Monday, December 24, 2012

Administrative Review of Clark W. Griswold

Warner Bros
Administrator Summative Evaluation 1989
Clark W. Griswold Jr.

This concludes a successful year from Mr. Griswold as leader of the Griswold family.  After a very rocky start to your leadership career that included a trip to an amusement park that was not open and a vacation to Europe that ended in your family being part of international espionage, I was hoping the evaluation would trend in an upward direction as you remained closer to home.  The evaluation process takes into account activities surrounding an 8 day vacation including informal meetings with CEOs, sledding, hanging of Christmas lights, teambuilding, rodent extermination, and relations with local law enforcement. The summative evaluation is divided into Achievement, Goal Attainment, and Future Development. 

Achievement is detailed in data.  During the 8 day stay at the house located next to Sergeant Roger Murtaugh of Lethal Weapon fame, the following data was evident:
13-10 visitors and 3 family members.  Though Snots the dog was not in the house for the entire visit, he did add stress to the family situation and that is noted in the data.  The acquisition of available spaces to house those individuals was an outstanding use of resource.  I commend the risk taking of bringing that many people in to the house for holiday festivities.

62 seconds-The amount of time it took you to get down the hill, and subsequently across town, with a sled using a new silicon based kitchen lubricant that created a surface 500 times more slippery than the average spray.  Your zest for life and the danger it can incur leads me to believe that you will do anything to impress others…including trying to set a new land speed record.

2-Most families only have to deal with the burden of one Christmas tree that dries out.  Due to the inadvertent fire created by Uncle Louis, you were forced to think on your feet and develop a plan to acquire another tree.  Though I believe that taking a chainsaw to your neighbor’s yard is illegal, I appreciate the gumption you showed to ensure that your family had a tree for the holiday season.

25,000- Two hundred and fifty strands of lights each containing 100 individual bulbs per strand for a grand total of 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights…and you checked every one.  Well done, Clark…though the city had to use an auxiliary generator to balance the power loss, the house looked fantastic.

Goal Attainment
As we began our discussions regarding your intentions for the coming year, you made it apparent to me that the acquisition of a swimming pool for the family was your ultimate goal.  I cautioned you that though the company was doing well, counting on a Christmas bonus from CEO Frank Shirley was not the proverbial slam dunk.  We all knew that Mr. Shirley’s history did not lend itself to a giving nature dating back to his running the Caddyshack at Bushwood Country Club in 1980.  Your SMART goal read as follows… “Through completion of the Non Nutritive cereal varnish project I will allocate enough funding to install an outdoor swimming pool in a city that only has 2 months of hot weather”.  

The action plan was as follows:

Creation of Crunch Enhancer-a semi permeable, non-osmotic substance that coats and seals the flake, preventing the milk from penetrating it

Present findings to Frank Shirley to enhance probability of Christmas Bonus

Leverage all family funds to ensure ground breaking of swimming pool could happen as soon as the ground thaws.

Though the creation of the crunch enhancer was solid and the information led to windfalls of financial gain to the company, the bonus of a year-long jelly of the month subscription did not help your financial situation. 

Summative and Future Development
As a leader you need to curb the enthusiasm of the project to meet the financial and emotional needs of your clients…in this case, your family.  Setting your family up for financial success is essential in a leadership role.  I think we both know that your son Rusty won’t go on to be a big TV star in a show that follows the hilarious antics of physicists in California and your daughter Audrey certainly won’t be an Oscar nominated actress in an Oscar nominated movie.  Leadership in helping them to be successful in the future should be at the forefront of your growth moving forward.  I commend your ability to handle crisis throughout the evaluation process.  In a short amount of time you were able to keep everyone dancing and singing Christmas carols (or the star spangled banner) through the loss of pets, rodent intruders, uninvited guests, your current financial situation, and a kidnapping.  Please take the suggestions from this evaluation and use them to develop and implement a goal that improves your ability to lead in an ever changing time. 
Thank you for a solid year, Clark.  I look forward to what the future will hold for you…maybe a trip to Vegas!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Power of Parent Engagement

