Category Archives: Fostering Effective Relationships


I saw a post on Twitter talking about removing the word “teaching” and simply replacing it with “learning”. I have to admit, I cringed at the thought.  That being said, I do believe a great teacher starts from the view point of a learner, not the teacher.  This is something that is a needed shift in the traditional norm of education. Starting from the needs of the learner, not the teacher.

That being said, with all of the change that is being thrust upon us so quickly in the world, great teachers are needed more than ever.  I asked the following question on Twitter:

Here are my thoughts:

A Great Teacher Is…


Someone who is a relationships builder.

Someone who shapes minds.

Someone who empowers learners.

Someone who cares about their learners.

Someone who inspires.

Someone who is a leader AND a follower, and knows when to go into each role.

Someone who knows when to stand in front and then knows when to gets out of the way.

Someone who is wise and shares their wisdom with others.

Someone who listens.

Someone who is continuously learning and growing.

Someone who shares what was, but inspires dreams of what could be.

Someone who both embraces and creates change.

Someone who is a constant innovator.

Someone who impacts people long after their time with them.

A great teacher is often all of these things and so much more.

P.S. Nothing here about test scores…

As I said earlier, teachers are needed more now than ever.  Change will be the only constant that we will deal with in our world, and it is happening at a rate faster than ever.  Educators should not only empower the next generation to embrace change, but will develop those who create it, making the world a better place.

Share your blog posts or tweets to share what you think #AGreatTeacherIs.

Fifty years ago


The Most Important Part of the Learning Environment

Over my summer travels, I have heard this quote several times (attributed to Haim Ginott but may have been adapted from Goethe):

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

In the quote that is originally attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, this part resonates:

“If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

As talk about learning spaces and learning environments becomes more predominant in education circles today (as it should), we must not forget the importance of a loving and caring educator in the room.  One that has the ability to build rapport, give and gain trust, provides support, and pushes, all at the same time.

Every time I walk into a teacher’s classroom, I am reminded of how hard the job is.  There are so many different things educators need to be, all at the same time.  Simply put, the job is exhausting.  But the job of educator is one of the most important in the world because the great educators not only see what students can become, they often help get them there.

is turning

10 Easy Ways To Create an Amazing #SchoolCulture as a Principal This Year

Based on a comment I received on my post, “10 Easy Ways To Create an Amazing #ClassroomCulture“, I was asked to write a post about what a principal can do to promote school culture.  Thinking about my own past practice, but also by many that I have been inspired by, here are some simple ideas that could really set the tone for a year.

  1. Be outside and welcome people in the morning. One of the best ways to start the day as a principal is to be at the front of the school (or in a central place) to welcome students and staff every single morning (not just the first day).  Dave Pysyk, principal extraordinaire, was known for welcoming people every single morning at his school. It set an amazing tone for the day and was an immediate investment in people.
  2. Go into classrooms and hang out. One of the things that I truly believe in, is that principals should be in classrooms a lot more than they are currently.  Not just stopping by and saying hi (although this is hugely beneficial), but just spending time and hanging out, observing the environment.  The world is so mobile now, that we are not tethered to an office, so take your laptop, and answer your email or do your “paperwork” in a classroom. Your presence means a lot to the school community.
  3. Make a YouTube video to welcome people back. A great way to greet people back, is to make a quick message like this one from Travis McNaughton on YouTube.  People get to hear your voice and see your face, and sets a different tone than any letter home would.  Or you could be like Tony Sinanis, and create a school newsletter on YouTube with your students.  Awesome way to make connections before families start your school, and continue them after.
  4. Twitter videos to share awesome things happening in classrooms. One of my favourite options on Twitter is using video.  It is a great way to capture quick moments in the classroom and make great teaching and learning go viral in your own community, not just globally. There is no need to wait for the next staff meeting to share awesome ideas happening in your own school when you have access to technology like this.  Former principal Carolyn Cameron told me, that as a principal, you can become one of the best teachers, because you can always see great teachers. Make sure you share what you see with others constantly and consistently.
  5. Learn the names of all students. If a student is ever sent to the office, the worst way to start off a conversation is “what’s your name again?”  Spending time in areas where students convening, and making a huge effort to know the names of your students, makes a huge difference.  It is not easy, but it should be a goal for every principal.
  6. Make a spreadsheet with every staff member’s name and list their strength(s). People that are new to the principal position always ask, “What would you change first?” My answer is always, “nothing”.  The best thing you can do is learn the strength of every staff member in your community, write it down on a spreadsheet, and share that you see that in them.  This reminds principals that people are more likely to move forward when they feel valued.
  7. Fill the halls with pictures of kids that are there right now. Schools spend a lot of time honouring the past (graduation pictures, principal portraits, etc.), but not enough time honouring the present.  Going into schools often, I notice that the ones that really stick out to me, are the ones that have active pictures and media of kids plastered all over the school.  It is a great reminder for all of the students that you are there for them.
  8. Have lunch with students. I am all about having food together.  Having lunch with the principal is such a great way to get to know your students and connect with them.  Sometimes you might do it to find out what kids want from their school, but sometimes it is just about finding out about the kids.  Very simple, yet very powerful.
  9. Call families of colleagues to thank them (Thanks Jimmy Casas). I remember when Jimmy Casas told me about the time he spent calling the parents of his staff, to tell them how awesome their children were. No matter how old we get, we are always somebody’s kid, and parents never get tired of hearing about the accomplishments of those that they have raised.
  10. Treat the school like family. Schools can be tough places to be.  There are lots of emotional ups and downs, and people have shed many tears being a part of a school community.  This is why people need to feel that you will push them, but always have their back.  When schools become like family, what the community can do is absolutely amazing.

