How to Approach Our Mission With Bravery

Everything I’ve accomplished in life would be void if it weren’t for the people in my life, specifically my classroom teachers, who pushed and challenged me to go to the next level.


I am a product of those who have invested their entire heart into me.


Now, when I say classroom teachers, you may be thinking of a typical room where the learning takes place, but watch what happens when we broaden the horizon and adjust our scope.


My case and point:

To my one and only high-school principal, who spent the time to actually know me and challenge me as I sat in his office explaining how I felt lost- thank you for hearing me.


To that one college professor who gave me a second chance when I was undeserving- I truly give thanks for everything you believed that I could become. As I sat in your office on the last day of the semester, completing makeup work, something shifted inside of me.


To Nick, who took me aside in a dorm room to teach me about leadership and to channel my inner strength- I honor you and give thanks for your willingness to share.


To Drill Sergeant McKeaver and Kinard, whose classroom was the rugged terrain in which we worked, slept and toiled in, day in and day out- I thank you both for instructing me on how to lead with actions.


To Paul, who took me aside in an engineering office in downtown Fort Worth and shared his stories of success and failure- thank you for opening up and being real; you continue to inspire me.


There are many different “classrooms” we opt into in our lifetime, whether self-chosen or not (and no matter your career path in life), and they all amount to the total and complete you.


Pause and realize the many classrooms you have grown in. Pretty humbling, right?


These relationship-driven leaders viewed me not only as an employee, a private in the Army, a colleague or even a student. It is so refreshing and powerful to learn that they sought to give me

growth down to the core of my true self and that they had set this as their mission.


Life empowering change can occur anytime or place as we approach our mission boldly. This is a core concept I bought into early on that I challenge you to take hold of.


We are on a mission.

We are on a mission to build relationships with kids, teachers and our fellow world-changers (and yes- I said world). We are being called and relied upon to spark change, lead the way and step up for what is wholly good. We are the ones working long hours and unifying in numbers because we have caught a glimpse of the future. We have come to an agreement about the importance of our work, right now.


We are on a mission to change education and our destination is growth, perpetual-positive change, not a final “this is finished and we can relax now” thing… No!


We have all heard, felt and accepted this mission (if you haven’t realized it until now, then welcome to the movement!). We enlist into this the moment we understand why we teach and the immense gravity of it all.


If we are so passionate about education and empowering kids and educators, why are we still going about it in a way that questions those that want to be brave and try it out?


I decided early on that I will not be a part of that culture. I will approach this mission- our mission- with bravery.


Here are the 6 ways I encourage us all to look at our role and to begin approaching the mission with increased bravery.


Begin with relationships. Show students you can love and listen

No matter what, you have to be willing to stand in the gap for your students. Life will take a hold on them and cause hurt, pain and confusion, but through it all you hold the power to speak life to them. It takes bravery, not a planned response. Relationships aren’t always easy, but they are always worth it.


Guard your heart and your head

I experienced a setback in 2017, during my first year teaching, where I had lost my mentor and was left alone. At first, I thought I was in the wrong because negative self-talk had become my normal, but certain educators stepped in and cleared the debris that had accumulated. I can not say this enough, especially since it nearly ruined my first year, but you must form healthy relationships with those you can trust and never forget to trust yourself. You are good, you are capable and your worth is not determined by a mentor or a colleague that tries to maintain a hold on you.


Lead and Teach in a way that inspires others to want to join the movement

This is crucial. This is the very reason I switched career paths to become a teacher.


Find Your Niche

You may not know it at first, but you have a void to fill. What problems will you solve? What educators will you help and inspire? Find your niche and excel at it.


Celebrate Wins

This seems simple enough, but how often do we continue to stay busy and barrel our way through the week without stopping to admire the greatness happening at your school?


Try, Take Risks and Approach Everything With Bravery

Having a growth mindset is more than being willing to make mistakes. You must be open enough to share in the process with those around you.


Let’s keep focused on our shared mission and change the education landscape together.

If you have other ideas or ways we can increase our bravery, let’s talk about it and share. Collaboration is key to our continued success.


Stay Brave.


Josh Strickland is a second year educator teaching 4th grade in Anna, TX. When not in the classroom, Josh is a proud dad, husband, and serves in the National Guard. For more by Josh check out

Raise The Heat

Leadership is inherently about change. CEOs won’t last long if there is no push for new or better, no politician runs on a platform of the status quo, and school leaders don’t keep master binders of the lesson plans used each year. Leaders who fail to seek positive change are, simply, not leaders, they are managers. We must all be change agents; for our students, our staff, and each other.


