A Firehose of Leadership

I remember my entrance into the Twitter world during an LIASCD workshop titled “Accelerated Learning” which was led by Bill Brennan and Tony Sinanis.  In speaking about the power of being connected and developing a network on Twitter, Bill or Tony commented, “There is so much to learn.  It is a firehose of information and you just need to know what to swallow.”  I always think back to this comment as it is so on point and real.  The connections I have made and the learning that has saturated my daily life is invaluable to my craft.  In fact, the time I spend learning heightens my enthusiasm for educational and instructional leadership.  I let my excitement drive my decision making.  But…

I woke up this morning and immediately grabbed my phone as I do every Tuesday morning.  Like a kid rushing out of bed to find where the elf has been strategically placed by his/her parents (we go crazy to inspire compliance), I look forward to seeing if my fantasy football team has won.  I didn’t catch the end of Monday night’s game and I wound up losing.  I shouldn’t have started Wentz.  That is another story. Back to the blog. So, I grabbed the phone and opened the Twitter app instead of CBS Sports.  I guess I do this unconsciously now.  I see a tweet from Don Gately as part of last night’s #nyedchat and it opened my eyes!  Don tweeted, “I have to be careful–my enthusiasm can drown out dissent/other voices that need to be heard.”  WOW!  This comment is the mark of an amazing leader.  I agree with Don.  We have to be cognizant of allowing all voices to be heard so our leadership matches our audience’s needs.  I couldn’t stop thinking about my last post on evaluation.  Do I allow others to freely comment and speak their minds?  Do I provide a safe space so dissent can have power?  At my last meeting with my librarians, I used Andy Greene’s commandment, “No parking lot conversations.”  Are my enthusiasm, passion, and learning providing a spark for these parking lot conversations that have no power and no true impact? Am I allowing the supposed Debbie Downers, Negative Nellies, and Raincloud Johnnies to speak?  How many times do I hear, “I hate to play Devil’s Advocate, but….”  Why should an apology preface an opinion or perspective?

I have been asked the following question on ninety percent of all interviews for various jobs for which I applied: “What is your biggest weakness?”  When I ask this question of potential candidates, I always get the planned answers.  The answers that weaken a candidate’s position.  How many of you have heard one of the following–I am a perfectionist, or I work too many hours, or some similarly contrived response?  My answer is going to be that I sometimes swallow too much water.  Of course, I will explain it.  But, maybe I do.  Am I so saturated with networked enthusiasm that I am drowning out the voices that need to be heard?  Is that even a bad thing? The firehose that fuels my learning is growing…each minute.

I kept this post short to hopefully get honest reactions.  Gulp.

Flipping the EVALUATION Cycle

“Many conversations that I hear from administrators focus on

how to deal with educators, yet often don’t focus

on reflecting what they can do different.”

-George Couros

Three years ago, I sat and listened to Glen Eschbach, Superintendent of Schools in North Babylon, at the Literacy Leaders Forum speak about the power of reflection, evaluation, and self-assessment in leadership.  Sharing a document that would assist the audience in evaluating whether or not they are true lead learners, Glen discussed how our own reflection can inform future practice.  I left that conference energized and inspired to allow the teachers who I supervise use this rubric to assess my leadership.  I was interested to see if my own evaluation matched their perspectives.  In fact, as George Couros noted in his description of the power of Hacking Leadership by Tony Sinanis and Joe Sanfelippo, I wanted to know what I could “do different” to serve their needs and essentially, the needs of our students.  This practice prompted my analysis of the following aspects of leadership:

