Simon Sinek is one of my all time favorite thought leaders. Everything he says resonates with the way I want to lead. His TEDx talk on Start with Why has been viewed over 34 million times and is totally on point. The impact of asking “why” before “how” brings a different sense of meaning to a movement. This summer I was reminded that sometimes the where is as impactful as the why.

The #EdWriteNow team asked me to part of a 10 person crew that was tasked with developing a 50,000 word book in less than 3 days. Daunting task for any group. The people in the room were exceptional writers. For me, the complexity of the situation was not completing my portion of the book, but completing it to a point that was at the level of those around me. The why was clearly defined….develop a text that would push people’s thinking and benefit a good cause, in this case The Will To Live Foundation. The “why” drove the conversation, but the “where” held the impact.

It would have been easier and more cost effective to share the why with a group of 10 people across the country via email or video, let everyone write their 5,000 words, and submit them to the publisher. We all could have stayed in our homes, written in places that have collectively produced hundreds of blog posts, and carved out a few hours at the end of the day to make sure we got the task completed. The why wouldn’t have changed. The desire to produce a book that moved people’s thinking and benefiting a good cause would not have changed, but I truly believe that the text would not have been nearly as impactful.


Watch The Will to Live video alone and you will be moved. No doubt about that. Now watch it with 9 passionate educators...and it’s time to move the world. The collective switch that was turned on at the end of the video could be felt by everyone in the space. 5,000 words was less about completion and more about how one weekend could change the way we talk about education. The why was redefined by the looks, tears, and countless reminders of stories we all had from our past about kids who were struggling and their voice wasn’t being heard. The where made it feel like we were in it together.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter I wrote on changing the way we talk about education…

I was 8 years old and I remember it like it happened yesterday. My parents drove me up to the front of the brand new building. It was gorgeous. The windows were incredibly clean. The flowers leading up to the door were perfect. My mom grabbed my hand and we walked through the parking lot together. She told me it was going to be ok and she understood how I was feeling because it wasn’t her favorite place as a kid either.

We walked into the building and even the smells reminded me of the last time I had entered. The pit in my stomach was real. I knew exactly how the day was going to go. I was going to be told I needed to do things differently and at one point someone would sit down with my mom and tell her what had to change at home to make things better.

As we waited in the front office I thought about all the times I had there in the past. They all shaped the way I was feeling at that moment, and that feeling wasn’t great. Minutes seemed like hours. I started to get anxious, could feel my palms sweating profusely, and my heart started to race. It was almost time. I just wanted to hide. I kept thinking of what I could have done to make what was going to happen next more manageable.

The door from the waiting area started to open slowly, and it was time. A very friendly woman opened the door with a bright smile and a skip in her step. It was clearly not what I needed at that point. She looked at my mom, then looked at me, and said, “Dr. Craig will see you now.” It was the first of 2 dental appointments that month. My parents used to make both appointments for me every six for the cleaning and one to get the inevitable cavities filled.

 Walking into schools should not feel like a long walk to the dentist chair, but we have to understand that everyone walking into our building may not feel like it is the best experience in the world.  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.  The story doesn’t change until we acknowledge that it’s real; we need to be intentional about changing the narrative, and build momentum for the next generation of students, teachers, and community members to ensure that the stories reflect what is happening in that space.

Educators, look around and see who is leading students.  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.  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. The narrative needs to be changed.

We need to start talking about mental health differently. We need to know that it impacts families in every socioeconomic category, in every race, and in every part of the world. We need to understand that sometimes it is just one conversation that helps those around us. We have the ability to impact how people feel with every interaction. Collectively we can help. This was our why...and I couldn’t be more proud of the work that came out of the where.

Check out these blog posts on the experience from some incredible writers…

Jeff Zoul on changing the way we think about change

Tony Sinanis on changing the way we see learning

Kayla Delzer on changing the way we think about relationships in school.

Starr Sackstein on changing the way we think about assessment.

Tom Murray on changing the way we think about technology in the classroom.

Sanee Bell on the importance of teacher engagement.

Amber Teamann on changing the way we think about leadership

Bob Dillon on changing the way we connect with community partnerships.

It was an absolute honor to be part of this project. Education Write Now comes out in December. Great opportunity to support an incredible cause and look differently at the way our schools function.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo

This post was featured in the March edition of AASA School Administrator Magazine. To get the whole magazine click here.

Fall Creek, Wis., is home of the Fall Creek Crickets. We have 1,300 people. 825 students. three bars, two gas stations, one school. The latter sits at the center of the village, literally and figuratively.

On Friday nights during the school year, I know that most of the people in this village will be at a game, wearing green, cheering on our kids. On every other day of the week, the story of what happens within our walls has been limited to only those in our building. Trying to get people into the school physically, outside of sporting events, is a challenge for all schools. Fall Creek is no different. Everyone has busy lives.

The majority of people in our village in west-central Wisconsin do not have kids in school. We want them all to be on the journey with us, on their terms, not ours. People want to connect, but they want to do it on a schedule that fits them. We are completely OK with that because at the end of the day, it is not about the time of the connection but whether or not it happens.

We look at time as a commodity -- one that we can harness but not control. Parents and community members will engage in what we do if we give them the opportunity, but do not force the issue of time on them. With this in mind, we developed an ABC approach to community engagement. Find your AUDIENCE, build your BRAND and CELEBRATE kids.

Find Your Audience. According to, 78 percent of adults in the U.S. have a social media profile of some kind. As a school district, we needed to find where those profiles lived. After surveying our community, we found the adults preferred Facebook, the students preferred Instagram and the alumni favored Twitter. So that is where we engage socially. We don’t have to be present in every social media platform, just the platforms that are relevant to our people.

Build Your Brand. The term brand can definitely have a negative connotation, but we believe it is what people say about you when you are not there. Promoting the positives helps shape the narrative. Building our brand through our #gocrickets hashtag has helped us share the work of our kids in multiple areas. Printing the hashtag on Cricket apparel and giving it to the community at events has built a tremendous amount of momentum for our district. We added a “Where in the World is Fall Creek Pride” virtual map and told our community to take photos of themselves wearing their Cricket gear on vacation so we can spread the message. It has allowed us to show off a #gocrickets item in all 50 states and beyond. We have tried to turn those Go Crickets moments into a Go Crickets movement.

Celebrate Kids. The work performed in our schools is amazing if you think about it. We educate all kids, we move them academically and emotionally, and we provide a safe haven for those who need it. Celebrate that work should be at the forefront of what we do as school systems. As a board of education, we set a goal of sharing 7-10 non-athletic positive posts per week. Our community knows that the space is to celebrate, and we want everyone to join us on the journey. We provide the opportunity to connect, and through that connection we develop a great deal of social capital with the people in our world. That social capital is pivotal for trust. A photo, video or post can have a profound impact on emotions.  The world has, and will always belong to the storytellers.

We have 825 students in our school, all with the desire to have their voice heard. When they don’t have the platform, we provide it.  When we do, everyone has a chance to come along for the ride. We are the hub of our community. We are the voice for our kids. We are Fall Creek. Go Crickets.


AuthorJoe Sanfelippo

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 family stay the following data were evident:

image via

image via

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

image via

image via

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!

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo

Recently our kids had a chance to connect with their east coast cousins as they made their way to Wisconsin over the 4th of July. It was a fantastic chance to connect and spend some time with everyone. At one point in a the trip the following conversation took place between Aidan and my 4 year old nephew Patrick:

Aidan: Patrick, can you hit the ball?

