Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Hungry Leader

It is hard to believe we have two days left in July. The quietness of summer will soon be replaced by the frantic prep of getting ready for another school year...with the sounds of the band beginning to play and fall sports teams ready to take the field. 

One thing I have always challenged myself with- and encourage others to do so as well is to take the summer to take a deep dive introspectively into your own leadership journey. Summer is a great time to be quiet, and to reflect on where you were, where you are, and where you are going for this upcoming school year. 

As I have shared on this blog before, I spend some time every morning reading the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Interestingly enough, I am always able to glean some sort of wisdom on just about a daily basis. The below quote has really resonated with me...and its impact on how hungry we are as leaders to get better. (Villanueva plays offensive line for the Steelers; not knowing his future with professional football, he began working on his Masters Degree at Carnegie Mellon while still playing for the Steelers). 

“I liked being around people who are very hungry in life,” Villanueva said. “Sometimes when you are hanging around millionaires all the time, they don’t have the ambitions and the drive. When you are talking about (someone with an) H-1B visa coming from India and wanting to stay in the United States and wanting the best grades possible because he wants to stay in Silicon Valley and work for a tech company, that mindset was very contagious.”

While I love this statement in its entirety, here is what has resonated with me: I like being around people who are very hungry in life.

Are you hungry? What are you doing to feed your hunger? Would Villanueva want to spend time with you, as a 'hungry' person? And, equally important, are you surrounding yourself with 'hungry' people? If you are a leader of leaders, would your team describe you as 'hungry'?

In my humble opinion, true growth only comes when we can be brutally honest with ourselves. I encourage you to take some time over the next few weeks before the madness begins. Challenge yourself with the above quote. Are you hungry? Or, has your appetite been satiated. If so, how do you get back 'the eye of the tiger'...and get hungry all over again?

Be mindful of your hunger pangs. Never stop learning. Never stop growing. Never stop leading.
Better everyday. Growth comes from being hungry.

Godspeed on your journey. pja

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Radical Self-Inquiry

The end of the school year brings many year end events. Perhaps one of the most critical things that will occur over the next couple of weeks is the critical year end evaluation.

Perhaps you are a bit jaded when it comes to the year end evaluation. Up until last year, I had become cynical with the process and the feedback received. It wasn't until I humbled myself and took on a different mindset that I was able to truly glean any meaningful insight or feedback from the final evaluation.

When I was a teacher in Western Pennsylvania, I vividly remember waiting in line to sign my year end evaluation. There was one teacher in particular who refused to sign his evaluation, stating the Principal had not been in his classroom all year, how could she possibly rate him 'satisfactory'?

For me, I was more than happy to sign the 'satisfactory' evaluation, check the box, and shove off for the summer. Embarrassingly enough, I readily admit a gross amount of immaturity on my part.

As I have reflected on this, and year end evaluations as a whole, I have come to this conclusion: in order to grow both personally and professionally, humility MUST play a critical role in accepting and driving on with your year end evaluation.

You may disagree with comments made- in fact, some, most, or all comments might be unfair. Let me encourage you with this: like it or loath it, perception is reality. Take the comments, the feedback, the 'dings', sort out fact from fiction, and grow from it.

While sorting out the fact from fiction, do this internally. In my leadership experience, there is nothing worse than a defensive person. And, this is coming from a person who has been annoyingly defensive most of his professional life. I hate it. But I am resolving to grow from it.

Last night, I heard a brief presentation from Jordan Steffy, President of Attollo Prep. He made this comment that has resonated with me...and one I feel is timely for this post:

As he talked about the program he runs, he said one of the core tenets they live by at Attollo is to have the students they work with practice 'radical self-inquiry.'

As leaders, this should be a tenet we all live by: radical self-inquiry. And, as you approach the year-end evaluation season, take a deep, radical dive into self-inquiry. This is where true growth occurs.

Be a leader who embraces growth. Be a leader who embraces constructive comments. Be a leader who resolves to get better. Regardless of the life or death spoken over you.

Get after it today. Beat Yesterday. pja

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Begin Again.

It is hard to believe we are a quarter of the way through the year. Think back to January 1. How are you doing with your New Year's Resolution? It is ok to start again...I know I need to. 

Today marks the last day of March. I had set a goal to update my blog post on a monthly basis. If I can accomplish my task today...I can check that box. I don't want to live my life checking boxes...but sometimes, checking boxes creates the discipline we so desperately need. As you look at your resolutions for the year, what boxes need to be checked? Where do you need to start again? Most importantly, how are you doing? In life? In leadership? 

I have a mentor who continually encourages me to take a day at the end of the month to assess how you are doing from a leadership standpoint. After receiving this encouragement for close to three years, I am yet to take him up on this advice. Until now. 

