Summer Learning, Had Me a Blast.

Well, folks. It’s been a long time since last published a blog on this personal blog, but in the words of one of my favorite current musicians, Macklemore, who I was fortunate to see in concert last week…. “You know I’m back, like I never left.”IMG_3396

I’d like to begin my return to this blog with a reflection on my last month of learning and have us consider how we can create similar circumstances for ourselves and our students during the school year, not just in the summer.

This month I have been fortunate to participate in various summer learning opportunities at the MASS Superintendent conference, MSAA Principal conference, and during our district’s leadership retreat. In addition to conferences, I’ve entered Voxer group chats, re-engaged with podcasts on my long walks, spent more time on articles from Twitter, and started to tackle my tower of books on my bedside table, I am definitely feeling rejuvenated and back fully in the “learning zone.”

In reflecting on the past month and trying to capture the environmental factors or conditions that helped me to dive deeper into the zone of learning, I have identified five areas that have supported my personalized learning:  Flexible learning spaces, Agency, Balance, Supportive Network, and Space for Risk-Taking.


1.  Flexible learning.  My learning has taken place on beaches, in conference rooms, at dinner tables, over Twitter and Voxer, at work, at home, or while walking in my neighborhood.




2.  Agency.  I have had agency to pursue any topics, approaches, books, workshops that I want to learn more about or were passions I want to follow.  I have had an array of choices and the autonomy to determine the best fit.



3.  Balance.  I have been more productive and focused in my learning because of the greater balance of work, family, and personal health that the summer has allowed.  Long walks and runs bring clarity. Quality time with family and friends instill meaning in the work.



4.  Supportive Network.  I pride myself in surrounding myself with innovative thinkers, educational leaders willing to take risks, and friends who laugh with me (and at me).  Through building an extensive network at various conferences, and then through social media, I have access to on-the-spot support and resources on topics ranging from SEL to PBL, from some of the most enthusiastic and collaborative folks around.

5.  Space for Risk-Taking.  This summer allowed for the space needed to take some risks either in my personal life in doing things out of the norm like learning to fish or hiking a mountain,


as well as presenting some crazy presentation titles such as “Maybe it is time to throw the baby out with the bathwater” regarding school change or “Making curriculum sexy again” which was about how we need to take a look at what we are keeping, discarding, and creating in curriculum.  Sometimes…. a little risk can bring great rewards.



Here is a question for all of us as we think about our approach to the next school year:

  • How can we create the same conditions for learning for our students where they have flexible learning opportunities, agency in their learning, balance with school, home, and health, a supportive network, and  a space to take risks?

I welcome your thoughts and approaches on how you plan to create these environments for the next school year, leading our students to say at the end of their school year…“I had a blast learning.”



“We’re Going on a Bear Hunt This Year.”

bear hunt

“We’re going on a bear hunt.  

We’re going to catch a big one.

 I’m not scared.

What a beautiful day!”



Did you read the book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” as a child? Or did you read the book to your own children or students?  This one is my favorite, by far.  I think it is the adventurous spirit of the family and kids, out exploring despite facing long grass, cold rivers, and oozy mud.  They explore through the deep dark forest and the swirling whirling snowstorm.   As I would read it to my boys when they were young, I’d try my best to recreate the excitement of the bear hunt with its swishy, swashy grass, the squelching of the mud, and the woo hoo of the snowstorm.  They would get excited and giggle, even though they knew what came next, and ask for me to read the book “again” and “again.”  In reflecting on this as we enter a new school year I wonder….

What if every day at school was as adventurous as a bear hunt?  

The bear hunt is an ultimate field trip for the ages.   It reminds me of what my son Connor said to me upon returning home from a field trip to Boston at the end of last year.  Usually, when I ask him what he learned in school he offers few details about his day; but, after the field trip to Boston, he was eager and excited to share what we saw and learned. Then he asked….

“Mom, why can’t every day at school be a field trip?”

Well, I could have launched into the high costs of field trip busses, or the need for numerous parent chaperones, or state testing; however, that wasn’t REALLY what he was asking. The core of his question was truly about the structure of learning we typically provide for our students, the design of our lessons, and the sometimes lack of opportunities for experiential learning, which he found to be motivating, engaging, and relevant.

Going further back in time, this leads me back to a memory of when I interviewed for a high school history teaching position and the principal asked me the following questions: “If you had all the money and resources you needed, what learning experience would you provide to your students?”  At the time, as a prospective history teacher, I walked the interview committee through descriptions of a field trip to Italy and Greece to see the ancient cities first-hand.  After an elaborate description, the principal thanked me, then swiftly followed with, “I’m sorry to tell you that all of the promised funding for that experience ran out.  With this new information, how would you recreate that experience you just described for the students in the classroom?” Although I don’t remember the answer I gave (and I was hired for the position thankfully), I never forgot the interview question because it was a powerful message about the expectations for student learning at that school.  As we enter our next school year, these are our challenges to consider:

1.  How can we create the field trip experience for our students every day in school, which captures the spirit and enthusiasm of the bear hunt?