Patrick: I can do anything!

I was walking around the corner of the house at the time, getting ready to cook dinner on the grill, and when I heard him speak the words I just stopped. He was so confident. He was so engaged. He was so happy. He said it like he had said it 1000 times. He believed it. He knew in his heart that he could do anything.  It didn’t end there. He hit the ball...and ran as fast as he could around the bases. Again...smiling, confident, and determined. The family cheered him on as he raced from base to base. They encouraged him to get to home plate as loud as they could. As he crossed home plate everyone cheered… “Way to go, Patrick!” and “Great job, Patrick”. As he looked around he screamed something I will never forget… “Yay Me!!!!” It was adorable and awesome. I smiled and teared up a little as I walked away, but as I was standing by the grill, waiting for it to be ready, I started to reflect on the words and it took me to a place that I didn’t like.

Here is a child with his whole school life ahead of him. He already posseses a quality that we want kids to leave school with when they exit our doors. Having said that, my assumption is that when he walks across the stage in 14 years his outlook on life may be different. That hurts. At some point, with a number of our kids, the “I can do anything” mentality stops...but when? When do they stop thinking that they can do anything and when do they stop cheering for themselves.  Now, I don’t live the land of unicorns and rainbows. I understand that there are limits and we could dissect that in a number of different directions, but the promise of the future should be more about the “can” than the “can’t” when it comes to our buildings.

School should be about hope and opportunity. It should be a place where they want to be because they feel comfortable and valued. Spoiler needs to feel that way for adults too. When adults in the building feel like they are trusted to do anything...they will. When they own the process....they exceed expectations.  When they are given the opportunity to teach to the best of their ability...they will. So, how do we make sure they will…


In my first year as a principal in Fall Creek I gave a paper plate to small groups sitting in a faculty meeting. I asked them to write down everything that was on their plate when it came to school. As they worked through the activity the usual suspects made their way to the top...grading, paperwork, and committees. What didn’t make it to the top was kids. Of the 5 groups none had it listed higher than 8th. It was one of the most caring groups of people I have ever worked with and I knew they loved kids, but the environment that was set up did not allow them to concentrate on their main Providing time, resource, and opportunity to grow without adding to their plate is essential. Find a way to do it.

Default to “Yes...and…”

If you want to build, or have built, an environment where trust is evident in every fabric of the organization you know how important it is to say yes. I challenge you to take it one step further. Saying yes to new opportunities for kids and adults is important, but saying “yes, and what do you need from me…” tells the person that you will be there for them. At first no one will tell you how you can help but when they trust you, they will let you know. If they don’t give you any specifics, circle back with them in a few days and ask again. Be specific.

Celebrate Their Work

I know I sound like a broken record...but celebrating the work of the of schools is paramount. If we want people to feel good about the space we need to celebrate the space. My friend and co-author Tony Sinanis and I preach this without hesitation….NEVER GIVE UP THE OPPORTUNITY TO SAY SOMETHING GREAT ABOUT YOUR SCHOOL. Every conversation is a chance to change the narrative. The school experience may not have been awesome for those who went to school years ago...but the narrative has to change. Our staff and kids do amazing things and if the only conversations about those amazing things are happening in our buildings, the mindset never changes.

I can do anything. When was the last time you said those words? Do you even remember? I simply don’t...and that needs to change. Let’s do this. Go Crickets.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
Image from

Image from

July 1, 2005 was my first day as an elementary principal. I walked into the office and wondered how I really got to this point. No students, no staff, no parents...just me in an empty office with my thoughts of the journey that had taken me there.  As I was unpacking my stuff I remember stopping, looking around, and being thrown back to a different time.  My first real day in the elementary principal’s office was October, 1982. It was Halloween week and I had done something big enough to put in me in that office.  I made a comment in class that was definitely not appropriate for the space. Without going into the details of the event, it was clear that I needed to be in that room talking to the principal.  I remember him as an enormous guy, incredibly tall with a booming voice.  He used to walk around school everyday to see how everyone was doing.  He smiled a lot.  He was helpful. He high fived kids as they walked by.  As I sat in his office that day, it was different.  He asked me what I was thinking, why I would do such a thing, and what we were going to do about it?  I didn’t know...because I was 8.  I knew I was wrong, I knew I had to do something about it, and I knew my parents were going to go off the handle when he called them. Over the course of the next 2 hours all of those things happened.  I apologized, made it right with the other person, and my parents were less than thrilled with my choices.  Before that day I walked past the office and waved to the people there.  After that day, I looked the other way and hoped no one noticed me.  I always had a feeling that people looked at me differently after that incident.  They probably didn’t, but it was a feeling I could not shake.  Class was different for me after that as well.  I felt watched, and not in a supportive way.  The incident seemed to define me in the eyes of others. I wasn’t a great student before that day and was not a great student when it was over.  I didn’t fit into the box of what school my experience wasn’t fantastic. One of the reasons I decided to go into education was to make the experience different for kids.

Football team helps clean up around town after a storm

Football team helps clean up around town after a storm

School has to work for everyone.  We can’t just work for those kids who fit into what school has always been.  Teaching is hard.  In a classroom of 25 kids we may have 25 different needs.  Some get breakfast in the morning, some do not.  Some are having problems with their families, some are not.  Some are working multiple jobs outside of the day and are just trying to stay afloat, some are not. Being a parent is also hard. Trying to find the balance between blazing the path for our kids and having them blaze their own often puts us in a place of uncertainty.  We don’t have all the answers, and that’s ok.  We have to lean on each other, and we do.

As an 8 year old kid, I knew school didn’t work for me.  We don’t want an incident or experience to define the feeling that kids have in school.  We want them to feel valued, wanted, inspired, and most importantly, loved. We want them to have a place to go.  We want them to be able to talk to someone when they need to...anyone.  The culture of our school community is defined with every interaction.  I have been in a number of schools over the course of the last 5 years and one thing is abundantly clear...every school has a feeling.  When people walk into our school, they need to feel welcomed.  They need to feel like they can walk past the office and wave, not put their head down and hope that no one notices them.  They need to be greeted with a smile and a helpful voice. As a staff, we also have to realize that not everyone walking into the building had a great experience in school when they were kids, and I truly believe that we do. We have great people in this building.  People who know that we exist for students.  We have jobs because of kids and families.  I have never been in a place that understands that more.  Our community is special, folks.  We exist for each other and together we are going to do things for kids that will blow their mind.  We’re just getting started. Go Crickets.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo

The first semester has come to a close and families around the country are opening envelopes from schools with bated breath to see how their kids performed on a report card.  When I was a kid report card days and conference days were the absolute worst for me.  I was not a good student. Apparently I needed a stage in the classroom because most of the communication from school to home had to do with me distracting people in class, trying to make them laugh, or just flat out denying to do anything. During parent teacher conferences I was always smart enough to make sure there was a friend at my house or I was gone when my parents came home so they had a few minutes to calm down.  As a Superintendent, I am a huge advocate for student led conferences. As a kid, the thought of that would have been met with… “are you out of your mind?” The conference would have felt like a debate with me trying to justify the “needs improvement” or often used “satisfactory” with no data to support why I ended up in that place.  It didn’t help that my sister was flawless. 3 years younger, better grades, read at the same level, never got in trouble...she was (and still is) the real deal.  My parents were great about not comparing us, but inherently the numbers and letters on those cards defined us...even if it was only for a day.


