The Only Thing A Principal Needs To Know


I taught in the classroom for twelve years before I became a principal, which I have been doing for eight years. If you do the math (which isn’t that difficult) I have been involved in education as a career for 20 years. I have learned a lot in those years, and I still have plenty left to learn. But there is one thing I know as a principal that has helped me exponentially. It is the only thing I need to know. It is the one thing that has helped me the most as a leader. But I’ll get to that in just a bit.

While I was a teacher I had the time of my life. I felt like I was doing exactly what I had been called to do. Everyday I walked into the school and entered my classroom it felt like I was going to my second home. I was so comfortable being around students everyday, and they were comfortable being around me. Many days they didn’t even want to go out to recess. They would rather stay inside and help me or just talk. Those of course were the days when I didn’t go out to recess myself and play football or four-square or jump rope with them. I enjoyed every day. Even the challenging ones. I couldn’t wait to get to school, and I was sad when the day ended.

Now that I’m a principal I find that I enjoy each day just as much as I did as a teacher. However, my job description has changed considerably.  I am now in charge of not only my schedule, but the schedule of each teacher in the building.  I have to make budget decisions, implement school-wide discipline, lead meetings, attend meetings, track data, analyze data, conduct walk-throughs, evaluate teachers, and basically know what is happening in and around the building every second of every day.  All that being said, I absolutely love what I do.

If you are considering the principalship one day, let me encourage you to jump in and take the plunge.  It will be an incredibly rewarding experience.  But before you do, let me give you some advice. You will read tons of articles and books and blogs and “The Top 10 Things You Need To Know” about the principalship and being a leader.  Most of the things you read will be extremely helpful.  But let me tell you right now the only thing a principal needs to know: NEVER, EVER FORGET WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE A TEACHER.

That’s it.  That’s all you need to know. Paste it above your door. Write it down on a piece of paper and carry it around. Tattoo it on your arm.  Always keep a teacher’s perspective, because if you can remember that one simple thing when you need to make decisions that affect teachers and students in your building, you will be successful. Trust me.

This blog is by Mark Anthony Johnson. You can also find him on Twitter @mc_bossy

Photo Credit on Flickr: Silke Seybold

“I Want You To Save A Date”


At kindergarten graduation, the last chance I had to formally address the parents at the school where I served as principal, this is what I said:

“I want you to save a date. It is 12 years from now. I don’t know the exact date. But it will be 12 years from now. It’s important. Make a note of it. Don’t lose sight of it. Keep talking with your children about it.  It’s important because we are going to do this again. It will be in a different school. Your kids won’t be quite as cute as they are today. They will be much taller. And you will be so proud. 12 years from now let’s make sure they have a diploma in their hands.”

I didn’t have a kindergarten graduation. I met the requirements to be promoted to First Grade but kindergarten graduation was not something we did at Broadview Elementary. It would have been an interesting ceremony to see. If my memory serves me correctly I was in a class of one. I might have had more classmates but its hard to remember. Broadview was a two room school house. Students in kindergarten through second grade were housed in one of the rooms so my kindergarten memory can’t always sort out who exactly was in kindergarten with me. In addition to the K-2 variables I also had classmates that moved in and out on occasion. I believe that the most peers I ever had in my grade with me during my elementary years was 3 or maybe 4.  But I have a pretty distinct memory of showing up the first day of school for kindergarten and being quite the novelty as the entire kindergarten class. Given what would be charitably described as my precocious nature as a child I ate that attention up. Kindergarten was my jam. And if Broadview Elementary would have seen fit to hold commencement ceremonies for the Kindergarten class of 1979 on the stage in the basement I would have been beaming with delight as the sole honoree.  But we didn’t.  As it turns out I was none the worse for wear.

