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…

Personal Growth – You Can’t Cross a Chasm in Two Small Leaps

The March topic for the Compelled Tribe is to write about a potential change and possible growth that may be ahead for each of us as we get closer to spring.

In 1993-1994, I was completing the coursework for the Superintendent of Schools endorsement on my state license.

My district was very socio-economically “challenged”, to say the least.

When we looked at our student performance data, and how well were doing/not doing on meeting the expectations of our State Department Accreditation Performance Targets, we were among the lowest in the state for districts with similar characteristics.

Yet we were doing everything “right” according to the literature on how to increase student performance for our demographics.

Yes, there is a difference between doing things right and doing the right things.

Working with our staff and community, we had to re-imagine what we were about and how we conducted our business. In other words, for the benefit of our students, we had to start doing the right things, not just do things right.

Which brings me to the Compelled Tribe topic. We started with a clean white board, dreamed big dreams, and decided to “boldly go where no (few) had gone before.”

We took some incredibly large risks, since we had few, if any, models to follow. There really wasn’t any “best practice” to build upon. Upside was huge, but the consequences of failure were enormous. Not only would our students suffer, but financially, we had the resources to only try something once, and we couldn’t invest in processes that did not yield the returns we needed.

In one of the papers in my program, I spoke about what we were planning. I remarked that it would have been very easy to do what had always been done, making incremental improvements in policy and practice, and I would have continued to make a very comfortable living to support my wife, children, and the lifestyle we had come to enjoy.

Was I willing to risk all that in an effort to “leap the chasm” and try some things that were not part of any of our preparation programs, but showed tremendous promise to positively impact our learners? I was willing to accept the risk for me and my career, but also risking the welfare of my family.

Spoiler alert – at all worked. Exceptionally well. And we not only made history, we changed the rules for everyone else.

So my response to the Compelled Tribe topic is to start with a clean white board and design my ideal school. From the ground up. What the physical structure will look like. What will happen both inside and outside the physical structure. And why.

On this site, I will be publishing my thoughts, for my school, over the next several weeks. Would love to have as many readers of this tripe join in and share your thoughts.

As before, I will dream big and in color.

A dream supplies meaning and intensive value. It is our deepest expression of what we want, a declaration of a desired future. A dream is an ideal involving a sense of possibilities rather than probabilities, of potential rather than limits. The passion is missing when we work with only our rational left brain. Without passion, there is little enthusiasm and vitality. A dream is a wellspring of passion, giving us direction and pointing us to lofty heights. It is an expression of optimism, hope and values lofty enough to capture the imagination and engage the spirit. Dreams are capable of lifting us to new heights and overcoming self-imposed limitations. Dreams aren’t limited by what you think can or cannot be done, or by what your rational mind tells you is or isn’t possible. It represents something that you really want, as opposed to what you think you can get. Goals are tangible, but dreams are intangible. Dr. King said, “I have a dream.” He did not say, “I have a strategic plan.”

But my dreams are grounded in the reality that school will go on while we are under construction…

Building Airplanes in the Sky

And so it goes…

Innocence and Priorities

At breakfast this morning, got to watch 2 year old Mr. Man catching sunbeams streaming through our curtains. Love God for sharing with us the innocence of being 2 years old, the joy in his eyes and on his face as he captured them, the wonder and exploration of a child, the reminder that He has everything under control, and letting me know I need to slow down and appreciate the things in life that truly matter. Thanks be to God!

One Word 2019

Better late than never, with thanks to the many cliches I have heard, and “drive by” quotes in many presentations. A few many even be semi-original thoughts…

My One Word for 2019 is ONE. As in, sometimes, “first.” Words of wisdom for the year:

For many students, you may be the most stable adult presence in their lives. Just by showing up every day, setting boundaries, believing in them, showing a genuine interest, being “on their case,” demanding their very best, you just may have a positive impact. Even on your worst day, you are still some child’s best hope. It only takes one teacher to change a child’s life. Some children will come to school today because of that one teacher. Be that teacher.

Children must have at least one person who believes in them. Be that person.

