All posts by Daniel Kerr

Dan Kerr is now Lower School Director at the American School of Paris. He previously served as Intermediate Division Principal at Academia Cotopaxi American International School in Quito, Ecuador, and prior to that was the Middle School Principal at SCIS in Shanghai, China. Dan has also worked at JIS in Jakarta, Indonesia and he began his International career in Abu Dhabi. Dan is thrilled to be joining the ASP family and will be accompanied by his wife, Jocelyn, who will be working as a counselor, and his two children, Max and Gabby. 

Lead With Love

So last summer I was having dinner with a great friend of mine, John Stephens, who also just happens to be one of the best educators that I know, and we got speaking about (for fun and from our own unique perspectives) what the top priorities should be for teachers as they look to inspire learning this year with their students. We went back and forth for a long time discussing things like inclusive assessment practices and strategies, differentiated lesson design approaches like UDL, specific and timely feedback, and things like that. Finally I said, “okay, on the count of three, let’s both yell out our number one priority above all the rest. The one thing that is at the very top of the list without question, and the one priority that in our minds is the foundational pillar of great teaching”.

“Are you ready? One, two, three, Go!” And at the exact same moment without hesitation we both yelled out, “Relationship Building!” At that point we smiled big smiles, we grabbed another drink, and we immediately dove into an even longer conversation about why, in our heart of hearts, we both felt that way. It turned into a discussion that I’ll never forget, and it made me even more resolute in my belief that the relationship that we develop with each of our students is the foundational piece that must absolutely drive everything else that we do as educators…honestly, it’s all about relationships.

The interesting thing about part of our conversation though, is that we both admitted that when we were very young teachers, many moons ago, we didn’t necessarily see things this way. Back then we assumed that being a good teacher simply meant deeply knowing our content and curriculum and having solid lessons and strong unit designs, which of course good teachers do have and still prioritize, but the idea of prioritizing relationship building wasn’t something that was at the forefront of our thinking. We both understood that having a good relationship with a student would certainly be helpful, but it wasn’t something that we set out to purposely and explicitly target as an imperative. 

Well, things have drastically changed for us over the years, and we’ve both grown into this unwavering “relationships first” stance over time. It’s interesting too, that John has spent most of his career in public education back in Canada and I have spent mine in international education around the world, but you know what, kids are kids are kids everywhere you go, and all kids want to feel seen, valued, successful, and loved by the adults in their lives, and of course this absolutely includes their teachers. We both agreed that at some point in our growth as educators a shift happened in our thinking and we began “leading with love” so to speak, not just at the beginning of the year but at the beginning of all our daily classes and lessons, and with every one of our student interactions throughout the entire school year. 

We began prioritizing knowing the faces in front of us in deep and meaningful ways, and we began cultivating a classroom environment which was safe, secure, and inclusive. We made “mistake making” a celebration instead of something to be ashamed of, and we began seeing the students in our classes as little extended family members. In essence, we organically, and through great mentorship, shifted our perspective of what being a “good teacher” truly meant, and when that shift finally happened we were able to become the teachers and role models that our students needed, and the teachers that we always wanted to be. 

Not surprisingly, when this shift happened it was our very real experience that our students started to do better not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well. The feedback that we received through our student surveys improved dramatically, and anecdotally the levels of joy, engagement, and freedom that we witnessed in our classes exploded. Personally, I’m really excited about the recent and heavy push from schools all over the world to prioritize wellness, social-emotional learning, and belonging within their communities, and their specific targeting of relationship building as a pillar connected to strategic planning makes my heart grow a few sizes. It’s absolutely the right approach in our disconnected, post-covid and social media driven world, and you know what, we will be all the better for it, especially our kids. 

You see, It doesn’t matter if you are a lower elementary classroom teacher, a middle school science teacher, a high school math teacher or in an administrative position at your school, the relationships first stance and the leading with love approach has to be our top priority. So with that in mind, and on the count of three, let’s shout it out together and smile our wide collective smiles…ready, set, go…relationship building! Let’s all lead with love as our default this year, in every interaction that we have with students and with each other as well, and watch how our school culture positively and beautifully responds…and you know what, it will. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

Teachers who put relationships first don’t just have students for one year. They have students who view them as “their” teacher for life – Justin Tarte

Related Articles – 

Relationships First

Fundamentals of SEL

Essential for Students

The Cascading Benefits

A Sense of Belonging in Schools

Inspiring Videos – 

A Stranger’s Gift

Music Appreciation

10 Things that Made Us Smile 

Special Friendship

TED Talk – 

How AI Could Save (Not Destroy) Education

What I Know to be True

So at the end of last school year I helped to facilitate a leadership team activity that asked each of us in the room to think about one simple thing that we, as career educators, know to be true about ALL kids. We spent a few minutes organizing our thoughts and then we went around the table and shared our “truths” with each other. It was meant to be a short connecting activity to begin the meeting, as a way to ground us in the purpose of the discussion ahead which related to student belonging. This short activity however, turned into a beautiful and much longer conversation highlighting our favorite things about our students, and it resonated deeply with all of us. 

