Monday, January 16, 2017

The Most Important Position

When I was a kid, my Dad and another man named Tim were my Little League baseball coaches. They coached me from the time I was 8 and until I was 14. I learned a lot from them both and from the sport, but one lesson really stuck out to me, and it applies to us all.

At the end of the first practice of each season, my Dad and Tim would talk to us as a team, and Tim would ask, "Which of you know the most important position on this team?" Players would raise their hands. One would say "shortstop," another would say "center field," and someone else would say, "the pitcher." Tim would shake his head "No" to all of our answers, and then he would would say, "The most important position on this team is the one YOU are playing."

I can still picture him saying it. That lesson has stuck with me, and it is a powerful way for all of us to look at our positions, in both our personal and professional lives. It doesn't mean that we should feel that our position is more important than someone else's or that we should only be concerned with our position - quite the contrary. It means that there isn't one position that is more important than another; all of our positions are equally important, especially if we want to be the best organization we can be.

When you think that you have the most important position on team, then you know that you have to do everything you can, everything in your power to do the very best job possible. After all, you have the most important position; people - your students, colleagues, children, spouses, etc. - are counting on you. Take pride in that fact!

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Score Will Take Care of Itself

This weekend I read "The Hard Hat: 21 Ways to be a Great Teammate" by Jon Gordon. Here is a passage that was especially instructive:

Gordon wrote about the best team he'd ever been on: "Everyone focused on being a great teammate - not on winning - and we all changed. We became a united team: selfless, committed, united, hardworking, passionate, and relentless."

To a large extent, however unfortunate but no less a reality, state test scores have become the metric for a "winning" school. Regardless of any of our opinions on whether or not that is a good thing, the point is that focusing on test scores - on winning - is the wrong approach. What we should focus on is being a great teammate, building great relationships with students, teaching with our best effort and to the best of our ability, being enthusiastic and passionate about teaching ... EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. If we do that, the score will take care of itself.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

To the Parents of BBJH - 2016-2017 School Year

To the Parents of BBJH

Last year, I began this blog with the same post. And, because my thoughts on this matter haven't changed at all, I feel it is appropriate to begin the 2016-2017 school year with the same post (I just updated the dates). If you have a child returning to BBJH, I hope this still resonates with you, and if you have a child that is coming to BBJH for the first time, I hope this post gives you some insight into my philosophy as a principal and an educator...

"The first and most important goal for the faculty and staff of Bear Branch Junior High is to build meaningful relationships with our students. Sure, we have other goals; for instance, we want to help students to become more skilled writers, to be better listeners, to strengthen their numeracy, to be empathetic, and so on. But, the truth is these goals will never, ever be attained without positive, meaningful relationships with our students. We will greet students with handshakes and smiles; we will compliment them; we will make them feel welcome at our school, in our classrooms, and at school sponsored events; we will do all we can to ensure their success.

One reason for writing this blog is to connect with students and parents. I love my job, but, for me, one of the most difficult parts of being a principal is I don't have a classroom where I see my students everyday, where I get to spend hours each week learning and interacting with them. I see students in the hallways during passing periods, at lunch, and before and after school. It is hard to get to know students in 5 minute increments. So my hope is to connect with students and parents and to let them get to know me and to better understand BBJH through this blog. I'll write regularly (I hope!) on a number of different topics, but as with most things in my life, I'm sure I'll find a way to circle topics back to education, learning, and how to make BBJH a better place to go to school.

Enough with the introduction; let me leave you with the following thoughts - and this is directed at BBJH parents. I have a seven-year-old daughter that will start 2nd grade at Bear Branch Elementary on Monday. When I drop her off on the first day of school, I will literally be giving the faculty and staff at BBE the most important thing in my life. I could give the staff at BBE my car, and they wouldn't be getting my most important possession; I could give them my house, and they wouldn't be getting my most important thing; I could empty my bank accounts and give every cent to BBE, and, still, they wouldn't be getting what is most important to me. I am giving them my daughter, the most important thing in my life. So, yes, I have high expectations. I expect for my daughter to valued, challenged, comforted, respected, and to be held accountable - nothing special, just what every kid deserves. I have absolutely no doubt that the faculty and staff at BBE will meet my expectations. But, I'm writing this so that you, parents, understand that I know that when you drop your son or daughter off at BBJH, you are entrusting my staff and I with the most important thing in your life, your most prized possession, and we intend to treat them as such. We understand you have high expectations, and we want nothing more than to meet your expectations.

Please don't ever hesitate to contact us. I won't ever blame you for caring about your child. We'll need to work together to make sure your child gets the best possible education.

