahead to next year.
  • We'll have a new look to some of our classrooms.
  • There will be new students and families to build relationships with and foster growth and learning.
  • There will be some adjustments to PBIS that will make this an even better program for our students and each other.
  • Some of you will wake up in August, much later than the rest of us, with new opportunities that you have worked to attain during your many years of giving to others. (Best wishes Tracey, John, Beth, and Barb!)
Now I'd like you to enjoy this last day with our kids.  Find the good in each of them.  Share that last smile or hug or high five or fist bump.  To quote Theodore Roosevelt, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."  That's the way it is for our kids and that's the way it is for adults.  Our kids, whether you know it or not, do know how much you care.

Think about when you were growing up.  During these middle school years, there were times when you thought that you were smarter than your parents.  I know that I did.  It wasn't until much later, when I became a husband and father, that I realized they were the smartest people that I knew.  Our students oftentimes feel the same way that I did.  But then there are times, like last night at 8th grade graduation, when the kids and their families step up, look you in the eye, and thank you for the direction that you have provided.  My hope is that you each have one of those moments today with your kids.

Thanks for making this #thebestyearever!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The BEST retirees

Eight years ago, I became the principal of Merton Intermediate School.  It was my dream job and allowed me to have "my own building".  I knew that with the job came great responsibilities.  As one of the fine Merton fathers said to me, in front of his son, "With power comes great responsibility."  The four retirees have been instrumental in guiding me to become a better listener, influencer, and leader.  I can't thank them enough.

One of the first things I did as a principal was to bring the motto "BEST" to our school and district.  BEST is an acronym for Believe, Encourage, Share, and Trust.  The four retirees exemplify each of these characteristics.  I'd like to mention a bit about each of the retirees, in alphabetical order by last name.

Tracey McGinnis

  • She believes in each of her students and their ability to be the best musicians they can be.
  • She encourages her students, and those teachers she has worked with, to become the best music teachers they can be.
  • She shares her ideas with members of our Building Leadership Team and is the voice of the specialists.
  • She trusts all of her students to do the right thing, especially when she takes them off campus to perform and showcase their talents.
John Rheineck
  • He believes in the abilities of all of his students and guides them to do their best.
  • He encourages those students who might otherwise fall through the cracks by reaching out to them on their terms.
  • He shares his beliefs about middle school kids with fellow staff and me, trying to help us better understand what a "normal" middle school kid really is.
  • He trusts each of his students implicitly, and they return this trust to him every day, knowing that a conversation with him is only with him.
Beth Rosen
  • She believes that all students have the ability to do math and provides extra guidance, even if that means missing lunch or a prep.
  • She encourages students to be better, both academically and behaviorally, by holding students to a higher bar than they might think they can attain.
  • She shares her love of math with her students and her colleagues, taking a leadership role for our school and district.
  • She trusts her students and encourages them to take responsibility for themselves.
Barb Schiellack
  • She believes in all of her students and colleagues and knows that they are giving their best every day.
  • She encourages students to take risks to learn something that is hard or different.
  • She shares a wealth of knowledge with her students, families, and colleagues every day.
  • She trusts that her students will leave her classroom and be stand up citizens.
These four retirees have shown me the BEST in my time as their colleague.  They have believed in me, encouraged me, shared with me, and trusted me, and I am forever in their debt.  You will all be greatly missed.