The Whole Leader

As I reflect on my learning from the Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals Association (MEMSPA) Annual Conference, there are four ideas/lessons that really stand out to me. They stand out to me, because I am guilty of failing at all of them. Not because I don’t agree with them, but because I have felt too busy or have been too focused on myself and not others. Here are my four “Aha!” moments from this year’s conference.

Fail #1 Take the Time to Listen: After my session on building relationships, a participant came up to me and shared his perspective as a retired principal. He told me that one of his bad habits as a principal was to motion with his hands while teachers were talking to “hurry up“. Ironically, I was picturing that motion in my head, because as he was talking, I was thinking that I needed to set up for my next presentation. He then told me that he would often tell people to “walk and talk” with him as he hurried down the hall for another appointment. This stopped me in my tracks, because I have done this many times. He said he thought he was being productive with his time, but in reality he was telling the other person they weren’t important enough to stop and have a conversation with or at least ask them to come when he could give them his full attention. A principal of many years, and this was his biggest regret…not listening to others. I felt enlightened and guilty all at the same time.

Fail #2 Feedback is the number way to produce growth: Prior to attending the conference, I had been patting myself on the back for getting through so many observations. I had checked off the boxes, visited the rooms, and was on track. I had skipped many of the face to face meetings and had failed to ask probing questions. Teachers are busy…I was doing them a favor. Or was I doing myself a favor? Was I helping teachers with their thinking and offering a chance to reflect, share goals, and grow? No, I was following the mechanical requirements of evaluations and forgetting the purpose. To listen, to discuss, to give feedback and praise in ways that help teachers grow.

Fail #3 Leaders focus on Solutions not Problems: Yes, we need to identify problems, but that’s not where our focus should be. How often have I lamented on policies and practices that I don’t agree with and kept my focus on complaining about them? More times than I like to admit! I have even been guilty of making lists of problems and thinking, “No wonder we aren’t performing where we should be?” What if instead, I named a problem and made a list of potential solutions? Where would my head and heart be then? Not wallowing in negatives, but focusing on positives.

Fail #4 If we don’t laugh at ourselves, we leave the job to others: These words of wisdom were shared in the closing keynote session, which blended inspiration and humor. How often do we take ourselves so seriously that we can’t risk failure or admit when we are wrong? The nice thing about this is that when we take a moment to admit our failings and even laugh at ourselves, it takes a weight off our shoulders and makes it much easier to rise above our situation or our problems.

Looking at failure as a chance to grow or the “First Attempt In Learning“, I am using all of these lessons as my road map for the remainder of this year. When I talk with teachers, will I be hurrying them along or taking the time to listen and connect? When I conduct observations, will I take the time to help them reflect, ask questions, and set goals? When I am faced with issues, will I focus on the problem or solutions? When I am feeling self-important and the need to be right, will I have the courage to laugh at myself and take my job seriously, but not myself? I’m sure I’ll continue to fail at these from time to time, but I make the promise to keep working at them and to keep working at myself. This conference focused on helping the whole leader and the whole learner…in this case, the learner is me! 



“It doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop!” – Confucius

“I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

“Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” – Phillip C. McGraw


Livonia Administrators learning together at #MEMSPA17 


  • Monday, December 18: Student of the Month Assembly (Empathy) 9:05 AM, Principal Collaborative Time at Roosevelt 1:30-4:00 PM
  • Tuesday, December 19: Achievement Team (Pisko) 8:15 AM, AT Meeting with Angie about homebound student 9:15 AM, Parent Meeting (Williams & AT) 2:30 PM
  • Thursday, December 21: Staff Breakfast & Gift Exchange 8:05 AM, 3rd Grade in Gym for Polar Express 1:15 PM, 3rd/4th Concert 6:00-8:00 PM (rescheduled)
  • Friday, December 22: All school sing-along in gym 3:15 PM, Winter Break begins after school!


