Unlock Your Superpower

I love superheroes.  When I was a kid, The Superfriends was my favorite cartoon. As I got older, I devoured X-Men comic books.  Even today, I think it is a great movie-going experience to see a superhero movie in 3-D and in IMAX.


For me, there is something incredible about the superhero.  Having a unique or special power that sets you apart from everyone else.  Whether it be the ability to fly, read people’s minds, or shoot laser beams out of your eyes, superheroes had a power that ordinary human beings did not possess.


In many cases, superheroes did not always realize they were superheroes.  Usually, there was some extraordinary event that caused the superpower to emerge.  For Spiderman, it was being bit by that radioactive spider…Captain America volunteers for an experimental super-soldier program after being told he was too weak for military service…even Batman had to experience the tragic death of his parents that set him on his resolve to battle evil.


Over the past year, I have had the privilege of being a part of one of the greatest professional development opportunities around…Admin CUE Rockstar (if you have never been…seriously, you need to go!)  Created by Jon Corippo, Admin CUE Rockstar centers around Joseph Campbell’s theory of The Hero’s Journey.  If you are not familiar with it, check out this video…


The thing I love about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is that it focuses not so much on the powers of the heroes but more on their humanity.  Like Harry Potter, Catniss Everdeen, Frodo, or any of the comic-book superheroes, many of us experience the same struggles, challenges, and unwillingness to harness or use powers.  Some are trying to dismiss or minimize that call to action and finding it harder and harder to ignore.  One of the key tenets of Admin CUE Rockstar camps is that we are all on some part of our own hero’s journey.  Like the heroes in literature, we as leaders have our own hero’s journey that we are being called to take.  For some, we are at the beginning and receiving that call to action…others may be at the bottom in despair or crisis…while still others have already experienced that rebirth and are getting ready for their next big adventure!


For the last few years, I have seen this meme be circulated around the internet, making its way onto t-shirts, coffee mugs, and posters…

Photo courtesy of etsy.com
Photo courtesy of etsy.com

I like this image because I do believe that the best educators are superheroes who have extraordinary abilities and powers that do more good for our kids than just about anybody else…but I also believe that there is more to it than just claiming to teach.  Just being in front of a classroom does not a teacher make.  Like Joseph Campbell mentions, each hero is continuously on the cycle of adventure…as one finishes, another will eventually come to begin.  Great educators realize that teaching is also learning.  That is, to “teach” is to be on an ever-present journey of learning and growth, discovering new superpowers that one did not even realize he or she had!


As we prepare for or embark on a new school year, what is your unique superpower as a teacher or educator?  How do you develop it?  How did you discover it?  Have you discovered it?   One thing to note is while we are all on our own personal hero’s journey, like the comic-book superheroes or heroes in literature (Harry Potter, Catniss Everdeen, Frodo), we all have different types of powers…some powers we have honed and crafted through experience and previous journeys…others have yet to be discovered!


How can we as leaders help others find their superpowers?  I think that one of the first steps is to create PD opportunities for teachers to explore.  Sometimes, we need to be that mentor to help them see their strengths as well as their areas for growth…we need to be their Dumbledore, their Hamitch, their Gandalf.  Each of these people were key in helping the hero play on their strengths while at the same time helping them shore up their weaknesses.  Interestingly though, each of these mentors were on their own hero’s journey looking to improve themselves as well.  We can’t expect people to take up their own call to action when we refuse to take it on ourselves!


Whether at the beginning of the cycle or reaching the end, we are all somewhere on our own hero’s journey.   Accept the journey and call to action…unlock your superpower…put yourself in situations where it can come out and be harnessed…embrace social media and develop a professional learning network so you can connect with other innovative and inspirational educators who can help you through your own hero’s journey.


Because the ultimate goal is not to just make us better educators.  By accepting the call to action and embracing that journey, we can do what we have been charged with…helping kids discover their own superpowers.

