Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Basketball at #NCE17

UPDATE January 25:  There was no interest in the March 3 game to date.  Those tickets have now been released to the public.

For several years we've been putting together some fun time at an athletic event for superintendents when at NCE or during our summer meeting.  This year is no different, but it does bring choices.

This year there are two opportunities to catch a game.

Pelicans v Pistons on Wednesday, March 1 at 7pm
Pelicans v Spurs on Friday, March 3 at 8:30pm

We know everyone's schedule is different in regard to incoming flights, dinners, and receptions so you're getting options this year.  Catch one, catch both, or enjoy a different activity with friends and colleagues.

To order tickets call Jesse Nantz with the Pelicans at 504.593.4744.  Tell him which game and that you're part of the AASA group.

Tickets for the Pistons game are in their Hub Club all-inclusive experience and will run $70.  We only have a block of 55 here, but can go to other, good seats at around $64 if/when these run out.  The first 20 buyers get to watch warm-ups courtside.

Tickets for the Spurs game are not as good seats and will run $46.

Keep checking here for more updates.

See you at #NCE17

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Same place, different times.

First Trip down in 2014

Lots of smiles and fun

2016 Trip was a bit more wet when he came out of the boat and was a bit more serious.

Let's Do the Right Things, Not the Wrong Things Right

Can we change the system to do the right things, rather than continue to try to do the wrong things right?

It’s a long question essentially around the idea of change.  It resonated with me after reading an article by Will Richardson that really spoke to the “why” of what many of us are doing in our districts.  The title was "9 Elephants in the (Class)room That Should 'Unsettle' Us."

Forgive my random recounting of some of them.
  • We don’t remember what we learned in school.  I often joke that the things I most use that I learned in school are the ability to read, do arithmetic, and type.  Most other things I’ve picked up through experience.
  • Kids are bored and disengaged.  Content often isn’t relevant.  That’s why we have student engagement as a core tenant of our academic plan.
  • We teach in discrete blocks of time and subjects rather than integrating them so that kids can make the connections to get to deeper, longer lasting learning.  Remember the steps to mitosis or meiosis?  Even remember what the difference is?  Our current model doesn’t get us to deep learning.  We remember for a test and move on.
  • It's all about the GPA.  How many of us have had push back from parents when implementing standards-based grading?  The desire to be number one and heightened accountability have made our kids a series of numbers – GPA, ACT/SAT score, class rank.  It's like body measurements for high school kids.  Hey, my son is a 4.0 - 34 - 2 some parent might be saying.
  • The last one I want to mention is that we’re not assessing the stuff that really matters.  Especially on state tests.  It takes so long to get state test results they are meaningless.  Not assessing what matters and not getting timely feedback.  

I’m sure you can think of other elephants in the room and the article has another four.

I started my career in education as a math teacher and later taught science, which makes me tend to think in systems.  My innate desire is to put a process around most things and then improve through continuous improvement strategies.  Not everyone operates that way and it often has me challenging the status quo.  We can't get better by staying the same.  We've got to break past Newton's first law and get moving.

This requires change.  We hear change or become irrelevant.  We fear change because the unknown can be unsettling.  We stay in our comfort zones.  

We know we need to change, yet we’re afraid of it at the same time.  We ask ourselves what level of change can the board handle, the staff, the community?  The kids can handle it and are begging for it.  We get so caught up in our comfort zone that we can’t get to where the magic happens.

Schools are an institution built around tradition.  

Sometimes I think school is viewed more of a rite of passage than an active learning experience.  Millions of parents and grandparents went to school in much the same manner it is today.  We are slow to change, but have to do so if we are going to remain a viable institution.

As much as I like the neat little plan, the reality is the changes we need to make won’t be smooth. 

It’s going to be bumpy along the way and there will be setbacks.  We know from team development that whenever the members of a team or the task changes the team sees a dip in performance – hopefully only for a bit.

Many of my colleagues are involved in change efforts at some level.  Some are further along than others.  That’s why I engage with them.  Their ideas and support will help my students be more successful.

Sure we’re doing things in all the areas one would expect in today’s world, but I want to connect and learn with others so that the students I serve have the best opportunities we can provide.  I wish more were on the same path.

I’m afraid I see too many folks just managing their schools and not leading their systems forward.  Maybe they are comfortable that way.  Maybe they are afraid to push their communities.  Maybe they’re stuck in a rut.  