  • Monday, January 8: Celebrate Monday Assembly 9:05 AM followed by Battle of the Books informational meeting (grades 3&4)
  • Tuesday, January 9: Achievement Team Meeting 8:15, DATA DIVE meetings to discuss Interventions & Progress Monitoring
  • Wednesday, January 10: Elementary Principals Meeting @ Riley 1:00-4:30 PM, PTA Board Meeting 2:30 PM
  • Thursday, January 11: Staff Meeting with Cindy Scott & Phil Francis 8:05 AM, Reflections Ceremony at Stevenson High School 5:30 PM
  • Friday, January 12: IRIP Updates with Progress Monitoring go home with designated students.

Board of Directors

At one of my sessions of the “Leadership Matters” cohort, I was introduced to the concept of a personal Board of Directors. The idea was conceived by Napoleon Hill nearly a century ago and still has relevance for leaders today. The idea is to surround yourself with people whom you admire, who are invested in you, and who stretch you to reach your fullest potential. The activity led by Derek Wheaton and Debbie McFalone focused on six positions needed on your personal Board of Directors. Here are the people that sit on my board:

The CheerleaderOne who motivates and spreads the positive: For me, my inspiration has always come from my daughters. They bring me joy, happiness, and inspire me to become the best dad, best principal, and best person that I can be.
The Truth TellerOne who I can count on to be honest at all times and keeps me grounded with accurate perspective: My truth teller has been featured in an earlier blog post and is my former colleague and peer, Jennifer. She is a phenomenal educator, and more importantly is one who will question me, argue with me, and above all be honest with me. Her honesty, blended with her desire to help me grow, makes her one who stretches my thinking and makes me a better principal.
Jiminy CricketMy conscience and keeps me grounded in what is right and wrong: This is definitely my wife. She has a strong moral compass, a heart for service, and inspires me with her willingness to help and serve others.

SacajaweaMy guide and mentor: I’ve had many guides in my life and I think that’s the key. Each stage or role in life may require a new mentor. As a parent, my mentors were my mother and father. Early in my career it was Paul Liabenow who hired and mentored me. I find mentors now through courses and conferences like Leadership Matters with Debbie and Derek. We need to seek out mentors if we want to continue to grow and learn.

Crowd in the SquareSmall group who serves as my sounding board: My crowd would have to be my administrative team at Livonia Public Schools. They stretch my thinking, provide feedback and support, and remind me that I’m never alone.

Luke to your YodaSomeone you are mentoring or teaching: If you would have asked me a week ago, I would say that I’m not sure if I’m mentoring anyone. Yes, I work with a new principal in the district, but she is so knowledgeable that I look at us more in a peer relationship than mentor. Then I received a note in the mail from Jodie Pierpoint. Jodie is a member of the educational blogging group I participate in (The Compelled Tribe) and she wrote “thank you for your encouragement through my new adventure“. I thought, maybe I have been a mentor without realizing it. Perhaps you are a mentor to someone without even realizing it yourself!

Having a support group is not a new idea, but purposely planning out who you learn and share with can be a powerful leadership strategy. As educators, who would be on your board of directors? If you haven’t done so, identify who your “go to” people are. Better yet, let them know they are serving on your board. They may be surprised and pleased to know that they are holding such an important position!

Source: Adapted from Success Built to Last: Creating a Life That Matters, Porras, Emery, Thompson, 2007 
Derek Wheaton, Derek Wheaton consultin LLC
“You can do anything as long as you have the passion, the drive, the focus and the support.”– Sabrina Bryan
“A man’s pride can be his downfall, and he needs to learn when to turn to others for support and guidance.”– Bear Grylls
“Surround yourself with people who provide you with support and love and remember to give back as much as you can in return.” – Karen Kain
Beautiful Video on Empathy
  • Monday, December 11: Celebrate Monday 9:05 AM, Design Committee Meeting (Holly & Nan) 9:30-11:30 AM, Santa Shop Preview Day, PTA Board Meeting 2:30 PM
  • Tuesday, December 12: Achievement Team (Kaufman) 8:15 AM, Santa Shop
  • Wednesday, December 13: Santa Shop, Elementary Principals Meeting 1:00-4:30 PM, Buchanan Staff Christmas Gathering 4:30 – ???
  • Thursday, December 14: Collaborative Learning Time 7:50 AM, Santa Shop, 3rd/4th Grade Concert 6:00-8:00 PM
  • Monday, December 18: Student of the Month Assembly (Empathy) 9:05 AM, Principal Collaborative Time @ Randolph 1:30-4:00 PM
  • Tuesday, December 19: Achievement Team (Pisko) 8:15 AM, Parent Meeting (Williams & AT) 2:30 PM
  • Wednesday, December 20: PTA Ham Pick up 4:00-6:00 PM
  • Thursday, December 21: Christmas Breakfast8:05 AM
  • Friday, December 22: All School Sing-along in the gym 3:15 PM

