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…


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!

The Transformation

It happened slowly.  It was uncomfortable.  For a long time it was unidentifiable.  I resisted it. At times I actually fought it. After several years I could no longer deny it.  A transformation was occurring and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Let’s look back 5 years to see where I was….

  • Teacher – effective yet not satisfied (whatever that means!)
  • Unsettled – my “teacher” skin was getting itchy
  • Isolated – great colleagues yet felt professionally alone
  • Protector – supporter and defender of those in need

At the time, our school was working under oppressive leadership.  I’ve always been a giver but during this time I felt myself changing.  There were some troubling things happening in our school.  My fellow teachers, in my opinion, were being “abused.” It was at this point that I felt my fierce mama bear come out.  These were my teachers and I was going to protect them.  I needed to take action!

The actions that I took during those dark days are not necessary to share but what resulted from those actions is.

What I learned about myself during those trying times…

  • Resilient – like Chumbawamba says in their song Tubthumping “You’re never gonna keep me down.”
  • Courageous – willing to live outside of my comfort zone to benefit others
  • Capacity – able to bring together and positively influence others

Eventually the dark days passed and new leadership was at the helm.  My unsettled feelings and struggle with isolation were still present yet I was feeling confident in the changes that I helped bring about in our school.  Under the guidance and encouragement of our new leadership I was able to embrace the transformation that was occurring within me.

Let’s fast forward to the present to see where I am now…

  • Collaborator – growing and learning with our entire school
  • Unsettled – embracing the discomfort that growth and learning create instead of fighting it
  • Connected – isolation is a choice that I now choose to dismiss
  • Leader – encouraging and supporting growth in our school community

My transformation is far from complete and I’m ok with that.  I am less “itchy” in my own skin and am feeling excited about some new opportunities that have been presented to me.  I don’t know where my educational journey will take me but I do know that I am on the right track.  My experiences over the last five years have taught me that instead of just reacting to the circumstances around me and letting that unsettled feeling take control I need to stop and reflect.  I need to acknowledge and embrace my feelings instead of letting them overpower me.  I need to take action where I can but also need to step back and realize that some things are outside of my control. Ultimately I have realized that how I deal with the transformations in my life is my choice. I can ride the wave and choose to find the positive or I can get caught in the undertow and let the negative drown me. The choice is mine.

So in conclusion, I invite all of you who are feeling unsettled and like you need a change to stop fighting your unrest.  Ride the wave, keep an open mind and embrace the transformation that is occurring within you!

The Optimistic Educator…

On Drinking the #WGEDD Kool-Aid…

Team #GVEPpride arrives in Chicago!
Team #GVEPride arrives in Chicago!

On Thursday, October 15th five educators from the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership had the privilege of flying to Chicago to attend the inaugural What Great Educators Do Differently conference #WGEDD This is their story…

Disclaimer: Drinking the Kool-Aid often has a negative connotation but we choose to use it’s more modern meaning indicating that we embrace the #WGEDD philosophy.

Our Team  Before  #WGEDD:

Teacher #1 has been connected and drinking the Kool-Aid for almost a year now. This teacher was first offered a drink by her principal.  Initially she declined his offer. Then, because he was pleasantly persistent, she decided to take a sip.  She never looked back!  When she first heard of the #WGEDD conference she just knew she had to attend.  Together with Teacher #2 they planned the trip.

Teacher #2  is Teacher #1’s counterpart on our sister campus. These two call themselves “Teacher Twins.”  So as you can probably guess when Teacher #2 saw how much Teacher #1 was enjoying the Kool-Aid she had to join in. She got herself connected and has never looked back!  Like Teacher #1, she just knew she had to attend the #WGEDD conference.  Together they planned the trip.

Teacher #3  was not connected and didn’t know there was any Kool-Aid to drink.  She is a phenomenal teacher with energy and enthusiasm who was on the brink of burning out. She was isolated on an island all by herself, or so she thought.  Teacher’s #1 & #2 knew they needed to bring her along.

Teacher #4 is a steadying force for Teacher’s #1 & #2.   He is not one willing to accept any old Kool-Aid.  He attended the #WGEDD conference because Teacher’s #1 & #2 asked him to.  He was connected in theory but had not yet found his tribe. He was still a twitter egg head.

