The Principal's Office
Leadership. Collaboration. Innovation.
I have spent much of my life watching professional sports. Whether on television or attending the game, I have marveled at the ability of the athletes as they showcase their talent on a daily/weekly basis. I spent much of my childhood imagining myself hitting the game winning home run for the New York Yankees, the buzzer beating jump shot to defeat Michael Jordan or throwing a Super Bowl winning touchdown pass for the New York Giants. While I have met professional athletes up close, I never really had the opportunity to talk with one for an extended period of time. This past week I met a former professional athlete who I appreciate not for his athletic ability but for why he was talking with my students at my school.
Chris Herren, a former Boston Celtic and college basketball star, visited PV School to share his story about how his career was derailed due to substance abuse and addiction. I have seen many speakers come to school and talk to students about the dangers of drugs. "Don't do drugs. It's bad for you." While the message is important, students have a hard time connecting to speakers who lecture about how bad drugs are. Chris was different. While he talked to the students about the importance of staying away from drugs, he was really invested in trying to help "just one." His message covered important middle school topics of bullying, self-harm, self-esteem, relationships, peer pressure, drinking, vaping and smoking. For an hour and half, you could hear a pin drop in the gym as the students hung on every word he said.
"Just one." All I kept thinking was I hope that Chris is right. This assembly would be a success if even "just one" learned something and thought about the decisions that they made when faced with peer pressure or feelings of self doubt. It would be a success if "just one" spread Chris's word with others. It would be a success if "just one" stood up for someone who was being bullied. It would be a success if "just one" chose to be kind to someone who needed a friend. It would be a success if "just one" made the decision to help a friend who was making poor choices. It would be a success if "just one" chose to make a healthy choice rather choosing to vape or smoke. All of those "just ones" can become "many" and Chris's message could spread like wildfire.
In the classroom and in our schools we have the opportunity to affect "just one" all the time. While Chris felt a calling to tell his story, teaching is also a calling. We are charged with educating the minds of tomorrow, sparking curiosity, forging relationships and helping them grow. Our responsibility to design lessons, create activities, develop goals, and monitor progress are difficult. However, with every moment in the classroom, there can be more than "just one" that you may make a difference in more than you did the day before. Our students deserve our very best. They deserve teachers and administrators who are willing to try new things, take risks with them, encourage them, push them beyond what they think they can do. It is hard work, but if we can change the course of "just one" student's life everyday, we are making strides to preparing them for a better future.
As educators we might not know what it feels like to hit a game winning shot or win a championship. But we do know what it means to work together as a team for a common goal......to do what is best for our students. Chris Herren's message of "just one" has a powerful meaning. Our influence on the lives of our students cannot be measured. We must do whatever it takes for our students because you never know who that "just one" will be. When students walk into your school or into your classroom, give them everything you have to give. Even though they may not always show it, they look to you for guidance, advice and inspiration. Our students are still choosing their path in life. Let us show them the way, encourage them to dream big and to know that it is never to late to give their very best. Let's turn "just one" into "every one." Thank you teachers for all that you do to influence our future. I am your biggest fan.
Below is the speech I gave at our annual Veterans Day Flag Ceremony. Thank you to the men and women who have served and continue to serve our country.
“What’s your favorite color?” It is a question that we have all been asked many times throughout our lives. It is usually one of those questions that you are asked on the first day of school when you are getting to know your classmates, or when you are talking with a younger sibling or cousin or for those of us who are a little older, a child or grandchild when they want to know more about you. The question, while really simplistic in nature, can have a really deep meaning. “What is your favorite color?” Take a second, think about it. When do you see your favorite color every day? Is it in the clothes that you wear? The color of your house? Your bedroom? Your favorite stuffed animal? Your car? Can you remember when you picked your favorite color? Why did you pick it? Has it changed? In 1942, Linda was a first grade student in a little one room school house in Idaho. She was one of four children raised by two loving parents, her father served in the Navy. One day she was asked by her teacher to name her favorite color and to write about it. Little did she know that her answer would end up having her in the Principal’s Office for a meeting with her parents.
