Choose to Lead Leaders

Leaders have a responsibility to develop those around us. As educators, it is our job to cultivate leadership qualities in our students that will inspire them for a greater purpose. This role of a “servant leader”, coined by Robert Greenleaf, elevates people while serving others. One of the best ways to prepare our students for their life beyond high school is to offer more leadership opportunities in the classroom and in the community.
Spark    In their book, Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success, Angie Morgan, Courtney Lynch and Sean Lynch suggest everyone has the potential to be a leader and lay out seven key behaviors that are essential in developing future leaders.

SevenBehaviorsLeadership is not about authority or fancy titles, rather its core is about influencing outcomes and inspiring others. “You’re not chosen to be a leader, you choose to lead” (Lynch et al. 2017 p. 15). And as leaders, we have a duty to encourage those around us to answer the call to action. We can assist them in developing the necessary tools to explore their leadership potential.
Leadership           How can we best cultivate aspiring leaders so once ignited, these “Sparks” become tomorrow’s change agents? Teach leadership skill in a way that can transform students to become “Sparks”. In his article, Larry Ferlazzo’s suggests strategies for nurturing student leadership such as enhancing intrinsic motivation, strengthening self-efficacy, teaching others, and creating opportunities for students to take action to improve their communities (2012). One way Henrico County Public Schools develops young “Sparks” is through its Student Congress program. Ten students from each of its nine comprehensive high schools, plus the Academy at Virginia Randolph, are selected based on their character, academics, and discipline. This criterion attracts more students than those that generally serve on various clubs and traditional student government. Students are chosen for the value they can add to the team and who can most benefit from the program. All 100 members come together four times a year. Their meetings include giving input on new technology or policy formation that Central Office and the School Board use in making determinations. Such topics students have weighed in on include changes to the grading scale, school calendar vacation breaks, the code of student conduct, and raising the GPA standard for scholar athletes to a 2.0 minimum.

As a member of the School Board, I enjoy participating in these meetings and observing the students, as they listen and learn from each other. The students share a unique perspective from all sides of an issue. Through the “Power of 100,” Student Congress represents the diversity of culture and ideas found throughout our county. These developing leaders help bring us together as one Henrico. After some recent racial tensions, the students organized a Unity Walk drawing attention to the need to be more inclusive and accepting of others. Students also participate in a school exchange program that assists them in a better appreciation for the different cultures and challenges across the county.

In addition, Student Congress members practice service based leadership by involving them in community service projects such as the Henrico Christmas Mother (HCM). Each December, students become “elves themselves” by assisting in preparations at the HCM warehouse where thousands of recipients come to pick up new toys, books, clothing, and food for the holidays. After learning about the program and getting a tour, the students sort canned food and children’s books, prepare signage, and assist in setting up the senior/disabled gift area. During this opportunity leaders step back and let the students lead, but the adults are there for support. The HCM Council loves having the students at the warehouse busily working and laughing. Their presence brings great joy to all the volunteers and by the time the buses roll out, much of the warehouse preparations for distribution are completed.

Giving service based leadership opportunities for students, teaching leadership lessons, promoting inclusiveness, and igniting “Sparks” to make the world better are ways transformational leaders can empower and tap into the leadership potential in us all!


Feriazzo, L. (2012, February 14). Cultivating Student Leadership. Education Week. Retrieved from

Lynch, C., Lynch, S., & Morgan, A. (2017). Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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What is Caring Too Much Costing You?

Simply teaching students for academic success has become part of a bygone era.  In the 21st century classroom, educators wear many hats.  We are parents, guardians, educators, counselors, social workers, and confidants to a rising number of students who have been exposed to some sort of trauma during childhood.  Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, include: sexual, mental, physical abuse, abandonment/neglect, illness/death of a loved one, witnessing violence/bullying, accidents/natural disasters, refugees/fleeing war-torn countries, and poverty.  Statistics show that about 60% of adults experienced some sort of childhood trauma. Statistics involving children are numerous.  Below is just a small snapshot of what our children experience:

  • 26% of children in the United States experience some ACE before they reach the age of 4.
  • 4 out of every 10 children in the United States have witnessed physical violence
  • 14% of children have been exposed to maltreatment by a caregiver
  • 2% of children have experienced sexual abuse this year alone and at a rate of 11% for females between the age of 14 to 17.

For more statistics on ACEs, visit

Educators are passionate individuals who want to protect and educate every student in the classroom, however, we are human.  So, it’s no wonder when we teach students that have dealt with trauma, we ourselves experience vicarious trauma, also known as compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, and the “cost of caring too much.”  When we listen to traumatic stories or experiences that our students have endured, we begin to internalize the events ourselves.  Lynn Garst, Associate Director of Child and Family Services at the Mental Health Center of Denver, explains some of the symptoms that teachers who experience vicarious trauma may show.  Click here for video

As a future leader, it is necessary to bring awareness to vicarious trauma, and understand the importance of making sure that I build a culture that promotes self-care and resiliency in staff and students to alleviate vicarious trauma.  This must happen before the education of our students can be effective for all involved.  Joshua Kaufman, with the TSA Center for Resiliency, Hope and Wellness in schools, discusses the importance of bringing awareness to trauma.  Click here for video

Support begins with providing professional development in self-care strategies that will prevent vicarious trauma.  According to Emelina Minero, assistant editor of Edutopia, educators can promote positive self-care by:

  • Finding a wellness accountability buddy – a confidant to talk about the day, a person to exercise with and help maintain a work/life balance
  • Build coping skills – be proactive by talking quietly with students when deep down you want to yell to the top of your lungs, track the instructional day to see when the most stressful times are and build in stretch breaks or breathing techniques to help you and students relax.
  • Be consistent with self-care routine – exercising, reading a book, watching a movie, and practicing mindfulness (which will be discussed later) all help build resiliency.
  • Establish end of the day routines that signal it’s time to go home to focus on yourself and family; create clear boundaries that will help maintain a work/life balance. An example would be to write a journal entry prior to leaving for home or create a To-Do list for the next day.