  • Is it possible for effective leadership to take place if a solid relationship is not in place?  What if the leader believes a solid relationship is in place but the others do not?  It was Rita Pierson in her TED Talk who shared James Comer’s statement, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”  She goes on to talk about how kids do not learn from teachers who they do not like.  Does the same go for leadership?  I pay close attention to developing relationships with the educators with whom I work.  I agree with Tony Sinanis that relationships are the absolute key to developing strong culture and morale.  Yet, what if some perceive your relationships with others to be richer than the one you have with them? I never thought of this as part of my work until the Eschbach evaluation (if I can coin it that).  Yet, they were right.  I had to adapt and be conscious of my connections.
  • Do we ever check in with others when it appears they are sad or simply not themselves?  In trying to find a quote for this blog from ratemyteachers.com (see bullet five), I just came across something written this past July from someone who went to school in West Islip in 2008.  He/she wrote, “[He] cared about well being and grades of course. I went through a lot my senior year and he pulled me out of class to see if I was okay and ask me how he could help.”  Wow. In reading this comment, a smile immediately found its way to my face.  Did this leak its way into my leadership? Developing this personal connection is the foundation for any positive professional relationship.
  • If a leader expects something new from those who he/she leads, does it matter if some do not agree with the change?  As the new leader of two middle school departments when I shared the aforementioned evaluation tool, I expected that my comments and suggestions on digital lessons plans would not get positive reviews. It was a far different practice than what they were used to under previous leadership. Yet, I was shocked. Those who commented on the practice loved getting the feedback.  My comments and suggestions provided guidance for some and inspiration for others.  These educators were passionate about their craft and they respected my time and effort in assisting with the teaching and learning in their classrooms. What if teachers didn’t agree with the practice?  What if it didn’t even develop their work? Should it continue?
  • Do leaders thank those around them to show their appreciation? Glen Eschbach shared a story with us to highlight the importance of praise in leadership.  I needed to hear from my teachers that I did this enough.  In this era of education, this level of recognition is necessary in building culture.  Through the evaluation, I learned that I often thanked those for their hard work.  But, maybe I thanked others more often.  See bullet number one.
  • Are we unwavering in our decisions to support our students first? Are we sometimes too strong in our convictions?  Can that be a bad attribute?  As a former English teacher, I remember a student writing on the ratemyteachers.com site, “Great teacher, gives many extra opportunities, very opinionated though, and defends his opinions with his life even though most of them are far fetch’d.”  I remember the day he walked into my classroom and said, “Mr. K., I put a comment about you on ratemyteachers.com.  Just to clarify, I think your idea that we should all be feminists is crazy.”  What about leadership?  Are we sometimes blind in our opinions? But, what if our convictions are warranted?

There are hundreds of questions that we can reflect on as leaders.  Yet, there is so much power in flipping the normal evaluation cycle.  Start with a few prompts to amplify your teachers’ voices.  The responses I received were powerful in my growth as a leader.  The fact that teachers trust you to share their honest perspectives is the first sign that you are doing something right.  I think.

reflecting and DOCUMENTING

It always seems that a free Saturday in October motivates my wife to grab her camera, put our young children in adorable outfits, and demand that I drive to a perfect setting to take pictures.  Well, not really demand but strongly request.  I guess you can never pass up an opportunity to capture that ultimate moment for the Christmas card that will hopefully gain an audience when it is posted in the main office.  Let’s face it–the holiday card display in schools in December takes over the conversation. Well, last Saturday we were successful.  Successful in getting my kids to simultaneously smile with a glimpse of the water backdrop in the San Remo section of Kings Park and successful in finding the inspiration for my blog on the letter D–DOCUMENTING.

While making funny faces behind my wife to get Olivia to smile and admiring this serene setting that overlooks boats, calm north shore water, and pure zen, I witnessed documented love.  On a wood bench, two lovers (or just one lover who assumed the carving role) carved their initials in a prominent heart, G + B.  Cute.  I think I was actually jealous because I can’t remember the last time that I could have just sat on a bench with my wife and potentially carved, E + L.  Next to the deeply dug G + B, two other couples marked their love, J + K (which probably stood for just kidding) and Joe + Syd.  I started to analyze these engravings.  Oh, I was still jumping, clapping, laughing, screaming, making bird noises to get a smile. But, I began to make judgments on these three couples.  G + B were either really in love to dig so deep into this bench or were just fifteen and thought their love would last forever.  Ha!  Regardless, they wanted this moment to last forever.  Well, at least the engraving did.  What about J +K or Joe + Syd?  They barely got into the wood.  In fact, it almost looked like they just used a pen to write on the bench it was so faint.  Their love would certainly be washed away by the salt from the water, the constant use of this bench, or through the analysis from other bloggers (well…).  Do they care though?  Does it matter to them?  Who knows!  Yet, I do know that this bench is symbolic of the power of documenting the reflection of one’s craft.  It is those who go the step further to dig deep in documenting their thoughts who reflect and learn the best.