One of the elements that is not on the list is to simply be available.  Don’t be the principal that needs an “appointment” to connect with others.  You have the mobility to move around the school in ways that many staff can not, and it is important that you are visible. Amber Teamann is very transparent principal, exhibiting her continuous learning in her role, modelling her willingness to grow for her school community. Patrick Larkin had his desk in the hallway of the high school in which he served as a principal, and it was an awesome reminder of who he was there for. Principals like Sanee Bell, seem to go out of their way to make kids feel like part of their community.

To be a principal is a true blessing. My best advice is to enjoy every minute you can openly, as you see that your joy will become infectious with others.


Distracted From School or Learning?

In my last post, I shared an article regarding a Michigan High School that recently banned mobile devices from their classrooms. Here was one of my comments:

These articles used to really bother me, but what I have learned is that I never know the whole story. There is always more to any article or tweet you read online.  That being said, here is one part that bothered me:

The decision regarding the new cell phone policy was made after several discussions with the high school advisory committee, made up of teachers and support staff, and with the parent advisory committee, Bohl said.

Notice anything missing? Me too.

Spiri Howard, an amazing thinker who regularly comments on my blog as well as posts great stuff on her own, left this comment on my last post about her own son and his thoughts on school vs. learning:

How ironic that my son, Gabe (15), and I have been talking about this very school and article. Gabe’s view of school was shocking to me, he said…

“You know mom, school is just a place where teachers teach what they have to, you know, curriculum and test prep. When I want to learn something, something that’s important to me, I know where I can find it and who I can learn from. I build those relationships online, I can make them happen. Kids just go to the source. A lot of the time, well recently, my learning doesn’t come from a school, its not from a teacher or the relationship I have with my teachers. I just think teachers and admin. don’t understand that.”

He’s absolutely right. This generation of learners are an iPoding, texting, Googling, YouTubing and Facebooking. They live during a time of dramatic technological changes. For many of them, texting is the chosen method of communication and YouTube is the chosen method of online learning. Whether you feel this is good or this is bad, is irrelevant. This virtual presense will not go away. When we decide to ignore it, we are saying “think this way, learn this way …only”.

When I’m listening to a speaker, I begin to wonder about what they are saying. I’m questioning and thinking about ideas. Naturally, I want to explore those ideas and find answers to them, hence the use of tech.

What this high school wants from it’s learners, in my opinion, is for them not to wonder or think, but rather just decide between answers that they are given. This is dangerous. When we decide this for our learners, we need to realize we are killing off “possibilities”. This is how we become stagnant. We are killing off ALL possibilities but one (the “correct” answer). If we want learners to think critically and creatively, we need to realize that there isn’t one “right” answer. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities. So by asking students to make decisions and choosing the “right” answer rather than wonder and question the possibilities …we’re fitting students into the box of what we believe to be right or wrong. Where is the questioning, the thinking, the problem solving in that?