Check out this video for another glimpse into BBJH's philosophy on education:"

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The 40% Rule

Jesse Itzler is an entrepreneur, having led and sold a number of successful companies. Most recently, he wrote a book titled Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet. For a hobby, Itzler is an ultra-runner, someone that runs 100 mile races. At one of his races, he was inspired by a Navy SEAL that was also running in the race. According to Itzler, 70 miles into the run, the SEAL had broken all the small bones in his feet and his kidneys began to malfunction, but the SEAL still finished the race. Inspired by the performance, Itzler hired the SEAL to spend a month with him and his family; Itzler wanted to learn from the SEAL.

Among other things, the SEAL told Itzler that Navy SEALs have a 40% rule. Essentially, when we push ourselves, rather it be mentally or physically, our minds will tell us we have nothing left to give once we have given about 40% of what we actually have. This means that we have 60% left. The SEAL reminded Itzler to control his mind and to realize that the first few times his mind told him to quit and give up on a task, that he had much more left to give and to push through - DO. NOT. QUIT.

The 40% rule certainly applies to all of us professionally, if not personally. At some point, if it hasn't already occurred, your mind will tell you that you have nothing left to give to your family, friends, or job, or that you just can't put up with someone anymore, or that you've done everything you can for someone in your life and have nothing left to give. When this happens, remember the 40% rule. You still have much more to give.

For the video and transcript of Itzler's experience with the SEAL, click

Sunday, November 29, 2015


I just started reading a book by Chip and Dan Heath titled Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Here is an excerpt from the book:

"One Saturday in 2000, some unsuspecting moviegoers showed up at a suburban theater in Chicago to catch a 1:05 p.m. matinee of Mel Gibson’s action flick Payback. They were handed a soft drink and a free bucket of popcorn and were asked to stick around after the movie to answer a few questions about the concession stand. These movie fans were unwitting participants in a study of irrational eating behavior. There was something unusual about the popcorn they received. It was wretched. In fact, it had been carefully engineered to be wretched. It had been popped five days earlier and was so stale that it squeaked when you ate it. One moviegoer later compared it to Styrofoam packing peanuts, and two others, forgetting that they’d received the popcorn for free, demanded their money back. Some of them got their free popcorn in a medium-size bucket, and others got a large bucket—the sort of huge tub that looks like it might once have been an above-ground swimming pool. Every person got a bucket so there’d be no need to share.

The researchers responsible for the study were interested in a simple question: Would the people with bigger buckets eat more? Both buckets were so big that none of the moviegoers could finish their individual portions. So the actual research question was a bit more specific: Would somebody with a larger inexhaustible supply of popcorn eat more than someone with a smaller inexhaustible supply? The sneaky researchers weighed the buckets before and after the movie, so they were able to measure precisely how much popcorn each person ate. The results were stunning: People with the large buckets ate 53 percent more popcorn than people with the medium size. That’s the equivalent of 173 more calories and approximately 21 extra hand-dips into the bucket. Brian Wansink, the author of the study, runs the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, and he described the results in his book Mindless Eating: “We’ve run other popcorn studies, and the results were always the same, however we tweaked the details. It didn’t matter if our moviegoers were in Pennsylvania, Illinois, or Iowa, and it didn’t matter what kind of movie was showing; all of our popcorn studies led to the same conclusion. People eat more when you give them a bigger container. Period.”

Now you might expect that this post will be about eating or over-eating, especially during the holidays. But, the first thing that came to mind after I read this passage was that the people in this study ate simply because they had something to eat, and the more they had to eat, the more they ate. They didn't eat because they were hungry or because of they enjoyed the taste of the popcorn. But, what's more interesting than the fact that people with the most inexhaustible supply ate more than others with a less inexhaustible supply was that people ate the popcorn at all. After all, it was purposefully made to taste awful, yet people still ate. You would think that people would have thrown the popcorn in the garbage or just set it aside. But, no, they ate it. My theory is they ate the popcorn, even though it tasted awful, because they were at the movie theater and had popcorn. It is the norm, the custom, almost a reflex, to eat popcorn at the theater. These people were just going through the motions, behaving mindlessly, as the author of the study put it.

Among other things, the study accentuated that when we are put in familiar situations and environments, we are prone to go through the motions and to forget to be intentional about our behavior; we act mindlessly. This isn't such a bad thing at the movie theater. Sometimes, we go to the movies so we can be mindless; we get a mental respite. But, if the subjects of the study would have taken a moment to stop, think, and evaluate what they were doing, instead of being swept up with familiarity, they would have realized that eating the stale, "wretched" popcorn wasn't a good idea.

