Friday, July 28, 2017

The excitement builds!

I am so excited for the school year to begin.  I feel like it's my first day of school all over again.  The building looks awesome, the classrooms look new, and I've got so many ideas to help us get to the next level as a school community.  But it's not a one person job, that's for sure.  I'm going to need each one of you to take us there.  No one person is more or less important than the other.  We're all in this together!  (Did anyone else just start singing that song from High School Musical?)  Before the school year begins, I'd like to meet with each of you individually.  I just want to catch up from the summer, talk about your family, and ask you these three questions-
  1. What should I continue to do for you to help make you better for our kids?
  2. What should I start doing to help make you better for our kids?
  3. What should I stop doing to help make you better for our kids?
I'm in Mondays-Thursdays in the mornings but I'd be more than happy to stick around in the afternoons or come in on Fridays so that we can connect.  I'm so looking forward to starting our school year on a very positive note and I can't wait to meet with each one of you.

Blogs to consider before the school year starts
Take Advantage of the Blank Slate (from George Couros)
The Education "Bat Signal" (from George Couros)
Who Tells Your Story? (from Ryan Sheehy)
We Are Stories (from Pernille Ripp)
Tips for a New Teacher (from Danny Steele) and don't let the title fool you. We can all learn from these tips.
But Not for the Kid (from Pernille Ripp)
Turn Back-to-School Anxiety into Real Enthusiasm (from Angela Watson)
Serendipity (from Jon Harper)
Sharing the Ups and Downs of Learning (from George Couros)
For the Kids Who Show Up (from Pernille Ripp)
An Open Letter to the Parents Worried My Son is in Their Child's Class (from is a great resource for families and educators.
How Will the Kids Remember You? (from Danny Steele)

Update on Room 120E (in library hallway)
This room is going to be used for 4 purposes.
  1. Storage for NJHS, Student Senate, and Merton Theater
  2. Storage for all kleenex and wet wipes collected as part of supply list
  3. 6th grade refrigerator and microwave
  4. Possibly green screen room for student videos
If you have any questions or concerns about this, don't hesitate to ask me.

You have an assignment!
I have come across a new tool that I would like to use with all of you.  It is painless, I promise, and could actually be a little fun.  It's called flipgrid (Heidi shared it with all of you) and I'd like to have you take a 30 second video of yourself sharing two things- the best part of your summer and what you are most looking forward to this year.  Flipgrid is a great conversation starter (You can learn more about it here.) and if you'd like it for use with our students, there is a discount for 10 class subscriptions.  Here is the link to your flipgrid assignment.  Happy recording!

Will and Grace
I just saw an advertisement about Will and Grace, a television show that ran from 1998 until 2006.  It was one of those television shows that Jen and I watched almost every week.  You just never knew what would happen to make the next episode better, or at least different, than the one before.  It made me think about our school days.  Bear with me a moment while I explain.  What do we do every day to make the next day better than the one before for our students?  For each other?  For ourselves?  How do we build and foster relationships?  How do we have conversations that make each other better for our students?  Let's keep this in mind as the school year progresses.  I'm sure the reboot of Will and Grace will be alright, but I know that our next school year will be awesome!

Be the one!
Take care of the kids.  Take care of each other.  Take care of yourself.- John Gunnell

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Live Outside the Box

I've had awesome opportunities all summer to connect with family, friends, and colleagues.  I've also been able to work on projects around the house.  One of these projects was an updated patio.  Our old patio was just that, old.  There were cracks and the cement was a wavy as a lake on a windy summer day.  Frankly, it was a bit dangerous.  Fortunately my wife, Jenifer, knew just what she wanted.  She designed a new shape for our patio and we got a couple of bids.  (Note to all of you who are still reading.  Always get more than one bid, even if you know the people who are giving you bids.  The difference in price was astounding.)  Anyway, we had a stamped concrete patio installed.  That job is way bigger than anything we would have been able to do on our own.

