My #OneWord2018 Needed a “PUSH”

I never really know where the inspiration for the next post is going to come from. Honestly, my #oneword post for 2018 almost didn’t happen. I have spent the last week or so shuffling words back and forth in my mind. Yet, not a single one of them stuck and I cannot write about #oneword if it doesn’t stick, right?

In the midst of a spin class this morning with about twenty minutes remaining, I was spent. The class may have as well ended, because I was ready to hop off the bike and head for the door. It was then, the instructor did something I have never seen a spin teacher do before. She hopped off her bike and started to circulate the room, giving each person in the room the push they needed. Her message was specific to each of us and well timed. Whether she read the room or just felt as if we needed it, she provided the push we needed to finish the class strong. She pushed us to the limit and served as my inspiration for my #oneword.

In that instant, with sweat dripping on the floor my #oneword for 2018 stuck. All I needed was a PUSH, but in the back of my mind I could not help but think, how long will this word stick? I do not see the value in committing myself to a single word, if I know deep down, the word would not carry me forward for the next 365 days.

Reflecting on previous #oneword posts I found that the word served me well for a season, but hardly for an entire year. Does that resonate with anyone else or am I the only oddball? (It detered me from even writing about my #oneword in 2017. I believe life is made up of seasons and within each season of life, my #oneword may change. I may NEED it to change!

As a school principal, my school life is made up of seasons as well. Each season typically lasts about nine weeks so I am boldly committing myself to #oneword for each season or each of the next nine weeks for the next 365 days.

The word PUSH seems to fitting for the next nine weeks.

We are coming off of an extended break. I know there will be students and teachers who may need an extra PUSH to achieve the goals they set out to accomplish at the beginning of the year. I want the PUSH I give to just as specific, timely and motivating as the PUSH I was given today.

Drawing from my experience as a building leader, I know the end of January and February can seem like a long stretch of road before spring break arrives. Knowing this, I want my PUSH to be the message that carries our students and teachers forward keeping the eyes on the prize.

It does not get lost on me that I will need a PUSH too. The simplicity of the word and knowing that the PUSH can be something I give or receive is where the beauty of this #oneword choice lies.

I have goals I want accomplish in 2018. I will not be able to achieve them without the PUSH from my family, friends, colleagues and you!

With that being said, I will PUSH you and I need you to PUSH me. (For the next nine weeks anyway…) ***wink wink***

Be sure to check back in March for the unveiling of my next #oneword for 2018. 

Culture – Let’s Not Talk About It…Let’s Be About It

This is post is written to sincerely thank the staff of #SiglerNation for everything they do to support our great community. Most importantly, I want to acknowledge the role each staff member plays in creating an environment where we are ALL truly family. It is the culture you create, support and sustain that allows us to offer the experiences and opportunities we provide for our students, families and one another! THANK YOU….

Holiday parties, shopping lists, travel plans, baking and last minute gifts are staples for all most all of us as the holiday season is here. While each of these carries with it an added level of stress for many, teachers and leaders must find a way to push all of this aside to continue giving their all to the children they are charged to educate through the final bell of the 1st semester. Easier said than done. Right?!

While it would be easy for teachers and leaders to simply mail in the final two weeks of the 1st semester placing the focus on the holiday prep, students and colleagues are counting on us to be better than that. How do we make it all happen? How do we support each other in finding the balance? The answer may not be as difficult as one would expect. How do we make it all happen?


Christmas is in the rear-view and the time has allowed me to reflect on the last month. A month one could argue to be the most grueling of the school year. #SiglerNation has always had a strong culture, but during the last month I saw a tight-knit school community grow even closer together.

How could that be? How could one of the most stressful times of the year bring people closer together? Let’s take a deeper look.

Gratitude & Empathy Strengthen Culture

The spirit of the holiday season, in the truest sense should include gratitude and empathy. If we are not careful, these are the first two things to disappear as we begin to think about what “we want” for Christmas instead of what “we can do” for others. Over the final #12days of the first semester we aimed to focus on gratitude and empathy with our 12 Days of Kindness. (#Sigler12Days) Yes, there was one or two gifts involved, but the emphasis was placed on random acts of kindness. Across the entire building, the random acts included caroling, notes, reading to younger students and older students teaching technology use to younger students. Regardless of the act, students and staff were focused on gratitude and empathy. (This would be a terrific place to thank Amber Teamann & Melinda Miller for their “Holiday Planning for Your Staff & School Facebook Page” where many of our staff ideas originated from – School Leaders should be following their new page – Principal Productivity & Appreciation Groups – coming soon)

While staff facilitated these acts with students, they were also focused on taking care of our Sigler families. Staff stayed after school to help parents shop and wrap presents, deliver gifts to families’ homes and just when you would think staff had given as much as they could, they asked how they could give more, to ensure our students and families were going to be blessed over the holiday.

