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.”

Getting Past the Tipping Point

The tipping point can be defined as a collection of subtle moments which become more significant causing a less subtle change. According to our friends at Merriam Webster the definition of tipping point is: the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place. 

In a time where critics of education are plenty, I choose to believe differently. I believe education is at the tipping point. Awesome is happening in schools across the country.

The question that begs to be asked is, “How do we get past the tipping point?”  @matthew_arend

The power of relationships and turning engagement into empowerment has been the focus for #IMMOOC’ers this past week. While hundreds of educators across our country and world have been by reading Innovator’s Mindset, participating in Twitter Chats and blogging (3 times this week #IMMOOCBC1, #IMMOOCBC2 & IMMOOCBC3) there are thousands more who are not.

How do we move beyond our current efforts and make this “mindset” the “unstoppable event that takes place”? How do we get past the tipping point?

As a building leader, I know I need to continue pushing teachers just beyond their level of comfort. As Amber Teamann, stated this week, “…I am ok with their pace, as long as they are moving forward.” Status quo will not get us past the tipping point. We ALL need to be moving forward.

I have personally shared my copy of Innovator’s Mindset, had a second copy shared with me and just placed an order for a third. While, I am not asking you to go buy additional copies, I am asking you to share. Share what you have learned, share has what inspired you and leverage the relationships you have cultivated to get us past the tipping point.

“How are you planning to get past the tipping point?” I would love for you to share your ideas in the comments below.

Let’s empower one another and create more significant moments leading to something great for education.



Rethinking Empowerment #IMMOOC #IMMOOCBC2

At some point last school year and at the beginning of this school year, I shared the graphic below with our teachers.

When I shared this originally, it was my attempt at telling our teachers, “It’s ok to try these things, take a risk.” I knew some teachers had already been using some of these tools and I knew some needed a nudge to try them.

Throughout the rest of the school year I would be in classrooms and see teachers trying to integrate these tools into their instruction. In most cases, this document was pinned to the bulletin board at their desk or taped to a cabinet near by.

In August, the following year, I passed this same document out again. I had the teachers cross out what they had tried last year and circle a couple of things they wanted to try this year.

It was while reading the most recent chapters of the Innovator’s Mindset that I realized the mistake I had made. Yes, teachers were empowered to make decisions, take risks and blend technologies into their instruction, but we were leaving out the most important voice in the room…the students.

I am rethinking empowerment. @matthew_arend !ref I recently read a post by Cathy Brophy, a fellow IMMOOC’ers which you can read here. Her final line was, “In the end, empowering kids cannot start until we empower the grownups we work with.”

“In the end, empowering kids cannot start until we empower the grownups we work with.” – Cathy Brophy

I am ready and our teachers are ready for the next step. As spring arrives and I begin to tentatively lay out plans for next fall, I am rethinking empowerment. It is time to empower our students. @matthew_arend !ref The new handout may look something like this…but given to students from their teachers.

(No disrespect to Austin Gagnier or Sylvia Duckworth for changing the title. I love the thinking and have used it multiple times. I am just rethinking empowerment.)