Do You Remember Your Favorite Teacher?

Growing up, my dad was often in the hospital for kidney issues.  Sometimes he would be in the local hospital and sometimes he would need to travel to a larger hospital for weeks at a time.  One of those times happened during my fifth grade year.  That year, I had a teacher named Mr. Reed.  I guess the best word to describe him was “jolly.”  He always had a smile and a joke to share (usually the really bad ones that make my own kids groan when I tell them).  In addition to teaching, Mr. Reed directed the school musicals and often recruited students into the cast.  He encouraged me to audition for the musical “Annie Get Your Gun” and I was cast as Little Jake.  It was a wonderful experience and I would go on to be in several more musicals by the time I graduated high school.

As influential as Mr. Reed was as my teacher and director, he made an even bigger impact on my life that year.  While my dad was in Grand Rapids (nearly two hours from my home), Mr. Reed and his wife (also a teacher at my school) opened up their home to me.  I stayed with them for a week until my mom returned on the weekend from the hospital.  Those were some hard times and I had a lot of emotions going on, not to mention the stress of staying with my fifth grade teacher!  But somehow, Mr. Reed made me feel at home with his easy going nature and we got through that time.  He always kept a business as usual manner (I was always very self-conscious about people knowing my dad was in the hospital) and rehearsals after school kept my mind off things.

It only lasted about a week, but things like that stick with you for a long time.  I remember thinking that Mr. Reed’s house was much nicer than ours and that dinner time was much more formal.  They also had cable and color TV (which was something we didn’t have at my house at the time).  Ah, the things that stuck out in my 11 year old mind!  Everyone liked Mr. Reed at school and he was a good role model for me both in and out of school.  Many years later, I directed a high school musical performance of Grease in the district I taught in (and coached wrestling in) and invited Mr. Reed to attend one of the performances. That night, I finally had the opportunity to publicly recognize him and thank him for being such an inspiration to me.

I think all educators have that one teacher that they look back on with admiration for inspiring them to become a teacher and making them feel like they could accomplish anything they set their minds to.  I’m not sure in fifth grade if I had made up my mind to become a teacher yet, but I do know that Mr. Reed helped me make up my mind as to what kind of man I wanted to be.



My first acting role as “Little Jake” in Annie Get Your Gun, directed by Mr. Reed


“I think a role model is a mentor – someone you see on a daily basis, and you learn from them.” – Denzel Washington

“We need role models who are going to break the mold.” – Carly Simon

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” – James Baldwin




  • Monday, December 4: Celebrate Monday Assembly (Empathy) 9:05 AM
  • Tuesday, December 5: Achievement Team Meeting (Kurtjian) 8:15 AM, Report Card Grades due in by 11:59 PM
  • Wednesday, December 6: Mileage Club Planning Meeting (open to all) 8:20 AM
  • Thursday, December 7: Staff Meeting 8:05 AM (Led by Achievement Team), The winners of the PTA Limo Ride will be picked up in front of school at 3:45 PM
  • Friday, December 8: Report Cards go home


  • Monday, December 11: Celebrate Monday Assembly (Empathy) 9:05 AM, Santa Shop Preview Day, Design Team Meeting 9:30-11:30 AM
  • Tuesday, December 12: Achievement Team Meeting (Kaufman) 8:15 AM, Santa Shop
  • Wednesday, December 13: Santa Shop, Elementary Principals Meeting 1:00-4:30 PM
  • Thursday, December 14: CLT Session 7:50-8:50 AM, Santa Shop, 3rd/4th Grade Christmas Concert & Santa Shop 6:00-8:00 PM