I wonder if we aren't swept up by familiarity and fall victim to mindlessness is other aspects of our lives. Because much of our lives are familiar, predictable, and scheduled, if we're not careful, we'll find ourselves just going through the motions: we'll have just another Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas morning with our family. In our daily lives, we'll just spend another day with our spouse and children; we'll have just another day at the office, as the cliche' goes. I'll bet no one in that theater wanted to eat that popcorn, and none of us want to go through the motions with our families or at work - it just happens. We have to remind ourselves to be intentional with our behavior, to improve everyday, and to make a positive impact on others. If we don't, we won't just get stuck eating a bad bucket of popcorn, we will miss out on having the type influence we're capable of having.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Greatest Achievement

You might be familiar with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. But, if you're not, here are some of his accomplishments:

  • He's an astrophysicist and cosmologist
  • He has a degree in physics from Harvard, a master's degree in astronomy from the University of Texas, a master's degree in philosophy and a doctorate degree in astrophysics from Columbia University
  • He's on staff at Princeton University
  • He's the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City
  • He's the author of numerous articles and books
  • He's the host and presenter in the 2014 documentary Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
  • He's the host of the television series Star Talk
  • He's the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2015 Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences
  • He was voted by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world (2007) and voted by Discover Magazine as on the the 10 most influential people in science (2008)
  • He's been awarded 18 honorary doctorate degrees
So, I think it is safe to say that he's a pretty accomplished person, wouldn't you agree?

On my drive home from work, I like to listen to ESPN Radio, and my favorite podcast is from The Dan LeBatard Show. It's irreverent and funny, and many of the guest aren't your normal talking heads. Last week, Neil DeGrasse Tyson was a guest on the show. Dan LeBatard and his co-host Stugotz asked him a variety of questions, one of which was, "What is your greatest achievement?" Now, before I give you his answer, let me direct you back to Tyson's achievements listed above. He's no slouch. But, here was his answer, and I'm paraphrasing:

"I know this sounds cliché, but I'm still growing intellectually and personally. I think my greatest achievement in still ahead of me. If my greatest achievement is not in front of me, then what am I doing? All of us should constantly be trying to improve what we know, do, and how we help others. I think my greatest achievement is still in front of me."

OK, so that is a bit cliché, but I found it to be profound. Here you have a man that has accomplished and achieved so much (and he's only 57 years old) still striving to become better, to improve, and to accomplish more. His answer revealed his mentality and the way he approaches life: he doesn't look back at his achievements and bask in his own glory; he's not satisfied. He focuses on continual personal improvement, and at 57 years old, having accomplished more than most people ever will, he chooses to live his life thinking that his greatest achievement is still ahead of him.

He even asks, "If my greatest achievement isn't still ahead of me, then what am I doing?," almost to say that if he somehow knew that his greatest achievement is in his past, that he wouldn't want to continue working; he wouldn't be as driven or motivated; he would lose a little of his purpose. Who knows? Perhaps his greatest achievement is in his past, but that's not the point. The point is he believes that his greatest moment still awaits him.

Consider the possibilities if we all thought a little more like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, convinced that our greatest achievements are still ahead of us, regardless of age, stage of life, past accomplishments or lack thereof. Imagine that if instead of resting on our laurels or, even worse, dwelling on our lack of accomplishments, we believed our greatest achievements are ahead of us and acted accordingly. I bet we'd all be a little more excited and motivated; we'd all live with a little more purpose if we had such a mentality and belief.

But, here's the best thing about being a principal, a teacher, and parent (and most of you reading this blog are at least one of these 3 things): We get work with and raise kids. And, what's awesome is their greatest accomplishments are truly ahead of them. While we should live as if our greatest accomplishment is ahead of us, it entirely possible that it isn't, and that includes Neil DeGrasse Tyson. But, each and every one of our students and children have their greatest achievements ahead of them - that is a fact. What an awesome opportunity we all have; what a great responsibility. Everyday, we get to work with students and kids that are approaching greatness; everyday, we need to remind ourselves of that fact.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Our Greatest Fear

Francis Chan once said, "Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don't really matter." I read this some time ago, and it stuck with me.

Our lives are full of "stuff." We are all very busy and it seems we are all pulled in 100 different directions. We also live in a world where everything is at our fingertips. We can access things and contact other people so quickly. It seems that life moves so fast; it is difficult to keep up with its pace. We all have things in our lives that if we succeed with them, we will have been successful at something that matters. We all have families and friends and opportunities to have a positive impact on other people. The fact is most of us know what matters in our life. And, the truth is if we spend enough time and effort on something, chances are we'll be successful at those things. So, the question is, are we spending time on the things that matter?

Chan's words remind me to slow down and evaluate what I'm spending my time on.

There's nothing wrong with a little leisure activity. But, now everything is so easily accessible and entertaining. Watching one episode of your favorite TV show on Netflix turns in to watching a whole season. Watching one 3 minute video on YouTube turns into 30 minutes. Our phones notify us of every new tweet, email, Facebook post, etc., and even when we tell ourselves that we are only going to look at one post, one email, one tweet, we end up getting pulled in, spending more time than we should.

As I said before, deep down, we all know what really matters - our family, our friends, our children, and the people we see everyday at work or in our daily activity. For me, Chan's words made me realize that if I'm not spending my time with the important people in my life, then I'm probably not being successful at the things that really matter.