Kids Deserve It

I had the wonderful opportunity to be featured on an episode of a weekly “Kids Deserve It” podcast/videocast. These sessions are hosted weekly by the authors of “Kids Deserve It,” Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney. I read their book while ago and was a quick fan at their message to support kids, build relationships, and make schools a memorable place for students.

It’s a simple philosophy that we drives my work as an administrator and lead learner. It is also a message that we continually need to focus on in our work as educators.  We were able to connect at the Illinois Computing Educator’s Conference in February 2017 and I’ve enjoyed watching them spread the positive message through twitter, instagram, remind, voxer, and in any and all ways possible.
Our conversation was able to focus on one of my favorite topics and passions: literacy and developing a culture of readers! I shared a simple challenge with the viewers… Connect kids with books with no strings attached. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below. Tell me how your school or classroom fosters a love of reading!

Some ideas I suggested for connecting kids to books during the summer months:

  • Host a story time at school during the summer months. Think of a fun theme to engage kids. We’re hosting a “Popsicle with the Principal” and “Donuts and Pajamas.” Each one includes a story, treat, and playtime on our playground. Simple, easy and fun! I even solicited our Scholastic representative to loan us their Clifford Costume for one of the events:)
  • Record a read aloud and post it to your school facebook page or social media site. Go further and have members of your staff each record a read aloud on a flip grid and share them periodically.
  • Send a book in the mail to students! Make sure to leave a special inscription.
  • Show up to your local library’s story time and see what students are there! Ask to read with them!
  • Create a Little Free Library on your playground or outside your school. Consider placing one in a neighborhood or area of town that could benefit from it. Place “honor book” baskets in local restaurants and coffee shops with your logo and encourage kids to read!
  • Create a summer reading blog and have students share their reading reflections throughout the summer and comment on each other’s posts!

Our conversation also focused on developing relationships with kids by remembering to have FUN with them. Whereas I will always encourage staff to be safe, use their professional judgement, and follow district policy, it is also important to have a little fun with kids. This can include:

  • Sitting down and eating lunch with them.
  • Getting a HULK Hand and giving High Fives
  • Using a bicycle horn to send them on their ways or to walk into a classroom
  • Having fun at recess and taking time to chat with kids! They love when they can show you their newest trick on the monkey bars or play a game of catch with you.
  • Wear a crazy hat or head piece.
  • You can read 75 MORE ideas at a previous blog post of mine HERE 

The point is… go out there… be a champion for kids!

Thanks Todd and Adam for allowing me the honor of being #77!

Leadership Lessons from Classic Country Music

I have an eclectic taste in music. It includes a little bit of everything and my radio dial is constantly changing based on my mood. A little known fact about me is that I love country classic music. Maybe it is because I grew up with parents that played the likes of Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Hank Williams, Randy Travis, and Waylon Jennings (just to name a few). Some of these artists have transcended decades and have made their mark on generations of music lovers, but my favorite songs are their classics. I spent many hours travelling in the back of the car listening to them playing the music that resonates across so many generations. In fact, I was actually named after Waylon Jenning’s song, “Amanda.” My dad would belt that song on Saturday mornings during my youth and thinking of those memories still brings a smile to my face. If it wasn’t that song, it was my mom blasting “Danger Zone” from Top Gun to wake us up for our chores. I preferred the country songs.

I guess that is why I look to music lyrics for leadership inspiration. So many of the songs I grew up listening have messages that ring true in powerful ways. I wanted to take note of a few of my favorites and highlight the lyrics that contribute to my educational philosophy. It’s interesting that so many of them are from one artist. For whatever reason, the words reflect my feelings on several levels. There are so many more songs that speak to me on more than a leadership level, but the following have stanzas and phrases that ring loudly to me.


Your Song/Garth Brooks

Everyone has a champion that has pushed them and encouraged them in one way or another to become successful. I’ve been enormously lucky to have a set of parents that have been my cheerleaders from day 1. My dad gave me a set of desktop encyclopedias (which are proudly displayed in my office now) with an inscription that said “Spread your Wings and Fly” on the day I graduated high school. My parents never cared WHAT I did when I grew up, as long as I pursued what brought me joy. I can distinctly remember sitting in a parking lot on the day I learned I earned my first principal-ship crying happy tears with my dad on the phone. I don’t know in that moment who was more ecstatic, him or me. I’ve always felt that my success has been a direct reflection of their unending support and love. They’ve given me my wings and I am forever grateful. This song speaks to that:

Knowing that your out there listening
I remember one time
When I was so afraid
Didn’t think I had the courage
To stand up on this stage
Then you reached into my heart
And you found the melody
And if there ever was somebody
Who made me believe in me
It was you
It was you

It was your song that made me sing
It was your voice that gave me wings
And it was your light that shined
Guiding my heart to find
This place where I belong
It was your song

The River/Garth Brooks

When was the last time you pushed yourself to try something new, take a risk, and challenge your thinking? When I hear this song, it reminds me to swim with the fish and not stand as a lifeguard in my leadership. It reminds me that my most fulfilling days at work are those that I am with my students, interacting and collaborating with my staff, and engaging with the parents and community. This song reiterates that my role as a principal is much more meaningfully served in the hallways and the classrooms of building rather than in the office. This song also embraces the growth-mindset mentality and encourages innovation and creativity. How can you now love this excerpt:

Too many times we stand aside and let the waters slip away
‘Til what we put off ’til tomorrow, has now become today.
So don’t you sit upon the shoreline and say you’re satisfied.
Choose to chance the rapids and dare to dance the tide

Standing Outside the Fire/Garth Brooks

This is actually one of the songs that led me to my major of special education. If you watch this music video, you can’t help but be inspired by the will of the child and the intense encouragement and love of his mother. Now as an educator, I put myself in that role. This song reminds me to question my effectiveness, challenge myself to push the envelope, and take risks to do new things!