Linda gave an answer that might surprise you. You see, Linda’s answer was one that we take for granted every single day. We can see her answer every morning before we enter PV School, every time we are in our cars driving down the highway, we can see her answer in every classroom, we can see her answer on the faces of the Veterans we are here to recognize today. You see, Linda ended up in the Principal’s office because she refused to change her answer when the teacher asked her to answer the question, “What is your favorite color.” Linda kept writing over and over again that her favorite color was red, white and blue.
Today, we are here to recognize and honor those who have dedicated their lives to the “Red, White and Blue.” The Flag that flies above our heads today represents more than just three colors. It symbolizes our past and those that fought and died in developing and protecting the freedoms and democracy that we have today. The Flag represents the present, honoring those that continue to serve and protect our country on land and overseas. The Flag represents the future, our hopes and dreams, it represents you, that stand before us as the future leaders of our country. Our Veterans have served and continue to serve “the Red, White and Blue” because they believe in what it stands for…..they believe in our future…..they believe in you.
Today you will hear from our veterans about their service to our country. I want you to pay attention, not just to what they are saying but how they are saying it. I want you to notice the passion, honor, conviction and pride in how they speak. For some, they have recently finished their terms of service while others served proudly many years ago. But for each one of them, they symbolize the colors, Red, White and Blue.
Colors have certain meanings. The color red can be defined by valor or strength. Our Veterans have demonstrated heroic courage, boldness and determination in the face of fear. The veterans that sit before you today have served in Vietnam, Korea, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan and peace keeping missions throughout the world. They fought proudly with their brothers and sisters against some of the world’s most dangerous enemies. We honor all those who have sacrificed their lives and paid the ultimate price so that we can live in freedom. Listen to their stories of valor today White is often defined using the words purity, safety and innocence. Our veterans fought to keep the country safe and ensure that those of us who would be born later on would be free from the experiences of war and conflict. Their mission to keep us safe lives in the hearts and minds of all that have served and continue to serve today.
The color blue, which happens to be my favorite color, is often defined by the words perseverance, trust and loyalty. I want you to listen today as the Veterans share their stories of how they had to persevere through sleepless nights, dangerous conditions, weeks and months away from their families, missing holidays, and family celebrations because they were loyal to our country.
Every morning we have the opportunity to stand outside PV and take a look at our flag that waves proudly in the front of the school. Every morning we have the opportunity to pledge allegiance to one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Let us not take these things for granted. Instead of playing on our cellphones outside of school or just going through the motions of saying the pledge, take a look at the flag and know that it waves for us. Remember that it it represents the millions of people that have served and continue to serve our country. As we consider the impact those individuals have had on the world, defending freedom and protecting democracy, we need to realize, that these veterans deserve more than just one day of recognition. They deserve to be recognized every day.
You are the future. The men and women of our military have served and are serving our country for you. They don’t know you but they are serving and protecting us so that we can maintain the same freedoms that they have had. So, I am challenging you to join them. Yes, I know you aren’t old enough to serve our country but you can serve. Serve your community, get involved in a service project, be a student tutor, read to elementary students, design bulletin boards around the school, donate food to a local food pantry, or even pick up a student’s books when the fall in the hallway. We all have roles to play to help continue to make this country, the greatest country in the world. Linda’s role was to answer the question, “What is your favorite color?” ….to this very day she responds with the same answer….Red, White and Blue….why, because she loves our flag and what it stands for…..the greatest country in the world. Thank you Veterans for representing the Red, White and Blue and for showing your favorite colors to all of us. Students, the next time someone asks you “What is your favorite color?.......maybe you might end up in the Principal’s office………. which isn’t such a bad thing…because I have a pretty good view of the flag from there. Thank you.
I will be the first person to say that I am not an expert when it comes to education. I am learning new things everyday that are shaping my growth and development as an educator. New instructional strategies and theories, enhanced technology, opportunities to share best practices easier than ever before and a global network at your fingertips continue to change the landscape of education. All of these things have extended the boundaries and capabilities of schools throughout the country. Money is being invested in new technology, "flexible" furniture, the latest software or curriculum resources. However, one thing remains constant. One thing that I believe is the single most important element to invest in if you want to see true transformation in your classroom and in your schools........people.
