April 04, 2019

The Key

To Your Classroom … the Key to Success

Way back when I was a rookie, I was given a key to a classroom and told "Good luck." At least I think the principal told me "good luck." Maybe he just gave me a key. So, in truth, I didn't have a classroom, I had an office and a cart. Believe it or not, back then, I was happy to have a teaching position because they were tough to get in old Michigan.

New teacher induction 

One thing I have always felt we needed to improve in is the induction process for teachers. So much goes into teaching (beyond the actual teaching) that it's important to bring everyone on board carefully. Simply explaining how to use a copy machine can make a new teacher's job so much easier. (Some of you are nodding in agreement and others are "shaking their heads." I know.) Who do you go for this or that? How does this happen? If we answer some of those questions ahead of time, or at least introduce the ideas, people will breathe easier.

Anyhow, as we are getting into an unprecedented area with fewer and fewer candidates for all of our educational openings, it now becomes imperative that we assist in bringing our new folks into the fold with a well-thought, specific plan to allow them to be successful, grow in the organization, and have a motivation to stick around.

We have to be clear. Always clear. 

Five thoughts

Now, more than ever, how we behave toward our staff will have an impact on the overall success of our team. I have five thoughts to share that I think are going to impact education like we haven't seen before. These thoughts are mostly generated by my understanding of rural education; however, in talking to many colleagues throughout Michigan, these thoughts resonate nearly everywhere.

  1. The pool for many positions is shallow, so schools will find ways to create an additional candidate pool. Sometimes schools have candidates for open positions, but sometimes they don't. Schools are in the predicament of hiring people who previously might not have received an interview. Many of my colleagues share stories like this. So, if our human resources are not where we need them to be, then we have to do an incredible job as an organization — school district — to assist them in becoming successful educators. The pool is going to affect the overall landscape of education, because …
  2. School districts are in the new era where there is no choice but to give steps and incentives to teachers to bring them over from other school districts. This has happened in the past, but on a small scale. Now, giving steps in a compounding effect. It's not like giving a step to someone is like a bonus — the step becomes the new reality. We are entering an era where teachers could essentially be free agents. Now, rare is a school who can pony up the kind of money that Bryce Harper received, in fact, most schools can't even offer up what the Tigers offered to Al Kaline back in '74 (which he turned down). However, the time is here that districts will be openly negotiating with teachers from nearby and faraway districts to bring them on board. I know of at least two northern Michigan school districts that will pay someone's complete steps from their career to get them on board. This will lead to unprecedented movement in education because for the past 100 years, once we're working someplace long enough and have the seniority, it has been hard to move because a district might offer you a few steps. I know of one situation where a teacher accepted a buy–out from his district and had at least three or four other schools courting him. From what I have read and heard, he ended up in a good situation. 
  3. School districts giving steps is going to lead to the "haves" and the "have nots" because not all districts can afford to pay steps, but they will have to or they will have a difficult time finding and retaining staff. School districts will have to find ways to incentive staff, whether it's through creative approaches to bonus pay, Google–like amenities in the staff lounge, paying more steps than usual, etc. That's a fine way to get someone to come on board, but what do school districts do to keep them? If districts really want the best teachers in front of students, then some things — even though Daniel Pink would argue that it's not all about the money — have to increase. But what if you are the school district that cannot afford to offer a signing bonus, or a few extra steps, or tuition reimbursement, or — the list could go on. Make no mistake, the shortage we are seeing is only the beginning. Most of Michigan's colleges who prepare tomorrow's educators are graduating fewer than half the number of teachers they graduated in 2009. For example, Michigan State is a highly respected teacher college. They graduated nearly 600 teachers a decade ago. To play apples to apples, nearly enough teachers to put one new teacher into most Michigan schools. This year, they will graduate 240 students. Barely enough to cover what we hear is the daily shortage in the Detroit schools. The teacher — ah, let's call it the educator shortage — is only at the tip of the ice burg. This could greatly impact school districts for years to come. 
  4. Even though things are rapidly changing in ways we have never seen and did not predict, now we have to continue on a path to create professional learning communities, develop and deliver quality curriculum, and create and enact our missions and visions to change lives for kids for the better. Nothing about what we believe about educating children has changed, but the way we must go about it has been greatly altered. 
  5. So, if we have under–qualified and not–quite–prepared teachers joining the ranks, and we have a great many leaders who are nearing retirement age, who is going to fill the leadership voids? We have to become organizations that grow people. Jim Collins work regarding "good to great" organizations rings quite true now (again, more than ever) because school districts have to be developing future leaders. Sometimes, it appears, that we will have to develop future leaders at the same time we're trying to develop the same people to become quality teachers. The task at hand is real. The shortage is brutal. And our job is to prepare kids for tomorrow's world. 