Teacher #5  is Teacher #3’s counterpart on our sister campus.  He was to be our barometer.  He is a seasoned educator who has not yet become connected. He is a great teacher and, of his own admission, doesn’t really want someone telling him what to do.  He was not interested in drinking anyone’s Kool-Aid.  With our encouragement he agreed to come along.

Team #GVEPpride After  #WGEDD: *Note we now have a hashtag-we’ve learned the importance of branding our school and telling our story!

Teacher #1  She still can’t stop smiling. She was motivated, inspired and uplifted by every single person she encountered during the #WGEDD conference! She was so proud of her team too.  They listened critically, reflected then eventually embraced what they were hearing.  She knows there’s more out there for her to do but for now is content to live out the #WGEDD philosophy with her students, teachers and admin. by her side.

Teacher #2 She was always an innovator in her own right but now, after #WGEDD, she realizes that the sky’s the limit! She continues to grow, connect and collaborate both in the twitterverse and face to face with her fellow teachers.  She lives out the #WGEDD philosophy every day while bravely sharing her greatness with those around her.

Teacher #3  She is now a connected teacher-hooray! By the end of our weekend she had a twitter account, was tweeting and had plans to start a school social media account to which she plans on posting podcasts of the amazing students in her school sharing all the awesome things they do!  She is on fire and there is no stopping her!  She’s a giver and will now share the Kool-Aid with anyone who will listen.

Teacher #4 He’s become a believer! He no longer has an egghead for a twitter picture, has begun connecting with others in the twitterverse and is eager to learn more about joining in (maybe just watching at first…) some of the amazing twitter chats that are out there.  He now willingly admits that the there is value to drinking the Kool-Aid and is spreading the word to his fellow teachers!

 Teacher #5 He’s still not ready to take the leap into the twitterverse but is no longer a naysayer.  After #WGEDD he took a leap of faith and decided to sip the Kool-Aid.  He has stepped outside of his comfort zone and is trying new things in his classroom.  His students are loving this new approach! It has been so exciting to watch him embrace and embody some of the things that he learned at #WGEDD.  He is even becoming a vocal advocate among his fellow teachers!

So that’s our story.   Did anything earth shattering happen at #WGEDD that caused the changes in our team?  The answer is no. But something did happen –  people happened, face to face connections happened, sharing happened, learning happened, laughter happened, friendship happened, excitement happened, passion happened, reflection happened, growth happened – a network of greatness was born.

So what were some of the take-a-ways from #WGEDD that bolstered those of us in our team who already believed and converted those who did not?  It’s impossible to include everything but here is a small snippet of what we learned:

  • Be Brave!  If we expect our student’s to take risks, stretch their thinking, not be afraid to fail then we too must do the same.  Embrace your vulnerability then go out there and share your greatness!
  • What Can Go Right?  When you’re being brave and trying new things remember to think about what can go right.  Focus on the positive!
  • Brand your school!  Celebrate all the amazing that is happening in your school.  Use social media to share what you are doing with families and the community.  Create a school or district hashtag.  Remember that if you don’t tell your schools story someone else will…
  • Connect and Collaborate!  There is a whole world out there just waiting to connect and share with you and your students.  We live in a global society. No longer do we need to stand alone in isolation.  Go out there and grow yourself a PLN!
  • Move outside of your comfort zone!  Change is hard, change is scary-no one is denying that. But if we want true growth for ourselves and our students then we must challenge ourselves to move into that sate of unrest.
  • People before Purpose!  There have been, and will always continue to be, many different initiatives in education.  There will constantly be new buzz words and programs you are expected to implement.  But ultimately it comes down to the people.  If you as a teacher are willing to embrace the #WGEDD philosophy then it will not matter what program it is that you are implementing, you WILL be effective. Remember, it all comes down to relationships-everything else is secondary!
So in parting I challenge you to take a sip of the #WGEDD Kool-Aid.  It may not be the answer to all of education’s woes but it is certainly a step in the right direction.  Try it, I think you might like it….

