Inquiry, Leadership

Always Pick Yourself

Pick Yourself. It is a phrase coined (or popularized perhaps is a more apt description) by Seth Godin.  At his NYC day event that I was fortunate enough to attend two years ago, he gave out guitar picks with this written on them.

Pick yourself

I grabbed a handful of these at the event and they will often appear randomly around our house.  We just moved and whilst unpacking, I came across a purple Pick Yourself pick in a box. It now sits on my daughter’s bottle drying rack in our kitchen.

Pick Yourself.  Pick Yourself.  Pick Yourself.

This is a good reminder for me on a number of levels and yet I still often value other people picking me (external validation) over my own belief in myself.

Since I started sharing my thinking via this blog I have been approached by people asking for help with getting into international teaching, by people who would like to repost my posts, by publications wanting to publish my posts as articles, by the IBO to lead initiatives in sharing practice and in technology education. I have been validated by these people: “We pick you!” “We choose you!” I also am a sucker for the stats that are generated by WordPress.  How many pageviews?  From how many countries? These external motivators do just that: they motivate me to keep publishing, keep posting. They are not my only motivation but I am suckered in when I see other people “picking me”.

Today, I met with my principal to have, essentially, a “Pick Me” conversation. I want to be picked to continue on next year with some work I have started in my role as Curriculum Coordinator. The conversation was good and whilst I do not know the outcome of our discussion in terms of me continuing in the role, it has had me thinking all day: am I picking myself or waiting to be picked?  What if I am not picked? Do I pick myself anyway?  Do I do the work for free, in my own time? Do I show that titles don’t matter, having a heart for change is what is important?

I know what Seth would say:

It’s a cultural instinct to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission and authority that comes from a publisher or talk show host or even a blogger saying, “I pick you.” Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you–that Prince Charming has chosen another house–then you can actually get to work.

If you’re hoping that the HR people you sent your resume to are about to pick you, it’s going to be a long wait. Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound.

No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.

~Seth Godin, Reject the Tyranny of Being Picked: Pick Yourself


So I started to do this.  I wrote what is essentially my own “job description” and I have a plan for what I would like to do. There is still a part of me that questions: How do I know that the opportunities I see and the problems I want to solve, match the vision and purpose of my school? Do I wait for our paths to align or do I pull them together? This is where the permission-seeker in me dwells: in that place between ruckus-maker and rule-follower.  Between employee and innovator.

The whole process has been thought-provoking. The outcome, unknown.


Leaders: Born or Made?

Clearly inspired by yesterday’s post, Gaping Void asked the age old question today: Are leaders born or are they made?

Great question.

Hugh goes on to answer:

We won’t argue which side wins, but we all must agree that made or born, it starts from within. A drive to make a difference to those around you. A simple idea that many people just don’t get.

And summarizes his thoughts with this great image:


This post is dedicated to Marina Gijzen, a born leader who has taken the time to develop and refine her leadership skills, driven by a pure vision from within to make a difference. You are exceptional – go for it!


A Successful School Leader…

How would you complete that sentence?

What qualities are needed to be a successful school leader?

This is something that is important to me.  I have worked in a number of different schools in the 17 years that I have been teaching and it is becoming so much more important to me that I work for and with a principal and Head of School that possess the qualities of a great leader.  But what are these qualities?

For me, the qualities of a great leader are defined as:

  • Fearlessness: Not operating from a place of fear. Embracing the unknown.
  • Passion: Loving what you do and excelling at it.
  • Vision: Looking ahead, looking forward, embracing the unknown.
  • Action: Acting on one’s vision
  • Kindness: The world needs more of this.  Be kinder than necessary.

What would make your list?

Author, Jeremy Sutcliffe wondered the same thing: “What are the qualities needed to make a successful school leader?”  He asked this question and then published his results in a book (unimaginatively) called  8 Qualities of Successful School Leaders: the desert island challenge, published by Bloomsbury.

Here are his top eight:


  1. Vision
  2. Courage
  3. Passion
  4. Emotional Intelligence
  5. Judgement
  6. Resilience
  7. Persuasion
  8. Curiosity

In this article from the Guardian, the ideas behind the words are explained in a little more detail and make for interesting reading.