The reason this day scared me more than any other in school was simply that I didn’t know what was coming.  I literally had no idea what would be on that grade report, but I did know it wasn’t going to be awesome. When the envelope was opened I would always try to point out the stellar S+ in Phy Ed or the 0 days absent, but that didn’t seem to change the conversation.  Report cards shouldn’t be scary.  They also shouldn’t be a surprise.  It is our job as educators to keep parents and kids informed so when they receive numbers or letters that indicate proficiency (or lack thereof) there is no surprise.  It should be a cumulative look at what has been done from an academic standpoint, but more emphasis throughout the term better have been spent on authentic feedback for the student to help them learn and grow.  One of the worst things we can do to kids is give them a number or letter without first helping them understand why they are there, and second, identifying ways to improve it.

Halloween 2011. Best. Surprise. Ever.

Halloween 2011. Best. Surprise. Ever.

The other thing we can not do is label a kid based on a number or letter.  The report paints a picture of what a child did during a specific time, by they do not define who that child is or will be.  My mom told me a story of seeing one of my former elementary teachers in a grocery store after I had received my first principal position.  This was 15 years removed from elementary school. She said to the teacher, “Guess what Joe is doing these days?” I’m sure the thought of the teacher was “Probably 5 to 10 somewhere.”  When my mom told her I was a principal the look of surprise on the teacher’s face was probably worth all of the “Satisfactory” or “Needs Improvement” comments.  My mom is 5 ft. nothing.  I know she walked out of that grocery store feeling taller than anyone there.

In my first year of teaching I remember calling and telling her a story of a student in my class. The young man just wouldn’t listen.  He would do everything he could to grab attention from the other students, didn’t complete his work, and seemed to always have a question.  I didn’t know what to do with him because he didn’t fit with the rest of the class. I remember the frustration in my voice when I was telling her the story. The next day I got home from school and there was blinking light waiting for me on the answering machine ( remember the answering machine).  It was my mom and I’ll never forget the message.  She said… “I thought I would share this with you...Joey has a hard time focusing in class.  He doesn’t show interest in what we are doing.  He has a hard time getting his work done.  He has a hard time sitting still during work time.” The comments were from my 2nd grade report card. She followed it with “Joe, you turned out ok...give the kid a break.” I had forgotten that I was there for him...not the other way around.

Last week my freshman son came home and we opened the mail together with his 1st semester grade report.  There were more A’s on that report card than I had cumulatively in 4 years of High School, no joke. Though I am proud of the work he does to attain these grades, they don’t define him. He is a phenomenal kid...regardless of what that report card says.  My hope for parents and teachers is simple...the day the envelope gets opened should not be scary.  It should not be a surprise.  Most importantly, it should not define who your child is or who they will be.  Sometimes we just need a little time. So...give the kid a break. Go Crickets.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
5 CommentsPost a comment

To the High School Athlete:

It was a tough week for the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.  In a memo sent to member schools the WIAA encouraged administrators address unsportsmanlike chants from student sections and to “take immediate steps to correct this unsporting behavior”.  If they were to stop there I think things would have been fine.  We are all behind administrators addressing unsportsmanlike behavior in our student section when it crosses the line.  However, the WIAA went on to cite specific chants such as “airball” and “you can’t do that”.  Though these are directed at an individual, as a school administrator, I don’t find them to be unsportsmanlike.  So, I understand where the WIAA was coming from and don’t entirely disagree with their perspective, but the reference to specific chants changed the whole argument.  It also prompted ESPN personalities to bring up the topic, specifically Scott Van Pelt’s One Big Thing.  They have since come out with a statement that encourages schools to enforce their own policy regarding behavior at sporting events, which is definitely the correct move.  The original letter prompted student groups across the state to protest in various ways, from duct taping their mouths to sitting in silence.  To date, these protests have not happened here and I don’t think they will.  Our kids understand that we have no issue with “airball” and “you can’t do that”. They also know where the line is and we have a tremendous amount of trust in them as young adults to not cross it.

The life of a student athlete is hard. Your schedule is tighter and you have more eyes on you every day.  You are questioned for choices you make on and off the court and people expect more from you because you perform in a public venue.  You are prone to scrutiny for decisions you make in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people.  People wait all week to see you perform and their mood the following day has a lot to do with how you play. Opposing schools troll your facebook and twitter feeds to learn more about you.  Opposing parents make judgements about your character based on what they see for 40-60 minutes, sometimes less than twice a year. It is definitely hard. But...remember...there is the other side to being a student athlete.  People also come out to see you perform.  They cheer.  They scream your name.  They stand up when you do something extraordinary.  They clap until their hands hurt, they scream until there is no voice left, and they high five each other in the stands when you do well.  


The original letter from the WIAA also prompted student athletes to take to social media and display their feelings on the issue. Some of those posts included vulgarities that violate most athletic codes.  Kids absolutely have the right to express their feelings in any medium they see fit, but as with adults, there could be consequences for those actions.  We can disagree with a process and voice that in a constructive manner with no consequence.  I can disagree with a school board decision.  If I tweet my displeasure there could be varying levels of consequence.  Tweeting that I disagree with a decision vs. telling them to Eat Excrement land me in very different places regarding my employment here.  Every year we sit down with our student athletes and talk with them about social media and their digital footprint.  When you tweet, post, snap, or even own the responsibility of that content.  All eyes have the opportunity to be on that post and student athletes need to know that. Having said that...they are kids and they make mistakes. We need to honor that and help them move forward without making them feel alienated.  A conversation and opportunity to rectify a situation will mean more to a student than a suspension.  Two of our kids were interviewed on the local news and I could not have been more proud of their response on WEAU.  They know the impact they have on younger kids.  Our building is PreK-12 under one roof.  Our elementary kids see our athletes walking down the hallways during the day and then on a court after school.  They cheer, they high five, they scream.  Most importantly...they stare.  They literally stare at our HS kids like they are Gods and Goddesses.  They imitate their moves on the floor.  They reenact what happens on the floor in the hallways and on playgrounds.  They want to wear that jersey.  They want to be that tall. They want to be that fast. They WANT to be them.  I am astounded by the looks our HS kids get from 5 and 6 year olds as they walk through the building.  I am equally astounded by the response by our HS kids and proud to be part of a community that gets it.  We are in this thing together...We are Fall Creek.  Go Crickets.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
2 CommentsPost a comment
My daughter loves school.  She loves her teacher, loves her friends, and loves being a Cricket.  Having said that, she is not the easiest person to get up in the morning.  There are few days throughout the course of the year that she shows up at my bed with that smile that melts your heart and indicates that she is ready for the day.  Those events are (in no particular order)...the first day of school, Christmas, and the day she gets to see her cousins from out east.  That’s it, folks...until this morning.  Today, she gets to show off.  She has been working hard with her partner on their Cardboard Challenge project and today is the day she gets to show that project to the world.  So, when that smile greeted me at at 5:45 AM, I knew what the excitement was all about.  Add that to yesterday’s cardboard boat challenge at the high school and it got me to thinking about the whole process of learning and genuine excitement in schools...all around cardboard projects.  The following clearly resonated with me when thinking about the last 2 days:

The Power of an Authentic Audience
My daughter knew her audience was bigger than the teacher today.
 Though presenting to your teacher is important, and she definitely values the opinion of the leader in the classroom, this was different. Like the other students in 3rd grade today, they created a game out of cardboard, tape, a few sticks, and paint.  They built it from the ground up.  They failed.  They fixed.  They kept working. All with the understanding that whatever they put together was going on display for their peers, all K-5 students, and parents during the event today.  The audience was definitely a factor in the work.  The teams competing in the cardboard boat race were in an even bigger pressure cooker! They had an authentic audience to come and see their projects, but those projects also had to work! My favorite quote came from a freshman… “All we got is cardboard, tape, and a bunch of hope!”
 Most of the boats stayed afloat for awhile, those that did not clearly understood what happened in their construction, but all knew they had a vested interest in the project as they were captaining the vessel. If it did they, and their peers/teachers/parents would all be there to see it.