I want to share the seven truths that we came up with and discussed during that activity, and below I tried my best to capture the sentiment of what was shared by each of us. I also want to recommend that you try this activity at some point in the year with a team that you belong to. I’m sure that you will come up with many, many more than the seven listed here, and I can guarantee that the activity will bring you back and reconnect you quickly to your meaning and purpose as an educator. It turned out to be a fantastic inclusion activator that we titled, “What I Know to be True”. Give it a try…you won’t be disappointed 🙂 

What we know to be true about kids…

They’re Curious – We should marvel at the curiosity of our kids every single day. The way that they look at the world, the questions that they ask in class, the perspectives that they have on something that completely opens up our minds to another way of thinking, and the attention to detail that they give to things that we sometimes take for granted. Curiosity is something that some adults tend to lose as they grow older, and as they get set in their ways, but kids never ever lose sight of the wonder, and the beauty, and the mystery of our world. 

They Want to Achieve – Every student wants to learn, and every student wants to feel some measure of success each and every day. Kids are thirsty for new knowledge, and they are secretly (and not so secretly) clamoring to showcase their knowledge, inspirations, talents and awesomeness to you and to their peers. We need to structure our classes, our daily student experiences, our units, and our assessments to allow for daily student success. Every one of our kids needs to have the opportunity to find success in some school space every single day. All kids want to achieve, and as educators we need to consistently set up structures and experiences to allow for that to happen. Set the bar high and watch them rise to the height.

They Make Mistakes – This is where authentic learning comes from. It’s the process of learning from these mistakes that is so powerful for kids. It’s also how we as educators choose to react to these mistakes which will frame the experience in the mind of a child. Are all classrooms and spaces conducive to risk–taking and failing forward, and how do our students view their mistakes when they happen? Are they seeing mistakes as opportunities to grow and to learn and to develop, or are they ashamed or afraid or hesitant to take a risk and to stray outside of their comfort zones? Mistakes should be true celebrations for our students because this is what learning is all about. If you’re not making mistakes then you’re not growing as a person. We need all students to internalize this.

They’re Malleable – As we all know, kids are constantly learning and growing and questioning, and therein lies so much of their beauty. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to help develop them into not only the amazing adults that they are destined to become, but into incredible change agents for our world right now. We need to be heroes, role models, and searchlight souls for each and every one of our kids as they meander through their adolescent years. We need to stretch their thinking, challenge them to break out of their comfort zones, hold them accountable for becoming their best selves for others and their community, and guide them through this difficult journey…that’s our job as educators. We need to leave a lasting and positive impact on them simply by being who we are as the adults in their lives. Every experience that we have with a child is a chance to have them walk away a better human being, and a chance for them to feel better about themselves.

They Want/Need Feedback – They are desperate for it actually, even if they say otherwise. Kids are constantly watching us as adults, and trying to figure out who they are as people, and where and how they fit into the world. They need honest and authentic feedback about their learning, about how to become better human beings, about how to problem solve and how to make friends, and about how to approach difficult situations. Feedback is paramount to the relationship that we develop with each and every one of our students. Good feedback sets the stage for students to learn on their own and to find some independence and agency in their young lives. Everyone wants and needs feedback, and if we deliver it well it will make all the difference. 

They’re Beautiful – (This was my truth) If you don’t have our breath taken away by the beauty of a child at least once a day then you’re in the wrong profession. Any time that you feel yourself running out of patience, or feel your mood starting to sour, or if you simply need a “pick me up” in the middle of the day, then pop out to where kids are hanging out and open up your eyes and ears. The laughter, the learning, the interactions, and the unadulterated joy that spills out of kids truly is beauty personified. Children are a gift that all educators have been given, and sometimes we get so busy with our planning, our grading, our own professional development, and our relationships with each other that we forget to stand back and marvel. Nothing in our world compares to the beauty of a child, and it doesn’t cost a thing to be inspired by it. Stand back and take it all in.