Both of my parents, Joe and Sally, were high school and college graduates. Both are exceptionally intelligent, hard working, and a bit unconventional. Upon completion of their postsecondary education neither entered the workforce in occupations that were even close to the degrees they had earned. They started family. They worked the farm where my dad grew up. They worked second and third jobs in kitchens and meat packing plants. My mom eventually worked her way from the kitchen to an administrative position in a nursing home.  Under her leadership they set some kind of state record for consecutive perfect scores on state inspections.  She also provided a loving environment for a whole lot of people when they needed it most. She also fought through two separate cancer diagnoses successfully.  My dad became a lawyer. For 3 years he ran the family farm while community 2 hours a day to attend law school.  Eventually served as the U.S. Attorney for Nebraska. I had some good models to follow for success. From Joe and Sally I learned that a job that pays the bills is never beneath you. I learned that getting up early, working hard. and doing more than is expected of you is a pretty powerful combination. I also learned that if you have respectable brain power you owe it to yourself to set goals and put yourself in a position to make use of that gift. Was I set up to graduate high school? You bet. College? No doubt. Was I equipped to handle challenges and failures along the way? They didn’t slow Joe and Sally down. They were not going to stop me, either. The absence of a kindergarten graduation ceremony certainly didn’t derail me, either.

My experience is not representative of that of the kindergarten students I have served. About all I can count on being the same is that we all started around age 5 or 6. Some have a Joe and Sally. Some have a decidedly different dynamic at home. The obstacles they face and the assets they possess are varied beyond any measure I can perceive or even hope to control. I cannot give each student a Joe and Sally. What I can do is foster a team of teachers that knows every day from kindergarten on is building towards graduation. Every child we serve is a graduate waiting to happen.  Every day is progress towards a diploma. Every interaction with a child and with a child’s family is a step towards those last few steps across the stage to shake a hand and accept a diploma. We can model and foster the importance, the investment, the work ethic, the value, the grit, and countless other qualities that our student need in our interactions every day.

My Kindergarten teachers put up a sign in our gym for the ceremony that read “Graduation Starts With Kindergarten.” It surely does.


Image Credit: dafnecholet on Flickr

Competition vs. Cooperation: What Is Better For Our Schools?


Over Easter vacation a few weeks ago, something happened that I can’t get out of my mind.  My wife’s family conducted the annual egg hunt for all of the children, ranging in ages from seven to seventeen. The plastic eggs were hidden all over the yard, some filled with candy and others filled with various amounts of money. The kids scrambled all over the yard, screaming with delight as their baskets were filling to the brim. When the hunt was over, they all came inside and emptied their eggs onto the floor, looking over the newly found loot.

Grandma had an idea in her head about how this was going to go down.  She had a vision of all of the kids emptying their money into one big pile, and in the end, dividing it out equally among all of the children.  It was a good thought, and one that expressed the idea of cooperation. I have to give her credit, because she believes in a world where everyone gets along and we all help each other.  Boy, was she ever wrong.

When she announced her idea, the looks on the children’s faces turned from elation at finding their new treasures, to fear at having to give up what was clearly theirs and theirs alone. In fact, I witnessed one of the younger children pocket some of the money he found, not willing to give up all of his stash. He figured there was no way the pool of money would surpass what he was already in possession of, and therefore sharing was not going to be an option. Grandma’s vision of cooperation quickly turned to one of competition. They had an inner desire to have more and be better than everyone else around them, so no one agreed to the combining of the money. What most of them didn’t realize, especially the young boy who hid his money, was that if he would have put his money in the pile with everyone else’s, he would have actually ended up with more.

This got me thinking about how things run in our education system. It’s a system based on competition.  We like our schools to be the very best, and with that mindset, unfortunately, comes the need for a rank/order system so we can prove that indeed, some schools are the best.  And what about those schools that rank lower on the list?  Clearly they aren’t doing their jobs. Something must be done about it, and many times what we feel are desperate times should result in desperate measures.  There are stories and rumors of school principals being fired, teachers being let go, parents pulling their kids out of one school and placing them in another.  But is this really the best way to go?

The idea of competition implies there is a winner and a loser.  If a “winning” school wants to keep that distinction, they will need to keep their innovative ideas and teaching strategies to themselves, like the young boy hoarding his money. That’s the only way to stay on top.  If those schools, or any schools for that matter, share their ideas with others, then what’s to become of that?  In a nutshell, we would all learn more, have more, become greater. And what of the ranking systems? I believe they would become null and void.

Is that what we really want? To ALL be great together? To have a nation filled with schools that are all working together for the greater good of students everywhere? I think the way you answer that question defines who we are as a nation, as an educator, and at it’s very core, as a person.