This is very powerful comment, but I will have to admit, not all students feel this way.

As I was working with some administrators recently, a former student that graduated recently from their schools really challenged the notion of devices in the classroom, as it often distracted from what was happening in the classroom.  It was an interesting conversation, and there are a lot of students that feel this way and are very anti-devices, but the question that I wonder if are they focusing on being good at school, or focusing on powerful learning? When people are so ingrained into any system, do they challenge it?

Kids become so conditioned to what school looks like, are they as open t challenging it? I believe in the power of student voice, but to also inform it along the process.  If they only know school can look one way, will they really challenge it?  Too often, when educators ask input from students about school, they often ask the ones who have really mastered the system, not necessarily the ones that hate it.

We need to ask questions explicitly “how they learn best”, and ensure that we differentiate that we are not only asking about school, but learning in any circumstance.  I have the feeling you will see more comments similar to the one Spiri’s son has, than what we might be hearing right now.  This is not on the students, but possibly on us for asking the wrong questions.

School vs Learning

“There will be a place for you”

Dealing with setbacks is tough and can often lead to feelings of resentment and jealousy. This short video from comedian Chelsea Handler is a really great story on how to deal with it, and gives a great perspective.

I know that I have felt this myself, and it can be tough, but this video is a great reminder that there are so many opportunities out there for everyone. Even when we are disappointed that things didn’t work out we expected, it doesn’t mean they won’t work out.

The best leader I have ever known always said to me with any letdown that I had, that “everything happens for a reason”. When I struggle with things not happening the way I want them to or had planned, that is what I always try to remember.

Just a good little reminder :)


Turning the Spotlight on the Audience

“So often our power lies not in ourselves, but in how we help others find their own strength.”

I happened across this article titled, “11 Ways To Instantly Connect With Anyone“, and although it is meant for more one-on-one interactions, there is a lot of wisdom in it that would tie into speaking or presentations.

The first point in the article was the following:

1. Leave a strong first impression. Most people decide whether or not they like you within the first seven seconds of meeting you. They then spend the rest of the conversation internally justifying their initial reaction. This may sound terrifying, but by knowing this, you can take advantage of it to connect with anyone.

Now from the perspective of a speaker, this is one piece of advice that I give to all presenters.  When you start your talk and all eyes are on you, turn the focus back onto the audience.  Simple things like acknowledging where you are and what you know about the area, or sharing something that you heard earlier at the conference or happened in the room.  Showing an awareness of who you are speaking to shows that you care that you are there.

Too often people jump right into the “talk” or presentation, where there first focus should be on building rapport.  This is no different than what you would do within the classroom, you just have a MUCH shorter time to do it.

Think about it…You are letting people know that you listen and care about them. Isn’t that a great start to any conversation?

(If you are interested in learning more on “becoming a better speaker”, I have been contemplating delivering a self-directed course on the topic over a 5 to 8 week period. If you are interested in this topic, I can send you more information when it is ready for release. Please feel free to share your contact details in this Google Form.)

“Threshold Model of Collective Behaviour”

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As a basketball fan, I was fascinated listening to this podcast by Malcolm Gladwell (you can read the whole transcript here as well), discussing Wilt Chamberlain and his poor free throw shooting.  Wilt Chamberlain is known as one of the best players in NBA history, yet is also considered one of the worst free throw shooters to ever play the game.

Rick Barry though, a great player in his own right, was one of the best free throw shooters of all time.  The reason why Rick Barry is brought up though is not only because of how good of a free throw shooter he was, but because he was so good, doing it in a way that is so unique.  His technique was to throw the ball between his legs (which he says is a much more natural motion).  This is otherwise known as the “granny shot”.

Rick Barry shooting between the legs, or known in many basketball circles as "the granny shot".

Rick Barry shooting between the legs, or known in many basketball circles as “the granny shot”.

