A group of fantastic principals have connected on writing a series of blog posts to get some perspective on a few topics...I am happy that they pushed me back to writing...thanks folks!

“Are you out of your mind?” I was coaching golf and I told one of the coaches from a rival team that I was moving to Eau Claire, WI to become an elementary principal.  I was leaving a counseling position in a fantastic school district, where I was able to coach basketball and golf, two of the activities I loved most in the world. He asked if I had thought it through and laughed a little bit.  I was really excited to be a principal.  The building I was moving to seemed to be a good fit for me, and I was happy to get my wife back to an area of the state that she really liked.  We packed our stuff, moved across the state, and started a leadership journey that has proven to be life changing. 
My first experience as a principal was incredible, considering I had little to no idea what I was doing.  The transition to the area was great!  The school was wonderful, the families were very supportive, and I was one of 12 elementary principals in the district, so there were a number of people who I could lean on in my first year.  I was able to make some connections, had a great mentor, and felt like we were making a difference in the lives of kids.  We often referred to our school as the “Little Slice of Heaven on the West Side”.  It was really my first adventure in the area of branding our school and telling our story, which has become a clear passion to this day.  Kids would ask me if I had a house, or if I had kids, or if I slept at school.  When I told them that I had kids and a wife my favorite response was… “Wow, that’s weird”.
When we moved to Eau Claire we purposely chose a house on a particular side of town so our kids would go to a different school.  I really wanted them to have their own identity and not be “the Principal’s kid”.  We came to find out that it didn’t really matter.  Everyone knew they were “A Principal’s kid” even if was at a different school.
The social piece of being a principal was harder than I thought.  I found myself wondering what people thought of our kids, our house, or our cars.  I wondered if being a principal meant I had to hang out with other principals.  I wondered how long I had to work to make sure people thought I was doing a good job.  I did a great deal of wondering.  Every year we sat our kids down and told them that they may be looked at differently because of what daddy does for a living.  Was that fair? Probably not.  Was it real?  Absolutely.  Administrators are people too and I think sometimes the daily grind of what this job means can take over a family. 
Fast forward to this year.  After 5 years in Eau Claire and 4 years in Fall Creek, this was my last as an elementary principal.  I have been able to split the Superintendent and Elementary Principal role here for the last 3 years. As I move into the Superintendent job full time, our school board and community have been so supportive.  Fall Creek is truly a special place.  We have a number of staff members who have students in our building.  That has really helped our kids.  With so many families who have connections to the building, our family feels more at home.  The connection and pride to a small school resonated from the first piece of Cricket gear our kids put on to today where our closets are mostly green.  We could laugh when my oldest son tied my daughter to a tree and someone got it on camera.  We cried when our team lost in the sectional semi final.  Our kids envision what they will look like on stages, fields, courts, and hallways.  Maybe it is time that makes me think the lines between being an administrator and community member are not as defined or maybe it is the ages of our kids.  The only thing I know is that the place has definitely played a role.  We all want what is best for kids here…it doesn’t matter if you are on our staff, an administrator, or a community member.  Fall Creek Pride is real…and our family has bought in 100%.
We chose this profession…we chose it because we wanted to see kids succeed and we thought we could make a difference.  We chose to be parents for the same reason.  Sometimes the administrator and community member line can get blurred.  Part of being a good administrator is being a good person…and being a good person means taking pride in what you do and where you are from…and I could not be happier to say that we are from Fall Creek…Go Crickets.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
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When I was in my first year of teaching I remember having difficulty with some of the kids in class.  I was frustrated because they weren’t getting their work done, didn’t show much effort, lacked focus, and were in each other’s space on a consistent basis.  I remember calling my mom to let her know that the new job was hard and the kids were having the aforementioned issues.  She told me to keep working and it would be fine. So…I kept working, but I still saw the same thing out of the kids.  About a week after our conversation, she left the following message on my answering machine (yep…it was an actual machine at that time!)…

“Joe lacks focus.  He has the potential, but procrastinates and rarely gets his work done on time.  He needs to show more effort to improve.  He also needs to keep his hands and feet to himself.” Then she said… “You turned out ok…take it easy on the kids”.

It is funny that listening to an excerpt from my elementary report card completely changed my outlook on the classroom.  As an elementary kid I knew I was more of a burden than a prize in the classroom.  I needed a stage, and our classroom didn’t have one…so, I created my own.  The needs I had as a learner were definitely in contrast to what my teacher had for the class.  I often think back to that time when kids are struggling.  Clearly their need is not being met…and it is our job to find a way to engage them in the process. I had a number of students in that first class that needed to be engaged in a different manner.  I think the opportunity to learn from my own experience helped restore a positive outlook on what was happening in the classroom.
The cold weather…time inside the building…and shortened days
via www.peddlerson.com
always makes for an interesting February.  The last month has been exceptionally difficult on kids as the temperatures have been ridiculous.  I never thought I would see -45 and am fine if we don’t ever see it again.  With kids cooped up in classrooms and unable to get outside I think it is natural to see them get agitated a little easier than normal.  The group of Crickets we work with on a daily basis are phenomenal…I am constantly astounded by their work ethic and the support of their families.  We are in a very lucky place.  Having said that…they are still kids and kids make mistakes.  I think our staff does a great job of looking at the environment of the action rather than the action itself.  This allows us to adjust the situation, rather than shift blame.  PBIS data has been great in this regard.

The environment of the classroom is largely determined by the actions and attitude of the adult in that space.  We have to set the tone in our classrooms…and it has to be an inviting place for all.  In the end, the environment of the classroom will be determined by the feelings students have in that area and whether or not they feel like they will have success. That success may come at a much later date…but they need to feel like it is possible.  Go Crickets.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
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I love sports talk radio.  I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time in the car between 3:00-10:00 pm most evenings these days and podcasts continue to be a great way to pass that time.  I truly enjoy the work done by Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo on SVP and Rusillo.  In starting the BrandED podcast with TonySinanis, I get a sense of what it takes to put a very very small show together.  Our podcast is 12 minutes...recorded...and only happens every other week.  These guys put quality interviews and live conversation together on a daily basis.  It is much harder than they make it sound.  One of the things I like about the show is that they don’t spend a great deal of time talking about The Next.  Sports and sports talk is absolutely obsessed with The Next.  It is clearly driven by the idea that listeners identify greatness and are always looking for something comparable…we tend to avoid enjoying the moment, and seek out something more.  The Next Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, and Magic Johnson discussion will be replaced with who will be The Next Kevin Durant, Andrew Luck, and LeBron James…because it is always interesting to think beyond greatness.

When working with students, the mindset of The Next can easily get flipped.  Years ago when I was in a different district, I heard from fellow teachers… “Well, he’s a (fill in the name of a family who has struggled) so we are just hoping to get them through high school”.  As wrong as it is to live in the obsession with who is the next superstar, comments like those drove me crazy.  So…because family members in the past have struggled we automatically shut down any hope of a sibling having success because they are The Next?  No.  If we treat a student differently because of that concept, we are just contributing to an assumed predetermined path of failure…and that is simply not fair.

The mindset also needs to be evident in school.  As organizations we spend so much time looking at other programs and expect similar results if we implement the same systems.  The reality is that all schools are unique.  Initiatives like Genius Hour, Project Based Learning, and 1 to 1 are awesome…but the success is in the process.  Your school culture and identity are not bought from a box, they are built from the character in your walls.  The Next great initiative will be replaced with a new Next great initiative, but the success of your school is dependent on the people, not the programs (thank you Todd Whitaker).

via beliefnet.com
Kids in schools invariably follow the path of society.  They emulate and desire to be those who they connect with either personally or from afar.  Social media has allowed our students to go on the journey of famous athletes, singers, and Hollywood superstars from their phone…so the idea of The Next is firmly implanted from a very young age.  Social media and technology are not going away, so hope is clearly lost…right?  Wrong.  We need to encourage our kids to stop thinking about The Next…and become The First.  Every person is unique and has the opportunity to do something wonderful.  Though their interest may stem from what they see…the idea that they can be The First shouldn’t leave their thought process. There is no shame in admiring the work of superstars…and no shame in using things they have done to become successful to improve your own personal or group achievement.  However, their situation was different than your situation, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow may be different for you than it was for them.  All of those things are great…because the world needs variety.