My parents used to make 2 appointments for me at the for the cleaning and one to get the inevitable cavities filled. It was easier to schedule both at the same time knowing they would happen. Needless to say, every time I have walked into a dentist's office since I was a kid is fraught with reminiscent feelings of early morning appointments that ended in 1 side of my face being numb and food tasting like metal for a day. This is not a Seinfeld "Anti-Dentite" rant (I’ll save that for a down month in the summer), but there is a parallel here. Though the work done on my teeth covered the cost of annual Country Club membership dues, and perhaps the purchase of a small island, I would rather focus on the connection to schools.

My guess is that people who worked in that dentist's office don't have the same recollection of my visits. The hope for me is that walking into our school does not feel like a long walk to the dentist chair.  The reality is that everyone had a different experience in school and, like it or not, those experiences shape the attitude that our public has when it walks through the hallways.  I love walking into our school every day, but I have to understand that a number of people do not have that same sense of comfort. Administrators, think about the makeup of your staff.  Likely, the majority of teachers in your building had a relatively good experience in school.  People don’t choose to spend their careers in a place where they had a bad experience. This is why dental school and miniature pony ranch hand were never an option for me!  The experiences that our staff members had in school are not always the same as those of the parents who send their most prized possessions to us every day. 

First Contact
There are feelings in schools…we have all had them.  When visiting other schools I think you can get a pretty good indication of the environment upon entering the building.  The first contact…from secretarial help, to seeing a teacher in the hallway, to a custodian in the entrance can shape the relationships we have with parents.  We need to trust our staff to engage the public when they enter our building.  As leaders in the building it is imperative that we relay the importance of the first contact with parents to our staff members.  When parents enter the building the default feeling can be how they felt as a kid.  If our first contact is welcoming, we can make them feel like they are a part of something bigger than dropping off in the morning and picking up at the end of the day.
There are a number of resources out there for schools looking to engage parents in more inviting manner.  Joe Mazza ( moderates a weekly chat tagged #ptchat on Wednesdays at 9 PM EST.  This has been an outstanding resource for finding a number of ideas to help your staff engage parents.  The questions posed are challenging and stretch the thinking of those involved.  Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell ( seems to have unlimited parenting suggestions and #Parenting News Daily has been an amazing resource that I share with our staff often.  Jerry Blumengarten ( has a fantastic Parent Resource page on his website that can be found at  Larry Ferlazzo ( just posted his best parent educational blog posts from 2012…wonderful perspectives from a number of people across the world.  Part 1 found at and Part 2 at

Beyond First Contact, I offer 2 other suggestions…Call and ListenCall…I ask our staff to call parents within three days of the start of the year.  The first call to parents can be short, but has to be positive.  I also ask our administrators to make positive calls (we set the goal at 4 per week) to parents regarding ANYTHING a student is doing well at school.  The power of these calls has been fantastic.  The 4 calls take an hour every week…at the most.  The idea of first contact doesn’t need to be relegated to the physical school building.  If our first contact is positive, regardless of venue, we will be in a better spot. Listen…behind the volume and vigor of parent complaints is a message.  Sometimes we can’t find the message through the tone, but it is there and is always an opportunity to get better.  I am not advocating that we put all suggestions or complaints into action…but we do need to hear where they are coming from and honestly reflect on what we are doing.

