Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: The Best Year Yet! #KidsDeserveIt

So when reflecting on a year, there's a lot that comes to mind.  There's accomplishments, failures, deepening of friendships, new friendships, those lost, new adventures, and so much more.

It's always been hard for me to write a good comprehensive post over a year of time because I know I always leave people or events out that were important to me.

But alas, I love reflecting and thought it'd be great to look back at a year gone by, before heading into a brand new adventure; 2016.  I'm mainly going to focus on all things education related!


So I thought I'd start first with some people who really made 2016 special for me.  Again, I know I'm going to leave people out, it always happens, but here goes anyway!

Ben Gilpin and Brad Gustafson - these two guys, where do I even begin?  These guys are my big brothers, my mentors, my encouragers, my friends.  This year saw us taking on new adventures together and getting to know each other on an even deeper level.  I still remember Ben and me flying to Minnesota in January to surprise Brad for graduating with his doctorate.  And man was he surprised.  But to form a friendship like that, where we'll fly across the country for each other is something special (I wrote about that trip HERE).  Then connecting again at NAESP in Long Beach and having our wives meet (and more importantly, get along!), to meeting up at EdCampLeader in Chicago, to meeting up with Brad and his wife in DC for the Bammys, to making a special trip to Michigan during my Thanksgiving Break to hang out with Ben and see his school for a day.  I can't even accurately express the impact these two have had on me, and I look forward to many more adventures in 2016.

Tony Sinanis - I met Tony very briefly in 2014 at the Bammy Awards, but after finding out we are birthday twins, I got to know Tony on an even deeper level this year.  Tony is such a ball of energy and encouragement.  He speaks honestly, but constantly with care.  I've learned a lot from Tony this year and have such appreciated his leadership and friendship!

Felix Jacomino - Felix has been a buddy of mine for a while but after inviting me to be a part of Miami Device again this year, and getting to catch up with him at other EdTech Events I got to know Felix even more.  Felix's commitment to kids and furthering education is inspiring and he always is pushing me to try something new.  Felix is that guy that always says "hey I found this new website/app, have you heard of it??" and my answer is always, "no, tell me more!".  Felix is encouraging but thought provoking.  He pushed me continually this year to try new things.

Brandon Blom, Theresa Stager, Melinda Miller, Jeff Herb, Brent Clarkson, Jennifer LaGarde, Donalyn Miller, Eric Sheninger, Ron Clark, and Dave Burgess - Each of these people I either got to meet F2F for the first time or actually got to spend more time learning from and alongside them.  Each of these I consider a friend, a mentor, a boundary pusher, an encourager, and so much more.  I think about my several summer interactions with Brandon, Theresa, and Melinda who challenged my thinking!  I think about finally meeting Jeff Herb who blew my mind with his awesomeness and building that friendship up and even starting PeriScopeOut.  From getting to know Brent Clarkson more and learning through the amazingness that he shares.  To continuing being challenged by Jennifer LaGarde and her brave fierceness yet deep compassion.  To finally meeting Donalyn Miller (and having her be everything I'd dreamed she'd be) and using her book to bring about drastic change on my campus.  To having Eric Sheninger spend a day at my school and help me identify some things I can do to help the campus, the teachers, the students, and to push me into being better.  He's always been so honest and real with me.  To the "prank call" turned into "real call" from my buddy Ron Clark that had Adam Welcome and I freaking out.  And to Dave Burgess, who's been a friend for a while now, but continually pushes my thinking, challenges me, and believed in me (and Adam) enough to sign me to a book deal.  Wow.

Jon Harper - Jon is someone I have yet to meet F2F, but is one of those friends who we leave 3-5 minute voxer messages for.  Jon is an incredible writer and makes me always want to blog better.  Jon also is such a deep thinker and honest man.  He's encouraging and thoughtful.  I can't wait to meet him face to face one day!

Greg Smedley - A great friendship that kind of came out of nowhere!  Greg was so kind enough to even visit my campus last year (and hopefully again this school year) and work with my teachers for two days!  Greg has been a great friend that I've loved getting to know more and more and watch how much he challenges himself to always be his best and to always provide rare and special opportunities for his students.  I have learned so much from him!

Aaron Marvel, Teresa Garrett, Kathy French, Geralyn Jackson, Cewilla Thomas - my admin team at Webb!  Everything we've accomplished we've done together.  I can NOT write a post about a year without including these people.  They work tirelessly, countless hours, and with many a broken kid.  Yet they show up every day ready to tackle whatever may come our way.  They've always got each other's backs and always want what's best for kids regardless of how much work it'll be.  I love these 5 people and am better every day I get to work alongside them.

Chris Pombonyo - Chris is a friendship that kind of came out of nowhere, but one that I couldn't be more thankful for.  Chris and I finally met F2F this summer and our friendship has only grown since then.  Chris is one of the most energetic and inspiring educators I've ever met.  His passion is hard to match and his creativity is off the charts.  I am dying to one day see him in action in his classroom because the things he shares are mind-blowing.  Chris has been a listening ear and a constant stream of encouragement these past 6 months.  He's pushed me outside of my comfort zone and for sure, 100%, made me a better educator.

