The Measure of Success

So I’ve been tremendously inspired lately by our students…….Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been blown away by what many of our kids have accomplished, and the various and very different ways that they are finding success. It got me thinking about how we measure success as educators and adults, and it got me wondering about whether or not we differentiate and prioritize what goes into our idea of a successful student. During last week’s student led conferences I asked a number of parents and students what their idea of success was, and I got some very interesting answers……

The majority of parents that I interviewed got stuck on the idea of grades, or academic achievement as the most important factor in determining success in a student, whereas the students (Middle School kids) that I asked thought that things like friendships, learning from their mistakes, academic growth, and whether or not they were liked by their peers were the most important factors……..I found myself siding with the kids answers honestly, but looking back I wish I had asked them the following follow up question…….what message are we sending to you as teachers? Do you think that the teachers or the adults in your life believe that grades, or making the honor role, or scoring better than your peers academically is the true definition and measure of success? I wonder………

Over the past few days I have watched our students succeed on the soccer field, in the pool, on the volleyball court, on the stage in the ridiculously good drama performance of Oliver, with their service learning responsibilities, and with the showcasing of their electronic portfolios during student led conferences. All in all, hundreds of young adults succeeding in so many different ways, and growing so immeasurably in ways and areas outside of the classroom. I guess for me, the idea or definition or measure of success cannot be simplified down to a single thing…… incorporates so many things…….so many aspects of a young person’s life……..and so many variables that go into shaping a young person’s character.

I think we need to be careful as adults and educators not to place too much of a priority on any one aspect of a student’s growth, and look to develop and celebrate the areas where a student is showing success in their lives. Kids, as you all know, go through various stages of maturation and development, and a students “time” may not be Middle School, or High School, or University for that matter. It’s no secret to the people who really know me, that I was very much a late bloomer when it came to academic success, but I found successes socially and on the athletic field which set me up for the person that I’ve become. I guess the true measure of success in my opinion, is whether or not a student is growing and learning. Is a student getting better academically? Socially? As a Teammate? As a person? If so, then we’re doing our jobs and we should celebrate these successes with each individual student……if not, we need to find out why and get those students on track.

Look at your students this week everyone, and measure them against themselves…….not their peers, or someone’s packaged idea of success…….and celebrate them. I cannot wait to speak with the “Oliver” kids, and to let them know how amazing they were up there on stage yesterday. They showed courage, teamwork, personal growth, academic  growth, and self confidence…….that to me is true success. Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……..
Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful – Herman Cain

Article Attachment #1 –
Nongognitive Factors As levers for Improving Academic Achievement (Marshall Memo) Noncognitive Factors As Levers for Improving Academic Achievement
Article Attachment #2– What Habits of Mind Do Students Need to Be Successful (Marshall Memo) What Habits of Mind Do Students Need to Be Successful
Article #3 – On Being a Student (Donald E. Simanek)

TEDx Nevada Talk – Logan LaPlante (Amazing 13 year old….please watch this!)

TED Talk – Richard St. John (Secrets of Success)

The Dictionary definition of Success:
The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.

Moral Purpose

So this week I’d like to talk about the idea of “moral purpose” in education……lately this term keeps coming up over and over again in my conversations with other Principals and teacher leaders, and it seems like these days I cannot read an article or watch a video about educational leadership without hearing about the importance and necessity of this notion. I even found myself just last week going on and on about how we all need a sense of moral purpose when I was speaking with a parent about our vision in the Middle School. I think this parent walked away feeling a little confused about the notion, and it got me thinking about what I was really talking about. What is moral purpose…… and how does it impact our lives as teachers, leaders, parents, and colleagues?

Interestingly enough, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot written yet about “moral purpose” in education, other than some interesting articles by leadership and change guru Michael Fullan. I did find some other helpful articles written on the topic from a business perspective however, and another one or two that had some pretty heavy religious connotations, but those didn’t really help clarify things in my mind. I finally stumbled upon some chapter excerpts from Will Ryan’s book, Leadership With A Moral Purpose: Turning Your School Inside Out, which started to help crystallize things for me, and break things down into simpler, digestible pieces. Essentially, for me it boils down to (in the simplest and purest terms)……….doing the right things for our students. There’s a great quote out there that says “managers do things right, but leaders do the right things”, and I think that pretty much says it all…….are we doing the right things for our kids?