My position as district technology integration specialist holds no real leadership capacity. Quite literally, there are no branches below my name on our organizational chart, and I have no students to guide through the year. Thankfully, my efforts to push the status quo are supported by excellent district administrators, who support our teacher leaders in doing the same.  


Last year, my first year on the job, I planned to affect positive change as an instructional partner, technology coach and trusted colleague. While this was effective to some extent, I came to realize that I was tossing ideas into the wind, hoping that they would stick to a teacher who would bring the idea to fruition. I needed to “raise the heat” in order to create positive change. “Raise the heat” is a concept I learned at the Kansas Leadership Center last spring with fellow administrators and teacher leaders. It means to apply pressure that causes a desire to change.


In high school, the “heat” I needed to train for cross country was an upcoming race, in college I needed a too-soon deadline to create that “heat.”  Many adults need the “heat” of a demanding boss to motivate them to complete work. It takes a very different type of heat to create a “need to change” mindset in teachers who are already excellent at what they do.



Relationships Come First

We had a celebration of new staff to close out the year and we were asked to tell what helped the most throughout the year. One by one, every teacher mentioned how positive relationships with students impacted their ability to do their job for the better.


The same is true of working with teachers. Each opportunity to visit with teachers is an opportunity to build a relationship that helps me do my job better. This cannot be stated enough. Relationships must be the foundation of everything we do.


Visibility Matters

A big part of developing the relationships needed to create positive change is visibility. I have an office in our central office building, but the relationship that is needed in order to trust a colleague cannot be forged through email. Teachers need to see their leaders often, or human nature takes over and they wonder what leaders are doing in their offices all day.


It is not only about being seen in schools but about being seen and respected as a high-quality educator. I worked last year to develop lessons to co-teach with my colleagues. Because I have no students and directly lead no staff, to demonstrate my trustworthiness as a quality educator, I need to be in the classroom in order to be “seen.”


How to Raise the Heat

Jimmy Casas speaks about the “Fall to Average.” It is a natural human tendency to trend toward the status quo, rather than pushing ourselves to work harder to change our lesson plans, call just one more parent, or spend extra time with that one student we know could really use it. This is a constant battle, as one minute we will be committed to excellence, and the next we are exhausted and just trying to get through the day. So how can we raise the heat to create lasting, intrinsically motivated change without using any leadership authority to speak of? Below are three ideas.


  1. Questions

Just as in the classroom, asking the right questions makes people think. Leaders often feel a need to explain their vision in very specific and detailed terms. Asking questions to make colleagues think relieves this pressure, but points them in the right direction. Here are a few examples:


  • What will you change your classroom this year to make it more student-centered?
  • How will you continue to build a culture of risk taking in your students during this unit?
  • How could technology empower your students with voice and choice in their learning next semester?


Notice that each question is open-ended, hints at the core change you would like to see, and assumes that the teacher already is, or desires to improve in that area. These can also be asked of any teacher or PLC, regardless of how far along they are on the path toward your goal for them.


  1.  Positive Peer Pressure

The thing about teachers, and humans really, is we want to be good at what we do. Often if a teacher is trying something new, teachers around them will see the impact and want to jump on board. Peer pressure can be an excellent heat raising tool to spark ideas and change in whole groups of teachers. Watch the positive change spread like wildfire.


  1. Observation

Seeing is believing and modeling is an excellent way to show rather than tell. Fill in for teachers so they can observe a colleague that models the change you would like to see.  Once the teacher sees and believes it, the heat comes from within because they want to be better for their students. Better yet, plan and co-teach a lesson with that teacher so she sees you as an instructional partner as well!


Those are just a few of many ways to raise the heat. Creating positive change requires no title, deadline, or evaluations. People want to be great at what they do, but sometimes need help to get there. Raising the heat allows us to become inspired from within and creates a shift in mindset that leads to lasting change.   How will you raise the heat to push your colleagues toward positive change this year?


Kyle McClure supports campuses as a technology integration specialist in Buhler, Kansas. For more by Kyle, check out his blog at

3 Ways School Leaders Can Put Transparency into Action

3 Ways School Leaders Can Put Transparency into Action


Most school leaders would say that transparency is one of their guiding principles in their school. But when faced with tough opposition in the midst of change, consider this: is your lack of putting transparency into practice hindering growth? Teachers will listen to their leaders when they perceive their leaders as co-learners alongside them in the journey. When leaders open up about their own failures and are transparent about their motives, teachers are willing to share the same. How do we move from a “feel good” word to an action that can transform culture? Here are 3 ways leaders can increase transparency in their schools.