The irony of it all is this...the people they emulate were, more often than not, The First.  Every single day, 802 future superstars walk through our doors…and our hope for them is not to become The Next…but to become The First. Go Crickets.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
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1,201 is just a number.  I can’t decide how I feel about it.  On one hand it seems like a lot of pictures to take at school that tell the story of the amazing things happening in Cricket Country.  On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like nearly enough to articulate what happens in our schools on a daily basis.  Obviously, pictures tell stories.  The pictures and videos we take in schools hope to tell stories for those who can’t be there to experience what we see every day.  The pictures can highlight what happens, but often the message gets lost with the “you had to be there” mentality.  We hope that the pictures we take contribute to the mosaic that is Fall Creek. All 1,201 can be seen at www.flickr.com/fallcreekcrickets.  It was next to impossible to come up with only a few to highlight in this blog, but here goes…

The first picture is the monstrosity that is our Play Web.  It’s huge…and the kids love it.  It represents what I hope students bring to school all the time.  Be brave, aim high, and step out of your comfort zone.  When we were building the new playground, I had inkling that the structure would be big…but had no idea that I could go to the top and take an aerial shot of the school!  The idea was to have some equipment for our older students at the elementary level.  Turns out that everyone loves it…from Kindergarten students to Middle School students…I even saw some of our high school kids navigating the ropes.  In the end, it is awesome and the students have been both safe and brave while spending time on the structure.  It clearly represents what we want from kids and we hope that the same level of nervousness and drive can get them to the top of their academic career as well.

As the year went on we wanted to get more time for our staff to collaborate.  We have grade level collaboration days and our professional development time has moved to more of an independent model where our group gets to choose how they grow.  That model leaves little to no time for all staff collaboration between SPED, Title, Counseling, and across grade levels.  So, thanks to Jay Posick (who I will yell at later in the post) we started collaboration mornings for our staff and students.  Every 6 weeks I get to take our students, all 350 of them, in the gym for 90 minutes.  During this time we read a book together, play some team building games with classes and grade levels, and have some buddy reading time.  Our teachers get that additional time to work together and connect on a different level.  The picture is from one of our teambuilding activities.  Look at the smiles!!!!  Now…I have learned a few lessons.  First…though the time is crazy and trying to keep the interest of 350 kids ages 5-12 is next to impossible, I love it.  The staff has been very appreciative of the time and the connection I get with our students has been excellent.  Next…our 5th grade students have helped organize and even plan some of the days, which is a prime example of what happens when you trust and empower kids…they have been awesome.  Finally…listen.  When I talked to Jay about the idea I failed to listen to the details.  Apparently, I didn’t hear the part where he told me they get together for 30 minutes…not 90.  So…

This is a first grade student drawing during indoor recess.  I snuck behind him only to see that he was drawing a picture to give to his teacher.  It speaks to the connection we aim for when
working with kids.  The feeling that they have when they know they belong, when they know they are wanted, and when they know they can succeed is so special.  This happens all the time…kids color a picture or draw something for their teacher and the stacks of mementos grow on the edges of desks in every school.  Our reaction to the picture is what makes the connection work.  If it’s just another picture, the likelihood of the connection diminishes.  If there is that moment in giving it to their teacher, when they feel like the only other person in the world, the connection goes well beyond curriculum and school rules…and that is where amazing starts.
Moment captured by Karen Stuttgen

Finally, and my favorite, was taken in a classroom by one of our teachers.  It is rare that the ah-ha moment is ever captured.  This was it…the moment where one of her students “got it”.  The student was teaching her peers and the knowledge that she understood the process was overwhelming…it is both precious and poignant.  We spend hours and hours hoping that a moment like this happens for our kids.  We help them to own the process so the joy comes in learning, not memorizing.  When they take pride in the learning and can work through the tough times to get to that moment, it makes everything right.  The joy in her face continues to make me smile and gives me hope that this feeling happens often, even if we can’t catch it with a picture.

1,201 to 4.  I often think about the work we do in schools and know that it is worth it, but don’t know if everyone feels that way.  Our staff and students are amazing.  Our staff has the best interests of students in mind and their joy comes from seeing students succeed.  Our students are respectful and find joy in owning the learning process.  When those two ideas collide, magic happens.  Here is hoping that you, your students, and your staff have seen it happen this year and continue to do amazing things in 2014. Go Crickets.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
When is the last time something amazing happened in your classroom?  I’ll help you out…the last time you had kids in your classroom and they were engaged in learning, it was amazing.  To think that we have people in this world that have the skill level to engage a group of children of varying abilities, backgrounds, races, needs, and interests is amazing.  The work done in schools all across the world is spectacular.  Kids gather…learn…leave…and make the world we live in a better place.  So…amazing happens all the time.

The idea of branding schools isn’t about selling kids or making false promises…it’s about promoting the amazing things going on for those who don’t have the opportunity to experience it on a daily basis.  The percentage of people in your community who have kids in schools is relatively small.  When we were looking at community data for a referendum, about 20% of our community was made up of households who had students in our building.  That leaves a huge void in who has knowledge of what goes on in our building and who does not.  Telling the story of the wonderful things happening in schools to the kids who see it all the time is simply not enough.  Students understand the experience because they live it…we need to make connections to everyone else because the 80% can be an incredible asset to the 20% who walk through the hallways.  That large percentage is the group that tells the stories of their community and their experience with the school system.  Schools have the chance to be the piece that communities get behind and provide an identity to those who live within the boundaries.  Some community members will come to you…they will show up at games, concerts, school plays…and when they do, the performances on courts, fields, and stages is only part of the story.  The feeling they have when they leave your building is the one that gets talked about at dinner tables, local restaurants, and work the next day.  Others will not…but if they both are speaking the same language and can identify with a brand it helps you build a great deal of social capital and celebrate the wonderful work of kids. Here are 3 things we discussed when building our brand in Cricket Country:

Get a Win Early
We started a Facebook and Twitter feed before the school year was up and running a few years ago.  We had a Red Carpet Welcome Back to School for teachers where students lined an area of the hallway and when all of our teachers walked out of a meeting on their way to lunch the kids screamed…yelled…took pictures…asked for autographs…made it feel like the Oscars.  They were awesome.  We got some media coverage and it ended up on CNN.com for the day.  One event…and we were off.  We had something to celebrate and it was fun to see it grow.

Find something and go. 
It’s really that easy.  People see the golden arches or the swoosh and know exactly what it means.  The Fall Creek Crickets put Go Crickets on everything…everything.  Shirts, window clings, bracelets, umbrellas, stress balls, Frisbees, lanyards…everything. We throw t-shirts out at games, give away bracelets, ask who needs window clings…whatever we can do to get the word out.  The financial investment we put into "stuff" is  minimal in comparison to the amount of social capital it builds.
We use the #gocrickets hash tag all over the place.  Staff, students, and now even parents are using the hash tag…as social media continued to grow we needed to find a presence in that space…having our community own that through a shared voice has been an incredible feeling.  Identify your brand and then promote it.

Never give up the opportunity to say something great about your school
The issue is not about what is happening in schools, it’s the perception of what is happening.  The reality is that everyone didn’t have a great school experience when they were younger.  The thoughts and feelings they had as students often linger to a point that their perception of what it was becomes the reality they convey to others. That perception can change…if your voice, and their new experience, are positive. The interactions you have through social media and face to face have an incredible impact.  If your focus is on the positive things happening in  your building the take away for those who don't see it everyday is so powerful.

I am unbelievably fortunate to work in a school district that has outstanding teachers, great families, and a supportive school board.  I understand that this is not the case everywhere, but the opportunity to change the perception of what your school district is starts with you.  We are with kids everyday…we see their smiles, growth, and accomplishments.  Those are the stories that build pride and community.  As a school district you can hope that the words of your students and parents reach the 80% of the population who are not there everyday.  Or…you can take to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, local media, games, and community events to spread the amazing story of what kids do all the time.  Our story is special and so is yours…TELL IT. 
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and start building a brand that celebrates the great things going on in your building and district.  Good luck…and Go Crickets!