Dr. Todd Schmidt is an elementary lead learner in Corona del Mar, CA. Additionally, he is a dad of two girls and a proud husband. 

{Joy} #12DofD

Joy. A simple three-letter word that can be quite difficult to define. To the untrained eye, Joy may appear to look like happiness. But there is much more to Joy than a laugh or a smile. You see, there is no emoji for Joy. A symbol could not possibly carry that much weight. And yet we can give it away with the lightest of gestures. And we should. No click. No swipe. No send button. Just simple acts of kindness letting others know that we care enough to notice what makes them happy. And in doing so we bring them Joy. Therein lies the distinction. Noticing. So take the time today and everyday hereafter to find out what makes someone smile. And then do that thing. In doing so you will not only make them smile. You will let them know that they matter. To you. Then my friend, you will have succeeded in bringing them Joy. (Written by Jon Harper)

How are you going to instill joy today? Tweet out #12DofD

Will The Real Disruptive Educators Please Stand Up?

Today’s post is by Dr. Sanee Bell, a highly impactful elementary lead learner/principal in Katy, TX. 

hoffer quote

As educators, when we hear the word disruptive, our minds usually reflect on students in the past who have misbehaved in school. The word disruptive often has a negative connotation associated with its use. It is synonymous with words like troublemaking, disturbing, distracting, and unruly. However, the beauty of the English language is that we have multiple meanings for words. When I searched Google for the meaning of disruptive, the search engine returned two meanings:

1.) causing or tending to cause disruption

        “disruptive and delinquent children”

2.) innovative or groundbreaking

       “breaking a disruptive technology into the market is never easy”                  

To frame this post, I want to focus on the second meaning of the word as I define and illustrate the meaning of a disruptive educator.

Disruptors Innovate

Disruptive educators are innovators. They are chasers of the breakthrough, and they are driven by groundbreaking discoveries. They don’t know when the breakthrough may come, but they continue to disrupt the status quo in an effort to innovate. Disruptive educators are committed to radically changing our profession by creating a new way of thinking about how we educate students, and how we grow professionally. They are the early innovators and early adopters who have the courage to explore something new. Simon Sinek references the Law of Diffusion of Innovation in his How Great Leaders Inspire Action TED talk. Disruptive educators fall into the 15.5% of the profession who are either the innovators, or who are the early adopters of the innovations.

Disruptive educators have a drive, a different speed that is driven by a purpose, an attitude, and an unrelenting sense of determination to contribute to a greater good. Being a disruptive educator is a way of life. It is a thought-process and a state-of-being. Disruptive educators need push back to challenge their thinking. In fact, disruptive educators welcome the challenge from those who are not quite sold on their innovative ideas. They need the early and late majority who challenge and question their innovations. It is this questioning and challenging that helps them refine and improve their thinking. If the innovation is real, it will eventually reach the tipping point and become a new way of doing business.

Disruptors Find Their People

Disruptive educators are connected. They are not lone rangers. A lone disruptor may be viewed as a nuisance, a troublemaker, or a radical who others may not take seriously; but a connected disruptor is part of a movement others want to join. Disruptive educators are contributors and collaborators. They seek to disrupt, not for notoriety or fame, but because they see a need and want to make a difference. More often than not, disruptive educators are not self-proclaimed. Others have identified them as disruptors because of their openness and willingness to share. Disruptive educators are committed to making great things happen for students. They understand that BIG things don’t happen with small thinking.

Disruptors Move Beyond the Conversation

Disruptive educators choose to be bothered and challenged by what others believe to be impossible. They have bold dreams and the courage to not only pursue their dreams, but to make their dreams a reality. Disruptive educators are writing a story and acting it out simultaneously. They are key players in the story they are writing, and they live in a state of constant revision. They don’t know how the story will end, but they write the story with such purpose and passion that the journey is worth more than the final destination. They try, they fail and they try again. They are persistent, courageous, and so necessary to our profession. Disruptors not only join the conversation, but they turn the conversation into action.

