Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Treat your manager like a coach (Interview with Facebook VP and author, Julie Zhuo)

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting

I today's post, you will get to read an excerpt from a podcast interview by Jenny Blake. On her PIVOT podcast, she interviewed Julie Zhuo, the VP of Product Design at Facebook and bestselling author of The Making of a Manager

I struggled with the title for this post. At first I thought about this... "Hey, new teachers - your principal is a coach not a judge." That led me to, "Hey, new principals - your superintendent is a coach not a judge."

Then it got real

Most leaders/managers (the good ones!) DO want to be coaches and not just judges. 

I understand that this may not be the case everywhere. 

What I do want to say is that if you are a leader/manager, the only thing you can control is you, and you can be that person who COACHES those who are on your team. 

AND, while we're on the subject of controlling what you can control, we can control how we treat our managers. 

So unless you KNOW that your leader/manager doesn't want you to be the best and that they don't want to be good leaders, let's take Jenny's advice to heart.

"The job of a manager is to be sure that the team has what it needs to be successful." 
- Julie Zhuo

This message is something that I want to share with our new teachers. I was visiting a classroom the other day, and the teacher (new to our school this year), got very nervous and even admitted it to his students while I was in the room.

When we meet this week, I will assure him that I see my role as one to support him and make sure he has what he needs to be successful. I'll also make certain that the other new teachers understand that I'm there to push their thinking, share feedback, and help them to be their very best. 

I would love to hear your thoughts about the excerpt below (from Jenny's podcast interview of Julie Zhou.) Does it speak to you? Can you relate? 

"You go through life, you go to school, you have this idea that your teachers and these people in positions of authority are often handing out judgments. You go and take a test and then you get an A, a B, a C... you get something that tells you, Was my work good enough?
And so, I think it's actually quite common. I know I certainly went into the workplace where I'm like, 'My manager is like that teacher, where they look at what I'm doing and they tell me if I get an A, or a B, or a C. And if I'm failing they fire me and if I get lots of A's then they promote me.' And that's the relationship, right?
So, I need to impress this person. I need to make sure that this person thinks I'm awesome all the time. If I'm really strugling, then maybe I shouldn't tell this person becuase then they might judge me to be less capable and I'm going to get a worse grade. 
I realized over time, especially as I also became a manager, that that is not the most productive way to view that relationship. In fact, if you think about it much more like a coach, your coach's job is to just help you be better or do your best, to give you feedback, and to push you with the goal of helping you achieve your best performance.  
That's a very different mentality than someone who's just judging you.
When you have that mentality of your manager as a coach, then you change a lot of your behaviors. Because the person you believe has your back and you believe is just helping you do your best... you want to tell them what your problems are. You want to talk to them openly about your hopes and dreams. You want to admit to them, 'Hey, this is something that's hard for me. Can we work on it together? Can you help me overcome this problem?' " 
You can read the show notes and listen to the full episode HERE.

Click HERE to order Julie's book from Amazon

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Monday, October 14, 2019

5 Canva hacks you need to know

Canva is an awesome resource for bloggers, teachers, and those of us who love to create our own graphics. I've got 5 hacks for you to save time and make your job easier. (Because we all need more time, right?!)


You can easily bring up a text box on your deisgn by using this keyboard shortcut. It's my favorite shortcut to share with you! 

Simply hit the "T" on the keyboard, and a text box will appear in your design. How easy is that??


This is another keyboard shortcut that allows you to duplicate a photo, graphic, or text in your design.

Once you place the text, graphic, or image in your design and size it to the desired size, make sure that it's selected (with a box around it.)  Simply press the "Alt" key and hold it down. While holding it down, use your mouse to drag a copy of the image/text/graphic where you need it. 


Need to move an element just a smidge and can't get it right by moving it with the mouse? This hack's for you!

Highlight the element, then use your arrow keys to move the element 1 pixel in all directions to get it to the location you need it. Want to move it left or right by 10 pixels? Hold down the Shift key and then use your left and/or right arrow keys to move it. 