What kind of leader do you need?  What kind of leader are you?




Be Kinder, Love Biggest

I am a huge fan of Wonder by R.J Palacio and an equally huge fan of Mr. Tushman, the principal of Beecher Prep who encourages us all to:

…always try to be a little kinder than necessary.

I was therefore intrigued when a friend went to pick her (fabulously awesome) daughter up from a month of summer camp and described the address given by the camp director as “Mr Tushman-esque”.  I had to know more.  I looked up the camp website to find out who the director was, read his bio, and didn’t really think much more than how fortunate these kids were who had experienced a little piece of Wonder in real life.

That was about a month ago.  Yesterday, a story jumped out of my news feed inviting me to join the Teton Valley Ranch Camp in farewelling their director (the “real-life Mr. Tushman”) and provided a link to his parting words.  I read them and could immediately ‘get’ the Tushman reference.  Smart, kind, funny, and thoughtful.  Mr. Holland recounts a story in which a camper shared with her group that the greatest lesson she had learned at camp was “to love biggest”. Putting aside the grammar, he held on to her sentiment and went on to say:

To love with all you have, with a child-like sense of magic and wonder, this is the true spirit of TVRC. People have often commented to me that I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and I think in the end, I am proud of this.  I am proud of this because I try to not just lead with my head, but also my heart.  To pour my heart and love into everything I do daily – this, I believe will lead to a life fulfilled.

– Tom Holland, Teton Valley Ranch Camp

And right there is the connection to Mr. Tushman.  Mr. Tushman and Mr. Holland are leaders who both use their leadership position for good. They hold positions in which children and adults look to them for leadership and guidance and they choose to focus on things that matter: being kinder, loving biggest.

I don’t know Mr. Holland but I am certainly grateful to know that 15 years of campers, counsellors, parents, and families have had the good fortune to see a leader who takes a stand on qualities he believes are important, speaking not only for himself, but for his organization and emphasizing the values his community finds significant.

A few weeks back, I posted a quote from one of our first faculty meetings.  Part of that quote reads:

It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather.

Haim G. Ginott

I don’t think it is hard to imagine anything but clear skies and warm sunshine at the Teton Valley Ranch Camp under Mr. Holland’s leadership.  Can you say the same for your style of leadership?

After reading all this, I went to my mailbox and inside was a package.  Inside the package, my own little piece of TVRC.  When I wear it, I won’t only be reminded of the awesome kid who sent me the shirt, but to choose to be kinder, choose to love biggest.


21st Century, Leadership

Effective Leadership

I am currently reading a really great article.  Pamela Mendels ( is senior writer at The Wallace Foundation in New York City. Her foundation colleagues Lucas Held, Edward Pauly, Jessica Schwartz, and Jody Spiro contributed to this article on the five pivotal practices that shape instructional leadership.

Interestingly, the article begins by explaining that the word ‘principal‘ originally was used as a verb in front of the word ‘teacher‘ and the ‘principal teacher‘ was:

a kind of first among equals, an instructor who assumed some administrative tasks as schools began to grow beyond the one-room buildings of yore.The original principal was, like the other teachers in the school, concerned with instruction above all.

The article goes on to outline the five pivotal practices:

Shaping a Vision

Deciding what you stand for and standing for it.  Sounds simple, right?  Research shows that when leaders are clear in their vision, when they set a standard and expect others to raise their game to meet that expectation of a shared vision, growth and success will follow.  Without a clear vision for why you are there, people tend to become distant rather than united as a group.

Correlation to the Classroom: Set clear standards and adhere to them.

Creating a Climate Hospitable to Education

In addition to a roof that isn’t about to crumble around you, effective leaders ensure an atmosphere in which students and teachers feel supported and responded to.  Teachers who are given the opportunity to collaborate and work with other teachers to create common goals and improve instructional practice. Making sure you have non-toxic working environment is key to success.

Correlation to the Classroom: Support your students, allow for collaboration and regularly meet to avoid ‘issues’ to decay your class bonds.