They Need Us – Being a quality educator is like being a chameleon of sorts. You need to be different things to different kids at different times throughout the day. You may need to be their teacher, their surrogate parent, their mentor, or their role model, all in the span of seven or eight hours. We need to be giving them the best hours of their day, and we have to work tremendously hard to develop strong enough relationships with each of them so that they trust us to wear all of those hats effectively. Especially the kids that are the most difficult to connect with, because the kids that are the hardest to reach are the ones that need us the most. You can tell a lot about yourself as an educator by the relationships that you have with your most difficult students. 

Okay, there you have it. A good start but certainly not an exhaustive list by any means, so try this activity for yourselves and see what you come up with…I bet it will resonate with you like it did with me, and at the very least it will put you in the right frame of mind to talk about students and their learning before any meeting. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…

The greatest use of a life is to spend it for something that will outlast it

-William James

Related Articles –

High Expectations 

Why Teachers Matter

Inclusion Activators

Inspiring Videos –

School Bus Driver

An Old Mustang

Random Acts of Kindness

10 Things That Made Us Smile

TED Talk –

Mental Health Days

Life as the Change Process

So a couple of weeks ago I moved to Vietnam to start a new adventure at an incredible school, Saigon South International School, and so far it’s been a dream. We love the people, the food, the school’s mission and vision and we’ve already begun to settle in. We are definitely in the honeymoon stage, where everything is new and exciting, and where people are going out of their way to support us and to make us feel welcome and seen…and you know what, it feels great. I have been through this enough times however, across 7 countries over 25 years, to know that at some point I will experience some lows, as I begin missing the people that I love from my last school, and from home (my son who just started college for example), and as I get quickly thrown out of my comfort zone having to learn so much about how things are done around here…it’s a process, and it’s a very real part of what comes along with a move like this. 

As international school educators we’ve all been through this in some form or another, and the more I reflect on it this week, and steady myself for the “Implementation Dip”, which is bound to come at some stage, I can’t help thinking about how the life of an international school educator in many ways mirrors the flow of a change initiative in schools. “Life as the Change Process” so to speak, where the parallels are just too striking to ignore. 

I’ve been helping to lead change initiatives in schools for the better part of two decades now, and like Michael Fullan and other change leaders often write about, there is a process that schools and educators go through as they strive for sustainability. It usually begins with a sense of urgency and excitement about what the change can bring to the organization, and in our specific case of working in schools, what it can do to enhance culture and student learning. Inevitably though, after that initial buzz and enthusiasm and excitement settles, there comes a period of time where complexity arrives (implementation dip) and the learning curve throws dents into our comfort levels, and it can get super tricky. Well, in many ways, the same is true of any major life change outside of the professional environment, and moving to a new school and to a new country certainly fits that roadmap. 

The change to a new school is thrilling, and nerve-wracking, and if you are fortunate (like I have been at SSIS), it goes very smoothly from the beginning, and you can quickly find a sense of purpose and meaning, which will help you gain some important momentum. Also, if you are very fortunate, you meet people who understand the position that you are in and make a concerted effort to pick you up at every turn, and support you through it all. Because I’ve been through this a few different times throughout my career, I have learned what to look out for as the weeks move along, and I have learned to not go through it alone. Many change leaders talk about creating what they call a “guiding coalition”, which is essentially a group of allies who can relate to your situation and be advocates and guides for you as the weeks turn into months. 

A change like this can become quickly overwhelming as the honeymoon period begins to wear off, so having that support group in place is essential. The other thing that I have learned over time is the importance of communication. The absolute imperative of communicating and over-communicating how you are feeling, and what you are needing (indeed the same is true of change initiatives in schools). You see, as incredibly supportive as great schools and great communities are, there often comes a time relatively early on when students arrive and routines get started and people settle into their day to day lives both inside and outside of the school and you, the newbie, can become less of a priority to look out for. This is where and when it becomes of the utmost importance for you to reflect on how you are feeling and doing, and to use that guiding coalition to provide you with what you need. That implementation dip is a very real thing, and just like in schools, if you learn to embrace it and prepare for it then you’ll be in a much better position to climb out. 