Image Credit: Philip on Flickr

4 Habits Of Teachers That Just Have “It” – Part 2

Isaiah Early

Last week’s article focused on how using eye contact can help significantly when building relationships with your students. How just a few seconds of looking into someone’s eyes can give them the feeling of comfort and care, and let’s them know you are thinking about them and focusing on them. Nothing else matters for that brief moment except them. Teachers who have “it” make this a priority in their lives, because they know that attention is important for their students.

The next “it” factor for this week’s blog can be paired along very nicely with eye contact.  It is something that when you give it away, you usually get it in return, almost immediately.  It is something that can brighten someone’s day and give them a shot of energy, especially when they are feeling down or tired or alone.  It is something that is free and is scientifically proven to give you health benefits and can possibly extend your life. Turn up the corners of your mouth, show your teeth, and you’ll see what I mean.  Feels good, doesn’t it?

I remember when I first got hired as a teacher.  I was scared to death.  My biggest concern was behavior management. So I did some research and read some articles about the best strategies out there that could help me right off the bat.  The one thing I latched on to was this philosophy/manta: “Don’t Smile Until Christmas.” For some reason, that made sense to me.  If I’m going to set up the rules in the classroom, I’m going to do it right. I’m going to be strict, I’m going to be all business, and the kids are going to know my classroom is a place for work – not fun.  What I knew before I read the behavior management materials was that I’m a pretty happy guy. Smiling comes fairly easily for me.  To try and fight against my very nature was harder than I thought it would be, and felt very uncomfortable.  But the person who wrote the article was a Doctor of Education, so I figured he knew a lot more than me.

It only lasted two weeks. While writing on the board with my back turned, one of my students responded to a question using a weird voice.  While I don’t remember what he said,  I do remember that I thought it was hilarious, so I started laughing.  Instantly I started to panic because I knew this was well before Christmas.  I had a long way to go if I was going to make this work.  But when I started laughing, the class started laughing, too.  I turned around and laughed some more.  I saw a classroom full of smiles and laughter. So I gave in to my natural tendencies, and my panic turned to full on laughter, and ended in liberation. The best part is, do you know what I discovered? Mass chaos did not ensue. The students did not revolt. Rules were still followed.  Life went on as usual. And everyone was much much happier.

But we’re not just talking about smiling when you are happy or in a good mood, because let’s be honest – there are things that happen in your day that really make it difficult. And it is okay to be transparent and honest around your students. There are times you will cry with them, or be upset with them, or feel completely exhausted with their behavior.  However, as Sam mentioned in a previous blog, for many of our students, school is their “one best place.” So while there are times that you may not feel like smiling, remember that some students don’t experience much joy when they leave your classroom. For eight hours of their day, we have the power to make it as happy of a place as we possibly can. Even when disciplining a student, we can smile and show them we love them, and will help them learn through the mistake they may have made.

I mean, think about it?  What place do you want to work where there are no smiles? No laughter? I can’t think of one.  Especially not a school! And this has nothing to do with charisma.  You don’t have to be particularly charismatic to smile at someone.  But a teacher who smiles is a teacher who shows she cares without saying a thing. It is a powerful tool a teacher can use that speaks volumes to a student in a matter of seconds.  And those seconds matter more than you know.

Photo Credit: KZAflicks on Flickr

Heads Up Lone Nut

IMG_0254Life changing events don’t occur that often, but when they do, well…they’re life changing.

I had the privilege to once again attend the life changing Apple Distinguished Educator Institute (ADE) this past summer. The institute was a week full of networking, professional development, exhilarating opportunities, and memories that will last a lifetime. Over 400 educators from North America came together to share stories and lessons describing how technology and Apple products have revolutionized the learning environments for their students.

While the reflections and events of the week have now been well documented, I thought I would share with you a slightly different perspective.

Have you seen this video “First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy” a.k.a. the “Lone Nut?” The video basically tells the story of how one man decided to do what he wanted by dancing wildly at a music concert. Not long after, when another man saw how much fun this “lone nut” was having, he too decided to join in. Not long after that, an entire hillside of initially apprehensive people decided it was okay to let their hair down and accompany him in this dance hysteria.

The story is a great example of leadership. One person can truly create change and blaze a trail for others to follow, simply by having fun at what they do.