What I found fascinating about the podcast is that even though Wilt, and so many others, would have benefitted from this technique, the stigma that came with it, made them choose a way that was actually worse.  Gladwell references sociologist Mark Granovetter, and his idea of “Threshold Model of Collective Behaviour”.  He describes it as the following:

Now, what does Granovetter mean by that word, “threshold”? A belief is an internal thing. It’s a position we’ve taken in our head or in our heart.

But unlike beliefs, thresholds are external. They’re about peer pressure. Your threshold is the number of people who have to do something before you join in.

Granovetter makes two crucial arguments. The first is that thresholds and beliefs sometimes overlap. But a lot of the time, they don’t.

When your teenage son is driving 100 miles an hour at midnight with three of his friends in your Toyota Camry, it’s not because he believes that driving 100 miles per hour is a good idea. In that moment, his beliefs are irrelevant. His behaviour is guided by his threshold.

Ultimately, someone in education with a “low threshold”, is more open to going with the group, where as someone with a “high threshold”, is more likely to do it their own way.  I found this fascinating in connection with opposite ends of the spectrum in education.  The teacher that may be reluctant to go beyond “traditional” ways of teaching, while others around them might do the same.  But on the other end, someone who is more open to being extremely forward thinking in an environment that is steeped in traditional ways of thinking, might also have a high threshold.  What is important is to recognize the culture of the group, as well as the individual.

But the one part that really fascinated me about the podcast was an assertion that Gladwell made about Rick Barry’s inability to move others to do it his way, when it has been proven to work better than what you typically see in a basketball game.  In one word, it was Barry’s “likability”, or lack thereof.

And I’d read all that stuff about him– half the players disliked him, the other half hated him. And I kind of braced myself before I met him. But I liked him.

Or maybe it makes more sense to say, that I really admired him. Because I finally understood what someone like Rick Barry stands for. It’s perfectionism.

And what is a perfectionist? Someone who puts the responsibility of mastering the task at hand ahead of all social considerations, who would rather be right than liked. And how can you be good at something complex, how can you reach your potential if you don’t have a little bit of that inside you?

This idea is so crucial in terms of leadership.  There are people that I am sure we have encountered that are absolutely brilliant in the fields of education (or elsewhere), yet their ideas seem to take a long time for others to gravitate towards, because they seem to be more concerned with being “right” than being “liked”.  You are probably thinking of someone like that at this moment.  Now, doing the right thing can be hard sometimes and could make you enemies, but we have to realize the importance of building relationships in helping move people forward.

As an example, after speaking to a group where one of my good friends was in the audience, I asked him what he thought.  He shared that he really loved what I talked about, but the first 10 minutes I spent too much time sharing my own story.  What I told him is that he knew me well, and so he didn’t need that, but with the majority of the group meeting me for the first time, I needed that time to build rapport.  Simply put, people don’t buy what you are saying, until they buy you. That made sense to him.

In our pursuit to continuously push the importance of developing something much more powerful in  today’s classroom, we have to remember that relationships are crucial in helping move people forward.    Stephen Covey talks about this so eloquently in “The Speed of Trust”:

When trust is low, in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden “tax” on every transaction: every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up. My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.

By contrast, individuals and organizations that have earned and operated with high trust experience the opposite of a tax—a “dividend” that is like a performance multiplier, enabling them to succeed in their communications, interactions, and decisions and to move with incredible speed. A recent Watson Wyatt study showed that high-trust companies outperform low-trust companies by nearly 300 percent!”

If you want to move people to places of discomfort, we must realize that the time spent building those relationships should not be seen as an expenditure, but as a necessary investment.

Fanning the Flame

I never wanted to be a teacher.

I loved school and enjoyed my time there, but my passion was always in sports and coaching. Teaching was a pathway to that love.  In fact, in one of my interviews, I was reluctantly hired because the principal thought I was more interested in coaching than I was teaching.

He was right.

And although I stopped coaching soon after, I started to referee basketball and that became a love for me.  Teaching was my job, but sports were my passion.

In my career now, I connect with people that had known they wanted to be a teacher early on in their childhood.  Their fire was sparked at an early age, but I was never that person.

