Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Feature: Dan Rockwell, LeadershipFreak

Thank you for stopping by for the Feature Friday post. This is a new series dedicated to highlighting leaders, educators, and innovators. Today's feature is on Dan Rockwell, better known as LeadershipFreak.

Dan recently participated in our quarterly #USedchat, which we hosted on a Google Hangout. It was a lot of fun having Dan "almost in person" for the chat, and if you've read his blog you know that his posts are the kind that inspire, teach, and challenge. 

Along with blogging and presenting, Dan is the co-author of The Character-Based Leader. In 2014, Dan was named to the Top Fifty Leadership and Management Experts by Inc. You can read Dan's blog posts at, and interact with Dan on Twitter at @LeadershipFreak

I'm excited to share a little more of Dan here today. Enjoy!

1. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Sometimes I wanted to be an astronaut and other times a hermit.

2. What brings you the greatest joy?

Learning from smart people and playing with grandbabies.

3. How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Trust yourself.

4. What is the best advice you've been given?

I protect open times on my calendar. An open space of time on my calendar is the last place I want to put an appointment. I prefer to fit appointments close to others.

5. What is a new skill you would like to learn?

How to organize my office!

6. What’s on your bookshelf?

You are kidding, right? I have 1,000's of books.

7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?

Don't be paranoid.

8. What’s on your bucket list?

Live on a lake.

9. You just won the lottery. What one thing would you buy for yourself?

More time.

10. What’s your favorite book?

Usually it's the one I'm reading.

11. What is your number one productivity tip?

Figure out what people love to do and delegate stuff to them.

12. If you could have one super power, what would it be? 

Invisibility for two reasons. One, I can escape. Two, I can spy on you. (Does that make me sick?)

13. Who is on the guest list for your ideal dinner party?

Jesus, John Adams, Emily Dickinson, Winston Churchill, Peter Drucker, Eleanor Roosevelt, George Washington Carver, Steve Jobs, Will Durant, Benjamin Franklin, ... shall I go on?

14. What would people be surprised to know about you?

I am a homebody. I love people and giving presentations but I also love those days when I stay home in my PJ's.

15. What was your favorite class in college?

An organizational development class when I was earning my MBA.

16. What quote do you live by?

None comes to mind.

17. What is one thing you never, ever worry about?

Right now, money. But give me time, I might start worrying about it.

18. If you could swap places with someone from the past for one day, who would it be?

Winston Churchill on the day he realized he was a leader. Or, any slave during the days of slavery in the U.S.

19. Who are your heroes?

My dad.

20. What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

That I didn't know as much as I thought I knew.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Helping Students Make Connections to Julius Caesar

Today's guest post is by Hoover High School teacher Amy Tew. Mrs. Tew specializes in working with students who struggle with reading and learning. Today she shares a lesson she created, along with new strategies she learned, and tried for the first time this year. 

To be completely frank, I had trouble last year making Julius Caesar relevant to my tenth graders.  As this year neared, I struggled trying to find a way to teach Caesar in a way that would be meaningful to my students.  Toward August, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I logged into Hoopla to find something to watch.

For the next two hours, I found myself completely engaged in Helena Bonham Carter’s The King’s Speech.  I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie or not but it is a charming film about overcoming obstacles – even when you don’t want to.  It incorporates the importance of family, true friendship, and letting go of baggage.  As I watched, I wanted to share the film with someone.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the similarities between Julius Caesar and The King’s Speech continued to work their ways around in my thoughts.  A few weeks in to school, as my co-teachers and I were meeting to plan, I just asked, “you think this might work?”

Over the course of the next few weeks, we gave it a try.  Here’s what we did:

Week One:  We watched The King’s Speech in class focusing on the ideas of family, internal struggle, and politics.

Week Two:  We divided the parts of Julius Caesar and students read Acts One and Acts Two out loud.  We, again, focused ONLY on the character Brutus and how he could be characterized through family, internal struggle, and politics.  I gave the students a graphic organizer to help them with note taking.