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
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Travel half way across the country for a conference with no agenda…really?  Try to explain that to people who have not taken part in an Edcamp and the look you will get is priceless. When you explain it to those who have attended and Edcamp, they seem to get it.  The trip started out as an idea to connect with family and attend a great professional development opportunity, and I’m so glad that it came to fruition.  The people, conversations, and connections made the 3000 mile trip well worth the time and effort. EdcampNJ was the first of a 3 stop East Coast #Edutour of great things happening on the other side of the country.  It was a fantastic way to start the trip.  Here are a few reflections: 

The day started like many Saturdays do with #satchat.  The only difference this week, was that I got to participate live with the moderators at #EdcampNJ.  Twitter is a funny thing…you get a chance to talk to people that you have never met, and form a relationship based on common interests.  Somehow, when you meet these people face to face, that conversation just continues seamlessly.  The opportunity to meet some people I connect with on a regular basis was something I was really looking forward to at the event. I had the chance to meet with Billy Krakower, Scott Rocco, and Brad Currie as they were getting ready to start the live feed.  As great as they are online, they are better face to face.  During the show, put on by Jeff Bradbury from Teachercast (his work is also fantastic!), they asked me to come up and share some of the great things going on in Fall Creek.  It was an absolute honor to be on stage with those incredible leaders.  The work they are doing through #satchat is outstanding, and brings together a tremendous amount of people who want to change the face of education.  To have the chance to share our story with that audience was truly humbling.  

People not Programs
This is a staple of Todd Whitaker’s message when he speaks to groups.  As educators, we tend to get so hung up on process that we forget it is the people who make schools successful.  This was clearly the case at #EdcampNJ.  When you attend an Edcamp, you put a tremendous amount of trust in the people associated with the event.  As I connected with people on Twitter who were planning to attend, I knew the event was going to be in great hands.  The day absolutely delivered on that promise.  Tony Sinanis and Tom Murry have been incredible go to people online for me over the course of the last year.  To meet them both on the same day and get a better understanding of who they are was a fantastic experience.  They are both hysterical…and 100% about kids.  The passion they project in discussions about students was stunning, and I am glad to call them friends.  It seemed that everyone I connected with fit their Twitter persona perfectly.  The #edtechchat crew in attendance was hysterical (@iplante, @thomascmurray, @ajpodchaski), the #satchat crew wonderful, and the 300+ people who attended were all fully engaged in getting better as educators.  It was very cool.

Cross Country Connection
A few weeks ago, I was talking to Tony as we were both working on a presentation about branding your school. The importance of branding your school district and telling your story has become more important than ever.  It was ironic that we were both preparing a very similar presentation for a future conference and attending #EdcampNJ.  As Tony and I talked, we thought it might be fun to connect what we were doing in our own states, and present as one of the sessions. Though we didn’t have anything formal to present together, we had enough to start a great conversation.  The session went great!  Tony and I had a blast.  We joked that if it wasn’t going well after three minutes, we were going to vote with our feet, and leave our own session. Ha!  Unfortunately for everyone in the room, we really like to hear ourselves talk, and didn’t even get through introductions in the first three minutes.  After that the discussion was really insightful.  We certainly learned more from the group than they did from us…but we sure had fun doing it.  I would encourage anyone attending an #edcamp to own the process and present something.  You don’t need to be an expert…only willing to start a conversation and see where it goes.  It was a wonderful experience.  

Walking Away
There were so many take aways from the day, but a few were clearly quantifiable.  The people running this event were absolute pros.  Logistically, it was flawless.  The venue was great, and the sessions were outstanding.  I walked away with new apps, a better understanding of Google hangouts, an experience that will help run #EdcampEC in April, and the opportunity to present with a great friend.  I made another connection to the #edtechchat crew that afforded us an opportunity to share our session with a larger audience the following week (post coming soon), and continued connections with people who I truly respect in the education world.  #EdcampNJ was the first on my East Coast #EduTour, and it couldn’t have started out in better fashion.  Thank you to all who made the day possible…it absolutely delivered on the promise.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
We are 2 weeks removed from our Edcamp style PD opportunity for 7 districts (known as Cluster A) in northwest Wisconsin.  Just under 450 people showed up ready…and mostly willing to be part of what we did that day. I say mostly only because it was a required day for staff.  Usually an Edcamp involves individuals who choose to spend a Saturday learning and growing.  Though this day was required, I think the experience was beneficial and made people think about professional development in a different way.  Here are a few things that led to the success of the day:

Planning and Preparation
We asked Superintendents from all 7 schools to choose two people to serve on the Cluster PD committee.  The only requirement, in terms of choosing people, was to ensure we brought individuals to the table who were interested in providing a new opportunity for growth.  New ideas…new format…new energy…we wanted this group to look at the importance of modeling growth and learning.  We spent our first meeting last year discussing how adults learn and what we could do to provide the opportunity for growth in the context of an already full school schedule.  The conversations were great!  Ideas were challenged, we ended in a much different place than we started, and the dialogue left us wanting more when it came to providing a better opportunity for our staff members.  The Edcamp format is organic in that the sessions are built by people who attend on that day.  We had to modify that piece a bit because we felt getting 450 people into a room who have not been to an Edcamp before could have led to only a few sessions.  So we began to ask our staff members to facilitate sessions…an open document was sent out to everyone in the 7 schools, some members of the committee connected with people in their building and encouraged them to provide a session, and we ended up with over 60 sessions for our group.  The concept of learning from colleagues was at the heart of what we were trying to do…and the number of sessions really helped with the choice for our staff.  We then created tracks so there was a variety of choice for each level (Elementary, Middle, HS) and the technology options (Moodle, Twitter, Camtasia…) were spread throughout the day.

Introduce the Day
We took a few minutes at the beginning of the day to introduce the format and the schedule.  A few minutes is the operative term…providing an hour keynote wasn’t the way we wanted to go.  We felt like that would put us back in the same format we have used in the past so a quick 15 minute introduction to the day and a few words about owning the learning were shared…then we moved on.  The morning was spent with grade levels or departments and the afternoon was dedicated to the Edcamp format.  It was really important for both facilitators and staff members to mention that the premise of the day was to meet the needs of all staff members through choice.  We asked people to vote with their feet…if a session did not meet their needs, they should go somewhere else.  If there were no sessions that met their need and they wanted to connect with a colleague in an open space…do it!  We didn’t want facilitators to feel slighted if people left their session, but also didn’t want people to sit in an offering for an hour and get nothing from the time in that space.

Provide food.  Done.

We asked all facilitators to video their session.  This was met with some resistance, but had more to do with uncertainty about running the video than actually recording the session.  Of the 60 sessions we were able to capture over 30.  This is a great start!  The opportunity to learn something new or go back and review the session you attended was important to us.

All 7 schools brought raffle prizes for staff members and we gave away some Cluster A shirts…not essential, but a cool thing to have throughout the day.

Continuing Discussion
The idea of Event PD has been around forever.  We go somewhere…get inspired…leave…and repeat the following year.  Our group wanted to continue the discussion so we have added a few things.  Email distribution lists helped our groups connect through department or grade level.  Together we are better for kids…it’s really that simple.  There are amazing things happening in this part of the state…but they are happening in pockets.  Being able to connect outside of our district is important in finding those pockets and improving all programming for students.  We are also offering mini session offerings specific to levels in November and January before we get together again in February for another Edcamp as a group.  The mini session offerings are optional and will rotate between the 7 schools in the area.  If the discussion doesn’t continue then we are just putting a fancy bow on something we have done for years and our Edcamp turns into another Event PD that doesn’t allow for growth.

Get Feedback…on the day
Surveys through email are great…but we wanted to get the immediate feedback from our staff so it was reflective of what they had just done.  We asked staff members 2 questions…what did you like and what do you need?  That’s it.