Wanting to fly higher and higher
I can’t abide standing outside the fire

Life is not tried it is merely survived
If you’re standing outside the fire

Meet in the Middle/Diamond Rio

This song is about a couple making concessions and compromises as part of an ongoing relationship, but as a leader, it is a good reminder that finding a win-win often times means compromising on both ends.

You start walkin your way you start walkin mine
we meet in the middle neath that old Georgia pine
We gain a lot of ground cuz we both give a little
aint no road to long when we meet in the middle

Forever and Ever, Amen/Randy Travis

Nothing says country music more than this song and despite it’s intent, I see it as how we should approach education and children. Despite the challenges and behaviors that children can demonstrate, this song reminds me that we need to never close a door on a child and always support them emotionally and behaviorally. Kids need champions in their lives and someone that will unconditionally support and encourage them. This song reminds me to be a child’s cheerleader and advocate to the extent that I am able!

I’m gonna love you forever
Forever and ever, amen
As long as old men sit and talk about the weather
As long as old women sit and talk about old men

No matter the song, I feel there is value in the melody and lyrics. So many times, I can take the message and apply it in a meaningful way to my story as an educator and my role as a principal. What songs speak to you and challenge your thinking?

The Phone is for You!

I was on the phone at work. It was one of those not so pleasant, but important phone calls following up on a challenging situation that I had been dealing with on an ongoing basis. Feeling frustrated I was about to go back to my office to complete some additional evaluations and reports that I had been working on when my secretary indicated I had a call on the other line. “It’s Adam Welcome… He says he’s calling from California.”

I have been following the #kidsdeserveit hashtag on twitter and had enjoyed reading the Kids Deserve It book a few months ago. Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney are the authors of “Kids Deserve it.” Much of the book resonated with me. I have shared it with my staff and advocated for so many of the ideals in the book in my school and district. To know he was on the phone made my day. When I answered the phone, Adam indicated he had been seeing my posts on twitter and reading my blog! (I thought to myself People actually read that?!?) He just wanted to take a couple minutes to encourage me and celebrate the great things he was seeing. I am an adult. I know the work we do as educators is important, but to feel validated and recognized meant a lot… and with a phone call… even more. Adam could have tweeted or messaged a simple message, but the phone call resonates more loudly.

So, my discouraged attitude from earlier events of the day quickly evaporated and I was immediately recharged and motivated to choose to be joyful and positive for the rest of my day. His phone call resulted in a ripple effect. My mood obviously improved, but I recognized how good it felt to be validated that I decided I needed to do that for the people around me as well. The power of a phone call instead of an email resulted in:

  • I called several spouses of staff members on my team just to share out how much I appreciated them and their work at school.
  • I dropped notes of appreciation in mailboxes for a few staff members and a regular volunteer.
  • I sat at a table of boys at lunch and listened to the reflection of their day thus far
  • I went into a classroom where a teacher was eating lunch with a student for reaching a goal and called her mom on my cell phone and put her on speaker phone to share the good news (squeals all around)
  • I sang “Part of Your World” from Little Mermaid to a set of siblings as they were waiting to be the last to be picked up at dismissal.
  • I helped a fellow administrator set up his school twitter account.
  • I added specific tasks on my calendar to keep me accountable and to remember to continue these actions.

and why… because Kids Deserve It!

So if you haven’t read the book, grab it! Some of the ideas that stuck with me:

  • Create that spark and get off the island: I can’t imagine my life as an administrator without my PLN. I’ve connected with educators and leaders across the country that I wouldn’t have otherwise without the power of twitter! I am able to surround myself with like minded individuals that have a passion for empowering themselves as lifelong learners for the sole purpose of making schools better places to teach and learn!
  • Lead by Example. If you expect it from staff and students, do it yourself. That includes modeling best practices, taking risks, opening yourself up for failure, and demonstrating open and clear communication!
  • Make that phone call: I know the power of a call makes a difference. To hear the joy in the voice of a parent and see the happiness in the face of a student when I call a parent builds respect and rapport! Make the calls to parents, staff members, and other administrators. Don’t underestimate the power of a written note or phone call.
  • Be courageous and don’t fret the alien look: My #oneword2017 is courage. Courage to do hard things. Courage to do things that are innovative. Courage to push forward with ideas and the courage to keep going! I have told my staff that often times innovators and risk takers are looked at with curious eyes. My favorite quote about this topic is “First they laugh and you, then they ask you how?” The alien look is part of the process of growing. It never hurts to take a risk and fail forward! 

So think about how you can be the stone that adds a ripple into the pond of positivity? How can you be strategic and focused on developing strategies and relationships that will spread through your culture and community? Go Get Them! Kids Deserve It!