Resiliency training is necessary to keep educators doing what we do best: teaching, loving, and staying passionate about our students.  Everyone has it in them to be resilient; educators must demonstrate resilience and promote the belief that you will never give up on the student or staff members.  Resilient staff have a positive effect on all students, however students who have been exposed to ACEs, are influenced greatly by resilient staff members in a supportive school environment.  So, it’s important to build resiliency!

Resilience is not a trait, but a process.  It’s “how we move on a positive trajectory of success and health in the midst of adversity, trauma, and everyday stress.” (Truebridge & Benard, 2013, p. 66) Build resilience by sharing the following activities:

  • Make positive connections with people
  • Keep situations in perspective; as the saying goes avoid “making mountains out of mole hills”
  • Accept change, it’s inevitable
  • Move toward realistic goals
  • Be decisive
  • Discover yourself
  • Trust your instincts and be confident
  • Maintain an optimistic outlook
  • Take care of yourself

Offer Mindfulness Training to staff members.  Mindfulness is a way of “paying attention to whatever is happening in our lives, inside and out, in the present moment.”  It is like an exercise regime for your mind.  Educators must practice stepping away from “autopilot” mode, which is more reactionary and focus on a different response.  The beauty of mindfulness is it can be modeled and beneficial to our students.  Dr. Patricia Rockman with The Center for Mindfulness Studies, discusses mindfulness.

The benefits of mindfulness are numerous and are identified below.



Mindfulness Benefits

Practice this mini mindfulness lesson found on Positive Psychology Program Website the next time you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed in or out of the classroom.

This is a brief exercise of mindfulness of five or six breaths to be practiced five times per day. It can be practiced anywhere at any time.
  1. Step out of automatic pilot and become aware of what you are doing right now, where you are and what you are thinking
  2. Become aware of our breathing for about a minute or half a dozen breaths.
  3. Expand your awareness to your whole body and then to your environment, if you wish.
The first thing we do with this practice, because it’s brief and we want to come into the moment quickly, is to take a very definite posture … relaxed, dignified, back erect, but not stiff, letting our bodies express a sense of being present and awake.
Now, closing your eyes, if that feels comfortable for you, the first step is being aware, really aware, of what is going on with you right now. Becoming aware of what is going through your mind; what thoughts are around? Here, again, as best you can, just noting the thoughts as mental events…. So we note them, and then we note the feelings that are around at the moment … in particular, turning toward any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings. So rather than try to push them away or shut them out, just acknowledge them, perhaps saying, “Ah, there you are, that’s how it is right now.” And similarly with sensations in the body… Are there sensations of tension, of holding, or whatever? And again, awareness of them, simply noting them. OK, that’s how it is right now.
So, we’ve got a sense of what is going on right now. We’ve stepped out of automatic pilot. The second step is to collect our awareness by focusing on a single object—the movements of the breath. So now we really gather ourselves, focusing attention down there in the movements of the abdomen or other breath focus point such as the nostrils or roof of the mouth, the rise and fall of the breath … spending a minute or so to focus on the movement of the abdominal wall … moment by moment, breath by breath, as best we can. So that you know when the breath is moving in, and you know when the breath is moving out. Just binding your awareness to the pattern of movement down there … gathering yourself, using the anchor of the breath to really be present.
And now as a third step, having gathered ourselves to some extent, we allow our awareness to expand. As well as being aware of the breath, we also include a sense of the body as a whole. So that we get this more spacious awareness…. A sense of the body as a whole, including any tightness or sensations related to holding in the shoulders, neck, back, or face … following the breath as if your whole body is breathing. Holding it all in this slightly softer … more spacious awareness.
And then, when you are ready, just allowing your eyes to open and mindfully continuing with your daily activity.

Leaders can help decrease the “cost of caring too much” by providing needed supports to all staff members, especially those individuals who are experiencing vicarious trauma.  First bring AWARENESS to trauma educators are experiencing and START BUILDING RESILIENCY and PRACTICING MINDFULNESS!!


