5 Critical Lessons in Leadership

 A New Design
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information on twitter and other social media platforms?   Have you ever tried to look at the big picture, identifying the information that you value most?  Recently I did just that and found that it was the connections to people and the take-a-ways from my interactions with those people that had the most profound impact on me.  In this post I will share with you 5 lessons I’ve learned from some of the great leaders with whom I’ve connected.  I think some of these lessons might surprise you! 


While recently listening to an episode of Angela Watson‘s podcast Truth for Teachers (Season 3 Episode 19) I was struck by an offhand comment that a teacher had shared with Angela during one of her speaking engagements.

“You never know the power of your words and how just one sentence spoken, you don’t think it even means anything, could touch and inspire someone and actually change their whole life.”

This is so true! Have you ever heard someone say something that resonated with you, something that you couldn’t forget, something that you took to heart?  That’s exactly what happened to me with 4 leaders that I connected with on twitter.  These leaders each left me with a leadership lesson that I took to heart.  Some of their lessons are obvious and they wouldn’t be surprised that what they said had an impact on me – it was their message afterall.  Others are not so obvious and I’m sure they had no idea that what they said resonated so deeply with me.

So let’s get started!

Lessons One and Two:

These lessons comes from Todd Whitaker.  The first lesson is one of the obvious ones and one that I think I embody well.  Todd say’s it’s about People Not Programs.  Now anyone who has read any of Todd’s work or has listened to him speak will be very familiar with this phrase.  This is a leadership lesson that I believe in wholeheartedly.  If you look at my blog subtitle you will see that it describes me as Passionate About People.  Good leaders know that it doesn’t matter what new fangled initiative comes down the pike it they have great people in their schools great learning will happen.  As a leader you need to make people and your relationships with them your priority after that the rest will fall into place more easily.

The second lesson I learned from Todd was a little less obvious.  I was listening to an old Google Hangout that he was a guest speaker on.  He went on and on about his leadership stuff (all great I might add!) but the thing that resonated with me most was his comment that every day, no matter how early he had to get up, he went out for a run.  He shared that, no matter what his day held for him, good or bad, he felt more equipped to handle it if he had exercised in the morning.  Now Todd is a man who is on the go all the time.  I decided that if he can find the time to exercise then so can I.  As a result I’ve recently taken up running (ok-more like a mix of walking and jogging) again. As a leader with much on your plate you must find something to do every day that grounds you.

Lesson Three:

The third lesson comes from first listening to then meeting Joe Sanfelippo.  I first heard Joe at the What Great Educators Do Differently Conference in Chicago.  He led a session called Telling Your School’s Story.  By the end of his session I was thinking YES! we need to do this.  Upon returning to school after the conference we made a more conscious effort to share our school’s story not only on twitter, facebook and other social media platforms but also in traditional newsletters and the occasional spotlight on the local television station.  We actually felt so strongly about sharing Joe’s message that we decided to bring him to our school as our keynote speaker for opening day! As educators we all have a responsibility to tell our school’s story.  As a leader you need to share within your building, your district, your community, and the world, all the amazing things that are happening in your school.  If you don’t tell your story someone else will…

Lesson Four:

The fourth lesson came to me from Jimmy Casas.  Like Joe, I first met Jimmy at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference.  He had such an easygoing personality and seemed to be always trying to make people feel good.  He was so smooth that at first I thought it might all be an act, he was after all trying to promote his conference. But I soon learned that this was the real Jimmy.  Jimmy cares about people and truly wants to help others be the best that they can be.  Jimmy truly embodies the meaning of servant leadership.  As I move forward in my educational journey I look to Jimmy’s example to guide me on my way.  As a leader you must encourage, support and enable those that you serve to discover their full potentials.

Lesson Five:

The fifth lesson came to me from Jeff Zoul.  This lesson was one that I am quite certain was not the intended message but, like the teacher speaking to Angela Watson, something he said resonated with me.  In a session at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference (can you tell I loved this conference?!)  he co-facilitated a session with Jimmy Casas.  In this session he said that one of his missions is to respond to every single person that contacts him.  He does this whether he knows them well or he doesn’t know them at all, whether they tweet him, e-mail him or call him, whether it is 12 noon or 12 midnight, whether they are an edu-allstar or they are an unknown, whether he feels like it or he doesn’t feel like it-he responds. Now that seems a little cumbersome and might even be classified as obsessive but it sends a powerful message – you are important.  I know first hand that not all leaders follow Jeff’s example-there are many “edu-allstars” whom I’ve reached out to who never responded to me-not a good feeling.   As I move forward on my path to leadership I look to emulate Jeff and his mission as I believe, no matter what your role in education, you matter!  As a leader you need to take the time to ensure that every person you come in contact with feels valued when they are in your presence, whether physically or virtually.