So, for all educators this year who are arriving in new countries and in new schools, and for many of us, new continents, enjoy the transition and soak it all up. Put yourself out there and join in and find your coalition. Say yes to invites and lean on your fellow newbies as they can relate intimately to how you are feeling…both the good and the bad. Make sure to over-communicate and prepare for the lows that will surely come. It’s hard to leave a school and community behind, and there is often a grieving process that comes along with any major transition…that’s part of it and it’s okay. If you prepare for the inevitable bumpy ride of the first semester and maybe even the first year, and if you put your support structures in place, then the climb out of that dip, back toward your comfort zone won’t be as challenging. Eventually you will find your place, and your purpose, and you will find your voice as a valued member of the community…that’s the sustainability piece!

Now, for all you returning educators, who have come back to comfort and calm, I want to ask you all to keep your newbies on your radar. Not just for the first few weeks, but throughout the year. It’s easy to assume that people have settled in and are doing fine, but in my experience many adults can find it hard to reach out proactively, particularly when they are new, for fear of looking like you can’t handle things or for fear of judgment. We all want to be our best selves each and every day when we join a new community, and it can be easy to lack that vulnerability if we find ourselves struggling a bit. Check in on them early and often and support them in finding their way. The notion of “Life as the Change Process” absolutely rings true from my perspective and experience, and like I said, the process is real. 

Newbies, find your balance early on and keep it, and find some outlets that will keep you healthy and engaged. Make sure to speak to the people that you love back “home” and share your experiences, as it will help you meander through the ups and downs. Finally, get good at chunking out your time, and focusing on the day or the week ahead. Find gratitude in the little things that bring you joy throughout the days, and even if you have a difficult day, which you will from time to time, always search for that, “best part of a bad day”, which is always there waiting to help you change your perspective. Actually, these are just good life lessons for all of us if you think about it, because honestly, change is a constant in all our lives, all the time…some changes just happen to be a little bigger than others. 

Okay, I’m off to call my son back home in Canada to tell him all about my day…he’s a newbie too in so many ways, as he starts to live his life as a full-time Canadian for the first time. We are going to help each other, as a team, and travel through this change process that we call life together, and I can’t wait. All the best for a wonderful school year ahead everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. It’s going to be an amazing year!

Quote of the Week…

Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change 

-Wayne W. Dyer

Related Articles – 

5 Steps in the Change Process

Overcoming the Implementation Dip


Tips for Joining a Community

TED Talks – (Newbies, find your voice)

The Danger of Silence

5 Steps

Work-Life Balance

Inspiring Videos – 

College Scholarship 


Dexter – Perseverance

10 Things That Made Us Smile

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

So this week, for my final post of the school year, I want to talk about one of my favorite things about school…maybe my most, most favorite thing of all the things that I love about coming to work each and every day. I’ve written about this before, but this past week the following sentiment has resonated with me even more profoundly than ever before. It’s something that many of us fail to pay regular attention to, or even embrace, and it might just be something that can be a little annoying or aggravating to some educators. It’s something that traditionally as schools we have tried to suppress, and something that kids sometimes get in trouble for. But if you take a step back, and drink in what it ultimately represents, then it might just become one of your favorite things too. I’m talking about the noise of a school. The beautiful noise that is the soundtrack to learning and the playlist of happiness and joy…creative, imaginative, messy, curious, triumphant and beautiful noise.

When was the last time that you took a few minutes and really listened to the noise of a school? Either walking down the halls, or doing recess duty, or being in a classroom when kids are engaged and working, or just standing outside the gym when kids are at PE, or outside the music or art room, or even when they are simply spilling off of the buses ready to tackle another day with their friends. It’s something that will make your heart want to burst if you just take the time to listen. It’s not lost on me how fortunate I am to be in a position to walk from one end of the Lower School to the other several times each day…visiting classrooms, discussing issues with teachers, catching up with specific students, and being a fly on the wall watching when kids don’t think I’m paying attention. 

Lately I’ve been soaking it up a little more than usual, this noise, and it fuels my soul everyday to no end. The singing in French rooms, the songs from the early childhood kids as they transition down the corridors, the wild excitement in the discovery and possibility labs as kids work on experiments and collaborative projects, the math talk lessons and the read alouds and the book clubs and the students sharing their writing…it’s so beautiful to listen to the learning that is happening everywhere, in every classroom and in every school space, all the time.

I have to confess that the first thing that I do after a tough meeting, or a tricky conversation, or an issue that I have to deal with that takes me away from being around students, is to pop into the Field House to listen to kids at play, or head out to the playground or the cafeteria just to hear the noise of kids…it centers me and it snaps me back to what is the most important part of my job, the kids. Nothing is more joyful than the sound of a playground, with kids playing and making friends and taking risks and finding out about themselves and others, it’s just so good. It doesn’t stop there though, I also love the sound of teachers collaborating together around what’s best for kids and their learning, and the creative ideas about how to extend students, and the concerns about how to intervene with struggling students. You see, the sound of educators caring about kids is also music to my ears, and it blares loudly at full volume every day. The beautiful sound of a school…wow, how can you not love it?

This week, as we speed toward the summer holiday, I’m asking you…no, I’m begging you, to take a few minutes to slow down and listen to the noise of a school. Take a second to listen to the kids at play, or just stand back in your classrooms and listen to the sounds of learning, or come down by my office in the morning and listen to the little ones as they come in ready for another day with their teachers and friends. There is nothing more joyful or energizing and beautiful than the sound of a school in action. Take the time to listen, and it will fill your hearts just like it does mine. It might just be the best thing that you can do with your days actually. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students, good to each other, and make a habit of opening yourself up to the beautiful noise of the school day…you see, for us as educators, it really is the soundtrack of our lives!

Quote of the Week…

Sometimes the littlest things take up the most room in your heart – Winnnie the Pooh

Related Articles – 

Let Kids Make Noise

Humor Needs to Find a Way

The Sound of Resilience and Creativity

Laughter and Learning

Increased Creativity

Inspiring Videos – 

A Wedding Surprise

A Simple Cup of Coffee

10 Things That Made Us Smile

Leveraging Your Learning Community

So this past week we held our faculty and staff Festival of Learning, which is our annual culminating event showcasing and highlighting the work, learning, and passion that we have all given to our Professional Learning Communities initiative throughout the school year…and it was awesome! I was a part of an incredible group of educators presenting work and learning around our commitment to social justice, but I also managed to get around and listen to over a dozen or so other inspiring group presentations, and truthfully, I was left speechless by what I saw. 

All of the groups presented their collaborative learning in their specific chosen format, and the positive impact that their work will have on student learning moving forward is going to be staggering and transformational. This year our general theme was under the umbrella of “Agency”, and giving our faculty and staff their own agency to choose areas of passion and interest around that particular theme made all of the difference, as it allowed for deep ownership and purposeful self direction from all involved.

It reminded me so much of our Lower School Inspiration Projects, a structure where each student gets to present their passions and inspirations on four occasions during the school year. With that structure we intentionally turn the learning over to the kids, and what they come up with and present to the community always leaves our heads spinning in awe. Well, the Festival of Learning last week had a very similar feel to those student showcases, as it really did turn into an Inspiration Project opportunity for adults, and just like with the kids, everyone left last week’s event inspired and proud to be a part of such a rich and committed learning community. 

I often speak about how the best professional development that schools can structure, suggest and support lies right at their fingertips within their own community. Faculty and staff teaching each other and learning from one another can be profound, empowering, and an inexpensive way to move a school forward in immeasurable ways. It takes strategic planning and structuring for sure, and a time and calendaring commitment, but wow is it ever worth it. I certainly see how sending educators off to great PD workshops and conferences and school visits can be super beneficial, and bringing in consultants can be transformative as well, but let’s not ever forget about what is lying right under our own noses…each other! 

Leveraging our internal learning community is always a great idea and the right approach, and it is something that schools should prioritize each and every year in my opinion. From what I just witnessed last week here with our faculty and staff, it was absolutely the right decision to allocate numerous faculty meeting times to this endeavor, and from what I saw everyone left the event feeling inspired, excited, and well, all the better for it. You see, everyone wins if we take the time to learn from each other, inspire each other and share our individual and collective expertise…especially our students! Thank you to all the groups who gave so much to this initiative, and please know that each presentation really did have a deep impact…so good! Have a great week ahead and hang on for the final sprint to the end everyone, and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about 

-Margaret J. Wheatley

Related Articles – 

All Things PLC

Learning Together Strategy

Professional Learning Networks

The Power of the PLN

Creating Effective Communities 

Inspiring Videos –

7th Grade Hero 

Inspiring Sports Stories

Longtime Gravedigger 

Harvard Law School 

A Lesson in Friendship

300 Posts – A Reflection

So this week is my 300th blog post, which is a bit staggering for me to think about honestly. I broke that number down the other day and realized that this number represents an average of 25 posts a school year for the past 14 years straight. I am left feeling super grateful that I have had the opportunity to share my thoughts on education from an international school perspective across 6 countries (heading to a 7th) and 4 continents, and after reflecting on this journey it is clear to me that the decision to hit send on my first ever blog post all those years ago was the best professional decision that I have ever made. I had fun recently reflecting on this journey and it’s no surprise that well over 200 of my posts have revolved around the themes of school culture and relationship building, which makes sense since these are the foundation of all good things in school in my opinion. 

