The Principal's Office
Leadership. Collaboration. Innovation.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Disrupt-EdTV studio last week where I had the opportunity to share some ideas about how to creating a culture of curiosity in schools. Below is a snapshot of what I discussed......
“There are two types of schools. There are schools that prepare students for their future, and there are those that allow adults to live comfortably in the past.” (Insert mic drop here.) This quote by Weston Kieschnick, author of Bold School, sparks quite the debate about the state of education today. There is no doubt that education is changing. Are schools? As educators, we need to ensure that we are preparing students for a future that they are prepared for, not one that we as adults are comfortable with. Students are going to need to think critically, be creative, be able to communicate effectively with others, ask questions and be resilient. It is our responsibility as educational leaders and teachers that we are embrace a culture of curiosity, innovation and excellence. It may require us to reach outside our comfort zone but the reality is, our future is depending on it. Being disruptive in education means pushing the status quo and understanding that being uncomfortable may be the norm if it prepares our students for their future. There are some fundamental principles that you can put in place in order to create schools that thrive in a culture of curiosity and innovation.
Put an emphasis on building relationships. One of the reasons that I became an educator was because of the positive relationships that I had with my teachers throughout my life. They took a vested interest in me. It wasn’t just about my grades or their class. They got to know my strengths,weaknesses, interests and values. When I knew that my teachers believed in me, I wanted to do well not just for me, but for them. Students walk into our schools and our classrooms every day, looking for someone to believe in them. Before any learning happens, take time to foster relationships with your students. There is no greater influence on the success of your school than creating a culture where students feel safe, valued and supported.
Ask the right questions. Too often students go through a school day without answering a question or worse yet, asking one. If we are to create schools that are preparing students for their future, we need to ask questions that require students to think beyond recall. We need to push to levels of synthesis and analysis that require students to think critically. However, a critical aspect of creating a culture of curiosity is teaching students how to ask questions. In The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros says that “Innovation starts not by providing answers but by asking questions.”
As teachers we must also ask ourselves questions in order to ensure that we are meeting the needs and expectations of our students. Couros goes on to provide critical questions for innovative educators to ask themselves:
● Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?
● What is best for this student?
● What is this student’s passion?
● What are ways we can create a true learning community where teachers and
students are learning together?
● How is what you are doing working for the student?
If we are expecting our students to ask the right questions in our classrooms, we should be asking ourselves questions about whether or not we are doing what is in the best interests of our students and pushing them beyond what they think they are capable of doing.
Students need a voice and choice. The availability of technology has opened the door to endless possibilities for students to learn and grow. Technology evens the playing field for students of all abilities, skills and talents. Providing opportunities for students to research, explore, communicate, translate, create, modify and share allows them to take ownership of their learning that might not have been possible before. Allowing students to demonstrate mastery by providing options can highlight abilities of students who may not always be the most talkative, or the ones who may be more visual, or the artistic students or students who have difficulty working in groups. Providing choice to demonstrate learning gives all students a voice to own their own learning. The goal is empowering students to want to pursue learning beyond the classroom.
Embrace the “struggle.” Students (and parents) have been trained to believe that grades are the sole determination of a child’s success in school. School becomes more about chasing grades than what the grade truly represents. If we, as educators, are going to disrupt education, we must seek to move learning from “grade focused” to “improvement focused.” Students must learn to “embrace the struggle.” It is in failure where true learning happens. Learning from mistakes teaches resiliency and persistence. Schools must seek to cultivate a “growth mindset” in students where they believe they can grow. If we are going to prepare students for their future, classrooms need to emphasize the process of learning. Generating ideas, brainstorming, creating, testing, modifying, and re-doing should become daily practice in classrooms. When learning isn’t mastered, the answer a student gives should not be, “I don’t know.” It should be, “I don’t know…..yet. I’m going to find out.” Change the way we interact with students. Empower them. Make school an exciting place to learn and grow.