With a new patio comes new patio furniture, right?  Trust me.  New patio = new patio furniture.  Jen found just what she wanted online, ordered it, and had it delivered.  The company who made the furniture, Walker Edison furniture company (@WalkerEdisonCo), makes quality furniture.  It also is the "some assembly required" kind of furniture.  When the furniture was delivered, I went right to work.  I think that it turned out pretty well.  You can even see a bit of our new patio and the landscaping (Jen and I did all of that on our own with the help of our daughter, Lauren.).

So where am I going with this?  It's the saying on the furniture boxes- Live Outside the Box ™.  When you are putting together furniture, there is no living outside the box with the directions.  Mess up one thing and you either start over or create furniture that either doesn't function or doesn't look right.  But once you've put your furniture together, you can enjoy life outside the box.

The same can be true for our students and staff.  We need to provide the parameters for learning and then we need to let them go, let them learn on their own or with others, and have them show off their learning.  I don't know who said it, but these three words mean a lot to me- freedom within fences.  The need for parameters is in those three words, and the fences can have an expansive perimeter.  The directions for the furniture were my fences, but how we organized the furniture was up to us.  In thinking about fences and living outside the box, let's provide voice and choice for our students and staff, and let's learn along side of them.  In that way we can all live outside the box, too.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Be Like Mike- #NPC17

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor of attending the National Principals Conference in Philadelphia with my closest colleague, Mike Budisch (@headlearner).  If you have read my other blogs about #NPC17, you know I spoke a lot about connections, and most of them are with educators I have connected with on social media from around the country.  But my most important educational connection is with Mike.

Our connection started in February of 2007 when I interviewed for my current position.  I still remember sitting on a table in the library just talking.  The questions didn't seem scripted.  It was just an immediate connection.  And we talked about kids.

Through the next 10 years, Mike has been a consistent and confident leader that I know I can rely upon.  We have spoken about kids, staff, our families, our schools, and our futures.  I never feel judged but I do feel pushed to be better.  I hope that he feels the same about me, too.

Badger game
Celebration Day

Mike and I had an opportunity that I think other principals should have.  We attended a national education conference together.  We shared plane flights, trips on the train, a hotel room, and some of our meals.  We also shared the great ideas we heard, the connections of fellow educators from across the country, and the desire to be better for our kids, our staff, and our schools.

Flight to Philadelphia
Waiting for train in Philadelphia

Mike and I continue to discuss our learning even weeks after the conference.  And I know our learning and collaboration will continue.  The reason why- We are educators who put our kids first and we want to do better for them every day.  We have our stumbles along the way, but we're always there to pick one another up.

Many of us attend conferences alone, connect with some colleagues during the few days we're together, and then, most often, don't connect again for quite some time.  This can, at times, stagnate our learning.  That doesn't happen with Mike and me.  I certainly hope that you have someone in your school community that you can rely on, and learn with like I do.  And I hope that I can "Be Like Mike" for someone during the rest of my educational journey because together we are better.

Thanks, Mike!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Getting prepared?

Good Friday morning, Merton family!  I hope that you summer is going really well.  In one month we'll be together again as the Summer Academy gets under way.  I can't wait to catch up with all of you and I have a few new ideas of how we can do that, but that's for another post.  Here is a graphic that will let you know how I feel.

The custodial staff and other crews have been hard at work in our school and things are coming together well.  New ceilings are in, painting is underway, the hallways and classrooms are brighter with new lights (It seems like a sunrise in my office!), and the gaga pits are complete.  I'm in most mornings if you happen to stop by.  It's pretty quiet so I could use some conversations and a walk through the building.

Our community garden is looking awesome, too!  The rain and the volunteers (NJHS as well as Lindsay, Patrick, Dave, and Michael) have allowed all of our vegetable and watermelon plants to thrive.  When you stop up at school, take a little walk to see how the garden's doing.  I think we'll have a bumper crop of tomatoes after having about 3 last year.
For other pictures of all that's going on around the school, check out the #mertonint hashtag.

Here are a few quotes and blogs and ideas I thought I'd share.