When we know the work is shared with the world we clearly tend to take it more seriously.  Writing my dissertation was awful.  I had to find time to get to it and loathed looking through the edits.  I knew no one was reading it.  In fact, I placed a $10 bill on page 14 of my dissertation on display in the Cardinal Stritch Library in Milwaukee, WI.  I am certain that when I go back in 10 years to look, it will still be there.  The only audience was my committee.  Fast forward 3 years and I have co-authored 2 books.  I could not wait to work on those. The collaboration with Tony Sinanis, the conversations about how we could change practice, the idea that we could help change the narrative of schools...all drove me to want to write, improve, and tell the story to the world.  The audience was real...and when it’s real, it is easier to see the value in the words.

Ownership of the Learning
Both the 3rd grade kids and the HS kids had standards to attain as part of their project.  Having said that, they all went about the process in different way.  I think there has to be a balance between pure project based learning and essential skill development (specifically at the younger grade levels).
However, when it comes to a predetermined standard, I truly believe that if kids own the process of how they demonstrate said standard, they will put more effort into it.  As adults, we are the same.  Tell me that I have to learn something and spit it out on a piece of paper or online doc...I forget in a day.  Let me own the process and demonstrate that I have gained knowledge in a way that fits my interest and I’ll spend more time doing it.  I want to own it.  Kids want to own it.  The students I have seen in the last 2 days discussing their cardboard creations make it as clear as ever.
We, as district leaders, have a real chance to model this for staff and show them what the power of ownership looks like.  In Fall Creek, we try to treat professional development like Genius Hour or Passion Projects. Find your passion...and let’s help you develop in an area where you want to get better.  
In 3 years, we have never said no to a professional development goal.  We have helped people move through the process and sometimes we have to tweak some language, but if they find passion in their goal, we will help them find a way to make that happen.  Our issue this year was how do we measure those goals in an evaluation system.  Our answer...don’t worry about that now. We’ll deal with it find your passion, and it’s my job to find a way to measure it.  This year we are taking it a step further and allowing staff to demonstrate their learning in any way they choose.  We will still have the forms we have used available, but if there is a different way to show learning that resonates with them...GO! We have to trust people.  Some will put a tremendous amount of time into the process, others will not.  There may be a faction of a group that tries to skirt the process and doesn’t put as much time or effort into getting better. Spoiler alert, folks...the process you are using with them isn’t working either.  We are making decisions based on our best teachers...and our best teachers want voice and choice in the process.  Guess what, the gorgeous little girl who walked into my room at 5:45 wants it too, and I know she is in a place where that can happen.  Go Crickets.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
2 CommentsPost a comment
A few years ago I wrote a blog post about the idea that we as district leaders had to find a way to come together and learn as a group. We lead learning organizations...therefore, we should lead the learning in those organizations. Over the course of the last four years I have seen our Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA) take some great strides in bringing our members together to learn as a group.

As Ed Reform movement tends to move glacially, sometimes we need an event to start a new conversation and get people thinking about learning in a different way. I truly believe Edcamp has done that for teachers, and after taking on the first Edcamp in WI dedicated to Superintendents, I wholeheartedly think it could have the same impact on district leaders.

Last year, prior to the start of the Fall Superintendent Conference in Wisconsin, I was asked to organize a Social Media Lounge for Superintendents to b
ecome more familiar with digital tools to help their learning and tell the story of their district. The session was good...we had about 20 people show up and had really solid conversations about social media. I don’t know if anything new was learned that day. We knew it could be a powerful tool before we got in the room. We knew it would take away from other things we do. We knew that there were inherent risks in adding social media to your district, but those risks didn’t outweigh the benefit to kids. People left that session with a better understanding, but I don’t know if any new knowledge was gained.

This year, when asked to run the Social Media Lounge again, I asked if it would be ok to run an EdcampWASDA instead. Full credit to WASDA here...they may not have known anything about Edcamp, but they trusted, gave us 4 rooms, and helped promote the opportunity to everyone. I was not surprised at all...they have been incredibly supportive of Superintendents in our state.

Based on the size of the rooms, we had to cap the number at 75 total participants. Though we didn’t sell out, we had 67 people sign up to join us prior to the preconference sessions. With a free opportunity, the likelihood of retaining all of those participants can be low, but we counted 62 of the 67 Supts in the opening session!
We explained what Edcamp was, talked about how we needed to trust the process, and then built a fantastic board for the day!  Last year during the Social Media Lounge we talked about Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Though those topics came up this year, look at the other opportunities for Superintendents to choose. So good! No sessions were pre planned...these ideas all came from the Supts in the room and that ownership was absolutely huge. They invested, trusted, and engaged for a few hours in a way that I have not seen before. It was fantastic.

I loved the conversations, and the idea that it was a relaxed atmosphere where learning could take place. People were on their phones, but they were on their phones tweeting or looking for a resource, not thinking about what was going on back in the district. Our State Superintendent, Tony Evers was there...participating in conversations with district leaders. Leaders from schools with populations of 10,000 were having conversations with leaders from schools with populations of 300...all in this together and all in this for kids.
The best part for me was the 2:40 session where we debriefed at talked about what it could look like for our organization, but more importantly, what would this look like in your district. If we allow our staff to own their learning process they will see the value in allowing students to own it was well. We have to believe and trust that ownership leads to engagement, and that process allows our kids to have more voice and choice in their education.

I could not be more proud of our organization. As is always the case, this could not have been done without the help of many. Kaye Hendrickson took care of all the logistical stuff, so we we could concentrate on the process...she was amazing. Brad Saron, Paul Fisher, Colleen Timm, Joann Sternke, Deb Kerr, and John Pederson were all there to help build the board and answer questions. WASDA Director Jon Bales trusted the process and Nancy Lund and Jessica Schwedrsky made the room arrangements a reality and pushed the message.

Moving forward I am excited, and a little nervous, about what EdcampWASDA can become. I’m excited for the opportunity to grow our circles of influence and get more people involved. WASDA has expressed interest in making this part of our regular conference. That is awesome...and a little nerve wracking. The thing that made EdcampWASDA so great was that everyone in that room CHOSE to be there. They left their district early and made a conscious choice to be part of something new. My ONLY fear in making it part of the regular conference is that we can’t mandate learning. We can provide the opportunity, but it is about the learner and when the learner chooses, we all win. This is absolutely no different in the classroom...when the learner chooses, they invest. When they invest, they grow. EdcampWASDA was successful because over 60 people trusted the process and allowed themselves to take a risk. Just think what that that concept could do for schools districts, schools, and most Go Crickets.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to return to an area of the state where I lived for 10 years as a teacher, counselor, and coach.  My time in Ashwaubenon was special.  I met some incredible people and got to work with kids in both elementary school and high school, which was such a fantastic balance.  I was in town teaching a class through Viterbo University and as I prepared I was sending out some tweets about getting excited to be back in that area and looking forward to meeting our group.  A few of my former students/players saw the tweets and reached out to see if there was a way we could connect while I was in town.  What an incredible feeling…to reconnect with kids who you knew years ago…at different places in their lives…and talk about the experience when you were together.  One of the guys was a 3rd grade student when I left and the other was a member of the high school golf team that I coached.  I had so much fun talking to both of them…the golfer and I went out to lunch and I caught the former 3rd grade student working with kids at a park as part of his summer job.