Even further, joining this blogging challenge with Audra Beberman, Danielle Gately, Danielle Mammolito, Dennis Schug, Don Gately, Hillary Bromberg, Scott Garofola, and Tania Willman (others will join this list once their blogs are shared) has been transformational for me as a leader.  I was already extremely reflective of everything that I do.  I really work hard at it.  I think about how every decision that I make can build relationships, culture, and morale. Or, potentially tear them apart.  But thinking about it is simply not enough.  It is the J + K and Joe + Syd.  Eventually, the thinking will be washed away and the reflection will be gone.  Blogging has heightened my level of reflection and has documented my thoughts so I can truly assess my ability to lead.  Using Voxer, our group has discussed the process of blogging at length.  Similar to teaching and learning, the process is by far more important than the product.

If you are wondering, we will most likely be taking pictures again.  Hey, maybe I can analyze others’ intent to document their love in another setting.  Or, as I look at my two awesome children, savor the moment and find inspiration for my next blog post on E.


Carrier: My Father and Me

Haitian author, Edwidge Danticat, captured the importance of tradition and the beauty of assimilating into the path of your mother (father) in Krik Krak.  I must have read Danticat a hundred times since she is without a doubt my favorite author.  Yet, in thinking about this blog post, her writing never spoke to me like it does now.  She wrote, “You remember thinking while braiding your hair that you look a lot like your mother. Your mother, who looked like your grandmother and her grandmother before her. Your mother, she introduced you to the first echoes of the tongue that you now speak.”

My father, rest in peace, began his career in the United States Postal Service as a mail carrier.  A job that his father held in the same post office that would become my father’s second home.  When people think of the West Hempstead Post Office, many would immediately think of Ed Kemnitzer, a man who wore the USPS brand every day.  In fact, he brought that strong brand of work ethic and passion home which seeped its way into our “daily soup” as Danticat would claim.  I remember my mother wearing a t-shirt that stated, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  I laugh because the t-shirt had holes and bleach stains.  We all became carriers of that message.  Despite the many promotions, my father always shared that his favorite job was the one of the mail carrier.  He adored the value of delivering goods and the conversation that took place with every member of each house.  As a supreme extrovert and master at building relationships, he needed these connections.  I now look back on his life and wonder if Danticat is right.  Do I follow in his footsteps?  Do I “look a lot like my [father]?”

When you search for a definition of the word carrier, you find the following:

  • A person or company that undertakes the professional conveyance of goods or people.
  • A person that transmits a disease.
  • A substance used to support or convey another substance such as a catalyst.

I look at those definitions, and like my father, I have become a carrier.  With EdCamp Long Island five days away, with over seven hundred educators already signed up, I think about my role in carrying a passion for learning.  My role in co-planning an event that will certainly deliver messages that will be the catalyst for change.  Messages that will help brand education so our students would be champions of this age of innovation.  Perhaps carrying this wonderful disease of a love of learning pays tribute to my father’s life.  The commitment and work ethic that exists in helping others along a network of learning is the “first echo of the tongue” that I speak.  Like my father when he was a mail carrier, I have a thirst for conversation.  I love building relationships that serve as the foundation for my work.

Even further, Danticat closed her chapter in Krik Krak with “And this was your testament to the way that these women lived and died and lived again.” This Saturday, I will celebrate being a carrier.  When I read Krik Krak again and again, I replace the word women with men and I swiftly become her intended audience.  This Saturday, I look forward to spreading our powerful brand so our disease becomes viral.