Transparency in Walkthroughs. Principals belong in classrooms alongside of teachers, period. Principals also give frequent and sincere affirmation and effective feedback. Even with these two actions in check, there is the question of “what are you basing your feedback on or from?” If principals and teachers are co-developing student success outcomes and classroom “look-fors,” there is a mutual agreement on the kinds of evidence that will be collected.  A google doc or OneNote is a great way of communicating and tracking walkthrough data. This living document would be co-created with the teacher, and each time the principal engages with the classroom, a simple checklist, narrative, or other agreed upon indicators are addressed. The teacher doesn’t have to wait for the email that comes late at night or the next day, it’s updated live in the classroom.


Transparency in 360s. As an administrator, it was tough to receive anonymous evaluations from teachers. Yes, there were always the positive comments, but as humans, what do we tend to fixate on? Yes, those constructive comments. As leaders we know that the only way to grow as a leader and help our teachers and students grow is to unearth and illuminate those challenges, failures, inefficiencies, etc. And when I say illuminate, I mean, share those anonymous survey results with everyone. This sends a clear message: I’m willing to share my shortcomings for the sake of our growth.


Transparency in Perception. What do teachers and students perceive about the school environment? Does it embrace diversity and equality? Is it conducive to positivity, creativity, innovation, and collaboration. Principals should find this out and find this out often. A weekly and very brief survey can be shared digitally, asking teachers and students to rate the areas mentioned above, with an opportunity to share suggestions and wishes. The “scores” from the surveys are shared with everyone and should be used to not only take a pulse of the culture, but continuously track it for the sake of growth.


Transparency is an often overused term but and underutilized action by leaders. Modeling this kind of “no holds barred” or “everything is fair game” mentality, can turn a stagnant culture into a thriving one that hinges on open communication, sincere relationships, and trusted leaders.


Dr. Nathan Lang, is currently an Edu Strategist  with an extensive background in serving various K-12 schools and districts as an administrative leader. Additionally, Nathan is a husband and father. For further reading by Nathan check out his posts here. 

Recreating the Principal Stereotype


When you mention the phrase “the principal’s office”, what comes to your mind? Paddlings? Suspensions? Other punishments? Bad news phone calls? Detention? Missed recesses?  I could continue with the list of negative actions associated with the title of principal. We are notoriously known for being “the bad guys” of school. Many  of the assumptions made by others are due to the way things used to be regarding classroom management and punishments attached to specific behaviors. Sadly, there are places where this type of school leader still exists.


img_2289I AM ON A MISSION!

I challenge all LEAD LEARNERS (this “title” is the first process in breaking the mold) to join me. I also invite anyone in education, and anyone who supports education (this should be everyone!) to join me in an effort to break the mold of what used to be, and redefine what needs to be! Let’s create a new stereotype for the principal/lead learner role. It starts with considering perceptions and assumptions of others.


What People Perceive


Everyone makes assumptions, even when they are diligently attempting not to…it is human nature to use what we know to connect to a new situation. Some share their perception of what they see, and others choose to withhold. Consider some of the following statements and questions I hear from others:




  • copy-of-img_0157YOU’RE the PRINCIPAL? (insert shocked face image)
  • You look way too nice to be a principal.
  • I bet none of the kids are afraid of you!
  • Aren’t you a little young to be “in charge” of a school?
  • You’re way too happy and smile way too much to be a principal.
  • You don’t look like any principal I have ever seen. (How does a principal look, anyway?)
  • I bet when you have to paddle kids it doesn’t even hurt!
  • You had jeans on, so I assumed you were a teacher (yes, someone said this!)
  • So why in the world do you stand outside and monitor the car line instead of getting a staff member to do it?
  • I threatened my son with you last night! He better not have to come see you!
  • You’re the boss, you have people to do __________ for you.
  • I heard you spoke to my child today and I did not receive a phone call that he was in trouble. (That’s because he wasn’t! I talk to all kids!)
  • What punishment does she get for having to come see you?
  • If I had principals like you when I was a kid, I would have been in trouble all the time just to go to the office! (insert awkward laugh)
  • Aren’t you a little too “out there” to be a principal? Everyone sees your social media profiles. Are you not afraid to be judged for self promoting?
  • I assumed the principal was a man.
  • Saved the best for last… “You’re way too HOT to be a principal!” (Seriously??)


