Thursday, April 23, 2015

Leadership Matters

In my last post, I described how we are trying to build our students into leaders of their own lives.  I discussed the importance of why kiddos need to know these skills and how it will help them lead much more successful lives.

Fast forward 15-20 years........Junior has successfully graduated college and is now in corporate America managing/leading others.  In this post, I would like to discuss the importance of that person and why leadership matters.

So, Junior has a major role now.  What he probably does not know is that Junior has a significant amount of power.  He controls the direction, the vision, and the culture of his team.  He determines how they will treat one another and how they will care for one another.  He determines through his own modeling how hard they will work and what personal sacrifices they will make to be successful.  He determines the priorities of the team.  What he also may not know though is that he also controls the personal happiness and well-being of his team and their families.  Leaders, anyone that is put in charge of others, have two options.  They can manage or they can lead.  Managers do not comprehend this kind of power.  Leaders do.  Leaders fully comprehend the gravity of their position yet they remain humble for they know they are nothing without their team.  They are fully aware of the responsibilities they have been afforded and they never take it for granted.

Most likely, we have all worked for both kinds of bosses.  Which one made you want to strive to be better, to work harder, and give more for the team?  History is filled with both kinds of people.  When we read about them, which ones left lasting impressions on their men on the battlefield, won more battles, created more positive change, successfully led through more adversity, and saved more lives?  True leaders did.  When we read about them, we find they all fully comprehended their all encompassing role as a leader and as a result, they brought positive change to the world.

While I guess you could say that we teach and model some of these thoughts through our actions and words at Conway, the aforementioned skills are not a part of our training of the "7 Habits."  However, I bring them to the forefront because, well one they are my thoughts on leadership and this is my blog (I think that is what blogs are for right?) and two, they describe Stafford County's new leader, Dr. Benson.

As a parent, I would imagine you would want to know what kind of person is leading our 27,000 children. I will tell you, as a parent of two of those 27,000 children, our school board could not have hired a better leader for our division and children.  You see, Dr. Benson gets it.  He fully understands his role as our leader and he uses every second he has to bring positive change to all he works with, especially our children.  He has a clear vision and a succinct plan on how he is going to help us get there.  He holds people accountable yet he does so with care and the highest professionalism.  He cares deeply about providing our children a well-rounded education so that they are fully prepared to be highly successful citizens in the 21st century.  

And, like all great leaders do, once a week, Dr. Benson spends his day with his customers, his students.  Every Friday, he spends a day in multiple schools with students.  He often teaches or co-teaches classes, just as he did at Conway last week when he visited.  When you follow him around, first, you need to make sure you keep up (he is a marathon runner), you notice quickly that he is here for one reason, to interact with children.  He spent his entire 3 hours truly interacting with children.  He could be found criss-cross on the floor with a group, on his knee talking to a child, or working with a group building something.  His priority is children and he showed us that with his every action.

I am proud to say my sons attend SCPS and are a part of a school-system led by Dr. Benson.  We have amazing things in store for us in Stafford because of his leadership.  I consider myself privileged and honored to be a part of his team and blessed that my children get to receive an education under his leadership.

Leadership matters doesn't it!  You see the importance of this one person and the positive change he is capable of bringing to the world around him.  We all have that ability in some capacity.  It is my hope that we all can see the all important role we play in what we do and how we can be a positive change agent for our employer, our team, our families, and the world around us.  It is a journey and we will mess up (trust me, I am the best model at that).  But, if we do things for the right reasons and we continue to lead with the right skills, we will make the world a better place.

Friday, April 10, 2015

7 Habits!

At Conway, we have spent now three years bringing Stephen Covey's "7 Habits" to life for our students. We believe that these habits are among the necessary tools that our students need to grow up to become highly effective citizens and leaders of their own lives.  This three year journey has not been easy.  Due to costs, we have to recreate many of the tools, instruction, and visuals (with permission from FranklinCovey).  Many of us have spent hours and hours trying to bring these amazing "Habits" to our kiddos.  So why?  Why would a school dedicate so many hours and resources to such a cause when we have so many other responsibilities upon us?

Well, I would argue, as would Stephen Covey, that we are morally and ethically responsible for teaching them to be leaders.  We do not have the time or option to NOT teach them these "Habits."  For if we do not join with families and help children develop these vital life skills, their knowledge of literacy, mathematics, science, or history will be useless.  You see, we are teaching children how to work collaboratively with people to solve problems.  We are teaching children to take care of their responsibilities first before playing. We are teaching children to manage their time and their resources so that they can solve their problems and complete their tasks.  We are teaching children to make good choices, no matter who is around.  We are teaching children to solve their problems through kindness and love.  They then in turn can use these tools with the many other tools their families have provided them and the knowledge they have gained along their path to do great things with their lives.  We are arming them with the tools and skillsets to do what great leaders do around the world, but we are beginning this training at age 5.