We are all important leaders in some capacity……whether it’s leading our students through our daily teachings and/or professional habits, or leading our colleagues through the sharing of expertise and the positive, hopeful attitudes that create our climate and culture. We all have the power to affect change, and to contribute to this shared sense of moral purpose. Fullan talks about creating a shared vision, or mission, that rests on and stems from what’s best for students and student learning……doing the right things to create an environment where students feel safe and encouraged to take risks, where colleagues feel supported and valued, and where all leaders are researching, reflecting, and taking action in a constant attempt to make the school (and student learning opportunities) better. By the way, the best definition on moral purpose that I did find came from Springhead School in Northern England. Their definition reads, “Our moral purpose is an agreed set of principles that creates and leads our vision for the school. It stimulates reflection and review, and supports action. It defines the heart and soul of our school.  Our moral purpose acknowledges that there is a need for our pupils to be both challenged and supported if we are to enrich and enhance every child’s learning and life experiences, by breaking down barriers to learning and participation”……..nice.

This week I’d like us all to think about this notion of moral purpose, and what we can do as teachers to help bring ours to life. I love the tribe that we’ve built in the Middle School, and I love that we’re beginning to have the trust and educational courage to push back on things that don’t align with our shared vision, or our sense of what’s right. Lets’ do the right things for our kids, and not settle for other agendas that veer away from what’s best for student learning. In short, let’s be leaders…and do the right things. Have a great week everyone and remember to be great for our kids and good to each other!

Quote of the Week……..
Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses or avoids. – Aristotle

Article #1 (attached)
Moral Purpose Writ Large (Michael Fullan) MORAL PURPOSE WRIT LARGE
Article #2The Realist’s Guide to Moral Purpose (Long and Business focused but a good read nevertheless)

TED Talk – Shane Koyczan (Moving and Beautiful)

Book SuggestionLeadership With A Moral Purpose: Turning Your School Inside Out – (Will Ryan)

Enriching Opportunities in International Education

Being an international educator yields tremendous professional opportunities that can enrich your teaching.  Living and working in the U.S., professional development opportunities were limited to whatever the school sponsored at the school.  Many teachers received additional professional development by working on advanced degrees or paying out of pocket to go to a training or conference at a nearby university.  In the 7 years I taught in Georgia, I received only a handful of professional development opportunities outside working on my master’s and doctorate degrees. One of these was AP Government training, which was a wonderful experience.

Since Jamie and I have taught internationally, we have had the pleasure of working at schools who have provided us with meaningful professional development opportunities.  Our school systems have both hosted conferences and brought in educational specialist like Virginia Rojas, Martin Skelton, and John Almarode.  We have also had the opportunities to attend regional professional development opportunities in Bahrain, Kathmandu, Nepal, Dubai, UAE, Muscat, Oman, and Bangkok, Thailand for various conferences. Large names like Tom Guskey, Ken O’Connor, Jay McTighe, Leanne Jung, and Lucy Calkins have all been speakers and presenters at these conferences.  Just recently, I served on a Middle States Association accreditation team, which was the best professional development I have ever had.  I play on attending an accreditation team chair training on Philadelphia this summer.  Jamie has traveled to Denver and Tampa for AP training in Psychology and Economics, respectively. She will also attend a conference training in Houston this summer for training in the Schaffer writing method.

Most of this is paid for by the school.  We receive professional development funds each year that we can apply to conferences or post graduate work. On several occasions, we have received these trips for no cost because we are leaders on committees.

In addition to professional development opportunities, we also have travel opportunities with the students.  Jamie has attended the TIMUN conference in Istanbul, Turkey two times in three years with her high school students as well as sponsored student study trips to Kenya and Bali.  I have taken my middle school students on study trips to South Korea and Prague and Budapest.

Additionally, we travel in Kingdom to places like Riyadh and Jeddah for various school events like honor band/choir, MUN, and sports teams.  These opportunities just don’t happen back home where many school systems won’t allow student field trip to leave the county.

We are already planning next year where we will sponsor study trips as well as travel for various staff development trainings. Of course, these trainings and conferences are in addition to our normal vacation times.  This year for vacation, we have traveled to France, USA, and Thailand.  Next year, we plan on visiting Spain, Germany, Jordan, and some other destination to be determined.

Granted, this is all due because of money.  These are private schools that offer their students and teachers amazing opportunities, but one would be remiss if they didn’t take advantage of these opportunities.

The Importance of School Counselors

So over the past two or three weeks, a few different issues have come up with our students that have yet again highlighted for me the importance of our school counselors. If you take a step back and look at the weight of their vocation from a balcony view, it is staggering to see the positive scope of influence that can ripple throughout a school community because of their work. I spent the last few days thinking about all that goes into a counselor’s job description, and the affect that a quality counselor can have on the ethos of a school and the learning of its students. It has become clear to me that counselors are very much the mortar that holds a division together, as well as the purveyors of all things right in education. I think it is very easy for most of us to go through the school day and not give much thought to the life altering conversations that continuously take place in their office, or to the young lives that are forever shaped because of their insight and expertise. This week, I want to specifically acknowledge their efforts, and thank them for all that they do for our kids.