This past Friday was a great day to do it; no teachers, no students, and very few administrators in the District. It was eerily quiet. It was a great day to be alone with my thoughts. So, I began the arduous task of reflecting on my own leadership. Where was I winning? Losing? Where do I need to grow? Where do I need to spend more time? How can I be more intentional with my leadership? My own growth? My relationship building? These were all thoughts that swirled through my mind as I sat to unravel many of them. 

The lead up to me being alone with my thoughts might be the most important aspect of this blog post. I felt like I was suffocating. Life seemed overwhelming. I did not feel like I was being nearly as intentional with my leadership as I know I should be. Worse yet, I felt like I was seeping into a world of gray. I knew I needed to take some time with my thoughts- with my plan- and to develop a plan moving forward. It felt good, and reassuring to begin to formulate thoughts, ideas, and action plans on how to get back on track. 

So, I ask you- where are you with your yearly plan? With your yearly goals? How are you doing as a leader? Both at home and in your professional life? Where is your pause button to slow things down so you can truly ascertain where you are - both winning and losing. 

I recently finished reading Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds. Perhaps my greatest take away from this book is all of life is one big mind game. The more I reflected on it...the more it rang true. Master your mind. Spend time mastering it. And you too will defy the odds set before you. Yet, it starts with you being quiet. And most importantly, being honest with yourself. 

Never forget perhaps the greatest Shakespeare line of all time: To Thine Own Self Be True. 
Until next time, Godspeed. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Sting of Feedback~The Pathway to Growth

Every year, I choose a word for the year I want to focus on. For the year 2019, I chose 'growth'. Simply put, when I reach the end of 2019, I want to be better than I was when I ended 2018.

So, I was reading an article the other day on growth. This line caught my attention:

"When ski instructors are teaching new skiers, they will tell them if they are not falling down, they are not trying hard enough." 

When is the last time you fell down while trying to grow or stretch yourself?

My word this year is growth. I am finding it is painful.

I presented earlier this month at the New Superintendent Academy in Harrisburg, PA. While I concede there were things I could improve upon, in all, I thought it went well.

I received the evaluation back the other day. Again, for the most part, the results were positive. Until I read the open ended comments.

One person wrote that I came across as ill prepared...it was a waste of time, and in all six of the sessions this individual sat through, I was the only one who did not respect their time.


As I was reading it, I saw red. A swirl of emotions washed over me. Mostly, after the dust settled, I realized I only like when I get positive feedback. I like when people tell me how great I am. If you are not going to do that, I don't want to hear anything. I know, it's a real mature way of looking at things.

Once I allowed myself to be angry, to wallow in self-pity, I took some time to reflect on where I truly could grow.

I could have done better. I could have been more prepared. True growth comes from the next time I enter the arena...to take the lessons learned from this presentation- and get better.

2019. A year of growth. Painstaking...but I am determined to grow.

How about you? When is the last time you entered the arena? When is the last time you 'fell down'? What are you doing to get back up and get better?  Every one wins when the leader gets better.
Grow. Fall down. Learn from it. Get up. Get back after it.


It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Move the Needle

I know...it's been months since my last post. I swear I will get better. My New Year's Resolution was to write at least once a month. I am committing to it. Hold me to it.

Over Christmas break, I read an article on the top leadership books to be released in 2019. I was drawn to one in particular. It is Simon Sinek's new book. The premise of the book is those companies who do well over time figure out a way to stay relevant. Business is/ or should be an infinite endeavor. As I have shared this concept and book idea with my peers, we are never hard pressed to find examples of companies who had a good product at one time...only to not stay relevant. (Think PalmPilot.)

So, I began to think of this in light of education. It has survived since 1893 without considerably changing its practice. Again, in discussions around this very same topic, it has generated quite a bit of interesting discussion. One notion presented on this topic is that educators by and large know they have a collective rapt audience every year. Compulsory attendance laws hold tremendous sway.

So, as leaders, what is our role in changing the game? How do we Move the Needle? I long to have our profession respected...and, my fear is that as long as we do things the way we have always done them, we lose credibility. Worse yet, we perform, accept, and even promote a gross injustice for our next generation of leaders and learners if we stand idly by and do nothing.

Do something. Anything. Move the Needle. Raise the bar. Move the Needle.

We met last week as a Leadership Team to brainstorm ways in which to Move the Needle. While it appears simple on the surface, if we increase the visibility of our leaders- and amp up the accountability, the needle will be moved. It is not enough to cause a revolution. But, if we get enough needle movers, I inherently believe the revolution will come.

We need enough needle movers to reject the status quo. Collectively, our profession has to put down our proverbially foot and demand more- more from ourselves. More from each other. We owe it to our learners - we owe it our community. We owe it to our country. Move the Needle. One day at a time. Every day. Move the Needle.