2.  How can we develop learning opportunities filled with adventure, where our students come back each day laughing and declaring “again, again” no matter what age they are?


It isn’t easy.  There will be obstacles we can’t go over or under.  But sometimes we just have to gather all together and go through it in order to capture that bear.  Happy bear hunting in 2017-2018.

Celebrating Relationships, Risk-taking, Collaboration, and Laughter #MSSAASI

Relationships, Risk-Taking

Everyone loves summer, right?  The weather is nice, things slow down a bit, and you get more time to spend with family and friends.  One piece I love about summer is that it provides me more time for reflection, recharging, and learning.  This past week I was fortunate to attend and present at the Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators Association (MSSAA) summer conference.  Over the course of the year I attend various workshops and conferences, but nothing quite compares in my mind to the power of the MSSAA Conference and its organizationmsaa as a whole.

With the unification of MESPA and MSSAA to MSAA, I see even greater things happening!

If I were to sum up the conference in a few words, it would be Relationships, Risks and Laughter.  Here are some of my big takeaways from this conference, which emphasize what makes it so special.

  1.  Celebrate your Colleagues.  In every session, the presenters took time to share how they have grown and become better educators because of their colleagues. Setting the stage, John Clements, the high school principal of the year,  expressed gratitude to the many educational mentors and colleagues that have encouraged and supported him over the years.   Brian McCann, in his presentation on social media noted the date he and co-presenter Marty Geoghegan entered the world of Twitter in 2011 because of their colleague Bill Burkhead’s presentation.  Henry Turner shared how he started using positive signs outside of school after attending a presentation the year before by Brian McCann.  The list goes on and on, as every presenter gave credit to the previous sharing of their colleagues.  MSSAA has created a culture of celebrating others through recognizing outstanding leadership, and by encouraging collegial sharing.

Questions to Think About:  Do you have a culture of celebrating your colleagues in your own schools and districts?  Do you openly celebrate your colleagues’ success and what you have learned from them?

2.  Take Risks.  The majority of the sessions I attended had one common theme, as a lead learner, you need to take some risks because the rewards can often surpass your expectations.  Some of my favorite ideas shared included Positive Sign Thursdays, and how a simple act can have such a powerful impact on making students feel welcome and excited to come to school.sign3sign

Another idea, which was presented last year, but brought up again this year was the positive impact of #shadowastudent.  It was awesome to see the increase from last year of how many school leaders participated in shadowing a student.  It began with a few trying it and sharing their success to the majority of the school leaders taking part this past year.  I know from my experience the last few years in different grade levels and schools, it was truly transformative.  At the conference, we discussed how we can expand this opportunity to teachers and to district leadership in our districts.

Questions to Think About:  What is the one area you are going to take a risk in for this coming school year?  What will you do to truly engage with your students?

3.  The smartest person in the room, is the room.  This is one of my favorite quotes and how I can sum up the type of conversations that took place at this conference. Because of the strong relationships, open minds, and willingness to share successes, participants are able to walk away with a toolkit for continuous improvement for the next school year.  No better examples of this collaboration, then what I saw at the Disrupt presentation with representatives across multiple districts sharing one leadership experience that has shaped them, positive impacted their schools, and is a takeaway for others.


John Clements and Mary Anne Moran’s presentation on Practical Strategies to Reimagine School, Redesign Education, and Reinvent Learning was a big hit because of the various opportunities participants had to share their own beliefs about learning, assumptions about school, and discuss hacks they can bring back to start the conversation with the communities about the larger shifts that need to take place to support our student learners.  Through post-its, conversations, and online polling, they really captured the collective wisdom of the room.

In the lead-up to our presentation on leadership, Paul Vieira and I reached out to some colleagues to share what the title of their book about leadership might be and within about a 24 hour turnaround we had a wealth of engaging titles and take-aways.  Check out these great answers and please add to the mix.

Questions to Think About:  Does the culture in your own districts, schools, and classroom place an emphasis on the collective wisdom of the group?  Do you provide ample opportunities for discussions, engagement, and sharing?

4.  Laugh A LOT.  The outgoing President of MSSAA George Ferro emphasized the importance of laughing as we learn together and you did not have to go far to find our top MA educational leaders laughing and learning.  When you are in the business of being the chief child advocate for kids, you need to have fun.  That excitement is contagious, influential, and creates positive cultures for learning.