Garst, L.  (2012).  Symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress in Staff.  [Video File]  Retrieved from

Kaufman, J. (2013). Supporting the Staff At A Trauma Informed School. [Video File] Retrieved from

Minero, E. (2017).  When Students Are Traumatized, Teacher Are Too. Retrieved from

The Mini Mindfulness Lesson Retrieved from

Rockman, P. (2015, July 17).  What is Mindfulness? [Video File] Retrieved from

Truebridge, S., & Benard, B. (2013).  Reflections on Resilience.  Educational Leadership. 71 (1)

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Creating the Future

LeftBrainRightBrain21“I have always wanted to be creative, but how does that look and feel?”  That’s the question that travels through the minds of many students and teacher’s due to the limited parameters that the educational system has placed on learners.  As 21st Century thinkers we have to begin to think outside the box and open our students minds to nontraditional approaches of learning. The topic of creativity and arts integration is becoming an active part of educational conversations.  Educational leaders are starting to recognize the benefits of allowing students to learn through the arts because research shows that “children who engage in more imaginative play demonstrate stronger creative abilities when they become adults” (Tite et al, 2016, p.20). Many organizations are embracing right brain thinkers and the educational system is slowly catching on.

As we start to look at different styles of learning, we also have to re-examine our current practices and revise them to fit the needs of our students.  Over the last decade “high-stakes testing and scripted curriculums has made it difficult for educational stakeholders to infuse creativity into teaching practices” (Henriksen & Mishra, 2013) Parents and educational leaders cannot continue to ignore the fact that “our culture tells us these disciplinary boundaries are real and our thinking becomes tapped in them” (Gabora, 2017, p.5). As a parent, I think we sometimes forget just how powerful our voice can be and “if we are to move the needle in bringing the arts to the center of education where it belongs, then we must advocate for its rightful position” (Riley, 2014).creativeminds2

There is creativity in everyone “the key may be learning to let our minds go” (Tite et al, 2016, p.30).  As we begin to welcome creativity back into our classrooms school leaders have to shift their mindset and allow teachers the opportunity to have the autonomy to make instructional decisions that might not look like the norm.  Wouldn’t you rather a student be excited and interested in the learning process? As educators our job is to prepare students for a world that will require “innovation, creativity, and, more fundamentally, a curiosity to discover and embrace new ideas” (“Curiosity as an answer,” 2017). The goal is to build a generation of future ready learners.

Why do students need to be seated at a desk to learn? Catherine Thimmesh poses this question as she speaks to the relevance of allowing creative processes in the educational setting.   Author Kristen Hick offers 5 ways to aid your transition from the standard format of teaching to a more creative and active approach.  Many educators are already on the path to creative engagement, and with just a few changes to their lessons they can turn a traditional Shakespeare reading assignment into a play that brings all the characters to life.


We have to start preparing our students for the jobs that have not been created yet with the understating that creativity “is the key to problem solving and innovation” (Tite et al, 2016, p.24) The time has come for educational practices to be reinvented.  It is our job to ensure that we provide the best education we can with the tools we have been provided. No one ever said that was limited to a piece of paper and a text-book.creativity



The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from

Gabora, L. (2017). What creativity really is – and why schools need it.  The Conversation. Retrieved from

Henriksen, D., & Mishra, P. (2013). Learning from creative teachers.  Educational Leadership, 70 (5).

Riley, Susan. (2014) Learning how to advocate for the arts.  Retrieved from

Timmesh, C. (2014, November 4). Creativity in the classroom (in 5 minutes or less!) [Video file]. Retrieved from

Tite, R, Kavanagh, S. & Novais, C. (2016) Everyone’s an artist: How creativity gives you the edge in everything you do. New York, NY: Collins.







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Mom, can we talk about politics at dinner please?

     Conventional wisdom tells us not to talk about religion and politics in polite company. blog conversation bubbleThese topics evoke strong feelings and opinions that can make people uncomfortable and upset.  Yet, even in times of political polarity, free and open discussion is a required element of a free democratic society.  As leaders, it is important for us to learn to rise above our own feelings so that we can discuss important (even uncomfortable) topics in order to seek solutions to complex issues.

Oliver Wendell Holmes in a 1919 Supreme Court decisions said,

But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.… While that experiment is part of our system I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purpose of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.

Several phrases from the passage speak to this issue. First, “the ultimate good desired is better reached by the free trade of ideas,” and then “ we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe.”  The marketplace of blog market ideas iconideas is a rationale for freedom of expression and holds that the truth will emerge from the competition of ideas in free, transparent public discourse.  Ugggh! Does this mean that I have to try to believe the best in people and that I have to listen to people that I believe to be idiots?  Well, yes. As hard as it may seem, I think that we do.   This is not an easy task but if we want to solve big problems and understand each other then I believe we need to ignore mom’s sage advice of the past and learn to have and engage in productive civil discourse.

How do we start?  Here are a few steps that I think will put us into a mindset of learning and allow productive discourse.

1- Recognize your own biases.  Where did you get your ideas? Are they authentically yours or did you inherit them? Are you willing to admit that you may have some implicit biases?  Take a few of the online assessments created by a Harvard study on the topic and discover where your hidden biases in regards to skin-tone, sexuality, weight, religion, gender age and others may be impacting your beliefs.  Harvard Implicit Bias Study

2- Be willing to be wrong.   Have you ever had a strongly held belief be totally reversed? When you think back on it are you partially embarrassed at how staunchly you argued or just secretly held such thoughts.   If so, you know the power of possibility. You understand that it is possible that the way that you think today could possibly change.   I always jokingly say, “It is not likely that I am wrong, but it is possible.”   If we can embrace the possibility then we can open our minds to listen.