Education administration is primarily a man’s world, which most likely enhances some of the perceptions and assumptions, but much of what people have experienced in the past as a student has caused them to have fixed opinions about the principal’s role in a school. Most times I am able to laugh these comments off…let them roll off of my back, so to speak. There are times when I am offended by them, depending on the tone, nature of comment, or who is speaking it. It becomes hurtful when people decide my ability based on assumptions before ever given a chance to show them who I am. Everyone faces judgement by others, and it hurts to the core at times. We can allow this to define us. We can also allow it to wear us down. We can sometimes even give in completely and become ineffective within our role. I refuse to do that. I am on a mission to inform others on what being a lead learner in a school is truly all about. I WILL break through the perceptions and stereotypes to recreate the mold. We are so much more than punishers and bosses. It is time to transition from “The Principal” to “The Lead Learner”.  I suggest starting with 3 responsibilities to become focused on breaking the mold. We cannot create a new perspective without stamping out the old.


Lead Learners are Encouragers


Everyone needs encouragement, whether they want to admit it or not. Kids need it continually, and will ask for it in many ways. Some will ask you to validate them, and others will seek attention even if it means they have to act out in order to be noticed. We have no idea what some of our kids are leaving behind them when they enter the building, so they need encouragement and validation on a regular basis.


Teachers and staff need an encourager. They have one of the most challenging jobs because everything they say and do impacts the kids around them either positively or negatively. What a challenging position to be in for five days a week! School staff need to be reminded they make a difference academically and socially. The little things that are done for children…sticking an extra snack in a child’s backpack, hugs, personal notes, positive phone calls home…they are encouragers to their kids and families. I must be an encourager for them.


Lead Learners are REAL People


One of the biggest reasons for assumptions of principals is that most do not know who they really are! We are viewed as “secret people” who do not come out of the office much, don’t go out in public to eat or shop, have people do most things for them within the school, and considered unapproachable. I don’t want to be viewed as unapproachable. I want people to know I am authentic, and someone to count on for support and encouragement (see above!). Some of my favorite times of the day are the conversations with kids, families, and staff that are impromptu, unscheduled, and even random! Those are the moments that we can often make the largest impact.


img_2939Appearance is a first impression, and we are often judged by this alone. Some people make up their mind about others simply based on one’s stature, gender, hair color, etc. It can be hurtful when we are shunned or underestimated because of how we look! Everyone experiences it at some point, as I have and do. Phrases such as, “The Barbie Principal”, “Blondie”, and “High Maintenance” have been often used in reference to me in the past. I have been judged on my intelligence and ability simply because I have blonde hair. How do we move through the obstacles of these stereotypes? The answer is simple…by showing our REAL! Wear jeans and tshirts (and not just on Fridays)! Play with kids outside and even get dirty! Grab the mop in the cafe when there is a spill. Talk to kids and families in stores and restaurants. Attend kids’ events and activities when possible. Actions speak loudly…what do they need to say to others in order to recreate the mold?


Lead learners demonstrate transparency of not having all the answers, making mistakes, and asking for forgiveness. I mess up daily. I fail daily. I also do things right and achieve success daily. This is life. Great leaders are successful, but imperfect. The power is in ownership of imperfections and allowing others to support them. That is REAL.


Lead Learners Share Passion for What They Do


Passion is a must in order to live life fully, and to achieve happiness. Without passion, life does not have much meaning. The passion we have within us is directly connected to our WHY, and how we live it to inspire others. It is meant to be shared, not withheld. You will be ridiculed by some for being “over the top” or “a little too excited”, and that is perfectly fine. Few people will see your passion that way, and most will see it as a fuel for their own passion. The ability to share passion is a gift like no other, and keeps on giving to everyone who is exposed. Families want passionate educators for their children and they deserve nothing less! If an educator lacks passion or is unwilling to share their love for what they do, then it is time to leave the profession. Kids do not have time for lukewarm educators; they need adults who are on fire and ready to make the biggest difference possible. When we become transparent about our profession, and show others our passion, it creates a safe harbor for families. They know without a doubt that their children are loved, valued, and have people invested in them. Imagine children and families who do not have this because of lukewarm educators. It is unfair and ultimately harmful.


Encourage. Be REAL. Share the passion. Do all of these things daily, not just when you have time, or remember to do them. Make them a part of who you are. Weave them into your purpose–your WHY. Transparency of these traits will help others know you, and trust you. Do these things with joy and intentionality, because you cannot fake authenticity or passion.