Want to work on a design while it's large and see what it will look like when it's smaller (like on a mobile device)?

You can use Ctrl and the + key to zoom in. Use the Ctrl and the - key to zoom out. Easy peasy!


Did you know there's a secret code to bring up Canva's free elements? (Yes! I promise!)

Type this in the search box: "brand:BAAAAP7rQ8M". 
You can also type the secret code in the box, then type in a specific feature you're looking for (for example, if you're looking for squares, you can type "brand:BAAAAP7rQ8M square" in the search box and it will return the free square shapes for you.)

Now that you know the shortcuts, try them out and let me know how they work for you!

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

20 Powerful Community Building Ideas

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting

To all the jeep drivers out there...

Powerful Community Building Ideas

Do you do this when you pass another jeep on the road?

When my husband first started driving his Jeep, he noticed that other drivers would wave or lift a couple of fingers as they passed him. He looked it up online and found that it’s a “thing” for drivers in jeeps to acknowledge each other when they pass on the road. He also found forums and thriving community devoted to Jeep owners. He was excited to be a part of this new group, and he always looks for other Jeeps on the road so that he can acknowledge them.

His reaction was a reminder to me that people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. As educators, it’s important for us to create an environment where students and staff feel connected, important, and valued. 

In today’s post, I’ve gathered up 20 powerful community building ideas to share with you. Feel free to leave a comment and share yours!

In an article by Edutopia, they share 10 strategies and some of them take less than 5 minutes to do. Below, I’m sharing 3 from the article, one for each at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Friendly Fridays

Elizabeth Peterson is a fourth grade teacher who created “Friendly Fridays” as a way for her students to lift each other up. “Peterson has her students write a friendly, anonymous note to a classmate, practice using positive self-talk, or use storytelling to give a peer a pep talk.”

Group Salutes

At the beginning or ending of class or an activity, this teacher-led activity is a quick way to build community. “The shared gesture can be physical—like a high five—or social—a teacher could ask students to express gratitude to their group members.”

Don’t think this is a powerful enough strategy? The NBA did some research on their teams and how many times the players touch each other early in the season - high fives, fist bumps, etc. The ones who did the most touching early in the season had the best records as the season progressed.

Rose and Thorn Check-in 

While it may seem that high school students don’t need “morning meetings,” the Rose and Thorn check-in is a quick way for teachers to gauge students’ moods, promote empathy, and understand that every voice matters.

How it works: At the beginning of class, the teacher and students share something positive (rose) and something negative (thorn). Students are allowed to “pass” on their turn, but every student is given the opportunity to be heard every day.

“When teachers deliberately foster a sense of belonging by greeting each student at the door of the class, they see ‘significant improvements in academic engaged time and reductions in disruptive behavior.’”  

Collaborative Classroom Norms and Expectations

Susan Norris, a Hoover High teacher, facilitates students in her classroom as they create class expectations and norms. 

By doing this, she encourages student voice and increases ownership of the expectations by the students.

Send a Welcome Letter 

Even before students step foot in the classroom, teachers can start to build community by making students feel welcome and reduce fears by letting them know what to expect in the classroom. (You can read about 7 more community-building strategies in the article on

Class Read-Alouds

There are a lot of books that can be used to build community in a classroom. There are two that I am recommending to be used for a read-aloud at ANY level. Yes, you read that right. Even at the high school level, a children's book can be a wonderful resource to build a culture of kindness. 


My friend Jeff Kubiak wrote One Drop of Kindness. The story is about Gus, a one-time orphan, who believes that the only way to communicate is through hurtful words and actions. The town Gus lives in has a secret - and unlocking it, a ripple effect of kindness is felt throughout the town. 


The Invisible Boy is another story that can help to create a shared experience and a foundation for a sense of community in the classroom. The book is about a quiet student named Brian, who feels invisible at school until a new boy, Justin, "sees" Brian. From then on, Brian starts to feel less invisible and the other students begin to notice. It's a story about friendship, belonging, and the power of being "seen."