As I reflect on the opportunity it provided for staff it made me think about the importance of choice in our schools. I was incredibly proud of the group that put this together.  The discussion about what it could look like was fantastic.  The idea that we couldn’t make it work was never an option.  The day was a success because of a few things.  First and foremost, we had colleagues willing to facilitate discussions.  If we had 450 people show up with a small number of sessions to attend, the day would have been compromised.  To have 60 people step up and facilitate speaks volumes about our group.  Secondly, our PD group did an incredible job of selling the day.  This day was about our staff…and that was clear when anyone talked to our PD group…they were spectacular.  Next, the staff in all 7 schools…they did not have to buy into this day.  They did…and that is a credit to them.  Finally, the leadership in the 7 districts was willing to give up 2 days that could be spent doing things within their district.  Huge shift and the trust they showed in the process was outstanding.

The feedback from the day has been wonderful.  The adjustments people wanted had more to do with logistics (more snacks and better parking) than it did programming.  I received a number of emails praising the work the committee did in planning, but a few stood out…here are some excerpts:

  • "In my 34 years of teaching I have never walked away feeling more excited about teaching" 
  • "I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated!!" 
  • "It was the most productive inservice day I've been part of in 21 years"

People want the connection to their colleagues and need the choice to drive their learning.  We provided the opportunity and 450 people ran with it…I am so proud to be part of a group that is giving ownership of learning to staff members…growth is inevitable…and when we can give that same opportunity to kids...wow.  Go Crickets.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
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As educators I think we all have days...maybe weeks or months where we wonder if the work we are doing has an impact on kids, families, and communities.  Sometimes we can get caught up in the routine of “doing school” and the days run together. In those times it is nice schedule something to bring the focus back together.  Sometimes it just happens...

via sodahead.com
Yesterday we had 2 events that made me walk out of the door feeling incredible about what our teachers do everyday.  Both were part of our routine, but there were pieces that made me look at things differently...and it was wonderful.  Each month we have an all school meeting...consisting of birthday announcements and a story centered around a theme for the month or some of the PBIS data we have addressed as a need.  This month our meeting fell in the same week as Homecoming (we are a K-12 building...which is awesome and the subject of a blog post in the near future) and specifically on 80s dress up day at the high school.  So...we did a quick contest with the elementary staff in which we split into two groups, I gave a song title from the 1980s and they had to tell me the artist.  All 385 students were the judges and pointed to group that got the answer correct.  It was meant to be very quick.  As I looked at the 2 groups from the back of the gym I had this overwhelming sense of pride...not because they knew the answers (even though a few were born in the 80s!) but because I saw them laughing as they went through the game...genuinely laughing...and enjoying just being together.  It was great.

The second event happened after school at our all staff meeting.  We have been talking at great length about Finding Super in kids. I asked our staff members to bring their class lists to the meeting and when they got there I gave them some time to look at each student on their roster and write down what they believed to be that child’s superpower.  As I watched them write I noticed a few things.  First and foremost...it didn’t take them long to identify a superpower for each student...which made me feel great about the relationships they have formed.  One of the real stories to me was the look on their faces as they wrote.  A smile, little chuckle, nodding of the head...it was subtle, but they were so invested in the process of identifying great things about their students...and that was very cool.  I asked them to share a few superpowers of kids with the people at their table and the conversations were awesome.  Teachers who had particular students in the past added their view, they were laughing, and I could really tell that they really knew their students.  The follow up was simple...do the kids on your list know their superpower?  Have you  told them?  At 3:00 today our kids will walk out of this building poised for a 3 day weekend...and I have no doubt that they will know their superpower on the way out of our doors.

I love our staff.  I love that they are honest, even when it it uncomfortable.  I love that they tell me to put my phone away. I love that they tell me to slow down.  I love that they are willing to have tough conversations.  I love that they take on additional tasks because they know the work needs to get done. I love that they laugh together.  I love that they are willing, absolutely and unequivocally,to do what is best for kids.

I hope every leader has a day like yesterday.  A day where you walk into school thinking it is just another Wednesday and walk out knowing that the collective effort is making a difference in the lives of kids.  We are not perfect...but that is not the expectation.  The expectation is continued growth and working toward our vision of a “Community that works, learns, and succeeds together.”  There is no other group that I would want to take that journey with than the one that resides at 336 E. Hoover Ave in Fall Creek Wisconsin. Go Crickets. 
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
As a kid I was not an avid reader at all.  It really came down to sports books where I was more interested in the pictures than content and the occasional Choose Your Own Adventure book which I liked because the story could change and I had the opportunity to make a decision.  Subsequently, if I didn't like the outcome, I would go back in the story and choose something different to meet my needs. I think one of the reasons I had a hard time getting started with books was the unknown.  Will it be something I like? Will it be too hard for me? The questions that I didn’t have answers to tended to drive my desire to read and that really hindered my ability to grow through text.

As I started my career in administration I think I was bringing the same concept to those around me.  People were limited in their growth because I was the only one providing the resources for them...and it tended to cause a great deal of stress from my perspective because I felt that I needed to be all things to all people.  Therefore, the leadership tended to be on a surface level and though people may have been excited to be at school and enjoyed the culture...pushing for growth as educators came in a very limited form.  I reference George Couros (@gcouros) very often and one of my favorite quotes of his is “The smartest person in the room is the room”.  I actually started using it with students when I visited classrooms last week and love the idea of growing well outside of your own perspective.  Instilling that concept with staff is a key component to educator growth.  Combine that with the EdCamp movement across the world and we are getting ready for the winds of change in Northwest WI.

EdCamp...Cluster A Style
This Friday over 500 educators will descend upon little Fall Creek, WI.  Members of 7 different school districts (known as Cluster A) are coming together to learn...from each other.  We have over 60 sessions offered as well as a chance for grade level and departments from other districts to get together in hopes of celebrating the work we all do with students and challenging each other to grow as a group.  A collection of 14 people from these districts got together for one reason...Professional Development was simply not working.  Seeing a motivational speaker was great, but the end result was a spike in excitement and then a faint recollection of the message months later.  This group wanted to provide the vehicle for continuous improvement, allow choice for our staff members, and grow as a group dedicated to changing what education could look like in our area.  We have AMAZING people doing incredible things...but the chance to connect and grow together was not happening. We broke from traditional Edcamp format in that we asked for sessions and facilitators in advance.  The biggest difference between what we are offering and what Edcamp generally provides is the motivation to go.  Attending an Edcamp is a choice so there is a great deal of internal motivation to drive the day.  Our day is required...so we wanted people to know and understand what they were getting into before showing up on Friday morning.

Beyond the Day
With the help of our technology coordinators, special thanks to @fcsdtechguy and @jbgrangaard, we have set up an interactive Cluster A web page for our group of schools that will go well beyond reference and promote the opportunity to grow from wherever your baseline sits.  The expectation is that all sessions will be videotaped, archived, tagged, and available in the future.  Our tech guys have done a great job of setting this up so there won’t be added pressure on our presenters during sessions.  We hope the discussions that start will continue through email, twitter, blogs, and optional after school sessions.  Our job as a coordination group is to provide the opportunity and resources for our staff. 

Choice is crucial.  We often talk about providing opportunities for students to choose their learning, but if we don’t model that from an administrator perspective, we need to take a look at what we are doing.  We also hope this eliminates the… “There is nothing for me” reaction to PD we have heard in the past.  With over 60 different sessions our guess is there will be something...anything...to spark interest and add something to your toolbox as an educator.
So here we go.  The intent of the day is simple...fix the way we grow teachers and change the face of education.  That's it!  Clearly this won’t happen in one day...but if we give our staff the the opportunity to choose...their adventure will be much more meaningful and the impact on our kids will be tremendous.  Follow the #ClusterA hash tag this Friday...we are hoping to break Twitter.  Go Crickets.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
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A few years ago I divided my staff into groups based on how many years they had been in education. I asked them to write down all of the initiatives they have gone through in their careers.  This was a fascinating activity.  The amount of change in education over time has been incredible, but the most telling thing to me was during the discussion our staff members spoke to the cyclical nature of education.  Many of us have seen Jamie Vollmer’s List of increasing duties on schools since the 1900’s.  Things we do today were done in the past, but under a different name.  The importance of early childhood education, character education, alternative education programs…all were discussed and implemented in the 1980’s.  Ready to feel old…that was 30 years ago!!!  Clearly more is being put on educators and school leaders when it comes to meeting the needs of the whole child.  I came across this list of acronyms used in education.  I ask our staff not to speak in acronyms when they talk to parents, but we have landed at a point where there needs to be a test every year on new abbreviations in  our own building. To make things worse, some acronyms have multiple meanings…as Phil Dunphy reminds us in this clip.

