The Problem With Passion

I absolutely love what I do! As the principal of Sigler Elementary I lead with passion. In fact, I have written about my leadership style before and I encourage you to read more about it here.


According to Clifton’s Strengthsfinder my top strength is competition followed closely by being a relator. Partner that with my “orange” personality and you have an extremely passionate, competitive principal who wants to make everyone happy. Anyone relate with me? Some of you are laughing, “A principal who wants to please everyone! Good Luck.” I agree…


I count on my passion to carry me through the parts of my job I do not get excited about. You know…the items that are farthest removed from leading and connecting with students and teachers. As passionate as I am, I want to share the problem with passion.


Recently within the halls of #SiglerNation extreme student behavior has been a topic of conversation. Specifically, how we “as a campus” respond to said extreme behavior. (My personality strengths, equate this concern to, “How Mr. Arend responds to extreme behavior.”)


This concern is not necessarily a new one. We are charged with educating students who have some legitimate obstacles to overcome. We love them. We want to educate and empower students to be better tomorrow than they were the day before, but that can be easier said than done.


Knowing the current practices were not addressing the most immediate needs, I posed a question last month to our leadership group. “How do we utilize reflections without them being a punitive resource?” (Feel free to click on “reflections” to see what they look like)


While my question had the best of intentions and was meant to help us solve a problem I was witnessing, hindsight tells me my intentions were misguided. What helped me realize this was the group of amazing leaders who expressed their sincere concerns regarding the extreme behavior in their classrooms and my perceived inability to help them. The concerns kept coming. My passion kept burning. In my best attempt to solve their problems, I could not help but feel each of their concerns was aimed at me.


The problem with passion in this case was I was too invested in the process. My personality and philosophy on behavior was prohibiting me from seeing things through the teacher’s eyes. I needed a different approach, knowing in one month’s time this conversation was going to continue. I could not endure another meeting in which I felt as if each critique and concern was aimed directly at me and my inability to solve the problems.


I needed a protocol.


Protocols are still fairly new to me and it was through my experience with the Principal Visioning Institute that I truly experienced the power of protocols. I am not sure what took me so long to find protocols, but it’s like we say in Texas, “I am not from Texas, but I got here as fast as I could. When I found out about protocols is not important. What is important is that I have a resource and I need to use it more often.


I spent the next several weeks and days reflecting on my previous experience and carried my School Reform Initiative protocol book with me wherever I went, including one evening at my local Jimmy Johns.


With a protocol picked out and rehearsed more times than I could count I was ready for my next meeting. This time I was ready to facilitate a conversation not lead by asking my question.


I am now a week removed from our leadership meeting where I used the “Ping-Pong Protocol” and I wanted to share what I learned about using protocols and about myself.


Protocols Allowed My Passion to Be Removed


Utilizing the Ping Pong Protocol allowed me to take a step back. In doing so, my level of involvement declined because I was not so emotionally invested. I was able to listen. I was able to understand. What I had previously taken on as personal failure, I was now able to hear objectively and as a true concern shared from a group of leaders who shared my passion.


Protocols Allowed the Voices to Be Heard


I had previously been the one to ask the question and it was not my question to ask. The first step in the Ping Pong Protocol was to have teacher share out their most pressing concerns. As teachers shared out, it became evident what “our” focus question needed to be. Not “my” focus question, but “our” focus question. By having an “our” instead of a “my” the me versus them potential was void and we were all working towards a common need. While we were not able to address all the questions that were raised, they were voiced, recorded and heard.


Protocols Allowed Conversation


Prior to using the protocol, the conversation was one way. I posed the question and the responses all came to me or what I felt was “at” me.  Using the Ping Pong Protocol, the responses were shared with one another and this was after teachers had the opportunity to reflect on how the question we were addressing specifically impacted them and their teams. It was through listening to the conversation my empathy increased, my level of understanding deepened and my emotional investment felt safe because the conversation was not “at me”. Rather it was with me.