12 Conversation Starters on What Parents Want You (Teachers) to Know (from Joe Mazza)
Some of the Worst Advice You Will Ever Get as an Educator (from George Couros)
Welcome Back Letters- With a Twist (Pinterest)

I'll be sending out this smore to families on August 1st.  Please let me know if you'd like me to add anything, delete anything, or if you have a photo you'd like me to use instead of the one I took from our directory.

Finally, I have lots of ideas from the Principals Conference I attended in July.  Gerry Brooks, "perncipal" from Kentucky, sums up all of the excellent sessions I attended.  You can see them all here.

I hope that you giggled a little bit after seeing the video.
See you all soon!
Be the one!
Take care of the kids.  Take care of each other.  Take care of yourself.- John Gunnell

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The power of connections- #NPC17

People either get it, or they don't.  The connections that we make via social media can have a lasting impression on our lives as educators.  It was never more evident to me than during my time in Philadelphia for the 2017 National Principals Conference. I have had the privilege of connecting with educators from all over the country and the opportunity to meet these educators face to face, sometimes for the first time in person, was incredible.  I don't have pictures of them all, but here are some that I will share with you because of their importance and, more importantly, because they are the ones I could find on my phone.  I only wish that I had one really good one with Ryan Sheehy and Mark French, two outstanding #principalsinaction who I had the privilege of presenting with early on Sunday morning.  So, here goes.

Saturday night I had the chance to connect again, briefly, with Tony Sinanis, a dear friend who without the magic of social media I would never have met.  I am lucky enough to be in a Voxer group with Tony and these amazing educators- Joe Sanfelippo, Amber Teamann, Melinda Miller, Jessica Johnson, Curt Rees, Leah and Tom Whitford, and Tim Lauer.  It's an amazing group.  Tony lives in New York City and I live in rural Wisconsin.  What are the chances we would have met without social media?  We have spoken on Voxer, tweeted one another, and met face to face on at least three different occasions.  When I stepped into the restaurant, Tony was one of the first ones to call out, "Jay!"  We hugged, spoke briefly, and then he was headed out the door for home.  New York City Tony and Wisconsin Jay are connected and we are friends.

On the same night, in the same restaurant, I reconnected with two middle school principals, Joy Wright from Connecticut and Don Gately from New York, that I have met face to face only once before and had the pleasure of connecting with another middle school principal, LaQuita Outlaw from New York, face to face for the first time.  We are part of a Voxer group of middle level principals.  Middle school principals are a different breed and we need our support system.  We are able to share the successes and the struggles of daily life with middle school students and staff.  We know that we can rely on one another for advice and suggestions and a place to vent.  We have all made each other better for our students and staffs, too, because of our connections.

Again, I heard someone say, "Jay!"  There was Doc Sheilah, Sheilah Jefferson-Isaac from New York, one of the first people I connected with on Voxer when Joe Mazza started a world wide book discussion of Beyond the Bake Sale.  Joy Wright is also in the picture as the first place I met her was on social media during the book discussion.  We have been friends for over 3 years.  The conversations we have had about our schools, and our families, and our families in our schools, have truly built a strong relationship.  We know that we can count on one another even though we are miles and miles apart.

The final picture is of our #principalsinaction group.  We had planned to meet in the restaurant before the conference.  When we saw each other face to face, it was like we had met before.  For many of us, this was the first time that we actually had met face to face.  The friendships we have developed on Twitter and Voxer meant that hugs and high fives and smiles were everywhere.  We continued conversations, started conversations, and deepened relationships that night.  It was an experience I will never forget.

And that was just the first night, the night before the conference even started.  These connections continued to be fostered over the next three days.  I could go on and on with more pictures from Saturday night and the conference days but it would just be more of the same.  You all know who you are and I could write a paragraph about each one of you, but I won't.  The connections were fostered on runs, during sessions, between sessions, at meal time, at gatherings in restaurants and beer gardens and hotel lobbies.  Why am I sharing this?  Because as educators, we need to continue to develop connections with other educators.  Share the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Sharing will make us all better.  Reach out to your colleagues who aren't as connected and offer to help them along the way.  That's another connection right there.