So in conclusion I ask that each and every one of you reflect on those leadership lessons that you feel are the most important.  I encourage you to share those lessons with others.  I’d love to learn with you-your comments on this post are welcome.  Together We’re Better!!

The Optimistic Educator…

Cinco de Mayo & My Newest #EduHeroes

May 5th – Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is a traditional day of celebration in Mexico.  A day when the entire country celebrates that long ago victory at The Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.  It is a day when the citizens of Mexico come together to celebrate their ancestors who, against the odds, chose to take a risk and try to fend off the French even though they had a much smaller and ill equipped militia.  The victory they achieved that day created a sense of national unity, a sense of pride. It proved to the world that great things can be achieved when one believes – No voice is too small…

Fast forward 154 years…

On May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, 2016 a small group of educators from the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership will come together to embark on a new adventure. These educators have volunteered to put themselves out there, take a risk, and let themselves be vulnerable.  You see on May 5th, this small group of educators will be immersed in an Avatar Teaching Scenario session. Our organization has teamed up with Mursion and their TeachLivE program to provide our teachers with a unique opportunity to reflect upon their current teaching practice.

If you’ve never heard of TeachLivE you really should check it out:

“The TLE TeachLivE™ Lab is a mixed-reality teaching environment supporting teacher practice in classroom management, pedagogy and content. The TLE TeachLivE™ Lab, developed at the University of Central Florida, is currently being used at over 85 campuses in the United States and growing to include multiple school districts and international partners. Each partner utilizes the TLE TeachLivE™ Lab in a unique manner depending on the needs of their students, teachers, professors, and community stakeholders. The TLE TeachLivE™ Lab provides pre-service and in-service teachers the opportunity to learn new skills and to craft their practice without placing “real” students at risk during the learning process.”

And here’s a quick YouTube clip to view: TeachLivE Digital Story Short

Now, from what I can find, the TeachLiveE avatars have largely been used in training teachers at the pre-service level, which is great.  Our organization, however, is hoping to utilize the avatars as a way to help our in-service teachers hone their teaching craft. You see these avatars can be set at all levels of classroom management difficulty and they can be set up to help a teacher work on a particular skill for example, increasing wait time, asking more open ended questions etc.  Teachers will have the option of coming to the avatar sessions with a skill already in mind that they would like to work on or they can choose to interact with the avatars first, reflect on the experience then perhaps choose an area they’d like to target based on their reflections. Up until this point, we have had only a limited few teachers interact with the avatars, and it has been in a more general format.  Our next steps are to bring in a group of teachers who will act as our test subjects as we work to develop meaningful professional development opportunities for the teachers in our region.

So what does this have to do with Cinco de Mayo and #EduHeroes?

Coming back to the theme of Cinco de Mayo, where an entire country celebrates the efforts of a small group, I would like to celebrate the teachers from my organization who have willingly volunteered to put themselves out there and interact with the avatars. This may not seem like such a big deal to some but you need to know that this will not be just my teachers and myself “playing'” with this cool new technology.  Our assistant superintendent, superintendent and PR person will be there, in addition to a representative from a local college who is interested in learning more about the avatars and I think I’ve even heard that some of our principals are coming over to “check it out.”

So you see, these teachers who have agreed to be our guinea pigs as we embark on this journey of discovery with the avatars really are my #EduHeroes. They’re willingly putting themselves out there, letting themselves be vulnerable, not only in front of each other, but also in front of the “head honchos.” They do this because they seek to blaze a trail so that their colleagues have a smoother path to follow.  They do this because I asked, and they trust me. They do this because they know that the efforts of a few can make the lives of many better.  They do this because they believe in the art of teaching.  They do this because they continually seek to improve upon and hone their own teaching craft. They do this because, like the small Mexican militia at The Battle of Puebla, they know that the efforts of a few can have a positive impact on an entire nation – school.

So as I wrap up this post I charge each of you to take a moment to identify and recognize those trailblazers, those #EduHeroes that are part of your organization.  Celebrate them and when Cinco de Mayo rolls around be sure to remember that the efforts of a small few can have positive impact on an entire nation – school.  We CAN affect positive change in education!  Together We’re Better!

