EduQuote of the Week | 4.29.19

Teaching is a dialogue, and it is through the process of engaging students that we see ideas taken from the abstract and played out in concrete visual form. Students teach us about creativity through their personal responses to the limits we set, thus proving that reason and intuition are not antithetical. Their works give aesthetic visibility to mathematical ideas.

Martha Bolles

Teach & Serve IV, No. 38 | We Are Not as Special as We Think We Are

Teach & Serve IV, No. 38

We Are Not as Special as We Think We Are

April 24, 2019

Sometimes, in our recognition of our differences and in our celebration of what makes us special, we forget two important truths: there are thousands of schools doing very much the same work we are and we can learn an awful lot from those schools.

Society values things that are unique. We place great price on “one-of-a-kind” items. We pay more for signed memorabilia. We often seek out the “variant edition,” something simply different from the norm and, therefore, somehow more coveted.

Society values things that are unique.

Is it any surprise, then, that many educational leaders and teachers and students believe their school is better when it is different from most if not all others? Is it any surprise that many strive to make their schools different?

We want our schools to be unique places, with cultures endemic to who we are and who we want to be. We want our schools to be special, to have feel and a flavor, to stand out. We want our schools to be different.

There is much to praise about this desire, and much to value.

However, we ought to be careful to avoid a significant pitfall here.

Sometimes, in our recognition of our differences and in our celebration of what makes us special, we forget two important truths: there are thousands of schools doing very much the same work we are and we can learn an awful lot from those schools.

When we tell ourselves how different we are, we can forget that there are others ministering to students, in most cases, literally just around the corner. When we rely on how special we are, we can forget that we have so much to learn from others walking the same paths we walk.

We know that teaching our students collaboration is critical to their success. How can we collaborate with others if we believe we are so unlike them (and, often we believe we are so superior to them) that they have nothing to teach us and that we are speaking an entirely different language than they? How can we learn if we decide we have no one from whom we can learn?

Innovation, yes. Isolation, no.

We are engaged in the work of education and we look to make ourselves better at every turn, we strive for continuous improvement and a growth mindset, but, let us be honest, we are not as special as we think we are and we would be well served to seek out those doing the same work we are both to learn from them and to share what we know.

In that manner, we improve and so do they.


EduQuote of the Week | 4.22.19

I’ll always choose a teacher with enthusiasm and weak technique over one with brilliant strategies but who is just punching the clock. Why? An enthusiastic teacher can learn technique, but it is almost impossible to light a fire inside the charred heart of a burned-out teacher.

Dave Burgess

Teach & Serve IV, No. 37 | Secrets, Secrets

Teach & Serve IV, No. 37

Secrets, Secrets

April 17, 2019

If you say or write the word “confidential” without asking, each-and-every-time, “whose interest am I protecting by walling off this knowledge?” you are doing it wrong.

There is power in knowing something other people do not know. There is magic in holding onto a secret, in deciding when to tell, and who to tell. There is a draw to being in the know, in the loop, in the inner circle.

We have all felt it, right? At one point or another, we have had those moments when we found something out before most others did or when we heard the story prior to it getting out.

What is it about being in on the secret that is so enticing?

In school settings, there are hundreds of examples – daily – of things that not everyone needs to know. There are situations with students that should not be revealed. There are personnel issues that should not be broadly discussed. There are decisions that should not be shared too soon. In school settings, there are good reasons to maintain confidentiality – some of them legal, some of them moral and some of them valid.

But not all.

Beware of the word “confidential.” Use it sparingly. Use it wisely. Use it only when you must use it.  If you say or write the word “confidential” without asking, each-and-every-time, “whose interest am I protecting by walling off this knowledge?” you are doing it wrong.

Schools work best when knowledge is shared. That is kind of what they are there for, right? Schools work best when everyone knows as much as they possibly can know. How many times are we going to have to be confronted by stories of school personnel that had knowledge of warning signs about students that they did not share until tragedy struck? How many times are we going to see reports of colleagues suspecting something was not quite right with a co-worker and they did not tell anyway until it was too late? How many times before we get it?