Kim Bearden - Where do I even begin with Kim?  I met Kim three years ago, and had kept in little contact with her since.  We'd run into each other a few times face to face over the last three years, but for whatever reason really chatted it up on social media a lot this year.  I read her book "Crash Course" this summer, fell in love with it, and bought a copy for every staff member on my campus.  We then read it together and discussed it over the next 4 months, and to blow everyone's mind, Kim made a surprise appearance at our school as we celebrated "Crash Course Day".  Who does that?  Like who else is that AMAZING?  She did not have to do that by any mean, but that's just how incredible she is.  Kim is also one of those people where every moment you're with her you feel like the most important person in the world.  My wife loved her so much too, that after meeting her, she had to read the book!  Kim inspires me on a daily basis and is one of the most positive and uplifting people I know.

Adam Welcome - And then there's Adam.  My brother from another mother.  Adam and I formed a friendship through social media in early 2015, and never did either of us think we'd be the friends that we are now.  After meeting face to face at NAESP in Long Beach this summer, we hit it off immediately.  Adam is one of those rare people that I couldn't be more different than, yet at the same time we couldn't be more alike.  Not only has Adam pushed my writing to be better, but Adam has continually (on a daily basis sometimes) pushed me outside my comfort zones.  He brings up what others may be too afraid to.  He is always asking the question, "Why not?".  He makes every decision on "is that what's best for kids?".  He doesn't take excuses.  And even more, Adam is the guy who helped us start #KidsDeserveIt together.  From an idea, to a twitter/facebook account, to thousands of followers, a blog, and a book deal.  What???  Our families finally got to meet just a few weeks ago, and it was amazing.  It's one of those rare friendships where every single thing falls perfectly into place and you feel like you've known them your whole life.  You feel like they're family.  From facetime with his kids, to daily voxer conversations, I can't even express how thankful I am to have come across someone like Adam, my BFAM.

I could write about so many others too: Hope King, Erin Klein, Drew Minock, Angela Maiers, Carl Hooker, Dwight Goodwin, Colby Sharp, Chris Kesler, Todd Whitaker, George Couros, Jed Dearybury, Wendy Sanders, Andrea Keller, Mindi Vandagriff, Amy Pratt, Jake Duncan, Jennie Magiera, and sooooooo many more who've impacted.  Please don't look down on me for not mentioning you!


2015 was always full of some awesome Highs and Lows.

- Being awarded the 2015 BAMMY for Elementary Principal of the Year, where I still ask "REALLY??"

- Starting Kids Deserve It

- Signing a book deal with Dave Burgess Publishing with Adam Welcome for the Kids Deserve It book coming out in 2016!

- Traveling across the country to speak!

- Starting PeriScopeOut

- Wondering if I was cut out for what I was doing...having Doubt.

- Our Reading Initiative that took off like fire!

- Finding out we didn't achieve the growth we'd hoped for as a campus.

- Signing a deal to be represented by Premiere Speakers Bureau

- Starting the #EduLS

- Ending EduAllStars, but starting the Kids Deserve It Blab Show.

- Being asked to switch campuses and start a whole new adventure!

- Being named by the Navasota Community as their "Favorite Principal".

- Having our First EVER, Teach Like A Pirate Day

- Writing my "I Wish You Knew..." Series

- and gosh, so much more!

In the end when I reflect on 2015, I think of the lessons I learned.  The times I laughed uncontrollably, the times I cried in my car driving home.  I think about the opportunities I've taken advantage of and the ones I've allowed to pass me by.

But mostly I look at it as another year of growth.  Another year that I grew into the man I'm trying to become. The man I know God wants me to be.

I know that there'll be more to celebrate in 2016.  But I know that there is much to be thankful for this past year.  2016 won't be easy, no year ever is.

But I believe you become like those you spend the most time with, and I myself choose to surround myself with those who will help me grow more.

So, here's to another amazing year!

image from

Adults Are Just Big Kids #KidsDeserveIt

I still remember the advice someone gave me...they said, "Now you're dealing with adults.  And you're exceptional at handling children, so just remember, adults are just kids in bigger bodies."

At first I laughed at that, but the more I've worked with adults the more I see it's true.

One thing we started at my school was "hats off" cards.  Whenever a child was caught doing something exceptional, an adult could write them a hats off card, and that child would get to come to the front office and one of us up front would call home and let their families know what a great job they were doing.

When we started doing that it changed a lot of things.  It changed our kiddos; they wanted to be recognized, but more importantly in front of their families.  It changed our families; countless parents choked back tears as we called because no one had ever called home to tell them something great about their child.

As I made phone call after phone call, the advice I was given about adults came to my mind.  And I thought, "Why don't we do something like this for adults???"

And I took that idea and ran with it.  But I wanted to start differently.  I wanted to start as a surprise.  To have it completely unexpected.