Parents come in with a wide range of feelings regarding schools.  Some good, some great, some terrible…and we have to embrace all of those.  I don’t know if a dentist calling me or making me feel welcome when I got to the office would have offset the drilling, needles, and inevitable numbing of the face…but it couldn't hurt!  Sometimes thinking that “it couldn't hurt” is the start we need.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Power of Vision

Add Indianapolis Colt  head coach Chuck Pagano to the list of those who inspire.  All it took for me was 102 seconds.  In that time I was able to see what others have probably known for years…the guy just gets it.  Chuck Pagano is currently undergoing treatment for Leukemia.  A few weeks ago he exited the hospital and headed to the stadium.  He got a chance to see a group he has never coached in a regular season game live up to how he will always lead.  After a big win against the Miami Dolphins, Coach Pagano addressed his team:

Live in Circumstance or Live in Vision

It’s easy to get caught up in circumstance.  The budget doesn’t look like you want it to, you have an angry parent in your office (that happens to be right), and work piles up but you know that getting into classrooms is the right thing to do.  Letting circumstance drive your day never allows for vision to take hold.  There are often times when I feel like I don’t know what my day will look like until I enter the doors.  The road to success is muddled with noses to wipe, shoes to tie, calls to make, courageous conversations to have with staff, and a nap between evening and morning that some like to call “a good night’s sleep”.  As administrators we try to tell our groups to be proactive vs. reactive.  We want to get out in front of a group or a student who may need help down the road.  We offer suggestions and set our environments up for student success.  However, sometimes I feel like I’m just trying to catch up.

Living in circumstance tends to take all of your power away.  Emotionally, it is easy to get lost in the everyday happenings of a school. I have asked all staff members to sit down and identify 3 targets that when done will make them feel like they can walk out the door and be successful at the end of the day. 

Sanfelippo’s 3 Essential Targets

1.       Every Staff Member…Every Day

2.       Follow Through on All Issues

3.       Make a New Kid Connection

If we can look at these three targets at the end of the day and say we fulfilled them we should hold our heads high and feel like the days has been successful.  The crazy thing about education and educators is we don’t have the opportunity to see the fruit of the labor on a daily basis.  The impact we can have on kids may not show up for weeks, months, or years. It may only come up in a conversation once they have moved on.  I can recall countless conversations with kids who I have coached or taught that start with… “Remember when we…”

Living in a vision, both individually and from a team perspective helps us all to stay on track and stay true to what we all believe.  When we live in a vision we are able to deal with circumstance, but not be consumed in it. That vision can lead to a feeling of accomplishment as opposed to being overwhelmed.  Set your essential targets, post them by your desk, and look at them on your way out the door…and never forget that the circumstance you deal with on a daily basis won’t  define you if you let the vision of where you want to go drive your perspective.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Power of Conversation

November’s edition of Educational Leadership is dedicated to teacher evaluation.  The work of Marzano, Danielson, Frontier, and Mielke fueled the discussion about teacher improvement.  Regardless of model, the emphasis of the research was on the conversations with teachers about instructional improvement.  It’s interesting how we talk and talk about conversations, but they tend to be one of the first things that get pushed to the side when the day takes over.  As an administrator, I think the conversation lost its rightful place in the everyday fabric of what our job should entail.  I think the reality of the out of control student, the parent concern, and the paperwork took over the places where conversations should reside.  This year the power of conversation took center stage in our new observation model.
Most school days consist of 6.5 hours of instruction. Multiply that by 180 days and there are potentially 1,170 hours to coach our staff.  However, the model we have worked with in the past placed 2-4 formal observations of 30 minutes each into the fold.  Essentially, we are basing our decision on whether or not teachers are good at their jobs on 2 hours of a 1,170 hour school year, which translates to less than 1% of said school year.  One of my staff members tells a story of when he was doing his student teaching and his cooperating teacher had an “observation lesson” that he taught every year when his principal came into the room.  Historically, the teacher evaluation and observation model didn’t lend itself to coaching teachers to impact their professional growth.  We were “catching” teachers.  Either we caught them doing well for a 30 minute period or we caught them doing poorly for the same period of time.  In many districts this happens every third year!  We need to get away from having a process happen “to” our staff and move to a process that works “with” our staff.
With the help of Paul Mielke, we changed the model this year and the results have led us closer to a place where teacher improvement and overall staff growth is a reality instead of something that we all say needs to improve.  Our framework institutes a number of walkthrough observations, which have become much more popular in schools.  However, I think more of the same doesn’t make any better, it just makes more frequent.  Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.  So, adding more observations with no conversation just perpetuates the problem. 