April 03, 2019

Crystal Clear


In the summer of 1992 while in Grand Rapids, some type of event was going on and Pepsi had a presence. It may have had the presence because they were launching a new product called Crystal Pepsi. A representative gave me a two-liter and we decided to try it out. IT WAS TERRIBLE.

They did what? 

I remember the discussion that ensued revolving around "Why would Pepsi do something so stupid?" and similar thoughts. I was young then, probably 21 or so. I hadn't begun my teaching career yet, but something about Pepsi's attempt was interesting to me. I said something like, "Well, this isn't some strange marketing ploy like New Coke was a few years ago. I think Pepsi really wants to compete in the clear market." I didn't really know why they wanted to but clearly they did ...

What happens when you don't change with the tide? The Packard Corporation form Detroit, Michigan, went out of business. If a car company can fold, even a major department store change like Sears could be in danger. 

Failure Begets Failure

So many companies have failed to try something because they are satisfied with their environment, their status, or whatever. There is a comfort zone. A couple of years later in a college class, we had to research and report on this coming technology called digital photography. If we wanted to at the time, we could buy one from Sony for about $5000. At the time, I later learned, Kodak had the rights to digital photography — apparently, they had some patents — but they did not think that traditional film photography would go away anytime soon. Kodak, a behemoth, has basically not stature today. At one time, they were the powerhouse. When you needed some film, you could go to K–Mart and stock up. You would probably be going to K–Mart forever, anyway. They would never go out of business … I would say that K–Mart relied too much on the Blue Light special and not enough on creating loyal customers.


Now, here we are several years later. Education functions much like it did then, and the previous 50 or 100 years before that. My thesis for today's post is that we have to learn to work with change and make change part of our arena. In the last 20 years, one could argue that a lot has changed in education, but the major change initiatives really have revolved around professional learning, focused curriculum, and (to an extent) technology. At the same time, the worlds of the students and families we serve have drastically changed; that's a conversation for another day,

Professional Learning, Curriculum, Technology

Professional learning has gone from the one shot "sit and get" to somewhat more structured and focused. More schools need to be better about a longterm PD plan; however, it's much better than it used to be. In the early days of my career, the curriculum framework had not yet been released in our state, so we spent a great amount of time "aligning" curriculum using the available sources. Later research by Marzano and others highlighted that most curriculum frameworks would take about 22 or 23 years to cover in a 13–year educational career for a student. Much learning happened, and documents were changed, updated, discarded, etc. Again, we are better with curriculum, but probably no where near where we should be. Finally, many people think that technology has changed education.

Technologically Speaking

Technology has integrated itself into education but it hasn't "changed" education they way it has changed other industries. Keeping, compiling, and sharing grades and other data is much more effective, efficient, and effortless than in the old "do it by hand" days. Systems have made keeping track of student attendance, behavior, and achievement easier. Much, much, much professional learning time has been spent in the areas of word processing (e.g. the Microsoft Office suite), appropriate use of the Internet, and how to effectively use your laptop, as well. Yet, technology has not had the great transformative effect on education. For example, industry has Uber, Airbnb, and every store (digital and mortar) has an app to track all of our shopping habits; education, hasn't flawlessly integrated.

Integrating Change 

I'm not sure why there hasn't been more change regarding the make-up of the school day, the make-up of the school year, the lack of appropriate funding, ways to integrate technology seamlessly into the educational structure, or even more focus put on the value of a quality education. Education is one field that touches the future every day. Our field has to learn to engage in the change process because things are going to change whether education likes it or not. In fact, we only have to begin to "try" some of the change ideas — some will work, others won't. More schools are working in teams of professional learning communities. For many districts, this has changed things greatly. Others have incorporated more career learning. Some schools have tried things that haven't worked. It's okay that things don't work, because we have to get out of our comfort zones. There's no need for change for change sake, but we have seen that things are not working necessarily well in the status quo, so we have to challenge the status quo.

April 02, 2019

The Latest Arrival — Leadership 101


It was years ago. In a town far, far away. The principal had to be out of the district and he asked me to run a staff meeting. I was just a kid, barely 26, and serving the district as the athletic director. Of course, I was fired up to fill in and run a staff meeting.

Running Behind

A teacher walked in 10 minutes late just as I was finishing up relaying some really important information to the staff about an upcoming initiative. I could not believe that the teacher came in late. I was … I was … to put it bluntly — pissed! Of course, I never really paid attention to whom arrived late or left early because I never had to run the meetings.

