Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Try, try, try again.

Here is the third and final part of a three part series exploring the connection between failure, vulnerability, and the importance of iteration. The previous parts were focused on the importance of learning from failure and how vulnerability is a strength.

Part Three - Try, Try, Try Again

With choosing to be vulnerable we open ourselves up for risk taking and hopefully greater success. We also open up ourselves for things not working out as we would hope and not meeting our goal or failing to succeed with an initiative. Carol Dweck shares that "failure can be painful experiences. But it doesn't define you." Being vulnerable and failure are both key components in learning and growth. Yet, we often shy away from being open to learning from failure. 

My daughter, Caitlin, gave me the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us for Christmas and we played the game over winter break. As I continued to get beat by Caitlin I realized that the only way to get better was to try, try, try again. I am not a gamer and I don't play video games often enough to have an innate understanding of how to use the controller. I needed several iterations and tutorials to have some understanding of how to use multiple buttons in the right sequence in order for my superhero character to do special moves. Video games are designed and played by gamers, or in my case a novice, with the understanding that the player will fail multiple times in order to understand how to ultimately win the game. 

Prior to break I visited a fourth grade classroom where students were exploring "energy" The students were working in groups to try and create different ways to get a marble to end up in a cup. In talking with the students and observing their progress it was obvious that students were not afraid to try a method, fail, try another method, fail, and this continued until they were successful. Failing was a huge part of the learning that was happening.

In Simon Sinek's book, Start With Why, he shares about the Wright brothers and how they would take five sets of spare parts each time they attempted to fly their plane because they knew that is how many trials they would attempt for the day. They started each day knowing they would fail, but also learn through that process, until ultimately they were successful with the first flight. 

One of my favorite videos for inspiration is of Heather Dorniden running the 600 meter race at the 2008 Big Ten Indoor Championship. The runners complete three laps and she falls heading into the last lap.

In an interview Heather talked about finishing the race. "The last 50 meters, I hit a gear that I never knew I had." If she had not had learned perseverance and the importance of learning from past failures she would never have reached her potential.

In order to be our best we must be vulnerable to take risks where we may fail, but those failures become lessons in which we learn to get back up and try again.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


As I have reflected on the past year and began to think about my #oneword2018 I was contemplating a handful of words. There is no doubt that 2017 was a challenging year and to be completely honest I was beginning to harbor some anger and frustration. Jenna's diagnosis and treatment was our main focus for most of the year and we missed out on many things this past year and our lives will forever be changed. It is easy to become bitter or angry with the fact that we missed out on a year long planned vacation with friends, that we couldn't celebrate our anniversary in the crazy creative ways we have had in the past, and we didn't enjoy the quiet summer evenings on the patio.

In 2018 I want to be grateful at home, at school, and in life. I know that this will take intentional practice and letting go of the things that I cannot control. It starts with making a list of the things in my life that I am grateful for and realizing how blessed I am.

Here is a start.


Jenna - I am married to my best friend. She has been my rock, inspiration, confidant, she continues to offer an enourmous amount of encouragement, and is the love of my life.

Aleigh - She is a tremendous student, gifted artist, soon to be driver, and a sensitive, caring, thoughtful young lady.

Caitlin - Crazy smart, quietly competitive, confident, almost teenager, compassionate, and a Star Wars and DC Comic loving kid.

I am grateful that I have three wonderful girls that bring love, joy, and laughter to my life.


Everyday that I come to work I get the opportunity to interact with our students and know that in some small way I am making a difference. I have the privilege of leading dedicated, caring teachers who truly enjoy what they do. I am grateful that I work in an excellent school district that is in a great community.


As we have been busy decluttering our crawl space I came across two photographs that brought back memories. The first was a picture of myself and others from a mission trip I took to the Czech Republic where we taught English to high school students. It made me think of all the other mission trips I took and the summers I spent volunteering as a camp counselor at Silver Birch Ranch in Wisconsin. I am grateful for these experiences as they provided the foundation for my passion of making a difference in the lives of students.

The second was a picture of my grandfather and me standing by my car in Arizona after I graduated from college. He, along with my grandmother, drove across the country to see me graduate. He celebrated the accomplishments of his grand kids and he was so proud of all of us. I am grateful that he showed me the importance of family and celebration.

