When I walked into my office on the morning of September 11, 2001, I had two job titles.

I was working for the Department of Defense Education Activity, assigned to the school system located on Fort Knox, Kentucky.

One title was Instructional Systems Specialist for Curriculum and Staff Development. My college preparation and experiences prepared me well for that role.

I was also the Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection Officer for the school district. My college preparation didn’t begin to prepare me for that day, or the weeks that followed.

So I was taught by women and men who see the world through filters we don’t imagine within the four walls of the school buildings.

They are one of the few essential professions who make less money that we do in education. Like us, they volunteer for the job. For the same reasons we do. And like us, they don’t run from the challenges and difficult situations, they run toward them.

They are currently being questioned by some about their motivation for volunteering to do their jobs, their dedication, loyalty, and courage.

They don’t have to respond to those who question them, their actions speak louder than their words ever can.

Watching them at work that day, and the weeks that followed filled me with pride. And does so today.

A lot to reflect on tomorrow. Saw many things, heard many things, made many decisions that I never expected to be part of my school career. It was a day filled with unforgettable events.

Even though I would like to forget some of them.

And so it goes…


With thanks to John Pavlovitz, Aaron Sorkin, Bill Preston, and Ted Logan, who have the words that I have been struggling to find…

I have witnessed many thing things, but nothing as bodacious as what is happening now. I can’t find anything that explains the lack of common sense and rejection of reason, logic, and science from many very smart, but obviously gullible people. Nothing completely accounts for them instantly embracing the most nonsensical of conspiracies. Nothing truly prepared me for the explosion, in words and deeds, of racism. Nothing connects the dots between their past goodness and their present ugliness.

Did I fail to pass along the values and virtues that are most important to me? Did I not know them well enough to understand what is important to them?

We’re not just being pulled apart along political lines, but the fragile, time-woven fabric of our most intimate connections with people are being torn in two right now. Families, life-long friendships, faith communities, and social circles that survived every previous assault from within and without may not survive this presidency.

And the worst part is, the election results won’t fix this. There will be more silent disconnections, more aborted family gatherings, and cold silences with our neighbors.

I imagine some relationships will survive beyond this November – if we invest in them, if we keep listening, if we are willing participants in mutual understanding- but others will not, and that’s probably necessary. Maybe we’ve simply seen too much about the deepest contents of people’s hearts to ever feel safety in their presence again. Maybe we’ll never feel like they are home for us anymore.

Either way, we need to name and reckon with this very specific grieving: the accumulating losses of people we love who are still here, the death of our relationships.

It’s a national tragedy.

All the research, data, books, polls, and think pieces don’t fully explain how once rational, otherwise decent, educated people are fully taking leave of their senses – people I may never feel close to again.

It’s one thing to be a good-hearted but flawed human being who sometimes says something stupid, occasionally has an error in judgment, or simply gets it wrong. Most of us fall under that category. We’re not any kind of evil, we’re just imperfect, emotional people, so we fail and fall – sometimes slightly and sometimes spectacularly.

It’s something else entirely to be an inherently malevolent person; to be incapable of empathy, defiantly unwilling to admit mistakes; to wake up everyday willing to harm others to get what you want and feeling no remorse for it. Because the ones you hurt do not deserve your empathy or your remorse.

I respect people who care about others as they care about themselves; who can humble themselves for the greater good of all; who are filled with compassion; who are willing to listen to different viewpoints; capable of evolving; and both willing and able to admit their mistakes. I respect people who love deeply, mourn greatly, give fully, who see others as more important than themselves.

I’m tired of it, year after year after year, having to choose between the lessor of “who cares.” I’m tired of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences. I’m tired of setting the bar so low that I can hardly look at it.

Kindness, respect, responsibility for all. Take the high road, I’m tired of traveling the low road. Let’s lift each other up, not just those who look and/or think like us.

I call it integrity.

This is How I Be.

And so it goes…

Questions I Have Before We Start Back To School

Last Spring, I wrote a post with questions about how our schools may be changed due to the current pandemic.

Two weeks from today, I and my colleagues return to our school for the 2020-2021 school year. Our school leadership has been incredibly transparent with us, our students and our parents. They are following the guidelines issued by the CDC and our state health department, with the safety and well being of students and staff as a priority. I am extremely proud of the work they have done, and how it has been communicated to all.

Like most schools, we are opening with a hybrid in-class/blended online model. Our administration has taken the relatively rare step of having the education conversation before having the technology conversation. I was thrilled when one of our principals let me know that he has completed the Critical Skills for Online Teaching and Effective Strategies for Online Classrooms courses offered by the VHS Learning, who happens to be the organization who created the online teaching/learning model in 1996. Our professional development will be much more comprehensive that just putting assignments into a LMS, and I can’t wait to be part of it.