The Optimistic Educator…



One Call Trumps All-On Being a Parent

The stage was set. We had just finished up our special cookbook edition of #Read4Fun.  I had posted the storify to our website and was now getting my tweetdeck ready for #PodcastPD. It’d been months since I’d participated in this chat and I was eager to re-connect with Stacey, Chris and AJ.   And then about 10 minutes into the chat it happened…

The Phone Rang

Actually it quaked like a duck.  Only when my son calls does my phone quack like a duck.  My heart immediately skipped a beat and my stomach did a flip-flop.  Evan was calling! 

A little background is needed here.  Evan is 23 years old.  He graduated from Ithaca College this past May, lived and worked in Ithaca for 8 or so months then moved to Boulder Colorado with his girlfriend and 2 cats in February.  Neither of them had jobs.  They decided they needed a change so they just up and moved.  Ahh to be 23 again!

When the kids first moved to Boulder we would hear from Evan frequently but now that they were settling in the communication was less and less.  It was to the point that I was starting to get anxious.  Why wasn’t he returning our calls?  Why wasn’t he returning our texts?  Was something wrong?  Did something happen that he didn’t want to tell us about?  If you’re a parent of an older child you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Within the first 15 seconds of talking with him we knew that all was well in his world.  It’s funny how, when you become a parent, you can instantly tell how your child is feeling, even on the phone before they’ve said a word.  My husband I both talked and laughed with Ev for a good 45minutes. By the time we hung up our hearts were bursting with pride and joy.

After hanging up, my thoughts went back to my computer. #Podcast PD twitter chat was over and the accompanying blab was wrapping up.  I’d missed it.  I was feeling a little guilty that I totally bailed on the chat so the next morning I sent Stacey a quick tweet apologizing and telling her why I disappeared.  This is how the conversation went:

Stacey’s response to my tweet pretty much sums up life as a parent. Whether your kid is 3, 23 or 63 being mom trumps all every….single….time….

TheOptimistic Educator…

Uplifting Others With An App: PullQuote

Today is day 3 of the #aprilblogaday challenge.  As I’m pondering what to write and feeling a bit frustrated  I remind myself that these posts don’t all have to be long and well thought out. They can be quick snippets of information that others might find useful. So that’s what  today’s post is. 

So how do you uplift others with an app?

Enter PullQuote :  I just looked back and realized this is an extension not really an app. I get totally confused as to what the difference is! Suffice it to say that PullQuote is a nifty little bit of technology that lets you “pull” and “quote” information out of a document then tweet it. I recently re-discovered this extension (about 10 mins ago!) See the example below:

It not only includes your selected “quote” in the tweet, it also provides a link to the original document.

I love that I can pull my favorite selections out of something I’m reading and share it with the twitterverse.  For me, I find it difficult to sort through all the amazing writings that are out there. If I see a small snippet of something that piques my interest I am much more likely to click on the link and read the entire piece.

My passion has always been about people.  Energy comes to me when I am able to share  with and uplift  others; PullQuote seems like a perfect way to do this!  When I find something that strikes a chord in me I can now easily spread that person’s message in a quick, easy fashion!

So if you want to make someone’s day or if you’re just feeling passionate about sharing with others you might want to check out PullQuote!

*I chose one of Mark Weston‘s blog posts as my example to share with you because Mark is one of those people who is dedicated to uplifting others on a daily basis.  Thank you Mark!

The Optimistic Educator…

5 Days & Counting-My #WGEDD Butterflies

5 days and counting….

In 5 days at this very time, 7:05am, I will be at the Rochester International Airport with my 3 principals. Jon Sanfratello, my current principal, Foster Miller, my former principal and Matt Flowers, my adopted principal.  We are flying to Houston, Texas to attend the What Great Educators Do Differently, #WGEDD, conference.  I have butterflies…

This will be my second #WGEDD conference.  In October I attended #WGEDD Chicago with the original team #GVEPride, fellow teaching colleagues Dawn Ellis, Danielle Morsch, Mike Deming and Greg Scholz.  We left the conference charged up and ready to go! But unlike other conferences where the initial enthusiasm fades after a few days back in the “trenches,” upon returning to school after #WGEDD we immediately wanted to start sharing our new found passion with everyone!

Fast Forward #1:  Success!

The original team #GVEPride found their “Brave” (Thanks Angela!) and, with our administrations support and encouragement, began taking over the planning, development and implementation of PD on conference days.  Suffice it to say that it has been a HUGE success!

Fast Forward #2:  Encore!