When I was a dean of students and, later, an assistant principal and a now a principal, there were and are many things I did not and do not broadly share. Further, there were and are things that I was and am constrained to not share at all, by law and by valid concerns about confidentiality. There were and are things I did not and do not share because of potential damage of all kinds.

Yes, there are things that should not and cannot be shared.

But these things are few. And these things are far between.

When the default position of a teacher or administrator when confronted by sensitive information is to hold all those cards as closely to the vest as possible, to prize secrets and horde them, to equate knowledge of what is going on in people’s lives with power, something is very, very wrong.

The work of an educational professional is not to work to keep things secret, the work is to bring things to light and understanding.

Those teachers and administrators that get a charge from knowing more than everyone else have forgotten that and they are doing something foolish and potentially dangerous – foolish because, at some point, keeping secrets for no reason undercuts rather than strengthens moral authority and dangerous because, inevitably, things go wrong, and things get out. Those teachers and administrators that repeat – as a mantra – “I can’t tell you that. It’s confidential.” are not doing themselves or anyone else any favors.

Teachers and administrators, here is the thing: what must be, by law, confidential, must be confidential. Period. If it is illegal to share, do not share. If you do not know the law, learn it.

When you know what actually must be kept confidential, file it and share everything else.


Share as much knowledge about students as possible. Share as much about staff as appropriate. Share as much about the state of the school as you can. Create an environment where sharing is the default position.

Beware the word “confidential” and only use it when you must.

EduQuote of the Week | 4.15.19

If you look at your class as anything less than life or death, you do not deserve to be a teacher. If you walk into the classroom ten minutes late, week after week, you need to resign. You wouldn’t come in late on your job all the time, but I venture to guess that some of you do it on Sunday.

Bill Wilson

Teach & Serve IV, No. 36 | Good Schools | Great Schools

Teach & Serve IV, No. 36

Good Schools | Great Schools

April 10, 2019

I imagine Great Schools that passionately posit hard questions. I imagine Great Schools that redefine themselves as a matter of course. I imagine Great Schools that encourage creative dissent.

It has been a few years since I first wrote on this topic. It seems a good one to revisit periodically.

Since the first day a grizzled, experienced and very, very veteran high school administrator shared with me his Good School/Great School Paradigm I have been fascinated by it, taken with it and convinced of its pure truth. Pulling me aside during an accreditation visit on which we were both visiting team members, this wise administrator for whom I did not work told me he believed that Good Schools are destined to remain Good Schools because they think they are great. He said that Great Schools are great because they ask themselves: “what can we do to be better?”

I am in love with this conclusion and I think it is absolutely spot on. The idea that Great Schools are consistently, constantly and consciously about improvement, about getting better, about changing is such a challenging, life renewing and exciting concept.

I imagine Great Schools that passionately posit hard questions. I imagine Great Schools that redefine themselves as a matter of course. I imagine Great Schools that encourage creative dissent.

But, here is the rub. Here is the problem with being great. It takes work. It takes bravery. It takes consistent drive from leadership that is not afraid to have questions asked – and answered – about the health and life of the school.

Great requires energy and dynamism.

No educational leader sets out to have a good school. Likewise, no leader decides it is acceptable for her school to be lifeless. Rather, leadership builds staffs primarily upon very good hires. Leadership institutes solid programs fostering good curriculum, good teaching and good discipline. Markers of success (enrollment, retention, standardized test scores, etc.) are met. The conclusion, then, is this all works. We know what we are doing. Why change? And then ways of doing things become locked in because we have  had success doing things this way and, really, is not this the way we have always done things? Should we not keep doing them this way? Why mess with success?


Because good hires become tenured. Good hires become tired. Good hires become mediocre when they are not challenged. Leadership becomes insular when it is not pressed. Energy wanes.

Good Schools are like the teacher you had when you were in high school: he was engaging and energetic when you were in his classroom 15 or 20 years ago; he is still doing the exact same things and still being praised for doing so. “Everyone loves his class!” People say. “He really knows his stuff!” People rave.

But is anyone asking why he is still using the overheads he made during his first year of teaching instead of his digital projector, instead of connecting students to materials on their devices, instead of anything new? Is anyone asking why he has not gone to any significant professional development in years? Is anyone asking why he insists on keeping the traditional text he has always used instead of moving to an electronic one?