As I wrote this post I am reminded that we all have struggles and situations in our lives that are challenging. Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% how you react - John Maxwell. I choose to be grateful.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Year in Review

Before I write write my #Oneword2018 I wanted to reflect on 2017. Without a doubt this has been the most challenging year in my life. As I have shared in previous posts my wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in February of this year. The pain was so raw in the beginning it was a challenge just to make it through the day without overwhelming fear and crushing anxiety. A nine hour surgery was followed by multiple rounds of intensive chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was delivered directly into her abdomen and she was admitted to the hospital for three days for each round. I felt helpless as I watched her get filled with poison in order to kill the cancer.

While most of our friends and family enjoyed their summers and took much needed vacations we were making trips back and forth to the hospital. The weeks between treatment left Jenna in tremendous abdominal pain and wiped her out to the point she needed multiple blood transfusions. I tried to make the best of the summer with our two beautiful daughters. One of our goals was to find the best burger near our home (side note - I love a good burger). We did find two places that have great burgers.

The summer faded quickly and the school year started. The intensity of the start of the year paired with Jenna finishing treatment left us both feeling drained. As we tried to settle into the routine of school year we received great news. Jenna's CT scan after treatment showed that she was NED (No evidence of disease). We celebrated in early October with our first date in months.

With all of the uncertainty, sadness, fear, anger, and anxiousness that filled 2017 there was also love, beauty, kindness, and friendship. The outpouring of support was absolutely amazing. We are so blessed in that regard. I don't think we could have made it through the first few days and weeks without that support. I have often heard the following verse - "The Lord goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deuteronomy 31:8. I suppose I never had to really put much thought into that verse because my life was fairly easy. I mean we had challenges and things came up, but nothing that turned our world upside down. My faith continues to be tested and I have to believe that God won't leave us.

With all of my focus on Jenna and our girls I had a very difficult time being at my best as a principal. One of the things that is really important to me is developing and maintaining a great culture where teachers and students feel comfortable to take risks. When Jenna was going through her treatment I was missing work and I wasn't able to spend time in classrooms, build relationships, and celebrate risk taking.

The last couple of months I started to feel more like myself and I feel more connected with what we are doing at our school. I am super proud of our teachers who have adopted the use of morning meetings to connect with their students and build classroom community. Our students started to share their stories and the great things that are happening at our school through a weekly podcast. You can follow them on iTunes.

Here is one of my favorite episodes - AGS News Episode 6 

We also have students talking about the books they enjoyed through book talks that we share with our school community.

As the years come to a close I am thankful that Jenna is doing much better. I am hopeful that we can continue to build an awesome school culture and I am comforted knowing that God is always with us.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Vulnerability is My Strength

This is the second part of a three part series exploring the connection between failure, vulnerability, and the importance of iteration. In part one I discussed the difference between being a failure and learning from failure. Part two is about how vulnerability is a strength.

Part One - Failure

Part Two - Vulnerability is My Strength

One of the greatest challenges to taking a risk, or stepping out in faith, is the fear of failure. The fear that we open up ourselves to criticism. That inaction and inability to move forward and try something new in our classrooms or schools leads to missed opportunities and stunted personal and professional growth. We choose not to change and play it safe and that hurts ourselves and others. 

Worse yet, is we pretend that we have it altogether, and that we are the experts. We don't want to look bad so we put on this display of confidence which comes across as arrogance. In the podcast "Doing What Only You Can Do, Part 1" by Andy Stanley he discusses this very point "...insecure leaders have a tendency to hide their weaknesses...". I think that statement is so powerful and that idea of hiding your weaknesses can lead to a lack of trust and understanding. When we are arrogant enough to pretend that others can't see our weaknesses it sends the message that we are not approachable or that we don't care about how to make our schools better, we only care if we look good. If we think we are doing a good job of hiding our weaknesses we are not. Andy goes on to say "if you don't know what you are not good just ask the people that work with you, they know." Those we work with know our strengths and areas that are not our strengths. 

A few years ago I had the opportunity to talk with teachers about the leadership of their principals. The teachers were not shy about sharing the  strength and weakness of their principal. One of the key findings was the importance of trust as it relates to teacher agency. In one school teachers discussed how their principal trusts them. 

“she sits back and allows the specialists to speak up about their expertise”  and  “about that trust that she has, that we know what is best, we know how to teach, we have those intuitive skills in place” 
This trust comes from a place where the principal was honest and open with the staff and modeled vulnerability. It was through this vulnerability that she earned the respect of her staff . They described her vulnerability "as taking more risks as a leader and sharing more about herself with the staff". I love that quote and how this principal showed that by being herself led to greater levels of trust with her teachers.