Cultivating Leadership in Others

Schools in which leadership is shared are proven to be more effective.  Bringing teachers in to leadership roles, involving parents and other members of the community to share their areas of expertise all go toward raising the standards of education within a school. What I really like here is the finding that leadership is not a zero sum game.  Research found that “principals do not lose influence as others gain influence”.

Correlation to the Classroom: Empower your students with leadership opportunities.

Improving Instruction

Effective leaders know that improved instruction will come when research-based techniques are employed, frequent periods of focused observation are coupled with timely feedback, changes are made to schedules and ‘how things are done’ to accomodate new initiatives and ideas about learning and teaching.  This goes for everyone – especially those teachers who would rather be left to do it ‘how it always has been done’.

Correlation to the Classroom: Give your kids timely and effective feedback, initiating new ways of ‘doing’ based on solid principals of learning, giving students options for discovery and reflection as learners. 

Managing People, Data and Processes

Knowing how to support teachers in a way that allows them to thrive is a key component of an effective leader.  The support of the administration is the number one reason teachers give when making the decision to stay or leave a position in a school.  Being able to effectively manage the key responsibilities of a principal: planning, implementing, supporting, advocating, communicating and monitoring, will determine not only your success as a principal but also the success of your school. (Based on the VAL-ED method of analyzing Principal effectiveness developed by Vanderbilt University and endorsed by The Elementary School Journal)

Correlation to the Classroom: 

  • Plan thoroughly
  • Implement with initiative and innovation
  • Support all levels of learning
  • Advocate in the best interests of your students
  • Communicate clearly with all stakeholders
  • Monitor your own and your students’ growth and progress.
I really like the points raised above – both the five building blocks of effective leadership and the six points via the VAL-ED survey.  I would like to implement these ideas into my own teaching practice as a teacher, both for my own benefit and the benefit of the students in my class. What professional goals do you set yourself?  How do you monitor your effectiveness as a leader in your classroom?
My friend, Marina, who teaches in Nanjing recently posted on how she gathered feedback from her students. Marina used the following tool to gather her data and was really surprised by the feedback she got.  She went on to add a newer post about how things have only gone
from great to even greater since she gathered the feedback from her students.  One of the things Seth Godin talked about in NYC last week was seeking feedback from your tribe – the people you connect to and resonate with.  It would stand to reason that we do this with our kids  in our classrooms, no?
How do you define ‘leadership’?

Passion – How Finding Your Element Really IS What it’s All About!

Our fifth grade students are two weeks out from their culminating project as PYP students: the Exhibition.

We chose to focus on our passions with the understanding that pursuing your passion emboldens you as a learner and enables you to connect with others. When we began our journey, we were guided by a number of excellent resources.

Sir Ken Robinson

As a teacher, I was inspired by (and somewhat enamoured with) Sir Ken Robinson. Having first heard of him whilst teaching in Thailand, the ‘buzz’ generated by his TED talk was a loud roar. He was amazing, insightful and inspiring. This live talk was followed up with an animated version, utilizing the now more common-place skill of visual notetaking. To have the opportunity to hear him speak, live, in Boise thanks to the ED Sessions – priceless. I would add ‘witty’, ‘dry’, and ‘freaking hilarious’ to my previous descriptors of Sir Ken. His talk was the first in a series of three titled ‘Reading, Writing, Revolution’ and he certainly started one! His talk was a month or two before we would begin planning for the Exhibition and that was enough time for further reading of “The Element” and “Out of Our Minds” and for the ideas he shared to percolate.

Leo Babauta

Fast forward to the point at which we are trying to define and explain “passion” and how to find it to our kids. Do a google search for “finding your passion” and the first hit will be Leo’s amazingly rich blog, ZenHabits and the post, The Short But Powerful Guide to Finding Your Passion He outlines the following steps to finding your passion:

1. What are you good at?
2. What excites you?
3. What do you read about?
4. What have you secretly dreamed of?
5. Learn, ask, take notes.
6. Experiment, try.
7. Narrow things down.
8. Banish your fears.
9. Find the time.

Great advice, fully explained in his post and very worthwhile.