The Power of a Student’s BRAND

I sat today as an audience member of Massapequa High School’s 10th grade assembly led by its principal, Mr. Pat DiClemente, @PatDiClemente.  With my recent middle school leadership position following years at the high school level, I was excited to once again be present in a high school student assembly.  In his first address as the school’s new principal, Pat first invited a student to lead the group in a collective clap.  Pat engaged the students, “I want to hear ten claps.  Not one more and not one less.  Ten.”  With the student’s lead, the group of five hundred or so students provided a thunderous succession of fourteen claps.  Pause.  In fact, there may have been sixteen.  Pat revised the goal.  “Okay, okay, let’s hear five claps.”  Following the lead of the one student, we heard anywhere between six and ten claps. Pause.  Pat then did the unthinkable with a clap: “Okay, okay, let’s get three and half claps.”  A half clap?  What is a half clap?  I witnessed the students’ faces ask the same question.  This round of claps was far off as some kids slowed down their hands to get what they thought was a half clap, others clapped harder on the third clap to maybe get a longer sound to make up the half, and others didn’t clap at all because a half clap didn’t make sense to them.  Loved this approach.  A great start to establishing the brand at Massapequa High School.  This school is about the students.  In his first assembly, Pat put the reins in the hands of a student leader.  The students were able to  speak first.  Not the principal.  Not the assistant principals.  Not the Deans.  The students.  We all know the claps meant nothing.  However, the message was clear: Students at Massapequa High School would lead the noise that comes from this building.

Following this opening activity, Pat shared the following quote from The Other Wes Moore: “When it is time for you to leave this school…you make sure you have worked hard to make sure it mattered you were even here.”  Wow.  Students were silent after this quote was shared.  While students were internalizing this message, Pat reminded students that each student in the auditorium had the potential to leave a mark on Massapequa High School.  “Make it matter that you were even here.”  Powerful.  Similarly, the school’s Dean of Students, Ken Wing, invited the students to make a commitment to make this year the best year for them academically and personally.  He asked, “Can you commit to making this year the best year of your life?”  What if they do?  What if each student works hard to make this the best year of his/her life?  How would that show up and transfer to the Massapequa brand?  Interesting concept that had me thinking about students driving the foundation of our brand.

I left today’s assembly totally inspired and interested to elevate my passion for school branding.  We speak often about telling our students’ stories through digital tools such as Twitter.  We ask teachers to brand their instruction.  We share our success with our communities and professional learning networks.  But, the most important brand is the one that students create for themselves.  This brand tells our real story.  Today was moving.  I know the students felt empowered, engaged, and motivated to achieve their personal best.  If we (they) can do that right, our brand will be the most powerful and secure yet.  Pat knew over 500 students wouldn’t be able to clap in unison.  It would be nearly impossible.  But the message was anything but impossible to comprehend.  Schools are about the kids.  They have to be.  And when they are, students are motivated to brand themselves.  In that process, our collective brand is built.
One clap.

Aphra Behn: Accessibility and Availability

I listened carefully last week at New Teacher Orientation as Massapequa’s new teachers shared reasons why they chose teaching as their lifework.  Saturated in all of their responses was their inspiration: parents serving as teachers, a favorite teacher who provided a spark for their careers, the opportunity to change the world, etc.  Of course, not one mentioned that he/she wanted to be a millionaire.  I sat there reflecting on my own story.  Yes, I had many relatives who taught, many amazing teachers to aspire to be, and I believe that I have changed many lives. However, my story really begins with Aphra Behn, author of Oroonoko.

Walking into Welles Hall at SUNY Geneseo for my first ever class, English 142: The Picaresque, I remember wondering if taking this English class as part of my English minor would be the right choice.  In fact, I was only taking the course because my sister recommended the professor, Dr. Maria Lima.  This same professor changed my life.  Our first text that semester was Oroonoko.  Of course, I never read anything like it in high school.  Its author, Aphra Behn, is credited as the first female voice to ever get published.  A daring voice.  In her book, Behn explored the themes of slavery, race, and gender.  Unlike others, Behn put the “other” in a sympathetic spotlight and forced her readers to think about the stereotypes that exist in a reader’s mind.  Virginia Woolf wrote that it was Aphra Behn who “earned women the right to speak their minds.”  It was also Aphra Behn that led to my obsession with Black British, Caribbean, and postcolonial literature.  I then knew that teaching English and education would be my lifework.  The walk down to my advisor to change my major from Psychology to English was extremely easy.

