Friday, December 27, 2013

PLN Blog Challenge


PLN Blog Challenge

So, Daisy Dyer Duerr (@DaisyDyerDuerr) must have been reading my mind.  I have been meaning to get a blog post out for quite some time.  What a perfect way to get me back going again than with a good old fashion throw down challenge...a blog challenge! Thanks, Daisy.  Here goes nothing!

Here are the Rules:
1. Acknowledge the nomination blogger.
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4.  List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition.
5.  Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate and let all the bloggers know they been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

11 Random Facts about me:

1. I don't really like for snow and ice...but if I have to be around it...I prefer to hop on my tractor and snow blade to go around the neighborhood to clean their driveway and sidewalks.  A little service mixed in with riding my toy around like a little kid.

2. I was lucky enough to get to extend some of my passions growing up by being able to play basketball and soccer in college.

3.  I enjoy cooking and obviously, eating too.  I may watch "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives", "Chopped", and "Restaurant: Impossible" as much as "SportsCenter".

4.  I coached an Iowa Senior Select basketball team on a trip to Australia.  We were there for 18 days and played many games in different cities. We stayed with host families and I still communicate with them from time to time.  I could live in Australia in a heartbeat.

5.  I often have to do the Mel Gibson, "Lethal Weapon" move with my shoulder when it dislocates and I need to get it back in place.  Need to have surgery sometime.  I am a sports injury waiting to happen.  This goes along with an ACL/MCL knee surgery and a screw in my wrist.

6.  I enjoy weed eating around our neighborhood ponds to clear my head and think of nothing but cutting those pieces of grass.  When done with this I often pull out the fishing pole to see what is biting.

7.  My wife owns a professional photography studio that does weddings, seniors, families, etc. Back in the day, I had to carry the equipment and be the sun reflector guy.  I have since retired from this duty.

8.  I am a converted coffee drinker.  Never liked it before.  One thing though...it can't taste like coffee.  It has to have a flavored creamer and sugar.  I am amazed that people can drink black coffee.

9.  One of the hardest jobs I had to do as a kid was bailing hay for a family friend. Loading and stacking up in the scorching hot barn by myself about did me in multiple times.

10.  I have never owned a pet as child or as an adult...and I believe I never will.  Friends and family are currently trying to change my mindset about this one.

11.  I have never been to the Iowa State Fair.  When I say this, people look at me like it is unAmerican or something.  I may need to put this on my to do list this summer.


My Responses to Daisy

1.Why Education as a career? I was going down the business field at the time.  It wasn't meeting my passions.  I changed to a field where I could be with kids and try to be an influential person like some of my teachers and coaches.


2.What is the best sporting event you have ever attended? Any time I have been to Jupiter, FL for Spring Training or Busch Stadium to watch the St. Louis Cardinals.  


3.What’s your favorite thing/things about the SOUTH? Warm weather and southern hospitality.  Retirement plans include moving to the South.  Doing research as we speak.


4.Who or what is the biggest influencer of what you are doing today in education? Seeing kids battle adversity and finding some kind of success for their future.  Letting them know we care is a major driving force.


5.Plane, Train, or Automobile?  Plane....more time to spend where you are going and not as many..."Are we there yet?" questions from the kids.


 6.What was your biggest fear as a child? Heights..fear of falling and having zero control of what happens next...I know...the planes thing doesn't make sense...I white knuckle it on the take off.


7.Favorite time of the school day….why? Welcoming kids to school.  I enjoy trying to start many kids day off with a smile and encourage them to have a great or awesome day.


8.How can we equalize the playing field for ALL children in America?  Eliminate the educational lottery for kids based on the school or community they live in and their resources.  Students need a fair chance to have quality education just like the students from another city or state.  


9.GO TO Stress Reliever? SportsCenter or my Twitter PLN.


10.Education Conference you just HAVE to attend -any ISTE conference in the near future.  I am seeing and hearing about way too much innovation and relationships being formed through Twitter from afar....need to make it an event to attend on a regular basis.