3- Listen with the intent to learn. Your mind may not change but at the very least you blog talk iconcan learn why those with opposing views believe what they do. We need to look past the “rhetoric” of each person’s affiliation and find what is at the heart of his or her stance. The heart of most people is inherently good and seeing it can at the very least cause agreement on the issue if not the solution.

4- People matter more than policy. blog video Can you still love/ appreciate them even if you disagree? A popular Ted Talk, How our friendship survives our opposing politics, featuring Caitlin Quattromani and Lauren Arledge, shows how two friends overcame the recent political election to do just that.

5- Know when to walk away.   Not everyone is ready, willing or able to have this type of open and difficult conversation.  It does no one any good to continue a conversation that is becoming contentious. If civil discourse cannot be attained then let it go.  Move on to the topics mom always said are safe: weather, food, and travel. However, please do not give up the effort to have engaging discourse with others.  If we fail to continue to try to have the difficult conversations, we lose on understanding, on deepening our own learning and ultimately creating possible solutions to some of our most pressing issues.

Will we ever get to the point that we can talk about difficult topics at dinner, on the soccer field and in our town hall meetings?  I hope so for our country’s sake. I do believe it begins with us as leaders teaching people the skills to share in the marketplace of ideas and valuing the diversity of “opinions we loathe”.  Mom, I love you, but I think in 2017 you are wrong. We need to talk politics at family dinners.




Caitlin Quattromani and Lauran Arledge. (2017, July). How our friendship survives our opposing politics [Video file]. Retrieved from

Greenwald, T., Banaji, M., & Nosek, B. (n.d.). Project Implicit. Retrieved from

“Marketplace of Ideas.” Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. Retrieved November 28, 2017, from

Noun Project. (2017). Retrieved from


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Why Lead? Do great veteran teachers have an obligation to become leaders in education?

Teaching is the land of zero promotions. Charlotte Danielson states in her article, The Many Faces of Leadership that “the 20-year veteran’s responsibilities are essentially the same as those of the newly licensed novice” (p. 14). Many great teachers are content to spend the rest of their lives as teachers. Most teachers continue their education, taking graduate level classes and attending endless amounts of professional development opportunities, but then don’t pursue promotions or even opportunities to lead.


Great teachers use these classes and professional developments to perfect their craft and apply what they learn in the classroom. Great teachers constantly put themselves and their lessons/activities in a trial and error experiment year after year. They tweak them each year to try to perfect them or to simply meet the needs of a new population of students. It may not automatically make them great leaders, but it does give them a competitive edge. The best player doesn’t automatically make the best the coach, but that doesn’t mean the best player should not try his/her hand at leading others in their game. So why not put this knowledge, experience and expertise out to a larger population of people for the good of education?


Terry Knecht Dozier points out in the article, Turning Good Teachers into Great Leaders  that, “by helping good teachers become great leaders, we plant seeds that will enhance our profession and enable students to reap the reward” (p. 59). Years ago I started following Paul Andersen, a teacher who posts Biology videos on YouTube. At the time I was just watching them to stay fresh and keep ahead of my students because I was new to teaching science, but the more I watched, the more I learned. I probably learned more from this “Youtuber” then I did from my own high school science teachers. My science teachers were wonderful teachers, but Anderson seemed to have a way of simplifying difficult topics. I am also a very visual learner, so I benefitted from just being able to sit back and take it in like it was a television show. Andersen could have stayed in the classroom and been an amazing educator to the one hundred plus students he saw every year, but after 20 years and many recognitions he is now an educational consultant who “has provided training for thousands of students, teachers, administrators, and professors around the world” (Anderson, n.d.). Those audiences can now pass that knowledge on to the thousands of students and colleagues they will have an impact on.


Every great teacher is not going to start a YouTube channel or write a bestseller or even be a principal, but in my experience they almost all have something to offer in the way of leadership. Charlotte Danielson also writes in her article that “in every good school, there are teachers whose vision extends beyond their own classrooms—even beyond their own teams or departments.” You could make the case that the truly great teachers already show signs of being a great leader. They are the ones leading the professional development opportunities and teaching other teachers. Some are already serving as their department head. The teachers in their department, and often teachers in other departments, are using many of their lessons. Most are already spending time on extracurricular activities, such as serving on a committee, coaching or sponsoring a club. They are already mentoring new teachers because their administrator asked them to. They are the experienced teachers who came out on top in a profession that demands success in improbable situations, and gives very little in the way of supervision and guidance. Many great teachers spend time being a part of the school outside of their normal class time, sponsoring clubs, tutoring for free, coaching, or going to plays or concerts.

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In my experience they are also the trailblazers. They are the first ones to seek out new ways of exploring how to disseminate the content to students. Project based learning, differentiation, working in teams, getting students out of their seat, and getting students to talk instead of getting them to be quiet, is the new thought process in school. Most great teachers are not afraid of trying these new strategies and trying them right away. They are not even afraid to fail at using some of these new strategies if it eventually gets them to successful strategies. They are usually the first ones to incorporate a new technology in their class. Principals will go to them first, ask them to try it and then for their opinion before the suggesting it to the rest of their staff.   