Invest in professional development. Whether you are an administrator or a teacher, there is no greater investment you can make in your students than a strong professional development program. A professional development program is not a few days built into the school calendar. It is a comprehensive, structured year long experience that offers varied opportunities to learn. Whether it is teacher driven workshops at faculty meetings, book studies, “power PD” at lunch or afterschool, teacher edcamps, twitter chats, voxer, podcasts, or simply observing your colleagues, there are so many opportunities to learn and to grow. As educators, we cannot sit back and let professional development be irrelevant. As Rich Czyz says in his book, Four O’Clock Faculty, “If we are to improve as educators, it is imperative that each of us takes responsibility for our own professional learning.” When teachers make the most out of their own learning, we are able to provide experiences for students that awaken their natural curiosity, creates a professional culture of growth, mastery and sets a myopic focus on student achievement.
There are some “in the trenches” that say, “Sure, this all sounds great in theory where we are creating innovative schools and students are creative and resilient, but it isn’t always reality.” I believe it can be. It begins with accepting the challenge to make schools a place where students and teachers foster positive relationships and shift the focus from “grades” to “mastery” and from “memorization” to “application.” It continues with embracing a “growth mindset” that is not only “improvement based” but actually encourages students to learn from “failure.” Schools need to be a place where teachers and students are learning and growing together. When all stakeholders feel supported and encouraged, there is no telling the levels of achievement that can be reached. Are you uncomfortable thinking about it? Good. It is time to disrupt education and create a culture of curiosity in schools. You may think your school is not ready. The reality is, your school is not ready…..yet. They are waiting for you. Get after it!
This past Tuesday I took a trip up to Sparta High School in Sparta, NJ to view a new educational documentary entitled "RE:THINKING" that was shown by the Sussex County Principals and Supervisors Association. I am not a big movie watcher, (the last film I saw was Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and I can't tell you the last time that I watched a documentary. However, there was a "force" (sorry, couldn't resist) that was pulling me to check this movie out this week. It was a great opportunity for me to challenge my thinking and assess my priorities as a leader because the documentary was going to address a fundamental question that I ask myself every day...."Are my students really prepared for their future?"
In doing some research on the movie, I came across the website , rethinkingmovie.com. There it describes the film as follows: "RE:THINKING dives deeply into the research and practice of what it looks like when students are asked to think and what it means to teach thinking skills in the classroom. Following the work of Drs. Derek and Laura Cabrera of Cornell University, RE:THINKING follows four school districts over the course of three years as they successfully meet public education requirements, while embracing a culture that emphasized thinking over memorization and valued the individual child not as an empty vessel to be filled but as an adult-in-training." I couldn't help but be excited because for the past several years my staff and I have worked very hard to shift the focus of our student's learning from memorization to critical thinking and analysis. I was anxious to see if we are on the right track.
While I won't spoil the movie for those of you who want to watch it, there were certainly many takeaways that I found to be thought provoking and transformational. As a Principal the movie caused me to stop and reflect on what I am doing as leader and what our school is doing to facilitate "thinking" for our students and our staff. Here are some snapshots of the movie that got me "rethinking....."
1) What are we preparing students for? Is it for what we are comfortable with? Wow. I haven't really thought about their learning that way. Are we leading students toward a future that makes us comfortable or are we challenging students to be prepared for a future that is uncertain? As I follow my PLN on Twitter and speak with colleagues from other schools, my belief is that we are preparing students to succeed far beyond the walls of our schools. However, although it might be uncomfortable for us, it is critical that we constantly adapt to the needs of our students so that we prepare them for the future that they are comfortable with.
2) Culture trumps strategy. Truth. In David Guerin's blog " 17 Signs You Are a Future Driven Educator," he highlights the importance of building culture. He says "When your students know you believe in them, it brings out the best in them. Your encouragement makes all the difference. The person who influences you the most is the person who believes in you. They will rise to your expectations. You see them for who they are becoming and not just who they are right now. You see a bright future for your students." You can have all the administrative meetings and action plans you want to develop the "strategy" for student achievement. If you do not have a culture of trust, empathy, accountability and responsibility in which everyone together is working toward a common goal and who all believe in the power of "we", student success will be difficult to attain. Building and fostering relationships with your students is essential to starting the shift in the thinking process. (Check out David's blog here: http://www.davidgeurin.com/2017/09/17-signs-youre-future-driven-educator.html)
3) Learning how to learn is transferable. We must help students understand that "how they learn" is often more important than "what they learn." Classrooms must be connected in that students can work with their teachers, regardless of content, to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, to learn how to collaborate and share ideas, and to take risks with how they learn. Failure may happen, but learning from failure embraces a "growth mindset" that will drive thinking and learning to new levels.... perhaps even to an "Innovator's Mindset."