The protocol did not end as I desired, but the time we spent discussing a shared concern was exponentially more productive than the previous month’s time together. More importantly, the feedback I received from some of the leaders who experienced the protocol was very positive. They expressed some reservations entering the meeting after the first conversation, but were pleasantly surprised with the outcome of the second meeting and the process they were able to go through.


You can only imagine how that feedback made this “principal who wants to everyone happy” feel.


I am in my seventh year as a principal and while there are things I know I do well, there are so many more I know I can improve upon. While my passion for serving our students and teachers continues to burn hot, I now know how to avoid the problem with passion. Utilizing protocols helps remove “my” passion or preconceived agenda from the conversation and allows “our” voices to unify and work together to find solutions to concerns “we” have.


Here is to continued growth in my passionate leadership.


Matt Arend is the principal of #SiglerNation or Sigler Elementary in Plano ISD. You can follow Sigler Elementary on Facebook and Twitter and follow Matt at on Twitter @matthew_arend.

Effective Communication

Effective Communication


Communication is one of the toughest things about leading. You work constantly to improve your verbal, written, and interpersonal skills. You strive to communicate strategically, systematically, and with empathy. You recognize the importance of effective communication with your team, your parents, and your community. And yet, the effectiveness of your communication falls flat. It happens to everyone.

One thing that can always be better in just about every organization is communication. I know I need to continue to grow in this area. Clear communication is essential in personal relationships, in classroom settings, and across the entire school community. 

Regardless of whether you are a principal, a teacher, or have another leadership role in your school. You can become a better communicator. It’s something we should always strive to improve. When we are clear with our message and more understanding as listeners, it builds positive culture and improves the learning environment.

One of the most important things for effective communication is situational awareness. Our message is really not about us. It’s about meeting the needs and expectations of others. We have to communicate with the audience in mind, if it’s 1 or 100. It’s important to adapt to the situation and communicate in a way that will meet others in a productive and positive manner.

Let’s be clear, our communication is one way we influence others. Our communication should seek to lift up others, help them be stronger, and ultimately help them exhibit leadership qualities that are helpful to the mission. Sometimes this involves delivering hard truths, setting boundaries, and standing firm. 

As I write this post, I am reminded how much I need to review these principles. I often fall short in communicating effectively and want to continuously strive to improve these skills.

1. Listen more, talk less

Effective communication is not just broadcasting a message. It’s not saying more and saying it louder. Great communicators are great listeners. They really try to understand the perspective of others. They initiate dialogue. Dialogue involves sharing meaning in the conversation. It doesn’t necessarily mean there is full agreement. It just means that both parties are listening with empathy and really trying to understand each other and find areas of common ground.

2. Reach out

Even though I try to be visible throughout our school, sometimes I find I’m talking to the same people over and over. I need to make sure that I’m communicating regularly with everyone. The same thing can happen in the classroom. It’s easy to engage outgoing students or teachers who are talkative. But it’s important to connect with as many people as possible. 

3. Never miss a chance to share the message

Look for opportunities to share your key message. What is the vision of your classroom or school? What is the focus? Too often we only focus on the ‘why’ behind our work at the start of the school year. We emphasize the mission and the vision. But if we don’t revisit that on a regular basis, the mission will veer off course. One of my #1 goals for next year is to fine-tune our vision, communicate our vision, rinse and repeat. Whatever you think is the right amount of communication to get your message across, triple it.

4. Invite two-way communication

Don’t just wait for feedback to come to you. Ask for it. Check in with your students, your parents, your colleagues, everyone. Be curious about how people are experiencing your classroom or school. Ask interesting questions. What’s running smoothly? What could be improved? What skills are you improving? What skills would you like to improve? What have you achieved that makes you proud? What do you need from me to reach your goals? How can I help you?

5. Show acceptance and encouragement

Make your communications more personal. Invite people in. Make them feel like they belong. When people feel accepted, they are more willing to listen. Empathy establishes trust. It says “I accept you.” And empathy provides the foundation for encouragement. Encouragement leads to growth. Encouragement says, “I believe in you.” Encouraging leaders help people take next steps to grow and contribute in more powerful ways. 