I am Sanée Bell, and I am a disruptive educator. From one disruptive educator to another, I challenge you to disrupt yourself. Our profession and our students deserve it. So I ask again, will the real disruptive educators please stand up?

For more by Sanee check out her blog


#BetterTogether: Leverage The Power of Group Capital

Today’s Blog is by an incredible lead learner/Elem. Principal, Paul Erickson, in Hutchingson, KS. making a difference! 

In our fifth grade hallway, there is a poster that states, “Real heroes don’t wear capes.” The purpose of this poster is to encourage students to look beyond stereotypical role models–professional athletes and pop icons–and consider the real difference-makers in their lives–teachers, coaches, and parents.  I love the mantra and the idea it promotes, but it has me thinking about my own job as an elementary school principal.  I’m viewed as a leader (not a hero, but a leader), but how much impact do I really have?

Qualitatively speaking, I know I support, serve, and influence our students and staff daily in ways that improve what they do–learn and teach.  However, quantitatively speaking, I don’t have much impact.  According to Hattie (2012), the effect size of a principal’s impact on student learning is .39.  Not bad, but not all that good.  In comparison, a student aging one year and attending an average public school results in an effect size/impact of .40.

When I first came across this statistic, I admittedly felt disappointed, maybe even a little defeated.  If you’re a principal coming across this finding for the first time, you, too, may be feeling disappointed and defeated.  However, the good news is that we don’t have to transform students’ lives on our own.  In fact, the more we do AS individuals or the more we do TO individuals, the worse the results are.

The Myth of the Transformative Leader

Transformative Leaders are those that embrace the moral imperative of raising the bar for teacher performance and closing the achievement gap by inspiring (or intimidating)  teachers to new levels of energy and commitment.  They do this through their own heroic efforts.  Think of the Joe Clark story captured in Lean on Me.  The transformative Model asserts that declaring a vision and motivating teachers to “join the cause” are enough to flip schools to achieve unprecedented results.  The reality, as research shows, is transformative leadership rings in at a paltry .11 in terms of effect size.  (Robinson, Lloyd, & Rowe, 2008).  Teaching test-taking has an effect size of .22 (Hattie, 2012), which means we’d be better off teaching students how to highlight key words in standardized questions than spending time proclaiming visions and motivating teachers.

The Mediocrity of the Instructional Leader

Okay.  So principals should keep the cape in the closet (or the baseball bat if you’re Joe Clark), and, instead, step into the impactful shoes of the instructional leader, right? Most building leadership programs are built around the model of instructional leadership where the principal supervises individual teachers’ implementation of curriculum and instruction initiatives.  This results in the principal asking for lesson plans, studying them carefully, administering formal observations, and then debriefing with individual teachers on their performance.  The impact of this type of instructional leadership rings in at a stable .42 (Robinson, Lloyd, & Rowe, 2008).  This is a slightly better result than what Hattie found among “average” principals, but when you think of .40 being what we get when kids age one year and just come to school, .42 is far from desirable.

What Truly Impacts Learning?

The problem with the aforementioned models of leadership is that they are individualistic.  They assume that if we have better principals (transformative leaders), then we have a better school.  They assume that if we have better teachers (courtesy the supervision of the instructional leader), we have a better school. The reality is…..individuals (be it  principals or teachers) don’t change schools.  Groups change schools, and to utilize the power of the group, you have to CHANGE the GROUP.

When principals focus on changing the group and utilizing its power, they are, in effect, building group capital. Building group capital has an effect size of .84 (Robinson, Lloyd, and Rowe, 2008), making it the undisputed heavyweight champ of leadership influences.  Within this construct of building group capital there are two critical factors:

1. The principal makes the progress of the school a collective endeavor.  One-on-one appraisals take a back seat to Professional Learning Communities.  Teachers don’t comply in order to achieve better results in their own classrooms, rather they COMMIT to improving the school as a whole.  They do this because they are a part of a team, a bona-fide PLC.

