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Posted by on in Education Leadership


Do you send out invites to your parties, or do you just hope people hear about them through word of mouth and just show up? Unless you still live at a college frat house, chances are you send out invites. The invitations are an important part to any successful party. Without them, people don't know when, where, or even if there is a party. And it could be the best party ever, but no one would know without the invitations. 

Earlier this year,  few of my colleagues and I went to a Breakout EDU workshop. It was something we all had a strong interest in, and something that we were excited to try when we got back to school. But then, something terrible happened. We all went back to work the next day, closed our doors, and started teaching in our own self-induced, solitary confinement classrooms. What we were so excited and energized about doing (and something that required communication and collaboration), faded away as quickly as the next day came.

A few weeks went by, and I kept looking at my Breakout EDU kit that was sitting in my room since I had received it from attending the workshop. To be honest, as cool as that black, spy-looking kit looked, it was also a bit intimidating. All those locks with all those Breakout EDU games were a little overwhelming. The box was unlocked and I was still unsure whether I could break out of it or not. Then I started thinking about my colleagues who attended the workshop with me. I sent an quick email, or invitation, asking if they would like to do a Breakout EDU game together with my 6th grade math class. Everyone quickly responded with a, "YES!" That was it. That was all that was needed in order to get this party going. A simple email inviting others to join in. So, we all eagerly got together at the end of the day on Friday of that week, determined which game to do, picked a day to do it the following week, and took our kits home for the weekend to set up. We met briefly Monday to iron out any issues we encountered from the weekend with our kits, and then again at the end of the day Tuesday to get the room set up for our Breakout EDU game the next day. The next day, the day of the Breakout EDU game, we all adjusted our schedules to be there for the party. 

Now, a couple of things. First, we made time to meet. It wasn't a hour or even a half hour. We didn't request time from our principal to let us met. We just made time. It was 5 minutes here, 15 minutes there. But that time allowed us to connect and share our ideas, struggles, and excitement. Second, nothing goes the way you plan it out in your head, and this proved true once again in our planning. One of teachers accidentally locked another teacher's directional lock and had forgotten the combination to open it. Things happen, and I am glad this did happen. It allowed us to troubleshoot and problem solve together. It allowed us to come up with a solution so things like this don't happen again. Sounds eerily like a real-world situation and in school, no less! So now, when we share out Breakout EDU experience with other teachers, we can give them some preventative measures so they don't end up making the same mistakes. 

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Posted by on in Education Leadership

2e1ax elegantwhite entry Bamradio Leadership That Moves

Have you ever heard someone say, "one day when I'm the leader" or "when I can make the decisions things will be different." They believe that the ability to influence decisions happens across a desk or podium. Many abdicate their influence by getting stuck believing that they can only truly influence other through a position. Your leadership doesn't begin when you get THE position. If you believe you will become a great leader once you get that instructional coach position, department chair, administrative job, or central office gig, you are missing the point. We grow the capacity of our leadership and influence by the choices we make today, not tomorrow. You become a great leader because of your relationship with people, not the position in relation to others. Your leadership role isn't about your job, it is about how you position yourself in the lives of people, your investment in them, not your actual position. Our capacity as leaders is best expressed when we understand that our position can support our effectiveness, but our effectiveness is never dependent on our position. We move others when we see that as our primary role, not to build our name but others. Allow me to share a few ways that our leadership can move others...


Every opportunity that gives you an opportunity to connect with someone you should take it. If as leaders we are inaccessible or set ourselves up that make us unrelatable then we greatly diminish our ability to be effective in other's lives. This doesn't mean I will be everyone's friend, but I certainly shouldn't attempt to make myself unlikable. There are those who would say, "I don't need to be liked but respected." Reality - people won't respect you if they don't like you. People won't follow you if they don't like you. People won't stay at your school if they don't like you. Let us not confuse fear with respect. If I stake my leadership based on what others are doing or not doing, results driven rather than relationships, it communicates a culture that values performance over people. In that type of system, people will never be able to perform enough.