4) People become alienated from curriculum because it is disconnected from their lives. Curriculum should be a living, breathing document. Far too often in schools "the curriculum" sits in a binder or a google drive and gets forgotten about when the daily routines of school begin to happen. The same lesson plans and assessments are used because "it worked last year." Our students are learning in new and engaging ways. It requires that our curriculum evolves. The last thing we want in our classrooms and schools is for them to be stagnant.
5) Are we allowing for natural curiosity in our schools? Taking after the #leadlap philosophy, we should be creating schools in which students want to run into, not out of. We want students to be curious about learning. We want to them to question. We want them to be able to explore what they are passionate about. When students are excited about what they are learning, they are more inclined to ask questions, think critically and explore opportunities that aren't always available to them when they are not engaged in their learning. I have been proud of what my staff has done through PBL, makerspaces, simulations, Genius Hour, and BreakoutEDu activities that have sparked student learning in various ways. Teachers must know what gets their students excited about learning. Help students find "their why" and "their way."
6) Are we okay with children not knowing the pythagorean theorem? Are we okay with students not knowing how to build a relationship? With state mandates and standardized testing there is an emphasis placed on "covering the material." Unfortunately education has become about numbers. Evaluation scores, school rankings, state report cards and test scores have become the norm. We have to remember that schools are about students. Are we willing to give up content for the sake of teaching students critical skills such as communicating with each other, building positive relationships, overcoming challenges, productive struggle? I learned the pythagorean theorem in 10th grade Geometry. That was also the last time I used it.... (sorry math teachers.) However, I do remember struggling and overcoming challenges in that class. I remember my friends helping me study for tests. I remember learning from failure. I'm okay with that.
7) The struggle is learning.....we simplify for students by trying to take the struggle away. Students today crave instant gratification. Technology has caused the world to forget what it is like to wait for anything. Answers are at our fingertips. All we have to do is "Google it," send a text, DVR it, or ask Siri. Students today need to learn to struggle. They need to learn how to think, to question, to analyze, to re-do. The reward of learning is in the journey, not the destination. We have to make our classrooms more improvement focused and less grade focused. As Yoda once said, "We must unlearn what we have learned." If we take the struggle away and never learn to think for ourselves, "that is why we fail."
8) Personalization is important. Everyone learns differently. Everyone thinks differently. We must embrace the individual student and seek to find ways to grow with them. When you find caring teachers, you have passionate students. When students feel that you know them and you will help them through the struggle, it makes all the difference between a classroom of students and a classroom of learners. Hearing the words, "I believe in you. You can do it" will not only personalize their learning, it also might be the only positive comments that your students get during their day. Parents don't keep their best students home. They send their best. Sometimes school is the safest place for them. Create opportunities to personalize learning.
9) The best way to improve education is to share all "the bests." Classrooms and schools cannot function in isolation. Schools must invest in their teachers. There must be meaningful, relevant, purposeful professional development for staff that enables them to share best practices, highlight key learnings, collaborate across grade levels and content areas. If we expect our students to be learners and thinkers, as educators we must model that practice. We must constantly seek to learn. Check out how we learn at our school... https://youtu.be/SmtVzHFl3rc When it comes to student success we can leave no stone unturned. We must look for the best ways to reach them. When we maximize our potential, so will they.
10) Imagine if all we are doing is rolling out students who are really good "at school." If this happens then we have failed them. Students must learn to be able to articulate their thinking, look at different perspectives, question their own view of the world, use evidence to defend an argument, determine fact from fiction. As much as schools are controlled by mandates, standards and regulations, they must remember that the future is not. Our students need to be prepared to be ready for a world that is constantly changing. The goal is to produce a citizen that is capable of thinking carefully, thoughtfully and critically for the rest of their lives.