Every winning streak starts with the first win. Win the first one.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tip toe if you must, but take that step.

You are one decision away from a totally different life. Don’t let your dreams die within the walls of your comfort zone. Call your shot.

Tell the story of the mountains you have climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.

One day, you will just be a memory to some people. Do your best to be a good one.

You are the person God is preparing as the answer to someone’s prayers. Be there for them.

Remember the words of songwriter Sam Cooke, as performed by Louis Armstrong in “(What A) Wonderful World,” talking about our children, “They will learn much more than I will ever know.” The one day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit. Keep moving forward and know that all the hard work you are putting in, day in and day out, will produce the results you are looking for.

And so it goes…for 2019.

A Short Course in Human Relations

The 6 most important words are: “I admit I made a mistake.”

The 5 most important words are: “I am proud of you.”

The 4 most important words are: “What is your opinion.”

The 3 most important words are: “If you please.”

The 2 most important words are: “Thank you.”

The one most important word is: “We.”

Reflection on Martin Luther King Day, and the current state of affairs

Every year, I re-read the I Have a Dream speech and the Letter from the Birmingham Jail on Martin Luther King Day. It is interesting to see which of his words strike my chords of relevance during this annual reflection, based on what is happening in the larger world at the time, and my feelings about it.

These are them, today, from I Have a Dream:

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

In a conversation last week, Vice President Pence compared the work of President Trump to the work of Dr. King by quoting another line of this speech, “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

My question is a simple one.

Do the ends justify the means?

And so it goes…until next year.

Back In The Saddle Again

I recently retired after a 38 year career in public education. The last 11 years, I worked as an administrator for a district in Montana. I was not “a good fit” there. In a blog post written when I retired, I stated that “the best days of my life haven’t happened yet, and I don’t intend to spend them growing old.” I concluded that post, “Maybe, someplace, I will again be ‘a good fit.”

I have found that place, and am back in the game!

I am a Teacher Assistant at a local public charter school. We are a PK-12 school, I am working at the MS/HS campus.

So what does it mean to be “a good fit?”

Ask yourself these questions:

* When was the last time you felt really listened to?

* When was the last time you felt that anything you said made a meaningful difference?

* When was the last time the work you did felt really valued?

* When was the last time you felt that your efforts contributed to winning?

* When was the last time you could connect your specific actions to school results?

If your answers don’t excite you, you are not alone. Only 30% of employees are fully engaged (Gallup Annual Employee Poll). The vast majority of our human talent is not showing up to innovate, create, build, change, and find better ways of doing things.

During my tenure in Montana, I was part of the 70%. And I was not a good fit.

What would happen if we reversed the numbers? Think of teams you have been on, and meetings you have been in, where the majority of the people were fully immersed and engaged. How productive were you and the team? How much faster did tasks get completed? How much fun did you have?

Prior to moving to Montana, I was part of some elite schools and districts. The paragraph above describes what it was like to work in those positions. I was a good fit, then.

And I am once again, “a good fit.”

The school is quite different from where I worked in Montana, but not very different from one of the elite schools I led elsewhere in Colorado.

According to the Opportunity Atlas: Mapping Childhood Roots of Social Mobility, recently published by researchers from Harvard and Brown Universities, and the US Census Bureau, median family income in our attendance area for Hispanic families, which make up 95% of our enrollment, is $30,000/year. College graduate rate is 24%, employment rate is 73%. Given the income level, the jobs don’t pay exceedingly well.

The local public school district where we are located has been on the Colorado Department of Education Watch List for the last 8 years, and recently became the first district in state history to be ordered by the Colorado State Board of Education to find an outside management group to take over district operations. Obviously, they have not been doing very well with their students, despite the best efforts of a whole bunch of well-meaning people.

Our school opened in 2005. As an open, public charter school, any student in the local district is eligible to enroll with us. Our current demographics: Total enrollment just under 1,000. 94% are Hispanic, 86% qualify for free/reduced meals, (as such, both breakfast and lunch are free for all students), 74% are identified ELL.

