Eating Muskrat and Kissing Pigs: Superintendent 3.0 is here.

This past Friday evening I had the honor of kissing Penelope, a 120-pound Vietnamese potbelly pig, not because it was the trendy thing to do, but because the Home and School Association (HSA) held a special dual event where students played candy-bar bingo and also voted on various teachers and administrators to kiss the pig.  This was the first time I’d seen such an event, and the crowd was beyond energetic.  Nothing beats seeing a packed room of parents, teachers, and students all embracing a sea of smiles.

Based on a few hundred children who kept running to the front of the stage every time Penelope came out to smooch, it was certainly the highlight of the evening.  As for my kissing the pig, I don’t recall having ever done something before where almost every smartphone in the room came out to take pictures and videos.  Surely, this is the stuff that computer wallpapers, screen savers, and memes are made of.

The WTSD HSA candy-bar bingo/kiss-a-pig fundraiser was a huge success!

That is the point, though; all of this is in good fun.  Superintendents, now more than ever, need to be public, approachable, and up for events like this.  It does not have to be kissing a pig; it could be a dunk tank (I had to hide around the corner), eating something you normally don’t (muskrat was a common local food and “delicacy” in one community where I worked), or something goofy like dying your hair or sleeping overnight on the roof of a school.  This is free, positive publicity for you and your district.

Any school leader turning down such happenings is waiting for a barrage of negativity on top of the daily criticism you already face.  Events like this are win-win.  Whether you love me or loathe me, you thoroughly enjoyed the experience…and… money was raised for a good cause (in the pig’s case, it was for HSA funds).

Thus, to those crazy fundraisers and hilarious events where something silly can happen, keep them coming.  You raise funds and awareness and perhaps even gain some personal points in the process.

As for my eating pork, I’m going to give that up for a while!


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The power of the thank-you note


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From Carina, a former student who is now a supply chain analyst for a global company

Over the weekend, I received two very special emails.  The first came from a student I had taught ten years ago who had just landed her first full-time job as a teacher.  The second was from a student who was in a building where I was an administrator.  He wrote me to say that he’s enjoying high school and that he was thankful for his experience.  Both were equally cool, and both are equally appreciated in ways the writers will never imagine.

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From Kirsten, one of the best ELA teachers I have ever hired

This may sound corny, but I have kept various thank-you notes over the years.  It’s difficult to explain what such a few words on paper, whether written or typed, mean.

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From various students from 2006 when they were in 9th grade

It all started in East Brunswick, where students in grades 5, 7, 9, and 12 were all given one card to send a thank you to a teacher, the average response being about two sentences.  It was my first year, and I received 41 from the roughly 160 students I had taught.  I was so proud that I hung them in my classroom.  I repeated the practice every year that I was at CJHS and finally ran out of wall space.  I wanted my students to see them; it was motivation for them. They liked pointing to this one or that one and having me tell them a story about the student who had written it.  They loved finding ones written by their siblings.  Students even returned and pointed out their own cards.

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From Sarah, currently a merchandising assistant for a Fortune 500 company

Thank yous can come in a myriad of forms–post-it notes, formal letters from parents, even a coloring page from a book.  Those little things matter most.

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From a former student who just began her first year as an elementary teacher

When I made the switch to administration, I thought these days were surely going to be over.  I was waiting for the barrage of angry emails, phone calls, and disagreements.  To my surprise, it was not as daily as I had expected, and, when the tough times came along, thank-you notes also came along with them.

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From my former superintendent

As I rose up the ranks, I learned very quickly that the phrase “bigger chair, bigger problems” is the truth.  As a superintendent, problems that I didn’t think were even possible came my way.  Whether it was student placement, staff placement, or just about anything you would expect from a Hollywood script, it came (and still does) across my desk.

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From a former parent at LAC school thanking me for moving her 2nd-grade student “onward” 🙂

While parent thank-you cards are fantastic, the shout-outs from students are even more exciting, especially from those students who took a misstep on occasion.

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From a former student who needed to focus on spelling instead of “doing something bad” 

Thank-you notes from students who genuinely appreciate change and the direction in which the school district is going “take the cake.”  People love saying, “We want change,” but,  when it affects them, they no longer want it.  Social media and public meetings allow theatrics and folks who don’t like any change an avenue to vent, but they often do not see (or want to see) the other side.  Little notes like the one below are all the fire you need to keeping moving in the right direction.

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From an excited student who was eager for the changes and what will happen next

Of course, teacher support during change is always appreciated, too.  Sometimes, you just have to be yourself and give everything to those in need.  I have found that when I come into new places, many have not yet been exposed to what is truly out there.