Week Three:  Students watched the film of Act Three of Julius Caesar.  On the day after finishing the film, students were put into groups and completed post mortems of either Bertie (from The King’s Speech) or Brutus (from Julius Casear).  This idea came from a Laying the Foundation training that I recently attended, and this was the first time I attempted it in class.  Essentially, this is a visual way for students to work on characterization.  After students finished their posters (which took most groups two days to complete) students presented to the class, and we used their characterizations of Bertie and Brutus as a spring-board to discuss similarities.

Week Four:  After discussing the similarities of Brutus and Bertie, I conducted a lesson on how to write the perfect paragraph.  We first discussed how to write a thesis statement.  Then, we worked on how to write a paragraph (using the claim, support, insight organization) that ties back to a thesis statement. 

As the final assessment for this unit, students were given three essay topics from which to choose.  They were given in class time to work on a graphic organizer and one full class period for in class writing.  Students were required to write a thesis statement for the essay and two complete body paragraphs. 

So, did it work?  Ultimately, I think it worked better than some things I have done with Caesar but I still feel like it needs some tweaking.  I think that trying to teach Julius Casear and The King's Speech and characterization and compare and contrast in four weeks may have been a little much.  I think if I do this again, I will slow down.  When asked about the unit, most students found the writing instruction to be the most beneficial.  I hope to carry this lesson forward in the coming weeks.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Changing Lives - Motivation Monday #43 {October 27, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

Veronika Scott is changing lives. 

She grew up a kid of addicts.

"We were... kind of... set up for failure. We were set up in a hole, that we had to climb our way out of."

She now empowers women.

You will be inspired. 

We can all do more.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Feature Friday: Millennial Champion, Jon Mertz

Thank you for stopping by for the Feature Friday post. This is a new series dedicated to highlighting leaders, educators, and innovators. Today's feature is on Millennial Guide and Champion, Jon Mertz. Enjoy!

Jon Mertz found himself hiring a team of twenty-somethings a few years ago. As he was researching how to lead this team, he became inspired by the generation that will be what he calls the "next generation of great leaders." He serves as a mentor and resource to the millennials as they find their place in society. He is 100% dedicated to making sure the millennials succeed, and he says that by 2020, 50% of the workforce will be comprised of millennials.

In 2014, Jon was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business, and he's the founder of Thin Difference, a website devoted to busting the myth of the generation gap. Visit his website to be inspired while learning about millennials. You can interact with Jon on twitter at @ThinDifference.

1. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be everything! I grew up on a farm so being a farmer was in the mix along with a park ranger, police officer, teacher, pastor, and these are just the ones I remember. However, when I had an opportunity to go to Boys State and participate in a mock state government, I wanted to be in politics. This led me to a college major in political science and working in Washington, DC, for over seven years. It was an unforgettable experience, and I am grateful for all those prairie days that allowed me to think anything is possible.

2. What brings you the greatest joy?

My greatest joy now is seeing my sons develop and find their ways. Their paths aren’t always perfect but they are finding their way. I am proud of the work they do.

Outside of this, what really brings me joy is having thoughtful conversations and working with people who share some of the same passions in making a difference. Joy is found in doing what matters most.

3. How do you maintain a work/life balance?

The best advice I have been given was through example. My dad is a farmer. In good and bad times, he did the work, tried to be the best person possible, and stood up for what was right no matter the opinion. Farmers plant seeds and have great faith in growth. With all the elements beyond a farmer’s control, they still plant the seeds. So, the best advice given me was to plant the seeds, have faith. And do the work, do what is right.

4. What is the best advice you've been given?

Work/life balance is a myth. Instead, we need to find the right tempo in our life and work. Balance indicates having a foot on two sides. Tempo is a dance between life and work. Some work is work, and some work is life. Life and work intersect often. We just need to find the right tempo between the two. 

Saying “no” to distractions keep our life tempo in beat. Developing a healthy mind and body keeps us fit for the dance. Being present in what matters most ensure we have the right music to keep our tempo. These are the things that help me keep a work/life tempo. Sometimes I miss, but I learn.

5. What is a new skill you would like to learn?

Lately, I have thought about learning how to play the guitar. Music is a talent I am always in awe with and, for me, it would be a fun to play a small role in bringing music to life.

