Saturday, August 15, 2015

Q: What does a high school principal do every day? A: @prinicpalproject

As a high school principal, I'm asked a wide variety of questions (many of which would make quite an entertaining list). The question I'm asked the most, though, is "What does a high school principal do every day?" Before I became a high school principal, I'm not sure I ever really had stopped to consider the question. Had I known the reality of the answer, I might have waited a few more years before embarking on what has been one of the most challenging journeys of my life.

In truth, there can be no simple answer to the question. Even if I know exactly what my calendar says at the beginning of the day, I truly have no idea what each day holds. I divide my time each day, in varying amounts, between students, teachers, coaches, parents, colleagues, my boss, email, phone calls, unexpected visitors, and others. I am present daily in classrooms, gyms, hallways, elevators, stairwells, chapel, offices, parking lots, the cafeteria and the library. I divide my mental energy each day, in varying amounts, between teaching, learning, counseling, budgets, schedules, college placement, discipline, English, math, science, conflict resolution, negotiations, athletics, fine arts, maintenance, and more. And... I'm expected by everyone on my campus to be an expert in all of the above.

I could write more but I've decided to explore the answer to this question in a different way. For the 2015-16 school year, I'm going to provide an honest, unfiltered pictorial answer to this question by documenting my year with my iPhone. My medium will be digital images, and you can find my documentary on Instagram at @principalproject. There will be no self-promotion, no pitches, but rather just an honest look at what a high school principal does every day. I hope you'll consider following and spreading the word, not because you're interested in me. I hope you'll consider following because what a high school principal does every day is often interesting, sometimes exciting, usually challenging, occasionally maddening but ultimately, if the job has been done well, meaningful.

Posts begin August 19. I apologize in advance for occasionally posting more than once daily, thus breaking with Instagram etiquette.

If you are Instagramless, you can follow along on Twitter at @principalproj. If you have neither, come hang out with me.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

"I'm going to coach whoever shows up"

I recently completed Roland Lazenby's Michael Jordan: The Life. As I anticipated, I've come away from the experience with more than a few thoughts and ideas that translate pretty well to the classroom.

I spent my high school and college years completely fascinated (translation = obsessed) with Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls. Only later in life, once I became a teacher and a coach, did I realize that one of the fundamental factors in the success of both Jordan and the Bulls was a gentleman and master teacher named Tex Winter. Winter, a veteran coach and the godfather of the Triple-Post (Triangle) Offense perfected under Coach Phil Jackson's Bulls, epitomizes "teacher" better than most any coach around, save perhaps John Wooden. Phil Jackson once tweeted me that Tex Winter was the greatest teaching coach he'd ever worked with.


One of my favorite passages from Lazenby's book gives us a great insight into Tex Winter's #coachteach approach: "Winter believed that he had been hired to teach, so he taught whenever possible, with the sort of frank, direct feedback that most players hadn't heard since middle school. 'When we step out on that floor at a practice session, I'm going to coach whoever shows up,' Winter once said of his approach." Furthermore, Assistant Coach Johnny Bach said of Winter in the book, "He brought an enthusiasm that went beyond the normal."

As the new school year is upon us, Tex Winter's example serves as a great model for teachers. Winter declared he would teach "whoever showed up." In other words, he didn't care if he was coaching the greatest basketball player of all time or the practice squad's reserves. Winter was going to teach, and he was going to do so with "enthusiasm that beyond the normal."

Imagine the impact teachers can have with Winter's attitude - teach whoever shows up. We all know that we're going to get all kinds of kids in classrooms this year: super smart, academically average, academically behind the curve, distracted, hungry, hurting, perfectionist, defeated, highly motivated, hardly motivated, likable, hard to love, rich, poor, and more. The challenge is this: teach whoever shows up and do so with enthusiasm beyond the normal. Admittedly this is a ridiculous challenge. Thank God we have teachers in classrooms and not anyone else.



Interested in more parallels between coaching and teaching? Check out the #coachteach hashtag on Twitter, or check out What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Powerful Question About Your School's Culture

Just before the end of the 2014-15 school year, I found my mind blown by a powerful question about my school's culture. As I wrapped up an interview for a teaching position with a bright, young teacher, I asked if he had any questions for me before we concluded our time together. One of the questions he asked nearly knocked me out of my chair because no one had ever asked me this question before. Indeed, I'd never heard the question before. The question: Which students are the celebrities in your school?

Let that resonate for a moment...

Which students are the celebrities in your school?

Whether your school is an elementary, middle or high school, whether your school is public or private, whether your school is pre-college or collegiate, this question can bring things into focus quickly for you. If you answer this question objectively and honestly, you can't help but gain some valuable insight into the culture of your school. If your goal is to be honest and introspective, there is no right or wrong answer. However, the honest answer certainly is a window into the very heart of what makes your school unique, what defines your school, what your school is all about. The answer to this question goes a long way to capturing the essence of your school culture.

As the school year gets underway, I challenge you to consider which students are the celebrities in your school.