My week at the ADE institute seemed to illustrate this premise. Each of the amazing educators that were in attendance is the “lone nut” in their school or district. These lone nuts believe leveraging Apple technology transforms education, and our hope is that our peers on the classroom hillsides will eventually follow our quest.

Let me make this a bit more personal though.

One night after the daily activities had ceased, a small group of four of us decided to have some fun with an incredibly silly app called Heads Up. Our game of Heads Up was classic. We laughed, yelled, and bonded to this game. As other ADE’s walked through the courtyard where we were sitting, they stopped, looked at us like, “what is going on over there?!” and started to venture over to learn more. Soon chairs were being added to our tables and they joined our game. After about an hour, the courtyard was filled with educators sharing in laughter and community.

However, the group did become quite large and loud. And well, you might guess that there were a few complaints about the noise level. Hotel security came over to us to relay the complaints, and the game abruptly ended. That’s okay. It was late. People needed sleep.

But the more I thought about this Heads Up experience, the more I can relate it back to our schools.

The ADE experience for me was ultimately the perfect example of Heads Up, a group of teachers making a lot of noise about changing and transforming education through Apple technologies. And yet, it dawned on me to think, how often do we hear that voice from above in our own schools to quiet down. The voice filters into our classrooms or faculty meetings, and says, “You’re doing too much. That’s simply just too much technology. We don’t need that much ‘noise.’ Let’s get out the textbook and move on with the lecture.”

I prefer being the lone nut. How about you? Let’s keep making noise.

aRTs Roundtable 33: What Are Your Non-negotiables in the Classroom

This week on the aRTs Roundtable is about our non-negotiables in the classroom. If you could only pick TWO rules or core beliefs what would they be? Do you keep these silent or do you let your philosophy shine through on a daily basis. A fascinating discussion that will surprise you.


Show Host: Carol Broos

Show Contributors: Brenda Muench 

Leave us some feedback!

Contact us with any questions or comments-

So what does “leadership” mean . . . ?

After our chat with Carl Harvey, I really started to think about it. Even more so after it came up in #libchat last night. But how do we get started? Here’s what I’ve been doing to be a leader at my school, let me know if you agree or not.

  1. Find your allies. I feel pretty lucky in that everyone at my job seems to genuinely want me here, but there’s always at least one person who thinks you’re awesome. Figure out who they are.
  2. Listen. Before you upset the boat, you have to know how it works.
  3. Start researching your plans. Every office has a devil’s advocate, and you can make them into an ally by having all of your ducks in a row. Find as much information to support your position as possible so you can answer every question thrown your way. Being extra prepared scores points
  4. Make changes. After accomplishing 1, 2, and 3, then you can start to speak up. Believe it or not, your new colleagues probably want to hear your ideas. That’s why they hired you, after all.  Your fresh eyes can only make it a better place.
  5. Follow through. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. On time.
  6. Be nice. Say “Thank you.” And “Good Morning.”
  7. Use the “Pain in the Butt” Scale. I spent almost seven years in Asia teaching English. Many of my colleagues were, shall we say . . . less than dedicated to the profession. It’s the nature of the beast. Those were the people who got especially angry when they didn’t get their way. I almost always got my way. Anytime my manager asked me to do something I rated it from 1 (no problem at all) to 10 (seriously messing with life). Anything that was a 7 or less, I would just do. I was the person who always said “Yes.” Therefore, whenever I said “No” it was accepted at face value.

So those are my guidelines. I’m sure I’ll look back in a year or ten years and laugh at my naivety, but you never know. They’ve worked so far.

PS #libchat happens every Wednesday at 8pm EST.

Emily Thompson is the host of EdReach’s show LiTTech, a show for the innovative librarian. LiTTech highlights the innovative news, gadgets, and resources for the literary educator. You can follow her on Twitter @librarianofdoom

LiTTech Show #16: Librarians in the Lead

This week on LiTTech: What is the difference between a librarian who is a leader and your regular run of the mill librarian? This week Addie and Emily talk with Carl Harvey to figure out how to be one of those librarians that make their schools into innovative learning places. (Hint: Working with the other teachers is key!)

Show Host: Emily Thompson

Show contributors: Adrienne Matteson, Carl Harvey


Leave us some feedback!

