5 Parenting Tips from a Principal and a Dad

A question I am asked regularly from parents is: “What can I do at home to support my child’s learning”? At that moment I may suggest child-specific tasks such as reviewing math facts or checking out a specific educational app for your tablet. But here are some better suggestions that might just make the very difficult job of parenting a bit more effective and peaceful for your family:

1. Engage your child
Yes, the amount of time you are able to spend with your clan is an important factor and “quality time” is crucial as well. But the key here is building activities where you are engaged together. Going to the movies or watching TV is fine, but following up with a discussion about what you just watched is much more effective and builds a strong relationship between you and your child. Even better, get outside and go hiking or skiing. Be active and not passive. Lean toward activities that allow you to talk and listen to your child.

2. Get away
Find at least a week a year to travel somewhere where your children can learn about new lands and ideas and encounter diverse people. When I was first married and a young teacher, my wife and I camped all over the country. There are ways of traveling that are not expensive. Research is clear that successful students are those that build a larger vocabulary over time. You have to have experiences to build vocabulary.

3. Utilize the dinner table
Speaking of vocabulary, Harvard Professor Catherine Snow states that rare or more sophisticated words provide the foundation of strong vocabulary development in children. Psychologist Anne Fishel says that this type of vocabulary shows up more at the dinner table than anywhere else. In fact, Fishel just published the book Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids.

4. Respect your child
As adults we have to manage our own stress. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I have for parents is: Don’t ever yell at your children. Sure, hold your kids accountable, don’t try to be their best friend, and set strict guidelines on their behavior, but don’t yell. It doesn’t work. It wears you and the family out, and it damages the trust you have with your child.

5. Read with your child and model literacy routinely
Model your own learning with your children by creating a literature rich home environment. You’ve heard this before. Read with your kids and talk about what you’re reading about. As the kids get older, have a family book club so you can share your experiences and challenge their thinking. If you’re a student yourself, share your own learning with them. Given the nature of our transforming economy, we should never cease learning in any career that we choose to pursue.

Parenting is really hard. When I first became Principal at HMS (and it feels like yesterday) I had three elementary aged children. Now my kids are all in their 20s. The journey is fast but it will go much smoother if you engage, respect, and listen.

Schools and the State of the Union 2016

The President spoke tonight of education in his State of the Union Address and highlighted the reform of No Child Left Behind:

We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job. The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, and boosted graduates in fields like engineering. In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all, offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one, and we should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.

This is clearly a small portion of a long speech, but the President is saying a fair amount in a few words:

  • He’s extolling the virtue of the new ESSA as a replacement to NCLB.
  • Obama is throwing out the gauntlet to ensure the funding of preschool for all American children.
  • Without stating details, the President is supporting STEM education.
  • And, he wants to improve our crop of teachers, both current and future.

Just as interesting was Obama’s comment in his seventh sentence of the Address:

But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code…

The President has made it a point to promote the wisdom of teaching coding to our students.

Which of these proposals/ideas will bear fruit in the President’s last year?

Take Some Time To Read About ESSA

Our school was honored last Monday to host Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH) as part of her Holiday Cards for Heroes program. Yearly, Annie asks for local elementary school children in her district to make holiday cards for Veterans and she then presents the cards to local Vets at the V.A. Hospital in Manchester, NH and the NH Veterans Home in Tilton, NH.

Before she spoke to the students, we chatted briefly about the new ESSA. Annie, who voted for the bill, was surprised how smoothly the legislation flew through the House and Senate. In fact, I think the speed by which ESSA passed surprised many of us in the education field.

As I take a few days off during the holidays, I am catching up on some reading, specifically around ESSA. As such, here a brief list of links on the subject to familiarize ourselves as leaders in the new legislation:

All of these links and more are at my Diigo page and will be updated over time.

Happy Holidays!

Goals Are Better Than Resolutions

Our cat Ollie’s life goal is to achieve comfort…daily, hourly. As members of the human race, however, we appreciate routine and turning the page to reach familiar stops along the road. That’s why most of us still like the change of seasons. For example, kids love the start of summer vacation, but they’re usually ready to head back to see their friends and teachers in the fall. Generally, we like to see some snow in the winter, but we’re ready to say goodbye to it by the spring. 