Breaking a mold is not easy, but it will be worth it. What mold are you working in? Does it need to be recreated in order to make a larger impact? If you have recreated a new perception of the school leader, are you reflecting on it’s impact and revising if necessary?


Be the BEST you can be for kids each and every day. Kids deserve that, and so do you. Squash the stereotypes through actions and conversations. Prove the importance of the lead learner role. We have so much power. Let’s use every ounce to be heroes for the profession, and to recreate the stereotype. Join me…we are better together.


Bethany Hill is the lead learner and chief energy officer of  Central Elementary in Cabot, AR, a PreK- 4th grade campus.. To read more by Bethany. 

Empowering Today’s Learner’s Through Student Voice

Within our educational system today, and at the heart of all that we do, rests the proverbial “student desk”. In that seat rests the most powerful, engaging, and often untapped school resource. By taking and making time to include student perspective and voice within the academic, social, and behavioral facets of the school day, you will witness increased student engagement, increased student buy-in, and decreased behavior concerns and issues.


Building relationships with your student it a non-negotiable foundation to create authentic student voice opportunities. Based out of Washington, D.C. Character.Org ( ) is a national organization that promotes, supports and fosters the Character Education Initiative. Their 11 Principles, resources, and local/state agencies can provide additional support in moving forward in fostering teacher-student relationships via the character education initiative. By establishing a positive school climate and fostering positive relationships with our students, we will see an increase in how our students react, respond, and refer to school activities.

So how do you begin? Why should you empower student voice? Well, we know that our students arrive to school each day with two questions. 1. Will I be accepted? 2. Can I do the work? In addressing these two important questions, we can help our students feel both welcome and accepted at school. We can also help them become better connected with their academic work.


How can you empower students by increasing student voice? Here are a few ways that we have been able to begin this process:


  •         Principal Sound-Off: Each quarter provide students with the opportunity to share their thoughts, concerns, and ideas with your Administrative leadership team. Counselors and administrators meet with the student these topics. Many times our students will be able to help problem-solve different areas of concern within the school community. They are also able to generate “new ideas” and initiatives to incorporate into daily activities. Provide feedback to students explaining which suggestions can be implemented. Also, provide information to explain why specific practices and procedures need to remain in place. By giving the students this important feedback, you are honoring their voice (even when you cannot implement some of their suggestions and ideas).
  •         Student-Led Organizations: Allow students to take the lead in facilitating, planning, and leading out your student organizations (e.g. Honor Society, Student Council, W.E.B./Leader Link). This provides them with authentic leadership responsibilities and opportunities. Our three key student leader organizations each have a specific focus (National Junior Honor Society: service to others, Character Council: promoting student voice and character education, and W.E.B.: student mentoring).
  •         Student-Led Committees: Serving as facilitators, school administrators, teachers, and counselors can work alongside students with these committees. For example, two years ago we transformed how we approached our annual Veterans Day Celebration. Allowing students to share their voice and vision for this annual event, we were able to give this celebration a very personal and authentic voice. Moving the celebration to a school day assembly, adding a breakfast and including student speakers, our school community witnessed a revitalized celebration. Three years ago two student leaders approached our Administrative team with this vision in mind.
  •         Classroom Leadership: Using the Leader in Me( ) initiative or other research-based practices will provide students with real opportunities to lead out class activities, responsibilities, and lessons. Making time to offer different types and kinds of leadership roles in the classroom helps to provide students with authentic responsibilities (outside of academic work). At the same time you will be building confidence and self-esteem for your students.
  •         BYOD School: In becoming a Bring Your Own Device school demonstrates your desire to further engage students on a level that they are accustomed to performing. Please note that technology for technology sake is not the reason to introduce BYOD to your school. Instead, BYOD can be used to enhance and further embed learning practices with your students.
  •         Content Curriculum: Student voice and choice is another key to increasing student “connectedness” in the classroom setting. Start by offering occasions where they have a choice within assignments. At times, you can offer different Project-Based or Problem-Based Learning. 

With all ideas, initiatives, and programs, it is important to begin slowly. Assess your current reality and then begin with a Backwards Design (based on your school’s Vision and Mission). From here empower teacher and student voice in designing, planning, and then implementing your student voice initiative.


Additional resources:

National Junior Honor Society:

W.E.B. (Where Everyone Belongs) Leaders:

Student Council:


Dr. Ted Huff is a connected lead learner and the Principal of Francis Howell Middle School in St. Charles, Missouri.