Seeing our teachers and students serve with gratitude and empathy was  humbling and truly embraced the spirit of the season. These moments  of gratitude and empathy from students, staff and families strengthen a campus culture.

Pride Strengthens Culture

#SiglerNation is just another elementary school if the students, staff and community does not have pride in what it represents. Over the month of December this pride was on display as the community intentionally took time to show others what #SiglerNation is all about.

For the first time ever Sigler Elementary decided to participate in the Plano Lions Club Christmas Parade. On a cold Saturday morning, with to-do lists fully loaded; parents, teachers and students took time to showcase the pride they have for their elementary school by marching in the parade. Led by a group of students holding a #SiglerNation banner, we waved, sang Christmas carols, laughed and strengthened the culture of Sigler Elementary.

As if giving up one Saturday was not enough, our Sigler Road Runner Robotics Team or <R^3> had a competition that drew the attention of a number of parents and teachers, who again put their to-do lists aside to support #SiglerNation. (Selfishly, imagine how proud a principal would feel when walking into an event, a week before Christmas break and you see six teachers volunteering with students, another half dozen in attendance and an army of parents cheering on our students). This experience strengthened the culture of Sigler Elementary.

Balance Strengthens Culture

Understanding the important of balance in the work place is one thing, yet finding this “said” balance can be another. A school with a strong culture will support one another, helping each find the balance we seek. We need to recognize how hard teachers are working and develop a “work hard, play hard” mentality. Over the final #12days of December I saw this “play hard” staff come to life and sincerely enjoy the final days as opposed to counting them down and checking them off. Things kicked off with our 3rd annual “Milk & Cookies” (view images here) door decorating contest bringing out the competition in all of us. The time spent on the doors was not near as important as the “feel” across the building walking up and down physically being able to see the festive, competitive spirit of our staff. Imagine being a student in this place!

Seeking balance is easier for some than others and having a specific reason to stop from time to time is not a bad thing. In fact, we offer up a reason for staff to stop with our Sigler Ping Pong Challenge. An idea that originated four years ago from our school nurse takes place over the course of the final weeks. Interested staff enter their name and square off in a “march madness” type tournament leaving the best ping pong player standing. Staff find time to play when it works for them. Some play before school and others play after, but hearing the sound of a ping pong ball bouncing back and forth with the laughter that accompanies it, if only for a few minutes, strengthens the culture while giving balance to those who work so hard.

Door decorating and ping pong isn’t your thing? No sweat. You can also take a break and try your best to find #JefeOnAShelf who hides throughout the building on the days leading up to the final bell. Still not your thing? It’s ok. The #Sigler12Days will provide you with the opportunity to enjoy the Christmas season with giving and receiving as mentioned above.

Ensuring the last day of the semester ends on the highest of notes, students, staff and families gather for an assembly in the gym which includes grade level cheers, visits from Santa and an Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest that continues to humble this leader as staff secretly plan ways “sneak in a joke” aimed at yours truly. (Last year ugly sweater included Iowa State shirts…kind of a big fan of the Cyclones and this year El Jefe shirts were on display secretly showcased while I was turning my back to the participants). The entire assembly provides laughter, celebrations and you guessed it, helps strengthen our campus culture.

As I have spent the last couple of days with my family, celebrating Christmas, I realize just how special my #SiglerNation family is. Culture is just not created and it does not just happen. As leaders I believe we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be the one who is always coming up with the culture building ideas, but fact of the matter is…most of the ideas I shared above originated from a teacher. I have to be sure I “Just Say Yes”.

Sigler Elementary is a special place with special teachers, special parents and special students. I hear a lot of folks talking about the culture in their buildings and then I am able to witness the amazing culture of ours.

As January approaches and educators begin mulling over new year’s resolutions, I have a challenge to you to consider in the new year…

What are you doing to strengthen the culture on your campus?

“Let’s not talk about it. Let’s be about it.”

The Problem with Passion

(This post was originally posted on

I absolutely love what I do! As the principal of Sigler Elementary I lead with passion. In fact, I have written about my leadership style before and I encourage you to read more about it here.

According to Clifton’s Strengthsfinder my top strength is competition followed closely by being a relator. Partner that with my “orange” personality and you have an extremely passionate, competitive principal who wants to make everyone happy. Anyone relate with me? Some of you are laughing, “A principal who wants to please everyone! Good Luck.” I agree…

I count on my passion to carry me through the parts of my job I do not get excited about. You know…the items that are farthest removed from leading and connecting with students and teachers. As passionate as I am, I want to share the problem with passion.

Recently within the halls of #SiglerNation extreme student behavior has been a topic of conversation. Specifically, how we “as a campus” respond to said extreme behavior. (My personality strengths, equate this concern to, “How Mr. Arend responds to extreme behavior.”)

This concern is not necessarily a new one. We are charged with educating students who have some legitimate obstacles to overcome. We love them. We want to educate and empower students to be better tomorrow than they were the day before, but that can be easier said than done.