But then you cross paths people that change your perspective, and some of the leaders that I have encountered in the last ten years or so, saw something in me that I never did.  They found a spark and fanned it into a flame, and gave me the tools to continue to let it burn.  This is why the topic of “leadership” is so important to me.  Those leaders are the reason I am writing today and more passionate about education than I have been any other field in my life.

Yet some of those same people that had that passion from an early age have lost it, and to be honest, it is because of leadership (or lack there of).  I never think that people intentionally try to kill a fire inside of us, but little things that they become unaware of, turn teaching into a “job” for some people, and it no longer becomes a “calling”.  Bottom line, it is a job.  But great leadership can make a job seem like something so much bigger.

So many blog posts and articles talk about “what’s missing” from education, and I rarely see this as an educator problem, but a lack of leadership.  Now if you are reading this and you are thinking “Yeah…my leaders have sucked my love of teaching away”, you need to understand that leadership is about influence, not position.  You can have that same influence on your colleagues, no matter what your job is.

The beautiful think about teaching is that our legacy is defined in what we give and empower others to do, not only in what we do ourselves.  If leadership is truly about how you influence others, isn’t every person in education, in some way, a leader?  Whether you influence kindergarten students, principals, or teachers, you could be the person that sparks and flames that fire in others.  You could also be the person that douses the flame.

As many educators in North America, look to recharge and learn over the summer, remember that you are, and can continue to be, the one that fans that flame in others.  Legacy as an educator and leader, will always be in what you give and empower in others.

fanning the flame

Side-By-Side Learning

Using 30 second video reflections has become one of my favourite ways to share on Twitter.  There are a few reasons why I see this as powerful:

  1. It forces you to focus on what you are wanting to share because of the 30 second time limit.
  2. You become more conscientious of what you are going to share because you know that anyone in the world can see it.
  3. The ability to hear voices and see faces, brings a certain amount of “humanity” to see who is behind the tweet.

It is a very powerful reflection tool, and this quote resonates through this process:

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This past weekend, I worked with a group of administrators from the “Texas Association of Secondary School Principals”, focusing both on their learning and leadership.  It was a tremendous opportunity for me to not only share my learning, but to learn from them as well.  I truly believe that the more connected we become, the smarter we all are. We can all learn from each other, no matter our experience or expertise.

One of the people who attended, was Dr. Kenneth Gay.  He is just an awesome person, and he shared his own fear of “jumping in”, and that he wanted to learn more.  So trying to help him see the opportunities, while understanding his own reluctance, we did a video reflection together, side-by-side. Check it out below:

Sometimes the best way to model the power of certain learning opportunities, is to do them together. And I appreciated this comment from Cindy Kirby.

What was awesome, was as the weekend went on, Kenneth saw the power of connecting through this medium, and ventured out to share on his own.

Throughout this weekend, as with any learning opportunity, there are people at all different levels in the room. What is important is not that they are learn the same thing, but that they learn. As stated in “The Innovator’s Mindset“,

Effective leadership in education is not about moving everyone from one standardized point to the next but moving individuals from their point “A” to their point ”B.”

What is imperative though is that that movement from point “A” to “B” is always the choice of the learner.  Sometimes standing in front and sharing ideas is one way to create this movement, but as Cindy stated, sometimes the best way to learn, is to do it “side-by-side”.

Laugh, Cry, and Think.

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In what is probably my favourite speech of all time, these words from Jim Valvano as he was fighting his battle with cancer, resonate with me daily:

When people say to me how do you get through life or each day, it’s the same thing. To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.

In every “talk” that I do, this is my hope in what I create for the people I am serving. Laugh, cry, and think.  There are so many things that we talk about for today’s schools, but these are some of the “basics” that might not be acknowledged as much as they should.

What if this was a goal for schools each day? Laugh, cry, and think.

What if this was a focus in how we work with our colleagues? Laugh, cry, and think.

I know that it might seem simple, but think of those that have made the biggest difference in your life. The ones that I have connected with the most are people that I have always shared these moments with.

This quote resonates:

“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” James Corner

And although I love the above quote, I like how it is framed from the movie, “Jerry Maguire”, just a little bit better:

Laugh, cry, and think.

A very simple concept that means more than the credit we give it.