I wanted to reiterate something that I shared 6 years ago, when I hit send on my 200th post, which for me is a message that still very much rings true. I shared back then that since I began blogging in August of 2010, I have changed and grown and learned so much. I always enjoy looking back at my older posts and reflecting on the things that I want to dig deeper into, and seeing clearly that in some cases my thoughts around a certain issue have evolved and even in some cases, changed.

If I’m being truthful though, these posts were, and still are, a selfish way of staying current with the ever changing educational landscape, and when I began as new (green and overwhelmed) Assistant Principal in Shanghai, I felt like I had so much to learn, and so much to prove. It was scary at first, and I remember being so nervous when I hit send on my first blog post to faculty, scared that people were going to disagree with me, or push back on how I viewed a particular topic in education. You see, putting yourself out there can be scary for sure, but here’s the thing, you’re not growing if you’re not opening yourself up to critical feedback, or sharing your thoughts about your philosophy, your approach, your expertise, and your practice.

It took me a long time to open myself up in this way, and to become vulnerable and exposed on a weekly basis, but you know what, as an educator it’s the only way forward. We all have so much to share, and so much to say, and it’s not okay to keep it all to ourselves. We can only get better as a profession if we share with one another, ask questions, continually learn, try to push the envelope, celebrate what’s working, and work hard to fix what’s not. The best part of my week is not the time spent thinking deeply about my topic, or the writing on Sunday mornings, it’s the responses and comments and feedback that I receive after I hit send. What I send out is nothing compared to what I get back. The counter arguments, disagreements, related articles and videos, and saw sharpening feedback that always leaves me learning, and questioning, and seeing a topic from all sorts of different perspectives. 

Sharing my thoughts over the years has made me a better leader and a better person, and it’s given me the courage to admit that there is so much in education that I still need to learn, and to get better at. Without a doubt, blogging has been an incredible leadership journey for me over the past 14 years…truly.

Anyway, 300 posts are a lot of posts, and more than anything I just want to say thank you to Brittany Betts and the team at The International Educator (TIE Online), and specifically TIE Blog for providing a platform for me, and for all of us to learn from one another across this international school world…what a gift! I also want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read, comment, share or provide feedback to me over the years…you have made me better in so many ways. I am grateful, thank you. Okay, time to start thinking about post number 301 so enjoy the week ahead and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quotes of the Week…

Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive – Brene Brown

Related Articles…

Showing Vulnerability 

Asking for Feedback 

Learning From Others  

Benefits of Writing Regularly 

Celebrating Milestones 

Inspiring Videos…

A Real Life Queen’s Gambit

A Secret Donor

10 Things That Made us Smile

TED Talk –

The Habit That Can Improve Your Career


So I just finished reading a book that I have been dying to get my hands on, and honestly, it was better than I had hoped for. It connected so magically to our lives as educators, and to the opportunity that we have every single day to be astonished, mesmerized, and left in an authentic state of wonder and awe by the beauty, growth and learning of our students. The book is simply titled, Awe, by Dacher Keltner, who first inspired me when delivering a keynote presentation at the 2020 AAIE conference in New York City. I have been regularly following his work at the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley since then, and so much of what he researches and shares directly relates to our personal and professional lives as we strive to be our best selves for our kids and for each other. Anyway, if you are interested in learning more about this elusive and curious emotion, and how you can purposely bring a little more AWE into your own lives, then get reading…it’s an inspiring read that will profoundly connect you to the world around you, as well as to the people and students in your lives.

I remember a moment of awe that happened to me not that long ago, which left me wide-eyed, emotional, and super, super grateful. I had stopped by an early childhood classroom one afternoon and decided to sit down to watch. The kids were all seated on the rug and counting out loud the number of days that we had been in school so far this year, and of course it was super cute. As part of the lesson they were also learning how to draw the numbers on small square pieces of blue paper, and one lucky child was asked to put their own number drawing up on the display calendar for the class to see. Well, this little one was struggling a bit to form the numbers with her pencil so one of the teachers brought her to the table where I was sitting to practice…she was very excited, and so was I.