As I begin my sixteenth year in education, I can still make connections between my work and the ideas expressed in Behn’s novel and the books that would follow.  This year, there is potential that a woman’s voice may reside in the most powerful seat in this country.  Regardless of your political stance, this must inspire us that we can achieve whatever we want in our lives.  Similar to the presidential seat, education needs to take note that accessibility and availability should exist in everything that we provide for our students.

In September, we will open doors to makerspaces in all elementary libraries.  Spaces that will provide opportunities for all students to code, use tools such as Osmo, ozobots, Dot and Dash, print 3D designs on 3D printers, learn circuitry with Little Bits and Snap Circuits, build Lego and Keva structures, be creative using cardboard and duct tape, and the list goes on.  All students will be part of the makerspace.  No test or set criteria for admission, no assessments, no homework, no lecturing, and nothing traditional.  It is a space that captures what we all believe education should be.  Like Behn’s work, all voices and statuses will be cherished.

If asked today what inspired my decision to teach, I would never have thought that a possible answer could include Aphra Behn.  I always thought the answer was Dr. Maria Lima who prompted me to see the power that literature can have on the way one sees the world.  But, it is just that.  Through making authors like Behn possible for her students to read, she forced me to realize that education has to be accessible and available to all audiences.  I can’t wait to continue this journey!

Authentic Learning from 5th and 7th Graders

“Oh, you want to see how to code Dash?  That is easy.  You just have to code directions and create loops based on centimeters. Just Watch.”

-5th grade student at Cantiague Elementary School

“My teacher asked us to use Weebly to create a website for a book we were reading.  I figured I would just code my own site instead.”

-7th grade student at Mineola Middle School

I am obsessed with learning.  I admit it.  In fact, I have found that some of my best learning experiences have occurred when visiting other spaces since they provided a frame of reference to evaluate my own craft.  Last week, I had the invaluable opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Tony Sinanis in visiting Innovation Day at Cantiague Elementary School, a day after meeting with passionate school leaders in Mineola (Dr. Michael Nagler, Matt Gaven, Andrew Casale, and Mark Licht) in my quest to see Math Space.  The conversations with these leaders certainly pushed my thinking.  Yet, my interactions with fifth and seventh grade students inspired my perspective of what is possible when you provide time for students to learn on the platforms that are comfortable for them.

Platforms that were so comfortable that students were willing to take risks, try new ideas, get sucked into their own vision, fail, find ways to rebound, and then start again.  At Cantiague, students in all grade levels were making, tinkering, creating, building, playing, sharing, dancing, laughing, coding, and growing…together.  Near the end of our guided tour, I turned the corner near the library and saw two students working with Dash.  Yes! This was perfect. I needed to learn how to use Dash in order to model it for my library media specialists in planning next year’s makerspaces.  What better way to learn how to use technology than from a student!  I asked a simple question, “Can you show me how to begin coding with Dash?”  See the student’s answer above.  Easy.  Code directions.  Loops.  Centimeters. JUST WATCH.  How awesome.  I was a stranger and these two students were thrilled to model their thinking and share their passion.  I was receiving professional development from fifth graders.  An interesting and powerful idea.  Why not?  Aren’t we on THEIR platform?

Similarly, after seeing the power of Math Space at Mineola, Matt Gaven and Andrew Casale invited me to check in with two students who were coding in the library using KidOYO.  In five minutes, one of the students explained how he used KidOYO, Python, and Bootstrap to code a challenge for students he was mentoring. Students he was MENTORING! Amazing.  He then shared the experience at the top of this blog post where he redefined his own assignment based on what he could do rather than an expectation that was for the mainstream.  Hmm.  Another takeaway and reminder that we need to focus on the learning before we can begin to think about the teaching…or facilitating.

These two visits served as clear reminders that education is changing…fast.  Learning is evolving.  Time for Genius Hour and innovation is growing in demand.  It is now necessary to provide a tabula rasa for students to explore.  Our students are ready.  Hey, they are already there.  Are we?

Are Your Students Good Enough?