Our hope is that they will use the "7 Habits" along their path someday to make healthy and safe decisions, learn with curiosity, work with great effort, and care deeply for others.  Which, simply just teaching math and reading just will not do!  And, as Stephen Covey says, "If we don't teach them these skills, society will."  I know you will agree that we do not want that for our children.  I don't want that for my two boys nor my other 885 kiddos.  We can do better.  WE can teach our kiddos to be leaders of their lives through the "7 Habits."

So, join with us!  Check out our parent resource page and click on the "7 Habits" tab to learn more about the "7 Habits" and how you can bring them to life in your home or school.  Our children are worth it!

Monday, March 2, 2015


First, I must say that this whole blogging thing has been very difficult for me to wrap my brain around.  When researching to begin this Blog, you can find a blog about just about everything.  They range from someone who clearly just likes to write about their trip to the kitchen to get their next meal to someone who blogs on how to fix his four wheeler from 1993 (really came in handy when I had to fix mine) to a doctor offering her thoughts on effective weight loss.  There really are some amazing writers out there that truly have something to share with the world.  So enters my struggle.....what do I have to offer that anyone would want to read.

My attempt these past few blogs have been twofold.  1, to show parents what I believe active, involved, caring, and engaging schools should be doing for kids (marketing Conway).  2, to share with others my recent learning so that someone may benefit from my experiences.  In no way do I think what I have to share is blog worthy, but, if I am to accomplish those two goals, I will blog on!

With all that being said, this month's blog post is about balance, balance from two perspectives - schools and school leadership.

This learning experience came through one of the most difficult times we have faced at Conway.  In January, we lost one of our kiddos to brain cancer.  She was beloved by everyone at Conway and was an inspiration to our entire community.  Losing her hurt beyond words.  But, Lily's death forced us to rally together and do some amazing things for our community and children that would never have been possible had we not pulled together.  Looking back on the events that took place last month in response to Lily's death, we fulfilled the role that I believe all schools should fill in 2015.  We provided mental health resources and suggestions for how to talk to children about death over the weekend we learned that Lily passed.  We provided over 15 counselors and mental health experts for teachers and students upon our return to school.  Teachers and the PTA led the "Celebration of Life" and provided the room for the family and community to grieve and celebrate Lily's life.  We raised money for Lily's family and supported other outside efforts to help them financially in their time of need.  We have been and will continue to be there for the family in any way they need supports.

I don't write to brag about how awesome Conway and our community is (although I do think our team is remarkable and this is just one more example of why).  I write because this is an example of the balance that schools MUST play in the 21st century.  There is no other organization in our communities that has the ability to play this pivotal role in our community.  No longer are churches as central to communities.  Parents are lucky to see their pediatricians for 15 minutes a year.  Who else can provide children life lessons, walk with them through the grief process, rally support for families in great need, and provide them all a safe and loving environment to do so?  Schools are the answer.  It is where hundreds of children are mandated to come is the ONLY place that they are mandated to go for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week.  If we were just to teach science, math, reading, writing, and social studies and then send them home, we would be doing our jobs.  But, we would not be providing a true education and we would not be the center of our community like we should be.  In addition, we would be wasting the time that we have been given to change lives.

Schools must have balance  - balance between academics, social, and emotional needs.  If we ignore that balance, we do a huge disservice to our students and community AND we are not preparing our children for the 21st century.  Instead, I believe we need to teach children to read, write, and be mathematically proficient.  I believe we need them to think, not regurgitate on tests.  And, we must not do all of this at the expense of the other needs.  As public educators, we are charged morally and ethically to ensure our children become leaders of their lives and to give them the tools to be effective citizens.  This has to be done through a balanced approach.  This has to be done by ensuring schools are keystones to communities.  Our country, community, and our families are depending on us to do so.

The other perspective of balance I have to offer is from an educational leader's perspective.  While I believe we are so much more than test scores (as stated above), the reality is that the public judges us by those scores.  And, while they are not "the" story, they do tell "a" story.  In the past, I used to think that culture was the answer to great test scores.  So, I spent my first few years at Conway trying to ensure the people here knew they were amazing, recruiting more amazing people to fill some gaps, and providing them all a safe place to teach.  And for those first few years, we saw gains with every measure, qualitative and quantitative.  After a few years, I began to make more of an intense push on instruction, engagement, and leadership.  We put common assessments in place and more mandates on teachers.  This past year, we realized that was not quite the answer - both for scores or for culture.  We used a new qualitative metrics that our superintendent implemented that really helped us dig deeper into our culture and identify areas of need.  In my hours of analysis and many hours of thoughts poured over the comments and results, I have come to this conclusion - balance.