Questions to Think About:  In your school, how much do you laugh….really laugh?  Do you have a culture that allows you to get silly with the students and make school a fun place to be?


Want more updates and reflections about the conference, check the following out:

Marty Geoghegan’s Smackdown

Joe Scazzaro’s Making Time for Professional Growth

Paul Vieira’s Reflections

Let’s Increase the Volume in Student Voice

Pump up the VolumeAs educators, when asked if we should increase “student voice” in the classroom or schools, our quick response is often “Yes, of course!”  However, in reality, are we really, truly engaging our students in leading our schools, having a say in our curriculum, contributing to our decision-making?  I know we do try.  For example, we have student councils, we ask for student input in surveys, we give choice to students in projects, we ask them to self-reflect and students participate on some committees.  We ask for their feedback, we listen, right?  However, student voice needs to go beyond just listening.

Harvard Researcher Brion-Meisels points out:

 “Listening to young people doesn’t mean unilaterally considering their perspective…It means recognizing that young people have a perspective on the world that adults can’t share, and that their perspective should be welcomed alongside the wisdom that adult perspectives bring” (Giving Students a Voice by Leah Shafer).

 In the past month, I participated in four activities that really solidified my own thinking about student voice.

1. Search Committee

The first was a middle school principal search committee where we had students involved in the interview and recommendation process.  What was amazing about the interview process was that our students truly had a seat at the table.  They brought their own questions as representatives of the student body.  (The best questions on our list came from our students!)  Then, when we had discussions as a committee, we went to our students first and listened.  Their responses were exactly on point and we were thrilled to have them contribute to the conversation, use evidence to support their arguments, and provide a student perspective, such as,  “If she were the principal of my school, I would love coming to school!”

2.  Student Discussion

The second instance was a meeting with student representatives at our high schoolIMG_3602 where they were asked a series of questions about the school such as:

  1. Beyond friends, what do you look forward to at school each day?
  2. If you could change one thing at our school, what would it be?
  3. If you could give one piece of advice to teachers or administrators, what would it be?”

The following discussion could have continued for a lot longer than the time allotted because the students in the room were excited that they had an opportunity to share their thoughts on what they loved about their school and ideas for improvement.  It was an incredibly powerful discourse filled with respect, reasons supported by evidence, and excitement.  It certainly was the highlight of my week!  The students, who were representative of various grades and interests, described the school as welcoming, inviting, and inclusive.  They enthusiastically provided why they loved coming to school and usually it was because of a single enthusiastic teacher who had made learning exciting.  They wanted to have more opportunities for relevant learning opportunities and meaningful homework.  They liked using technology, but only when it fit the purpose of the assignment, rather than fitting the assignment around the technology.

3.  Student Events–  3rd-Grade Tea

IMG_3897Yesterday, I was lucky to participate in a 3rd grade tea that was being held for seniors in the community.  Sitting in the middle of a table of about 11, third graders, it was an opportunity for me to ask them about their school experience. Coming off of the high school discussion recently, I figured I’d stick to some of the same questions.  I asked them: 1.  “What do you like most about coming to school?” 2. “If you could change one thing about school, what would it be?”  3.  “What is your favorite subject?”  The students eagerly shared their love for math (that was the #1 choice around the table) and we had a few who liked reading.   Some wished they had more time for recess, and thought the end of the day would be the best time to do that before leaving for the day.  They said they wished they had more opportunities to learn science, and they shared their favorite books of choice.  They liked their music class and were looking forward to learning to play musical instruments in the future.  They wanted less homework, but admitted they didn’t have too much each night and Lexia was a big hit because they found it to be a fun way to learn.  WOW! That’s A LOT of feedback.

4.  Student Panels

Last month our counselors provided a workshop to other educators on the implementation of Wellness Weeks.  As part of the workshop, the counselors had student representatives speak to the educators about their thoughts about the effectiveness and impact on wellness weeks from a student perspective.  To be expected, the educators in the room were enthralled listening directly from students about their view on the positive impact of these successful practices.  Adding student voice to these panels was highly effective!


3 Steps To Increase Student Voice

If you are looking to take action and  increase student voice, consider some of the following questions:

  1.  Do students have a seat at the table?  

    Think about all the meetings and committees that take place in a school or district and corresponding decision-making.  Every time you have a meeting, ask yourself…what if students were here with us at the table?  In our district, we have student representatives to the School Committee, students on our Spanish Immersion board, students on panel presentations, and students on interview committees.  Despite all of those opportunities, there is definitely room for growth as well.

  2. Are we asking for student input in a consistent way and then following up with implementation?  

    If you are a district that does not use surveys of students regularly, then that is a great way to begin this process.  Surveys are an effective way to gather data, solicit input, and to help inform decisions in a classroom, school, or district.  The key to successful student surveys is that the data is then applied to implement change.  It is even more effective when students are part of this process of analysis and discussion.  Ask yourself, are you sharing the data with the students and are you implementing change based on input?