Knowing the current practices were not addressing the most immediate needs, I posed a question last month to our leadership group. “How do we utilize reflections without them being a punitive resource?” (Feel free to click on “reflections” to see what they look like)

While my question had the best of intentions and was meant to help us solve a problem I was witnessing, hindsight tells me my intentions were misguided. What helped me realize this was the group of amazing leaders who expressed their sincere concerns regarding the extreme behavior in their classrooms and my perceived inability to help them. The concerns kept coming. My passion kept burning. In my best attempt to solve their problems, I could not help but feel each of their concerns was aimed at me.

The problem with passion in this case was I was too invested in the process. My personality and philosophy on behavior was prohibiting me from seeing things through the teacher’s eyes. I needed a different approach, knowing in one month’s time this conversation was going to continue. I could not endure another meeting in which I felt as if each critique and concern was aimed directly at me and my inability to solve the problems.

I needed a protocol.

Protocols are still fairly new to me and it was through my experience with the Principal Visioning Institute that I truly experienced the power of protocols. I am not sure what took me so long to find protocols, but it’s like we say in Texas, “I am not from Texas, but I got here as fast as I could. When I found out about protocols is not important. What is important is that I have a resource and I need to use it more often.

I spent the next several weeks and days reflecting on my previous experience and carried my School Reform Initiative protocol book with me wherever I went, including one evening at my local Jimmy Johns.


With a protocol picked out and rehearsed more times than I could count I was ready for my next meeting. This time I was ready to facilitate a conversation not lead by asking my question.

I am now a week removed from our leadership meeting where I used the “Ping-Pong Protocol” and I wanted to share what I learned about using protocols and about myself.

Protocols Allowed My Passion to Be Removed

Utilizing the Ping Pong Protocol allowed me to take a step back. In doing so, my level of involvement declined because I was not so emotionally invested. I was able to listen. I was able to understand. What I had previously taken on as personal failure, I was now able to hear objectively and as a true concern shared from a group of leaders who shared my passion.

Protocols Allowed the Voices to Be Heard

I had previously been the one to ask the question and it was not my question to ask. The first step in the Ping Pong Protocol was to have teacher share out their most pressing concerns. As teachers shared out, it became evident what “our” focus question needed to be. Not “my” focus question, but “our” focus question. By having an “our” instead of a “my” the me versus them potential was void and we were all working towards a common need. While we were not able to address all the questions that were raised, they were voiced, recorded and heard.

Protocols Allowed Conversation

Prior to using the protocol, the conversation was one way. I posed the question and the responses all came to me or what I felt was “at” me.  Using the Ping Pong Protocol, the responses were shared with one another and this was after teachers had the opportunity to reflect on how the question we were addressing specifically impacted them and their teams. It was through listening to the conversation my empathy increased, my level of understanding deepened and my emotional investment felt safe because the conversation was not “at me”. Rather it was with me.

The protocol did not end as I desired, but the time we spent discussing a shared concern was exponentially more productive than the previous month’s time together. More importantly, the feedback I received from some of the leaders who experienced the protocol was very positive. They expressed some reservations entering the meeting after the first conversation, but were pleasantly surprised with the outcome of the second meeting and the process they were able to go through.

You can only imagine how that feedback made this “principal who wants to everyone happy” feel.

I am in my seventh year as a principal and while there are things I know I do well, there are so many more I know I can improve upon. While my passion for serving our students and teachers continues to burn hot, I now know how to avoid the problem with passion. Utilizing protocols helps remove “my” passion or preconceived agenda from the conversation and allows “our” voices to unify and work together to find solutions to concerns “we” have.

Here is to continued growth in my passionate leadership.


Matt Arend is the principal of #SiglerNation or Sigler Elementary in Plano ISD. You can follow Sigler Elementary on Facebook and Twitter and follow Matt on Twitter @matthew_arend.

What is Your Hope?

It was exactly one week ago that I stood in front of the students and staff of #SiglerNation and shared the slide below with the hope we have as adults for the students in our building. As I stood in front of just over 400 students and

articulated each hope we have, I couldn’t have predicted the impact of the message nor the person it impacted most. ME!

It was 8:00AM on Sunday morning. I was standing with thousands of marines and over 30,000 runners from all over the world at the starting line of the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington DC. I had flown over thirteen hundred miles to run one of the largest marathons in the world and it almost did not happen.

When I went to bed Saturday evening I did not feel right. My body was trying to tell me something and I simply did not want to hear it. I went to bed feeling cold and woke up countless times feeling hot, sweaty and needing to go to the bathroom more times than I could count. (Without getting all TMI, we will stop there) At 5:45AM I woke up my wife questioning whether I should run the race I had spent the last 20 weeks training for. After some prayer and counsel, I made the decision to run, but promised myself and my wife I would listen to my body should things get worse. With two Aleve in hand, I was out the door headed to the shuttle which would deliver me to the starting line.