Leaders in education do currently seek out these teachers. Great teachers are encouraged from time to time by administrators to pursue a career in educational leadership or extending their reach beyond the classroom. Schools need to not only provide more leadership opportunities for teachers — career opportunities apart from and in between “teacher” and “principal” — current administrators should observe current teachers in the classroom more often than the usual once or twice a year. If they are going to be the ones leading teachers and in charge of helping teachers improve in various areas, we need to first make sure they are masters of those same areas and then provide opportunities for them to lead others.


Danielson, C. (2007, September). The Many Faces of Leadership. Educational Leadership, 65(1), 14-19.

Dozier, T. K. (2007, September). Turning Good Teachers into Great Leaders. Educational Leadership, 65(1), 54-59.

Anderson, P. (n.d.). Bozeman Science. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from

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Change is Certain… Minorities in Leadership


“They say time changes everything, but you have to actually change them yourself”- Andy Warhol

Today, schools look and operate much differently than that of our past. Integration, technology advances, even demographics across the nation indicate there is more diverse ethnic population of students. However, one overwhelming facet that remains the same is leadership,  in particularly the color of leadership.  In April of 2016 the U.S. Department of Education conducted a wide study of the Trends in Public and Private School Principal Demographics and Qualifications from the years 1981-88 to 2011-12 school years.  The National Center for Education Statistics indicated that in  1987-88 87% of Principals were White and by 2012 80% were still white, a staggering 7% decrease.  Hispanic principals weighed in at 3% and by 2012 experienced a 5% increase. Meanwhile African American leadership weighed in at 9% only had a 1% increase by 2012. Over 25 years, minorities have only increased their role in leadership by 7%. These statistics should give you a clear idea of the progression we have not made in our leadership roles.

17 Best Awesome Administrators

Now, I know what you are thinking, well there is progress right? Yes, progress, 25 years and we have managed to increase our ethnic leadership in our schools by a meager 7%.  While vast and controversial this topic is, uncomfortable is where I would like you to be through-out my blog. Perhaps, then the nuisance of the topic or cringe in your skin will prompt you to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem.

The white to minority Principal ratio is dramatically skewed and has remained heavily favorable to one race for far too long. My points in my blog are in no way stating  that our white counterparts are incapable or undeserving of the position in which hold.. This is to say that school leadership should be a representative afforded those opportunities need to be afforded and given to minorities as well. Open the pipeline so there is no longer white at the end of the tunnel, but a light that shines a plethora of  ethnicity that reflects the growing and racially diverse country we live in.

No, the solution is not to shove all the black teachers and black principals into the predominately black and  what is deemed as “tougher” schools -or- shove all the Hispanic teachers and principals in the predominantly Hispanic schools. What I am saying is there is a greater notion here and while this world certainly denotes a culturally and ethnically diverse atmosphere our schools that prepare students to enter that world certainly do not.

Awareness is no longer “key“, while I understand we cannot fix an issue if we do not recognize there is one, we have to move to application. We have to act more efficiently and drastically to close that gap.  If you type in “Increasing Diversity in Leadership” in Google approximately  168 million results generate, 1.8 million are scholarly articles and in all this research there has still only been a 7% increase in 25 years. This tells me we are aware of the deficit and the positive impacts and that ethic leadership has on our students and communities.  Archie Moss Jr describes the impacts that ethnically diverse leadership has on ethnically diverse school communities:

Black principles serve as a model for success, but often have stronger community ties, can deal with disciplinary issues like suspensions surrounding minorities more appropriately, and can contribute a nuanced perspective regarding academic programs that focus on the achievement of black students (Moss, 2017).

Where does the change happen? Where do we start? We start here by acknowledging that we are informed. Next, we can begin to identify future educators. There is a clear link between the shortage of minority teachers and the shortage of ethnic administration. It all boils down to the idea that if there are no minority teachers, where would we find minority leaders. It is the current leadership’s responsibility to encourage and cultivate an atmosphere where minority feel encouraged to move into leadership. Leaders should extend that same encouragement to other teachers outside of their building as well. I urge you to then look at other buildings in your districts, counties, and states and examine the leadership demographics, then ask yourself what can you do in order to create change.  It is imperative for you to always remember the concern is bigger than your building. We must also make the profession and field enticing enough to turn recruits’ intrigue into an inspired decision to join us.

From there we have to cultivate the idea that aspiring professionals can matriculate into leadership. We can do this by providing leadership opportunities within our buildings. Positions should be afforded such new teacher mentors, club sponsors, Administrative Assistants, Department Heads, Deans, and Assistant Principal positions. Teacher to Administration pairing is another initiative some schools have put in place as a mentoring program from teachers who aspire to move into Educational Leadership.

Michael Magee in his blog Why is Education Leadership So White? simply puts it as:

It just means states and districts have to work harder to nurture and encourage students of color to pursue a career in education. We have to become more creative with our efforts to hire and retain diverse leaders. Current leaders must identify and mentor potential superintendents and commissioners. States and the federal government should replicate and pay for programs that develop local school leaders; particularly programs that help create career paths for educators of color and provide financial support for potential leaders seeking advanced degrees. And districts should provide continued support once those leaders are actually hired (2016).

I am not looking to point fingers or place blame, but I am looking to make a change. So, if you take nothing away from this read, take this:


If you are not part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.