We decided to have a little fun with all of the initiatives going on in education during our opening staff meeting.  Our Middle School Principal Brad LaPoint (@bradlapointfc) developed the script, our HS Principal Brian Schulner (@BSchulner) and I tried to carry it out the best we could, we had great staff help at the last minute, and a surprise guest at the end that brought it all together. Click on the Staff Welcome Video to check out our 4 minute skit.
The issue with multiple initiatives is that it creates an environment of surface implementation.  Staff members are conditioned to be wary of diving in with both feet for fear that a new program or process will come along and they will have to start over.  This is not their fault, but clearly impacts the culture when initiatives have to be rolled out.  The reality is we tend to build planes while we fly them in education…and that’s ok.  The environment that we build with our staff prior to an implementation will set the stage for what happens during and when it needs to be adjusted.  I am extremely lucky to work in a place where our faculty, parents, and board members are flexible and understanding throughout these changes as long as it is communicated well and has the best interest of students in mind.

Our students may have more opportunities now than they did years ago, but life as a kid in a world where everything you do has the potential to be documented through social media brings on new challenges…and more pressure.  Through all the initiatives that we implement and all the acronyms we have to learn, I hope the four letters we focus on continue to be K I D S.  We are here for them…for big ones and small ones…for gifted ones and those who struggle…for those that get breakfast in the morning and those who don’t…for those who make us smile daily and those who challenge our decision to teach…for those who have support at home and those who don’t…all of them.  They deserve it.  Initiatives will come and go, but we got into this business to make a difference in the lives of kids…and if the focus is always on them our world will be a better place. Go Crickets.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo

Who is the best Superhero? All have value (though the Wonder Twin who could only turn into something with water could be argued) and would be welcomed in a time of need.There is a case to be made that superheros should be placed in two separate categories...those who have innate powers and those who help based on external means.  Superman-innate power.  He comes here from a different planet, can fly, does that thing with the eyes where he burns through things, relatively muscular...all powers that were part of the genetic makeup.  Batman-external means. Cool toys, awesome car, a belt that apparently never runs out of stuff. Spiderman-external means. Bug bite and the rest is history.

A few months ago a group of teachers at a conference saw someone wearing a shirt that said…."I teach.  What is your superpower?"  Within minutes I received texts from the group letting me know that we needed to have these for our staff members.  I loved the idea and when staff came back to school this year they all received a shirt with FC on the front and the saying on the back. The best part about the roll out for me was that everyone got a shirt…custodians, cooks, bus drivers, teachers, support staff, administrators…everyone.  I think some people could look at the shirt and think it is not for them because they don't have a classroom.  The bottom line is this…everyone teaches.  Everyone.  From the minute our community walks in the building to the time they walk out they encounter a crazy number of people.  We all have the ability and responsibility to teach.  We teach enthusiasm.  We teach responsibility.  We teach welcoming.  We teach perseverance.  We teach through our actions.  We want to be the most family friendly building ever…and in doing this our actions model what we want out of the FC school district.  Most importantly, we teach kids how to find their superpower.

Throughout the course of a day, a student in our school will see anywhere between 5-10 adults.  That number could easily be on the low side.  I am accounting for different classes, lunch, recess, specials, custodians…but there could certainly be more.  Can you imagine being a student in our school and knowing that EVERYWHERE you walked there was someone who wanted you to succeed?  If kids have a connection to one adult in school they tend to come back…what if they had a connection to everyone in the school?  Possibilities are limitless.  

We have an opportunity every day to find something in a child that they didn't know they had. We have the opportunity to allow students to learn at their level and with their interests in mind. We have an opportunity to engage children at their level and help them want to learn more.  Superheroes tend to fly in at the last minute and save the day.  We are asking our group to flip that concept…you don't have to be a superhero…you have to find them.  Everyone has "super" in them.  Being “super” is not limited to race, socioeconomic status, or gender.  It is only limited by confidence.  If we can find a way to instill confidence and allow students to find their "super",  there is literally no end to what they can do.  Students will accomplish at high levels if they feel they can and if they are engaged in the process.  How many times do you hear of a kid refusing to play a video game because it is too hard.  They simply don't…they keep struggling and failing until they succeed because they are engaged and challenged by the process. They like to play, even though it doesn’t always yield success. They don’t shut down if they get a bad score or if it takes them seemingly forever to pass a level.

via www.superchargeyourlife.com
Finding "super" in a student starts with a conversation and a commitment to ensure that relationships rule.  They will believe in themselves if we believe in what they can do...authentically.  One of the best parts of school is a fresh start for both students and teachers.  The conversations we have with students in the first 2 weeks will set the stage for how engaged they will be in our school.  The gifts that kids have don't come from a belt or a bite.  Their gifts come from knowing that someone in school is there to support, guide, and challenge them in a place where they feel safe.  So...as the school year gets rolling, I wish everyone a great start and best of luck finding the “super” in every student.  If we’re always looking, it will be easy to find.  Go Crickets.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
Philosophies of Education tend to be like shoes...your experience changes with them over time and there is always something new to try on.  Philosophies are well intended and give a basis of why we teach or lead in a particular fashion, but as we are all different, so too are the philosophies we carry.
Via Mindslap.com
My perspective on what education has become and where it can go has certainly changed over time depending on my role and time in a district.  New initiatives that brought the promise of solving the issues with struggling learners, advanced learners, classroom culture, and behavior management seem to come and go like miracle diets.  All of this is well intended, but the multitude of changes in education have allowed our staff members to wait out initiatives they don’t like because they don’t have time to invest or dismiss them altogether because they know another one will be coming soon.  So, at its core I believe educational philosophy should revolve around the two things that have not changed in all my years of school...Building Relationships and Growth.

Relationships-Kids are smart, they may not know how to find the circumference of a circle, diagram a sentence, or problem solve on the playground, but they know if you like them.  The connection with kids is something you simply can’t fake.  They may not like everything you do or what you assign or how you assign it, but if they know you care about them they will try anything.  They are not just here to gather knowledge, spit it out, grab a diploma, and move on.  They want the experience of school and they want to be in a place where they are wanted...it is our job to make them feel that way. That environment will allow them to take risks and allow them to grow beyond the score on a test or the grade in a book.

Via quara.com
Growth is not just about kids, it’s about all of us. This means that sometimes we have to engage in learning that helps us, not just adds to areas where we find success.  I will never be a great golfer. I hit the ball well and score relatively well most times that I play, but I don’t get any better for one reason.  I can’t putt.  Horrible...and I refuse to practice putting because it’s beyond boring.  I would much rather go on the range and hit the ball as far as I can.  So, clearly I’m never going to get better.  If we as educators only work on things that we do well already, we don’t grow.  Stepping outside our comfort zone is tough, but necessary for growth. If we want kids to think beyond what is safe we must do the same in our practice. Everyone’s checkpoints are different, but when you hit one it becomes the new normal and the beginning of new growth.
My philosophy is not long, but doesn't come with a ton of exterior variables...create relationships with the people around you (students, colleagues, community...) and grow. Wherever you are now...just grow. The impact that it can have on you and your students will be fantastic!