11.In 10 years as an educator I want to………….still be growing as a leader of a school or district and to be developing the "kids first" culture which develops relationships that impact everyone for the better.


Now I get to share 11 bloggers I’d like to recognize and keep this thing going.


1.  Matt Degner                                @mwdegner
2.  Robert Sigrist                             @DocSig                                 
3.  Nathan Wear                               @Nathan_Wear
4.  Laura Gilchrist                            @LauraGilchrist4           
5.  David Culberhouse                    @DavidCulberhouse
6.  Jennifer Hogan                          @Jennifer_Hogan
7.  Shaelynn Farnsworth                @shfarnsworth
8.  Todd Bloomer                            @yankee_todd
9.  Tom Whitford                             @twhitford
10.  John Wink                                @JohnWink90
11.  Joe Sanfelippo                        @Joesanfelippofc


11 Questions for my nominees

1.  What was your favorite book to read as kid?..as an adult? 
2.  Who are two of your favorite athletes?
3.  Your favorite teacher/coach in high school or college...why did they mean so much to you?
4.  If you were to host a Super Bowl Party, what foods are you having?
5.  Where is a vacation place you went to as a kid or adult that would you recommend to others?
6.  What are two things on your bucket list that you just have to do yet?
7.  What is a something you wished you had more training on in college prep for an education career?
8.  If you were to go back in time, who would you like to hang out with for a day?
9.  How do you like to spend your time when you aren't in school?
10.  What is one of your favorite leadership quotes?
11.  If you could change one thing in education, what would it be?

Thank you!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

His Legacy Meant So Much To Me

This post has been one that I have been waiting a long time to do.  It is about someone that had a larger impact on me than many, if any, even in my hometown, know about.  This post is about my former high school principal, Dan Kieler, that passed away a few months ago.  I have been carrying Mr. Kieler's funeral program in my school bag for a couple of months now, knowing that I wanted to share my story about him.  Most importantly, I didn't want to forget what he meant to me.

You see, he wasn't just my principal in junior high and high school.  He was also the dad of one of my best friends as I grew up.  Mr. Kieler lived just a few houses away from me in our little town of West Point, Iowa.  Over the years, I was able to have unique interactions with Mr. Kieler that many don't usually have with their principal.  I was able to see his personal side while also seeing how he worked with students, staff, and the community.  I was able to enjoy first hand his passion for fishing, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, the Green Bay Packers, and everything West Point Marquette Warriors.  He treated me like I was one of his own.  He had high expectations of me and I tried to do everything not to disappoint.

Mr. Kieler was someone that was down to earth and never took himself too seriously.  He loved to have a good time, crack a few jokes, and always made everyone around him feel special.  He was the same man at home as he was at school.  He was as solid a guy as you would ever want to know and be around.  I will be forever grateful to him and how he impacted our small town community.  He has impacted so many young men and women over the years to help them believe in themselves and become people they didn't know they could be.  He honestly cared for each and everyone of us.  He built and left a legacy that everyone that interacted with him will remember forever.  The best part of his legacy for our school and community is that he would just say he was doing what every person should be doing.  Care for kids, have high expectations, have a great attitude, and do things the right way.   He would say humbly that this was nothing special.  We would all say it was special.

Here are three examples that were left on Mr. Kieler's online obituary of what he meant to people of four different decades as a principal :

"Dan was my history teacher at Marquette when he was only in his mid-20s. He was one of the most personable individuals I had met. I wondered at the time how a city kid would get along in a small town. As it turns out, he got along just fine! Thanks, Dan, for your devotion to Marquette, Holy Trinity, West Point, and the surrounding community."