  3. Do students have input into and the ability to drive their own learning at school?  

    Although we work within a  standards-based system, that does not mean that students can’t have input into their own learning.  There are many ways to increase student voice in learning from input into units, activities, the questions they will answer, or the ways they are assessed.  Check out this resource from Chicago on how to have students co-shape curriculum:  Seven Steps to Students Co-Shaping Curriculum or this article from the organization we use for surveys called K-12 insight:  How to amplify student voice in curriculum discussions.


If you are looking for more resources about how to increase student voice, here are some examples of how it is being done in schools across the world.

In my own research about student voice, I came across a local school to ours that has a Student Voice Community Service Program at their middle school.  What an interesting approach and a way to say at that school–student voice matters.

5 Videos to Watch on Giving Voice to Students

Including Student Voice by Bill Palmer

Student Power by Milton Chen

Next Steps

After reflecting on the above questions, I challenge you to take one step forward in increasing student voice before the end of this school year.  Using the comment feature of this blog, please share out one way that you will try to increase student voice as an educator.



The Force is Strong #Shadowastudent


I’m a huge Star Wars fan and in thinking about my experience shadowing an 11th grade student, Diana Richard, I couldn’t help but think about the quote “The Force is strong with this one.”  What a dynamic, caring, and  outstanding young woman!  The Force was not just strong with that one student….but with her peers, with the teachers, and within the school.  “The culture is strong” would be an apt reference to my biggest takeaway from shadowing.

Walking in the shoes of a student gives one an opportunity to view the day-to-day interactions in a new way.  As Diana said “Hi” to every student she passed and called them by name, the other students responded in turn.  The best moment was when a student was walking by the classroom at the start of class and saw Diana, so she stopped and made a heart with her fingers in front of her chest before going on to the next class.  I can’t remember the last time someone walked by me at work and was so excited that they made a heart-shaped symbol?

IMG_3167During the Help Desk in the morning, we had an opportunity to talk about what she liked best about school, what her favorite classes were, and what her goals were in the future.  In P.E. class, we laughed as I tried to show my ‘mad’ skills in badminton during a tournament.  At break, we hung out with all of the other juniors in the media center and I was schooled in professional wrestling and the students’ interest in watching that.




In math class, our teachers provided great scaffolding on our graphs, as we worked collaboratively in groups to work through the problems.


Before lunch, in English class we participated in a mock School Board presentation where two groups presented on whether or not to ban Huckleberry Finn.  
IMG_3170As someone who has attended many School Board meetings over the last decade, this was probably one of the most educationally focused and friendly one I’ve ever witnessed!  




After lunch, we analyzed some of the text of The Great Gatsby to determine evidence of Nick Carroway’s point of view and being an insider vs. an outsider.


In history class, we analyzed political cartoons from World War II to identify stereotypes, analogies, juxtaposition, captioning, and labels to get at the essential question of “What’s the human impact of war?”   


While my biggest takeaway wasn’t necessarily the content presented as I have already analyzed The Great Gatsby, taught lessons on WWII political cartoons, mastered badminton and graphed math problems in my former life, the takeaway was the interactions that took place between the spaces of content.  In each class there were opportunities for students to work collaboratively with one another, in pairs, in groups, and online.  Teachers provided the perfect amount of support and scaffolds, like in the story of Goldilock (not too hot, not too cold, just right…).  In each class, the teacher-student relationships created environments where students were willing to share their ideas, speak in front of the room, or even help the 40-something year old new student.

“In my experience, there is no such thing as luck” was what Obi-Wan told Han Solo after Han Solo claimed that there was no force controlling everything.  I would agree with Obi-Wan that that it is not luck that creates such a warm, inviting environment that I experienced in my shadowing day, but a commitment of all members of the Nipmuc community in creating a safe, engaging, caring environment where “The Force is strong.”

Summer Reading

For our MSSAA assistant principal committee we agreed to read the following books for summer reading:

Trust Edge and Crucial Conversations

The Trust Edge by David Horsager and Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson.  Both of these I have read in the past and recommended, but in reading them again, they definitely are timeless and great reminders of how those of us in education and as educational leaders are ultimately in a people business.

The Trust Edge provides great examples and strategies to follow the “pillars of trust” to help have the right edge to lead your organization.

Crucial Conversations is an excellent introduction to how to provide feedback and have honest conversations, which can sometimes be difficult. It provides great insight into how to make conversations fruitful and focused on continuous improvement.

Other recommended reads this summer include:

Please add in suggestions of books that other educational leaders should read.