After the crazed holiday season quiets a bit, many of us start thinking about a typical routine, forming resolutions. A Nielsen survey from a year ago showed that these were 2015’s Top 10 Resolutions:

1.) Stay fit and healthy
2.) Lose weight
3.) Enjoy life to the fullest
4.) Spend less, save more
5.) Spend more time with family and friends
6.) Get organized
7.) Will not make any resolutions
8.) Learn something new
9.) Travel more
10.) Read more 

(Source: http://bit.ly/1YpLQn9)

While all of these resolutions are laudable, most of them will never come to pass due to a variety of factors. First, families with young children in schools are the busiest people on earth. Everyone is trying to earn a living, maintain solid adult relationships, and all the while raising the kids, which is the hardest job imaginable. It’s simply hard to focus on creating new habits when the mandatory plate is pretty full. 

But look at that Top 10 list again. What is common to all 10, except perhaps #7? The answer is that they are all vague generalities and hard to measure. So, instead of “stay fit and healthy”, we’re better off setting a goal that we’ll “join a fitness center and go three times a week.” Instead of “lose weight”, we need to set weight goals per month, or invest in a particular plan. It’s also important to measure your gains over time. Success is a great motivator and when we celebrate our triumphs we increase our odds of meeting our goals. 

Life is too short to not set measurable, realistic goals and commit to them.

The Two Percent Assessment Rule

Students not taking a formal assessment.


The Obama Administration swayed to the force of public opinion and has announced, according to the New York Times, a “cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests.” The immovable trek toward greater standardized testing began with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and has been growing steadily ever since.

NCLB had its strengths. It certainly focused our educators on academic growth, at least the type that can be measured by tests. And for the first time, the assessment data from NCLB aligned tests was disaggregated into categories of students such as ELL or special education kiddos and required schools to not just meet “adequate yearly progress” overall but also AYP by these subgroups.

But the majority of parents and educators as well as politicians on both sides of the political spectrum felt that the insistence on high stake tests and the instructional time lost as a result, had gone too far. I’m not sure why it took the President and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this many years to make a statement about over-testing.

How much is 2% of instructional time? In a typical elementary school’s day, we have a total of about 6 1/2 hours. Take an hour out of that day for lunch and recess and you’re left with 5 1/2 hours or about 330 minutes. Thus 2% of the day is about 7 minutes. Multiply that over a 180 day school year, and we have 21 hours of testing in a year.

Now the question is: what type of testing qualifies for the 2%? In a typical elementary setting, you might take three computer adaptive tests per year in literacy and numeracy (6 hours) plus the Smarter Balanced or PARCC State/Common Core assessment (7 hours). Add in curriculum based measures such as DIBELS or AIMSweb, One could also add in NEAP, the ACT, or the SAT, or even teacher designed tests and quizzes.

While it appears arbitrary to throw out “2%” as a guideline, the larger question is is the juice worth the squeeze? That is, given all of the assessment that takes time away from instruction…what’s left for instruction? Most formative assessment overlaps within instruction and often occurs without the student knowing he is being assessed.

I have no “a-ha’s” to share, only an essential question: what is the assessment sweet spot? Thoughts?

The Power of Collaboration

I was honored to speak this past Friday at a new conference at Keene State College designed to gather together New Hampshire educators in the Southwest portion of the state. The goal of the day was for educators to meet those with similar positions and form collaborative relationships that will last long after the day was done. Frankly it was a major accomplishment for the Superintendents and School Boards to actually agree to the same professional learning day.

My hour with the full group of 400 educators focused on the power of collaboration. We know from the work of Rick and Becky Dufour that the best way to increase student achievement is to open the walls of our classrooms and collaborate within our teams. But let’s take it a step farther and open up the walls to our school which we can do with great efficiency via technology tools.

Professional Learning has certainly changed:

1. Digital media allows us to connect, wherever, whenever.
Our connections from even 10 years ago were primarily just our own colleagues in our school. Now we have numerous options. Do you like blogging? Give Google’s Blogger a try. How about Twitter? Get started with Tweetdeck so that you can see many streams at the same time. Speaking of Twitter, do you like chats? Check out #satchat every Saturday morning.

2. The Smarter Person in the room is the room.
There is enormous power in the synergy that we create when we work together. There’s an exponential increase in creativity when we effectively collaborate.