On the most recent Colorado Measures of Academic Success, the state report card, our school significantly outperformed the local public district on every measure, and exceeded state averages on virtually all measures at every grade level, including PSAT and SAT scores. Needless to say, we have more than a few “Championship Banners” decorating our buildings.

And there is a waiting list of students wanting to be enrolled with us.

Obviously, we are not a typical school. Our students, and their environment, require that some things must be done differently in order to be effective. If the traditional, typical practices worked, the local district would not be currently negotiating with someone to come on board and take over.

Not really different that what we were looking at in 1993 when we created the Student Centered School program in Center, Colorado.

We don’t look like very many other schools. And I am fine with that. We don’t have their enrollments. What we are doing is working for us.

We are built around an environment of academic success. Every senior is required to apply to multiple colleges, our Commons Area is now decorated with pictures of the senior class, along with the names of the various colleges where they have already received acceptance letters. In addition to our academic focus, we also focus on the the Traits of: Character; Excellence; Nobility; Vision; and Valor. One of them is stressed each week, each school day starts with an assembly where the trait of the week highlighted. Not unlike the Work Ethic Skills that we emphasized at the Central Educational Center when I led the high school programs there and we were a National Model High School.

We are blessed with a wonderful staff who believe in our learners and what we do. It is not an easy place to work, our kids bring a bit more than completed homework with them in their backpacks every morning. But we know that we can, and are, doing all we must to break the cycles of poverty that surround us.

We are led by two very capable, young, and energetic administrators who have high expectations for all of us, and give us the resources we need to achieve them. They realize that both the adults in the building and the adolescents in the building can and will rise to the level of expectation, or fall to the level of what is tolerated. Be that a formal dress code or a level of consistently high academic performance. The key words that describe them to me are “young” and “energetic.” It is pleasure to work with them.

They see to it that I am “a good fit.” I can once again answer yes to the questions at the top of this post.

We are once again empowering our learners to become the architects of their futures rather than the victims of fate. We are once again working for a movement, not a school. Not all of us have what it takes to work in that environment, it is not for the faint of heart. While we pay it lip service, it takes a serious commitment to nurture hope and keep dreams alive in our neighborhood.

But we will continue to evolve and find success. We will end the circle of poverty that I first learned from James Baldwin and Jesse Jackson. We will leave the world better than we found it.

I’m loving going back to school.

And honored to be “a good fit” again.

And so it goes…

Slow Me Down, Lord


It would be easy to write an Oscar Acceptance Speech, thanking everyone who has made my life and career what it has been. Or as Yogi Berra once said, “I’d like to thank everyone who has made this moment necessary.”

But I am not going to do that.

Because I am most grateful for the small things. The things that most of us don’t notice. The things that we tend to take for granted.

After all, you don’t do life all at once. It is an accumulation of lots of small things. You don’t get on a streak that goes straight up and never fall down. Or get your heart broken or lose your confidence somewhere along the way. What you do is learn. And then you grow. And the seasons still happen. You make some money or finish writing a book or fall in love again. And you think you’ve beaten winter for good, but you haven’t. Winter comes back around, it always does. But you stick with it, and something happens. You get stronger, your roots go a little deeper. Deep down there, until they reach the flow; the life. And it nurtures and sustains you. You find out that joy is something quieter and deeper than summer, than the seasons. It’s life’s heartbeat.

But we too often get caught up in the frenetic pace of life that we overlook too many of the small things. At some point in our childhood, we played with a friend for the last time, and neither of us knew it. How we would treasure that moment, if only we knew then how important it was.

Slow me down, Lord. I am going too fast. I can’t see my brother as he is walking past. I miss a lot of good things day by day; I don’t know a blessing when it comes my way.

Slow me down, Lord. I want to see, more of the things that are good for me. A little less of me and a little more of you, I want the heavenly atmosphere to trickle through.

Let me help a brother when the going is tough. When folks work together, life isn’t so tough. Slow me down, Lord, so I can talk, with more of Your children…slow me down to a walk.