Here are some conversation starters and/or writing prompts:
  • What responsibility do we have to each other?
  • What actions can we do to help others feel like part of a community?
  • How can you reach out if you are hurting?

From the links and ideas above, you can find 20 ideas for building community in the classroom. What do you do at your school and/or in your classroom? I would love to hear from you in the comments below or reach out to me on twitter

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

5 ways to start the school year strong


A new year is a time of reflection, goal setting, and new habits and practices. As the new school year begins to take shape, it’s time to get re-energized. Maybe you’re a new school leader who is looking for ideas to start the year off right, or perhaps you are a seasoned administrator who wants to keep the fire alive. 

Here are five leadership ideas to jump-start your year and lead to your best one yet.

1. Choose One Word for Your School Year

Perhaps you’ve heard of the #OneWord movement by Jon Gordon (@JonGordon11). It’s a reflective and deliberate activity to choose one word to shape your goals, decisions, and actions during the year. This school year, choose one word for yourself or your school, and let it drive your work throughout the year.

Schools have chosen words like kindness, equity, and relentless to serve as reminders of the work that they are doing and that needs to be done. When examining new and old practices, the word can serve as a lens of whether to start, continue, or stop certain practices. If you’re not ready to choose a word for your school, reflect on your personal areas of growth as well as your strengths and choose a word for yourself that will serve as a reminder and encouragement as you do the challenging work of being a school leader.

2. Join and Contribute to a Professional Learning Network (PLN)

When I was a teacher, there were 100 other people in the building who did what I did. There was always someone there whom I could go to with questions, ideas, and problems. When I became a school leader, there were only three other people in the building who did what I did, and we all had different areas of responsibility. I felt really alone and had a lot of questions. Fast forward to today and with the power of technology, it’s now easy to connect with other people in leadership positions across the globe.

Make this the year that you collaborate with other school leaders to support you on your leadership journey. Additionally, use these connections to uplift others and offer encouragement as well as a critical ear. Twitter and Voxer are two tech tools that make collaboration easy, and there are a plethora of positive school leaders there with whom you can connect. School leadership is hard. Thank goodness it doesn’t have to be a lonely journey!

3. Intentionally Celebrate Your Staff

When I was a young teacher, I didn’t want to reward my students for doing the things that were basic expectations, such as putting their names on their papers or turning their work in on time. As I got more experienced, and especially after I had children, I realized that praising my students for doing something I had asked them to do made them want to do more of it. I began to celebrate my students for the small and big accomplishments. Little did I know that it would create a more positive, productive, and fun environment.

Staff members also want to work in an environment that’s positive, productive, and fun. If you’re not the type to plan celebrations, enlist the help of someone who is and plan the celebrations together. Go ahead and put the celebrations on your calendar to ensure that they happen regularly during the year.

Read how we held a "signing day" to celebrate new teachers at our school.

4. Stay in Touch With Your Passions

Outside of being an educator, what are your passions? What stokes your creativity, pushes your boundaries, keeps you young, and leaves you feeling energized and alive? The job of a school leader can be all-consuming, and your school community needs you to be at your best. It’s not selfish to make time for your passions so that you can be your best self for others.

There are too many stories of leaders who burn out and leave the profession after a few years. To combat the weariness that can come as a result of the job, it’s important to commit to activities that will re-energize us and sustain us through the school year.

What if your passion is being an educator? Keep stoking the fire!

5. Join the #ObserveMe Movement

The Observe Me movement was created by Robert Kaplinsky (@RobertKaplinsky), who encouraged teachers to open their classrooms and invite their peers to come in and observe the teaching and learning that takes place. In some schools, teachers post signs outside their door that state the things on which they would like feedback. In others, teachers simply visit and take notes on ideas and strategies they want to take back and try in their own classrooms.

As an administrator, we can share our own professional learning goals and ask for feedback from our staff members. When we join this movement and ask for specific feedback, we are modeling vulnerability and continuous learning and growing. Let this be the year that you join the #ObserveMe movement.

This post first appeared on the NASSP blog:


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