The child tried a couple of times to write out the number 24 but it simply came out as squiggly little lines, so the teacher held the child’s hand and helped her write it down. After a few of these practices together, the teacher then let the child trace the numbers individually several times on her own until she felt confident enough to try again without any help. The whole time I was watching, I was amazed by the sheer determination and tremendous effort on the part of the child to learn, and I was inspired by the teacher’s encouragement and willingness to let the child struggle without coming to her rescue. Every few seconds the child would stop and look up at me and smile, giving me a look of “I got this” before putting her head back down and getting on with the learning at hand. Finally, after many tries and lots of struggle, the child took a brand new piece of paper and drew a beautiful number 24 on the little blue square, and then joyfully ran to hang it up on the chart for all the world to see…I sat there in awe of this child’s perseverance, beauty and inherent desire to learn.

I was a little overwhelmed in that moment honestly, which is what the emotion of awe does to us, not just by the natural beauty of a young child so authentically learning, but also by how fortunate I am to be an educator. To be able to witness moments like that in my life is such a tremendous gift, and as I eventually composed myself I felt my heart swelling up with joy knowing that magical, awe-inspiring moments like these are available to me behind each and every classroom door, each and every day of the year. Keltner defines “awe” as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world”, and if you think about it, as educators we are exposed to these moments and feelings  all the time…how lucky are we? Okay, pick up this book right away and let it inspire you to seek out those moments of awe more intentionally…we all need a little bit more awe in our lives. Have a wonderful week ahead and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper – W.B. Yeats

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Mining For Gold

So over the past couple of weeks I have been dealing with, working through, and supporting people with some really difficult issues, both personally and professionally, and the heaviness of these recent issues inevitably started to send my mood into a downward spiral. Finally, late last week this downward mood change forced me to stop, slow down, and reflect on how important it is to focus, intentionally, on life’s small and beautiful moments, which for me is an important exercise in ensuring my day to day happiness. You see, we all have bad days now and then, and we all have tough weeks and difficult stretches at one time or another, and if we’re not careful then this collection of difficult experiences can creep into how we view our lives, our jobs, how we treat and respond to other people, and how we see the world. It’s so easy to let the negative moments frame your days, and it can happen gradually, without you even knowing that your energy for yourself and for others has changed.These difficult recent weeks also happened to coincide with the anniversary of the passing of a very good friend of mine, but interestingly enough that didn’t add to my days in a negative way, it was actually what inspired me to get through these weeks in the right frame of mind.

        This very good friend of mine was amazing at framing and re-framing any experience in a way that teased out the good, and he was a master at turning any negative experience into a positive or an opportunity. He used to say that there is always a best part to a bad day, and it’s just a matter of focusing on that particular piece when things get tough. He used to call this practice, “mining for gold”, and it became a daily habit in his life. It’s funny how easy it is to get caught up in the day to day stresses of our lives, and how easy it is to go days and days without slowing down and embracing life’s small and beautiful moments that are invisibly, and not so invisibly, bombarding us at every turn. It’s hard to find the time and the strength to reframe negative experiences into positive ones, and it’s hard to train your mind to be present and open enough to allow these special moments to change your day for the better….here’s a good example of how one small moment absolutely reframed an emotionally trying day, and how the best part of a bad day won out for me in the end.

        One day not that long ago I was hit with three issues that kind of threw me for a loop…one was a very difficult issue with a student’s health and safety, one was a tough conversation with a friend and colleague of mine, and the final one revolved around some residual feelings that resurfaced regarding a personal incident that had caught me off guard. Anyway, I came home that day feeling down and in a pretty negative space. I decided that the best thing to do was to head back to the gym to try and run it all off. It was just as I was leaving home when this small and magical moment reframed my outlook on life and snapped me back into focusing on what’s truly important. As I was walking out the door my beautiful son, Max, unexpectedly decided to come with me to play basketball, which is unusual for him, and the second we stepped out onto the driveway he grabbed me and gave me a great big hug! Now, that may not seem like much, but for an 18 year old who is at the age where Dad embarrasses him with any sign of public affection, this was huge! All my negative thoughts and foolish distractions melted away during that connection, and with Max’s help, I found my smile again.

         Small and beautiful moments are all around us every second of every day, and if we can purposely focus on these and seek them out then a bad day won’t seem nearly as bad. Look around you as you begin this week and notice the things that can help reframe a negative experience and put it into perspective. We’re all going to feel stress in our jobs, and we’re all going to have those days, but by focusing on the best part of a bad day, or when you purposely start mining for gold, you’ll find that there is beauty all around us in our lives if we only embrace the opportunity to let it in. With that in mind, I can honestly look back at my difficult recent weeks and see that they really weren’t that bad after all…there were difficult moments for sure, but way more incredible ones that I just hadn’t given the attention that they absolutely deserved. That “gold” is just sitting there waiting to be discovered…go get it! Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week….

Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things – Kurt Vonnegut

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Our Greatest Teachers

So over the past couple of years we have made it a top priority to ensure that students have a stronger and more impactful voice in all aspects of our school organization. One example of this priority can be seen in our current curriculum committee structure. Several students are now an integral part of this committee and honestly, it might just be one of the best decisions that we have ever made as a leadership team. Listening to students engage in really important conversations around assessment, growth and feedback models, and student agency has already had a transformative effect on us as a team and community, and I always leave these conversations impressed, inspired, and with a much richer perspective on what is actually best for students and student learning. 
The latest curriculum committee meeting last week reminded me of a post that I shared six or seven years ago, where I talked about the beauty and wisdom of our students. You see, If you really think about it, it’s children (from 3 year olds up until our graduating seniors) who are in many ways our greatest teachers. As educators, most of us got into this amazing profession because we wanted to make a positive impact in the lives of kids. We wanted to play our part in shaping and inspiring their individual futures, as well as the future of our world, and you know what, we do this everyday. Teachers work incredibly hard and they are easily my favorite adults on the planet, and they deserve to be recognized way more than they are but here’s the thing…it might just be that the best part of being a teacher, and the true secret behind why we love it so much is that we probably get more out of this vocation then we put in. Here’s what I mean…
When I think about how much I’ve given to kids over the past 25 years or so, all over the world and all across the grade levels, I honestly don’t think it adds up to what my students have given to me. If I think of all the incredible life lessons that I’ve learned over the years, and all of the magical moments in my life, and the best belly laughs, and the person and leader and father that I’ve become, it’s mostly because of what I’ve learned from children. I’ve learned from their innocence and honesty, their willingness to shake off mistakes and to try again, their ten-foot tall and bulletproof approach to life, their ability to live truly in the present, and how they absolutely exude and represent all of the things that go into making a beautiful life…it’s all just so magical. Educators get a chance to learn from kids every second of every day, and this learning inspires us to live this way ourselves, and to be this way for others…it absolutely has done that for me over the years. 
I don’t think we recognize enough the immense and immeasurable and beautiful contribution that children give to our lives, and the positive effect that they have on us as adults. I think we all too often see ourselves as the keepers of the knowledge, and the ones who are going to make everything okay in the world but we might just be getting this backwards.With that in mind, I think that every school in the world should plan a student appreciation week for next year, much like our annual teacher appreciation weeks, where we spend 5 days (not nearly enough) doing nothing but thanking, celebrating, and recognizing all that our students give to us! It wouldn’t be hard at all to plan, and it would be super fun to get creative with it, but the message would be the right one to send. Field days, pizza parties, teachers serving kids breakfast and lunch, giving kids loads of time to research and share their passions during the day, and a beginning and end of the week assembly to bookend this incredible week…it’s crazy that we haven’t been doing this all along.
So, as we’re planning next year’s calendar, let’s take a second to think about who really and truly needs to be celebrated in our communities…the kids! Just like I suggested several years ago, let’s set aside some time to give them what they deserve. We don’t do this enough and there’s no better time to start than now. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week…
Education is not just about putting information in. We have forgotten that it, in fact, begins in the child’s heart – Vince Gowmon

Inspiring Videos –
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What to Read in 2023

So it’s that time of the year again when I get to order books for my birthday, which is my favorite gift ever because it keeps on giving for months and months and months. The deal is that I have to finish reading all of last year’s books before I get to order new ones, and I’m excited about ordering the list below in the next few days.
As usual, I’m encouraging you all to take a few minutes this week to look through these titles, and to order one (or five) that resonate with you…or, do your own research and share those titles with me so I can add them to this list. The suggestions below revolve around the themes of education, leadership, creativity, innovation and culture building, with an overarching focus on becoming a better person and educator for our world. 
Anyway, take a look and happy reading in 2023! Enjoy the week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

The Half Known Life – Pico Iyer
Attention Span – Gloria Mark
A Creative Act – Rick Rubin
Fool Proof – Tess Wilkinson-Ryan
Psych – Paul Bloom
Magic Words – Jonah Berger
The Real Work – Adam Gopnik
Awaken Your Genius – Ozan Varol
Anatomy of a Breakthrough – Adam Alter
The Perfection Trap – Thomas Curran
Disruptable – Allan Young
The Good Life – Robert Waldinger, Marc Schulz