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
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Did you ever start doing something and then think... “Wow, that got a little more involved than I thought”? I think every leadership opportunity I have had in my life started as a good idea that turned into something much bigger...and in the long run better...but as it’s hard to see the forest through the trees it is equally as hard to see the impact of leadership through the daily grind.  Sometimes it’s nice to refocus. George Couros (@gcouros) started a virtual leadership mentoring program this summer (#SAVMP) and I thought it would be a good way to share some knowledge and learn from those around me when it comes to mentoring in a new way.  After a few weeks, multiple posts by incredible educators, and the connection to phenomenal leaders across the world, I have already found myself pushing leadership thought and learning from everyone involved. The first thing George asked us to do was reflect on why we lead.  Sometimes I wonder, but never regret...here are some of the thoughts that came to mind:

Flickr via Michael Dales
I lead because it drives me
The opportunity to grow and help others grow drives what I do on a daily basis...and honestly, consumes me at times.  If I can get one new resource into the hands of a teacher who needs it, make a new connection with a student who is struggling, or promote the great things going on in our district, I feel like I have helped move the group forward. Above my desk sits My 3...a piece of paper that I am forced to look at everyday...and it keeps me focused on the true importance of why we do what we do.  My 3 are: Every Teacher...Every Day, Follow Through...No Excuses, Connect with All Students.  I adjusted them recently and feedback from our staff was the impetus for that change.  We have a duty to listen to what our group is saying and it is our responsibility to make changes to what we do to help them grow.  We expect our teachers to evolve...we should be held to the same standard. Reviewing the data and developing a plan to get better helps me become more transparent and I think our group enjoys the fact that they know what I am working on professionally.

I lead to be the voice of those who don’t
I am the loudest person you will ever meet...and it’s not close.  I find it ironic that I often tell my kids to lower their voices (which inevitably leads to the eye roll from my gorgeous wife).  There are time that being the loudest person ever is an issue...but there are others when being the loudest helps advocate.  Our kids and teachers do great things...not good things...great things.  They make amazing connections, have always been willing to try new things, and work tirelessly with our students.  I see them at sporting events, concerts, plays...I saw one teacher at MULTIPLE birthday parties for her students outside of school...they are amazing and the volume of my voice, hundreds of tweets/posts, and the fact that I will stop anyone in the streets to tell them about the great things happening in Fall Creek is one of the positives of being the loudest.

I lead for them
Most importantly...I lead for kids.  All kids...we owe it to them.  Not because it is our job, or because someone did it for us, or even because they will be taking care of us someday...we owe it to them because they deserve the best. No questions...they come to us as innocent 4 year olds and trust that we will help make them better.  They test our patience and we spend the majority of our professional lives having our happiness determined by the attitudes and actions of kids ages 4-18.  Having said that, we chose this and they deserve everything we can do to make their time with us magical.  We are going through a building remodel this summer...and as I walk through hallways that are changing, a playground that is new, and rooms that are much more inviting I start to countdown the days until we’ll all be back together again.  Our building is going to be great...but it’s not school until they come. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when they walk through the doors or hit the playground for the first time.  There is something about a child’s smile...and helping to provide an environment where SMILES ARE THE DEFAULT make me extremely happy...and is a clear reason why I lead.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
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I think most people have a sense of fear.  Something...someone...somewhere...most people go through life sensing fear at some point.  This week we took our kids camping and as we were hiking in the bluffs of western Wisconsin I feared that any or all of our kids could go over the edge, get a snake bite, cut themselves whittling, or what I would do to them if they took the last marshmallow.  Sometimes that fear can stifle what could be a great experience.  We had a great time camping...no one went over the edge, the intricate designs of weaponry developed through whittling were fantastic, and we had enough marshmallows to send us away with a slight stomach ache.

Fear is so relative.  I wake up without pain, walk to work without any sense of danger, and I am able to provide for our family so we live comfortably in a great village. I realize that fear is different and am not trying to compare my fear to someone who doesn’t know where they will find their next meal, work, or something horribly worse.  The point is this...there are things that hold us back...and sometimes breaking out of our current normal can be frightening. My hope is that we can take a step out of the comfort zone and venture to a new place...knowing that fear may be part of that process.

There aren’t too many things I fear professionally.  I have a great school board, an incredible staff, and a wonderful community.  I think the majority of my fear is in continuing the status quo.  My only fear is that I look back on places I have been and groups I have been able to work with and come to the conclusion that they did not grow as much as they could have while I was there...and more importantly, continue to grow after I had left.  Establishing a culture where people can coexist and enjoy coming to work is the initial phase of change, but if that environment doesn’t turn into one of continuous growth, we’re closer to an amusement park than a school.  As I contemplated where we have been and how we should prepare our teachers for the upcoming year, I started to think...is everything I am planning contributing to the status quo or am I helping our staff grow and move forward?  

I spend a great deal of time through this blog and on Twitter talking about creating an opportunity for student voice in classrooms.  It is truly important for our staff to take on the perspective of kids and allow them to own their learning process.  We have to go from the purveyors of content to the facilitators of growth.  This doesn’t mean we scrap everything we have been doing, it means we make a connection with kids so they begin, maintain, and extend a love for learning that takes them well beyond 13 years in our building.  In contemplating this perspective, I asked myself...am I providing this same environment for our teachers?

Dr. Leo Marvin via yobucko.com
I often turn to Twitter when planning and preparing for almost everything we do in school.  It has been and will continue to be an incredible place to learn.  This week I found a post by Wendy Lap entitled If Teachers Planned Inservice Training.  Though the post was meant to be humorous, it literally kept me up thinking...Good Lord, I do all of the things on “Don’t Do” list.  Binders of information...check.  Presentation for the whole group...check.  Humorous video to break the ice...check.  Building a newspaper and popsicle stick tower...check, check, double check.  Yep...all of it. I am not ready to can the whole process, but with an open mind, I clearly want to move in a direction that meets our group in a better capacity.  So...with the advice of  What About Bob’s Dr. Leo Marvin, I will be taking baby steps to improve what we do in our school and put our inservice in the hands of our staff.  Here are a few things that may help:

Inservice and professional development owned by staff: We have held techno days at our school where certain classes or sessions were offered to help staff learn new things to implement in their classrooms.  Our tech team has done a great job of planning and providing an opportunity for our staff to learn and grow in this area.  We ask what types of sessions they want to take in and find people willing to facilitate.  The issue has not been with the sessions, it has been with the time to explore.  We will still offer sessions based on what our staff want to learn, but this year we are providing less sessions and more time.  Staff will have the option of coming in for 2 days (and be compensated) to explore something new and start the year thinking about how to integrate some of those tools or revamp some of the others they have learned.  Session times will be posted...and our staff can choose to come in for a portion or all of the day.  We will have an open lab throughout the 2 days where staff can get help with any of the resources. Again, open, with no expectation to stay the entire time...just an opportunity to grow with help if needed.

Professional Growth Goal Resource Day: We are in the second year of our Professional Growth Model.  One of the issues with our process last year was strictly focused on the amount of time our staff members had to create their goals considering we rolled it out at the beginning of the year.  This year we are providing an opportunity for our staff to spend time with the teacher group that developed the model and talk through goal and potential evidence options prior to our students arriving.  This is an optional day and will hopefully allow our staff members to work through some of the logistics of a goal so it doesn’t cause as much stress when the year starts.

Modified Edcamp: I am a huge proponent of Edcamp style PD.  Utilizing the skill and expertise in our own building helps those who learn and those who facilitate.  The issue with running an Edcamp style PD in schools is simply that when people attend an Edcamp they choose to be there.  One of the reasons Edcamps are so successful is that you are putting hundreds of people in a room who have chosen to spend their Saturday growing as professionals.  That is not always the case outside of Edcamps.  In our modified Edcamp style, we will be asking staff from our school and 6 other districts what they would like to learn and if they would be willing to lead sessions.  We are scheduled to run two Edcamps this year for a group of schools in our area...the group planning these days has been incredibly dynamic and we are really looking forward to moving in this direction.

Commitment to Continuous Improvement: At the end of the day...these are still days.  We are hoping to move from “Event PD” to using those days as check in for continuous growth.  Learning doesn’t have to be driven by schedule, but due to the structure of how our public system works, there are only a few days we have together throughout the year to connect and grow.  If we use those days as boosters or times to refocus, our staff can continue to model that learning doesn’t start and end with a scheduled day.