In a profession that is often driven by data of student growth percentiles, standardized assessments, diagnostic reading levels, math benchmark exams, IQ tests, and placement assessments a line in the sand can be drawn between teachers and administrators, students and teachers, schools and their communities. Everyone becomes focused on what the data means regarding school rankings, student placement, property taxes, or even someone's job status. Districts, schools and communities get so caught up in what they think the data means that they sometimes forget that there are people behind what that data is representing. There are students who come to school from busy family lives or broken homes, teachers who are working hard to support their families, and administrators staying up late at night thinking about how to make schools better for "their kids."
If schools are to be successful is understanding the data important? The answer is yes. However, what is more important is fostering relationships with students, staff and community members so that these stakeholders feel safe, feel trusted, feel encouraged and most importantly, feel accountable for their success and for the success of their school. My belief is that creating a positive school culture grounded in Knowledge, Spirit and Promise can go a long way in making a positive investment in our students, staff and communities.
Schools should be a place where Knowledge is developed. The proverb, "Knowledge is like a garden; if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested" depends on people. It depends on the teachers and students working together to quench a thirst for knowledge. It means that the Building Administrators are providing opportunities for the teachers to grow and enhance their practices. It requires that the Administrators themselves are building their own relationships through professional development, PLNs and community outreach. An investment must be made in time, resources and RELATIONSHIPS in order for that knowledge and success to be harvested. People working together on a common goal....learning with and from each other, creates a climate and culture where success likes to live.
When you walk into a building I always recommend that you listen to its heartbeat. What do you hear? Is the building alive? John Maxwell says that "excitement is an incredible energizer to the human spirit." When students and staff enjoy coming to school everyday there is a certain Spirit that awakens within a school. I met with my Principal's Advisory Committee last week and I asked them what was one thing they loved about the school that makes them come every day. Almost to the student, their response was "how caring and supportive their teachers and administrators were" and how they loved "the Panther Pride." When there is an investment made in trust, empathy, honesty, compassion and consistency, a person's soul can be set on fire. All it takes is a spark to see the spirit of a building come alive when people feel that they are cared about and valued.
A school is filled with so much Promise. Students are learning at rapid rates and in ways many people don't understand. Technology has paved the way for monumental shifts in learning. It requires that as educators, we meet students were they are and blend their way of learning with proven theories of instructional practice. It also requires that teachers and administrators make an investment in their own development so that learning experiences can be created for students that encourage collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. When everyone is working together there is no limit to the level of promise that our students can achieve. Investing in each other as educators and in our young people strengthens the opportunities for schools and for their communities.
Is it possible for me to sit behind my desk crunching numbers, checking lesson plans, and writing reports? Of course! However, I would much rather spend my time investing in what makes our building come alive everyday, in what makes my job so enjoyable, in who holds the future in their hands filled with knowledge, spirit and promise.............the people. So as education continues to change around us, remember, the greatest investment you can make is not in textbooks, computers, or new furniture. It is in the eager young minds of tomorrow who are led by the minds of today. Make the investment. It doesn't require much. It could be a conversation in the hallway, supporting a teacher who is trying something new in the classroom, sitting down and talking with a teacher in an empty classroom, giving a "high five" in the hallway, making a positive phone call or just saying hello to someone who thinks they aren't being noticed. You can't put a price tag on what you might get out of it.
So.... are you all in?
Every student....Every Day...Whatever It Takes. It is a powerful mantra that should live in the hearts and minds of every educator who sets foot inside a school. It is a philosophy that can change the climate and culture of a school and it's community. It is a lifestyle that encourages commitment, desire and responsibility. It is a mindset that promotes growth and a constant pursuit of excellence. Three distinct phrases, put together into one message of hope, encouragement and motivation has sparked a flame that is burning inside me that has set my soul on fire.