As we got through the pleasantries of “You look great” and “Glad things are going well” we started to talk about the old times.  Inevitably, conversations move to “Remember when…”
We talked for some time about all the things that happened when I was in school with them.  The time I wore a wig and huge sun glasses to introduce a lesson.  The time I made the team run 1 hole on the golf course for each time they used profanity (only had to happen a few times…ha!), a quick conversation, and a book I read to a 3rd grade class.  The crazy thing is…if I was asked to recall the best parts about teaching and coaching with these guys, I would not have picked any of those instances. 
They were just things I did…not a lesson I was really excited about or crowning achievement on a team.  The most notable things to us are often not what our kids remember.
Perception is such an incredible thing.  We go through our lives interacting with multiple people on a regular basis.  We spend our time getting ready for meetings, lessons, presentations, events and other big ticket items.  I have a tendency to look ahead at what is next and not live in the moment.  The conversations with these two incredible young men reminded me that those moments are what others remember.

As I often do, I sent out a tweet with a picture from my meeting with the former 3rd grade student.  The next day as I was preparing for class I saw a tweet by another student from my days in Ashwaubenon.  The tweet was simple…all it said was…are you still bringing “sandwiches” to the picnic.  It took me forever to understand what that meant.  When I realized what he was talking about, I just sat back and smiled. 
The tweet referenced a 5 minute ice breaker that we did before class…one time.  One. Time.  That is what he remembered.  It was an activity that I haven’t thought of or used in over 10 years, but he did.  Every interaction counts.  Every single day with every single kid.  The moments that you hold dear are special to you, but you have no idea what will resonate with them.  As leaders in classrooms, schools, and districts we have to remember that eyes are on us all the time.  That may be unfair, but it’s real.  Any anxiety I felt with that concept was relieved through the interactions I had with these kids, who are now well on their way to being incredible men.  As you reflect on the year and think about all of the lessons, meetings, and presentations what went well…consider the fact that there were thousands of interactions that may have been more meaningful for your kids, parents, and colleagues.  Those moments may be the ones you revisit 10 years from now when your asked, “Remember when…”. Go Crickets.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
2 CommentsPost a comment
Every week in Fall Creek is wonderful, but this one seemed a bit more special.  Teacher Appreciation Week brought a number of wonderful things to school.  Our board was very generous with gifts for our staff.  T-shirts, mobile chargers, food, and gift cards all made their way to our group.  We had quotes from kids playing on our screens throughout the school for the last 2 days of the week (thanks to the #LeadWild crew for the idea). From start to finish the week was wonderful…mostly because of Teacher Appreciation Week, but we also had a few other events that brought it to a new level.  The best part was that all scheduled events came with some Unscheduled fun that brought even more joy to the moment.  Here were a few…

Personal Days
We raffled off 2 personal days a few months ago.  It was a great idea given to me by the incomparable Jeff Zoul.  I got to teach Chemistry (well, we actually talked problem solving with drones and Spheros) and a Library aide.  It was a fantastic opportunity to get into the classroom and give away a day for our staff.  I was happy that the scheduled dates came up during Teacher Appreciation Week.  I loved the time with kids…dedicate opportunity to get feedback, but more importantly, just to connect.  Unscheduled fun…One tweet from the day and I have already had conversations with a number of people who are implementing it in their building next year.

Excellence in Education
This banquet allows us to select 4 seniors to recognize. 
They choose an influential teacher from their career and the local Chamber of Commerce puts on a dinner for all of the recipients.  I got to attend and see the joy in the faces of both teacher and student…it was such a wonderful way to celebrate an educator that made a difference in their lives.  Unscheduled fun…2 of the recipients from a different district were in 2nd grade when I was their principal in a different school.  To see them walk across the stage and receive their award gave me an incredible sense of pride though I haven't seen them in years.

We were interviewing for a few positions this week.  We adjusted our schedule because 2 of our team members were being recognized by players on the Varsity Softball team. 
Each year, our coach asks his players to have one teacher introduced with them during a game…another great connection for staff and students.  After a different interview, our team felt so strongly about one of the candidates that they wanted to drive 20 minutes away and offer the recommendation for hire at her student teaching placement.  Unscheduled fun…to see the pictures from our teachers and the reaction of our recommended hire…wow.  It was an impromptu event that our candidate and team will never forget.

Muffins with Mom
20 minutes a day.  That is all it takes.  20 minutes of uninterrupted time with your kids and the connection you can make is astounding. 
Muffins with mom is always 20 minutes and we always fill the gym.  This year we had over 600 muffins ready for our kids and a significant female role model in their lives.  We have 325 kids in our school.  The response continues to make me proud to live in a place like Fall Creek.  Unscheduled fun…Later in the day I received a text from a family at my former school.  It was the family’s last Muffins with Mom as their youngest was moving on to a new school.  She just texted to say thanks for starting it.

Girls on the Run
4 years ago one of our teachers asked if she could start a Girls on the Run team.  We started with 12 girls, made great connections, and we were off.  4 years later we have 42 girls in the program and it is now the largest in the area. 
It is a perfect example of someone finding their passion and taking that passion to kids to give them an opportunity.  The conversations they have about image, goal setting, and taking care of yourself and others have helped our girls tremendously.  It also allows them to connect with other staff members in the building so they have another quality adult in their life. Unscheduled fun…I got to see parents take pride in what their kids do outside of school, watched a K-5 pep rally for 42 girls, and saw their reaction as they were given high fives from their peers.

Teacher Appreciation Week is unique.  When I started thinking about this blog post, I was trying to figure out how we could make school feel like Teacher Appreciation Week all the time in our building.  After a few conversations with people I know and trust, I have pulled back on that stance.  Though we want people to feel valued and know that they are part of something bigger, there is no problem with adding a few pieces to a particular week of the year to celebrate our staff.  Events are special.  Scheduled events like birthdays, holidays, games, or a celebration week like we just had in Fall Creek. Unscheduled events like impromptu conversations, random Google Hangouts, calls, or tweets…however they enter your world, they are all about being in the moment.  The week was full of moments that I won't soon forget, most were scheduled, but some were not…all added to an incredible place that I get to call home.  Well done, Fall Creek…well done. Go Crickets.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
The after school routine in the Sanfelippo house was relatively similar on a daily basis.  My mom would ask me… “What did you do in school today?” My answer was always the same… “I don’t know.” This conversation happens in many homes around the world. Clearly something happened during the school day when I was a kid…but the story of my classroom was dependent on a kid who really didn’t want to talk about school. The result of that conversation is clear…people wondering what is going on in those walls. The power of stories has an incredible impact on our lives. As kids we want to have stories read to us. As adults we gather to hear stories of the past.  They evoke an emotion that can only come when we tug at the recollection of the moment. The stories told often narrow in perspective as time goes on. Our view becomes focused on our feelings at the time and that becomes the story. I don’t remember all the events leading up to my son being born (7 weeks early) almost 14 years ago.
I do remember how scared I was and the first time I was able to hold him. That is the story I continue to tell because the focus has narrowed to those two pieces. The stories of schools are no different. The narratives of schools are being told by people who attended years ago. Whatever their experience was at the time is the one that they are telling right now. The issue is this…schools are not the same as they were when I went 20 years ago. Kids in our space are doing amazing things.
They are creating, innovating, constructing, deconstructing, and problem solving like never before. They are bringing content to the world instead of regurgitating content back to their teachers. They are connecting with authors and other classrooms across the globe on a regular basis. They are tweeting, posting, and blogging…all with the understanding that all education does not need to take place within our walls. The only way we can change the narrative of schools is to bring our story to the world. We are in a service organization. Bringing what we do to the world on a regular basis has not been part of our organizational DNA.
Simply put…that needs to change. My 8 year old, my 11 year old, and the 14 year old are doing amazing things in their classrooms, with the leadership of INCREDIBLE teachers. It is not fair to them, or anyone in our space, to have their story told by people who have no connection to what happens here. I've attached a few pictures of things going on in our building over the last 2 days.  I didn't have to look to hard to find them...our #gocrickets thread is available to anyone on our website and gives us a chance to share our learning with anyone who wants to jump in.  The opportunity to tell our story is one we really need to gravitate to with the current landscape of public education.  
We can't hope that the stories are told...we have to help others tell them
. We can change the narrative by connecting with parents and community members through many channels. We can help parents have conversations that move from “What did you do at school today?” to “Hey, I saw on Twitter that you were launching rockets today…tell me more about that”. Most importantly, we can help students own the process and love learning so if they are asked what they did in school today they can move from…“I don’t know” to “I don’t know where to start.” Go Crickets. 
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo

In a colossal lapse of judgment, the BAM Radio Network has asked the incomparable Tony Sinanis to host the 2015 Bammy Awards…and apparently I get to be his sidekick!!  I have secured a utility belt to hold all of the hair gel he requires, made requests to have only blue M&Ms at the site, talked to the staff to ensure that the dressing room is at a perfect 73.6 degrees and have upgraded my phone so I can hold all of the pictures he will make me take of him during the evening. Ha!  We are very excited to help bring the stories of great students, teachers, administrators, and innovators to the world through this event.  Our passion is clearly in the area of Telling Our School Story.  The book we wrote and the radio show we host are predicated on getting the amazing work our kids do into the worlds of those who have a different view of public education.  The theme of the Bammy Awards is Breaking the Code of Silence.  Check out the video as it presents a quick overview of what we can do as educators to tell the story of our schools.

So…we hope you will join us, physically and or virtually on Saturday, September 26th as we hope to help tell the great stories of our schools.  It may get a little crazy…I have purchased an Ab Roller and plan on using it 4-6 times to ensure that I am physically fit enough for the event…or at least it will strengthen my core and help if I am laughing too much!! One thing is true…the theme of Breaking the Code of Silence requires loud voices…and BAM could not have picked 2 louder.  Let’s do this!
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
OK...School district leaders, government agencies, education we go...  
Social media has been a great place for me to learn and grow over the course of the last 2 years.  I have met some amazing people, connected with government entities, and cultivated resources that I hope have helped our school move forward.  However, there are times throughout the year that I think we as a connected group forget that though our group is growing, it still makes up a relatively small portion of educators working with kids on a regular basis.  We talk about change, the impact of being connected, and how ownership of learning is key to learning...but it is often in a tunnel of those we have chosen to connect with and who share similar views on what education should look like. There are people across the world doing amazing things.  Most of those who are connected are more than willing to share so our Fall Creek group can have the connections to get better in their space.  We have been able to bring in authors virtually, talk to local, state, and national leaders on a regular basis with the help of our social media presence, and distribute resources we have found by getting past the Google search.  That is awesome...but the perspective is still only reaching a small population.  The people we work with will not connect if they don’t see the value to their immediate space.  Example...I hate to exercise and eat well.  Hate it.  I know it is good for me and I know it would make me feel better.  My wife is the most beautiful thing that has ever landed on the planet and she is doing everything she can to provide great meals and encourage me to exercise, but when I see a place to get a pizza, I’m getting a pizza.  I haven’t seen the value because I have not been invested in it...and if she can’t convince me, no one will until I start to see the value for myself.  When I see personal success, clearly I will be encouraged to engage more.  Social media is the same thing...until educators see the value for their day to day interactions with kids, it will still be a place where a small percentage lives or what “those people do”.

Social Media is for other people
In the Superintendent position, the circle of those who I connect with on all social media platforms is the great state of Wisconsin I have a Twitter list of Superintendents that has under 100 names.  We have 425 districts in this state.  Even with the group on the list, I think there are about 20 who I connect with on a regular basis and share ideas.  I love their passion...but I KNOW about their passion because of the connection we have made on social media.  I’m sure there are a plethora of very high quality superintendents across our state and I feel bad that I haven’t been able to connect
with them...the impact we could have together is much better than what we have individually.  There are a number of very vocal and highly visible people on the speaking circuit who are extremely active on Twitter.  When I went to see speakers 5 years ago it seemed like they were talking about dreams rather than reality.  They stood on a stage, got people fired up about education, and then they left.  Now, we are able to connect with those people on a regular basis.  Every keynote speaker I have seen in the last 2 years has been accessible through Twitter.  I have reached out to most, and in almost every case I have been able to engage in a dialogue about how we could help our kids grow and succeed. Having said that...we need to help people connect so they can find their own way without making it feel like they are poor educators without it.  Help out at social media lounges at conferences, engage in conversations on twitter, and offer to help through Google Hangouts or Skype.  Helping others see the value means being there if they need the help, not just telling them they should do it.  We owe it to our staff to help connect and continue the conversations so they know how.

Social Media and technology does not fix bad teaching
Getting everyone ON Twitter is a great idea in theory, but ON Twitter does not always mean invested in the process.  Conversely, ON Twitter does not make you a great may give you more resources, but at the core of what you do should be the teaching and learning of the group you are assigned.  They only have a limited time with us and every effort should be made to ensure that the time they spend in our space is inspiring.  The use of social media and technology can clearly enhance the learning environment, but is not the answer if instruction does not change.  Bringing back the exercise example...I have the shoes, the Ipod, the quality ear buds, and like 5 mapping apps.  All of them were great for a week...then the allure of something new was gone and the $100 shoes I bought to take me to the next level stare begrudgingly at me every time I leave the house.  If the intent moves to more ownership of the process, everyone will be more invested.  We all want to own our growth.  The most productive Professional Development in our district over the last 2 years was clearly learning from peers and self directed.  Our teachers know that...and that knowledge helps us transfer the environment to our students.  Teachers don’t like to be talked at all day. Guess what, students don’t either.  Loved this post from Grant Wiggins on a teacher spending 2 days as a high school student.  We owe it to our kids to increase our ability to instruct and provide a place that is engaging for students.  Getting there means we need to empower our teachers to learn HOW to make that happen instead of walking in an expecting it to be the norm right away.

Waiting for the next
Social media aside...this is the biggest issue with education reform.  Initiatives have historically been attached to a person.  New administrators come into districts and have a perspective on how they think they can move the needle in a particular area.  They are well intended, and honestly, that is part of the reason they are there...but if initiatives are attached to a person, they leave when the person
moves on.  I know teachers and administrators who have not engaged in a new process because they know the person will be gone in a few years and they will have to start something new when a different leader chosen.  Who can blame them!?!!?  The minute they feel comfortable with the initiative, a new one comes along and they have to find a way to integrate what they have done, or scrap all of the work that went into it at that point.  We have all been there...change is necessary, but doesn’t need to be constant.