As the howitzer fired, sending 30,000 runners off onto a route stretching across 26.2 miles, I felt great! It was around mile 10 I realized I was in for a long day. By mile 13 I had to stop at the medical tent and seek the advice of medical staff. With the reassurance I was not going to cause further harm upon my body, I set out for mile 14.

I was done.

I have never quit a thing in my life, but with 12 miles to go, I was miserable. I was way off pace, way uncomfortable and mentally checked out of running 12 more miles, let alone a total of 26.2. I wanted to quit.

All of a sudden it hit me.

I am running through Washington DC. I am running through a city that embodies struggle, perseverance and victory. I am surrounded by marines, willing to give their lives to fight for MY freedom. Then the students of #SiglerNation came to mind. My hope for them just two days ago was “don’t give up” when things get hard. How could I possibly fly back to Texas without a finisher medal? What kind of hypocrite would I be if I quit this race after telling a gym full of students to not give up when things get hard? I wanted to quit, but the marines, the city and the students kept me going!

The final 14 miles were dreadful. It was excruciating. I stopped. I walked. I was miserable, but I persevered. I did not give up. I did not quit. I crossed that finish line and I could not wait to get back to school with my head held high. While the time I posted was far from my best, I am proud of the accomplishment. It is my worst time in years, but is my most fulfilling run yet. Simply because, I did not quit. I did not give up.

The Marathon Impact

You may be reading this wondering, “How does this impact me? I don’t run marathons.” I beg to differ. We all have “marathons“. We all have the thing that pushes us to our limit. The thing that makes us question what we are doing. The thing that seems easier to quit and walk away from than seeing it through to the finish. Regardless of what your “marathon” is, do not quit!

As a school principal I want to be the example to the students, teachers and families I serve. Life is going to provide us with moments we want to walk away from because it would be easier than the alternative. If you walk away once and you quit, what stops you from quitting the next time? The time after that?

I walked up to the start line at 8AM with a goal in mind and I crossed the finish line with a sense of accomplishment completely unrelated to my original goal. Some days we celebrate the goal, some days we celebrate the journey and some days we celebrate the accomplishment. As I crossed the finish line I celebrated the hope I have for our students. It was the very hope I have for our students that I found for myself while on a 26.2 mile journey.

One week ago, I would not have realized how the hope I had for our students is really the same hope I have for myself.

What do you hope for your students? Do you hope the same for yourself?

Create a Network – #IMMOOC

One of the prompts shared for week 2 of #IMMOOC Season 3 resonated with me on a deeper level than the others based upon where I currently am as a leader. When looking at the “Characteristics of a Innovator’s Mindset the notion of being “networked” stood out to me. It also reminded me of a post George wrote last year titled, “The Arrows Go Back and Forth”. I have worked hard on many levels to be “networked”. As I have grown as a leader being able to “Create a Network” for myself and others has become a passion.

As hard as I have worked to become “networked” it does not get lost on me that there are people in my life who were “networked” before me. They supported me, introduced me and helped connect me to others within their networks, further creating mine. I am called to do the same for the educators I interact with and the teachers I have the pleasure of working along side.

Often times a term like “networked” can be discussed in regards to innovation. We instantly think that means being plugged in, being online and connecting via technology. There is a time and place for that, but I would consider that to be “networked” on a macro level. As great as that is, I believe it is equally important to “networked” on a micro level. Knowing who you can “network” with locally is valuable. There are resources within our school district and even our own building. Never underestimate the power of meeting with someone face to face.

Networked at a Macro Level

If you are reading this or participating in #IMMOOC Season 3 we are “networked” on a macro level. Chances are many of us will never cross paths, yet we share a common theme of learning together. We read each other’s blogs, participate in Twitter chats and communicate in 140 characters at a time. I know at any moment I can send out a message via a number of social media platforms and someone somewhere is going to see it, hopefully respond to it and make me a better educator. I am connected to thousands of educators whom I have never met, yet we have something in common. We are “networked”.


Networked at a Micro Level

As a building leader I have been meeting with teachers recently discussing their professional goals and supporting them in the development of action steps to help their learning. One of the things I appreciate most about the goal setting process is sitting down with each teacher and just listening. Through listening I am able to identify how teachers will be growing professionally. As I listen to each teacher, I become more aware of how I can help them become “networked” with other teachers in our building who have like goals. In some cases, I can help them become “networked” with teachers outside of our building or even central office staff who can support an action step. There is a sense of comfort that comes with being “networked” with other educators in a building or district that may not exist when being “networked” on a macro level.