Let us treasure the small things, and may we never take them for granted.

And so it goes…

Book That Have Mattered To Mostly Just Me

Our Compelled Tribe task is to share our favorite books that have impacted us professionally. The 3 or 4 of you who regularly read my stuff realize that my career has been a bit eclectic, unorthodox, and rather long, however effective. Not surprisingly, so is this list. Put another way, when I started my professional journey, the US Department of Education existed only as part of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Law 94-142 had just become law, my first district was working under a court order requiring bussing for desegregation.

Jon Wennstrom echoed my graduate school advisor when he wrote that the more you read the more you learn. Read a lot, learned a lot.

Here goes, some you may have heard of, hopefully some you have also read, and I’m sure there will be a few you have never heard of. But they certainly mattered to me.

First on the list was my History of American Education class textbook from graduate school. It helped me understand what we do, why we do it, and how we got here. Introduced me to Frederick Taylor, the Committee of Ten, Andrew Carnegie and his units. Savage Inequalities by Jonathon Kozol was also a foundation read. In the words of Daisaku Ikeda, “A healthy vision of the future is not possible without an accurate knowledge of the past.”

By category, here is my list:


  • In Search of Excellence – Tom Peters
  • Thriving on Chaos – Tom Peters
  • Leadership and the New Science – Margaret Wheatley
  • Only the Paranoid Survive – Andrew Grove
  • Enlighten Leadership – Ed Oakley and Doug Krug
  • Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Visionaries Handbook: 9 Paradoxes That Will Shape the Future of Your Business – Watts Wacker, Jim Taylor, Howard Means
  • Digital Disruptioin – James McQuivey
  • From Master Teacher to Master Learner – Will Richardson
  • Why School – Will Richardson
  • The New Culture of Learning – Douglas Thomas, John Seeley Brown
  • The Element – Ken Robinson
  • Leaders Guide to 21st Century Education – Ken Kay, Valerie Greenhill
  • Who Owns the Learning – Alan November
  • Understanding the Digital Generation: Teaching and Learning in the new Digital Landscape – Ian Jukes
  • Reinventing Learning for the Always On Generation – Ian Jukes
  • The End of Average – Todd Rose
  • One Size Does Not Fit All – Nikhil Goyal
  • The Hack Learning Series – various authors
  • Disrupting Class – Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn, Curtis Johnson
  • Change Forces – Michael Fullan
  • The Monster Under the Bed – Stan Davis, Jim Boykin
  • The World is Flat – Thomas Friedman
  • Launch – John Spencer, AJ Juliana
  • The Weaving Influence Series – Mark Miller Pretty sure not many of you have heard of any of these, but they are fantastic. Leadership stories through parables. Check out Leaders Made Here, Chess, Not Checkers, and Talent Magnet. More are being published as we speak, keep an eye out for them through the High-Performance Series


  • The Macintosh Way – Guy Kawasaki
  • Rules for Revolutionaries – Guy Kawasaki
  • The Eden Conspiracy – Dr. Joe Harless
  • A Whack on the Side of the Head – Roger von Oech
  • Expect the Unexpected or You Won’t Find It – Roger von Oech
  • If It Ain’t Broke, Break It – Robert J. Kriegel, Louis Parker
  • Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers – Robert J. Kriegel, David Brandt
  • First, Break All the Rules – Marcus Buckinham, Curt Coffman
  • Paradigms – Joel Barker
  • The Innovator’s Mindset – George Couros
  • The Question Behind the Question – John Miller
  • Flipping the Switch – John Miller


  • Implementing Total Quality Management in the Classroom – Margaret Byrnes, Robert Conesky, Lawrence Byrnes

Yeah, you didn’t find much of anything by the traditional authors of educational literature. Not many of my titles are offered through ASCD. But I’ve had a great run for about 40 years, changed the rules of how schools work based on what I’ve internalized about how kids learn differently today than we learned when we were their age. I’ve been fortunate to work with, and learn from, some amazing colleagues both within the profession and outside of it. I have no complaints, and I make no apologies, for my resume.

And so it goes…