6. Activate others to spread the message

Who else can help clarify or repeat the message? If you are the only one sharing a message, you are greatly limiting your reach. As you build your team, give them a nudge about the things that need to be communicated. Model for them the type of communication that is needed. I always encourage our teachers to never miss a chance to say something good about our school. When we activate others to help share the message, it builds bridges between our school and community.

7. Evoke emotion

The most powerful communication is tied to emotion. It’s personal. We feel something. Great leaders don’t just communicate a clear message, they offer a compelling message. They speak not only to the mind, but to the heart. We can have all the information in the world that we should do something, and yet we won’t take action. We are only moved to action when we are moved. We need inspiration. Leaders evoke emotion when they show how much they care, when they reveal their own emotions, and when they help others feel they are part of something important that is making a difference. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. 


8. Read between the Lines

Leaders must have awareness of what’s being communicated even if it’s not being said. The communication through body language, tone of voice, and behavior is telling. Leaders should always work at building awareness and seeking to bring forward meaning that might be hidden or unknown. There are too many times I picked up on signals but brushed them aside, only to find out later that the problem was much bigger than I realized. I want to improve my ability to pick up on underlying concerns before they become serious issues. It’s always best to be proactive rather than reactive.

9. Stay calm and be positive

Anyone who aspires to be a leader will face challenges and be expected to rise to the occasion. Strong leaders are able to face difficult circumstances while remaining calm and positive. No matter what happens, we have a choice how we will respond. We can respond with fear, anxiety, and anger. Or, we can respond with diligence, duty, and action. It doesn’t help to fret the problem. It helps when we rally together to overcome the problem. 


David Geurin is the proud principal of Bolivar High School in Bolivar, MO. For more insights by David check out his blog at

Crafting Courageous Conversations: 5 Maxims for Everyday Leaders

Crafting Courageous Conversations: 5 Maxims for Everyday Leaders


As educators, we are in the people business. Yes, we are about curriculum and instruction but the currency of our profession is grounded in relationships. We are also in the continuous improvement process daily. Our roles include coaching others and having those conversations that many may feel inclined to shy away from. We can all remember that first difficult phone call or conversation with a parent. It wasn’t easy, but we survived. But, what happens when the “issue” is with a colleague?


By and large, educators are pleasers, and we don’t seek out confrontations. College may have prepared us with the theoretical constructs on many educational issues, but somewhere along the way we all missed the class on giving and receiving constructive feedback.  Yet, real understanding in how to approach, prepare for, and execute courageous conversations with others is crucial for the success of any leader.  In educational leadership roles with several decades of experience we have found “5 Maxims for Courageous Conversations”. If you are a leader you can’t avoid them.


Maxim #1: A Courageous Conversation is about crafting constructive communication, not collisions.


This first maxim is based on a presumption of wanting to see others and yourself get better, it’s all about continuous improvement.  Though we often do not welcome courageous conversations by nature, they have the power to transform a relationship. Rather than seeing an impending collision, find the benefit in dealing with an issue head on and up front. Yes, it may be uncomfortable to discuss a problem with another person, but when it comes to the “why”, we need to have the conversation considering that the positive outcomes will outweigh the negative ones.  When sitting down with another person, be certain that your own personal intention is to find common ground, keeping your sight set on solutions and creating a shared dialogue. ~Jeff


Bottom Line: Courageous conversations avoid creating winners or losers. You will both gain relational credibility with one another.


Maxim #2: A Courageous Conversation is one in which leader takes his/her work personally and leads with heart.


Advice to leaders entering difficult conversations is typically filled with maxims like “don’t take this personally” or to relax and “not take yourself so seriously.”  In the book Fierce Conversations, Scott asserts that these suggestions are misguided.  She, instead, urges leaders to take themselves and their work personally and seriously.  Leading courageously is “seriously personal” business.   When leaders take their work seriously personal, they come out from the behind the conversation, that is the safety of pleasantries and the futile efforts to placate others, and make it real.   