3. The bar has been raised, the culture has changed, and our world expects us to meet the challenge.
Any doubt that the rise in technology has increased our educational urgency? Check out these innovations that did not exist in the summer of 2001:

  • The iPod came out in October 2001.
  • iTunes did not exist until 2003.
  • Facebook and Gmail were not introduced  until 2004.
  • Twitter debuted in 2006.
  • The iPhone was first released in 2007.
  • The iPad was first sold in 2010.

I propose the theory of User Generated Learning (UGL) as a way to begin the journey toward digital learning and collaboration. Simply put, there are three major components, thanks to the work of Kristen Swanson.

CURATION: Collection of relevant content.
REFLECTION: Assimilation of new content, challenging current beliefs, and solving problems.
CONTRUBUTION: Sharing your knowledge with local and world wide colleagues.

Here’s a summary mind map…click on the link for a larger picture:

Click here for a copy of my slides and links to Friday’s keynote.

Has digital learning made a difference in how you grow professionally?

Rick Dufour’s Brave Fight


It brings everything into clearer focus and allows us to see the what’s really important through the noise. When someone is fighting for their life, someone you know and respect, the way they conduct themselves has a powerful effect on your own approach to life.

I am speaking of Rick Dufour, former Principal, Superintendent, and with his wife Becky, easily the foremost proponents of Professional Learning Communities and much of what makes up good practice in today’s educational research and practice. Like many of you, I’ve had the chance to spend time with the Dufours and I know not only their professionalism but the kindness they show toward all.

About a year ago in October 2014, Rick was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, though he had never smoked a cigarette in his life. In fact, Rick is generally a very healthy man; I remember seeing him early on the mornings of his conferences at the Grappone Center in Concord, New Hampshire in his workout clothes having just had a early morning run. But now, Rick is clearly running a race for his life. He is aggressively fighting to at least extend his life, even as he is praying for a cure.

I write about Rick because he has been documenting his travails on the well known blog Caring Bridge, a non-profit site that allows those with life threatening illnesses to articulate their thoughts. What he has to say about his wife, his illness, and the blessings he has received in his life, has to be read.

I first found out about his illness from his wife Becky after our NHASCD Executive Director Susan Copely wrote to her. This is from November 16, 2014:

Hi Susan,
Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, we are facing some big challenges. Rick was recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer…for a person who’s never smoked a day in his life, the diagnosis came as a complete shock to us and his doctors. We went to Sloan Kettering for surgery in early October, but they were unable to complete the surgery – the cancer had spread too far, but the spread had not been detected on previous CT & PET scans. Bottom line, Rick is still healing from the surgery and he started chemo on Friday. If you’d like to know more, you can register to receive email updates from Rick and me on the following site: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/rickdufour/journal

Please give our best to the rest of the great folks at NHASCD,

Rick is actually doing quite well at the moment. He speaks and travels regularly, he still plays plenty of tennis, one of his favorite pastimes, and most of all, he is enjoying life with his “chemosabe” Becky.

Instead of quoting Rick’s words from the blog, I encourage you to register at Rick’s site and you’ll have a chance to read some of the most poignant words you’ve read in a long time.

Is the Principal Your “Pal”?

It was painfully obvious as I talked with Kindergarten students that they already had an impression of the Principal on the second day of school. I did not even know their names yet. I’ve had no chance to interact with them. Yet, they saw me as the man they don’t want to see. The old stereotypes remained. As long as they were good boys and girls, they wouldn’t be seeing the Principal in his nefarious office.

I should be used to this by now, but it occurred to me that they were taught this ahead of time perhaps by parents, the media, legend, or older siblings. How do I want to be seen by the students?

  • As an adult who is always there to help and cares. I may not be able to solve every problem but I know where the resources are. I’m a good listener and while far from perfect, I know school is not easy for many students. I hope a smile and friendly face can help change a day for a student in a bad place. I also show that I care about students by challenging them to think deeply and persevere in their quest for learning and growing skills.
  • As a teacher. When a student does make a poor behavioral choice, it gives me the opportunity to teach them a better route to travel. I can also teach students that controlling the center of the chess board from the beginning of the game often leads to victory.
  • As a person who loves to learn. In my words and actions, I need to display that I love to read, play with math, research, and use technology to solve problems. I’m not an ogre on the one hand or a playful clown on the other. Our primary pursuit in schools is academic and I need to model how enjoyable learning really is. 