Our inservice days will still include meetings (though hopefully less) and we will offer opportunities throughout the year for growth, but as we move forward I hope that we can trust our staff to make use of the time in their own way and direct their growth for the betterment of our kids. The fear comes in the unknown...I trust our staff to own their learning...but do I trust myself to step back and allow them to do it and break free of the what we have done in the past?  I guess we’ll find out!  Go Crickets!
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
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When you build a new playground one of the things you don’t want to hear is… “That may be the biggest structure in Fall Creek.” As you can see, our new Play Web is huge…and awesome. One of the complaints our older elementary kids have had for years is that there is no playground equipment dedicated to them.  This Play Web and a few other pieces that we hope to add in the coming years will give our older kids a place to climb and enjoy. Having said that…I still can’t get over the size of the web.  It simply didn't look that big when I went to see an identical version in Ashwaubenon, WI a few months ago. It is big…and there may be some bravery involved to navigate it…even for older kids. Eventually they will all make it to the top (probably something our playground supervisors don’t want to hear), and won’t consider it a monumental task. As it often happens, the thought of the structure and bravery took me to how we operate in schools. Couple that with a Sara Bareilles song I heard the kids listening to and here we go...

We want teachers to grow, but we want them to own the process in which they grow.  If they are able to develop their own parameters I believe they will be brave enough to take big risks and grow whether the final result ends in success or failure. This year we completed our first attempt at a Professional Growth Model where staff were able to choose their goal, how they were going to assess it, and what evidence they could show to discuss their progress.  Success or failure of the goal was not determined by student score, but by evidence of teacher professional growth.  In essence, we wanted to know how they grew as an educator…and the results were great.  96% of our staff took part in the Professional Growth Model program. Here are some of the highlights:
  • 94% of staff taking part in the program felt it made them a more effective teacher and improved some aspect of student learning.  
  • 98% of staff taking part in the program felt they will use the strategies they learned in the coming years.
  • 92% of staff members taking part in the program felt their plan produced results that have benefited (or could benefit) the Fall Creek School District beyond their classroom. 

Conceptually, we allowed people to drive their own growth and the feedback has been great.  I was so proud of the process and reading through growth plans and evidence pieces at the end of the year was one of the highlights of my educational career.  There was so much work put into their evidence…and they were so brave to stretch their thinking. Our challenge to staff this year is simply this…How big is your brave?  We want people to take what they have learned and use that as the new baseline for growth. The question is how far can they take it? This is such a two way street.  As administrators, we need to trust our staff to challenge themselves to grow…from wherever they are to a new place…a better place. Our staff members need to feel safe to take risks…but then they need to be brave enough to take them.  Growth will not happen if their brave isn't big enough to stretch both thinking and practice.  Experience does not equal growth…but experience, reflection, and action certainly have the potential to bring us to a new place. If we can stretch as educators it takes us somewhere else…and that becomes the new normal.  Are we brave enough to not just step outside of our comfort zone…but leap to a whole new level?

We are just over a month away from staff members heading back to schools.  The prospect of a new year, fresh starts, and a renewed commitment to kids is always exciting.  Think about what risk you are willing to take…and then go one step further.  However, if you are planning on ordering the Play Web for your school district…you may want to stick to the medium. In every other case…I truly hope your brave is big.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
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I had a very interesting conversation with my mom recently.  We had a chance to sit down together…which rarely happens…and the conversation started out with her saying... “So, I was reading your blog the other day,,,”.  This comes after a text I got from her last week that let me know that she was now on Twitter.  We are talking about a woman who has spent the better part of the last 7 years turning her television on with a needle nosed pliers and now she rocks an IPhone, reads blogs, and is delving into Twitter.  We talked about the time she threw a sandwich at me because I said the peanut butter was on the wrong side (this story actually made the front page of a local paper…sorry, mom)…and when she poured a container of Kool-Aid over my head because I wouldn’t pick up the stuff I had left out…and when she waited up for me to get home and open a college letter to see if I got in…and when I called her after defending my dissertation.  The list could go on for many blogs, but it made me think about the journey we all take in education and who we choose to share that journey with along the way.

Our conversation turned to teaching, more importantly teachers.  It was very interesting to hear her experience going through school with me as it tended to mirror how I felt about teachers.  I think we sometimes forget that the first teachers in everyone’s lives are parents, and as schools we can’t lose sight of the fact that a student’s first teacher needs to be included in how we educate children in the future.

My elementary school experience, in particular, was not a model in academic excellence or behavior.  I knew there were teachers in the building that saw me walking down the hall and wondered what I was up to or were waiting until they could catch me doing something I should not.  Having said that…I believe I probably earned the looks and the added accountability.  I felt out of place…knew I wasn't the smartest person in the class and that I really wanted to be in charge instead of being told what I should learn.

My mom ran into one of my former teachers in the grocery store after I got my first principal position. This teacher was one of the people that did not see my need to be on stage and propensity to make people laugh in class as a solid foundation of scholarship. My mom stopped and said hi to the woman and said, “You are not going to believe what Joe is doing now.”  After the initial look that my mom could have perceived as…maybe 5-10 with a slight change at parole…she told her that I was a principal at an elementary school.  The answer told a story that surprised me a great deal.  The teacher said that she always thought if they could take someone who struggled to behave in school and somehow inspire the importance of education, then they may be a pretty good teacher.  I kept thinking what that would have looked like in a conversation as a student in her class.  Would I perceive our relationship differently if I knew she thought I had potential to lead a school?

Then there was the one.  The teacher who cared more about the fact that I was there than what she was going to teach me that day.  The teacher that spent more time talking WITH me than talking AT me.  The teacher that somehow was able to help me solve a Rubik's Cube when I was stuck and let us play real dodge ball as a class because she knew there were many of us that just needed to get out.  The teacher that called my house just to tell my parents that I did a great job.  On what you ask? I still have no idea…but I know she did it.  I KNEW from every minute I was in that classroom that I had potential to do great things.  I have NO IDEA what she taught me…I don’t know at what Lexile Level I ended the year or how far below the standard I was in Math.  I don’t know what my state standardized test score was or how many office referrals I had for the year. I do know…that she cared about me…and the perception I have is that she cared about me more than anyone else.  I am sure if you ask my classmates from that year they would say she cared for them more than me…and that is the true essence of what a teacher can do for our kids.

The bottom line is that kids and parents know if we care about them.  The student’s experience in class often mirrors the thoughts parents have about the teacher and school.  Would you rather have them feel it every day or wait 20 years until you run across them in a grocery store to let them know they have potential?  

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
The following link takes you to the slides shown today during the Simple K12 Webinar I hosted on getting Buy In During Times of Change.  Hope everyone enjoyed it...I had a great time!  Thanks to Simple K12 for allowing me to be part of the program!


AuthorJoe Sanfelippo

Packer football games are clearly important events in Wisconsin.  People plan their weekends around when the Packers are playing and their stress levels tend to rise leading up to and during games.  Those feelings transcend game time and work their way into the following week.  I know because I am one of these people.  The lasting impact on how our team performs on a field seems a ridiculous notion, but it’s real.  Fan is short for fanatic…and defined as “a person excessively devoted to a cause” by Merriam-Webster.  I also find it funny that there are some crazy people out there (the author not excluded) who believe where they stand, what they eat, who they are with, and their location have some sort of impact on the outcome of a game.  The latter was the reason I spent 3 ½ quarters of a Packer game outside in January watching through a window because Craig Newsome picked up a fumble and ran it in for a touchdown vs. the 49ers in 1996 as I was entering a house.  As fans, we get worked up for, during, and after an event but the lasting impressions tend to wane as time goes on.  Well…most of them…for arguments sake, let’s exclude the following:

·        Terrell Owen's catch in the end zone (January 1999)
·        4th and 26 vs. the Eagles (January 2003)
·        Favre interception vs. NY Giants (January 2007)

The point is that events are planned, anticipated, enjoyed and then lost.  I have watched most Packer games since I was a kid.  I can clearly remember a handful of games because they tugged at the emotion of my being, but for the most part, I will remember certain plays or scores as opposed to full games.