When leaders step out from behind the conversation and passionately cement their spirit at the forefront, people recognize it and respond.  Because it happens so seldom, people are touched and influenced by leaders who courageously show their true selves.  They are willing to get behind a leader who is passionate and authentic.  They are willing to take his/her words and transform them into action. ~Paul


Bottom Line: Courageous conversations are ones in which the leader takes the work seriously personal, showing his/her true self and influencing others to take action.


Maxim #3: A Courageous Conversation is grounded in clearly defined and communicated core beliefs.


Many times, leaders find themselves in a position of regret wishing they would have communicated expectations or actions earlier in a process.  Then, they find themselves in a position needing to “back-track” to the intended purpose or intention.  In his book Focus, Mike Schmoker shares the importance of being “explicitly clear” in communicating the expectations up front and throughout a process.  When the leader explains his/her core beliefs, it makes it easier for others to anticipate direction and intent of leadership decisions. ~Neil


Bottom Line: Courageous conversations about beliefs up front avoid uncertainty or misconceptions among the team.


Maxim #4: A Courageous conversation is listening for understanding, not listening to reply.


We have all been there, having that conversation with someone and feeling like they are looking past you wondering if they are even listening. Your body language, where your eyes go,  and tone in the conversation is a key indicator of if you are listening. Having a courageous conversation is about allowing both sides to give input. In order for this to happen effectively, you must resist the urge to respond to every comment or explain yourself. Every time you redirect the conversation back to you, you put the focus, well, back on you. -Jeff


Bottom Line: A courageous conversation is about active listening.


Maxim #5 – A crucial conversation is essential if we want to bring about lasting change to our school culture and school community.


In School Leadership That Works, Robert Marzano describes the difference between first and second-order change: first order is incremental, and in many cases, it can be easy and manageable.  It’s something like changes to playground supervision schedules or school dress code policies.


Second-order change requires more than just talking about a problem…it requires action…and it can be emotional.  This is why crucial conversations are so vital…they bring to the surface the uncomfortable and the difficult, and they ask us to address them in a way that will impact our school’s culture.  This is the type of change that people fight against because it is going to go against the adage of “that’s the way we have always done it.”  Bringing this level of change can be paradigm-shifting, but it can also lead to the most resistance and reticence from nay-sayers.  Thus, it requires us to reflect on whether or not this is “the hill we are willing to die on.”  If it is, we must undertake this crucial conversation if it is going to positively impact kids and their learning. ~ Todd


Bottom line:  A Courageous Conversation is one that brings about second-order change.


Bringing It All Together


Courageous conversations are powerful opportunities to influence lasting change in a person. You should end the conversation asking if there is anything additional that they may need for support or to move forward. Your goal is to set that person up for success. When engaging in this work we need to be mindful to check our motives, remembering our goal should never be to take something from the other person but to add value.  Peter Drucker reminds, “Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people”, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”


This piece was a collaborative effort on the part of the co-leaders within LeadUpNow & #LeadUpChat – Jeff Veal, Dr. Neil Gupta, Paul Erickson, and Dr. Todd Schmidt. Though we serve as administrators in four different states our commitment is the same. Together, we commit to changing the tone of education and building capacity in the everyday leader, whether in the classroom or conference room. 

Sometimes I Feel Inadequate

By Mark French


I love being a connected educator. I have gained immensely the past two years from connections I have with others through Twitter, Facebook, Voxer, Instagram, podcasts, at EdCamps, and in person. But, I have a confession, sometimes I feel inadequate.


I don’t have tens of thousands of followers. I haven’t incorporated maker space or genius hour in my school. I haven’t created a website or written a book. I haven’t gotten rid of my desk and I don’t visit classrooms as often as I would like. Please don’t get me wrong. I admire and respect others who have done and continue to do those things. In fact, I am in awe of their awesomeness

elephant“I wish she’d go somewhere else with her old circus tricks – I’m suddenly feeling quite inadequate”

Before becoming a connected educator, I operated in a vacuum, in isolation. I would connect with my district colleagues but our work wasn’t about sharing best practices or what we were doing in our buildings. It was mostly about listening to district initiatives and making sure we were leading those. Being connected has opened a new world for me, a world in which I see the amazing things educators are doing every day. And that contributes to my feelings of inadequacy. Often, I have thought, “Wow, that is inspiring; I wish I could do that.” I wish I could communicate and reach out more through blogs, podcasts, videos, Periscope, and other media as prolifically and proficiently as others do. I wish I could spend more time in classrooms, on the playground, and learning with students as much as others do. When I have those feelings of inadequacy, there are four ways I work to overcome them.