Because of the enormous success of the first #WGEDD conference, a second #WGEDD was planned – enter #WGEDD Houston.  As soon as I heard this I just knew that my principals (*I know it’s odd to refer to 3 different people as my principal but that is something to be explained in another post…) needed to attend so they could experience the awesome.  After much discussion and finagling it was set – they were going to #WGEDD Houston! And even better – I was going along with them!  *A huge shout of thanks needs to go to my Assistant Superintendent Dr. Julie Donlon for making this happen!!

Fast Forward #3:  The E-mail

After I knew for sure that the 4 of us were going to #WGEDD Houston I, of course, shared my excitement with the twitter world.  Not long after the e-mail came.  Would I be willing to present an Ignite session at #WGEDD Houston.  WHAT?? Me?? Why?? Had Jeff and Jimmy lost their minds? I’m just a little old teacher from an unknown, rural school district. What could I possibly have to offer?  And then I STOPPED.  I was not thinking like a “Great Educator.” Had I forgotten everything I learned at the first #WGEDD?  I took a deep breath, told myself I could do this and then said Yes!

Fast Forward #4:  The Butterflies

So now here we are, 5 days away from jumping on a plane to Houston. The butterflies didn’t hit until yesterday.  I’m really doing this.  For some, presenting for 5 minutes may not feel like a big deal.  For me, it’s huge.  I’m nervous. I’m scared. I hope I don’t screw up. I think it would almost be easier if everyone in the audience were perfect strangers. But I know out there watching me will be my principals – I’m representing our school – I need to get this right.  And I know out there watching me will be Jeff and Jimmy – they’re trusting me to do a good job – I need to get this right.  

Fast Forward #5:  Flying in Formation

I know I can do this. I know that once it’s done I’ll want to do it again. That’s my personality. I’m passionate about people and I love sharing my passions with others. And those butterflies, instead of fighting them, I’m now training them to fly in formation. I’ve made them friend, not foe. They’ve become my invisible side kicks and I welcome their presence!  (Thanks for the tip Scott Berkun!) 

5 days and counting….   #WGEDD Houston here we come! Team #GVEPride take 2 is on it’s way, butterflies proudly in tow!

The Optimistic Educator…


Day 1: My #FlyHighFri Day

So it’s day 1 of the #AprilBlogADay challenge. What to write? I pondered it this morning but only came up with a few false starts.  It’s only when I got home after school that it came to me. I could write about my day!

Today is Friday, April 1st, 2016. Instead of heading to my own school I headed over to our sister campus. Today our Academic Integration team was going to work on curriculum together. Not the most exciting prospect but the company would be grand. I am one of the fortunate ones that is blessed to work with wonderful people.

Upon arriving and settling in it was quickly realized that none of us was in the right frame of mind to be writing curriculum.

So what did we do?

 This is what we did:

  • spent time teaching each other how to make lists and how to follow other people’s lists on twitter
  • spent time teaching each other the most effective ways to use tweetdeck during a twitter chat and how to set up columns
  • talked about the collaborative efforts that were occurring on each of our respective campuses
  • talked about ideas we had for upcoming endeavors
  • helped a colleague brainstorm ideas for an upcoming conference
  • babysat a puppy (way too cute she was!!)
  • spent time teaching each other about voxer then practiced voxing
  • watched and gave feedback to a team of 3 young gentlemen  who had created a video game and were presenting it at an upcoming competition
  • watched and gave feedback to an amazing young lady who had designed an entire advertising campaign for a restaurant and had to present it at an upcoming competition
  • and so much more!

So did we accomplish what we had originally set out to do?  The answer is no. But what we did accomplish was so much more valuable. We bonded, collaborated, helped a colleague, helped students and helped each other.

It really was a  #FlyHighFri kind of day!

The Optimistic Educator…

Special thanks go out to Dawn, Mike, Augie and Jackie for making the day so awesome!

Evolving Role of Principal Leadership

Thoughtful words by Sanee Bell.

Sanée Bell

The principal is the most visibly recognizable person in the school.  Principal leadership is the second greatest indicator of student achievement after teacher instruction. Furthermore, the principal’s ability to lead in a way that inspires and energizes teachers is critical to building successful schools. Leaders must be able to build capacity, commitment and the collective efficacy within their schools in order to ensure that teachers are fully equipped to meet the current challenges of public education.

Screenshot 2016-03-13 21.01.00

There is a myriad of educational research that focuses on various leadership styles and the evolving role of school principals. Most research is geared at one particular style of leadership over another; however, through my academic research and personal experience as a school principal, I believe that leaders must possess the following traits in order to meet the demands facing school leaders today:

  • Influencer
  • Capacity Builder
  • Relationship Crafter
  • Systems thinker

Influencer. The leader’s ability…

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