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As I am rolling out a series of changes in my new district, things are almost lockstep compared to other districts when it comes to folks “freaking out” over change.  It can be a district of 100 or 10000.  Change is tough.  While both the opposition and theatrics by various stakeholders have been high, the thank- you notes and positive communication have still been flowing in.  It is for you, and the students whom I am here to serve, that I keep pushing forward for what is best for today’s students.  The passion and fire in the belly will always be there, but it is the occasional thank-you notes that keep me focused. Soooo…thank you for the thank yous!




HPV: It’s a big deal.

Once a month superintendents in New Jersey get together for a round-table discussion.  In addition to an array of issues covered, we also try to have representatives from an outside group/agency attend and present information that is relevant to education.  Our last meeting featured the county health services office, and a conversation followed about services offered from the county, including teaching about sexually transmitted infections (STI’s).  One superintendent jumped in and spoke about how he had sent health teachers to a workshop and one of the presenters (in her mid-20’s) stated that she has HPV and that “it’s not a big deal because 6 out of 10 women get it.”

Wait…what?  Not a big deal?!

The attendees looked up at the superintendent in silence.  Are folks really believing this?  Are students just shrugging off the importance of knowing what an STI can do to their bodies?  Are current health teachers just shrugging it off, too?

I immediately began researching the requirements for teaching STI’s in New Jersey. Besides the state’s offering a plethora of services related to STI’s (you can find free clinics and additional information by clicking here), the New Jersey Department of Education offers a myriad of programming, curriculum, and services (you can access them by clicking here).  Additionally, the 2014 NJ State Board of Education Standards clearly state (in 2.1.8.C.1 and 2.1.8.C.2 state) that students need to be taught that “the prevention and control of diseases and health conditions are affected by many factors” including to

  • Evaluate emerging methods to diagnose and treat diseases and health conditions that are common in young adults in the United States and other countries, including hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, HPV, and testicular cancer.

and to

  •  Analyze local, state, national, and international public health efforts to prevent and control diseases and health conditions.

Is this not being done?  Is this not being addressed with the seriousness that it should be?  I would hope that all students (and adults for that matter) not only get the proper education on such a serious issue, but also that educators treat it like one.  Any infection or disease that affects how we live is a big deal.

Game changers

Most readers know that I was a history teacher for nine years.  I loved every second of it. My favorite topic was covering elections, and presidential elections were always very special.  This year is certainly no different, but the twists are more than those found in a mystery novel.

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A few months ago, if you had asked the pundits and the “in-crowd” if Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump would be the focal point of this election, you would have been laughed at. But… here we are.  Two outsiders.  Two mavericks.  Two game changers. Two very different people with very different beliefs, but, nonetheless, two individuals to whom people are drawn.  Why?  They are not from “the establishment.”  They are not career politicians. They are not embedded in a political dynasty.  They are running by their own rules, and they do not care what anyone else says when it comes to how they are doing it.

The same can be said for several superintendents in education today.  More and more, boards of education are sick and tired of getting the same ol’, same ol’. Boards are becoming aggressive and courageous, as they see that they need mavericks and folks willing to go rogue to put students first.

You can argue that there are pitfalls for this type of leader.  Many political commentators are saying that people love the songs Sanders and Trump are singing but aren’t interpreting the lyrics.  Can the same be said about these types of superintendents? Maybe.  I am proud to say that there is indeed a new breed of superintendent (I call it Superintendent 3.0), and with these leaders comes an ingraining of values, pedagogy, and mantra of students first.

Am I a Trump?  No.  Am I a Sanders?  No.  Am I a superintendent who is of a new blood and is doing things the Sinatra way for students?  Yep.


Healthy work culture

This is a superb post. Take time and read it!

doug --- off the record

My morning smile came as I checked my overnight Twitter stream.  Then, it turned to a question.

At the Bring IT Together Conference last November, I attended a presentation by Sylvia Duckworth about how to create Sketchnotes.  I figured that, just by being in her presence, I’d somehow get the inspiration and skill to create my own.  I’ve got an idea that I would like to turn into one, just to say that I did.

As of this posting, it’s still a work in progress.  I’m trying; I really am.  It just isn’t coming together in any shape that wouldn’t embarrass me.  Fortunately, we have her expertise to keep us thinking and learning.

But, enough about my shortcomings.

Her latest offering appears below.

It’s part of my Sylvia collection.

After I enjoyed her work, I did my part and reshared her announcement of the Sketchnote.  It has been received…

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