We hear all kinds of schemes that will supposedly be better for kids.  We know what we need to do and it’s pedagogical transformation.  It’s time for a change.  Our kids deserve better than us continuing to do what we know isn’t right.  Can we not change the system?

Monday, August 15, 2016

More Nantahala Falls

That is some cold water, but I knew that already.

Nantahala Falls

Thanks to Ryan we were able to get some great shots of us coming through Nantahala Falls.  Watch frame by frame to see what happens.

Better straighten that thing up Zack.

Looks like you're a bit out of line.

Are we getting tossed a bit to one side?

Starting to look that way.

Definitely looks that way.  Hang on!

And out we go.

That's some cold water.

Keep the feet downstream.  Where's the boat?

There it is.  So cold, must get back in.

Ready for re-entry.

Big kick to get back in.

That was fun.  Let's do the Ocoee tomorrow.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Turn Off That Flashlight

Recently our Boy Scout troop went camping at Pine Ridge Scout Camp in southern Illinois.  I had been there before for Order of the Arrow or WoodBadge events, but never had the opportunity to wander around like on this trip.

On the day of arrival it was storming pretty hard just south of the camp.  The temperature wasn't too bad, but the humidity as about 4,000%.  Most of the group was staying in the Musgraves Lodge, but a few us stayed outside in tents.

I was in my little two person backpacking tent with a full rain fly.  I debated whether to put the fly on, but ended up doing so because there was a decent chance of rain overnight.  I've had the experience of getting rain without having the fly on and really didn't want that again.

Typically I'm a pretty cold sleeper, but on this night I never took my lightweight summer bag out of the bag.  I didn't sweat, but I was warm throughout the night, which is odd for me.

The next morning I went off wandering early in the morning.  The ranger brought us some chanterelle mushrooms the night before that were mighty tasty.  I found a nice patch and picked a few for back at camp.

Pine Ridge is probably named for all the pine trees and it is a beautiful camp.  With substantial undergrowth in some areas it felt like a mini rain forest with the high humidity.  The canopy is thick and doesn't seem to allow for the humidity to escape or a breeze to come through.  Or light I later learned.

Down on the waterfront at the swimming area we found a nice breeze.  It would have been a great place to set a tent, but oh well.

After dark I wandered down to the waterfront again.  I had a light with me, but it was my intention to not use it.  The trek was about a quarter of a mile down a nice gravel road.  It was so dark I could hardly see the light gravel.  If not for the sound of the gravel road on my feet and somewhat being able to see the gap in the trees it would have been extremely hard to make it.

It was worse on the way back because the light from Musgraves Lodge destroyed my night vision.  Another dad made the trek back without a light and made similar comments about the sound of gravel being the only thing that kept him on track.

I'm always amazed at times like this the number of people who solely rely on their flashlights to get around.  Perhaps they're afraid of the dark, perhaps they are just used to lots of ambient light, or maybe they've never let their eyes adjust to the dark and learn just how much they can see.

It's more than they think.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A more Global Perspective

Recently I had the opportunity to attend Discovery Education's Global Education Leaders Forum.  Leaders from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Egypt, and Antigua were in attendance.  I felt honored to be invited as enjoyed the day learning.

The day, however, didn't really go as planned.  Our facilitator tried to keep us on schedule, but the conversation and curiosity was so rich it was hard to move on to other topics or speakers.  It started right off the bat when questions started for a speaker from the United States Department of Education.  Those questions started a larger conversation of curiosity in how the different countries represented do things.

The conversations on teacher training, professional development, teacher evaluation, and the work in Egypt were ones the the Secretary of Education and state level leaders should hear.  Our colleagues from Mexico and Egypt seemed to understand the importance of implementation much more than the bureaucrats here in the US.

Thank you Discovery Education for the opportunity to be a part of this great event.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What are your big rocks?