On the drive home I reflected on what RE:THINKING was all about. The end of the documentary left a vision in my head that reminded me of our purpose as educators. We are responsible for educating the eager young minds of tomorrow. Their future is not written. It means that our best lessons have not been written yet either. We must challenge ourselves and our students to "rethink" what we are learning and doing. We need to make school a place where thinking transcends culture and embraces the unknown. Students are waiting. We need to make sure they are prepared. Put on your thinking caps...........
This past summer I had the opportunity to read the book "Lead Like a Pirate" by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. At the time, I was looking for something that would continue to cultivate my passion for leadership but also to guide me in how I can continue to transform my school to make it an amazing place for my staff and students. In a previous blog post, (https://richardhayzler.weebly.com/blog/a-pirates-life-for-me), I talked about the PIRATE acronym and how I would look to put it into practice this year. For the past five months I have worked to lead with Passion, Immerse myself in my work for students, build a Rapport with the Community, Ask a lot of questions, make positive Transformations in the building and be Enthusiastic about learning. It all paid off as my school was faced with tremendous adversity this past week. As captain of "the crew" we were about to head into uncharted territory...........
I received a call on Sunday afternoon from my Superintendent that there had been accident in front of my school that knocked out power to my building. Fortunately, the person was okay, but the telephone poles were not. If we were going to have school, I was going to need to relocate 550 students and staff to the high school and figure out a way to keep instruction going as the high school was having a "normal" day of school. After the initial "how I am I going to do this?" feeling, I sat down, collected myself and said, "What would a PIRATE leader do?" The course had been charted, it was time to set sail......
I have a passion for excellence. If we were going to do this, I wanted it to be as perfect as it could for my students and staff. I knew that people would be scared to send their students to the high school. (After all, it was only a few short months ago, some started middle school!). I immersed myself in the process of making this happen. I knew it would be important to have a plan in place before we notified the community. I worked out a schedule, in collaboration with my Superintendent and the high school Principal, and began to ask questions....
1) How many open rooms does the high school have in their normal bell schedule?
2)How was I going to get the students in the building, take attendance and centralize
3) How am I going to review security procedures and communicate with building staff?
4) What will learning look like?
5) How can I give my teachers time to get prepared to provide instruction when all of their materials are at our school?
6) What can we do to ease the concerns of the community about this scenario?
I was going to need to transform my school into a learning environment that was meaningful, relevant and powerful enough that the community would buy into it in the event that we would need to be here for multiple days. Regardless of what was going to happen, I needed to be enthusiastic that it was going to work! I set up a Google Doc that I shared with my administrative team and off I went in preparing for the day. T-minus 12 hours........
After organizing a bell schedule, building teacher schedules with room assignments, organizing a school wide lunch, creating an opening assembly for the students, developing an "afternoon" activity, speaking with company that runs the cafeteria, and discussing procedures with our Director of Security, I was ready to communicate the expectations to the parents. I sent a community email out to the parents explaining the expectations, I tweeted out from our School Twitter handle (@PVPantherPride), posted to Facebook and our school website. I did everything I could to assure parents that the day would be one filled with learning and FUN! I then set up a Google Doc with my staff and they began sharing lessons and resources. In the event that we were going to be at the high school for more than one day, we needed sail through Monday on calm seas.
When I arrived at the high school at 6:30am I did the only thing I could think of at the time. I put on a pirate hat that I had in the back of my car (I learned to always be prepared from Jay Billy at EdCampNJ). I was ready to captain the ship. I met the staff at 7:30am, had a quick meeting with them, explaining that our motto was "Win the Day." We greeted the students at the door as a staff and guided them into the auditorium where they sat by their first period class for attendance. I reviewed the day with them and then sent my teachers on their way to plan for the day.