“I want you to know that I attribute much of my success to people like you, who shaped my outlook on life.  I remember your class and many of your lessons.  You were tasked with a very large challenge: bringing open mindedness, diversity and differences to a community that was non diverse and all very much similar.  I am forever grateful for the discussions and topics we discussed, particularly in your social issues class.  But above all else: I am MOST grateful for you giving me the opportunity to realize my potential.  If not for you, I may have never had the confidence to believe that I could pass two bar exams (one the first try nonetheless).  You were one of, if not the only educator of mine that believed I was smart enough for honors.  That was the FIRST step to feeling like I was good enough.  Thank you for that.” -Former student from West Islip High School

I.CAN’T.STOP.THINKING.ABOUT.THIS.EMAIL.  The above excerpt was received in an email this week from a former student who found me on Twitter.  The punctuation in my first sentence is intentional.  The email brought tears, joy, inspiration, and thoughts that are driving me to help teachers develop their craft.  I had this student in eleventh grade.  With only two years of high school remaining, I remember seeing her as a true thinker. She was brilliant.  She got it.  In all her years of education, her teachers saw her as a great student in the average Regents class (the school had Regents Prep, Regents, Honors and Advanced Placement).  Deep down, she just wanted to “feel good enough.”  She was far better than good enough.  Why should I have had that power?  Teacher expectations carry so much weight in students’ successes and mindsets.

In studying and learning the power of a growth mindset and the dangers of a fixed mindset, I find it remarkable that we often project a fixed mindset on students on both ends.  We determine the level of education that they should pursue, the level of coursework that they should entertain, and even if they belong in an elite group of students at such an early age.  I was in “Wider Horizons” in elementary school.  What a name–horrific for those who had supposed narrow futures.  Meanwhile, you would be shocked, well maybe not, if you did data analysis on the students who had wider horizons in fourth grade.  My elementary school certainly didn’t precisely predict.  How do we ensure students don’t get to eleventh grade before a teacher sees in them something that would come true later in life?  This former student of mine is an attorney.  Sure, it all worked out in the end.  But, what if she “realized her potential” and received the “first step” earlier on?  This conversation must take place.  Her email has prompted my reflection.  Did I let other students slip by?  Did I focus too heavily on those who exhibited academic extroversion?

Well, what do we do? We need MakerSpaces.  We need Genius Hour.  We need coding.  We need time to explore and be messy.  We need ALL students to find their confidence.  In that process, their growth mindset will prosper and push out the structures that have captured their passion.  Thinkers always rise to the top.  They exist in all classrooms on all levels.  Let’s give them all a voice.

Reading: A TA’s Life’s Work

“Show me a family of readers, and I will show you

the people who move the world.”

-Napoleon Bonaparte

I am often impressed by the work of the teacher assistant within the school community. He/she works extremely hard, is often underpaid, and goes about his/her work in a quiet yet successful manner. Although I always thank them for their hard work, I never thought it would be a teacher assistant who would help validate my work and leadership. But it happened!

It was the week following NerdCampLI, an unconference dedicated to book geeks led by the passionate literacy diva (she will hopefully be fine with me calling her that), JoEllen McCarthy (@joellenmccarthy), and I was still on a nerdy high from the conversations and presentations that took place the previous Saturday. On my way out of the Massapequa High School library, a teacher assistant stopped me, “Oh, Ed! It is great to see you. Give me a hug! I keep meaning to contact you. Did you choose Fish in a Tree for Berner’s book initiative?” Honestly, based on her tone, I thought she was going to tell me that I made a poor choice! Although, how could anyone not love Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s work!?!?! Considering I just met Lynda at NerdCampLI and was raving about her, I spiritedly answered, “Yes! Isn’t it amazing? We all need a Mr. Daniels in our lives.” The teacher assistant responded, “It was unbelievable. I really enjoyed it. You know I am familiar with many authors.” For this teacher assistant, Hunt’s book provided evidence of her importance working with students with special needs. After explaining how books have changed the way she sees the world, her job, and her relationships, the conversation took a different route.

