Sunday, July 8, 2018


Anthony Kim & Alexis Gonzales-Black THE new SCHOOL RULES—6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools

As an elementary principal facilitating a turnaround school improvement initiative I am continuing to learn what critical components are needed to reform a school. When a colleague sent me The new School Rules—6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools by Anthony Kim & Alexis Gonzales-Black, the word thriving jumped out at me. In the midst of all of our school improvement reform efforts above all else, I want our students and staff to truly blossom and thrive.

Our foundation for school improvement started with building meaningful relationships with our students, each other, families, and our partnerships in the community. With these connections as the groundwork, we continue to focus on our school culture by nurturing a positive learning community where struggles are embraced, celebrated and utilized as the next jumping off point towards growth and change in our teaching and learning practices.

I have also learned none of the above would be as successful without the implementation of school-wide systems in order to do this work. The authors Kim & Gonzales-Black shared the need to pay more attention to the management and work practices found in the field of education. They stated,


The key word—being responsiveness. This responsiveness includes schools that are continuing to evolve to what is happening in the present, have a clear inspiring purpose, and always, always aiming higher to improve. Author’s Kim and Gonzales-Black provide an organizational framework that identifies fundamental practices for planning, teaming, managing, decision-making, sharing information, and defining a learning organization.

There are many relevant and practical takeaways for a school to demonstrate more responsiveness in their book, but for this reader, there were two favorites. The first included aiming for “safe enough to try” rather than simply relying on consensus. A key component of decision-making is trust that empowers staff who are doing the work to take action and make small, purposeful decisions. There will be times when the results will not go as planned, but by showing responsiveness to what they have learned along the way in order for them to “fail forward” to “refine and hone their ideas” to “make decisions smarter and faster for students.”

My second takeaway follows the above and supports the learning culture we have meticulously continue to prioritize and includes sharing what we have learned with others. This act of transparency also embraces being opened to the inquiries of others and responding with “Thank you for asking.” Kim and Gonzales-Black shared,


Saturday, June 9, 2018

"Cultivating a Community of become more than you ever thought possible."

Jimmy Casas CULTURIZE—Every Student. Every Day. Whatever It Takes.

I’m looking back at our school year. With just a few short days left I can’t help but smile on the school culture we have all been relentlessly focused on as we continue our school improvement journey towards...yet. If I look closely, I can tell the staff is incredibly tired, but you have to know them to see this. They are still smiling, full of energy, cheering their students on to student’s end of year goals. They are finishing strong and modeling for our students to do the same.

It was just four years ago we started implementation of a school improvement turnaround model. The first step we prioritized was changing our school culture. Such an incredibly simple statement, that turned out to be extremely difficult, endlessly rewarding, and never done. I picked up Jimmy Casas book Culturized to help me figure out what we were missing, forgetting, or just overlooking. As it turns out, and as you can see from my notes...plenty.

Rather than write a recap of the entire book Culturize, here are just a few of my own personal takeaways that I want to use for reflection and to share with our dedicated teachers and leadership team. You can find all of my reflections from Culturize on my twitter feed @afewthingsworth. These insights and thoughts are pushing my thinking forward to be and do better for our student, staff, and families.

I realize it would be so much easier to accept what is and just walk through our establish routines and procedures. Maybe I would even be able to sleep at night, but I can’t. I just can’t.  I heard the author and speaker John Maxwell speak on being average, and this stuck with me. “To excel’ literally means to go beyond average.” Casas words in Chapter one added to Maxwell’s thinking, “We cannot allow average to become our standard. For our students to grow, and do, and be the amazing individuals we love, we are pushing ourselves to go beyond average.

When I read this passage in Chapter two, I felt like I needed to hit the repeat button over and over again. Listen, LIsten, Listen. I would add to this, lean in, be present, and learn the intent. Oh and one more...put down your phone, take it out of your pocket, out of your hand, out of sight and sound of notifications forever dinging. We all want to be heard, and students are no exceptions.

One of Casa’s last takeaways for me was found in Chapter 5, and focused on “the relationships we build.” Indeed that is what teaching and learning is all about. Whether it be the relationships you have with the teacher’s your support, or the students your serve, it is the center of everything. Yes, everything.

Casa reminds the reader, “We must remain vigilant that our words and deeds add to our school culture in a positive way rather than negate it” (p. 9). “Let us rather act with a sense of urgency to re-culturize our schools, acknowledge there is no room for the status quo” (p. 177).

Friday, December 29, 2017

School Systems for Improvement

Karin Chenoweth SCHOOLS that SUCCEED—How Educators Marshall the Power of Systems for Improvement

It’s another rainy day in Oregon and I continue to hear drops of water pelting at my window. I am lost in thought just after finishing the book School's that Succeed: How Educators Marshal the Power of Systems for Improvement. The rhythm of rain falling on the glass and the content of the book are not unfamiliar, but in combination have provided this reader time for much needed reflection.  As a principal of a school in improvement I know “the work” is never truly done, but determining our school’s next steps is always urgently compelling my thoughts forward.

I applaud the work of Karin Chenoweth. In her recent book she shares other leaders steps in their own school improvement journey. At times the work is isolating and to know what others have done that has ultimately changed their students (and staff) trajectory of learning is---well inspiring to this learner. I go back to one of my favorite quotes from UCLA’s head basketball coach John Wooden who said, “It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.” I firmly believe his thinking applies to all educators no matter their role.

What do unexpected schools do to provide equitable learning outcomes for all students no matter what they may or may not bring to start their own life’s story?


·      Have teachers who unconditionally believe in students and will do all things conceivable to build a foundation for their student’s future.
·      Have leaders who continually create, monitor, and evaluate their school systems that provide a learning culture for their story to take place.
·      Have schools that prioritize relationships first as a foundation for all of the above.
·      Provide access to rigorous and relevant content developed collaboratively that is student driven and evidence-based.

The rain never truly stops for long periods of time in an Oregon winter. It’s a good thing. The beat continues to remind me of Chenoweth’s closing comments.