Our district had the opportunity to hear from Jimmy Casas, co-author of the book Start. Right Now. and What Connected Educators Do Differently on our first day back to school this September. He provided a motivating, inspiring message that challenged all educators, not just those in our district, to make students the priority, to cultivate a culture of excellence and not settle for being "average." As I reflected on the message, I thought about my role as a school Principal. Do I make the students the priority in EVERY decision I make? As a staff are we creating a culture of excellence together in everything we do? Am I accepting "average" as a standard for my staff, my students, and myself. Am I doing whatever it takes?
In seventeen years of education it is my hope that I have been doing whatever it takes every day for every student. However, I also must be realist. Giving "whatever it takes" every day for every student is a daunting task. What does it mean to do "whatever it takes?" "Whatever it takes" looks different for everyone. How do you know if you have given "whatever it takes?" As Jimmy said, "if we are to create a culture of excellence, we have to know what "Whatever it takes" looks like in our schools. As I reflect on my day to day responsibilities that I have had as a teacher, coach, adviser, mentor and administrator I think back to the many opportunities I have had to "give whatever it takes." It makes me smile, it makes me laugh, it gives me joy, it moves me to tears. Those times have helped forge positive relationships with my students that I hope have meant as much to them as they have to me. Whether it is getting a student to see their potential in the classroom, or simply just to get them to smile or laugh through a difficult time, there are opportunities to do "whatever it takes" all the time. We should celebrate those times, recognize them and continue to search for ways to cultivate excellence. There are students who walk into your school or classroom every day looking for someone to motivate them, inspire them, believe in them. We have a responsibility to do "Whatever it takes" to help them succeed. After all, we were all that student once.
I'd love to hear your "whatever it takes" moment. Share them below! Let's continue to build a culture of excellence together.
As summer draws to a close and another school year is about to begin, the anticipation and excitement are at an all time high. Labor Day weekend signals the end of the summer for everyone. It is a day that recognizes the labor movement and the contributions that workers have made for the strength and prosperity of our country. For teachers, it also means the start of another school year, going back to work and educating the eager minds of tomorrow. At a recent gathering of family and friends I got into a conversation about why I wanted to go into education. As an administrator or a teacher that is certainly, "the million dollar question." I believe that working in education is a calling. It requires a certain desire, passion and commitment to the youth of our country and to the future that will exist for all of us. In answering the question "Why did I go into education," the answer is simple.... "I am on a mission."
In business, in school and in life, it is important to have a mission statement. It is "the" phrase that people use to rally around, to garner support, energy, and excitement. Some mission statements are long, explaining the purpose of the organization. For example, Barnes and Noble's mission statement is four sentences, describing everything they do. The Ted (Ted Talks) mission statement is short and sweet, "Spreading Ideas." John Maxwell minds us that the difficulty is that sometimes mission statements are written reminders of what the company ought to do, rather than a reflection of what the company actually does.
There is no greater mission than the one we have as educators. The future of our country depends on us as teachers and administrators every day. My personal and professional mission statements have blended throughout the years because I believe so strongly in what we do in our profession. The statements have evolved because I have evolved as a person, we have evolved as a school. The mission statement of our school has become a tagline...easy to remember and can be interpreted in many ways....."Knowledge. Spirit. Promise." Every day, I want to live a life filled with Knowledge, Spirit and Promise." I desire the same for my staff and for my school. We want to provide an education that fills students with Knowledge, Spirit and Promise...every day.
In the book Start. Right Now. by Jeff Zoul, Todd Whitaker and Jimmy Casas they discuss the importance of "Knowing the Way" as a leader and the value of a mission statement to help "Know the Way" for your classroom or school. In discussing mission statements, they quote Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey says, "writing or reviewing a mission statement changes you because it forces you to think through your priorities deeply, carefully and to align your behavior with your beliefs."
As we enter another school year ask yourself these questions:
1) What is your purpose?
2) What is your belief?
3) Why do you get out of bed every morning?
4) What influence do you want to have on others?
5) How can you contribute to the collective "mission" of your school or business?