6. What’s on your bookshelf?

My bookshelf is full! Some books I want to read in the months ahead, include Robert Caro’s fourth volume on LBJ, the new biography on Coolidge by Amity Shlaes, and Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators. I also try to work in a few novels to keep perspective and engage in stories that make me think.

7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?

What I learned from my worst boss is to never be self-centered. Keep focused on the greater purpose and know your role within that purpose.

8. What’s on your bucket list?

I really don’t have a bucket list. My goals are to always keep learning, discovering, and experiencing new places and things. I really want to focus less on “stuff” and more on experiences. Each year, I try to go to one new, unique conference. So far, in the past three years, I have been to Wisdom 2.0, Story Chicago, and BIF 10 – Business Innovation Factory. I have met fascinating people and learned a lot from each. My bucket list is to continue experiencing and learning.

9. You just won the lottery. What one thing would you buy for yourself?

I would endow a professor in Entrepreneurship or Government & International Affairs at my alma mater, Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, focused on a mix of practical problem-solving and innovative leadership skills.

10. What’s your favorite book?

My favorite topic has been Theodore Roosevelt, and I have an extensive collection of books about and by him. Many of the books I have read about him are my favorites. I am always learning something new about how he approached life, leading, and solving problems.

11. What is your number one productivity tip?

Put it on a list. If it is important to do and needs to get done, write it out and keep the list in front of you until it is done. I am always amazed by how this simple approach works.

12. If you could have one super power, what would it be? 

The super power I would like to have is to be inconspicuous yet being able to dash off and help others. I was going to say the ability to fly so I could skip the long security lines. However, then my companions would need to fly, too! Anyway, being an inconspicuous hero brings a human element to the super power.

13. Who is on the guest list for your ideal dinner party?

My guest list would include: Tom Peters to understand what lessons he learned through life and what he sees as the opportunities ahead. (One of the first business books I read in college was In Search of Excellence.) Seth Godin to understand how he really built such a big tribe. Seth keeps thinking a few steps ahead and poking us along the way. Peggy Noonan to understand how she writes and engages in conversations. She always seems very thoughtful, and I would add in David Brooks as well. David really makes you think. 

I would also invite Janet Yellen. I met her in a videoconference in the mid-1990s and it would be wonderful to hear about how her life unfolded and how she leads now. And to mix it up a little more, I would invite Anne Lamott as she understands real life faith and what it means, and Steve Martin for a good laugh, good music, and wonderful stories.

How’s that for a dinner party? Sounds like chaotic, engaging fun to me!

14. What would people be surprised to know about you?

I am not sure I have any big revelations but some are surprised that I grew up on a farm in South Dakota and worked for an agency in the White House before going back to college to get my MBA.

15. What was your favorite class in college?

My favorite class in college was constitutional law. I didn't think it would be, but I enjoyed the preparation for each class and the subsequent class discussions. The class interactions were always spirited and thoughtful. 

When I was in graduate school, I really enjoyed a class on frontline management. The class was taught by an entrepreneur and first president at Dell. We covered everything it takes to run a business and more, and it was all very real-world.

16. What quote do you live by?

"There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live - I have no use for the sour-faced man - and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do." - Theodore Roosevelt

17. What is one thing you never, ever worry about?

I never worry about whether or not tomorrow will be better than today. Tomorrow will be better. I just need to be fully present and ready.

18. If you could swap places with someone from the past for one day, who would it be?

Theodore Roosevelt. He lived life more fully than anyone. Experiencing his robustness for life in one day would last me a lifetime! Theodore Roosevelt's public and family life was very engaging, and his adventures and writing always intriguing.

19. Who are your heroes?

My heroes are people who teach, lead well, and contribute to their communities. They do their work every day without much recognition, but they know what they are doing has a meaningful impact. My heroes are the people who make themselves better as well as those around them.

20. What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

I wish I knew patience was a strength, and purpose takes time to understand and unfold. When patience, purpose, and diligent work combine well, anything can be achieved. I believe I have had a successful career so far but, with more patience and a stronger sense of purpose, I may have had more meaning in what I do a lot earlier than I did.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hoover High Literacy Plan - First Quarter Update

In August, I wrote about our school's implementation plan for our focus on improving literacy with six common strategies. The team planned for two training days, the first in August and the second in September. Also in early September, each content-area PLC received a copy of the book pictured below. 