First, I reach out to my PLC. Through Voxer and Twitter I can share with groups or individuals. The times I have reached out individually through Voxer and Twitter have been powerful and cathartic. It’s amazing that I can share through social media with other educators whom I have never met and feel supported and validated. Just being able to share and have another person, or persons, listen makes a huge difference for me.


Secondly, when I am feeling inadequate, I try new things. I remember to take small steps to put things into my practice. Last year’s stakeholder survey data indicated a need for improved communication. Over the summer, a principal in another state shared through Voxer how she was using Smore to create her school newsletter. I saw her end result and thought it would fit my need to improve communication. This year I have used Smore to create “Mark’s Monday Morning Memo” giving staff members more thorough information and highlighting student and staff contributions. Start small and make trying new things part of your practice. By learning from others I have explored and used augmented reality, robotics, video production, and coding.


Thirdly, when I have feelings of inadequacy, I share. I participate in Twitter chats and engage in Voxer discussions. Through thought provoking questions and engaged conversations, I glean a lot from others but I also get to share things I’m doing. The feedback and support I receive makes me feel like I am headed in the right direction. I had been contemplating finding a way to positively recognize more students. Last summer a teacher in a Twitter chat stated she made one positive phone call home daily for one of her students. I thought, “I can do that!” So, this year I stared my #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay by selecting a different student worthy of a positive call home. Sometimes I identify the student based on something I have observed and other times I’ll ask a teacher for someone who needs a boost or has demonstrated growth and improvement. Making the #GoodNewsCallOfTheDay is a highlight of my day.


comparisonFinally, if I am feeling inadequate, I take personal inventory of the things I am doing to positively impact my school, staff members, families, and students. I try to remember not to compare myself to others because each of us and our situations and experiences are unique. I need to have a confident mindset that what I am doing is right for me at the moment. I go through cycles during the year where my attitudes, engagement, and activities wax and wane, but when I take time to personally reflect, things become more clear and evident that I am on the right path and doing the right thing for students and colleagues.


To read more by Mark


Mark French is a positive change agent and Elementary lead learner in the greater Minneapolis, MN area. He has also been recognized as the Minnesota Principal of the Year and currently serves as the president of the Minnesota Elementary Principal’s Association. 


5 Golden Rings: A Gift All Students Should Receive

Guest post is by Steven Weber,  a passionate and innovative  Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction in Chapel Hill, NC.

We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future. – President Frankin D. Roosevelt

How can we transform teaching and learning? As you reflect on 2015, what would you change in your school? Teachers and administrators often look for the silver bullet, the instructional strategy that will support all students. One flaw in current practice is that most educators design curriculum, instruction, and assessment with the 12th grade as the ‘end in mind.’ If our collective efforts are preparing students to graduate from high school, we may not achieve the desired results of preparing more students for success in college and university coursework. As we enter a new year, the focus is on college and career readiness.

“College and career readiness is not something that suddenly happens when a student graduates from high school but instead is the result of a process extending through all the years of a student’s education” (ACT, 2008, p. 3). As we enter the holiday season, I am reminded of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. In the spirit of giving gifts in December, I propose that every student receive five golden rings. If you purchase a diamond ring, the jeweler will introduce you to the 4 Cs: Color, Cut, Clarity, Carat-Weight. In 2016, teachers need to emphasize the 4 Cs: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. The 4 Cs are critically important if we are preparing students to graduate college and career ready. The 4 Cs, along with contribution, make the 5 Golden Rings.