Bottom line: Am I giving a compelling reason for people to stay connected and committed to our mission, school, district? 

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Posted by on in Education Leadership

walking symbol

Last weekend, I attended a college recruitment fair.  More than 1,000 students walked through the booths of over 200 colleges from across the country speaking to college recruiters, picking up pamphlets, and filling out forms for future mailing lists.  Someone likened the process to “speed dating” in that parents and students try to narrow down this enormous number of colleges to a manageable size based on majors, activities, demographics, location, and other data variables.  After that, no conversation at a booth is going to seal the deal.  At that point, you have to actually go to the college.  You have to walk the campus, walk throughout the community, and walk into the dorms, and walk into some classes.  For something as important as the choice of where someone will spend the next four years of their life, they have to physically walk around. 

While things might look appealing behind a desk, taking a walk determines the reality.

There's a Japanese phrase detectives use - "taking a Gemba walk".  Gemba is a word that means the "real place", and a "gemba walk" is a chance to walk the crime scene.  The actual place something occurs.  For architects, a gemba walk would be walking away from the desk and blueprints and going to the actual job site for first-hand knowledge.  For corporate managers, it would be walking the production floor.  For school leaders, it is walking around the building, classrooms, and community.

School leaders know the importance of conducting walk-arounds and see the benefits in being visible in the school and community.  But, many leaders have not established the proper purpose, environment, and steps in implementing real walk arounds.

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Posted by on in Education Leadership

education conference

With the school year going into full swing, so are many of the weekend September festivities; festivals, football, and fall TV. For educators, it is also a time for weekend conferences, workshops, and edcamps.

Ever since becoming a Superintendent, I have been faced with the same questions at least once a week; below is a simple Q & A for you.

"Why do  you still participate in EdCamps, conferences, and weekend workshops?" 

Simple answer: because I enjoy them. I enjoy learning at these workshops. I enjoy learning from others and with other.  I enjoy networking.  Most importantly, I enjoy seeing how other students are learning and how I can harness their triumphs for my students and teachers.

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Posted by on in Education Leadership


Here’s a confession, I’ve been responsible for some pretty horrible professional development (PD).  When I think about the faculty meetings I ran when I was a new principal, I am embarrassed.  Often, my faculty meetings were the Don Gately Show.  I like to think it's a pretty good show (my wife’s not complaining).   I tried to sprinkle in the occasional joke or amusing anecdote, but my approach was deeply flawed.  Teachers had little choice in participating; they were required, by contract, to be there. If the topic was not meeting their needs, they had to wait until I was done to complain about me in the parking lot.  I surely was never the smartest person in the room; the smartest people in the room didn't get a chance to share their expertise because I didn't create a structure for them to do so.  

And, oh the PowerPoints, I ‘loved me some PowerPoints’.   I relied on this magical Microsoft tool like a crutch. As an assistant principal, I was an early adopter so I remember a time when I could dazzle my faculty with animations and wiggly text. The principal would sometimes ask me, “Don, can you do that PowerPoint thing for the faculty meeting?”  I’d beam with pride! But like the hack magician sawing the lady in half, it took a while for me to let go of that thrilling trick.  There are teachers out there with handouts I foisted upon them at faculty meetings, three slides to a page (so they could take notes?!), 107 slides in all.  If I am ever considered for appointment as education commissioner, some journalist will dig these handouts up and my career will come to a screeching halt.  

Fortunately, due to a combination of factors, I've gotten better at faculty meetings.  Through experience, research, learning from others, better principals and maybe just because I got sick of listening to MYSELF, my faculty meetings have become improved settings for learning, at least I hope so.

I’ve done some bad PD, but so have many of my colleagues, both in the administrative AND the teaching ranks!  It's staff development like this that has created the need for EdCamp.  Above I described a formula for “How NOT to contribute to teachers' learning.” EdCamp upends all of these approaches.

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