Members our literacy team presented each of the six strategies found in the book, and we created videos of each strategy so that we would have a video library for teachers who were out or could not attend the training in person.

This week, the literacy team met to review the PLC reflection forms that each PLC filled out about their discussions on their implementation of their chosen literacy strategy (each PLC had to choose one area of focus for first semester and one for second semester.) 

Click the link to see the form we use:

Since the team is divided into sub-groups by strategy, each sub-group collected the forms about their strategies so that they could give targeted assistance to the PLCs that are focusing on their particular strategy. ("Vocabulary's CODE" is the focus of most PLCs.)

At the meeting, I posted 3 large post-its with questions for the team and asked them to respond.

How do we help this to be less of an exercise in completing the form than in reflecting on practice?

Team responses:
Record your strategy during your lesson and watch it later. Reflect on your own.
Observation. Teachers within the PLC should observe one another practicing new procedure/lesson.
Share transformational successes with other staff members.
Assign partners to "check in" 

What if teachers don't believe that using literacy strategies makes a difference?

Team responses:
I think as teachers we know that practicing literacy will only improve those skills. We need help realizing the importance for EVERYONE to participate.
Fire them.
Why so resistant? 
Has it been defined well enough?
If they could just see how it can work and help ALL students.

How do we help teachers who say that they don't have time to do literacy strategies?

Team responses:
Help them understand what they are doing already.
Keep trying to get them to aim at the target.
Show them how these strategies make what they are already doing easier.
Sit down with then one-on-one and show them how they are already doing it. Don't let it be an "add" but an "enhance."
Show success stories. Make it APPEALING to carve out time for it. 

Next steps for the team?

Invite teachers to their classrooms. Model the strategies in action. In a math class, in a science class, in an engineering class, in an English class, etc. 

Touch base with the PLCs. Visit their meeting if possible. 

Share success stories.

How would you answer the questions above?

What suggestions would you make to the team for next steps?

Monday, October 20, 2014

What Inspires You? - Motivation Monday #42 {October 20, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

Today's Motivation Monday theme: Inspiration

Good educators inspire themselves as well as their students.


What inspires YOU?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Feature Friday: Brad Currie

In honor of Connected Educator Month, I'm kicking off a new weekly series on my blog where I will feature leaders, educators, and innovators and their answers to my 20 questions. Enjoy!

Today's feature is Brad Currie. Brad is a middle school leader who is passionate about leveraging the power of technology in schools, including using social media to tell a school's story. He's the author of a recently released book, All Hands on Deck: Tools for Connecting Educators, Parents, and Communities, and he's also the co-founder of the wildly popular #satchat (a weekly discussion via twitter on Saturday morning.) Brad was named an ASCD Emerging Leader, he was a 2014 Bammy! Award finalist, and he's one of the co-founders of Evolving Educators, LLC.

1. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a DJ or a professional basketball player. 

2. What brings you the greatest joy?

I love when my children are happy. Nothing brings greater joy to my life than seeing my kids enjoy being kids.

3. How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Under-react. My dad spoke to the importance of this early on in life. 

4. What is the best advice you've been given?

I struggle with this on a daily basis. It's hard enough to maintain a work/life balance. Throw in the life of a connected educator and it is even more difficult. The fact remains that I try to find time to have a catch with my son, watch tv with my wife after the kids have gone to bed, and run around with my young daughter. 

5. What is a new skill you would like to learn?

I would like to learn how to be a better gift buyer.

6. What’s on your bookshelf?

Eric Sheninger's Digital Leadership, Dave Burgess' Teach Like a Pirate, Corwin Press' Connected Educator Series, and Todd Whitaker's Shift the Monkey.

7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?

I learned that you need to be human and possess a great deal of empathy. 

8. What’s on your bucket list?

I would like to play golf at Augusta National Golf Course and Keynote a major education conference.

9. You just won the lottery. What one thing would you buy for yourself?

I would buy myself a brand new Mustang. 

10. What’s your favorite book?

I Feel Great and You Will Too by Pat Croce

11. What is your number one productivity tip?

Leverage the power of your Smartphone to conduct your day to day operations.

