Monday, January 8, 2018


Each year I reflect at the beginning of the year. For the past several years I have been using a process called One Word to help guide my reflection. This year as I reflected I felt compelled to look at my "why". I took the time to look at my beginning in education. 

I began my journey with the intent to connect with students. As an administrator I have been beyond blessed by a top notch staff, a supportive school board, great students and a community that recognizes the value in a commitment to education. 

What I have missed is the personal connection with students and staff as everyday tasks consume my "why".

In evaluating this thought, I turned to scripture to spark my One Word for 2018. I found:

Matthew 5:37New King James Version (NKJV)

37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
It was through this passage that I found my focus for the year. The Lord gave me the word "Discern". He is asking me to separate my own desires for my life and his desire for my life and to return to my "why". 
With this revelation, much prayer and reflection, I have resigned as Pekin 6-12 Principal effective at the end of this school year. It is my prayer and my hope to remain on staff at some level and to "discern" the next steps in my life. 
I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to lead what I consider to be one of the best districts in the state in many different regards. I have never been more excited about the future of Pekin and I wait with anticipation to see how it will continue to grow. 
As always, Go Panthers! 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Why Every Student Needs A Cheerleader

   This summer fellow educator, Josh Ehn and I were traveling to co-present at a conference. On the ride to the event we listened to music and tweaked last minute preparations for our presentation. The conversation was soon halted when Omi's "Cheerleader" came on. We both looked at each other for a moment....and soon began belting the words as we traveled down the road.
    Months later I reflect on that car ride and ponder what could make two grown, professional men sing a pop song. I have come to the realization that no matter the age, we could all benefit from a cheerleader. The many people that have cheered me along the way will forever have a special place in my heart. Especially those who were there at the beginning.
    My thoughts turn to those that I can cheer on and help to win the race. In the many hats that I wear, it can be easy to forget to take time and truly champion on a young person with intentionality and purpose. All of us have someone or if you are blessed as I am, hundreds of someones, that we have a chance to cheerlead each and everyday.
     I hope that this post serves as a prompt to pick up your pom poms and wave them proudly in the corner of a young person's life!

     There are indeed many, many great reasons to cheer on a young person, below I have listed three:

1. Every student should be inspired to greatness. 

        Recently our district's girls basketball team had the privilege and honor of playing at the State Tournament. As an administrator I had a front row seat to all of the action. Our girls played that game with all of their heart and fell just short of advancing to the next round. 
        Regardless of the score, our cheerleaders continued to pump up the crowd, leading the fans in cheers and shouting words of encouragement. In the fleeting moments of the game when everyone knew it would be out of reach, I studied the cheerleaders. They were also well aware of the score and what the final outcome would be. Putting their own fears and concerns aside, they still continued to cheer, even after the game was over. 
       This challenged me on several levels. Do I encourage and inspire greatness to young people whom I know are failing to meet some of the standards that have been set? Am I willing to put my own fears and concerns aside to best encourage that child?

2. Every student should feel like a part of a TEAM.

      Cheerleaders make you feel like an essential part of the team. They have an ability to include everyone, giving you the sense that the team would not be performing as well without you present. 
      As cheerleaders to the young people in our lives, are we doing everything we can to make them feel a part of the team? How have we gone the extra mile to encourage them to fully participate and share their contributions to the world at large?

3. Every student should know they have worth and value.

       0-20 or 20-0, a cheerleader puts on their smile and doesn't pass judgment on the team's performance. In my short tenure as an educator, I am beginning to truly understand the power of words. Just as a positive word builds, a negative word destroys. When we cross paths with a young person we don't know if they have had a positive or a negative experience that day with the others in their life. 
       As a cheerleader it doesn't matter. I can't change the circumstances in the arena of competition. It is my job, role and responsibility to give that child a positive experience. What I can change is how that child leaves their interaction with me. I can ensure that the student leaves with a feeling that someone is supporting them, even if it feels like everyone and everything is against them. 
       I can pick up my pom poms, grab my cheer horn and make as much noise as I can to push that child to be the very best that they can be and encourage them to finish strong!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

It's O.K. to be AWESOME.

It's O.K. to be AWESOME.  If you were waiting for it is. As human beings we tend to undervalue our contribution to society and the world. As educators, we are taught humility in our craft. We are quick to accept blame when a student does not understand the material, but how often do we step up and take credit when the light bulb switches on? 

What if just once in awhile, we stood up and proclaimed the really AWESOME things that are happening in education? What if just once in awhile, we allowed our need to take a back seat to be replaced with a greater need to share what is working in our classrooms?

These thoughts drove me, after four years to the day, to write this blog. In 2011, I was a guest blogger on Shaelynn Farnsworth's (@shfarnsworth) blog, Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation

Since that time, I have met some AWESOME people doing AWESOME things in education. One of those people is Josh Ehn (@MR_EHN). We met while doing a collaborative 9/11 project with Shaelynn and our classes. Having only met by Skype, Twitter and Google Docs, when we finally had the chance to meet face to face we found we had much in common. 