No. He’s good so he is all good.

Good Schools are just like this and, unless they start missing those markers of success, what is the motivation to change?

Good Schools often have good facilities, good teachers, good kids, good grades, good enrollment, good, good, good… what they do not have is life. Good Schools do not change. They do not want to. Because they do not change, they are locked into what they are, locked into what they do.

Locked in.

They are stuck in a place and a time and cannot even see the rest of the world passing them by because, of course, they are good. How do they know? They have told themselves they are. They have convinced themselves (because they have the high numbers and the nice facilities and the good kids and the credentialed teachers) that they are great.

But they are not great. They are dead, and they do not look to come back to life.

And they can stay dead and stagnant for a very, very long time. They can – and will – stay dead and stagnant until they are forced to change. They will actively protect their stagnation because their leadership has let them down. Their leadership has discouraged hard questions, resisted redefinition, and shut out creative dissent.

They are Good. And they are dead. Until there is a sea change, they will never, ever be Great.

“Good Schools think they’re great. Great Schools ask: ‘what can we do to be better?’”

What can we do, indeed?


A Journal of the First Year | Seventeen

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04 | April | 2019

It is my intention to share some reflections on the highs, the lows, the excitement, the routine, the successes, the failures and everything in between which I experience the course of the next 10 – 12 months, my first months as a full-time principal of a high school.  Writing this journal will help me grow. Reading it may make you laugh… 

I was reminded this week by a person I have very much come to respect during my first year at Mullen High School and I person that I already consider a friend about what this job of being a principal really is. What I mean to suggest is that, if I was stuck in an elevator and I had to convey what the work entails, I am all but certain I could not come up with a better description than the one my friend offered.

I have come to understand and to live much of this work in a real way this year. I have been blessed to do the job I’ve dreamed of doing. I’ve had a terrific time. Terrific.

And I know that this work is about the kids. Our journey as educators is about students. there is no doubt at all about this.

But my work? My job, my primary job as principal? My friend nailed it.

Addressing a group of faculty and staff in general and me in particular during an professional development session earlier this week he said (and I paraphrase a bit here): “Jeff, WE are the job.”

The faculty and the staff are the job.

After months in this work and can conclude two things. The faculty and staff AREthe job. And this is a job I love.

Teach & Serve IV, No. 35 | Dying is Easy; Living Is Harder

Teach & Serve IV, No. 35

Dying is Easy; Living Is Harder

April 3, 2019

Before we die on any hill – we should consider what living on the hill would mean.

There are moments in our careers which we believe force us to take stands. There are incidents that challenge us – our morality, our convictions, our constitutions. There are crucible moments which, when we recognize them, inspire us and galvanize us. When we confront these incidents, we can feel like this is the time, this is our time, this is when we say who we are and command respect from those around us. These are the moments when we can think we must define who we are.

These are the proverbial hills on which we choose to proverbially die.

And there are surely times when dying on hills is the absolute right thing to do.

Often when we die on a hill, we do so in spectacular fashion. Dying on a hill is frequently associated with burning bridges, with sowing salt in the land, with backing ourselves into certain and absolute corners. Dying for our causes is a last move. There is no coming back from it.

But we ought to be careful. When we are engaged so vitally as to die on a hill, our blinders can pop up.

Before we die on any hill – we should consider what living on the hill would mean.

Living on the hill, fighting the battle, continuing engagement, winning detractors to our side, these things are difficult. They are draining. They require humility and perseverance. But, in these circumstances, when we have determined that the issue at hand is so critical, dying for it seems the right thing to do. It is that important. We are willing to die for it.

Should we not, then, be equally willing to live for it?  

Dying for something is a powerful statement, but it is also a final one. You do not get to influence change and debate when you are dead.

In the brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda musical Hamilton, George Washington tells Alexander Hamilton “dying is easy, son, living is harder.”

No doubt.

EduQuote of the Week | 4.1.19

Never compare one student’s test score to another’s. Always measure a child’s progress against her past performance. There will always be a better reader, mathematician, or baseball player. Our goal is to help each student become as special as she can be as an individual–not to be more special than the kid sitting next to her.

Rafe Esquith