I’ve feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity over the last three years to work intimately with our own amazing school counselors, as well as the chance to learn deeply about the job through my wife, who recently began her Masters in Counseling back in September. I am constantly impressed and inspired by the amount of knowledge and strategies that they have to keep kids from falling through the cracks, and to get students learning up to their potential. It’s truly mind boggling to think of and see all the different issues, emergencies, and conflicts that they deal with on a daily basis……….and the fact that they continue to be unwavering student advocates throughout it all is ridiculously inspiring. Here’s just a brief and small sample look at what a school counselor has on his/her plate as the school day begins………

  • Individual and small group academic support
  • transition planning (5/6 and 8/9 and 12/College)
  • implementation of advisory program
  • consulting and collaboration with teachers/parents/administration
  • making appropriate referrals to specialists and outside organizations
  • scheduled/unscheduled issues such as abuse, depression, low self esteem, and bullying
  • supporting the extension of gifted and talented students
  • supporting the intervention of struggling students/students with special needs
  • constantly professionally developing themselves through research and reading

I could have easily gone on and on with that list but I think you get my point. Counselors play such an incredibly important role in the development of our students, the ethos and environment of our school, the community and culture of a division, and most importantly….student learning. It’s nice to know that if we face a difficult or unfamiliar situation, or if we need support as professionals dealing with a delicate or complicated issue, we have someone down the hall who can pick us up. I’d like to ask that you go out of your way this week to acknowledge or say thank you to Mark and Rafael for the incredible work that they do every day………it can easily get overlooked and we can easily take them for granted. Counselors change lives for the better everyday, and they emerge from heartbreaking conversations with poise, grace, and hope…and in some instances counselors save lives…….Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week………
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are – E.E. Cummings

American School Counselor Association Websites:

Other Useful Counseling Websites:

Article #1 – In Defense of School Counseling
Article #2 – School Counselors Play Key Role in Kids’ Futures
Article #3 – The Importance of School Counseling
Article #4 – The Role of School Counselors in Serving Students and Families


So a very good friend of mine is thinking about changing jobs….maybe even careers. He’s come to the sad conclusion that the hope that he had in his organization’s ability to do the right thing, and to lead with a sense of moral purpose is now gone. We got talking about this idea of “hope”, and the necessary role it plays in our lives as we look for inspiration and reward in all that we do. It became clear to both of us that hope is what drives us all to be better, and it inspires us all to be difference makers in the lives of others. Without that sense of hope there is no vision of what’s possible, and the seemingly unattainable goals that we set for ourselves, our students, and our world are just that…..unattainable… why even bother?

Hope is typically defined as the looking forward to something with confidence or expectation, but for many it’s way, way more that that. Hope for some people can be a lifeline, the light at the end of a dark tunnel, that needle in a haystack, or the only thing left when you feel as though everything is lost. If you think about it, hope might just be the most important word in the English language because without it, we’d never ever move forward. For quality educators, hope is tied to almost everything that we do, throughout every day of our teaching lives. Think about all the things that you hope for with your students, your colleagues, and your school as the kids begin to arrive in the morning. If you’re like me, you hope that all the hard work that we’ve put into creating a wonderful community and culture for students translates into learning. You also hope that the decisions that are made (which are sometimes out of your control) are made through the lens of what’s best for kids, student learning, and our community. You hope to be inspired by the people around you, and you hope that you can affect some sort of positive change……..hope is what transforms good schools into great schools, and hope is what drives you to be the best educator that you can be.

A few months ago I attended an amazing workshop put on by Alan November. Much of what he was discussing revolved around leadership, as well as the components of quality teaching. He suggested that the three most important attributes of all successful leaders are energy, enthusiasm, and hope. I thought about the kind of energy and enthusiasm that I was bringing to my job, and I wondered about how hopeful I was…….the great thing about this suggestion is that these three attributes are all things that we can control! I want to ask you all this week to think about that word…..hope…..and to let it shine through in all that you do, particularly when dealing with your students. The greatest message that we can deliver to our kids is that we are hopeful for them as learners. They need to know that we’ll never give up hope that they can become the person of their dreams, and we have to instill that hope in them. I’m hopeful for the future of our kids, and I’m hopeful that we can bring our Middle School fairy tale to life…….and I hope you are too. Have a great week everyone and remember to be hopeful for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…….
The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof – Barbara Kingsolver

Attachment #1 Hope in Education PDF Hope in Leadership

TED Talk #1  – Use Data to Build Better Schools (Andreas Schleicher)
TED Talk #2 – Hope (Sherwin Nuland)

Alan November’s Professional Website