What follows is more specific about the challenges we will face as we open the school year than my prior post. None of it is original, my son shared it on his facebook wall. I don’t know the original author, but I would love to hear some answers from those at the state and federal levels who have been elected or appointed to provide the requisite leadership for us.

Betsy DeVos and the Repub. Admin, we have a few questions for you:
• If a teacher tests positive for COVID-19 are they required to quarantine for 2-3 weeks? Is their sick leave covered, paid?
• If that teacher has 5 classes a day with 30 students each, do all 150 of those students need to then stay home and quarantine for 14 days?
• Do all 150 of those students now have to get tested? Who pays for those tests? Are they happening at school? How are the parents being notified? Does everyone in each of those kids’ families need to get tested? Who pays for that?
• What if someone who lives in the same house as a teacher tests positive? Does that teacher now need to take 14 days off of work to quarantine? Is that time off covered? Paid?
• Where is the district going to find a substitute teacher who will work in a classroom full of exposed, possibly infected students for substitute pay?
• Substitutes teach in multiple schools. What if they are diagnosed with COVID-19? Do all the kids in each school now have to quarantine and get tested? Who is going to pay for that?
• What if a student in your kid’s class tests positive? What if your kid tests positive? Does every other student and teacher they have been around quarantine? Do we all get notified who is infected and when? Or because of HIPAA regulations are parents and teachers just going to get mysterious “may have been in contact” emails all year long?
• What is this stress going to do to our teachers? How does it affect their health and well-being? How does it affect their ability to teach? How does it affect the quality of education they are able to provide? What is it going to do to our kids? What are the long-term effects of consistently being stressed out?
• How will it affect students and faculty when the first teacher in their school dies from this? The first parent of a student who brought it home? The first kid?
• How many more people are going to die, that otherwise would not have if we had stayed home longer?
30% of the teachers in the US are over 50. About 16% of the total deaths in the US are people between the ages of 45-65.
We are choosing to put our teachers in danger.
We’re not paying them more.
We aren’t spending anywhere near the right amount to protect them. And in turn, we are putting ourselves and our kids in danger.

And so it goes…

Reflection on Summer, 2020. So far…

In the 1960’s, we got our news from the three networks, we saw only what the three networks broadcast, whatever the managing editor of the evening news chose to show. The executive producer was the censor and the arbiter of what was reported, just as the editor of the newspaper chose which still photographs were published. The networks and the newspapers were in the business of earning a profit for their stockholders as much as they were in the business of presenting the news and informing the public. They were driven by the interests of their advertisers as much as they driven by the interests of their viewers and readers. In the 2020’s, we don’t get our news from the three networks, there is no executive producer to filter what we see and hear.

Social media policies, and those who create and enforce them, are now the “executive producers” and “editors” of what we see and hear. They may not have chosen this role when the platforms were created, but they must accept the responsibility for the influence the platforms carry.

A valuable lesson I learned as an aspiring administrator was “Never argue with anyone who buys ink by the barrel or paper by the ton.” They determine what is seen and heard by the public, and thus, how opinions are shaped. And you will always lose those arguments.

With great power to influence comes great responsibility. We know that as educators, working daily with captive audiences of young minds. We have the power to create and nurture dreams, to shape lives. We take it very seriously.

Hopefully, others with great power to literally take lives away take it seriously as well.

And so it goes.

The Future Is Not What It Was

We are an excellent school, and will remain one. The habits that made us great will keep us great.

We started by asking, and answering the following: What has worked for us in the past? Why has it worked? What has worked, but can be improved? How do we improve it? What has not worked well for us at all? Why didn’t it work?

We are excellent because we successfully connect with our students. We understand that we must successfully address the Maslow stuff before we can effectively address the Bloom stuff. We also recognize that the environments of teaching and learning have forever changed, in dramatic ways. And we acknowledge that it will never again be what it once was.

How do we continue to work on the Maslow stuff remotely?

We know that we will not see the same students who left us a short time ago. As they were shaped by their home environments at the time of the last dismissal bell, they are still shaped by their home environments today. But they have changed, and we have to change with them.

We will see more of them with parents out of work, and stresses at home will increase. More of them will qualify for free-reduced meals, many for the first time in their school careers, and that will be a monumental challenge for them and their families. Even though the “official” numbers will not be known until after school starts next fall, the impacts are very real today.

We recognize that “poverty” impacts learning, and we realize that what worked well with kids in the past may not work as well with them today.