Our friendship turned into presenting together at this year's Iowa 1:1 Institute. When we got together to plan our presentation, the word "AWESOME" came up 7.2 billion times as we listed things we loved about education. That spawned the name for our presentation, Awesomeness 101. The crux of the presentation was simple, we would each separately list AWESOME things in education and then encourage educators to try them out. 

We found that not only did we have a blast sharing our passion for education, we also inspired one or two people. We decided to take the show on the road and had the honor of presenting last week in Storm Lake at the Technology Integration and Instruction for the 21st Century Learner Conference

Below is the list I presented beginning with some things I added from my reflective four hour drive with Josh:

Edcamp- If you haven't had a chance to attend, put this on your list! Ed Camps are essentially conferences that are led by the attendees. They cover my three "F's" of professional development, Free, Fun, inFormative! (O.k. I made the three "F's" up, but they fit and they all are true.) Check out locations in Iowa

Student Voice- This movement is aimed at giving a platform for students to give voice to the changes they would like to see in education. Consider following #stuchat on Twitter and Iowa's own #iastuchat encouraged by Aaron Maurer (@coffeechugbooks) and Cameron Chamberlin (@cameroncard).

Voxer-  This app essentially functions as a Walkie-Talkie on your device. What I personally love about this technology is the ability to join in group discussions in real time or at your leisure. Consider joining the Iowa Educators group or start your own with people who challenge your thinking on topics. 

#10. 1:1 Mobile Devices

       Really.. we should no longer call it 1:1, the reality is it is probably more like 3:1 with students having a cellular device, music device and separate tablet along with their school issued device. As an adult, I even have a smart watch. With all of this technology opportunity also comes technology responsibility. Schools have become savvier at addressing digital citizenship and leveraging these tools for the benefit of students and student centered learning. 

#9. Video Creation

       Although students benefit from viewing short videos, Blooms increases as students engage in creating videos rather than watching them. Video creation provides an authentic viewing audience for students which also increases student engagement. Authentic audiences are a key component in instructional strategies such as Project Based Learning. Consider following respected colleagues and PBL gurus, Deb Loftsgard (@Debloftsgard) and Josh Johnson (@JJohnsonCCHS).

#8. Pinterest

       This website and app started as a bet for me with a student. I walked upon her using this in class and I told her it didn't look like it belonged in History class. She was tactful in her response, and politely disagreed. I responded that if she could show me how it related to class I would start an account. After a quick search and several "pins" later, I was in the process of starting my own account. I now use it not just for education, but for humor, quotes and my wife's personal favorite, backyard projects. You can check out my teacher board

 #7. 21st Century Classroom Designs

         This movement is less about talking your superintendent in to purchasing new furniture and more about creating intentional spaces for student collaboration. 21st Century classrooms should be functional as well as innovative. Great Prairie AEA in Burlington, Iowa has a great model example that demonstrates tremendous opportunities for students and instructors. 

#6. Genius Hour

      Genius hour is modeled from Googles 20% grant of time to its employees to pursue personal interests and passions. This same idea has been translated to classrooms to allow students classroom time to chase after projects they choose. 

#5. Read

        This applies not to your students, but YOU. When I visit with one of my colleagues, his first question to me is always, "What are you reading?" This question used to challenge me, until I made the decision to constantly be reading to improve my knowledge on a variety of topics. Now when I am asked, the challenge is to narrow my list. If you need help with what to read you can check out this author's suggestions for 2015 or check out and support Iowa's own Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) book What Connected Educators Do Differently

#4. Blogs

      Web logs have been around for a long time. As a long time follower of various blogs on all topics, I have found the answers to questions I didn't even know I had. I have also found insight in to individuals as they have expressed their knowledge and thoughts on issues. This in turn has challenged and shaped my own. Websites like Kidblog can help you begin blogging with your students as well.

#3. Twitter

      This tool changed my instructional path more than any other. I was a Twitter doubter at best as I didn't see the value it had to offer me trying to catch up with celebrity bowel movements and crushes. Once I began to follow the right people and searching out chats, my Twitter experience exploded. As a single person department, for the first time I was out of my silo and in the midst of experts at every topic and grade level. I was able to learn from teacher librarians, counselors, principals, superintendents, and students along with teachers. Join today and start altering your course towards collaborative learning.

#2. Google Apps for Education

       Also known as #GAFE, Google tools also fit the three "F's", Free, Fun and Functional. :)
One of my favorite features is the collaborative nature it provides. From Docs to Forms, as an educator or student you can connect across the room or across the world on a myriad of different devices. With autosave capability you don't have to worry about a computer crash or flash drive breakage losing your materials.

#1. Relationships

        It sounds cliche, but in my experience the phrase "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care". This is true in all facets of life, but never more true than when dealing with young people. Students are perceptive, they can spot a fake from a mile away. In a world filled with false promises and emptiness, students crave people in their life who are real. 

**Thank you for taking a journey in to my inaugural blog post, if you made it this far, congratulations! Now... do something with it. Challenge yourself to take one of these suggestions and use it in your classroom or daily life. 


Feel free to leave comments with what YOU find AWESOME in education.