  • Monday, December 18: Student of the Month Assembly (Empathy) 9:05 AM
  • Thursday, December 21: Staff Breakfast/Gift Exchange 8:05 AM

All the Things I Didn’t Do

During the week of Thanksgiving, I traditionally write about things and people I am grateful for. This year, I have been reflecting on how much I don’t do at school and wanted to give thanks to those who make it possible. I began by walking around the school and taking pictures of our incredible staff doing what they do every day without realizing how special they are and the incredible impact they have on our students.

I began the long list of things I didn’t do in the front office. I didn’t put ice on a child’s head and comfort him, because our fabulous secretary had already done it, just as she does for each child who needs a kind work or some TLC. I strolled into gym, art, and music and noted that I didn’t teach these important skills to our students, because our awesome specials teachers were already doing this. As I walked down the hall, I didn’t help with a struggling reader, because a parent volunteer was working one on one with children. I didn’t help our community through service projects, because our Elementary Support Teacher had already organized a canned food drive. I didn’t need to post a display of our character elements, because our art teacher and a parent volunteer had already done that. I didn’t help students learn to find the books that they love to read, because our media specialist was doing that. I didn’t prepare meals and serve several hundred students, because our cook had done that. I didn’t spend all day in the classroom teaching lessons and dressing up in pajamas to make learning fun for our students, but our teachers did! (well, actually I did wear pajamas:) I didn’t clean the building or direct traffic in our parking lot, because our building supervisor had done that. I didn’t pick up our students early in the morning and drive them safely home at the end of the day, because our bus drivers had already done that. I didn’t plan out events and raise funds for our school, because the PTA had done that. I realized as I walked through our halls that I have so many people to be thankful for here at school.

I was recently given the book “It Takes a Village” as a gift. As I made my list of all the things I didn’t do each day at school, I realized that, like the book, each one of us plays an important role in making sure our students have a positive and productive experience at school. None of us can do it alone. We need each other and we need to appreciate what each person brings to school each day. Thank you for all you do for our students and for doing all the things I didn’t do.



“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.” – Lionel Hampton

“Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” – Gertrude Stein

“Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.” – Jacques Maritain



  • Monday, November 27: REED for PS (Trantham) 8:15 AM, Student of the Month Assembly (GRIT) 9:05 AM, PTA Meeting 7:00 PM
  • Tuesday, November 28: REED Follow up for MB (Ringler) 8:15 AM
  • Wednesday, November 29: Battle of the Books Planning Meeting 8:20 AM in LMC, Elementary Principals Meeting 1:00-4:30 PM
  • Thursday, November 30: Staff Meeting 8:05 AM
  • Friday, December 1: Records Day (Optional Report Day for Teachers)


  • Monday, December 4: Celebrate Monday Assembly 9:05 AM
  • Tuesday, December 5: Achievement Team Meeting (Kurtjian) 8:15 AM
  • Wednesday, December 6: Jon at MEMSPA Conference
  • Thursday, December 7: Jon at MEMSPA Conference, Staff Meeting 8:05 AM
  • Friday, December 8: Jon at MEMSPA Conference


  • Week of December 11: Santa Shop 
  • Thursday, December 14: Santa Shop & 3rd/4th Grade Music Concert 6:00-8:00 PM



Be Excellent to Each Other!

This week, I was channel surfing and came across the 80’s classic, “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. Now, when I first saw this film in high school, I was not a fan. The goofy humor and cheesy story line was lost on me. Years later, I watched it as an adult and chuckled through most of the film. Watching it with daughters who are now about the same age as I was when it came out, I feel a sense of nostalgia and actually laugh out loud at the absurd comedy. But the thing that stood out to me most of all this time as I watched the movie was its positive message. Throughout the film, the theme of “Be excellent to each other” is expressed by Bill and Ted and is reflected in the future society they help to establish. It’s even the closing phrase of Abraham Lincoln during the history project presentation.  In a world of breaking news that seems to be a constant stream of negativity, violence and intolerance, that simple message of “Be excellent to each other” in a silly and fun way was just what I needed to hear.  I was also happy to have my daughters hear it as well, even if they didn’t get the humor (just as I didn’t at their age).