12. If you could have one super power, what would it be? 

I would rid the world of children having to go through a tough upbringing. 

13. Who is on the guest list for your ideal dinner party?

Tiger Woods, Mike Tyson, Michelle Wie, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bill Parcells, Bob Knight, Condoleezza Rice, and Michael Jordan

14. What would people be surprised to know about you?

I know how to operate a forklift with great success.

15. What was your favorite class in college?

Student Teaching

16. What quote do you live by?

Dare to Succeed! 

17. What is one thing you never, ever worry about?


18. If you could swap places with someone from the past for one day, who would it be?

Martin Luther King Jr.

19. Who are your heroes?

My parents 

20. What is one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

That there are some people who you can't trust

Brad's blog can be found at and you can connect with Brad on twitter at @bradmcurrie.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Teachers Harness the Simple Power of Twitter

I had to share this great story of how one of our teachers took the initiative to bring down the four walls of the classroom and connect her students to others via social media. 

Last week, while visiting classrooms and tweeting the wonderful experiences our students were having, I tweeted this:

Students in Ms. Gannon's English 11 class were watching a TEDx Talk by Paul Piff titled, "Does Money Make You Mean?"

If the embedded video isn't visible on your device, watch the video here:

The first neat thing that happened was that Paul Piff "favorited" the tweet. Ms. Gannon, the English teacher, got to see that he "favorited" it since I had tagged her in the tweet, too. 

The next thing that happened was that Ms. Gannon's co-teacher, Mrs. Carey, emailed Paul Piff:

Good evening,  
As preparation for my co-taught English class's reading of The Great Gatsby, we watched your TEDTalk video, "Does Money Make you Mean?" Numerous students were intrigued by your research and I was wondering if you would be open to taking questions from students via Twitter as we explore social hierarchies and behavioral motivations while reading American literature. It is my hope that by combining the literature with research, we can add relevance and rigor to our lessons.  Tonight, students will be writing responses to your video and including questions it provoked. With your invitation, I would like to select some of the students to Tweet you their questions. I think it will add another dimension and increase engagement as we read about the Fitzgerald's 1920's. Does this sound like something you would be interested in?

Lisa Carey 
Instructional Support Teacher 
Hoover High School 


The next cool thing happened.

He emailed her back!

Hi Lisa,

That sounds like great fun! Count me in. The real challenge will be fitting the questions and answers into a terse 140 characters, but I'm up for trying.

Thanks for your interest in our research, and I'm so happy that the students found it interesting.


Ms. Gannon sent the following email to me this morning:

You tweeted about us watching the video; he “favorited” the tweet, and Lisa has found him, and we are going to set something up to send him questions.  How cool is this?

I was inspired by what they had done and felt compelled to share it with our teachers at Hoover High. I know there are still some teachers who don't see how twitter or social media can benefit them or their students. What Ms. Gannon and Mrs. Carey are doing is transformational. I hope that you are inspired, too!

Related posts:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Zig Ziglar - You Were Born to Win - Motivation Monday #41 {October 13, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

Have an AWESOME week!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Name One Thing You're Not Good at Doing

Name one thing that you’re not good at doing.

For me, it’s singing. 

So… imagine if I had to sing over the PA system at school every morning.

Knowing that I had to come to school and do something publicly that I’m not very good at would probably put me in a bad mood. I would be irritable, and I may even show up late or be absent in order to avoid having to do it.

Imagine, too, that the PA system microphone is at a desk in the office and the lady at the desk smirks at me when I show up. Especially on the days I’m late. Perhaps she even makes a sarcastic comment to me or worse, gives me the cold shoulder and doesn’t even mention my absences over the last week.

But, what if when I showed up to sing, I had a singing teacher there to meet me at the microphone? What if he greeted me with a smile and told me he would be right by my side while I sang? What if he offered to work with me to help me improve my singing?

Do you think I would be more likely to show up? Do you think I would be more hopeful? I do.

Each day we ask students who are not good at “doing school” to come to our building and perform. How we greet these students and the kind of support we provide may be the difference in how much hope they have for themselves and their success.

P.S. Singing karaoke in public is on my bucket list, only because singing in public is one of my fears, and I’m all about conquering fears.