In a few short days I am going to have students that will enter our building thirsting for Knowledge and wanting to impart theirs....every day. I will have students ready to become part of the Spirit of the school by showing off theirs....every day. I will have students full of Promise ready to shine their light on this world.....every day. I believe it. Time for me to wake up! School is starting! My mission continues. What is yours?
Live out your mission statement. Our students are counting on you! Have a great year!
The first week of every August my family and I vacation at the Jersey Shore. It is a wonderful time together relaxing, enjoying the beauty and splendor of the ocean. However, it also signals for me, as a building Principal, what lies ahead in the upcoming weeks. Very shortly the staff and students will be coming back for what will be another exciting year at Pequannock Valley School, filled with endless opportunities for growth and success.
Every morning after I finish my run I take a walk up to the beach and just sit and look out at the ocean. It stretches as far as the eye can see, appearing to meet up with the sky. My curiosity and imagination run wild as I think about what could possibly be out there....beyond the horizon. Of course, my young kids ask me "Dad are there sharks out there?" "Is that where the ocean stops?" "Those ships out there, where are they going?" To them, it simply looks like a line that has formed between the ocean and the sky and like in "The Truman Show" it just ends if you were to get to the end of it.
To me, the horizon represents opportunity. It represents possibilities. It represents hope. As we head into a new school year it is a symbol of encouragement. It is something I am going to keep my eye on as I prepare for my students and staff to arrive. Sailors use the term "keep your eye on the horizon" to steady their ships for a long journey. In finance, it means keeping an eye on your long term goals and results. In education, I feel that keeping your eye on the horizon means reaching beyond what may seem unreachable to bring your school/students to places they have never been. When you realize the goals that you have for your school/students are possible, that horizon can extend further than you imagined and new horizons that may have seemed unattainable now become clearer.
What is beyond your horizon? What goals do you have as you begin your journey into a new school year? Are you ready to explore new opportunities with your students? Are you prepared to push your school/or students beyond what they think is attainable? If so, how are you going to do it? What course have your charted? Each day there is a new horizon and every day we have the chance to make our goals and dreams a reality....not just for us but for our students and our schools. As Captain Jack Sparrow said in Pirates of the Caribbean, "Bring me that horizon!"
I had the opportunity to go to Disney World with my family when school ended this year. Watching the joy on my kids' faces as they saw the Disney characters and went on the rides and saw the shows was nothing short of amazing. As a parent, I will never forget it. Seeing Disney World for the first time as an adult I was amazed at the innovation on display, the teamwork and the culture that had been created. Everyone that worked there was always happy, friendly, caring, and genuinely interested in ensuring we were enjoying ourselves. Walt Disney was a true innovator. The vision he had to create such a "magical" place is extraordinary. Everyone that worked there played a key role in the overall success of the park. As I walked around and took it all in I couldn't wait to see what was next. There were quotes from Walt Disney throughout the park that highlighted Walt Disney's vision. One that really stuck with me....
As an educational leader or a teacher, isn't this what we want for our students when they enter our school too? Can you imagine if they walked into your school and felt like they were in another world? A place where they are in awe, filled with anticipation and wonder? Don't we want them walk into a place where they feel cared for, appreciated, supported and the people there go out of their way to make sure that the students' needs are being met? There are many students that come to school to experience the "magic" that can happen and the excitement that awaits them. In order for the "magic" to happen, it begins with creating a climate and culture that breeds success.
I just finished reading the book "Lead Like a Pirate" by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. It is a thought-providing, motivating book that provides various examples on how to create a positive climate and culture for your students and staff. As administrators, Burgess and Houf share practical real world examples of how they utilized their own leadership skills, and the leadership of others to make their schools places where students didn't want to leave. Leading requires Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Asking/Analyzing, Transformation and Enthusiasm.
"Making school a place where students don't want to leave." Wow. It is such a powerful thought and one that as an administrator or teacher we should strive to do for our students each day. I have been fortunate to work with some amazing educators throughout my career that have been able to make their classrooms and their schools such a place. Their classrooms have been based on trust, relationships, common goals, enthusiasm and a commitment to excellence. They immerse themselves in what they do and when they say "I do what is best for kids" they truly mean it.