Networked at Both Levels

Just today, as I am attending the National Conference for Family Learning, I met, 5th grade teacher Leticia Citizen from Arcadia, California. As she engaged me in a session tying Wonderopolis, Nonfiction Text and Poetry together, I could not help but begin thinking of ways to help connect her with our 5th grade teachers back at #SiglerNation. After a brief conversation and a few tweets, we connected our teachers. We will be connecting 5th graders in Plano ISD with 5th grades in Arcadia USD soon.

Within the same session a group of Wonderopolis Ambassadors were sitting a row behind me. As the session came to a close, I could not help but eavesdrop on the conversation and introduce myself. After exchanging introductions I quickly realized the person I was chatting with was a member of my #PLN. Our conversation went to another level instantly. Before we knew it, we were discussing ways #SiglerNation could connect with her through an upcoming Global Gallery Project #AutumnABlaze. It was a pleasure to connect with Carol Varsalona!

As #IMMOOC Season 3 continues, I know I will grow my network on both a macro and micro level. I will be able to network with other passionate educators via many of the platforms connected to #IMMOOC. As a result, I grow from their thinking and experiences. Subsequently I am able to share my learning with teachers and colleagues locally, helping them create a network.

As George states in his article, “It is not only what you consume, but what you create.” My goal as the principal of #SiglerNation is to
“Create a Network” but also “Create a Network” for others.

Here is to networking!

The “I” is for Innovation #IMMOOC

As an education leader, I recognize I am strengthened by the folks I choose to surround myself with. One of the folks that supports me as a person, friend, and colleague is the fabulous Assistant Principal of #SiglerNation, Mrs. Carrie Tracy. Below is the first of what I hope is many more collaborative posts. 

The month of October is here and that means two things; #IMMOOC is back and the campus improvement plan for Sigler Elementary is due soon. As the deadline draws near we find ourselves struggling to articulate the exact steps we will take as a staff to improve. It is not because we do not know what we need, rather we find the system of school improvement focused around a bottom line that is dictated by state testing and the improvement of a score. We are not naive. We get it. Ultimately the bottom line is what drives public school systems. We may not like it. We may not agree with it, but we better find a way to make it work for us, our staff and the students of #SiglerNation.

My first experience with a Site Based Improvement Committee was as an assistant principal seventeen years ago.  Back in the day it was called a Local School Council but the makeup of the committee and my perception toward it had not changed. Schools search high & low asking people to serve on the committee (we are still looking for two more parents to serve…you interested?).  Administrators try to create time to analyze multiple surveys/assessments & craft  goals aligned with the data while simultaneously doing school day in and day out. Teachers are asked to serve on a committee after  already giving an inordinate amount of hours towards instruction(thank you to all who said yes).  In my experience, what should have been a meaningful exchange between schools and the community ends up becoming  a task to check off the list.

Recently during a conversation with a Ashley Helms, a colleague of mine, I shared some of my thoughts with the campus improvement process and our up coming Site Based Improvement Committee (SBIC) Meeting. Ashley made one simple statement that changed my mindset and my approach to the improvement process. She said, “At #SiglerNation the “I” stands for Innovation.”

When Matt “voxered” me his conversation with Ashley….my initial internal response was,  “How can we possibly make an SBIC committee innovative? Does he remember the meeting is in 5 days and we are still writing out our plan?”  My response to Matt was, of course, much more optimistic! Having only worked with him a year, I already know once an idea gets percolating in his mind, we are moving forward full steam ahead….

Ashley’s statement stopped me dead in my tracks. It was a complete ah-ha moment. Our SBIC members are really members of our Site Based Innovation Committee. Simply saying it out loud and seeing it in writing infuses energy into wanting to make meaningful change we can all believe in. Replacing the word “improvement” with “innovation” reminds me of the following question George challenges us to understand, “How do we start to innovate inside the box?” If improvement plans are going to be required, how do we make them work for us? How do we find new and better ways to articulate our change within the confines of our requirements?

“A way of thinking that creates something new and better”

George uses this to definition to define innovation. If you think of this in terms of school improvement, it’s what we are seeking, right? We want to create new and better ways for educators to plan, collaborate, intervene and reflect on student learning. Sometimes the word, innovation, intimidates me. I think about  what something looks like at it’s very best and most perfect state and I want  to time travel to that space immediately.  But, maybe sometimes innovation is the  process of making something new and better. How can we innovate within the scope of our improvement plan to create something new and better? This question has stuck with me as I aim to complete ours and host our first meeting of the year later this week.

Updated Following our 1st SBIC Meeting…

For our first upcoming meeting we made some small changes in that direction.


All good thinking happens at Starbucks right? Matt and I created time on a Sunday afternoon where we could fully focus on the task at hand instead of carving out 10 minutes here and there within the school day. It allowed time for him to fully guide me through the process as it has changed substantially since I last wrote a plan in my past admin life. It also allowed us time to talk through what we were envisioning for the campus over the next couple of years.