In case you're wondering, I hired that young teacher and I fully expect that he's going to be a difference maker for my students.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

School Leaders' Perspectives on What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches - Part II

In my research for What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches, I had the opportunity to interview numerous high-profile, highly successful coaches at the high school, NCAA and Olympic levels. As I began getting feedback on the book from educators, I realized there were plenty of school leaders with wisdom to contribute on this topic. Inspired to seek more expert advice on the topic, I asked a number of former coaches who now serve in school leadership positions to weigh in on the following question: What lesson or principle about teaching that you learned while coaching do you most frequently emphasize with your teachers? 

If the wisdom below strikes a chord with you, be sure to reach out to the individuals and let them know. I'd also to encourage you to build your PLN by following them on Twitter.

What lesson or principle about teaching that you learned while coaching do you most frequently emphasize with your teachers?

Brett Howard @brethoward33
If you are average, you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top. Who wants to be average?

Mike Zavada @mikezavada
You have to be persistent and positive in your language.  Best teachers and coaches will have students who are able to repeat back language used to describe certain skills 20 years later. These catch phrases repeated over and over ingrain a mental picture of the outcome expected.  This is an essential teaching/coaching skill.  Also, the more consistent you are, the better teacher or coach you will be.

Jon Bosworth @bosworth.jb
Organization and communication need to happen first.

Lucas Leavitt @Lucas_Leavitt
The importance of explicit instruction and repeated practice is vital. As a tennis coach, initial explicit instruction is mandatory to be able to help players learn the correct mechanics of each stroke. Without repeated practice, the muscle memory will not be able to take place and these strokes will not become second nature to the players. This is exactly the same in teaching. Teachers must be taught explicitly how to use specific strategies or methodologies and then need to be provided opportunities for repeated practice where corrective feedback can be given.

Michael McDonough @msquaredbhs
I learned that fair doesn't mean equal. John Wooden wrote about that. If you are working with a student or having to discipline then you should have a fair reaction. It doesn't mean that it's equal to another person who may have done the same (or similar) action. A coach handles different players differently, motivates differently, yet is fair.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

School Leaders' Perspectives on What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches - Part I

In my research for What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches, I had the opportunity to interview numerous high-profile, highly successful coaches at the high school, NCAA and Olympic levels. As I began getting feedback on the book from educators, I realized there were plenty of school leaders with wisdom to contribute on this topic. Inspired to seek more expert advice on the topic, I asked a number of former coaches who now serve in school leadership positions to weigh in on the following question: What lesson or principle about teaching that you learned while coaching do you most frequently emphasize with your teachers? I've listed the first of their answers below (more to follow soon).

If the wisdom below resonates with you - and I believe it will - be sure to reach out to the individuals and let them know. I'd also to encourage you to build your PLN by following them on Twitter.

What lesson or principle about teaching that you learned while coaching do you most frequently emphasize with your teachers?

Brian Knight @principal_SMS
Work Ethic/Perseverance - I often ask my staff: Is your work ethic on par with your classroom goals? We all want to be successful, but are we really willing to commit to what it takes to be successful. Success is not an accident; it is a choice. You must be willing to put in the needed time if you want true success in your classroom. You must be willing to try, even if you might not find immediate success. Failure is not the opposite of success; it is a vital part of it. As teachers we must model this for our students. We must learn from mistakes, and become better because of them. If your players are scared to make mistakes they will never push themselves as hard as they could. Similarly, in learning if we are not willing to take some risks we will never learn as much as we could. You must be willing to try; we must be willing to do; we must be willing to put in the time and effort it takes to be successful.

Robert Sain @saintroop
1. We can only control our attitude and our effort.
2. Do the next right thing right.
We cannot control others whether it be an opposing team, students in a class, or faculty members. We can only control us. Our attitude and effort must set the pace and keep a high bar for all around us. Each person giving their best attitude and effort combined with a continual focus on doing the next right thing right can provide any school with a large amount of horsepower. 


Art Sathoff @sathofar
Putting the time in, motivating others, doing what you say you'll do, cause greater than yourself

Valarie Farrow @valariefarrow
Looking back, I would say differentiation. I remember even in my early years telling players during practice if they didn't understand something to ask a teammate. I was/am not an auditory learner and a coach giving verbal directions paled in comparison to visual and kinesthetic learning.

Justin Smith @TXJustinSmith
Leading faculty is similar to coaching in that a team-first approach is necessary in order to approach the highest collective potential. Great coaches focus on team chemistry (work environment), togetherness (culture), and inspiring great individual work ethic (professional development). As it is in all group settings, a leader effectively empowers those in his or her charge by personalizing the work, supporting the individuals by meeting them at their readiness levels, and setting high standards of excellence that are equitable for all. A strong leader has a high level of competency in his or her role, yet understands that high levels of emotional and social intelligence are imperative when leading people. Not all athletes respond well to the same critiques, nor do teachers when provided feedback. Therefore, to effectively lead a group of individuals, a coach or principal must really understand how to motivate each and every member of the team the way in which they will respond and move towards their greatest self.

This is the first of a series of posts in which I will share what other educators shared with me, Check back soon for the next post.