Contact us with any questions or comments-

Creating a Sense of Urgency for Grade Reform

For those of us working in the trenches in education to overhaul grading practices, the recent Educational Leadership journal from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) is a timely publication.  Each article is dedicated to providing information about effective grading practices.  The journal implies (actually it SHOUTS) the fact that grading practices are not effective in our schools.

So what can we do as educational leaders to fix the grading problem?  First, we have to acknowledge that the current system for grading students is broken.  Let me share with you an example from our school.  A student in a high school class recently scored poorly on an assignment.  Here is the email he sent to the teacher.

Dear Teacher,

I was wondering if there was a time we could meet. Before, after, or even seminar during school. When I turned in my [assignment], you just said I needed more. I would like to go over it and get some more feedback from you. I feel like I could be a better student. I would like to get more feedback and work through it with you. 


Concerned Student

His grade on this assignment gave no feedback on learning targets that were mastered and those that were not.  This student was left with a feeling of unease and wants to know what he can do to improve.  If this is a student in your school, you need to act now to prevent this from happening to other learners.

Below is a list of things you can do as a school leader to move your school toward more effective grading practices.

  • Start with assessments.  Teachers in our building are working on creating common assessments that are tied to essential learning targets.  When teachers discuss and create assessments, they have ownership of the learning target.  Then, when an assessment is given, it allows the teacher to focus on the feedback from students to help guide instruction.  The ultimate goal is for teachers to focus on student learning rather than simply teaching the concept.
  • Effective grading is about effective student learning.  Share that message often with all stakeholders.  Feedback is critical to the learning process. 
  • Share articles with the teachers to improve their understanding of effective grading practices.  We utilize a Google doc to share articles and to gather input to allow all voices to be heard. 
  • Create grading guidelines for your district and have your board adopted that as local policy.
  • Start a book study group with staff.  We started by reading Checking for Understanding by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey or Fair Isn’t Always Equal by Rick Wormeli. 

As Thomas Guskey stated, we can’t allow ourselves to say, “We’ve always done it that way.”  Our school is taking on this challenge.  Is yours?

EdCeptional Show #15: SummerCeptional – Google +, Mac Apps, & more!







  • Web 2.0 Tools:
    • Google +
    • Goalbook – ALPHA test to start Monday (July 11th)
  • Software:
    • Mac:
      • Goal Chart ($2.99) – create & print customized goal\reward chart(s).  Type in goal & reward and add image of reward.  Could also arrange multiple goal charts on a Vision Board.
      • SafetyBrowser ($.99 for limited time) – visual, safe interface for kids to the use the web.  Parents\teachers choose sites (or parts of a site using filters) & others are blocked.  Setup visual homepage with thumbnails for each approved site.  Features include multiple profiles, kiosk mode, timed session, & usage log.
      • CutieMelody (FREE) – simple version of children’s glockenspiel with realistic sounds, responsive playing\sliding, & animated feedback
      • Kids Make Music ($1.99) – unique, attractive, & easy to use soundboard, 4 screens to choose from (bass guitar, percussion, xylophone, & funny objects), authentic sounds
      • After Me ($.99) – Simon Says game using words/images – improves memory skills, classification, & reading/spelling of basic words.  4 word groups (shapes, animals, fruits, & foods).  Available as iOS app as well.
      • Fantastic 4 In A Row Free
      • What is my job? (FREE)
      • Lets Math ($.99) – number sounds, writing numerals, counting images, add/subtract using images
      • Pre-K Math ($1.99) – read & write numbers 1-10, counting 1-10, sequencing numbers 1-10 & 10-1, more/less, shapes
      • SpellBoard ($4.99) – app to help students improve spelling.  Use included lists (Dolch words, etc.) or input your own.  Optionally, you can enter phrase/sentence for each word as well.  Ability to record words using your own voice.  Records data.  Also available as iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch app!
    • Windows:


  • Twitter chats:
    • SLPchat: August 7th
    • SPEDchat: Tuesdays


If you would like to continue the conversations, you can find the crew at Patrick Black at or @teachntech00 on Twitter,   Deb Truskey at @debtruskeyand@SLPDeb on Twitter, and Jeremy Brown at @techieteacher on Twitter or iTeach Special Education – iOS Devices in Special Education on Facebook.  If you have suggestions, comments or queries  about the show you can reach the whole Edceptional crew by emailing