I guess this was a slight introduction to educational leadership. As I thought about the brief interaction, it dawned on me that no one else cared that the teacher was late to the meeting. The only person it affected was me. As I pondered this, I realized that it really was irrelevant to the effective management of the school.

Why Does It Matter

The lesson I learned is that it's the leader's job to remind his or her staff repeatedly of upcoming meetings, events, happenings, etc. This will keep information in front of them, so they are more likely to remember and attend — even on time!

At different times during my career, usually based on position, I will share a variation of a calendar with my team. As a principal, it would be my staff, but as a superintendent, it may just be the leadership team. Always, though, it is important to keep people informed of upcoming events, meetings, etc. that are important.

The Reveal (Coda) 

To be totally honest and forthright, one of the things that made me so upset is that this was a teacher who complained loudest about students being late to class. I suppose the irony of the situation probably got the best of me. Not to mention, I was a teaching colleague as the AD position was combined with my teaching position.

March 13, 2019

Duluth Trading Company's Most Valued Trader Club


I’m a fan of Duluth Trading Company. I’m not even sure why … their advertising is annoying, their prices aren’t especially great, and you’re more likely to order stuff online than visit a store. I spend way too much money on Duluth items, though. Seriously, their stuff is well-made, comfortable, and it stays in good shape longer than a lot of other places. Did I mention that I spend way too much there?

That leads to me to an idea I have for them. It’s probably a big job, and maybe it’s nothing they can tackle, but I would create a system whereby the best customers would suddenly be in the Duluth Trading Company Most Valued Trader Club (or something like that). I’m sure they have the metric where they could determine what it means to be an MVT Club member. Maybe it’s spending $1,500 a year there. Anyway, they would contact those people by email and welcome them and invite them to their first MVT Club “exclusive” offer. DTC could do a simple offer like a BOGO or something like that. Maybe it’s a 50% off of a “personal favorite.” Maybe you have bought a lot of the special t-shirts, so Duluth says you can buy one for 50% off if you act fast.

I think the MVT Club with special discounts would not only retain the great customers but create move impulse purchases. I mean, a 50% off offer that’s only good for a short time … can’t beat that. This special membership could also come with an occasional bonus at checkout (if you’re in the store): “Hey, today only you can add a bar of the Spit & Polish soap for $1. Or for free — top that! How about random drawings for frequent customers? An occasional email from the CEO, an authentically written, personal note. I love Duluth Trading Company because the merchandise is top notch; with a little bit of love and effort, they could take their fan base to a whole new level.

Speaking of their advertising … they send way too many magazine/fliers in the mail, hoping for a response. I might — MIGHT — have looked at one of them in the past couple of years. I wonder if they eliminated the mail advertising if they could reduce prices by 5%?

January 17, 2019

A Door With Many Purposes

No Access to Building

What else would be the purpose of this door?

August 24, 2018


Driving the highway and drinking the coffee 

They tout it as the M22 lifestyle. It's somewhat northern Michiganesque, somewhat southern Californian. It has to do with the winding road, the wind, and the iconic Michigan road sign.

From the company website: "Founded by kiteboarders in search of epic wind and waves, M22 was created to express a common passion for Northern Michigan shared by our friends and family. Though our company began in Northern Michigan, the passion our brand stands for spreads beyond Michigan’s borders. The M22 lifestyle is marked by the simplicity and appreciation for natural wonders such as bays, beaches and bonfires, dunes and vineyards, cottages, friends and family everywhere. M22 is the feeling you get when you realize there is no other place you would rather be." 

Much of my growing up happened "up north." An Elk Rapids graduate, one of my favorite things to do was drive old route 22 and visit some of the places along the way. The great thing about living near Traverse City, is there are so many iconic places to visit and see. Sure, you're landlocked and might have to drive forever, but some of the northern Michigan history is incredible.

Now, having lived in mid-Michigan for much of my adult life, often near M46, I have to wonder, what is the M46 lifestyle? Do I sense a marketing opportunity …

Have a GREAT Friday! And enjoy a cup of coffee!

August 17, 2018

Reading Intrigue

Brad Meltzer 

I'm currently reading The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer. It's a good book and I'm currently at the height of the action. Each chapter leaves you waiting to read what the next chapter will hold. It's a book about the government, espionage, secrets … it leaves you wondering. I'll tell you more about it when I finish up. I purchased the book from Thriftbooks and it's a used former library book. Meltzer is pretty solid. This is how I discovered him.

I had seen Melzer's books in the past; however, I had never read one. I decided to try out The Tenth Justice after listening to the James Altucher podcast, referenced above. That book was solid, as well, and I decided to try out some more Meltzer books.

I still have several Elmore Leonard books to read, as well … and John Grisham has a new one coming out in a couple months …