An internet search for leadership and/or keys to leadership will yield millions of hits with various lists, traits, points, qualities, etc.  Add a descriptor and the results change slightly.  School superintendents have probably read much of the work on leadership through graduate programs or casual reading.  Perhaps you refer to your collection of leadership books from time to time.
For me, the concept of leading yourself before leading others has always resonated.  Again, a search here yields more than a million hits with references to numerous authors and lots of lists with this-or-that many ways to lead yourself.  My fascination with the concept stems from the Boy Scouts and how to lead oneself.
In Boy Scout advanced leader training participants are taught that in order to lead yourself you must take care of your big rocks.  This is illustrated through an exercise with a bucket and a stack of materials -- container of water, sand, small rocks, larger rocks, and some big rocks.  It will all fit in the bucket, but how?  If you start with the water and add items from small to large, the materials will not fit.  Only when you insert the big rocks, then the larger rocks, small rocks, sand (be sure to shake it), and water will everything fit.  The only way to truly fill the bucket (your bucket) is by putting in the big rocks first.  In our roles as leaders, spouses, parents, grandparents, etc. we must lead ourselves by taking care of our big personal rocks in order to lead others well.  
The sand and water represent the noise and minutia in our daily lives that consumes time and resources.  When we spend time taking care of the sand and water first we can never fill our buckets.  Concentrating on these items might make one look busy, but probably not fulfilled and maximizing one’s leadership capacity.  To be at our best, and truly fill our buckets, we must take care of the big rocks first.  Only then will the small rocks, sand and water fit in our buckets.  
What are your big rocks?  What are those things that are most precious to you?  Your big rocks might be similar to those of your colleagues, but not entirely the same.  When we take care of and put our big rocks first we are better leaders for our families, schools, and districts.
The districts we serve are similar.  Across our systems there are numerous initiatives and things needing attention, but what are the big rocks for your district?  What are those things that the district is truly focused on doing?  What are the three or four things that drive the work of your district?  Are there things you know you must attend to first in order for your district to be successful?
Having spoken to many successful superintendents across the country over the past few years, it is clear that leaders are focused on their district’s big rocks.  Leaders know the difference between the big rocks, the pebbles, the sand and the water.  District’s big rocks do vary.  Our districts are unique, our communities are unique, and so our big rocks are different.  Many times they are similar, but context makes a difference.  
Regardless of your district’s big rocks, we know they must be sustained year after year.  Our personal big rocks remain relatively stable, and so must the district’s.  We must be agile to meet the challenges we face, but we cannot subject our districts to initiative fatigue either.  Whether it’s a digital conversion, move to personalized learning, work around the 4 C’s, learning communities, student engagement, continuous improvement, etc., successful districts around the country are focused.

By remaining focused on our big rocks and not chasing silver/magic bullets our chances of reaching our personal or district vision are more likely to be reached.  Take care of those big rocks and your buckets can be filled.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Return to the Ocoee

Eighteen days after kayaking the Ocoee and getting torn up I was back on the Ocoee -- but in a raft this time.

The raft perspective is a bit different.  Had my first experience on the Ocoee been in a raft I would have doubted my ability to run it in a kayak.  Thankfully I survived the kayak trip, and despite my trouble, did improve my skills by stretching myself.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

MWA Southeast Beginner Trip

I had seen stuff on the MWA Southeast Beginner Trip last year, but had other commitments with moving jobs, buying a house, and trying to sell a house.  This year I tried to block it out early and actually probably committed mentally before the clinic.

We watched the MWA message board about the trip in our efforts to prepare.  On May 27 we left early for the NOC.  Brock had encouraged us to drive the Tail of the Dragon while there so we took the northern route and came down the dragon.  Several times I thought Zack was going to get sick.  I might drive it again in the fall to look at the leaves, but otherwise I'll stay off that road.

I like the NOC campus with it's atmospheres and activities to enjoy.  Zack jumped in on a few with some other kids.

Several in the group had arrived earlier and ran the Nantahala on Friday.  That translated to the group heading to the Pigeon on Saturday.  We ran from Walter's Pumphouse to the NOC Outpost takeout.  It was a fun day and the biggest water I had experienced in a kayak.  There was 25-30 in our group so safety was abundant.

Zack got hung up on a rock above Lost Guide.  Rafters and kayakers were gathered in the eddy below watching rafts and boaters come through and wondering when Zack would get loose.  Zack had my throw bag so I got one from Coop and headed up the bank.  After getting his attention my first throw was horrible.  The rope fell out of the bag into the water and stopped forward motion.  The second throw was better, but showed me the rope was too short to reach him. 

Finally he shifted his weight enough and down he went to the cheers of the gathered crowd.  He said that he figured someone would throw him a rope or bump him with their boat.  He did very well staying calm and was the talk of the river for a bit.  This may have also been his first experience at getting bumped out while going through Lost Guide.  There's not much of worry about it flipping, but the big waves can toss him out.  He got bumped out, threw his paddle out, and jumped back in a smooth motion without missing much of a beat.

Further downstream we pulled to the side upstream from Accelerator to empty a boat.  While there we took a look and watched several run the line.  This was the last rapid of the day and the biggest we encountered.  I thought I was through, but went over at the end.  Two attempts to roll went absolutely nowhere so I punched out.