17 best Awesome Administrators(n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2017

Magee, M. (2016, March 7). Why is Education Leadership So White [Web log post]. Retrieved November 26, 2017, from

Moss, A., Jr. (2017, January 02). Black Principals: How to Strengthen the Leadership Pipeline. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from


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It’s Time for a Change – Support the School Modernization Charter Change Referendum on November 7th!



            Far too often elected officials have stressed the importance of fixing our schools and providing more instructional resources for our children; however, little has changed in the funding model short term and long term.  This year, the historic Richmond Crusade for Voters organization and well known Richmond advocate/attorney, Paul Goldman, combined efforts to push the agenda of finally modernizing Richmond Public Schools.  For educational purposes, the Richmond Crusade for Voters was founded in 1956 with the goal of supporting school integration and increase the influence of black residents in the political process.  Over the course of its organizational existence, they have fought for changes to poll taxes and other community issues in the city.  Paul Goldman was a key player in creating our Mayor at large model in the city. Throughout this year, the Crusade mobilized its 80 plus members to collect over 15,000 signatures to get the referendum on the ballot this year.

This referendum, if passed, will call for the charter to be amended to include Section 6.15 – Fulfilling the Promise of Equal Educational Opportunities. The proposition, which is roughly 350 words in length, begins by invoking Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote from the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The highlights of the language you will see on the ballot is that “Not later than six months after this section becomes law, the Mayor shall formally present to the City Council a fully-funded plan to modernize the city’s K-12 educational infrastructure consistent with national standards or inform City Council such a plan is not feasible.”  The kicker about this referendum is that it REQUIRES that the plan not rely on NEW or INCREASED taxes and the City Council will have 90 days to take action on the plan.

Many elected officials in the City have been on the fence about voters voting “Yes” on this referendum.  One may ask, “Why would you not want to fully support creating policy that would require a funding strategy to be created and implemented?  Well, it’s actually very simple.  Accountability.  It’s hard to want to support a referendum that puts you on the hot seat.  In fact, that is exactly what supporters of this referendum are looking to accomplish.  We will clearly know who is in charge of fixing the school buildings and how long they will have to present a plan. 

Indeed, this level of accountability may pose an issue for Mayor Levar Stoney who introduced an Education Compact earlier this year, which hasn’t yet met its initial expectations.  To be fair and balanced, most of what I’ve heard from the Mayor is that the referendum is flawed and could hinder financial options to modernize our schools long term.  I wish I could have 100% faith in this logic.  Unfortunately, this is coming from the same political playbook we have seen for decades. 

 While talking with a group of highly engaged millennials, I was told that roughly ninety percent of Richmond Public School students are minorities, most of them from families with limited means. In addition, one out of every four lives at or below the federal poverty line.  In most cases, these children with immense promise attend the most obsolete, unhealthy facilities within the state of Virginia.  Enough is enough!  The issue of our schools is not a new issue.  This issue existed when I moved to Richmond in 2014.  This issue was there back in the 1990’s from talking to close friends that grew up in the area.  This is why this referendum has so much merit.  We have not done enough to prevent the conditions that we see today.  The Crusade for Voters and me alike are tired of the city government leaders’ decades of excuses.  Vote “Yes” on November 7th to help build the foundation to a Better RPS.  

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Come on in; Let’s Grow Together. Re-imagining School Culture: Transformation through Peer Observation.

Peer Obs

Are we really doing this?

I recently walked through the halls of my high school and felt a sense of excitement as I noticed the brightly colored sticky notes hanging above several classroom doors. I stopped and read a few before I continued my journey to my corner of the world: “Green Acres”. During our September 2017 faculty meeting, the Associate Principal at my school proposed a peer observation initiative. The minute the words passed his lips there were lamentations by some about “how we were expected to do this on top of everything else going on?” One senior teacher gathered up her belonging and walked out of the room. I felt a quick pang of anxiety and my first thought was, “do I want other teachers who I don’t know that well judging me?”  I was not very excited about this prospect at the onset but within the first week, I had a huge reversal of attitude as I began to understand to immense benefits to be gained from such an endeavor.


According to the BBC, “Peer observation is the observation of teachers by teachers, usually, though not always, on a reciprocal basis. Pairings may be mentor/novice or experienced teacher/experienced teacher where the objective is to provide opportunities for teachers to reflect on their teaching in a calm and safe environment.” (British Council Teaching English. 2017)


Benefits of Peer Observation:

  • Positive Culture Shift: teacher burn-out is a common phrase around most school campuses, as teachers often feel alone in addressing their professional struggles. The practice of peer observations fosters a collegial and open environment based on trust and collaboration and honest dialogue. Having this built-in support system can lead to reduced job stress, a renewed sense of purpose and commitment as well as friendly competition, as teachers push each other to be their very best on a daily basis. Being in such a positive culture can transform the experience of everyone in this environment and can lead to immense successes for both students and teachers.
  • Creating a staff of Reflective Teachers: successful peer observation practice encourages teachers to become “students of teaching, with a strong, sustained interest in learning about the art and science of teaching and about themselves as teachers. (Cruickshank, 1987, 1991). Constant reflection should be a trademark of any professional and this practice creates a culture where teachers consistently evaluate their own performance and actively work towards sustained professional growth.
  • Self Initiated Professional Growth: peer observation affords teachers the opportunity to tailor their professional growth to fit their unique needs. They can seek out colleagues who complement their own weaknesses and benefit from new ideas and strategies to strengthen their own practice. The voluntary nature of this practice often yields greater teacher buy-in as they are given ownership of their professional growth and is not simply fulfilling a mandated “top down” directive.learners-grow
  • Reduces Isolation: teaching, unlike many other professions, can be an incredibly isolating field. Dr. Drew Baker, teacher at Glen Allen High School recently spoke to our EDUC 603 class and phrased it best when he said, “professional chefs cook for and are critiqued by other professional chefs, surgeons perform surgeries before other surgeons but as teachers, we go into our classroom, shut our doors and perform our practice in isolation, never really getting the chance to learn from each other.”  Peer observation, forces teachers to step out of their comfort zone, encouraging them to seek out and create new professional relationships with colleagues with whom they may otherwise never interact.
  • Access to Resources: teachers are incredibly resourceful and one might be amazed at the plethora of resources that can be obtained from others in the profession. Teachers constantly come across new strategies and activities but many are reticent to employ them for fear of failure. When teachers observe and learn from building colleagues, they are more likely experiment with the new resources that they gain because they’ve seen it in action and they know that there are others they can go to for assistance if needed.peer obs 2

Reflecting on my own school and our own peer observation initiative, we are only four weeks in and already seeing the positive impacts. At lunch, conversations are now centered around the number of observations that have been done, the cool things people are seeing, the number of times teachers have been observed or strategies that they have learned from colleagues. I have conducted eight peer observations and I’ve had at least one takeaway from each that I plan to implement in my own classroom. There is an increasing level of camaraderie and positive rivalry amongst departments as each department seeks to become the leader in peer observations. This is a huge change from just last year and inter-department friendships and communications are now much more common.


DSF Peer Observations

DSF Peer Observations as of 10/15/17




Cruickshank, D. (1987). Reflective Teaching: The Preparation of students of Teaching. Reston,  VA: Association of Teacher Education.

Teachers Observing Teachers: A Professional Development Tool for Every School. Retrieved from:




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“Where Did All the Black Teachers Go?” #VirginiaNeedsMoreTeachersOfColor #ThePygmalionEffect

Over the course of years, I would receive magazines from the Virginia Journal of Education, and rarely did I ever read them.  One day I came home, looked in my mailbox, and sorted my mail only to see there was a magazine from VEA.  As I was about to place the magazine in the junk mail pile, a little voice inside of me said, “Read it!”  I flipped the magazine open and caught the headline, “Virginia Needs More Teachers of Color.”  The opening paragraph stated that according to a report from the Taskforce to Diversify Virginia’s Educator Pipeline, “Almost half (49 percent) of the students in Virginia’s public schools are minorities; however, only one in five (21 percent) of their teachers are” (Rowell).  I proceeded to read and one statement stood out to me, “All students benefit from having teachers with diverse backgrounds, but research indicates teachers of color play an important role in improving outcomes for students of color” (Rowell).  Interesting…I thought to myself. Very interesting.

So, with the title of that article being, “Virginia Needs More Teachers of Color,” naturally my question was, well, “Where are all of the teachers of color?” I did some research that led me to an article entitled, “Where Did All the Black Teachers Go?”  This article dug up some background history in response to the question.  When districts integrated their schools post-Brown, black schools were shuttered or absorbed.  Celebrated black principals were demoted or fired.  By some estimates nearly a third of African American teachers lost their jobs, and those who survived were sometimes selected based on a lighter skin color that made them more palatable to white communities. During this period, white communities regarded the arrival of blacks as an attack on their schools and these stories deterred blacks from pursuing teaching careers (Staples).


Furthermore, addressing other topics, the article explained how black children from impoverished families benefit from having black teachers.  Studies show that children who encounter African American teachers are more likely to be recognized as bright enough for gifted and talented programs, more likely to be viewed as capable of success and more likely to graduate from high-school and aim for college (Barshay). Unfortunately, statistics now are also showing that districts are doing a terrible job of retaining teachers of color and that more leave the field each year than enter it.  A 2016 report said that this is happening because African Americans interested in teaching black students find they are steered into positions where they only teach black students. They complain of only being pigeonholed as disciplinarians and their other talents rendered invisible (Griffin).

Since my question was answered about where all the black teachers went, I revisited the article, “Virginia Needing More Teachers of Color”.  In lieu of that article, I present the Pygmalion Effect.  


The Pygmalion Effect is described as positive expectations influencing performance positively and negative expectations influencing performance negatively (Rosenthal).  Researching Rosenthal’s phenomenon I came across a quote; “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in certain ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur (Rosenthal).  Immediately, I thought of Dr. Crystal Hoyt’s lecture on implicit bias, stereotype threat and gender/racial bias.  In terms of teaching, faculty who gripe about students establish a climate of failure, but faculty who value their students abilities create a climate of success.  When we talk about leadership, the underlying question is. “What kind of climate are you creating through your expectations?”

Teachers of color are needed to impact those outcomes of students of color because in my opinion teachers of color understand those students better.  Whether coming from different socioeconomic backgrounds, having the same racial identity makes a difference.  Understanding one’s culture, having similar backgrounds and struggles, teachers and students develop relationships of shared experiences where they can relate.  Relatable transforms into relational, which is key for the establishment of trust and respect. In regards to Pygmalion, teachers of color tend to have more positive perceptions of students of color and different expectations than non colored teachers (Brown).  The lack of diversity, along with differing interpretations of student ability and behavior may explain why students of color are suspended or expelled at disproportionate rates, have risk of academic disengagement and increased probability of dropout.