With tears in her eyes, she spoke about Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Jacqueline Woodson and their presence at her son’s girlfriend’s wake. Unfortunately, her son was dating the daughter of two well known authors when she recently passed away. She spoke about Jacqueline Woodson’s speech at the services, her book Brown Girl Dreaming and its wealth in all communities, the power of an author’s words, and the impact that Hunt/Woodson/Paulsen/Palacio and others have had on her as a reader…as a person. Wow! I was speaking to a reader. A geek. A nerd. And I never knew it. I then shared with her, “I didn’t know you were a reader. I love it.” She seemed annoyed at that comment (in a good way). She didn’t want her admiration for written text to be a secret.

Although I had to leave, I wish I had hours to spend with her to hear about her experiences. Listen to her perspective of the same books that I read. She deserved it, and I wanted that opportunity as well. It would recognize her work and pay tribute to what I hoped to accomplish through literature. I now realize that the community of readers that I thought existed was even bigger. In fact, Berner Middle School’s One School-One Book Initiative extended the invite to all members of the community. They have all accepted. The student. The teacher. The secretary. The custodian. The administrator. The TA. What validation! An #eduwin for me and for Massapequa.

I wonder who else out there is waiting for the next Fish in a Tree, Brown Girl Dreaming, or Wonder to speak to their life’s work. How would an author’s words connect people personally and professionally? And, who will help me “move this world.”

From Server to Leader to Learner…a sprinkle of each.

“Hi.  My name is Jen, and I will be your server today.  I am new here so please be patient with me.”  It was the Labor Day BBQ at The Greens in Melville (my mother’s complex) and everyone seemed to show up to get their last bite (well, many last bites) before summer was unofficially over.  With a packed restaurant of hungry residents who wanted their $21 worth and a fairly new staff due to a change in ownership, the place was mayhem.  Yet, this server’s words struck a chord with me as I was about to start a new school year with Mindset as the district’s theme.


Reflection.  Growth Mindset.  RELATIONSHIP BUILDING!  Despite her inexperience, our server realized that she would develop her craft with the patience of her customers and managers.  Patience which she expected.  It made me reflect on my practice as an instructional leader.  Our practice.  How patient are we with the development of new staff?  How long is too long for a “newbie” to get it? Should they fake it or should they ask for help? If they ask for help, is it a sign of weakness or strength? If they ask for help and struggle at the beginning, can they recover?  I suspect these questions run through the heads of many leaders who reflect on their leadership.  I thought about these through most of the lunch.  I evaluated and measured this server’s skills.  She was fantastic.  In fact, if she didn’t tell us she were new, I would have thought she were a veteran.  But, it was her mindset that was impressive.  It was her reflection and ability to recognize her need for more experience that spoke to me.  All wrapped up…the relationship she was able to foster with her customers was genuine.  Leaving the Greens that day, I thought about the new role I was given this year.  How would I build genuine relationships and mutual patience?  I found my answer during a Sprinkle.


I don’t know how I went from a 22 year old English teacher living in a waterfront rental house with two friends to having a Sprinkle, but hey, I will be a father of two come December.  It has been an interesting year getting ready for the baby’s arrival and leading two new departments…instructional technology and library media.  The two should certainly be married so I love this new role.  But, “I am new here so please be patient…” Learning the life of the library media specialist, especially at the elementary level since it was really new, has been awesome.  I always thought the library could be-should be-has to be the hub of a school since research, technology, trust, a secure corner for a student, and a safe space for a reader all live there.  Seamlessly at the same time.  I knew I had a lot to learn from my colleagues.  I knew I had to build relationships.  And reflect.  And grow…with them.  With a technology lens, there would be a library remix of sorts this year with me as their leader.  Three months into this relationship, I knew I was ready to hold a Yay or Nay session with them (PC version of the EdCamp classic) so we could expose our perspectives on hot button issues.  I couldn’t wait for the discussion.  I was excited to present my Haiku Deck with five library-centered topics.  Just as I was set to go, I get ushered into another room where cakes, pink tablecloths with matching cups/rattles/utensils, picture books, a Keurig, gifts for Max (my son), “Olivia,” and one to share with my wife all saturated the room.  A Sprinkle.  The Yay or Nay would wait.  Relationships took the stage again.  Camaraderie.  It is our business. Thankfully.