Broadband access and appropriate tools for remote/online learning have taken on new significance. The “poverty” of students who have never had them, or who will now lose them has also taken on greater significance. While the concept of “digital native” is a myth, the inequitable access of the digital divide is very real.

The inequities of food, shelter, safety, health, and access to technologies cannot be seen or felt through the screen.

But we will address them through our new professional development/training programs. Because we have found that while google apps, You Tube channels, and Kahn Academy work, they will not keep us at the levels of excellence we have grown accustomed to, and those that our parents, teachers, students, and communities continue to expect. We understand that they do not adequately address the 3 C’s of Educational Technology and Instruction; Connect, Collaborate, and Create. And we know we can do better.

Many things that we have taken for granted will have to be re-evaluated and modified as we work through the impact of COVID-19.

Schools are both political and social institutions. This disease will not “go away” soon, if ever. There will a second wave later this spring/summer. And another wave in the fall.

So we will take a look at where we must maintain an appropriate physical distance. Those include, but are not limited to: start/dismissal times; student transportation; assemblies; passing periods; grading practices: custodial services; cafeteria services, including preparation, serving, and eating; class sizes and seating arrangements. Changes in Food Service, Transportation, Instruction, and Maintenance all have significant budget considerations. And all of these can have a profound impact on teaching and learning.

We are excellent because our communities tend to trust us, and the decisions we make. In order to maintain excellence, we will have to propose some significant changes. Do we have the political capital to pull them off? Our decisions will be evaluated through a political lens as well as an educational lens. We should expect to bear the brunt of parent and community frustrations over many factors no longer under their control. Recognize it, and respond accordingly, empathetically, and appropriately. Where do our school leaders fall on the “trust scale” with national, state, and other local leaders? Do people trust us, and our messages? How do we know?


All stakeholders/constituent groups MUST be included. We cannot assume that we can make the needed changes without the involvement, and support, of all. To be most effective, the trainings must be tailored to the unique needs, interests, and agendas in each group. A tall order, but we are excellent because we individualize for the needs of our kids. Now, we will expand that practice to include everybody. Not every district will pull it off. And not every district will transition successfully to the “new future.”

Back in the day, we helped “invent” a lot of what people are trying to do today. We didn’t have templates to follow, we had to create them as we went along. So professional development agendas on the topics of teaching in an online/blended format was pretty much “by guess and by golly.”

But now we have things like National Standards for Online Teaching, which we helped create. They follow: A. Teacher knows the primary concepts and structures of effective online instruction and is able to create online learning experiences to enable student success. B. Teacher understands and is able to use a range of technologies, both existing and emerging, that effectively support student learning and engagement. C. Teacher plans, designs and incorporates strategies to encourage active learning, application, interaction, participation, and collaboration in the learning environment. D. Teacher promotes student success through clear expectations, prompt response and regular feedback. E. Teacher models, guides, and encourages legal, ethical, and safe behavior related to technology use. F. Teacher is cognizant of the diversity of student academic needs and incorporates accommodations into the online environment. G. Teacher demonstrates competencies in creating and implementing assessments in online learning environments in ways that ensure validity and reliability of the instruments and procedures. H. Teacher developers and delivers assessments, projects, and assignments that meet standards-based learning goals and assesses learning progress by measuring student achievement of the learning goals. I. Teacher demonstrates competency in using data from assessments and other data sources to modify content and to guide student learning. J. Teacher interacts in a professional, effective manner with colleagues, parents, and other members of the community to support students’ success. K. Teacher arranges media and content to help students and teachers transfer knowledge most effectively in the online environment.

Nothing new in these topics, we covered them all in traditional teacher preparation courses. But doing them in an online environment is a totally different set of processes and skills. It is an entirely new way of teaching, which explains why the Virtual High School training capstone is a supervised student teaching experience. The rubrics are in place for those who have the desire and commitment.

But if you believe you already know everything you need to know about online/blended teaching, and you can’t can’t admit that you don’t yet know what you don’t know yet about it, none of this really matters.

We are facing immediate challenges never before seen in American public education. But we are excellent in part because we know that challenges are nothing more than opportunities to succeed in new and different ways.

What can we do now that we could not do before? What else to we want to accomplish?

We have the opportunity to expand our work beyond the Sacred Goals of the Holy Strategic Plan.

Alternatives are now on the table. The same alternatives that were previously overlooked because what we were doing was working. We are still creating schools designed to prepare our students to be successful when they are our age. But our blueprint has changed. We have some precedents to copy, templates have been created by the online pioneers of our profession. While we can turn to them for guidance, they were not working with our people in our communities. Let us have the humility to recognize and honor their work. And the confidence that we can emulate it for us.