Guess what? We didn’t print out the plan.  We shared it ahead of time and asked everyone to bring their own devices.  We also had computers available but in full disclosure, I wasn’t able to figure out how to download the plan to the Chromebooks without staying logged in…sooo need to work through that little kink or have a few copies printed out.  I also would like to utilize the “comments” option within google docs to allow for an elevated level of participation.




We asked for 1 teacher, 1 parent, 1 parent/community member, 1 campus/district professional to sit together to ensure we had a diverse group at each table. We had some “getting to know you questions” at each table to help break the ice as each shared an elementary school memory.  Each group was asked to read through a specific goal which they would then share out to the larger group. My hope was the smaller groups would allow for more dialogue and investment in the action plan.


As I reflect on our first meeting, I feel good about making those small steps. In the past, we would have had teachers take turns sharing out components of the plan to the large group while stakeholders sat quietly listening but not engaging.  It was nice to look around the room and see community members asking questions and parents sharing their perspective based on their own experiences. There was a level of intimacy and energy in the room that I had not observed in past meetings.

As I think about our next meeting where we share how we are progressing on our goals, I have visions of taking the committee on a tour of the campus where they can experience some of the action steps we are working on or maybe having students come to the committee and share what the action steps look like from their perspective.  

This experience has taught me to never accept the status quo and assume there is no better way.  We must always push for innovation and sometimes that may be in small steps.  Matt & I work at very different speeds but I’m thankful for it.  I tend to have lots of ideas in my head but freeze at the action step in fear that it will fail or – if I’m completely honest – will be a lot of hard work.  Matt pushes me to take ideas and give them life.

We do not have all the answers yet. As we work through this school year with our plan to improve  innovate, We know if we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got and “ain’t nobody got time for that”.

“Go Hard” Leadership

I recently had the opportunity to meet with my supervisor and share the story of #SiglerNation, highlighting the work of our teachers, students and community. I have never been one to shy away from lifting up the amazing work our teachers do. With a visitor in tow, I carried on and on about how great our teachers are and how humbling it is work be able to be called the “leader” of such a fine staff. (Read more about #SiglerNation HERE)

About a week later, I received a note thanking me for my time and for sharing the work our teachers have been doing to positively impact our students. The following quote was shared inside:

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Weeks later this quote has stuck with me as we make our way through the first weeks of school. This has been a unique year in which we have many new staff members to the building with only one being in her first year of teaching. The teacher capacity we added to our staff is significant beyond measure, but what I take for granted is the way we do school at Sigler. It is different than how other campuses do school. Different is not bad nor is it different in a good way. It is just different. As I’ve witnessed some of the strongest teachers I know be humbled by the difference, this quote motivates me to want to be there for all of them. It inspires me to do everything in my power to ease the transition and allow them to focus on the very thing we brought them to #SiglerNation to do…TEACH!

This quote embodies the way in which I lead. It’s who I am.

A few years back, our staff participated in a True Colors Personality Test…my color Orange. Why? My competitive spirit, drive and ability to do many things at once.

Just last month our staff participated in the StrengthFinders Assessment via Gallup. My number one Strength…Competition.

I feel the need clarify my competition is not with other principals, schools or campuses, but merely an internal competition. A drive to be better tomorrow than I was today. The same drive fuels me outside of my work. Case in point, why else would I be training for a marathon during arguably the busiest time of the school year. (Marine Corp Marathon in Oct.).

If I take the quote and match it with my personality, I break down my leadership style into three simple words, “I go hard.”

Positives of a “go hard” mentality

I am here to serve. I am going to remember what you need and find a time to deliver. It might be a 7AM parent meeting or a 4:30 goals conference, but if you need me, I will be there. A school event on a Friday night. Yep. Visiting the the community on a Saturday to be sure our school is represented? Would not miss it. If you need my help, I am going to be sure you get it.

I am invested. Your students are my students. Your concerns are my concerns and your needs are my needs. I am only as successful as the students, teachers and parents I serve, therefore I am invested in making sure they reach their highest level of success. I say that well knowing these levels of success do not happen over night, in a day or even a month. I am invested for the duration. Let’s work together, develop a plan and see the plan through. I am not going anywhere. You do not quit on me and I will not quit on you.

I am available. Throughout a typical school day there are a million and ten reasons why I could be in my office, but I choose not to be. I choose to set up shop in classrooms, eat in the cafeteria or stand at the school store greeting hundreds of our students. When the teacher comes to me and says, “Do you have a minute?” I look at them, regardless of what is taking place and my answer is, “Yes.” Texts, Voxes, Tweets and phone calls, I receive them all. The staff knows they can reach out and they know I will respond.

Flaws of a “go hard” mentality

I naturally expect everyone else to be like me. Thankfully they are not. A teacher’s number one priority is not their job. Their number one priority should be their family, or their spouse. It should be themselves. If I can be honest, I am blessed to work in a building of folks that “go hard” but I do worry about their work life balance just as much as I worry about mine. I would like to think we hold each other accountable to ensure we are putting first things first.