The previous night I organized an assembly that I wanted to do with the students on "Learning in a Climate of Curiosity." I happened to be moderating the #learnlap (Learn Like a PIrate) chat on Monday night so I thought it would be neat to test out the questions and have a "Twitter chat" with the entire school. We had a four question "chat" in which they discussed "What makes them curious?" "What resources do they use to learn more about a topic?" "What happens when their learning doesn't go according to plan?" "In what ways do you learn best?" We had some great conversations with students talking with each other and with me about how to make our school a better place. It was a great way to kick off the day!
Following the assembly, we then had three instructional periods. Students and staff went to assigned rooms. Some classes were held in the auditorium, on the stage, in the cafeteria, in the media center, and in the gym. The high school staff was gracious enough to allow us to use empty classrooms as well. We were able to arrange for the high school students to meet with my 8th graders to talk about high school in the first instructional block. My staff did an outstanding job of keeping instruction meaningful. Being a 1:1 school we were able to continue learning with our chromebooks. It was a proud Principal moment for me. All of the hard work that we had put in as a staff over the past five months was on full display. We were truly a BOLD SCHOOL (great book by Weston Kieschnick) as we blended "old school" wisdom with new school technology.
After eating lunch as a whole school, I arranged for the end of the day for the entire school to watch the movie, Wonder. It was recently released on DVD so I was able to preview it the previous night and created some discussion questions that would follow the next day for the students in the event we would be back at the high school. It was also pretty neat that the Oscars was on Sunday night so we decided to have a "PV Goes to the Movies" portion of our day. My staff and students were all together in the auditorium as the movie played. It was certainly interesting watching the students respond to the movie. There are so many key topics that are vital to the life of a middle school child. Friendship, overcoming challenges, bullying, communicating with family and acceptance are all areas that need to be addressed with this age group. Since we did end up coming back for a second day, we had grade level assemblies with the three grades in which we highlighted each one of those topics and then had students design their own precepts that we will post throughout the school.
Following the movie, the staff walked the students out of the building (about 15 minutes before the high school dismissal) and ensured that all students left with a parent. We then held a staff meeting to review the day. It was one of the most rewarding and exhausting days of my career. I was so proud of the way that the staff and students responded. Little did we know that we would back for Day 2 on Tuesday!
It began the same way with students meeting in the auditorium. Now that we had experienced what a day at the high school was like, with the help of a few of my teachers, we designed a full instructional day with all of the teaching periods. We used the auditorium as our home base in between each period. We would gather there, take attendance by period and then head off to classrooms. Again, the staff and students rose to the occasion! We had our class assemblies as I mentioned earlier, to discuss "Wonder" so the staff could regroup and get ready for the second half of the day. We dismissed the students successfully and had a meeting to end the day.
I explained to my staff that you can never prepare for days like these but the true character of a person is shown when they are faced with adversity. This was not a one man show. This was a true team effort and I could not thank them enough for everything they did for me and for the students. Regardless of how rough the waters were, we were able to immerse ourselves in our work with passion, enthusiasm and a spirit like I had never seen.
At the conclusion of the day I had a staff member come up to me and say, "We would follow you anywhere." Another said, "I know you told the students that we wanted to show the community what our school was about, everyone in this room wanted to do it for you and John." (John is my awesome Assistant Principal). I have never felt more humbled and proud. We are a PV Family and to watch the staff and students come together to make school AMAZING, is everything that a Pirate leader searches for!
Unfortunately, Wednesday we were hit with a major snowstorm that cancelled school for the next three days. I can't wait to get back to the students and our school on Monday! As Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like home." In the meantime I sent out a moderated Flipgrid, https://flipgrid.com/77901c, to the parents and students asking for their feedback about their experience and what they learned from Wonder that will make our school a better place. All of the feedback has been positive with some students saying, "They couldn't wait to spend the next day at the high school!" and "I can't wait to go back to school!"
Learning can happen anywhere, a middle school, a high school, or in a snow storm. When you focus on building relationships, being passionate with your staff, immersing yourself in the success of your school, creating rapport with the community, asking questions, transforming learning and being enthusiastic, it is amazing what your school can be capable of doing. I was blessed over these past two days to be able to Lead Like a Pirate and sail into uncharted territory.....find me that horizon!
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!
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.