Here are our five 'Look-Fors" we are going after for the second semester of the 18-19 school year. It should be noted we are focused on learner behaviors. For too long, the emphasis has been placed on the teacher. No longer. it's about Student Engagement. It does not matter one iota if the teacher is bellowing from the rooftops if you have a classroom full of disengaged, bored, uninterested students.

In no particular order of emphasis, here they are:
1. Has differentiated learning opportunities and activities that meet his/her needs
2. Is asked and responds to questions that require higher order thinking
3. Takes risks in learning (without fear of negative feedback)
4. Has several opportunities to engage in discussions with teacher and other learners
5. Uses digital tools / technology to conduct research, solve problems, and/or create original works for learning

I would be curious to hear how you and your District are Moving the Needle. Give me a shout and let me know. We are in desperate need of needle movers.

Get after it. Lead. And Win. pja


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Leadership Lessons Learned from John McCain

John McCain, a true American Hero, has passed. While the nation prepares for his funeral services, I wanted to take a moment and highlight leadership lessons learned from one of the nation's all-time great leaders. He left his mark in the world...and, as leaders, it is up to us to carry the mantle he has established. While we are not in the business of politics, he lived a life that allows us as school leaders to learn from- grow from, and apply to our running of schools.

Perhaps the thing I appreciated most about John McCain was his ability to work with and relate to all  people regardless of political affiliation. Although his party was Republican, he was first and foremost a man of character and conviction. He did not simply vote the party line because that was the expectation. Rather, McCain sought to do what was right for the good of the nation, regardless of party affiliation. He was a patriot. Above all else, he was an American.

My wife and I were lamenting the other night as the news reported on his death. We both commented that probably the thing to us, having never met Mr. McCain, the facet of his life and death that would have the greatest impact on our lives is he was a connector- and he was willing to cross party lines to connect. He was not divisive. He was not bombastic. Rather, he cared about this nation and his fellow Americans. He did all this in spite of party affiliation. Sadly, politics in America has taken on a new face. It is polarizing. It is divisive. And, without his leadership and mentoring, our concern is this type of civility is gone.

So, as leaders in our schools, what lessons can we take away from his life? How can we take the leadership he exhibited for years and make our schools better? First and foremost, we can do this by connecting with our staff. And by connecting, I do not mean with just those who share your philosophy or passions. Naturally, it is easy to gravitate towards those who agree with us or are in our corner. But, as leaders, we are called to connect with all. After all, leadership is about connecting. Effective leadership is about being a leader to all your people, not just some.

As Senator McCain showcased, he was a man of integrity, ideals, and values. As a leader, it is imperative you determine what your core values are- and never deviate from those. Stay true to yourself- stay true to your passions and convictions- and, most importantly, never stop fighting for what is right for our kids. Senator McCain laid a path for us; let us take his leadership lessons and carry on his legacy. Our next generation depends on it.

Rest in Peace Mr. McCain. You have left a legacy. You fought for our nation...and your fight will continue. We are forever grateful for you and the sacrifices you have made over the course of your life.

"Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone."- John McCain

Monday, July 23, 2018

What is Your System To Deliver?

Let me first begin by profusely apologizing for being so errant in my writing. . Inexcusable. I enjoy it . I feel called to sharpen our next generation of school leaders. Yet, I do not find the time to write like I know I should. I am committing to writing more. I want to be a beacon of light to those who are in the trenches fighting for the next generation of students in America. We need each other. And, we need to strengthen each other.

So...where did this gap in my writing come from? What is the more systemic issue with actually failing to pay attention to my blog? I believe it boils down to the systems we have put in place and follow. I had a conversation with a friend of mine after church yesterday. You could see the energy ignite in him when he began to discuss how critical it is to put systems in place to succeed; he spoke of how much he loves to come alongside younger employees in his workplace to help them develop a system to deliver. Because if you do not have a system to deliver, you will not meet your goals, you will not maximize your potential, and most imporantly, you will not deliver.

I have had the privilage to be mentored by Dr. Michael Snell. Dr. Snell is the Superintendent at Central York School District. He is also a time management guru and author of the book Clockwork. In the book. Dr. Snell systematically walks through how to manage your day, your week, month, and your year. Moreover, he offers a systematic way to organize and manage your email- and, even more critical, your goals.

Dr. Snell's method to organization and delivering is simply one approach. There is a plethora of material out there to help you. I encourage you to check out some of the more popular options. I have listed these below.

You have about one month until the start of the 18-19 school year. I challenge you to take some time and reflect on how well you deliver. Are you managing your day to day so you can lead? Do your people have the faith and confidence in you that when you say you are going to do something, you have checks and balances in place to follow through? Simply put, are you organized in such a manner where you are maximizing your potential? This is critical work we are doing. Work to organize. Organize to lead. Get after it today. Lead. And win.

Organization Print Resources:
Getting Things Done; The Art of Stress Free Productivity
18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
First Things First

Web Resources:
Time Management Ninja
Pick The Brain
Get Everything Done