I survived the day with one swim and a banged up finger.  Zack had done very well navigating the river and I was thankful that we had practiced duckie re-entry the weekend prior.

Sunday was the Nantahala.  Zack had paddled it in a duckie when he was 8 so I wasn't worried.  I'm not a fan of the cold water, but this is a nice splashy trip until Bump and Nantahala Falls.  The last time we were here our guide told us to avoid Bump.  I ran the hole with no trouble but Zack stayed clear.  I ran the falls without incident and took the river right eddy to watch Zack.  He did great catching the eddy above the falls and came through the falls nicely.  He did get bumped out again, but was quickly back in the boat.

The talk for Monday was to stop at the middle Ocoee on the way home.  I was a bit hesitant, but thought we're here, we've got safety, why not.  The night before there was discussion of starting downstream of Grumpy, but after looking at it from the dam I was confident I could make the move.

I did, but got tossed in the turbulence below.  In retrospect it was kind of like running Accelerator on the Pigeon from the start.  I took some nice finger scrapes, a strawberry on my left elbow, and some rock rash on my right shoulder -- at least this was my assumption.  It was confirmed after taking off my shirt at the take-out.

Two days before we were on the Pigeon and to that point it was the biggest water I had done in a kayak.  The Nantahala was a step down, but now we had definitely stepped it up again.

I swam on another rapid after an unsuccessful roll.  We avoided Double Suck.  At Table Saw (the most turbulent spot on the river) I was center right rather than center left.  The boater in front of me went over and in my attempt to get around them I got tossed.  It was a tough swim, but with the help of a fellow boater I rode Diamond Splitter hanging on to the back of a boat.  I got on a rock on river left in time to see my kayak being pulled on a raft well downstream.

My hands took a beating in Table Saw so I stayed on the rock for a while to stop the bleeding on my left thumb.  Zack had gotten bumped out of his duckie on Table Saw too, but reports say he hung on to his boat with a smile on his face the whole way.  This was the first time he lost grip of his paddle though.

After getting to my boat we had a nice finish to the trip.  Zack was too far right at Hell Hole and went out again, losing his paddle.  He ran Powerhouse hand paddling.

His safety for the day towed him across the lake while he napped in the duckie.

I hope we're able to do this trip again next year and know what I need to work on to improve my paddling skills.  I'm not consistent on III+.

A big thanks to the MWA for sponsoring this trip, Di for being trip leader, and to all those experience boaters who helped us and kept us safe.

Spring Paddling

It's been a fun spring of paddling.

MWA Whitewater clinic -- Two amazing days on the Saint honing our skills.  Zack's still tentative in the kayak from his mishap a year ago, but he did better on day two.  I decided that I needed to get him a duckie so I could get him to keep coming with me and so we could do the MWA southeast beginner trip.

First paddle with the duckie -- Zack did great his first time down the Saint in the duckie.  He missed an eddy in Cat's Paw, but got through everything ok.  I chose a bad line at Double Drop and ended up taking a swim after taking a rock to the face.  After the black eye I now understand the notion of a face shield.  Zack got too far right on dam breach and got spun, but quickly learned the duckie could fill with water, but wasn't going to sink.

Late May on the Saint -- Zack and I went down for the day for a little work before the southeast trip.  I had also bought a used Hero and wanted to give it a go.  We did two laps (one with Zen and one with Hero) with some open boaters.  I don't have the Hero sized for me well enough quite yet.  It paddles differently than my Zen so I missed some lines.  Zack did better handling the duckie.

We missed several weekends for work around the house, but pleased that we've been able to enhance our skills.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

April Paddle

For April I convinced Mr. Shaw to join us on the Saint.  He got a loaner boat from the Alpine Shop and off we went.  The boat had never been in the water.

In order to give him time to get familiar with it we put in at Fisherman's and took our time heading to the pavilion, working on stuff along the way.  The plan was to eddy out on river left prior to Big Drop so that we could portage Zack around it.  As I was positioning myself for the portage Zack got hung up on a rock and went for a swim.

Thankfully we had practiced exits during pool time, so he was out quickly.  He was so cold that he stayed on the rocky bank with semi-wet clothes, food, and an emergency blanket.  Mr. Shaw and I took off.

Mr. Shaw went for a swim at the end of Big Drop and he finally got to the bank just above Cat's Paw.  I tried to get his boat to the shore, but missed.  The boat got sucked down the left side and I went right.  I caught up with the boat at the bottom of Cat's Paw on river left, but he was on river right.  I took the boat over to him and off we went.