Here and now, we face a dawning of a new day. What we bring as individuals, and as a whole, is a body of knowledge and experiences gleaned from all that has gone before us. The struggles, the setbacks, the victories. There is no history lesson more crucial than this: “Yesterdays lessons can only yield yesterdays results.”

That’s why we must focus on new growth, new opportunities, whole new dimensions in quality, productivity, and the absolute satisfaction of our customers.

From the certainty of all that has been, we must launch into the not yet discovered, the not yet achieved, the not yet mastered.

What the future holds is a shiny new destiny for those with the courage to embrace change, to seize the opportunities of the here and now, and to welcome the dawning of a new day.

And so it goes…

Missed Opportunities

Truth! And the person would realize that most schools haven’t changed much, nor are they thrilled about letting kids use the amazing device in their pockets as part of the curricula of said schools. We used to see schools as a place to quest for more knowledge, not be limited in how we find it…Had the honor of visiting, twice, with Dr. Thomas Sutherland, a Colorado State University professor who was held hostage in Lebanon for 6 1/2 years. He had little to no access to any news of world events for that time. It was a thrill to talk to him about “change” and how fast it is happening, and how we adapt, or fail, to adapt to it. Was fun to ask a man of his intellect about what amazed him after being “out of touch” for a long period of time. Treasured memories, and in all seriousness, we certainly waste a lot of opportunities by digging in our heels and clinging to the past, all the while forgetting about why we are here.

Name Change

As I prepare to start year 40 in the game, I have decided to change the name of this drivel from “Reflections and Rants from the Assistant Principal” to “Living Outside the Box.”

Have a few reasons for making the change.

1. I am no longer an assistant principal. After 32 years as an administrator, the last 5 as an AP, I retired and moved from Montana to Denver. My last 5 years working in the Big Sky, my title was Assistant Principal. Had several different titles during the first 26 years in the office, from Principal to Director to Instructional Systems Specialist to Superintendent. And from 1987-2006, every school or district that I worked in was either a state, national, or international model. Was able to help write state and national legislation impacting education during that time as well. Thought it was part of the job description. Guess I was lucky enough to pick great people and places to work. But I got bored with “retirement,” so I am now a teacher assistant at a local charter school. And loving it. Again, part of a state model school. Go figure.

2. In the high flyer schools where I worked, a standing rule was to question the status quo. Conventional wisdom didn’t mean much to us. So we made a point of working “outside of the box.” The district where I worked as Superintendent of Schools during the period from 1993-1997 was a founding district of the Virtual High School Global Consortium. Which meant we got into the ed tech game way before most. We were the only district in Colorado to be part of that consortia. As we “innovated” our policies and practices to reflect new ways to teach and learn, we sometimes came up with questions for our state Department of Ed that were not addressed in the current accreditation guidelines. We had a champion working for us, the Deputy Commissioner of Ed. When I was leaving Colorado to join the Department of Defense Education Activity, I met him for lunch, and asked how the Department had felt about us. His response was, “We knew you were working outside the box, we just hope you remembered that there was a box at one time.” I wear that as a Badge of Honor.

3.  Which meant that for the period of my career that I worked in a tradition-bound district, I was a Peacock in the Land of Penguins. Also, to me, a Badge of Honor.

So in the time I have left in the game, I will be writing about things that may challenge the status quo, and the way things have always been done. It made for a great career, and I hope the 3 or 4 of you who regularly read this enjoy it.

And so it goes…

Questions and Answers

Speaks volumes. The Era of Accountability in public ed pushes us to measure the answers when we should be working on, and encouraging, more questions. We don’t know what our kids will need to know when they are in our age, so we them looking back at current answers instead of challenging them to anticipate future answers through questioning.

Finishing Strong, Teacher Appreciation, and All That Jazz


I live in suburban Denver, and work in a school a few short miles from the Highlands Ranch STEM school. I had the honor of spending a day there last winter, met some amazing teachers and truly gifted and inspiring students.

So it is rather difficult today to talk about “10 Tricks To End The Year Strong.” Or share ideas for Teacher Appreciation Week.

But I will do my best.

Ending my year strong has always meant to do whatever it takes to make everyone, students and staff, want to come back next year. There is a reason why the ceremony at the end of the year is called Commencement, or Promotion, or Transition, or some other variation on the term. It isn’t an ending, it’s the beginning of what comes next.

Too often, I hear us talk about how tired we are, how much we look forward to resting, being away from the kids and our colleagues.