I am heartened by the knowledge that most students will have a different impression of me and their future school administrators after a year or two of knowing me.

I have just three bullets up top…can you add to the list?

The Couch Effect of Handheld Media

I have been blessed to have many opportunities to learn from colleagues throughout the country. Last week I concluded the latest meeting of the standing committee of Principals for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In the midst of numerous assessments impacting our schools, NAEP is one of the oldest and most respected, having begun in 1969. It is the only nationwide assessment sponsored by our government and funded by our tax dollars. I wrote more about NAEP after my first committee meeting in April 2014.

NAEP is working hard to stay relevant especially in the midst of an information world that is rapidly changing. While educators have been able to access national educational statistics from NCES for many years, our current thinking is that developing mobile apps might be useful.

Consider these numbers on the growth of mobile use.

  • In 2007, there were 400 million global mobile users compared to 1.1 billion desktop users. 
  • In 2013, the lines intersected.
  • In 2015, mobile users far outpaced desktop users.

Our Internet habits have been reshaped to reflect what I call the couch effect. Scores of us utilize relaxation time to browse on our smartphones or tablets, often in conjunction with other media and sometimes in the presence of family and friends. For example, sports fans often use their devices in conjunction with game watching to enhance the experience with sports data and gain commentary from fans and experts on social media. This year I grabbed my iPhone a number of times to call up my Twitter feed and gain the latest information on a Red Sox injury I just witnessed on the tube.

Granted, anyone interested in how New Hampshire Asian boys scored on NAEP compared with African-American girls in New York would certainly qualify as a full fledged educational geek. But if the app could highlight facts that really could change practice, much like NEAP’s Twitter feed, perhaps these national education statistics might prove useful.

If a NAEP app was developed for educators, what would you like to see as major features?

The Knoster Model and Change in Schools

Enjoying Lake Champlain in Vermont

While on a much needed vacation yesterday in Vermont, the discussion at lunch with one of my nephews centered on the dual role any leader has in keeping the “trains running on time” and finding the time and energy to move the vision forward simultaneously.

Excellent leaders can do both but too many of us lean heavily on the managerial side of our jobs. Why is that? The train schedule is relatively fixed and solutions to trains being late are not usually complex. We can check off many managerial tasks quickly and we know the satisfying feeling one has by checking off to-dos.

On the other hand, non-managerial tasks are usually significantly more elaborate in scope and more indeterminent to complete. Often a leader has to rally colleagues while dipping into vision related undertakings and as such, there is greater risk.

Early on in my administrative career I was introduced to the Knoster Change Model which was first introduced at a TASH conference in 1991. It’s been resurrected as an important leadership document in our district recently:

Knoster’s premise is that the six categories of Vision, Consensus, Skills, Incentives, Resources, and Action Plan all need to be present in order for complex change to occur successfully. Perhaps most interesting is his speculation (column far right) of the change result if one of the categories is not present during the process.


This is so typical in schools. Hard working leaders want to implement programs and change the world. But the staff does not understand why they are pushing forward without vision.


A leader cannot assume they have the power to push through change without gaining a consensus of their faculty. This does not mean 100% approval of course…it does mean setting the vision strongly enough and having enough hallway and informal conversations to win hearts and change minds.


Imagine being thrown into an athletic competition without having the skills to compete. You may have a vision for what brought you to the game and the resources to place you squarely in the contest. But without having developed the necessary skills you will be wrapped in anxiety and your performance will suffer. An abundance of anxiety is a certain method of crashing an initiative.


A lack of incentive is a tricky concept. Surely the groundbreaking work of Daniel Pink and his book Drive highlights the inadequacy of monetary incentives. While we can’t be sure exactly what Knoster was thinking, I would surmise that without the promise of a healthy level of self-determination as an incentive for change, teachers will resist.


A lack of resources is not just change on a shoe-string budget. Not creating time to work on complex change can be equally challenging.


Great leadership energy, gobs of money, and a supurb vision is not enough without a cogent action plan that is shared with all and easily understood.

Have any of you implemented the Knoster model to any degree of fidelity? Love to hear your comments.