George Couros in "The Innovator's Mindset" said it best when he stated, "If we want to make meaningful change, we have to make a connection to the heart before we can make a connection to the mind." The summer time gives me an opportunity to do much more reflection and to spend time preparing for the upcoming year. As we prepare to set sail on a new voyage, I look forward to seeing my "crew." I know that as we chart the course to "another world" for our students, every second we are with them we have the chance to make a positive difference in their day and maybe even in the rest of their lives. It starts with building meaningful relationships, creating a nurturing environment and showing students that anything is possible when you believe. Now that is "magic!" Yo ho, Yo ho, a Pirate's life for me!
"Administration is a lonely profession." This is something I hear over and over again from people when I tell them I am a school administrator. While ultimately as Principal I am the instructional leader and final decision maker in the building, I find my job to be far from lonely. Meeting with teachers, talking with students, getting out into the community, observing classes, facilitating workshops, going to after school events, and attending committee meetings have me in the middle of many engaging conversations and collaborating with dozens of people. Each meaningful conversation reminds me of why I love doing what I do every day.
As I reflect more on why people think the job of an administrator can be lonely, for me it is more about how often I have time to grow professionally with others rather than the day to day responsibilities of the job. It is true that it is very difficult as an administrator to find time to grow yourself professionally when the expectations are that you help others grow. Single day workshops and mini-conferences are beneficial but the lasting impact they have can be difficult when there is little time to collaborate with others. This is when I made an effort to join Twitter and establish my PLN (personalized learning network.) It has become a game-changer for me in my professional growth.
A PLN, when searched in Google, is a tool that uses social media and technology to collect, communcate, collaborate and create with connected colleagues anywhere at any time. For more information on how to establish a PLN and why it is beneficial I would encourage you to read the following article in Edutopia, https://www.edutopia.org/blog/how-do-i-get-a-pln-tom-whitby
Establishing my PLN began for me when I heard a keynote address by Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger) at a Google Summit I attended at High Point Regional High School in 2013. He talked about the power of social media and how he used it to help his students and his school achieve success. As I experimented with Twitter and began networking with fellow educators I was enlightened with hundreds of ideas. It was a 24 hour professional development resource. We started our own Technology Summit in the Pequannock School District which has afforded me the opportunity to meet and talk with educational experts like Will Richardson (@willrich45), Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler), Rich Kiker (@rkiker) and Denis Sheeran (@MathDenisNJ), among others. Most recently I have been talking with Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) who is a Senior Fellow for the International Center for Leadership in Education. He will be our opening keynote speaker for our first day of school this year. I am looking forward to the positive impact he will have on all of our staff members in the district. These are just a few of the hundreds of educators I follow on a daily basis. Participating in Twitter chats such as #satchat, #makeitreal, #tlap and #leadlap just to name a few, have provided the opportunity to share ideas, hear educational theories and put into practice new instructional techniques that has reinvigorated my passion for the work we do together in our school. I am never alone in my office. Even during the time when administrative paperwork is inevitable, I know I can always reach out to learn from someone simply by reaching out to my PLN.
My PLN has re-established my love for reading. Hearing about books like Lead Like a Pirate, Teach Like a Pirate, Shift This, The Innovator's Mindset, Instant Relevance, Kids Deserve It and Digital Leadership has transformed me as a building leader and has re-defined the climate and culture in our school and in our community. Watching some of my teachers creating their own PLNs on Twitter and incorporating new techniques into their classrooms has only made us stronger together.
I encourage any educator to establish a PLN. Whether you are a teacher, administrator, media specialist, nurse, school counselor, or someone who is just looking to grow professionally, give Twitter a try, read a blog, write a blog (yes, I'm a first timer), follow educators on LinkedIn and Google+. It will open your eyes to the endless opportunities that await you. My job is far from lonely. In fact, I have never had more people to rely on! Let us continue to grow together and help prepare a new generation of learners and educators! Happy Learning!
Follow me on Twitter @RichHayzler