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. 

Better Than I Found It


My parents always taught me to leave things better than I found them.  I can still hear these words echo in my head anytime I leave a room, my table at a restaurant, or the park where I am playing with my kids.  I find myself unconsciously organizing pillows on the couch, straightening chairs at a table, or picking up someone else’s trash to “leave things better than I found them.”  This idea has bled into so many aspects of my life, and in these simple words, I have found a great deal of wisdom.


I often find myself asking at the end of a day as I walk out the doors of a building where I serve as a middle school principal, “Did I leave this place better than I found it this morning?”  Most days, I believe the answer is “yes,” but even on the days it is not, I know I have a chance to come back tomorrow to work on making it better.


Recently, I accepted a new position in my township, and will be leaving my current position to serve as the principal at our feederLeadership is... high school.  In the past few weeks, I have been thinking a great deal about how to make sure I am leaving my current school better than I found it. Although I truly believe my leadership has helped my school, my staff, my students be better in my presence, I find myself asking: Did I lead in a way that will allow my school to continue its amazing work in my absence?  


I love the Sheryl Sandberg quote here in this post. True leadership not only comes from making people better because of your presence, but leading in a way that makes an impact long after you are gone.  Sure, there are those in education who are intelligent, who drive decision making, take the lead, push forward, and make amazing things happen.  They are truly bold, brilliant people, but they are not leaders.  When they leave, the brilliance leaves with them, and the school is back to where it was before they started.  Leaders leave things better than they found them by making lasting impacts.  Leaders build a culture where everyone has an opportunity to contribute and they find ways for each person to contribute to the overall improvement of the organization.  As I reflect on the five years I have spent in my school, there are three main ideas that I hope will continue to impact change in my absence.


Leaders build an environment where risk taking is not only valued, but expected.  I believe that change is inevitable, but our growth is optional.  Education is changing, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.  How we handle these changes is our choice. I believe it is a leader’s responsibility to create an environment where taking risks and trying new things is not just important; it is the norm.  Complacency is the enemy of success.  We must strive to get better, or we are going to get left behind.  But, this can only happen in the  correct environment.  If as leaders, we only value success, people will play it safe so they can be successful.  But, if we place our focus on valuing the process of improvement, people will take risks to improve everyday.  When a leader creates an environment of risk taking, risk taking leads to innovation, and innovators leave a school better than they found it.


Leaders help people believe they can accomplish anything if they work together.  None of us are stronger than all of us — we need each other in education.  A collective strength is found in having a common purpose, built around an understanding that we are here for students.  We must have the mentality that all students can and will learn, and it is our responsibility to find a way to make that happen. When we trust and believe in each other at this level, being challenged and held accountable is expected and wanted.  This idea must be modeled from the leadership.  It takes a great deal of vulnerability to trust at this level.  If a leader does not allow themselves to be vulnerable, no one will.  When a leader creates a collective purpose and belief in each other, people leave a school better than they found it.


Leaders help people get better, not just make places better.  Too often as leaders, our focus goes to make places better.  We simply give people what they need to solve a problem or reach an arbitrary goal.  The problem is fixed, the goal is met, the improvement is made.  This can work- if our focus is just on making our school better in the short term — quick, easy, and to the point.  But, this does not build lasting change.  As a leader, our focus needs to be on inspiring people to solve their own problems and establish and meet their own goals.  We need to focus on people, as the ones who drive improvement.  I am reminded of the old proverb: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. If we feed the people we lead, things will get done, problems will get solved, and goals will be met.  At the same time, we create an environment where everyone looks to us for answers.  If all the answers come from us, then we place a ceiling on learning and assure our school will never be any smarter than we are.  If we inspire people and teach them to fish, they will take ownership in the improvement process. Our focus cannot be on improvements and change, but rather always on the people who will bring the improvements and change. Leaders create a desire in others to be better and to leave their school better than they found it.


I hope my leadership has left better risk-takers, better innovators, better colleagues, and most importantly better people.  If I truly led, my work has not only left my school better than I found it, but has inspired others to continue this betterment every day.


I challenge you to ask yourself at the end of each day: What did I do today to leave my school better than I found it?


Then, ask the tougher question: If I were not to return, would that impact last in my absence?


Brian Knight is the lead learner and principal of a Middle School in Indianapolis, Indiana area. Brian is also the moderator for #Perrychat. For more writings by Brian. 


Our Kitchen Table

Today’s guest post is by Amy Heavin, an elementary lead learner/principal in Angola, IN.