So…what does that have to do with schools?  Everything.  Think about how we grow our teachers.  Historically we have used Professional Development days with initiatives that may not mean anything to our staff to drive their “growth”.  The question that keeps coming to my mind is this… If professional development is supposed to be an opportunity to improve, then why is it that we only expect teachers to get better under our rules, on our timeline, and through “events” that may not have a lasting impact on their instruction?  Growth should be about choice and as leaders we need to trust our teachers by giving the time to grow, but also the capacity to find and retain things over time to improve what they do in the classroom.

I understand daily schedules, minutes of instruction, prep time, and school calendar tend to drive when we can spend time getting better as a staff.  I don’t have a problem with having professional development days where people can gain more knowledge or resource.  My view is that if this is the only time you talk to your staff about getting better, it will never happen.  What if these days turned into “check in days” or “sharing days” where we have time and resource to collaborate and grow from what we have done as opposed to a one time offering that no one remembers?  We are just starting the process of change when it comes to staff development in our district.  We are far from finished, but have an incredible group of people who want to get better.  Here are a few things we are looking to do to make things more productive for our staff:

Time. During our last staff development opportunity I asked our staff members to pick ONE thing to improve instruction…ONE.  I asked that they didn’t spend the day organizing their rooms, grading papers, or lesson planning.  I asked them to find something new and dive into it for 6 hours.  The feedback from staff has been great and more importantly primed the pump of learning.  The 6 hour start up on an activity allowed staff members to become comfortable with a new instructional method, tech innovation, collaborative organization…whatever.  They now use what they learned on a regular basis and it became part of a routine.  Another day was a check in on their Professional Growth Goal.  This allowed staff members to assess where they were and what resources they would need in the second part of the year.

Choice.  I recently had an opportunity to run an EdCamp style PD session for a group of 7 schools in our area.  We surveyed the group, asked what they wanted to learn, found colleagues that felt comfortable presenting, and let people choose where they wanted to go.  Our first opportunity had over 40 people…a good start to something worthwhile in the future.  We have a group of 20 people from those 7 schools coming together in a few weeks to plan what our collective PD could look like…involving more people in the process will be a fantastic way to grow professional learning networks for our educators.

Twitter. Every staff member in our elementary building has a Twitter Account.  80% of our district teachers have accounts.  Not all are using them actively, but we’re getting there!!  I truly believe that Twitter is the most underutilized professional development tool in the world today.  Taking the time to find out how to navigate and engross yourself in learning is a great way to grow as a professional.  We have done a Twitter chat as a group and hopefully will continue to use it as a fantastic vehicle for improvement. Increasing our circle from 60 staff members to 600 members of a Professional Learning Network and beyond on Twitter allows for enormous opportunities for growth.

We have tremendous resources in our building…and those resources are doing the work and modeling every day.  Learning from each other is a powerful tool.  I see our group taking part in more Appy Hours, EdCamp style choice professional development, and Ted style talks that everyone can learn from on a consistent basis.  Events come and go…constant growth is about MAKING the time to improve and I can’t wait to see where it takes us…Go Crickets.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo
Hello Wisconsin Superintendents!!!

Well...we are just under half way through the WI Superintendent Challenge!  For those who were thinking about participating or already doing so...remember...there is no prize, no notoriety, no additional pay...and if that isn't enough to sell the idea...No one will check to see if you did it!!!!!!

Professional learning has to be intrinsically motivated to see the most gain.  We, as district leaders, have the OBLIGATION to seek out professional growth.  It can't be something that our staff does and we offer as a resource...it has to be part of our growth as leaders.  If you have not chosen anything from the Winter State Education Convention to implement, don't worry...you still have plenty of time to make a change for the remainder of the year...here is a reminder...

Wisconsin Superintendents and any other leaders reading out there…we offer a challenge to all of you…

1.  Implement 1 thing you learned at the convention into your district…with the idea that it is not an ADD ON to your staff. Integrate what you are doing and make sure the growth is yours and impacts the district.

2. Find a colleague…instead of discussing budget, facilities, or school closings find time to connect with one other person who will hold you accountable for your plan to implement something new.

3.  Connect with other superintendents who went through the process at the Spring Convention on April 24-26 in Green Bay to share the experience.

The concept is not new…and may not be exciting, but just over a year ago I was struggling to finish a dissertation…after connecting with a colleague and setting up a plan where we held each other accountable, we both graduated in May.  Having someone there to encourage, but also push, is an extraordinary help in moving forward.  Hopefully the opportunity to discuss and grow will benefit all leaders in our schools…

Good luck, everyone!!  Hope to have an opportunity to connect with everyone in Green Bay in April and discuss growth, inhibitors to growth, and what we can do to help each other moving forward.
AuthorJoe Sanfelippo

Our HS principal often says…“There aren't a lot of businesses where your clients become your products.”  We have the opportunity every single day to influence the lives of people who will take care of us as we get older.  They are the group that we will lean on to move society forward, boost an economy, and invent things that will revolutionize markets.  Yet, in Fall Creek, we don’t ask them what they want, how they want to learn, and how we are doing as educators…until now.  We have asked for parent feedback, community feedback, our administrators get feedback from staff, but the voice of our clients often gets lost in the minutia of the day. The following initiatives are extremely exciting to me, as an administrator, moving forward in our school district:

The Change Conversation
At the beginning of the year we implemented a Professional Growth Model plan that asked teachers to find one area of need or interest and set a particular goal to improve or enhance that area.  One of the components to the goal was a student data piece.  Some chose to work on an academic area and some chose to work on a social area, but all chose to work…which made this administrator extremely happy!  Though I am not in the High School, I have had a number of great conversations with HS teachers regarding their plans and the student data component.  One in particular made me smile.  Our teacher was using exit slips for student comprehension as part of his goal.  When looking at the exit slips he cross referenced how the students perceived his delivery with their scores on assessments for that particular week.  The connection of student voice in how they were taught to their ability to relay information was the start of a great conversation with the teacher.  The impetus stayed away from why they didn't learn a particular skill to what he needed to do differently to ensure they learned a particular skill.  The most important variable is the teacher and the delivery…and this instructor recognized that he was the variable in the change for student achievement.

Student Evaluations of Instruction
The second component that made me feel better about integrating student voice was our HS teacher evaluations done by students.  A few things about this process made me smile…first and foremost; the vast majority of teachers in our building completely embraced the idea.  Although they may have been a bit nervous, they were all eager to see the data from their classes.  As with any data points, the numbers don’t mean anything unless you sit down and reflect on what will be done with said data.  The movement from knowledge to action is clearly key to the process.  Our HS principal had a chance to sit down with staff members, and guide the discussion to look at what things were going well…and why.  The conversation was about the positive aspects of what is going on in the classroom, and when the data wasn't as promising, we tried to break the conversation into pieces to coach a solution to make the teacher feel valued in the process.  Clearly teachers were harder on themselves with the data than administrators could be…we all want to do well and addressing a particular need was discussed after some of the positive things were brought to light.  We all have strengths, and we all have areas to improve, the minute we start feeling like we've arrived, we begin losing ground.

Meetings with Students
The final component that is just in the beginning stages of implementation is holding exit meetings with our seniors.  Last week I had the pleasure to sit down and have lunch with 12 seniors.  We discussed their lives at Fall Creek, what they loved about school, what they didn't love about school, what they would have changed, how they would teach, what they wanted to learn, how it prepared them for life after high school, social media, independent learning….all in 30 minutes…it was awesome!  For our students to sit down with a 38 year old, bald headed crazy man as opposed to having the time with their friends was a tribute to them and the conversation was wonderful.  It made me think… “why aren't we doing this all the time?”  So…we will! 
Students need to have a voice in their education.  We cannot be the sole purveyors of knowledge.  Content is simply not scarce…it can be attained anywhere…and when any question can be answered by asking it into a phone, we need to get beyond content.  Our students should have a say in what and how they learn…I truly appreciate the work at the HS to begin a process where that is routine and not a burden on what we do.  Our clients are our products…let’s make sure they are marketable when they leave…instead of preparing people to work in a new world, let’s prepare them to lead it.

AuthorJoe Sanfelippo