As indicated in the research, the real jewel in this model for me has been the conversations.  We have our staffs at each school configured into 3 groups.  Each group is on a 2 week walkthrough schedule that continues after all groups have cycled through.  During the 2 week session we meet multiple times and discuss what great instruction looks like, specific to a component in Danielson’s model.  We learn through conversation and the discussions we have had over the course of the last 6 weeks have been outstanding.  I see staff members who feel more comfortable in a smaller group setting speaking up and contributing, I hear about conversations happening outside of our meetings between colleagues that focus on teacher growth, and when people stop into my office for a piece of candy inevitably our conversation leads to instruction. Our administration, consisting of three principals, recently went over 200 walkthroughs since the beginning of the year.  We have committed ourselves to 10 walkthroughs for each staff member through the first semester.  Again, the number of observations we take on is only a piece of the puzzle.  Getting into the classroom and focusing on instruction has helped drive the conversation about deliberate practice to improve teacher growth.  Our administration meetings can touch on logistical items and then really dive into how we are coaching exceptional practice.  Our teachers need that…and they deserve it.
I am so proud of my group…something I talk a lot about on this blog.  They are wonderful teachers, but wonderful teachers deserve to grow as well.  Telling someone they are good at their job twice a year never moves them forward.  Everyone needs coaching on some level and this format gives us that opportunity.  The knowledge that their current performance in the classroom is the baseline and the sky is the limit for them is a feeling that is hard to convey in written terms, but is so empowering when I see it everyday.  It is extremely hard to get into classrooms and make time for conversations regarding practice when the everyday minutia of what happens in schools takes over.  However, we owe it to our staff members to be there for them to grow…and that should start with a conversation.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Power of Bow Ties and Cell Phones

As I walked into the Junior English class to share my views on research I became quite aware of 2 things…first, it was Bow Tie Tuesday and the farther away from the elementary school and closer to the high school you get the “cool” of the bow tie tends to wane.  Second, apparently high school kids are not truly interested in the exciting world of implementation systems and why schools continue to struggle with getting buy in from staff members as they roll out programming.  Riveting stuff to me!!!!  I told them to give me 4 minutes to explain my dissertation research, 11 minutes to interact with an activity, and the rest of the time was theirs because talking about research is not nearly as productive as actually engaging in the process.  After 4 minutes I thought they were as confused as could be…the next thing that happened confused them even more than talking about Schlechty’s trailblazers, pioneers, settlers, stay-at-homes, and saboteurs and which of the roles in school has the most influence on the staff as a whole.  I asked them to take out their cell phones.  They looked at each other as if I was going to pass around a box and collect them!  Some even claimed they didn’t have them until we started the activity…just to make sure I wasn’t going to take them. I had a few questions set up on Poll Everywhere, which is a great resource for instant feedback.  It was interesting that the conversation turned from research to use of cell phones.  After the initial shock of being able to use the phone and then the obvious attempt to show their personality with the :) post or the “I don’t get it” that shows up on the projector it was nice to use a vehicle that they interact with so often outside of school in the classroom.  I think we have to trust kids to make good decisions and give them the opportunity to do so.  Trust does need to be earned but sometimes I think we want kids to climb an enormous mountain before we trust them as opposed to giving them the opportunity right away.  I am encouraged that some of the high school staff has started using mobile technology more (Remind101 has been great to get information to kids via text) and trying to break down the barriers of their world and our world…or at least dipping the proverbial toe in the water.  We’re not close yet, but the willingness to change is always the first step in the implementation system (or at least that’s what the kids should know after the awe inspiring 4 minutes of Sanfelippo dissertation discussion!!)