"When I learned of Mr. Kieler's passing, I thought to myself, he might have been the best teacher I have ever had in my life. Shortly after reflecting upon the positive influence Mr. Kieler had on my life, the phone rang, it was my sister Sylvia, and before I had a chance to say anything, she said "I think Dan (he was Dan to my sister, always Mr. Kieler to me) was the best teacher I ever had." He was truly one of the Best! Mr. Kieler would always address his students in his class by calling them Mr. XXXX or Ms. XXXX versus by their first name, and if you did something good, which in my case wasn't very often, he would say "you're a good man Mr. XXXX." Mr. Kieler had a lot of positive traits about him, which added up to make him the legend he is and will always be. I find myself addressing my kids' friends by Mr. or Ms., and often times will say "Mr. XXXX, you're a good man," which is Mr. Kieler's legacy being carried on in a small way. The last time I saw Mr. Kieler was about two years ago, and I remember him telling me, since I had reached the age of 50, I could start calling him Dan versus Mr. Kieler. I told him he would always be Mr. Kieler to me, and in his classic way, he said "OK Mr. XXXX." Mr.Kieler has touched a lot of lives and has made the world a better place."


"I remember seeing Dan in the halls with a smile on his face always asking how I was or checking in on the sports reports. He was great to have in class as a teacher and just an all-around great guy."


I felt many of these same things over the years.  He was the first teacher/principal that I specifically noticed that he was always about the KIDS FIRST.  He wanted to know me and he wanted to know every kid that walked the halls at our school.  In the mornings, we would hang out with our friends in the gym before class started.  He would make sure to come see how we were doing and shoot the breeze with us.  He would be seen in the halls talking to kids.  He was in classrooms enjoying students while they were learning as both a principal and a teacher.  He was about relationships with kids.  As much as he was about kids, he still obviously created great relationships with staff and community to be as successful as he was over many decades at Marquette.  It was just so clear though, that he was in this business for kids and most importantly he was never apologetic about his way of thinking.

Mr. Kieler impacted me in many ways while in high school.  He had high expectations of me as a student, athlete, and leader within the building.  He shared with me that he wanted to be able to count on me to do the right thing in the classroom, on the field/court, and in the way I influenced other students around me.  He would often pull me into his office before school (my locker was right outside his office door) or in between classes to have these kind of conversations.  Some of the conversations were quick check-ins and others we would be quick check-ins that would turn into sports conversations about the Packers, Fighting Irish, or any other thing that may be on his mind.  I loved these conversations and I am sure over decades, I wasn't the only one who was able to enjoy these "life" conversations with Mr. Kieler.

He also came up big for me as I entered my junior year of college.  I just had a major life changing experience when I was a sophomore in college.  I became a father at age 20 with many unknowns in my life.  I had a newborn and a new wife.  What did I know about succeeding in this new situation?  I stopped playing college basketball because I felt I needed to work every minute that I wasn't in class so that I could start providing for my new family.  This life changing experience definitely focused me and forced me to mature really fast.  I felt I still needed something in my life to give me greater direction for a career while my friends were having a great time living the so called college life.  I loved basketball and I wanted to coach in the worst way since I decided I wasn't going to play anymore.  Who do I call?  I called Mr. Kieler at my old high school and I told him of my situation.  I asked him if he had any basketball coaching positions available for the upcoming school year.  I told him I would do whatever I needed to do be back at my alma mater to coach basketball.  He surprisingly told me that he did have an opening.  The coaching position: JV girls basketball.  JV girls....wow.  I told him I was interested.  I ended up getting the position.  I coached like crazy.  I lived every play like I was playing on the court.   I was crazy at times.  Mr. Kieler was my rock.  I knew I could count on him for anything. I called him at work often.  I stopped in his office for his advice not just about x's and o's but how to understand and relate to kids and parents.  It was just like the days of our conversations when I was in high school.  I loved every minute of it.  I couldn't get enough of our conversations.  I often stayed longer than I should have because I know he had things to do.  Mr. Kieler though, made me feel like my conversation was the most important thing in the world to him at that given time.  This same thing happened daily or weekly for the following two years as he chose me to be the varsity boys basketball coach the next year.  His support gave me direction in time of great uncertainty.  My young family was able to see me play out another part of a passion of mine in coaching, but more importantly it gave us hope that we were going to make it through the early struggles of having a family so young.  I later got my first teaching job at Marquette too after I graduated from college.  This is a result of Mr. Kieler giving me a chance and believing that I was capable of doing a quality job and that I was going to be good for kids.