The point is reform will go nowhere if our staff does not feel a connection to where we are going.  If we want them to invest, we need to invest in them.  For those who are making decisions on a state and national level...ask our teachers what they need to be successful.  For those people in the connected community...extend the conversation beyond those on social media who already believe a new direction is needed.  Those of us who are connected have a responsibility to spread the word, do great things, and invest in people who are not connected so they can see the value without pontificating so we push them away.  We have a responsibility to get into universities and raise the expectation so we are hiring people who we want to be like, not who fit into who we are.  There are pockets where these things are happening...and pockets of excellence are a great start, as long as we encourage and empower everyone in our environment to do what is best for kids and those pockets grow over time.  Go Crickets.  
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo

So...I went to the White House and met the President last week.  I really don’t know a different way to start the post.  That happened.  The leader of the best country in the world, in location that I have visited twice, but always outside a gate. At some point I will reminisce about the speech, the entrance and exit of the President, the fact that I shook his hand twice, sat 10 feet from him as he

addressed the nation, and received texts from our staff as the students in Fall Creek watched from their classroom.  

The events of the day were captured brilliantly by David Britton

.  At some point the surreal notion of being in that space will fade.  Not today.  Today, the inspiration of being at the White House, discussing what school could look like with the highest ranking officials in the US Department of Education, and meeting with 117 school leaders across the country to make life better for kids in our school system still woke me up with a mission to get better.  The makeup of the room included leaders from schools districts that ranged in size from hundreds to tens of thousands.  The interesting component to me was the issues that we face in a district of 800 were the same as those faced in other districts much larger.  Quality time for Professional Development, financial support, and connectivity were all brought up throughout the day. We all face these and need to help each other for all kids to succeed.  I walked away with a great sense of pride in the relationships we create with kids and a determination to make our spaces better for them to learn.  Here are a few takeaways from the summit:

It’s about Trust

Everything we talked about that day will fail if we don’t develop trust with our staff, students, and community.  Nothing can be done to improve student learning if the people we are hoping to bring along on the journey do not trust where the journey leads.  We have a responsibility to build trust first...above all else, create an environment where trust is the default.  The more initiatives we bring forward, the less people will be willing to jump on board in the process.  I have worked in places where staff members judge the number of years they have until retirement by the number of initiatives they will have to endure.  That is not fair to them, and certainly not fair to kids. Solution: Find two things your staff does really well and enhance their opportunity to grow those. Have them find one thing they want to improve, and let them drive the learning in that area.

It’s about Leadership

The day was filled with exceptional leaders.  To hear their stories and think about how it would translate to the kids in Fall Creek was both exciting and exhausting.  Their teams were doing incredible things in the area of digital learning.  The opportunities that were given to students in their districts were amazing and their ability to cultivate more leaders in their districts was well noted.  The passion and purpose shared throughout the summit was undeniable.  The leaders in the room were confident, yet understood that we were all in this together.  I think seeing the President speak had a lot to do with that outlook.  The conversations about how to make school better were at the forefront of every interaction, and that was absolutely inspiring.

It’s about Teachers, not Tech

I am inspired to work in a place that knows kids are different.  Our teachers make great connections with kids and families.  We got into teaching to change lives.  We teach because we had someone who believed in us long ago and saw value in what we could bring to others.  We need to understand that the feeling we received from someone instilling that confidence in us has to be transferable.  We have a responsibility to make kids feel like there is someone in the building who believes in who they are, but more importantly, who they will become. As a profession, we also have to understand that a number of us got into teaching because we experienced some success in school.  That also makes up a very small percent of the population of kids in school.  If we teach the way we were taught, it will only resonate with a very similar population.  I may not have been the brightest kid, but I could “do school”.  I knew what I needed to get by, and often did just enough.  We don’t want kids to just “do school”.  We want kids to be inspired to do something different, something bold, something that will make life better...and we need to understand that “doing school” will not get them there.

Most importantly, it’s about Students

The theme was clear throughout the day.  Future Ready is about kids.  Schools are about kids and the adults in that setting have a responsibility to ensure that the spaces reflect that notion. At the heart of that responsibility is the willingness to connect the adults and kids so quality instruction can happen and kids see the value in the learning.  If they own it, they will learn.  If they feel a connection, they will learn.  If they know you trust them, they will learn. We owe it to them to provide a better opportunity than the one we had. The connection leads to discussion, the discussion leads to confidence, and the confidence leads to change. Everyone in our building has the ability to change the world.  They all have a passion.  Finding that can be difficult, but it always starts with the connection.

I think we have all been in a room where there are discussions about how to change things and we leave knowing that nothing will.  I honestly could not have been more excited about where this group could go.  The regional meetings set up across the country will be a great opportunity to discuss what Future Ready is and what it is not.  Future Ready is about learning, not about tech.  It is about creating opportunities for kids, not what is convenient for adults.  It is about developing our staff members to ensure they are growing in a digital age, not about teaching the way we were taught as kids.  It is about creating capacity for all of our schools to ensure all kids leave prepared to take on whatever their future holds, not what the past held.  It is about the Future...and together we will be ready. Go Crickets.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
3 CommentsPost a comment
Comfort zones are interesting to me.  We all work so hard to get to them, but once we get there, we are really scared to step outside of the peace that they offer.  They provide us with a sense of calm, but I question whether or not they help us to grow.  If we spend too much time in the comfort zone, it is much harder to take risks and step outside.  I completely understand it.  There is rarely time where we take on a new activity and it turns into awesome right away.  Take a pen and a piece of paper…write your name on the paper with your non-dominant hand.  How are you feeling? Clearly the more you practice the better it would get, but if we are constantly reminded that we’re not good at a particular task, we are much less likely to continue doing it.  Having said that, there are not too many things in the world that we could do right away.  In essence, the learning always came from outside our comfort zones.

Some people step out of their comfort zones and try something new.  I am currently involved in an activity that doesn’t just fall a little outside my comfort zone, it resides miles away.  We are a few weeks away from Dancing with the Eau Claire Stars.  I was asked to be one of the contestants, and it has been quite the experience!  Now…I don’t consider myself a star, a dancer, and I don’t live in Eau Claire.  So…this could not be more outside my comfort zone.  The dancing portion of the activity is difficult and well beyond my level of expertise, which was clearly a switch for me.  I tend to pick activities where I feel like I can experience a relative level of success.  I had no idea how I was going to have that feeling in a choreographed dance.  Inevitably, everything I do tends to get my wheels spinning about how it relates to schools, students, staff, and professional growth.  So…here are a few thoughts going through my head as the process has rolled out…

Don’t waver
The longer it takes you to make the decision, the less likely you are to do it.   We tend to talk a lot in education…we discuss and discuss and discuss before making a decision and sometimes forget the most important part…actually making one.  Do your research, but when you commit…go.  Once you know you are in you will feel much better about the process. 