I walked out with a few thoughts…

1.        Instead of students earning our trust, how do we earn theirs?

2.        What do I need to do as an administrator to make my staff feel like they can take risks to use more mobile technology in classrooms?

3.       How do I get Bow Tie Tuesday to translate to the high school? Ha!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Educator Effectiveness Training

Did you ever attend one of those training sessions where you walked out and thought… “Yes!!!!!!!”?  That happened to a group of our teachers last week when attending the DPI state pilot training for educator effectiveness.  At the beginning of the year we put a professional growth model (see previous post) in place that would get us closer to where we thought the state would be headed starting in the 2014-15 school year.  As we went through the training module (which was very well done) we had this sense that we were truly on the right track in terms of growing the ability of teachers through constant coaching and peer mentoring.  We have over 50 staff members taking part in the goal development and student learning outcomes process in our district as a team of 6 put together a process for growing our staff through individualized professional development that has a student outcome component.  I was extremely proud of our group.  As an administrator, the feeling that you get when your team comes back to the table after sharing with districts…smiling and talking about the different places that want to learn about what we are doing is one of the best feelings I have had in leadership.  The fact that this is a teacher driven initiative in our district and they see the parallel between the work they have done and the direction of the state is amazing.  Our staff has been wonderful in the roll out…they developed goals that are both rigorous and impactful to student learning.  I am very excited to see their growth and feel so good that the teachers who put this framework together feel validated and excited about the future of our district.  Great stuff!!!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Professional Growth Model

Recently our Professional Growth Model has received a great deal of attention.  The Leader Telegram article last week started the process and the WEAU TV spot was another opportunity to discuss what the model could look like in Fall Creek.  Most frameworks that I have seen over the last year concentrate on the product at the end of the process.  If your students score at a high level you must be a great teacher, if your students score at a lower level you must be a bad teacher.  There are not many frameworks that concentrate on the growth.  We asked 6 teachers to come in and have real discussions about what quality teaching looks like and how we can support and quantify that growth.  Our group wanted to flip the merit process.  What if we concentrated on what we can control?  If the key factor in student success is the impact of the teacher then we should spend more time growing teachers.  The process is voluntary and teacher led. The teachers came up with the criteria for the framework.  They set the standards and made themselves available for goal development and review.   The conversations that we have had about quality teaching and challenging themselves professionally were wonderful as we developed the framework and the expectations.  Facilitating a group who wants to move everyone forward was invigorating…absolutely one of the greatest things I have ever been associated with throughout my years in education. 

 Administrators have committed to a coaching model instead of a catching model.  In the coaching model people can feel safe to take risks and grow professionally.  In the catching model administrators are walking through hallways and classrooms reacting to what they see…and only what they see.  If we coach, we can work with someone; if we catch there is only one perspective.  Our framework will allow teachers to set their own goals, work with colleagues to develop Student Learning Outcomes (which will be very important when the Wisconsin DPI’s Educator Effectiveness Framework is rolled out in 2014) and take risks to better their instruction. 

It is truly exciting time in Fall Creek.  A teacher led growth plan that will allow our staff to take risks and prepare themselves for a new statewide evaluation model is going to be a bumpy process.  The reaction from the staff has been outstanding.  I have heard more meaningful conversations with colleagues regarding practice and professional growth than I can ever remember.  I am extremely proud of my group…they work hard and want to continue to grow…and when we can grow the impact on kids is enormous.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reflections on Year 1 as a Superintendent