The awesome part about my story about Mr. Kieler is that I know that there many more stories in which he has touched lives in ways just like mine.  He left a legacy for students, teachers, and a community that will be able to be retold to their own kids for years to come.

Mr. Kieler has also influenced the way I would like to work within the educational field, and specifically as a principal.  I have tried to operate within my work that it is always about the kids and that it is our choice everyday to bring a positive attitude to our work.  If we do these things, positive results will follow.

The only regret I have, is that I didn't stay connected with Mr. Kieler as much as I should have after moving on from teaching and coaching at Marquette.  I also didn't get a chance to go have another conversation with him when he was in the hospital.  When I heard he was ill, I think I always thought he was going to make it through the battle with his health.  It reminds me to never think I am too busy for the people that have been important to us in our lives.  You never know when those people may not have the opportunity to impact you again or to finally thank them for what they have done for you in your life.  I wish he could know now how thankful I am for everything he has done for me ever since I was a very young boy in his neighborhood all the way to helping shape who I am as an adult today.

Mr. Kieler, your legacy will live on forever in my heart and the hearts of everyone who came in contact with you. You have meant so much to me and to others.  I hope to someday be half the man you were.  Thank you.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Finding a Purposeful PLN

I can’t get enough of my PLN....honestly! Everyday they inspire me with their passions, challenge me with their thinking, and move me to action with their beliefs in me and others from around the world.  I absolutely love it! My PLN has taken me out of my comfort zone so many times and I am sure that they will take me out of zones I didn’t even know I had in the near future.  I am proud of taking my blinders off little by little or just taking the plunge into the unknown. I am also thankful to the hundreds that have opened my mind by forcing me to listen, read, or have a conversation about students, relationships, leadership, curriculum, technology, change, learning, passion, pride, and any topic in between.


It may come to some people’s surprise, but maybe not to others that know me well but I was a person that didn’t actively seek out people for new friendships or conversations.  I think there was a sense of, why would someone want to know me or hear what I have to say? I always had a solid core group of friends in high school and college but thought that was good enough. Why would I need to branch out?  For me to build new friendships, it took me awhile of being around that person before really making the effort to get to know them deeper or opening up to them to get to know me. The strange thing was, I enjoyed being around people but just was comfortable with my inner circle of friends. I feel I have always been good to others, but actively putting myself into new social situations just hasn’t been my strength.  My PLN has challenged me, picked me up by my feet and shook me until those feelings came falling out and hitting the ground like coins clanking on the cement.  My PLN has encouraged me to put myself out there and get myself ready to say, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play today” like John Fogerty’s “Centerfield”. I realized through the great people/great minds of my PLN that there’s no more excuse or time to sit back and stay in my comfort zone of knowing what I know and who I know any longer.  A few years ago, I finally put myself in charge of my own learning and engaging with others instead of depending on someone else to send me to a professional development class or convention.  As many of you are probably aware, this happened through Twitter and connecting to others online by lurking and/or participating in online chats, by reading various posts/blogs, and also meeting my PLN face to face.  This experience has greatly kicked me in the tail to get out of my “box” and try to understand someone else’s mindset, passions, and ways of doing what is best for me and most importantly for kids.  I know that by doing this, I am going to continue to learn and hopefully be better than I was the previous day.


My online PLN is one of my favorite “go to” places to feel good about the work and the relationships that are being built in education.  I can feel the passion that motivates and drives them to keep getting better and more importantly the desire to share that feeling and knowledge with others. They want to put in the extra time to get better. A valued member of my PLN, Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal, stated at a conference I attended, "I don't find the time to learn and get better. I make the time to learn and get better." This attitude is typical of the members of my PLN and it spreads like wildfire among us.  I want to be able to reciprocate that same feeling and desire to get better for others.  Hopefully, I can help play a small part of others taking charge of their learning too.