The Impact of Peers
As administrators we can lead the process of challenging staff members to grow outside their comfort zones, but when it comes down to the ownership of the process, the value of peers is incredible.  The support from peers as you take a risk in your practice can be a true motivator when it comes to confidence.  People want to be acknowledged for what they do, and that includes attempting to try something different.  This has to be the culture of classrooms as well.  Students will not go out on a limb if they feel like their friends are going to insult them or their teacher won’t support them.  I know really intelligent kids who do not participate in class because they are afraid of what their friends will say.  I know kids who knock others down emotionally because it is easier than admitting that they don’t understand or know the answer.  I have worked with staff members who don’t want to extend themselves for fear of what their colleagues would say.  I am lucky to work in a place where the support for peers is really solid, but even in that space it can be hard for people to step out of their comfort zones.
Have Fun
Find the fun…these dance rehearsals are hard for me because every time I try to do something I am constantly reminded that I am not good at it.  I feel awkward and frustrated when I can’t get the steps right.  I have really amazing teachers.  Allie and Amber are great dancers, and better people.  They have made this process so fun for me.  We laugh, shrug our shoulders, make things up as we go, and at no point have I felt like I am a burden to their evenings (though Amber may have a few bruises!).  We are having a blast…and I am so glad I decided to take part in the process.

I am so far out of my comfort zone.  Allie and Amber are fantastic teachers.  They ask the right questions and push me to get better, while understanding the concept that I am way out of my league.  I feel like I am accomplishing more every time we rehearse.  This feeling has to be a staple of what happens in schools.  Adults need to feel like they can grow, and not be stuck in a rut of their own professional development.  Kids need to feel like they are getting better and have ownership in how they grow. As you get ready to start the year, understand that you will be asking kids to step out of their comfort zones to maximize their learning and you can be an incredible model if you step out of your own.  Have a great start to the year, everyone.  Go Crickets!
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
Here are a few thoughts as part of Digital Leadership Day...

Over the course of the last 2 months I have had the incredible opportunity to meet face to face with phenomenal educational leaders across the country.  A few years ago I wouldn’t have even considered the thought of traveling across the country to connect with leaders from different states, talk about how we can change the educational landscape and create better environments for kids.  I didn’t think the power of 140 characters would lead me to Voxer conversations that have made me laugh, cry, and want to be a better leader because of the push I get from my friends across the world.  I didn’t think a simple conversation would turn into a session at an Edcamp that would grow into a radio show that would balloon into writing multiple books.  All of those things may have happened at
some point, but the impact of being connected digitally has made it substantially easier. The digital leadership journey, is just as it indicates…a journey.  We go down many paths that we don’t really know throughout our careers.  Some work out and some don’t, but all help us to grow.  The use of digital tools in the development of leadership skill has been a game changer for me.  The tools have allowed or conversations. Those conversations have challenged my thinking and grown a network that expands well beyond location.  The best and most connected leaders in the country are literally a tweet, post, or vox away.  The internet has changed school for students.  They have access to any content at any time.  The same holds true for leaders.  The opportunity for growth is out there.  If we are leading learning organizations, it is incumbent on us to model that learning.

Leadership and Management
The digital portion of leadership may not be essential…but it certainly has made me want to be a better leader.  We often get stuck in the day-to-day operation of what school looks like…and to be honest that is a critical piece to leadership.  Curt Rees and I were talking a few months ago about the difference between leader and manager.  The discussion veered toward the idea that great leaders have both vision sense and management ability. Philosophical discussions that happen in every social media forum are just dreams if you do not have a process in place to make change happen.  We can talk about how it should look or how we would like it to look or fawn over the latest infographic…but the attempt to move forward is where the new path for staff and students will be cut.

As I have indicated before, I live and work in an unbelievable school district.  We have unwavering support for our school from the parents and community, the staff is beyond wonderful, and the school board allows us to take risks and try new things.  We are a very small school so as we move into the future the use of digital tools will certainly be needed to provide opportunities for our students that they can’t get due to limited course offer
ings.  We use social media in our building on a regular basis.  Could we use them more often…of course.  We have some classrooms that have active Twitter feeds and connect with other classrooms across the world.  We have some classrooms using Remind to connect with families.  Our school district app has been very successful in communicating with our parents and families.  CricketTV has brought HS extra curricular activities to life for extended family not living in Fall Creek.  These are just a few examples.  As a leader, modeling the process for staff is essential, but it clearly does not hold the biggest card in terms of influence.  The staff in our building who have utilized the communication tools and connected to the outside world do it because of the feedback they get from students, parents, and colleagues.  If the positive comments are coming from any of those groups the motivation grows and the initiative starts to move.

Digital tools of today will be replaced with newer, faster, and more productive tools in the future.  The gold is not in the tool, but the process.  As leaders, we have an obligation to seek out and model opportunities that could help our students, staff and community.  We need to provide resources and time for people to dive into the process and grow through ownership of learning.  Self-guided exploration of learning is great for both students and staff.   We don’t need to have all the answers and often won’t, but if we are seen as leading the learning, we will be in a better place.  Go Crickets!!

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
My friends Joe Mazza and Tony Sinanis often talk about the impact of being the lead learner in a building.  They live this title to the fullest extent.  I hold them both in such high regard, because they are truly leading the learning in their area.  If we are going to lead learning organizations, we need to lead the learning as adults.  We need to consistently push ourselves to learn new things and model for our staff the importance of continuous professional growth.  
Having said that, being the Lead Learner should also encompass Learning to Lead.  At a very young age I was told that I had “leadership ability”.  To this day I don’t really know what that means, but I knew it gave me confidence to get in front of a group of people, provide some energy and enthusiasm, and attempt to get people headed in a similar direction.  The confidence that was instilled was great, but I think it also had a negative effect.
We consistently tell kids in Fall Creek that they work hard.  We do not tell them that they are smart.  The theory behind that is that at some point all kids will run into something that they view as too hard.  For those who have been constantly told that they are smart, it may be a let down when they can’t figure something out.  For those who have been told that they work hard, it may be a just another task that they know they can achieve with additional work.
I think I always felt smart when it came to leadership.  Things came easy and I could get by with energy and enthusiasm.  Sometimes I feel like it has been more of a curse than a blessing.  Working to become a better leader is hard.  When things got hard and difficult decisions needed to be made, I often felt like the kid who has been told they were smart for years.  Now what? What if it doesn’t work? What if people start seeing me in a different light? What if the decision is wrong and it impacts everyone’s lives? 

People are often placed into leadership positions because of great interview or because  they had experienced some success in a different role.  The fact is…being a lead learner means taking the process of learning to lead seriously.  Certifications, degrees, and experience can all play a role in that development, but the process has to take you out of your comfort zone and help you move to a different level.  I recently had my leadership teams fill out a survey for me through the Franklin Covey training.  The results were honest, and clearly identified areas that I need to improve.  I am so happy that I have a group willing to tell me I need to get better in certain areas.  The challenge for leaders is we try to get better at too many things and subsequently get better at none. We discuss how we can improve in an area, but rarely find the time to dig deep and get better in our leadership practice.  
We read books and think of ways to implement, and then the day to day operations take over and our growth timeline gets pushed back.

Every year I ask our staff to come with “My Three”.  They find 3 things that they can look to after a day, and when accomplished, walk out feeling good about what happened.  There will be days that they struggle to meet the three and others that they will have them met by the time kids arrive…but it is a constant reminder that little victories can bring big success.  As the year starts, I WILL work on the following as I continue to LEARN to LEAD…

1. Be a Leadership Builder
2. On Time…Every Time
3. Listen More…Talk Less

I am so lucky.  I live in a school district that allowed me to take a Superintendent position with no experience. I live in a school district that allows me to SCREAM the great things happening here in every social media forum I can find.  I live in a school district that was willing to give me time to grow.  We have an incredibly supportive community, a wonderful school board, and a staff that has never said no to an initiative.  They all deserve the best leader, and one willing to work hard at learning to lead.  I could not be happier to call this place home…Go Crickets!

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
14 CommentsPost a comment