When I started the superintendent position last year I found myself reading every article and finding every book that gave advice on how to be successful.  In thinking about what the last year has meant to me and my family I think putting something out there that newbies (because now I’m a weathered veteran superintendent of 1 year) can take with them is important to the field.  As I looked through blog posts and articles I always found common numbers for development…The 10 Must Have Attributes or the 15 Ways to Engage Your Staff or Top 100 Apps That Make You A Better Basket Weaver.  Clearly, I am not at that point in my career so I have 4.  Yep, 4.  That’s it, folks…4.  So…here we go…4 real ideas and 3 rambling thoughts…all helped shape the first year... 
1. Twitter is THE new professional development tool…don’t let anyone tell you it’s just for kids, athletes, and entertainers…it’s for you.  I think about all of the time we spent finding the right professional development program and the cost associated with it.  I have learned more on Twitter in 1 year than all of those other initiatives.  Get involved…I spent the majority of the year retweeting what everyone else writes…and that’s ok.  Find great local people to follow…in Wisconsin I would start with @Principalj and @WiscPrincipal. Look at the people they follow and see if they fit your need as well.  Nationally…@ToddWhitaker should be in everyone’s follow list.  No question about it.

2. Visibility trumps almost everything else…if you are seen by kids, staff, parents, and community members your board will start to hear good things.  We started a Facebook page and a Twitter feed that can be accessed through our website.  I try to post something from wherever I go to keep people up to date.  Some have told me they don’t have time to do those things.  My only answer is…find it.  If people don’t think you are invested, they will struggle with any initiative you want to move forward…and perception is reality to your community.  Get to games, performances, sit with a Kindergarten student (but bring your anit-bacterial wipes…you might think that’s funny, but “it snot”), find a middle school group of kids to sit with at lunch and count the number of odd facial expressions they give you, and your high school kids know more about your teachers than you do…listen to them.

3. Get a win early…last year our opening staff activity hit 3000 likes on Facebook and made it to for a day (short lived but I’ll take it!!).  It cost us nothing and just spoke to how we can value our teachers.  Here is the link to the story on WQOW

4. Find people who are going through the same thing…Wisconsin has a great program through WASDA for new superintendents.  We had a chance to connect with 40 other people who were feeling very similar as they started their new positions…connect and reach out.  Again, people will say they don’t have the time…find it.
Rambling Thoughts…
1. 5 hour Energy may actually be a food group. 

2. If you choose to speed and/or forget to renew your license plates…try to do it in the village/city that you do not call home.  Getting pulled over on the only main street in your village lends itself to discussion.  However, if it does happen, laugh.  The fine, points, embarrassment…embrace it…you’re not infallible and the community doesn’t need you to be…but they do need you to be real.

    3. Finally…and most importantly…if you choose to live in the district, which I would highly recommend, have a discussion with your family about always being watched.  You chose the job and everything that goes along with it.  You can’t say you want to be the leader and only count on the good things about the job.  When you sit down with your kids to discuss this please use the attached picture.  Your kids need to know that when your 5th grader thinks it would be a great idea to tie his 4 year old sister to a tree during an impromptu magic show, someone is watching and most likely has a camera on them.  When this happens and the picture is sent to you…go back to number 2 in the rambling thoughts and laugh…because if you want to lead you have to be real.
This is the best job I have ever had in my life…we have a trustworthy board, a staff that wants to learn and has NO IDEA how good they can and will be, and a community that supports education (last year’s referendum for school improvements passed at 70%-30%).  Focus on the great things about the job, and understand that there will always be things that you do not like.  If you do, there will always be those to influence…sometimes starting with hair styles…
Have a great year, everyone…

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

We're getting close!!! we go!!!!!  Tomorrow is August, the Fall Sports seasons is about a week away, and the summer projects are coming to a close.  We are in the middle of wax week and apologize for the limited access to the building...but the floors are going to look great!  We've spent a great deal of the summer reviewing policy, professional development, and the evaluation process.  We  hope the work done will equate to a streamlined approach to all three.

Congratulations to our 4th grade and 8th grade students as they did extremely well on last year's WKCE given in October.  The 4th grade scored in the top 12% of all classes in the state and the 8th grade scored in the top 4%.  Outstanding achievement for students, parents, and teachers.  Well done, everyone!