I cannot shut it off. I work all day and when I come home there are times despite the best of my intentions, I am still working. While the focus should be on my family I find myself trying to do both. (See orange reference above).

There are times I am not at my best. I am tired. The old adage of burning the candle at both ends…I can burn that baby down. I need to remind myself that the school year is not a sprint, but a marathon. Not every task needs to be completed ASAP. Going home at a reasonable hour to enjoy my family is OK.

Ultimately, the very thing that makes me great at what I do can be the thing that stops me from being great. Finding the balance is the key and surrounding myself with teacher leaders who can support our students, teachers and families will ensure we are at our best.

Behind every great staff, team or company you find a great leader. Or perhaps behind every great leader you find a great staff, team or company. Regardless of which you put first, one is not more important than the other. In fact, within every great staff, team and company you have multiple leaders. Collectively it is the sum of all the parts that drives the work forward within your school, sport or business.

Thankfully for me, I am on a team with a bunch of strong parts who in their own right, know how to “go hard”.

Amplify the Voices

If you have been paying any attention to my Twitter feed or reading my recent posts, you will know Sigler Elementary is using the hashtag #SiglerNation to amplify the voices of our school community and connect with others across our great nation and the world. It’s more than lip service. In order to hold us accountable, this map is displayed in our front hallway to celebrate the connections being made! This is just the beginning! (Thanks for the idea Joe Sanfelippo) #GoCrickets

For those of you reading about #SiglerNation for the first time, you need to begin here, with my post Welcome to #SiglerNation.

As we progress through the school year we will change the lens through which we view school. It is easy to view school through the lens of the adults, but those are just a few of the voices we need to amplify. Our goal is to amplify the voices of our students. In order to do so, the lens we need to view school through is through that of our students.

A small change we have made already is how we send information home. In year’s past, I would send out a S’more newsletter highlighting what went home, what events are coming up and absolutes parents needed to know about. Each newsletter was through my lens. The lens of the campus principal.

This past Friday, we released our first issue of “The Sigler Voice”. Our new S’more newsletter. The Sigler Voice includes what takes place in the grades levels of #SiglerNation through the lens of the students. While this was just our first issue, I am excited to see how we collectively amplify the voices of our students, teachers and parents as the year goes on. I know we will look back at our first issue and marvel at how we grew in our ability to amplify the voices.

How do you amplify the voices within your school community? Are you ready to amplify your voices with ours?

Comment below.

Let’s connect!

#SiglerNation is waiting.



Eminem Was Wrong

The year was 2002. I was a senior playing football for the Peru State Bobcats. In October, Eminem dropped a hit titled, “Lose Yourself”. I can only imagine college football locker rooms across the country filled with young men getting hype listening to the chorus below…

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime…

…football players listening to the lyrics above believed each game was “the moment” and each play was the “one shot”. You didn’t dare “miss your chance” because each game and play was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. No room for mistakes. It was all or nothing.

I can’t even tell you the number of times I listened to this song throughout my senior year of football and the subsequent days, weeks, months and years to follow.

Fifteen years later, “Lose Yourself” still fires me up, but the game has changed as has the meaning I find in the song. In 2002 the game was football. Today the “game” is being the best elementary school principal I can be.

School has started or will start soon for educators around the country. Our campus (Sigler Elementary) sets to embark on week two and this song has been on repeat in my mind and admittedly on my running playlist for over a year. Each time I listen, I know “Eminem was Wrong”.

Rewind back to the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year. Social emotional learning was all the rage and as the leader of Sigler Elementary, I was going to be sure we were doing our part to equip our students with the tools they needed to support their social emotional well-being. Over the summer we had meticulously planned for and created “calm-down baskets” for each teacher upon their return. The baskets included something for every type of learner; play-doh, smelling stickers, windmills, stress balls, color books, glitter bottles, pipe cleaners, bubbles, yoga cards with a variety of poses…I could keep going. These “calm-down baskets” were legit.

Like most back to school weeks the days fill up quickly and the hours slip away. We strategic filled the buckets, passed them out and welcomed the teachers back with this great surprise. Teachers were asked to use these tools and strategies with students throughout the course of the school year to help our children. There was just one problem. I spent all of two minutes explaining what was in the “calm-down baskets” and zero time explaining how each could be used effectively. I did not explicitly say this, but looking back I essentially gave our teachers a resource and expected them to use it…like “Duh”! What was I thinking?

It did not take long for me to realize the errors of my way. I had “the moment”, I took my “one shot” and I totally “missed my chance”. Thankfully in education, it is not all or nothing. There is room for mistakes and this “once in a lifetime” opportunity gets reset each August.

Clearly I do not wake up in the morning and try to make as many mistakes as I can knowing I can erase them all a year later. We are influencing the lives of students for heavens sake. The message that needs to be understood is that through reflection and intentional planning we can learn from the errors of our ways and not make the same mistakes twice. Hence my argument for why “Eminem was Wrong”.