At school, we remind students to be safe, kind, and responsible. We talk about empathy and model respectful interactions. In short, we promote a culture of being excellent to one another! I’ve often said that we spend far too many hours at school, not to have fun and feel joy while we are here. Yes, we need to take our jobs seriously, but we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously.  I’m not ready to take down our Buchanan Bear to put up a Bill and Ted poster, but I do think their message is one that we should be promoting in school and their example of goofy humor is a good reminder to have fun while we are at work. If you see a parent who is concerned, offer them reassurance. If you see a coworker who is overwhelmed, offer her some support. If you see a student who is sad, offer him a smile. If you need some inspiration, don’t be afraid to do something special for yourself. We are a team and we need to take care of one another and follow the advice of Bill and Ted and “Be excellent to each other!”



Socrates: “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

Teacher: “Who was Joan of Arc?” Ted: “Noah’s wife?”

Bill to Billy the Kid: “You are dealing with the oddity of time travel with the greatest of ease!” 

Books worth Reading


 Dan Tricarico (The Zen Teacher)

Available in my office to borrow. Great read!!


  • Monday, November 20: Celebrate Monday Assembly 9:05 AM
  • Tuesday, November 21: Parent Meeting for D.T. (Pisko) 8:15 AM, REED for LJ (Trantham) 9:15 AM, Achievement Team meeting 2:35 PM, Goodfellows Pick Up
  • Wednesday, November 22 – Friday, November 24: Thanksgiving Break!


  • Monday, November 27: REED for PS (Trantham) 8:15 AM, Student of the Month Assembly (GRIT) 9:05 AM
  • Tuesday, November 28: REED Follow Up for MB (Ringler) 8:15 AM, Achievement Team meeting 2:35 PM
  • Wednesday, November 29: Battle of the Books Planning Meeting 8:20 AM in the LMC, Elementary Principals Meeting 1:00-4:30 PM
  • Thursday, November 30: Staff Meeting 8:05 AM
  • Friday, December 1: Records Day (Optional Report Day for Teachers)


  • Santa Shop the week of December 11
  • Thursday, December 14: 3rd & 4th Grade Music Concert 6:00-8:00 PM


The Real Enemy

This summer, I read the book, “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama. One of the big takeaways for me was his explanation of the real enemies of happiness. He tells the story of a man who is obsessed with his enemy. He thinks about what he will do and how he can defeat his enemy. The Dalai Lama then points out that unlike his adversary who eats, sleeps, and has other pursuits, the fear and anger that the man harbors toward his adversary never rests. It is constantly with him in times of rest and work and ruins his happiness far more completely than his adversary ever could. The real enemy is exposed as his own fear and anger. Once he realizes this and is able to defeat his true enemy, he then has power over all adversaries and more importantly, power over himself and his own happiness.

I began to apply this lesson to my own life and struggles. At the root of nearly all of them were fear and anger. As a father, I have many fears for my daughters and their future. Have I done the right things while trying to raise them? Will they find happiness as adults? Will they be successful in chasing their dreams? Oh, how those fears often rob me of the joy we could be sharing together! Anger can also creep up over failed relationships, the loss of loved ones, and dreams unrealized. Letting go of that anger is like lifting a weight or unshackling a chain. It’s liberating! What adversary or adversity can keep us down when we have defeated the real enemies of fear and anger?

As educators, we work in a profession that has so many variables that we have no control over. Budget cuts, federal and state mandates, societal perceptions are a few. Factors like family dynamics, past and current trauma, and socio-economic factors greatly impact the children we work with. Yet, with all of these variables, our task and our goal never changes. We have the same high expectations on us and for ourselves regardless of the external factors stacked against us. Some would say that’s brave, others would call it crazy. I would say that teachers have learned that those factors are just the adversaries and that the real enemies of fear and anger can be mastered by us. When we focus on things we can control, like our attitudes, our expertise, and our passion then we can help our students be the very best they can be. It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is!