5 Golden Rings

Critical Thinking

Do your students focus on finding the right answer for the test or asking questions? A class that emphasizes critical thinking includes student voice, inquiry learning, collaborative work, student-led assignments, project-based learning, writing, and analysis of more than one source. Critical thinkers are able to solve problems and think on their feet. Wiggins (2012), wrote, “If all I do is ‘teach’ you things and then you have to show me you ‘learned’ then, strictly speaking, there is no need for either of us to really think. A need to think only emerges when the work itself is designed to make us both question, really question what we are doing.” Skills such as critical thinking and the ability to apply knowledge in new situations are emphasized by employers and universities.


Students rarely have the opportunity to practice communication skills in classrooms. The push to teach to the test narrowed the curriculum and most state tests did not assess communication skills. Employers seek high school graduates who have the ability to communicate with co-workers and customers.

Erik Palmer (TeachThought, 2014) wrote:

“How is it possible that students in their 17th year of schooling can be so unimpressive when asked to speak? In kindergarten they talked at circle time; in 1st grade they shared at show & tell; in 2nd and 3rd grade they did book shares; in 5th grade they presented their biome dioramas; in 7th grade they participated in poetry café; in 8th grade they did mock trials; in high school they presented lab reports, research results, biography projects, DECA projects. In other words, at every grade level, students were forced to speak—sometimes formally, most often informally, but they had to say something…..So why didn’t students master oral communication?”

Does your school have a rubric for communication skills at each grade level? What is the ‘end in mind?’ Do you have a plan for supporting communication skills? Reading and writing skills are emphasized in K-12, but communication skills have been ignored. Give your students the gift of communication.

When you observe students on a playground, you will see collaboration, communication, critical thinking, teamwork, problem solving, citizenship, innovation, and community. Classrooms need to reflect playgrounds. Too often, class assignments focus on student’s existing strengths and pit students against one another. The workforce seeks employers who are able to collaborate within the organization and partners outside the organization. Several teachers have changed the arrangement in their classroom from straight rows to tables or groups of four students. However, the assignments still emphasizes individual work. Fast Company (2014) cited five skills graduates must have to land their first job. Collaboration was listed as one of the five skills. Will students learn to collaborate in your class or merely how to get along?


In the 1980’s, a student who was labeled creative was an artist or musician. Creativity was often associated with the arts. A creative student may not excel at math or science, but displayed giftedness in other areas. ‘Most Creative’ was akin to an honorable mention award. Creative students were not recognized if their creativity did not help them earn As. How do your assignments encourage and foster creativity? Price-Mitchell (2015) shares Six Ways To Boost Student Creativity. In a changing workforce, students will need to be adaptable. Students will not have one job for thirty years, like many of their parents and grandparents. Creativity is a college and career skill and it can no longer be reserved for the artist or musician.


A 5th ring is “Contribution.” As you reflect on 2015, ask “What was the ratio of compliance vs. contribution?” Many students enter kindergarten as risk takers and graduate high school as compliant learners who are seeking the answer that gives them an A. Do you see students writing blogs, experimenting, creating videos, designing apps, serving as leaders throughout the school, providing community service, challenging the status quo, and offering solutions through innovative research? Wiggins and McTighe (2005) described the Twin Sins of curriculum design: Activity-Focused and Coverage-Focused. If you see students engaged in activities but there is little contribution, then you should question the activities and purpose. In an era of standards-based teaching, if there seems to be little transfer then teachers may be focusing on the standards more than on what the students will be able to do as a result of implementing the standards.

Contribution is the missing link in many K-12 classrooms. “No longer an end point in the public education system, the American high school is now being asked to prepare all its students for the postsecondary schooling and training required for full economic and social participation in U.S. society” (Balfanz, 2009, p. 18).


Opportunity to Learn (OTL) means that all students will be provided the opportunity to learn key skills and concepts that prepare them for the next level. Teachers and administrators control OTL. If you are looking for that last-minute gift for your students, give each student 5 Golden Rings: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Contribution. You don’t need to purchase a program or determine how these skills align with high-stakes testing. Seventy five years ago, President Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future” (Address at University of Pennsylvania, September 20, 1940). Give the gift that keeps on giving – 5 Golden Rings

For more posts by Steven