Simon Sinek

Simon is our “why” guy. He advocates that we should ‘start with why‘ and in doing so, will discover our purpose. Find out what you like to do, how you do it and then consider why you do what you do, how you do it. We were fortunate at this point to have two things: firstly, an amazing Passion Tour of Boise where we got to meet 9 amazing people who can truly say they are living out their passion: a conductor, a vet, an academy award winning director, a dog trainer, CEO of the YMCA, a businessman, an engineer, and two gals with a passion for fashion. Secondly, we had a parent who works with people and organizations to help them define their purpose and connect them with their best ideas. With these elements combined, we had a wealth of examples and the know-how to help our kids define their ‘why’ on their journey to identifying their passion.

Seth Godin

You know no post is complete without a mention of Seth! Having read “Linchpin” I was excited to see the follow-up workbook “Ship It“. Once our passions were defined, Ship It was a great addition to our toolkit thanks to Seth’s generosity in letting us copy this out-of-print resource. Ship It cuts to the nuts and bolts. It makes you write your shipping date, articulate your fears, add and subtract from your project to increase awesomeness and really set yourself up for a successful journey. Having filled in our Ship It books, we wrote ourselves a letter to read the day before the Exhibition. As Seth said, we could save the space for writing what actually happened or we could speak truth into the future. We chose the latter and are excited to open our letters on March 21st.

With all that in mind, what will you see when you walk in our rooms? You will see passion. Actually, you will see PASSION. It is amazing. There have been moments when we have thought it was all going to be a giant mess. There have been talks with the kids and talks amongst the two of us who teach fifth grade. And then there are our kids. What are they doing?

  • Phoning local business owners to volunteer their group who share a passion for physical activity as escorts on a 1 mile fun-run for children
  • Corresponding with authors, artists, musicians and sportspeople via email and phone to gather first-hand information
  • Conducting interviews with publishers, coaches, authors, photographers, and scientists
  • Observing the effect that bringing a dog to school has on children as part of a study on the impact of animals on humans
  • Blogging, posting and tweeting about their passions via social media and their extensive (and growing) tech skills
  • Some you won’t see at all! They are off flying in small areoplanes, making little libraries to install in our community, running sports camps, participating in personal training sessions, off in their own world writing or creating works of art, learning an instrument, composing music or investigating the physics of dragons!

And did I mention these kids are ten and eleven years old?

As for their teachers? We are on cloud nine and are unanimous in our belief that this is the best teaching of our lives. Seeing our kids so engaged and hearing them articulate their journey has been amazing. True, it has been scary and there have been times when we were so unsure where it was all heading, but it is apt that it is Spring in Boise as our kids really are (cheesy, but true!) blooming. They are in their element and their work is not work anymore. When we say “Exhibition time” there are fist pumps and the rapid dispersal of 28 small bodies within our two classes, in the hallways or in the sunshine outside. Kids are helping each other, volunteering to take surveys, edit each others work, teach a new tech skill – anything to help move another forward in their passion.

Personally, I have found great strength and encouragement from the relationship I have with my fellow fifth grade teacher. I taught fourth grade last year so many of the parents knew me and liked working with me. However, I look back on ‘that person’ that I was as a fourth grade teacher and there are many things I don’t recognize in the fifth grade teacher that I am now. I know that a lot of this is due to having read more, become more connected and just a factor of chronological growth over time. The bulk of the change, however, lies in working with someone who shares your values, has the best interests of the children at heart, is open to change, will readily share everything and who always has your back.

Collaboration – one of the 4 C’s of 21st Century learning – is not easy. It is made to look like child’s play when respect, professionalism, dedication, and (let’s be honest) a constant stream of hot coffee are on had at all times!

I learned on Friday that my friend and colleague with whom I have shared this amazing journey, will not be returning to our school next year and as corny as it may sound, I spent the bulk of my weekend mourning the loss of someone whom I have learned so much with this year. I can be one to ‘make a ruckus’ as Seth would encourage us all to do. When the enriching, thought-provoking, stimulating, inquiry-based and passion-driven learning environment that you have worked so hard to create is threatened, is there anything more important for one to make a ruckus about? Perhaps ‘making a ruckus’ is my new Passion?