I have found that one of the coolest thing about creating my own PLN isn’t just about connecting with other principals either. Beside principals, I learn from classroom teachers, superintendents, innovation consultants, curriculum directors, technology directors, student voice ambassadors, leaders in business, coaches, and many others (may have to scroll through all of the people I follow) It is awesome that an Iowa boy born in a town of 1000 or less can learn from a teacher like Todd Nesloney @TechToddNinja about integrating technology in Texas, a passionate PIRATE teacher in Dave Burgess @burgessdave from California, and learn about developing and leading 1:1 programs from Shaelynn Farnsworth @Shfarnsworth in Iowa and Shawn McCusker @ShawnMcCusker in Illinois on #1to1techat.  I actually was able to meet the latter two face to face at #EdCampIowa last year, will get to meet Dave Burgess at my school later this year as a guest speaker, and hope to run into Todd in the near future at a conference of some kind. I have also connected with and followed educational leaders like Joe Mazza @Joe_Mazza from Pennsylvania when I wanted to know more about successful ways of breaking down barriers of the home to school relationship with parents through his #ptchat.  I have connected with and met Jared Wastler @jcwastler from Maryland. Our meeting was virtually through a Google Hangout to discuss a possible sharing of instruction program between our schools.  I have done the same thing with a principal in Iowa named Tim Felderman @tfelderman78.  These great opportunities would never have been a discussion if there wasn’t a way to be connected with my PLN outside of my district in Fairfield, Iowa.  


The best part has been meeting my PLN in person and creating brand new relationships.  As I have said before, this hasn’t been a strength of mine in years past.  I have been fortunate to connect, meet, and collaborate with Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy and Matt Degner @mwdegner, which are both principals in Iowa, each Sunday night for #IAedchat with various educational topics.  They are phenomenal educators and even better people.  This relationship has been absolutely awesome and wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I also have had the pleasure of meeting more of my PLN in person at what we termed #edcampBBQ in Kansas City, MO. I joined Jimmy and I was able to meet for the first time Tom Whitford @twhitford from Wisconsin, along with these great guys and educators from Missouri -Bill Powers @MrPowersCMS, Bob Dillon @ideaguy42, Robert Sigrist @DocSig, Matt Wachel @Matt Wachel, Kyle Pace @kylepace, and Sean Nash @nashworld.  We had a great time and were able to share some of our professional stories, pick each other’s brain and catch quite a few laughs along the way while "sampling" great BBQ.




Another awesome PLN experience for me was that I was able to share another weekend with Jimmy to Chicago, Illinois, to a 1:1 conference hosted by another member of my PLN, Jason Markey @JasonMMarkey, principal of East Leyden High School. I was able to meet, create a relationship, and learn from Jason along with his staff and students.  He was genuine and wanted everyone to hear their school's story.  He and his staff were truly being servant leaders.  He didn’t have to welcome others into his school but he made the intentional choice to do the right thing to put in the hard work to make it happen and be a true servant leader.  When Jason spoke, you could hear the passion he had to make his school succeed but he also wanted others to be able to share in the same types of successes they have had. He and his staff also shared how to avoid mistakes they may have made over time. So many educators left with fresh ideas and the mindset that it’s not just about me or our own school. Jason made it clear that it’s about sharing with others and trying to help them get to their desired goal.  


At the same 1:1 conference in Chicago, I was able to meet up with a member of my PLN that I have followed for a long time on Twitter. His thinking through his tweets and blog posts have inspired me while challenging me to think differently and out of my box that I talked about earlier. I was fired up to hear and see George Couros @gcouros for the first time.  He was introduced as “one of Leyden’s favorite Canadians” for the Friday keynote. He took that like a champ and away he went with his presentation on leading innovative change.  He shared an awesome message about making meaningful change happen and not just talk about it. He made people laugh, think about moving people from point A to point B in the change process, and even made a few tear up. Jimmy V would have been proud. He impacted the audience so much that received a standing “O” when he was done.
 I was lucky enough to get know him even better that evening by going to a great dinner with him, Jeff Zoul @Jeff Zoul, Jason, Jimmy, and Jennie Magiera @MsMagiera. The next day, George, Jimmy, Jeff, and I took in a game at Wrigley Field together. Besides hanging at an MLB game, it was great to sit and talk with him about his school in Canada, his speaking experiences, hear some of his future goals as an educator, and get to know a little bit about him as a person. It was an awesome experience that I never would have guessed would happen if it wasn't for connecting through my PLN.