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” ~Henry Ford

In my house, the kitchen table is not just for eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At any given moment, it can become a dinosaur’s landscape, a race track, a Lego field, or even a family show and tell event. We might illuminate a light with a Snap Circuit set, or we might gather around my Chromebook screen to learn how to play a math game. The kitchen table is a place of many possibilities, of conversation, and of inquiry. It is within these inspired moments that I see the opportunities that can await our children in their classrooms, the endless possibilities that can build into deep learning experiences. These experiences are founded in the premise of collaboration and creativity.

Our growth is dependent on our ability to build a culture of learning and collaboration. How can we grow if we do not foster it? I have found that the best way to build the culture of a disneygrowth mindset is to intentionally build opportunities for teachers and students to learn by modeling it. Whether it is on my kitchen table with my children’s imagination running wild, or in the teacher’s lounge huddled around a computer screen asking questions, these opportunities build trust, in turn fueling personalized learning and ideas.

Leaders must practice what they preach. If we want teachers to collaborate more, we must build time for it in our day. If we want teachers to use particular tools, we must be willing to use them ourselves. If we want teachers to take risks in their classrooms, we must be willing to take risks with them. This culture of learning and sharing does not happen overnight, and it does not happen spontaneously.

Our ultimate goal is for the growth mindset of our staff, fostered through learning opportunities and collaboration, to filter to our students. When we walk into our classrooms and see our students collaborating and creating together, asking questions and finding their own answers, then we know the collaborative culture we wish to create in our school is taking hold for everyone.

And so, in an effort to build this growth mindset and collaborative culture in my school with my staff, I have focused on intentionally creating learning opportunities for the staff. It all started with my leadership team, who completed an Affinity activity, brainstorming possible professional learning topics. Team members were given post-it notes and complete silence. They each had to brainstorm what topics they would like more professional development on, writing only one topic per post-it note. When the time was finished, we discussed the topics, categorized and grouped them together, sharing ideas of how we might facilitate opportunities for our staff to learn and grow together. We quickly realized there are many experts within our school who can facilitate the learning and sharing.

With this freedom to pursue interests and seek feedback from others, our staff’s learning has been uplifted, personalized, and rooted in the growth mindset culture we aim to build for our school. Each month, our leadership team discusses the current needs, and we hold “EdCamp-style” professional learning opportunities, facilitated by our very own staff members. On any given week, a visitor may see an after-school voluntary PD Roundtable, where teachers come together after school to discuss an idea, concept, or learn how to use a new tech tool. During lunch time, the staff hangs out in the teacher’s lounge, eating, sharing, and discussing a topic in a format called a Lunch n’ Learn. Topics are typically technology-driven, but many times we end up discussing other ideas that are sparked from questions.

With these two face-to-face formats facilitating positive conversations throughout the school, it is also imperative that we personalize the growth of our staff even more by using online platforms, flipping professional learning and creating online discussions. Our sharing can move to new levels by establishing staff backchannels using tools like Today’s Meet or using a Twitter hashtag for the school. I have encouraged all of my staff to build their own PLN on Twitter, learning from others around the globe along with sharing the ideas they have too.  Our staff consistently uses Google Apps for collaborative efforts on lessons and activities as well, and we now house links, videos, and folders in our staff Google Classroom “class”.

appleFurthermore, by practicing these collaborative efforts with staff, our teachers can then take those opportunities and creative ideas into their own classrooms.  Teachers are now using those same tools with their students. Sharing tools such as Padlet and Google Docs are not only used by staff members, but also by our students to collaborate on projects and research. Our teachers can feel empowered to create classroom environments where students collaborate often. These classrooms are intentionally set up with flexible seating, different areas focus on a purpose, and access to technology for digital sharing. by giving teachers personalized learning for their own growth along with the autonomy to build those same opportunities for their students, they are engaged in developing their classroom in the way that best meets the needs of their students.

Leaders today must foster this shared culture, facilitating personalized growth and risk-taking so that not only teachers soar to become their best, but our students do as well. When our teachers embrace their professional learning, creating opportunities for themselves and sharing with others not only in the same building but throughout the world, their growth will translate to the growth of their students. Our students need to be masters of collaboration in order to be successful in the future.

The “kitchen table” is in every school and every classroom. Leaders need to foster the collaboration and creativity that can be started at the “kitchen table” of their schools, and they also must model it. The development of the culture of our school’s growth mindset is established through these personalized learning opportunities, in various formats. But more than that, our ventures in learning filter directly into our classrooms, building opportunities for growth, collaboration, and creativity among our students. It is at this point that we have truly made our impact for the betterment of our children.

For more great posts by Amy

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.