Overall, I believe this topic is amazing for conversation, reflection, and awareness. From a leadership perspective it does pose questions like: Where are teachers of color predominantly placed in a school district? Why are they placed where they are placed? What are the hiring and retention practices for teachers of color? And Do students perform better having teachers who look like them?  The conversation of race is synonymous with black and white; however, America is a melting pot with growing minority populations. How do we ensure that there is equity of racial identity in schools across Virginia and nationwide?

Barshay, Jill. (2016, January 19). Bright Black Students Taught by Black Teachers Are More Likely to Get Into Gifted and Talented Classrooms. Retrieved October 26, 2017 from,

Brown, Emma. (2016, March 31). White Teachers and Black Teachers Have Different Expectations for Black Students. Retrieved October 26, 2017 from

Griffin, Ashley. (2016 November 3). Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflections From Black Teachers. Retrieved October 26, 2017 from,

Staples, Brent. (2017 April 20). Where Did All The Black Teachers Go? Retrieved October 26, 2017 from,

Strauss, Valerie. (2016 April 9). Study: Black Students From Poor Families Are More Likely to Graduate From High School If They Have At Least One Black Teacher. Retrieved October 26, 2017 from,

Rosenthal, R, and L. Jacobsen. Pygmalion in the classroom: teacher expectation and pupils’ intellectual development. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.

Rowell, Virginia. (2017 November). Virginia Needs More Teachers of Color. Retrieved October 26, 2017 from, Virginia Journal of Education.

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Does the Peter “Principal” work here?

peter principleSo often in education, we see promotions from within the field.  Perhaps not from within schools or school divisions, but for the most part, it is teachers who decide that they want to take the next step into leadership by overseeing a department, a grade level, moving into an instructional specialist position, or a building principal.  Rarely do we as  educators see or seek  outside executives as direct leaders of schools.  Is it the passion for learning that one must have in order to lead a school?  I have been thinking a lot about this concept as I move into leadership myself-I am fascinated how much of education is run like a corporate business. And so, the question must be asked: Is teaching a classroom the same as running a company or running a building?  Studies have shown that “there is a strong parallel between the decision a teacher makes to move into school administration and the decisions other professionals (e.g., engineers, lawyers, physicians) make to move into corporate administration” (Gates, Chung, et al., 2003, p. 32).  And to make the transition from teacher to leadership, we often must straddle the duties that come with being an effective teacher and the duties of being an effective leader–creating lesson plans while supporting teachers, grading papers while observing classrooms–at some point, you begin to feel like you are running around in the weeds–not being effective anywhere. I often hear conversations surrounding this feeling of being in the “weeds” with my fellow leadership newcomers, which started me thinking…is it a readiness thing? A confidence thing? Or, is it possible that teachers who are recognized as being great in the classroom get recruited for leadership positions, but then potentially fail in the larger arena?  It’s a theory that arises in leadership often–the Peter Principle–developed by  educator, Laurence J. Peter in 1969, suggesting that “as people are usually promoted ‘to their level of incompetence’ (“individuals who are good in one job are not necessarily good in the job into which they are promoted”), it would be natural to expect individuals to perform worse after promotion has been achieved” (Acosto, 2010, p. 975).  We have all experienced or encountered educational leaders,who were once renowned for their exceptional reputation in the classroom, but then as leaders, they fall short with communicating to staff or sticking with decisions.

educator cartoon

As up-and-coming leaders, we must constantly remind ourselves what it is that we want to do with the bigger picture and fall back on ours strengths that we know others see and respect in us.  Yes, The ”Peter Principals” do exist out there–not all great teachers belong in leadership nor should they feel the pressure to take that path.  But, being a lifelong learner, as many of us are, it is important to reflect on our perspective and our place within the leadership field. Of course it’s a confidence thing, a readiness thing–we have to give ourselves some time.

leadership cartoonIn our recent Foundations of Educational Leadership class, we focused on leading change, and as part of that discussion, we looked at Michael Fullan (2014) regarding his perspective of considering “what happens when you find yourself needing new skills and not being proficient when you are used to knowing what you are doing” (p. 175) .  It is at this point where we determine whether we have reached our incompetence level or whether we will use our instincts and knowledge to figure it out and adapt to our own changing roles.  We cannot ask others to follow us into change if we, ourselves, are not comfortable with the unknown.  Are we always ready for what is thrown at us? No, of course not; before we jump to the assumption that we have “reached our level of incompetence,” I challenge us, as new leaders, to remember what got us this far in the first place–our grit, our own experiences, and our competence.  family curcuis







Acosta, P. (2010, 12). Promotion dynamics the Peter Principle: Incumbents vs. external hires. Labour Economics, 17(6), 975-986. doi:10.1016/j.labeco.2010.02.005

Fullan, M. (2014). Leading in a Culture of Change. Wiley.

Gates, S. M., Chung, C. H., Ross, K. E., Santibanez, L., & Ringel, J. S. (2003). Who is Leading Our Schools? an Overview of School Administrators and Their Careers. RAND Education.

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