The PLN motivates me. It challenges my thinking. It also confirms my thinking. It encourages action. It encourages growth. It creates relationships. The challenge for me and us is to create this same type of environment in our own buildings and district.  We have to be willing to lead the charge by sharing the passion for learning, connecting to create relationships with those in we would otherwise never cross paths, and stepping out of our comfort zones. We have to model that the times of shutting our doors and working in isolation is over. My PLN has shown me the value of being fine with not knowing everything and even failing at times.  It has continued to push me professionally and personally.  My PLN has made me better today than I was yesterday and I hope to play a small part in helping someone be better someday too. PLN...I appreciate you!!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Empty Hallway


The final bell has rung.  The students left the building cheering and said their final goodbyes to many of their friends for the summer (remember how this was truly the case before technology).  The teachers packed up all of their belongings and locked their classroom door for the final time of the year.  The custodians have cleaned floors and painted walls to make the building shine like new.  Then, the building is quiet.  That moment we have been waiting for all year.  As I worked at my desk, something just wasn't right.  I got up and opened the office door, walked up to the top floor and saw nothing but an empty hallway.  The emptiness hits me smack in the face...I am missing the kids.  The hallway just doesn't seem the same.  A school hallway without students has little to no life, energy, or dreams walking through it. It quickly reminded me of why I am here along with many educators around the world.  It is for one reason....the students.



This empty hallway, just a few weeks ago, welcomed students of various ages, abilities, appearances, backgrounds, and future goals.  You could hear the lockers opening and banging shut.  The rubber of shoes squeaking and the clanking of heels. You could hear the sounds of book bag zippers opening and closing. You could hear the PA system asking for students to come to the office. You could hear the voices of students discussing what they just did in class last period with their friends.  You could hear and see them laughing and joking with one another in the short time they had until their next class. You could see students checking their phones to see who buzzed them in the previous class. You could see student faces that were worried about the test they had in their next class.  You could see students that were tired because they were doing homework until late due to a game the night before. You could see some students alone and looking at the floor as they go from one place to the next. You could see some students taking their sweet time to get where they needed to go next (I can remember this being me back in the day).  On the other hand you could also see students with smiles on their faces hurrying to their next class, ready to go and teachers at their door welcoming them in. Another major thing I notice in this empty hallway that was missing for me is the fact that I love interacting with as many students as I can in a brief amount of time between classes.  I enjoy saying, "Good morning, Sara.  Have a great day!"....or "Good afternoon, Sam.  Are you having an awesome day?"  Many of the students will smile, respond, and keep moving to their next class. A few though take this as an opportunity to share something with me about a class, last night's game, or ask a question they have been trying to track me down about.  I love the sights and the sounds of the hallway when students are around during the school year.  It's like the Turtle Man says, "Live Action!" This empty hallway reminds me of what truly makes a school what it is everyday...the students.

The empty hallway makes me think about how each of them are doing right now.  It was so easy to know this just a couple weeks ago.  Are they hanging with friends?  Are they meeting new friends? Does he/she have a job this summer? Are they alone now that they aren't in school? Do they need someone to talk to? Are they getting enough to eat?  How is their home life? Are they having a good time on vacation with their family? How is their off season workout going?  Did they go to any summer camps?  Are they making college plans? Are the new freshman excited to come to the high school? Are they taking time to just relax? How can I get to know this student better? There are many more things I am sure to think about but the echos in the hallways sure hit home with me today and made me think that I can't wait to know some of the things above.  Do you think they think about us?  If we have made any kind of impact on our students, you can bet on it.

I know the students deserve the time away from school, but I am already excited for the sights and the sounds of the students to come back so that they can fill this empty hallway with their personalities, hopes, and dreams that give it life once again.