I watched as two different groups of educators, #principalsinaction and #momsasprincipals, grew membership because they reached out to connect.  A third group, #dadsasprincipals, was born.  It was great to see the variety of educators that grew together at a conference because they were first connected on Twitter or Voxer.  It was amazing.  Because of the connections I made with Mark French (Minnesota), Ryan Sheehy (California), and Don Gately (New York), we were able to prepare for our presentations without even being in the same room let alone the same state.  That's incredible.

I encourage you to reach out to others.  Connect on social media and face to face.  It's what's best for our kids and our staff and each other.  There are plenty of us out there to help and support you along the way.  So what's stopping you?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Hats at #NPC17

As principals, we all wear a variety of hats.  But I'm not going to talk about the different hats we wear.  I'm going to talk about two hats I got from vendors at NPC17, hats I wasn't looking for but hats that found me.  And my wife will tell you I certainly don't need anymore hats, but I couldn't resist them.  The reason I couldn't resist them is messages they have for me and for anyone attending a conference or participating in any kind of learning experience.

This is in no way meant to be an advertisement for, a website I use to find educational Twitter chats.  It is meant to be a call to action.  Learning is an active process.  We learn by discussing, questioning, listening, moving around, answering, and sharing our thoughts.  Participating is not limited to scheduled sessions, either.  It includes the times you make up your own sessions with those you have connected with, eating a meal with new and old friends, going for a run with others (check out my previous post), hanging out in the airport or hotel lobby, and just about any other way you can connect with someone.  I challenge you to connect and not just hang out alone.  Your learning will be much deeper and meaningful if you can speak with another learner.

Ripple Effect
When I saw this hat in the exhibit hall, I couldn't believe that it existed.  The hat was at the Overcoming Obstacles ( table and made me pause and speak with the nice people who were there.  I feel that we all have a ripple effect in our schools.  We all create ripples.  We drop a rock in the pool and the ripples go out from there.  Good "rocks" create good ripples.  Bad "rocks" create bad ripples.  And it's not just the principal that creates the ripples.  Students, staff, and families all create ripples.  During NPC17, the ripples were everywhere.  #momsasprincipals led to #dadsasprincipals.  Speakers like Jimmy Casas and Todd Nesloney and Kevin Carroll spread ripples about relationships and believing in our kids, among other things.  I need to be aware of the rocks I drop in my school, with family and friends, and with those I meet while I'm out and about.  The ripples will have a lasting effect and I want them to be good ripples.

What two things from NPC17 impacted you the most?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Runs at #NPC17

I haven't been home for even 24 hours from the National Principals Conference in Philadelphia.  I'm tired and thinking too much, about everything, and what I should do next, so I'm writing a blog to reflect on my learning, my discussions with old friends and new friends, and the challenge that I put forth to our #principalsinaction group of finding that one thing to focus on.  But those reflections will come later.  This blog is about the 3 runs while I was in Philly and how they changed the way I think about attending conferences.

Day 1- Alone (and a bucket list check off)
At the top of the "Rocky steps"
Rocky statue selfie
On day 1 in Philadelphia, I ran, alone, to the "Rocky steps", a bucket list run and a total of 4 miles.  It's how I used to attend conferences, too.  Alone.  Interacting with few people.  Afraid to take a chance or move out of my comfort zone.  Hearing great ideas but never, or rarely, speaking with anyone about them, at least while I was at the conference.  But then something changed.  I connected with a couple of top of the line Wisconsin educators, Curt Rees and Jessica Johnson, on Twitter.  We talked about feeling alone on a desert island as principals and in need of support and encouragement.  We shared our message of being connected with anyone who would listen, informally as well as in sessions at our state conferences.  Now that I'm connected, I don't ever want to go back to attending conferences alone, quietly moving from session to session.
*Full disclosure- I presented at 7:30AM on Day 1 with Mark French (Minnesota) and Ryan Sheehy (California) and needed to clear my head as presenting at a national conference is also a bucket list item.  Check.