I recently was listening to a podcast where the guest being interviewed stated that your vulnerability is your greatest weapon. I would prefer to say it is your greatest strength. Being vulnerable shows that you are human and allows for a stronger connection with others. Vulnerability demonstrates to others that you are willing to take a risk and are not afraid of failure and that you can learn and grow from failure.

I asked a few friends who have demonstrated vulnerability to create some things that are pretty awesome and why they decided to be vulnerable and take that risk. Here is what they had to say:

Allyson Apsey, co-founder of  #principalsplayhouse, shared that she wanted to model that even with doing the hard work we can be filled with joy, acting a fool for the benefit of others is a good leadership trait, and she wanted to provide a laugh to colleagues across the country.

Jodie Pierpoint, decided she wanted to help teachers, like her self, who are pursuing leadership positions so she created Dream Big Mentorship where Jodie has paired school leaders with aspiring leaders. She shared her vulnerability and risk taking comes from a desire and passion to help others reach their goals of landing a leadership position.

Jon Wennstrom, co-founder of #principalsplayouse, talked about the importance of having a partner that he trusted and how she helped push him out of his comfort zone. He mentioned how Allyson got him excited about the project and then ideas started flowing from there.

We cannot become the leaders or teachers we desire to be without being vulnerable. It is what makes us real and authentic and connects us with others. When we embrace the vulnerability and realize that it is our greatest strength than we can take risks without the fear of failure.

Taking that step and being vulnerable is not easy, and I am sure if you were to ask Allyson, Jodie, or Jon they would talk about how it took quite a bit of courage to take that risk. However, if they did not take that step they would not have created the #principalsplayhouse or the Dream Big Mentorship.

We all have greatness in us, but we need be vulnerable in order to reach it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


This blog is the first part of the three part series where I am exploring some concepts that continually seem to be at the forefront of my mind. It seems that the idea of failure, vulnerability, and iteration are concepts and ideas that come up in the books that I am reading or when I am listening to various podcasts. I see these three themes connected to each other. So I am trying something new with my blog - a three part series.

Part One - Failure

I have been fascinated with the idea of failure and how people respond to failure and why some people can move forward while others get stuck. I am drawn to the stories of people who overcome disastrous failures and end up achieving great success. Perhaps I envy their ability to not get overwhelmed by their failure and instead they seem to allow that failure to drive them towards their success.

Merriam-Webster defines failure as a lack of success or falling short. These words can haunt you for a long time. They can be soul crushing especially when you pour everything into that idea or project. We too often shy away from moving forward or making another attempt. We shut down, yet there are others that walk away from failure seemingly unscathed. Why is that?

Despite having potentially catastrophic starts to their careers and ambitions these famous people demonstrated overcoming likely career altering setbacks.
  • James Dyson  needed over 5,000 prototypes and 15 years to perfect the Dyson vacuum. 
  • Dr. Suess had his first book rejected by 27 different publishers.
  • Harrison Ford was told, after a small role in his first movie, that he'd never succeed in the movie business.
  • Herb Brooks was the last player cut from the 1960 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, 20 years later he was the coach for the "Miracle on Ice Team" that won the 1980 Gold Medal. 
  • Oprah Winfrey was fired as an anchor in Baltimore for getting "too emotionally invested in her stories".
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.
  • In 1954 the stage manager of the Grand Ole Opry fired Elvis after one performance and told him "You ain't going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck"
It can be easy to take a look at this brief list of famous people and think those are great stories. I sometimes do this as well. I don't always see how these examples relate to me. These are famous people who had greatness in them that was undiscovered, or at least that is what I think at times. However, these are real people, like you and me, and we can learn from them.

John Maxwell states that "the first important step in weathering failure is learning not to personalize it". Well for me that continues to be a lesson that I need to learn. It is so hard not to personalize failure when I care so much or give everything I have and come up short. Carol Dweck adds "...failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn't define you." That is powerful. What both Maxwell and Dweck are saying is that you are not a failure just because you have experienced failure. That seems to be the distinction and one that James Dyson, Dr. Suess, Harrison Ford, Herb Brooks, Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney, Elvis Presley, and many others have made in order to learn and move on from their initial failures.

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed" -Michael Jordan

One of the greatest, if not the greatest basketball player of all time, recognizes the distinction between failing and being a failure. This lesson of knowing and believing that there is a difference between failing and being a failure is so important for me. And I believe it is just as important for our students,

Stay tuned for part 2 - Vulnerability

Monday, November 13, 2017

Power of Love

When I was in sixth grade one of my favorite movies, Back to the Future, was released. I remember going to the Barrington Square Movie Theater and getting stuck in the front row because they were the only open seats in the theater.  Even with the terrible seats I was mesmerized by the sheer awesomeness of the movie. I have seen the movie dozens of times and I still get hooked by the opening sequence.