What message does this send?

After nine months of telling our students how much we love them, and how they have become a big part of our lives, now we are telling them we need a break from them. And the countdown calendar on the whiteboard only reinforces this attitude.

Have we forgotten that we are the significant, consistent adults in many of their lives? And now they see and hear us tell them, again, that they are unwanted.

My students get enough of that away from school, their stories would break your heart.

Do we need rest? Yes. But find it in our own way, throughout the year. It’s called balance. Think about what went right during the year. Focus on the successes and how it will be even better next year. Focus on the hope of the future, filling your tank, not thinking about how empty it is.

I get it. End of year field trips, field days…office referrals go up as supervision routines go down. The stress of not getting “everything” done goes way up. Testing season is finally over. For the fraternity of administrators, the legislature is out of session, hopefully our elected representatives helped us with the questions we confront daily rather than tell us the answers.

In a nutshell, end with optimism and invitation rather than relief.

I realize that what I have written is unpopular with many of you. But I write from the background of working in some elite schools for nearly 40 years. Most of my career has been spent in minority/majority, high poverty schools. They aren’t like most of your schools. What worked for us isn’t necessarily what is going to work for you and your school.

So be it.

Subtle segue to Teacher Appreciation Week. And Administrative Professional Day. And Paraprofessional Appreciation, et al…

Shouldn’t we be showing our staff how much we appreciate them all the time?

Instead of filling their mailboxes with another coffee cup, water bottle, gift card, cake, cupcakes, t-shirt, or 7″ ruler, all things I have received during my career, try giving your staff the gift of time. Cancel a staff meeting and replace it with an email, cover a duty every now and then. They will appreciate that much more than one more trinket passed out during the Hallmark Week.

As a teacher and administrator, the best way my students or staff could show their appreciation was to take what I had taught them and do great things.

I came of age in the 1960’s. My parents and teachers pushed me, and my generation, to question, challenge and change. It was not “taught” to us, it is not a “skill.” It was instilled into us, it is an attitude.

In this time, when blind obedience is expected and demanded, when anything not accepted by those in charge is declared “fake” and not to be believed or trusted, it fills my heart with joy to see a generation of students from schools like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the Highlands Ranch STEM school demand that they be heard, that their agenda take center stage. Their parents, and others in my chosen profession, have instilled the same attitude in them. I am proud to stand with them.

My heart is heavy as school closes this year.

School should be a place where kids prepare for their lives as adults. It should not be a place where too many of them fear they won’t have the chance to become an adult.

The conversations I had with many of our students over the last couple of days were not part of the “curriculum development” classes I took in college. The conversations I have had with many of the same students after each active shooter drill weren’t either. But unfortunately, they have become part of our daily lives.

Kids should not have to make gun laws in schools.

I am looking forward to seeing my students tomorrow. They know that, I get the chance to tell them every afternoon as they leave our building.

I am looking forward to seeing all of my students when we come back to school in August.

I hope they know that.

And I hope all of them walk through our doors.

And so it goes…

Start With the End in Mind

This will be the first of several posts where I will describe my ideal school.

“The general purpose of education is to increase the probability of success for our students post-education. Until we embrace that notion, no radical change is going to happen.” Joe Harless, Ph.D., author, “The Eden Conspiracy”

This is the cornerstone for my school, preparing our learners for what’s next in the educational progression, or life. Focus will be given to the traditional transition years; grades 5-6, 8-9, and graduation to either post-secondary or directly to career.

“Education” is what takes place in a school. School is a concept wherein students are welcome to learn and enhance the quality of their lives without fear of intimidation or safety for their lives, guided by hospitable and caring people in a clean and orderly environment.

Guiding questions for my school, also asked by other evolving and improving schools:

1. What do our learners need to know in order to be successful in the world beyond our school?

2. What must our learners do in order to succeed in the world beyond our school?

3. What must our learners be like in order to succeed in the world beyond our school?

My school is designed to bridge the gap between what is and what should be, what the literature describes as Adaptive Challenge, which requires a response outside the usual repertoire of most schools.

I will close this introduction with what my school will not be. It will not be one-size-fits-all. As educators, we serve a very diverse population of learners. No one model is “our best” for all of them. While everything in my school already exists, either in schools I have visited, or schools where I have worked. The status quo will not necessarily be honored.

Life is different;

Work is different;

What learners must know and be able to do is different, so…

Learning must be different;

Teaching must be different;

Tools must be different; and

Leadership must be different.

Subsequent posts will focus specifically on “elementary” and “secondary” programs.

May the words of my mouth comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.

And so it goes…