So in October I sent out a Google Form to my school family and asked them for their parent(s) addresses and phone numbers.  I told them I was working on a campus project.  I also let them know that if they did not have a parent still living (or if they were estranged from them) to put someone who holds that kind of place in their life.

Then over the month of December, I wrote cards to each and every family member on that list.  I told them their "child" worked at our school, I listed some qualities I liked about that person, and I told them how much better our team is because of having someone like their son/daughter on board.

Then over Christmas Break, I mailed them.  I wanted it to be like a special Christmas surprise for the families over their break.

I think I got 11 different messages over the break from people telling how much the simple act of a card meant.  But I think it most hit the parents/family members.  Think about often do we receive feedback from our adult children's employer about how much they're appreciated?  We don't enough.  It needs to happen more.

So this was phase one.  Phase two, starting in January, will be to do random phone calls out to these parents about awesome things their "children" are doing at our school.  If we recognize kids for this, why can't we recognize adults too?

So get ready family at Webb Elementary, because "Hats Off" cards aren't just for kids anymore!

And to any other administrators reading this, I challenge you to do something like this.  It really makes a world of difference.  Did I have to pay for stamps for 80 staff?  Yes.  Did my hand hurt from all the writing?  Yes.  Did it take hours? Yes.  But my hope and belief is that the ripples will be felt for a while to come.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Leaders Park in the Back #KidsDeserveIt

A good leader will always be a servant leader.  That's a belief that I was raised with and one I've tried, sometimes unsuccessfully, to live out.

As a campus leader now I try to continually find ways to show my staff that I appreciate them and that I can serve them as well.  From covering classes and recess, to morning/lunch/afternoon duty, to helping write lessons, and so on.

But one thing I've learned is that even the things we deem as insignificant can speak volumes.  I remember working at a school underneath several different administrators.  I remember parking my car (or leaving the lot) daily.  You know us teachers, we always have to have the same spot, and God forbid if someone takes "our spot" haha.  But for some reason I always noticed where the administration parked.

One year I saw my administrator park at the back of the parking lot, even though there was a designated spot up front for her.  I asked her one day why and I will always remember what she said.

She told me, "Why should I get a special spot up front?  There are people who work just as hard as me, if not harder, so why should I think I'm above them enough that I should be allowed to park in a front spot every day.  A leader needs to be a servant and so I choose to park in the back"

As a campus admin myself now, I've taken that same philosophy.

Every day, I park in the back row.  I give up any front spots.  Does anyone notice?  Maybe not, but that's not why I do it.  I do it to remind myself that I am not above anyone else on that campus.  The buck may stop with me, and I may have to make the tough decisions, but I have a team of equally hardworking people, so why should I for a second think that I'm better than them?

Now for those principals who do have a "special" up front parking spot, I'm not telling you you're doing it wrong.  I'm not saying you're not a good leader.  What I'm saying is, that this idea never crossed my mind before I saw my own leader do it and I asked why.  What she said made sense, and it forever changed the way I look at where I park as a campus leader.

Monday, December 14, 2015

KDI Minds Collide #KidsDeserveIt

Kids Deserve It! 

 Writing our last chapter!

Sometimes things just fall into place.  It doesn’t make sense all the time, but it always seems to happen at just the right time. The important thing to remember is - just go with it, there’s a reason it’s all happening!

Who would have known that six months ago, we would have met face to face and hit it off so well at NAESP?  That it would have led to the creation of Kids Deserve It and a book deal?

That the working relationship would turn into a friendship where it was like we’d found our long lost brother.  Where our world’s began to collide on more than just a work level.

This weekend we finally had the opportunity to spend some time in person together since July!  And even more than that our families got to meet as well.

Friday began the excursion.  Todd was able to spend the entire day at Adam’s school shadowing him and meeting a few of his teachers.  We even had two other principal buddies of ours, Brandom Blom and Jesse Woodward, show up!  It was a day filled with great professional conversation.

But the best part came the next day.  On Saturday our families collided and we spent the entire day touring San Francisco.  We visited the Golden Gate Bridge, rode a cable car, walked the streets, saw thousands of Santas, rode on BART,  ran to Twitter Headquarters, and even rode (yes, all 6 of us) in a Pedicab.

And as we sat across the table from each other writing the ending of our book on Sunday morning while Adam made blueberry pancakes, it all hit us.  Look at the world we live in.  A world where when we choose to connect with others and put ourselves out there, we can really find something special.

Over the last six months our worlds have been flipped upside down.  There’s so much awesomeness that has happened.  And this weekend, spending it together with our families, was only a further reminder of even greater things to come!

So please remember - take the time to connect with people in person. With Social Media we all have so many ‘friends’ and it’s the real friends that we believe truly make the difference. They make you a better person for  you, your family, your job and for those around you everyday.

Be awesome, connect with others, practice gratitude and don’t forget to smile - you deserve it!

Writing + breakfast at Adam's house!

 Pedi cab with both families, thanks to Chris for pedaling us!

 Everyone loves a cable car ride!

Golden Gate Bridge

The Welcome Family