How can that opening not be a classic? The imagery and song are just perfect. The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and The News is just great. It brings a smile to my face every time I hear it. I guess in many ways the opening of the movie brings me back to my childhood where it seemed anything was possible. If you have seen the movie before you know Marty's parents need to get back together in order for Marty to save himself and his siblings from vanishing from existence. It is the power of love that surprisingly brings his dad and mom together again and saves Marty and his siblings from extinction.

What does all of this have to do with leadership? We need to tap into that power of love, not the way Huey Lewis describes in his lyrics, rather the idea of sacrifice, putting the needs of others before you own, creating the environment for others to grow and flourish. Yes, we need to love those we serve. I know that this can fly in the face of our me first society and working towards career and individual goals, but we are not successful unless our schools or work places are successful. That means we need to look out for the needs of our teachers and students and be responsive to those needs. When we let the power of love lead our nerdy, awkward, sometimes insecure selves, some absolutely amazing things can happen.

Taking a risk and being vulnerable is hard and it often feels like we are standing on the that high dive platform not sure if we should jump or back away from the edge of the platform. The only way to know for sure if the risk is worth it is to be vulnerable and take that step towards the end of the platform and go for it. I recently heard about a study that was done of  one hundred people over the age of ninety. The survey asked asked about what they would have done differently in life. They shared that they would have risked more, reflected more, and done more that would live on after they were gone.

Leading in ways where we are taking risks and striving to leave a lasting legacy is not easy. However, I believe leading and living this way is the most rewarding and it takes the that power of love to carry us through the challenging times. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Made to be Awesome

We are made to be awesome and do amazing things. Yes, I really believe we are made to be awesome. When I say made to be awesome I am not talking about those personal accomplishments. Instead, being awesome is leaving a legacy and an impact that is felt way beyond our time on earth.  As I continue read, listen to podcasts, and spend time reflecting I realize that we all have a calling, a purpose, and an opportunity to do something special. The inspiring video A Pep Talk from Kid President to You has over 40 million views on YouTube not just because of the cute and funny Kid President, but because of the message and how we all connect with the idea that we are here for a greater purpose.

I really don't believe we want to be average, that we want live a ho-hum existence, or that we strive for mediocrity. Too often we get caught up in the minutia of everyday life. We are so busy running from one activity to the next or crossing off the to do items off of our list that we forget why we are doing what we are doing. If we are to reach our potential and live an awesome life we need to be able understand our purpose.

When we think about purpose we often think about our personal purpose and we get confused that this purpose thing is about me. It isn't. If we are going to be awesome, leave a legacy, and make a difference we need to let go of the notion that it is about me. Andy Stanley, in his Leadership Podcast, sums up the idea purpose not being about oneself "it is a call to sacrifice...a call to action...being committed to something bigger than myself that is not of myself." - August 31, 2017.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, describes level 5 leaders who set the example of leading companies to excellence and understanding it is not because of their own greatness, rather it is because they model being committed to something bigger than themselves. In his study of great companies Collins found that these Level 5 leaders have an incredibly strong professional will while having a great amount of personal humility. He shares that these leaders "channel ambition into the company, not the self...(leaders) looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for success of the company to other people"

While we may not be leaders of billion dollar, industry leading companies, we can still learn from these Level 5 leaders. They understand that it is not about them, instead it is about the organization. The sacrifice, action, and commitment is not for personal glory, rather it is about moving the organization forward. In each of our lives we are called to a purpose that is greater than ourselves. That may be to give yourself to your children so that they can reach their potential, it might mean volunteering to make your community a better place, it can mean being the best para professional, best teacher, or best administrator in order to create extraordinary schools.

There are roadblocks that keep us from becoming the person we are meant to be and the life we are meant to live. We are responsible for these barricades as we create them by being selfish with our time and get too busy to give ourselves to a greater cause.  We choose to live very busy lives and we don't leave any time for anything else. We don't stop to take stock on where we are on our journey and because we don't take time to reflect we are not able to make any changes. We also fail to jump at the opportunities to do something amazing. We are afraid to take the risk or we wonder if the personal cost will be too much.

I am writing this blog to challenge myself. To live the life I was made to live. To be a difference maker, to make an impact. To be awesome and do amazing things. We are never to old to change. There are opportunities to something amazing everyday.

Remember, you were made to be awesome! Live your life to the fullest by making a difference.