Educational leaders have to provide people a safe, warm, and caring place to work.  Teachers must receive feedback that validates and pushes them to grow.  We need to push people to be their best, but not push them too much where they give up (ZPD).  We must have measures in place to ensure student growth, but we cannot do it at the expense of instruction.  Teachers need autonomy with instruction but not at the expense of longitudinal consistency and continuity.  It is an incredible balancing act that I suspect I will never master, no matter how long I am in this position.  But, I do promise this....I will spend my next 30 years trying to figure it out.  I pray that it will be enough for the communities, schools, teachers, and kiddos I serve.  I do promise this though.....I will always lead a school that has balance and does the right thing for kids and our community.

For what it is worth, those are my thoughts.  Balance.

Monday, January 5, 2015

It's a New Year!

If you are like many around the world, you are coming up with resolutions for the New Year.  And, again, if you are like most (myself included), those resolutions make it a few weeks and die.  Stephen Covey, world renown author, reminds us that even the most effective people / families are ineffective 90% of the time.  So, failure is okay!!!  But, what we do when we fail makes all the difference!  Let's practice our Growth Mindset (see earlier post) and say, we have not met our resolutions YET and begin our work on making our resolutions happen this year.

If you are trying to create real change in your life or trying to meet goals, let's combine that Mindset with some practices that Stephen Covey suggests through his "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People."

First, start with a mission and vision.  Create one as a family and then revisit it from time to time.  This will help you and your family determine what you value, how you wish for others to view you, and it will help you determine where you need to go.

Then, set specific, measurable, attainable, and targeted goals to get there.  Have a system of accountability and celebration and work together as a family to try to get there.

Through this process, resolutions will hopefully become true goals and not just something that we all fail to meet in a few weeks/months.  Work together, because as a family, you are unstoppable.

Good luck!  Please share your success stories below so we all can be inspired to be better than we are today.

For a tool to help take your family through this process, visit -   In addition, we have a significant amount of resources on our school web page at

Monday, October 6, 2014

Praise / Feedback

The scariest realization I have had as a dad and as a principal is that the words that I say and the actions I commit have an impact on the kids and people around me.  I have the power to make a child feel like a super hero, like he / she can take on the world.  I also have the power to make a child feel inferior or not worthy of my time.  The power we hold within our hands as parents and educators is immense and should be handled with extreme caution.  We ultimately are the ones that control this power......we control what we do and say throughout our day:  Are we reading our phones while our children are trying to talk to us or are playing on the soccer field?  Are we listening to them, while thinking about that meeting coming up and just giving them a few "Uh huhs" to pacify them?  Are we spending quality time having fun and enjoying just being with them?  Are we stopping to talk with them, getting on their level, and truly inquiring about their evening or latest game?  

This world seems like it continues to spin faster and faster.  We have so many things upon us and such little time to make it happen.  So, the time we do have, we have to make count!  One of the biggest things we do as parents and educators is provide feedback.  When you are with your children or students, here are some things that Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, and a few other authors recommends to help build a growth mindset (see prior blog for information on the mindsets):  
-  Be in the moment:  Put the device/input down and be there with your children.  Give the gift of time.  Most children do not want items, they want time with the people they love and admire.  
-  Provide feedback related to effort.
-  Praise effort and persistence.  
-  Do NOT praise intelligence, perfection, or personal attributes.  
-  Provide non-judgmental, immediate feedback that helps them fix their misconceptions/mistakes.  

These are just a few quick ideas to help you on your path.  To learn more, visit Conway's parent resource page at  

Steven Covey says that even the great families get it wrong 95% of the time.  That is why I know there is still hope for me.  I continue to come back and try again and again to get it right.  If this is all new to you, start with praise, feedback, and being present.  I think you will see a huge difference.  If you are an expert at praise and feedback, please provide feedback on here so we all can learn from you!  

Remember, the impact we have on our children and the people around us is far greater than any of us can conceive.  It is my hope that every person that interacts with children on a daily basis fully comprehends this power and they use it with great responsibility.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mindsets for Learning! 

Ever wonder why your child quits when he cannot throw the football perfectly, ride his bike, or take on a new task?  Or do you become frustrated when your child will not try anything new or gives up at the first sign of difficulty?  
With a few simple changes in how we talk to our children, how we praise them, and how we help them through challenges, we can help our children become true learners and help equip them to take on difficulties in all areas of their lives. 

Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success—a simple idea that makes all the difference.

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.  In a fixed mindset, the belief is that your qualities are carved in stone.  It creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over.  If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character - well, then you'd better prove that you have a healthy dose of them.  It simply would not do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.  The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.  Although people may differ in every which way - in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments  - everyone can change and grow through application and experience. 

Teaching a growth mindset within our children is something parents and teachers need to do together!  Our children’s future depends on it!  To begin your journey with Mindsets, please visit these webpages: 

You can also see some great videos about Mindsets on our professional development presentation for teachers: