2016: I’m just getting started. OH TESTIFY!!! 

2015 was one of the best years I have had, personally and professionally.  Among other things, I was blessed with two healthy, happy girls, was allowed to switch school districts to be closer to home (and said girls), was fortunate enough to see tons of accomplishments for my students and staff, and was lucky enough to speak to folks around the country and the world about all of the great things our students and staff are doing in schools today. All of this has left me sitting here shaking my head (or as my X would put it… SMH) on how much awesomeness I got to be part of.

Sure, there was some sadness too. I lost my father this past year, and my grandmother weeks later. I also said goodbye to an awesome group of students and some amazing staff members in my old district. Thanks to social media and this thing called the Internet, we are thankfully just a click away.

I also had some difficult decisions to make for my career. Not only did I turn down a powerhouse district to stay closer to home, I had some difficult conversations with folks about futures, careers, and life. I lost some friendships along the way for telling it like it is and sticking to my core belief of students first. Sad, yes.Keeping me up at night? No way. I also saw true colors in both my professional and personal lives (on my level, it’s blended together).  A learning experience for sure. Finally, you can’t do so much and be awesome without collecting some haters along the way. Is it sad to admit that I like them too?  I’ve come to accept you either loving me or loathing me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My haters fuel me; you push me harder and make me better each and every day.

I’m warning you now; 2016 is going to be the year of testifying. When I googled “testify”, two definitions came up:  the one that was related to court and the one that is related to spreading the news.  I’m all about spreading the news.


I love telling folks all of the good in schools.  I love sharing all of the energy that students have and their desire to learn.  I love to expose my teachers to new ideas, thoughts and people that are here and, yes, just a click away.

As I said earlier, I had the privilege of testifying all over the country and world in 2015. Places included:

  • Atlanta
  • Beijing
  • Boston
  • Bangor, ME
  • Changchun, China
  • Chicago
  • Denver
  • Honolulu
  • Philadelphia
  • Los Angeles
  • Louisville
  • New Jersey (18 out of 21 counties)
  • Orlando
  • Providence
  • San Fransisco
  • Sante Fe

I got to testify about awesomeness and the power of STEAM and what my district was doing at The White House! I still can’t get over that. The White House!!!

I’m more excited by the day to all of the excellence and star power that will be coming to my district this upcoming year, including Tom Murray, Barry Saide, and even Dave Burgess!

2016 is right around the corner… And I’m just getting started. Don’t believe me? Just watch. Watch what testifying can do! Watch me expose!! And please…. Tell me we can’t! Tell me it can’t be done! I think we had a ton of fun proving the naysayers wrong this past year.

Who’s ready to move forward in 2016?! Who’s ready to do what’s best for students in 2016?! Who’s ready to show all of those who say we can’t that we can and we will. Ready…. Set… TESTIFY!!!

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2016. Looking forward to getting the party started… Again. I’ll testify to that too!

Swiping Right for Success

With 2016 being days away, I’m starting to revisit some goals that I made in the beginning of the school year. One of my goals is to be cognizant of current lingo so I’m never caught off guard in conversations. While Wikipedia or Urban Dictionary is just a click away (UD was a staple for me, as I taught middle school and was a middle school VP), it’s nice to know a sense of the word before I have to look it up.

I’ve been hearing about “swiping right” as of late. First came the “like” on Facebook, then came the Retweet on Twitter, followed by the “+1” and so many others.

In the mobile dating app Tinder, swiping right means you are interested / “like” the person that you see on your screen. While the app has been around for a couple of years, its popularity has surged, and jokes on the radio and The Tonight Show have been more common.

I’ve also read about Tinder scenarios with teachers, supervisors, and central administration in education. I get legal briefs once a week to see what’s going on in schools statewide and nationally. And yes, most of those news briefs are rather sad.

I refuse to let trendy items that get negative reputations in our digital lives impede on education. While I’m not going to be encouraging our students to be using a dating app, I’m always a fan of using popular sayings or something from pop culture to relate to students or staff. I have many staff in their 20’s where a teachable moment often happens by injecting a buzz word that the age group can relate to. It’s no different than using a current song on the radio or a meme that’s all the rage.

Back to the title – swipe right for success? It  sounds like something that the character Michael Scott would push from the TV show “The Office”. But, it’s a thought where we can build on; something we can take to relate to others in the future.

The point of the post? Embrace appropriate pop culture in schools for a more positive experience, and don’t throw lingo around that you haven’t looked up.

Did you hear the story about the one teacher who told kids to go HAM and had no idea what it meant? Never mind 😉

The Notebook & The Passing of the Torch

Below is an excerpt from my upcoming book Superintendent 3.0, which is scheduled to be released in 2016.

When you first transcend to the Dark Side of school administration, you go through that cycle of “I know everything”, just like when you were fresh out of the gate with your teaching degree.  As an assistant principal, I knew the phone calls and conversations would be much more than a teacher, but I had no idea just how many.  It was getting to the point where I just couldn’t remember whom I spoke with, when, and why.

I asked my boss about it, and he chuckled. He asked me, “you ever hear one of these, mr. technology?” and tossed me a daily planner.

Chuckling back, I simply nodded.  It’s a daily planner, with every day listed as well as times. Sure, I could keep it all on a google doc or google calendar, but there was something nice about keeping a book right in front of you.

It was so simple, yet so effective.  Every conversation, with brief details.  If I had a “please call” slip, I’d staple it into the book. It came in handier and handier by the day.

Since my AP days, I have brought it with me everywhere. I use the freebie that the photo company gives out; nothing fancy.

I noticed something interesting last year; when staff would come in to have a chat with me, they noticed me going right to my book and writing it down.  It freaked some folks out.  Some thought I was keeping a tally; others thought it was some bizarre “gotcha” system.  Truth be told, it was none of those, but most recently, it has been used for something very useful; transitioning.

I was lucky enough to land a new gig right down the road from where I live.  I was even luckier that my previous Board allowed me to break my contract one year early.  That does not happen too often.  One of the key pieces for making all of this happen was my willingness to make a smooth transition happen.

I left with everything in “autopilot” for the next person to come in and change whatever and move in any direction they choose, but having those face-to-face conversations, and sharing ‘the notebook’ was critical.  Why?

  • Knowledge of the issues at hand. Every school has something going on; incoming leaders deserve to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. I love sharing the good stuff; it’s great talking points and shows everyone that you are interested in the school itself.
  • Know the chess pieces before you start playing. Every school has a certain group of people in that influence the culture. We all know the secretaries and custodians really run the building, but what about the others? The legends? The underappreciated? The space cadet who somehow got tenure? The go-getters? The one buried in a job because they are out every other day or because they screwed something else up? The superstars? The firestarters and pot stirrers? The useless? Etc…  
  • Know the external forces. Each school has stakeholders who do your legwork of how the school should be interpreted. From the police department, to the PTA, to the local clergy.  Know folks on the outside who love you and loathe you.
  • Know the landmines. If you’re in education, you know there’s a landmine waiting for you. Some taboo topic; some unspoken given; something off of the table.  Had I known certain landmines, I would have NEVER gone near them. Passing this off is by far one of the most important things a leader can do.

Some will argue that this is only a ‘glorified gotcha’ where this is only setting up other for failure and will crush any chance or morale building.  Nonsense.  It’s glorified gotcha if you have someone who is not doing their job or isn’t playing by the rules.

The past is the past; the past isn’t the past when it interferes with the students of the present.

When my next transition happens, be assured that I’ll be sharing ‘the notebook’ with the incoming. I recommend you do the same.

No work over recess? YES!

Below is an email I sent out to all staff pertaining to the upcoming winter recess:

Certificated Staff,

Greetings!  I hope this email finds you happy and healthy during the holiday season.  As we all know, this time of year can get busy.  We also all know that the countdown has begun for next week;  we all will have a well-deserved recess from the daily grind of school… and a break from a classroom of students! To ensure that all of us (students, staff, administrators) do in fact receive a break, I am directing that there be no homework or professional work to be completed or required by our students, teachers, and administrators over the winter break.

Sadly, most of us either know someone or personally can testify to the correlation of  an increase in workload with high stress and anxiety.  It is time to recognize that our students are asked to do more work than ever, just as teachers and administrators are asked to do more. It does not matter to me whether expectations are self-imposed, generated by peers, parents, staff, state, or federal rules. Students, teachers, support staff, and administrators all need a break.

If any projects are due, please push them from January 4th until the 6th.  As always, if you have any questions, please contact me directly at jeitner@wtsd.org.

Happy Holidays, and happy work-free break!

Jay

The Living Wax Museum

While I strive to make every day an awesome day, sometimes I find myself chained behind my desk trying to get the scads of paperwork done. I’ll often find just about any excuse to get up and go; but this was no excuse.  This was something very, very special.  All of the winter concerts are a blast, but when other teachers get involved and get to show off our students in other talents, it brings more in.

The EAGLE program at Waterford Elementary School is the gifted and talented program that is at a crossroads.  While they do a myriad of activities during the years, I have recently asked for a more curriculum aligned path so when the students start another school district in 7th grade, they are on the same level and have had similar backgrounds. While the big push has been STEAM and the MakerSpace movement, the teacher delved into something not done at WES before; a living wax museum. Students in grades 4-6 took on a variety of roles ranging from Patrick Henry to Jimmy Hendrix.  Each student had a short bio to remember and had a information board and costume to go with it.

Neat?  An understatement.  Powerful? Not strong enough.  Neither is the word ‘fun’. It has been a long time since I’ve seen so many parents, teachers, family members, and even fellow students in awe.  The social studies teacher in me was doing cartwheels; the Superintendent in me couldn’t be more proud of the students and their teacher.

I think the EAGLE teacher summed it up very well: “Many things I do with the students forces them out of their comfort zone. This is one project that certainly tests their limits. When you were in the other day, you witnessed a rehearsal, a time to practice and stumble. They also know that I would be honest, critical, and sincere.  They needed support and comfort to try something they never did before. My students have built a trusting rapport with me. They know I will guide them to new challenges, while keeping a safe place to grow, experiment, and sometimes fail. I don’t know if you area aware but some of the students have special needs and still have great academic talents. They learn to embrace their uniqueness and conquer their disabilities. I think they knocked it out of the park as well.  Thank you for the kinds words, I will pass it on to them. It means a lot to this group that their work is appreciated. I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of kids. The year isn’t over yet, just watch what we will accomplish.”

Students learned something new; so did teachers and parents at that. Soar EAGLES, soar. 

Community – a staple of the holiday season.

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While msot of us inedcation come across some type of holiday drive, I haven’t seen one like where I am currently the Superintendent of Schools.

The drive every year is headed by a teacher and school nurse in one of the elementary schools. The team starts by gathering a list of those that are in need.  The list is determined by those on the free/reduced lunch program but also on referrals from teachers and other staff members.

The team then reaches out to the community through local houses of worship.  Giving trees are set up at houses of worship along with our schools.

On the day of the dealine,  all gifts are collected and dropped off in one of the school gym to sort.  The systems is so lock-step that letters on presents correspond to names of those in need.  I arrived to hte school on Sunday afternoon to six SUV’s and trucks packed to the gills with presents.

By Monday, all presents were bagged, tagged, and ready to be issued.  Families can come in at any time to get them.  Some have asked to recieve food donations as well.  They have that covered too.

It’s very rewarding to look at a sea presents purchased for those in need. Community coming together to support each other during the holidays; what a thought. I wish this calliber of empathy existed everywhere.

Wishing everyone a very happy, helathy holiday.

 

 

The PLC: mandatory nomenclature

The holidays are a time for me to catch up with family and friends.  I had a chance to meet with some former colleagues, and as much as I try not to talk shop, it always ends up creeping in. We began discussing the usual admin stuff, and then a conversation about Personal Learning Communities (PLC’s) arose.  The practice has been in place for most of New Jersey for around eight years. The colleague was rather miffed at fellow colleague responses to say the least.

One of the many pitfalls of being in a small school is the lack of time, lack of interest (due to previous administrators trying to implement it incorrectly), or collaboration; not because folks don’t want to, but there is no other person to do it with in the same field (i.e. one art teacher, one 4th grade teacher, etc.). Being on your own island all day is tough, but it does not have to be so hard to the point of isolating everyone else.   Thankfully, the internet and the explosion of Personal Learning Networks has allowed those in singleton situations to connect, learn, and grow. The roadblock in this case was very clear – not wanting to do it.

The colleague tried to revise my previous program and attempted to establish  some PLC action.  It didn’t have to be followed to the T, but a modicum of dialogue was the only item wanted. If the PLC was established  – to talk even bi-weekly for a few minutes to simply go over some vertical articulation – it would be beneficial for every learner in the school.  The colleague has spent at least two months exposing and adjusting students to the common core standards, something that the students have not even seen before because that teacher does not even understand what common core is nor is going to even try to. The colleague wants

Instead, the old-school with the ‘we’re not changing mindset ‘ interpreted the comment as “the teacher is not doing the job” and got all offended.  Sadly, I’m not surprised.

This was the same building where I had the opportunity to collaborate with education specialists from the NJDOE.  These are full-time curriculum people, well versed in today’s educational practices and what kids need and how they learn today.  Invited them in for ELA and Math.  We orchestrated a full day to review model curriculum and see where it goes.  I started off the meeting and had to leave to take care of administrative duties. The moment I left, the gripe session started. And it wasn’t a 15-minute session (which is in every place) – for almost TWO HOURS – by the same person.  Every idea was shot down; every suggestion or tip was met with an eye roll.  The worst part – there is no other place to put this teacher because it’s a small school.  Fast forward to a week later, the curriculum specialist came back to me, with her supervisor, to tell me that she could not work with the team because of the one teacher’s domination of negativity.  I can’t imagine hearing anything worse than that.

I have mentioned in previous blog posts about “horse trading” and burying the useless. It’s very hard to do in a small school – especially when you already have a bunch of folks already buried in one place.

Back to the conversation at hand – the colleague was very sad due to the lack of cooperation and collaboration.  The colleague wants to get better and be the best of the students – not count down the watch until retirement. My advice was simple: stay on the path, chin up, and keep doing what’s best for kids.  Your hard work shines with those that mean the most  — our learners.  Until then, thanks for knowing that the PLC is a part of our educational nomenclature, not just a fad.

 

5 Books for the Educator this Holiday Season

The holidays are here again!  You’re in search of that perfect gift, but you don’t want to buy a fruitcake, mug, or poinsettia for the educator this year.  You’re tired of the same stuff, and you want to give a meaningful book this holiday season to someone who is an educator and WANTS to read something related to it.  No ‘chicken soup’ or feel-good books; books that will help an educator, won’t break your wallet, and will be appreciated this holiday season.

(Note: all images were procured from amazon.com)

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Connecting Your Students with the World

by Billy Krakower / Jerry Blumengarten / Paula Nagle

An easy read combined with methodical steps, I bought the book for every teacher in my District. The book offers an easy path to give your students a more interactive, authentic learning experience, shows you how to use web tools to get K–8 students in touch with other classrooms worldwide,and helps you find and communicate with other teachers and classrooms and even design your own collaborative online projects. The book also includes detailed instructions for each activity and connections to the Common Core, ISTE, and Next Generation Science Standards.  Order it here.
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The Power of Branding: Telling Your School’s Story

by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis

Yes, Tony and Joe are my friends, but their book is to the point and easy to implement upon first read. You get  step-by-step guidance through the process of using tech-based tools to inform, engage, and support your school community. The book also examines the benefits of branding and will help you create an action plan for sharing the excellent things unfolding in your classroom, school, or district. Perfect for the teacher or administrator who’s still dipping the toe in the social media water. Order it here.
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Worlds Of Making:  Establishing a Makerspace for your School

by Laura Fleming

Simply put, Laura is a rockstar. The book is perfect for the librarian / GT teacher / administrator who wants to hop on the MakerSepace Express and get something up and running.  You don’t needs scads of cash; just junk and some shoeboxes!  From inception through implementation, you’ll find invaluable guidance for creating a vibrant Makerspace on any budget. Practical strategies and anecdotal examples help you create an action plan for your own personalized Makerspace and also helps one to align activities to your curriculum standards. Buy it here.
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The Prize  by Dale Russakoff

A few years ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced to a cheering Oprah audience his $100 million pledge to transform the downtrodden schools of Newark, New Jersey, then mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie were beside him, vowing to help make Newark “a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.” But their plans soon ran into the city’s seasoned education players, fierce protectors of their billion-dollar-a-year system. It’s a prize that, for generations, has enriched seemingly everyone, except Newark’s children.

This book has it all: drama, celebrity politics, big philanthropy, extreme economic inequality, the charter school movement, and the struggles and triumphs of schools in one of the nation’s poorest cities.   Not the feel-good book of the year, but for those that like politics and like to think, this is for you.  Order it here.

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Leaders Eat Last  by Simon Sinek

All teachers and administrators get leadership books, and lately get their fair dose of emotional intelleigence (EI) books as well.  How do you siphon through them all to see what works and what does not? Imagine a world where almost everyone wakes up inspired to go to work, feels trusted and valued during the day, then returns home feeling fulfilled. Today,  great leaders are creating environments in which people naturally work together to do remarkable things. The book delves in to by leaders who create and cultivate rockstart teams, where they are able to trust each other so deeply that they would literally put their lives on the line for each other, with the concrerte being “leaders eat last”. This principle has been true since the earliest tribes of hunters and gatherers. Sinek stresses thoroughout the book that it’s not management theory; it’s biology. To quote Sinek, “We thrived only when we felt safe among our group. Feeling safe leads to stable, adaptive, confident teams, where everyone feels they belong and all energies are devoted to facing the common enemy and seizing big opportunities.  When it matters most, leaders who are willing to eat last are rewarded with deeply loyal colleagues who will stop at nothing to advance their leader’s vision and their organization’s interests.” This was an awesome read.  Order it here.

 

Expose: it’s not a dirty word.

I’m getting tired of hearing about so and so was exposed or how this school was exposed for whatever.  Why does the word ‘expose’ have such a negative connotation?

When I was a teacher, my job was to expose; my job was to expose every learner to everything they can get their hands on.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.  Both sides of the story, always, and let my learners formulate an opinion or response.

As a building administrator, it was the same thing, only for my teachers.  Expose teachers to all the great and no so great in education; expose them to new methodologies and pedagogy while also showing them (in my opinion) things to avoid.

As A Superintendent of Schools, I expose it all.  My biggest mission: to expose the community, and the world, all of the amazing things we are doing in our schools. I’m exposing the outside world to pictures, videos, prompts, and stories.  I’m telling our story, and loving every second of it. I’m exposing a group of people that want in, in. I’m exposing people to dialogue, engagement, and positivity.

So the next time you read or hear the word “expose” – don’t be alarmed.  It’s our job as educational leaders to expose. So, yes, I’ll be exposing you and your awesomeness if we ever work together. If my students or staff are ever mistreated or are getting unwarranted exposure, I’ll be exposing that source as well. While it can be both positive and negative, it surely does not have to be.

…and IF you are concerned about being exposed for who you are or what you’re  doing (or not doing), what do you have to hide? 

 

Parental Relationships – the Key To Awesomesauce

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book “Superintendent 3.0” to be published in Spring of 2016.

From the early days of college, we’ve all been indoctrinated that an effective educator needs to have great parent relationships. What we’ve all been trying to figure out is how do we get all parents to like us? I’ll let you in on a secret… It’s never going to happen… and that’s ok! However, if you’re not trying to create working, positive relationships with parents, we have a problem.

Piggybacking on my previous piece on being thankful for so much, I’ve been very fortunate to have cultivated and maintain fantastic parental relationships in every district I have worked in. It’s not every parent, but those that I’ve stayed in touch with not only have a wealth of information and insight, they geninuely are thankful for doing what you do and advancing their children.

Parents that I have kept in touch with range from Board Members to farmers. I recently caught up with a parent who is a photographer and took pictures of my twins for their first Christmas. While business was business, she completed great work, and we had the chance to catch up in between “costume changes”. We spoke of all of the great progress her children were making, my time in the district, and even spoke of who will be replacing me. Why does any of that matter? Simple: the fact that we even still talk, let alone be friendly, echoes waves of what these relationships should be in every school district. Working with parents is paramount for success; to those leaders who believe that there’s no need for such partnership, you’re clearly not seeing the big picture. To those that have nothing but a reputation of being negative and ostrichsizing parents, you have work to do.