“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – Dalai Lama

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” – Dalai Lama




  • Monday, November 13: Celebrate Monday Assembly 9:05 AM, Principal Collaboration Time at Riley 1:30 PM
  • Tuesday, November 14: Achievement Team for CR (Benson) 8:15 AM, Achievement Team for LJ (Trantham) 9:00 AM
  • Wednesday, November 15: Battle of the Books Planning Meeting (for anyone interested in helping) 8:20 AM in the LMC, “Fancy Day” Spirit Wear for Goodfellows
  • Thursday, November 16: Collaborative Learning Time 7:50-8:50 AM, Lock Down Drill 2:00 PM
  • Friday, November 17: “Pajama Day” Spirit Wear for Goodfellows


  • Monday, November 20: Celebrate Monday Assembly 9:05 AM
  • Tuesday, November 21: Parent Meeting (Pisko) 8:20 AM
  • Wednesday, November 22 – Friday, November 24: Thanksgiving Break! 


Recently, I watched an interview with the author, Walter Isaacson, about his new book “Leonardo da Vinci“. Isaacson has written several books on people who are often considered to be remarkable. His books feature the likes of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein. I wanted to know what helped these people stand out from others and what he found when he researched Leonardo da Vinci. Were they more intelligent? Did they have special upbringings as children? How did they achieve this special status of genius? All of these people had one trait in common and it was arguably the most evident in Leonardo…curiosity.

The author shared that throughout his long life, Leonardo never lost his childlike curiosity about the world around him. He was constantly asking questions and writing them in his journal. Just as Albert Einstein would write in his journal centuries later, Leonardo wrote down in his journal, “Why is the sky blue?“. He never took anything for granted, but questioned, researched, and explored every aspect of life from science and nature. He didn’t see fields like art and engineering as two separate disciplines, but interconnected with one another and his “genius” was in the ability to blend them together. He was patient with his work and was continually seeking to improve it. The enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa took him 14 years to complete. The other theme that came out from the author’s research on Leonardo da Vinci was that he had fun! He didn’t look at seeking out answers to his eternal questions as drudgery, but as an exciting adventure. He found joy in asking questions and even more so in his quest for knowledge.

As an educator, those are the two things that I want to inspire and encourage in students: Curiosity and a love of learning! Instead of focusing on intelligence or “talent”, we should be concerned about encouraging children to embrace their curiosity and find joy in asking questions and seeking answers. As they grow older, children often lose that spark of curiosity and the desire to know how and why. Unfortunately, we as adults often speed up that process by discouraging questions and by taking for granted the wonders of the world around us. So, what is genius? Maybe it’s simply remaining insatiably curious and never losing the desire to ask important questions like, “Why is the sky blue?



“Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” – Leonardo da Vinci



  • Monday, November 6: Celebrate Monday Assembly 9:05 AM
  • Tuesday, November 7: District PD Day 8:00-11:00 & 12:30-3:30 PM
  • Wednesday, November 8: Elementary Principals Meeting 12:00-4:30 PM, PTA Board Meeting in Conference Room 2:30 PM
  • Thursday, November 9: Staff Meeting 8:05 AM, Barnes & Noble Book Fair 5:30-7:30 PM
  • Friday, November 10: Principals Advisory Committee 9:30-11:30 AM


  • Monday, November 13: Celebrate Monday Assembly 9:05 AM, Principal Collaborative Time at Riley 1:30 PM
  • Tuesday, November 14: Achievement Team for C.R. (Benson) 8:15 AM, Achievement Team for L.J. (Trantham) 9:05 AM
  • Wednesday, November 15: Battle of the Books Planning Meeting (for anyone interested in helping) 8:20 AM
  • Thursday, November 16: Collaborative Learning Time 7:50-8:50 AM, Lock Down Drill 2:00 PM