Example–Organize opportunities for teachers to observe other teachers in action. Through peer observations, teachers not only pick up tricks of the trade, they also see how every team member is contributing to student learning, thus generating an all-hands-on-deck approach.  Principals, please don’t expect teachers to do this on their planning period! Arrange for a sub to spend the day, relieving teachers for 45-minute increments so that teachers can do this during the regular day.

2. The principal leads professional learning among staff.  The principal does less supervising and facilitates more LEARNING.  Principals build professional learning into each school day and use teacher observation, not to appraise or evaluate, but to supplement and strengthen professional learning.

Example–Create and habitually contribute to a hashtag to promote best practices among colleagues.  Check out #313teach and #448teach and see what our district in Buhler Schools and a neighboring district Inman Schools have done with their best practices hashtags.  Through tweeting, retweeting, and favoriting you are facilitating continuous learning opportunities that are accessible to your PLC and a global audience!

We are better together.  That’s the undeniable reality of leadership.  Let’s keep the group capital ideas rolling!  If you have an outstanding idea for building group capital among staff, please use the #bettertogether.  With something as simple as #bettertogether, we can build our own capital as a global group of lead learners!


Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. New York, NY: Routledge.

Robinson, V., Lloyd, C., & Rowe, K. (2008). The impact of leadership on student outcomes.

Education Administration Quarterly, 44, 635–674.

**In addition, I must give a ton of credit to Michael Fullan, specifically the leadership genius he shares in The Principal.  This is a book SO GOOD I read it twice this summer!**

To read more great insights by Paul

Making School Culture Our Focus

Today’s post is written by Michael Kelly who is a Middle School principal in Pennsylvania.  

I have attended a few different conferences, workshops and EdCamps lately where I have been introduced to an amazing amount of ideas and strategies related to instruction, technology and innovation. These sessions have been inspiring and excellent educational learning experiences. However, an underlying tone that has existed in some of the sessions I’ve attended has related to school culture. In technology sessions I’ve heard concerns about trust and support. In curriculum or instruction sessions I’ve heard teachers express concern about not feeling safe to take risks or not having autonomy in their classroom to try new things. These concerns relate back to school culture.

If we do not focus on a positive school culture first, attempts to lead change or incorporate innovative ideas and technology become that much more difficult, if not impossible. There are too many schools that constantly shove new initiatives and ideas onto teachers while simultaneously destroying the culture of the school. School leaders are so caught up with doing what they feel is urgent, like incorporating the latest tech, or introducing new programs to address test scores, they miss what is important and crucial, which is school culture. As leaders, we need to get our school culture in a good place before trying to lead change in other areas. Admittedly, I have not always been perfect in this area, and have learned a lot through my failures and experiences as a leader. However, I have seen the positive effects of making school culture a central focus (see my previous post). The challenge for me has been maintaining a balance between keeping school culture a central focus, but at the same time, incorporating some new ideas and strategies.

So why isn’t there more of a focus on school culture?

At conferences and EdCamps, why are there dozens of PD sessions on the latest Apps and Google tools (all of which are awesome), but little to no sessions or focus on school culture? I was recently asked by a participant in a school culture session I facilitated “How much of your administrative coursework was focused on building school culture?” My honest answer was “ZERO!” I am certain there are institutions and programs that address school culture, but how many make it a focus? How many programs communicate to leaders that building a positive school culture is the key to school improvement? We need to see more sessions at EdCamps, conferences and professional development sessions that focus on how teachers and leaders can build a positive school culture. We need more teacher and administrator preparation programs make school culture a central focus.

In Todd Whitaker and Steve Gruenert’s book School Culture Rewired, they write “Culture represents the unwritten mission of the school – it tells students and staff why they are there” (pg. 30). School culture is the central component of a school, it exists in some form – good or bad, and impacts everything within a school. We need leaders at the district and building levels to make improving school culture a top priority.