I knew when the 2017-2018 school year started I had to redeem myself. The first step to redemption, I had to “own it”. I stood before my staff and told them I “missed my chance” but realized it and was not going to miss “the moment” again. This year teachers again will receive resources to support students with their social emotional learning, but they will not come all at once and they will not come in a basket. Instead, one by one teachers will be introduced to a simple and easy to use resource that can positively be used with students in their classrooms.

I have grown as an administrator and my outlook on being wrong has changed significantly. In fact, I was never focused on being wrong. I was focused on trying to be right. I operated from a place of “I can’t make mistakes.” Now,  I’ve come to expect mistakes on a regular basis and realize if I’m not making mistakes, I’m not doing something right. I would spend my days trying to do it right and now I spend parts of my days righting my wrongs.

If I am challenging myself to be at my best, mistakes will happen. If I remain in the comfort zone, mistakes are easy to avoid, but that is not what I want for myself. I want to challenge myself and be wrong, understand mistakes are going to happen, but most importantly realize when I make them, reflect and learn from them.

This school year I will “own it” when the mistakes come. I will “let it go” and then I will take my next “one shot” because in this awesome profession, which I get to call a job, the opportunities impact students for a lifetime!

Thank goodness “Eminem was Wrong”.



Just Say Yes

A team of phenomenal teachers and I were able to share the transformational story of #SiglerNation yesterday at #NTVC2017. We had shared this story once before (check it here) so on the eve of the presentation I was reviewing my notes for the next day. Having just wrapped up reading Student Voice: The Instrument of Change I was in full on reflection mode and I came upon a stark realization while reviewing for the following day’s presentation. Each of the areas the teachers were sharing the following day was an expression of their voice. They were sharing something they were passionate about to a room full of strangers because they were proud of their efforts. More importantly, they were proud of the way their; dare I say innovative practices, positively impacted the success of their students.

Pictured: Assistant Principal of the Year – Carrie Tracy, Desirae Rieke, Matt Arend & Melinda Hoover

I remember each of the days Melinda Hoover, Desirae Rieke and Dora Deboer came to me with individual ideas they wanted to run with. Melinda was interested in turning her classroom into an environment similar to Starbucks. (She was a 2nd grade teacher). Desirae was looking for some motivation and ways to infuse technology into her classroom. (3rd grade teacher) I recommended she read Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros and join in what would be the first #IMMOOC. Dora had just experienced a taste of what real authentic learning experiences could do to empower the learning of her bilingual students and was brainstorming ways to connect with a wider audience of teachers and learners across the world. (Bilingual Title I Teacher)

I won’t get into the explicit conversations that followed, but for those of you who are reading that are building leaders, there are three words of advice I have for you when a teacher in your building stops by the office, catches you in the hallway or gives you a call out of the blue asking “If you have a minute”. JUST SAY YES!

The realization I came to while reviewing for yesterday’s presentation was that the students who benefited from three separate transformational ideas and the teachers who were ready to jump into something new with two feet who are now sharing their story with audiences across the state of Texas could have missed out on all of it, had I said no. Just like that, it could have been gone. Experiences erased. Aspirations crushed. The next time either of these teachers had an idea they wanted to try. Forget about it. There would have been no way they would come and face the hard truth of getting told “no” again. The classroom complete with couches and Starbucks coffee would simply continue to look like it had for years prior. Desks would be in rows and students in seats. A classroom with 7 laptops of which 3 would be fully functional on a good day, would not be abundantly stocked with iPads. Students who are armed and ready to collaborate and create on their recently acquired Chromebooks would be at the ready for the next worksheet. The students in a bilingual reading intervention group would have never connected with over 7 countries and students from around the world sharing how proud they are of the culture and heritage nor learn about how proud other students and their own parents are of their ethnic backgrounds.

Let’s be honest. You can ask “Why?” or you can ask “Why not?” You can trust the professionals you have hired to take risks to better themselves and their students or you can stifle the very creativity which lead you to hire them.

We all know that saying yes does not guarantee success, but saying no guarantees you will never know. It may not turn out right the first time. We will learn from what did not go as planned and try it again the next day. We will throw away the flexible seating option that was “accidently popped” by a pencil and replace it with a brand new one while revisiting the expectations. When the Google Classroom connection does not work, we will proudly own the #techfail and move on to plan B, because there is always a plan B.

The beginning of the school year is quickly approaching and you can count on at least one teacher asking you the million dollar question, “Do you have a minute?” Hear them out. Ask your questions. Take time to think about it if need be. Follow back around with additional questions or heck, even ask them why. Once you have all your questions answered, you know what to do.

Just say yes!

What will you say yes to this year that will positively change learning for the students and teachers on your campus? Include your comment below.