Day 2- Old friends and new friends
Ben, me, Eric, and JR
On day 2 in Philadelphia, I had the distinct pleasure of running with Ben Gilpin (Michigan), Eric Ewald (Iowa), and JR Raybold (Virginia).  We started out with an idea to run to the Liberty Bell, then added the Delaware River, and then added the "Rocky steps".  The plan was to run 4 miles but we just kept talking and laughing and enjoying the morning and 4 miles became 7 miles.  I've met Ben in person once before and ran with him at a conference in Chicago.  That run in Chicago was awesome.  I know Eric from our interactions on Voxer and Twitter as part of the #principalsinaction group.  I met JR on day 1 as he was introduced to me by Hamesh Brewer, a relentless educator and cheerleader for kids.  This run was how I now attempt to learn at conferences.  I meet up with old friends, catch up, and talk about our schools.  I meet people I've connected with on Twitter or Voxer and deepen our professional relationship.  I meet new people and start conversations.  The variety of connections stretches my thinking, challenges me, and supports me.  These three types of relationships will continue to grow and flourish and only get better with time, especially if we can, once again, meet face to face.

Day 3- Sharing your learning
Joe, Laura, and me
On day 3 in Philadelphia, I enjoyed a run with Laura Jennaro (Wisconsin principal) and Joe Schroeder (assistant director of our Wisconsin principal association).  We ran to the Liberty Bell, the Delaware River, and ended at City Hall, just over 4 miles.  It was an incredible run with a focus on our learning, how we can share our learning with others, and how we can get more connected as a state.  I'm sure that it's the first of many conversations that we'll have over the course of the year.  It was a great final run in Philadelphia.

This post was not meant to suggest that you run every morning at conferences that you attend.  It was meant to demonstrate a few of the ways that one can participate in a conference.  The total time of the three runs was less than 2 hours, but the conversations (I do talk to myself when I run alone) kept pushing my thinking.  I encourage you to have your future conference experiences be more like my Day 2 and 3 runs.  You'll get so much more out of your learning.

Friday, July 7, 2017

#principalsinaction anticipation

I'm one lucky guy.  I am married to my best friend.  We have a beautiful daughter.  We live in a great house in a quiet neighborhood.  We have had opportunities to travel to beaches and lake houses and Niagara Falls.  I'm one lucky guy.
I started writing this blog as I sat in Virginia Beach, alone, reflecting on how my life has changed in the last 5 years.  My family and Wisconsin friends have stayed the same, but my school family, friends, and life have changed, and it's because of connections with educators all over the country.  And this is the reason for the title of this post- Anticipation.  In one day I'll be connecting, and reconnecting, with educators I have met on Twitter and Voxer.  I can hardly wait!
I look forward to reconnecting with those I've already met in person and am excited to meet those who I know through Twitter, Voxer, and Google hangout.  I only hope that I have enough time.  Three days doesn't seem like enough time.

I'm also a bit scared.  What happens if I don't remember someone's name?  Our profile pictures on Twitter and Voxer can be a bit deceiving.  What if I don't have a chance to connect with everyone?  There are so many great people in our #principalsinaction group.  We have a saying in this group- Get out of your office!  I'm changing that saying a little bit for this weekend- Get out of you hotel room!  There will be plenty of time to sleep on the plane ride home.  I'm hopeful to meet up with as many of my #principalsinaction family as possible.
Mark French, Ryan Sheehy and I have a session about #principalsinaction at 7:30AM on Sunday morning and we'd love to see you there.  By the way, I've met Mark once in person and look forward to meeting Ryan for the first time in person.  We've prepared our session through Voxer and Google hangouts, connecting in ways that weren't possible when I first became a principal ten years ago.
If you have the time, #PIAchat will also be live on Monday at 8EST at the Tenth Floor Grill of the Hilton Garden Inn.  We hope to see you there.

See you in Philly!