The Optimistic Educator…

#Read4Fun Comes to Life! The Birth of a Twitter Chat

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This is what we were still seeing almost 2 hours after the launch of the inaugural #Read4Fun sparkchat. It was supposed to be a sparkchat – 15min of conversation revolving around one question. Why was it still trending 2 hours later? What happened here? Could this really be possible? The conversation had a life of it’s own. This was amazing!

How did it all begin?

On a recent Saturday, Feb. 21st to be exact, I found myself on twitter discussing the love of books and reading with three other tweeters: @smgaillard, @jen___williams and @Dr_LMR.  After a few tweets back and forth we realized that we were all like minded when it came to reading. We loved reading for pleasure but rarely took the time to do it. We were all in education and found ourselves reading things mainly related to our profession. Not that professional reading is a bad thing, but we all realized that we had let our professional reading push our pleasure reading to the back burner. This was a wake-up call for all of us so we decided to do something about it.

That’s when the idea hatched…

We all agreed that it was time to start reading for pleasure again and vowed to each other that we would do just that . But when would we ever find the time to read? This is when the first part of our idea hatched:  we would challenge ourselves to read for 15 minutes a day in the month of March and it had to be reading for pleasure. We wanted to re-discover the joys of reading! Soon thereafter the next part of our idea hatched: We figured we couldn’t be the only people feeling this way. How could we help others re-ignite their passion for books? It was then we decided to put our reading challenge out to the twitterverse. We decided we’d try to host a sparkchat (15min-1 question, modeled after @BFC530) once a week ( or once every other week-we really weren’t sure at this point) in the month of March. We would encourage others to (and this is when our hashtag was born) #Read4Fun!

The next week was a blur!

We decided to start our #Read4Fun chat on Sunday, March 1st. It seemed fitting since reading is celebrated all over the world in the month of March with activities and celebrations like Read Across America, Dr. Suess’ birthday, and World Book Day to name just a few. Our hashtag was set, #Read4Fun, our day and time were set, Sunday at 7pm EST, and our first question was set, “What do you #Read4Fun?” Everything was falling into place. We now had less than a week until kick off. We created an e-announcement to post to twitter and began spreading the word. We all worked at promoting #Read4Fun and by the end of the week were feeling confident that we would have a decent turnout. It was an exciting and scary feeling all at once. Could it really be possible that in one short week the four of us were turning our dream of re-igniting a passion for reading in ourselves and others into a real live twitter chat?

The big day arrives!

So, by that fateful Sunday night, just over a week since our idea had hatched, we were ready to go. We met up on twitter in a DM group and made our final plans. What happened next will go down in history, at least in our history. The chat was an overwhelming success. People from all over the world gathered together to inspire and share their love of reading with each other. The conversations were so dynamic, you could literally feel the energy! We knew this was the start of something big. Our little #Read4Fun sparkchat had evolved into a global community right before our eyes. It was a humbling experience to be connected to a group of such amazing people.

The Future

Because of the overwhelming success of the first #Read4Fun chat and the continued excitement and enthusiasm in the #Read4Fun community we decided to keep going with our idea. As I write this today, the decision has been made to make #Read4Fun a weekly chat. We have decided to officially expand the conversation to 30 minutes with 2 questions – what we are calling an Ignited Chat. We, with @smgaillard taking the lead, are starting a #Read4Fun web-site and a #Read4Fun Voxer group. The support from the #Read4Fun community has been overwhelming. For those of you who are part of the community-thank you from the bottoms of our hearts. It is because of you that #Read4Fun is a success. For those of you who are reading about the community for the first time, please think about joining us.  If you can’t join the chat you can still  be part of our conversations on twitter by using the #Read4Fun hash tag, you can be part of the #Read4Fun Goodreads Group that our very own @MsVenturino so graciously started, you can stop by the #Read4Fun web-site to see our latest happenings (we are just getting started with this so please be patient as we build the site!), or you can join our newly formed #Read4Fun Voxer group were you can share your thoughts and start discussions about reading and books with other like minded people. (If you’re interested in joining our Voxer coversations please DM @smgaillard and he’ll add you to our group!)

#Read4Fun Regular Flier

My parting thoughts for you are actually a challenge. I challenge you to find a way to re-ignite your own passion for reading and then share that passion with at least one other person.  As my dear friend @jen___williams says: #GoodBringsGood! 

The Optimistic Educator…