Things went smoothly until the dam breach.  He was almost through and got a bit sideways at the bottom end and over he went. 

One more swim near fat man's squeeze finished the day. 

When we got back to Zack he was still on the rock wrapped in the emergency blanket.  All the food had been eaten and he had talked to Charles who stopped on his way down the river.

Later this month we'll head back to the Saint for the MWA clinic.

MWA Races and March Paddle

Finish line volunteers

Beautiful Saturday with intermittent clouds

The second day of the races started with snow.  I took 4-mile hike in the snow and barely got back in time to watch the finals of the boater cross.

It was a chilly day, probably not topping 45.  Not the best circumstances to take a swim, and we saw several swimmers.

One of the more fun parts of the races was the addition of the SUP class.

While we had our boats with us at the races, we weren't equipped for the temps.  A few days later it was near 70 degrees so we returned for a brief paddle.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


Lately I've been thinking a lot about gears.  You know, the idea that the gear teeth and rotation must be aligned for the mechanism to work properly.  If a tooth breaks it throws the whole thing off.  Or if a gear is trying to move the opposite direction the mechanism doesn't move at all.  Thus the importance of systems.

Each system within an organization needs to be in place and aligned in order to support the other systems in the organization.  If pieces of the organization act as silos the integration is lost and the system as a whole will come to a stop.

Think of it as systems within a system.

From a school district perspective the district is the overall system.  Within the larger system there are buildings that operate as systems.  We also have the business office, human resources, transportation, technology, etc. as smaller systems.  At the school building level we see grade level and departments as systems, as well as the individual classroom system.

In order to have a high functioning/performing district these systems need to be aligned and working together.  Technology has to support the classroom, elementary curriculum needs to flow into middle school curriculum, and so on.

Sometimes the gears are spinning nicely, but they are close enough together to enhance one another.  That is especially true in a silo-laden organization.

As leaders in an organization we must ensure that the gears are aligned, get the proper lubrication, and are moving in an efficient and effective manner to move the organization forward.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Evolution of a roll

Historically I was a canoe guy.  I liked the freedom of movement in a canoe and I could haul lots of gear.

One day, though, we were paddling on the Missouri River and it was windy.  I was on one side of the river getting blown around and my kayaking friend was hardly impacted by the wind.  At that point I decided I needed a kayak so I bought a Prijon Yukon.

Concerned that I would paddle a kayak the way I paddled a canoe I took a couple of kayak classes and even started working on a roll.  On a good day I could roll maybe 50% of the time. 

In the summer of 2014 Zack and I took a whitewater kayaking class at NOC.  After that I wanted a whitewater kayak, so I sold the Prijon and bought a Jackson Zen in early 2015.

Zack and I attended the Missouri Whitewater Association whitewater clinic in April of 2015, but by the summer of 2015 I had completely lost the ability to roll at all.  In the fall of 2015 I was in Charlotte for AASA meetings.  After we wrapped up I went out to the US National Whitewater Center for a couple of lessons.  By the end of the day I was doing only slightly better on the roll, but at least had a good understanding of where I was messing up.

So in the winter of 2016 it seemed appropriate to join in some pool kayaking to work on the roll.  I started out at 50% success or less.  You can see in the video below that I was bringing my head up too early.

After some practice I was getting the roll about 80% of the time, but if I brought my head up too early it was an epic fail.  Thankfully we caught a successful roll on video.


I had watched folks roll and some would bring their head up over the back deck of their boats.  That seemed awkward to me.  After a guy watched me a few times he mentioned that given my height and torso length I needed to bring my head up over the back deck.

With the help of Zack doing T-rescues I started to get the hang of this method.  After 8 weeks of being in the pool I finally think I've got it.  The last two weeks I didn't have any wet exits and my high brace is better. 

On the last night of pool time I was even rolling twice in a row.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Saturday, January 30, 2016

#50Supts Challenge

At #NCE15 one superintendent launched a personal challenge to meet a school administrator from all 50 states.  That gentleman was Chris Swenson and you can contact him @ChrisDSwenson.

He and I didn't connect until the last night of the conference, but I was watching his progress via Twitter.

For #NCE16 I encourage you to take the #50Supts challenge while at the conference.  Here is your chance to get connected beyond social media and meet folks face-to-face.

Let me know if you're game and I'll share a document with you to track your progress.