Wishing you well on Memorial Day! – SCN Encourager

The timing of this remembrance couldn’t be better.

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 9.52.09 PMIt’s always a good thing whenever we pause in recognition of the valiant men and women in our Armed Forces who sacrificed their lives on our behalf.

No one doubts this.

And as crazy-busy the next couple of weeks will be for school leaders and communicators, the meaning of Memorial Day can also help keep our year-end events and future planning decisions in the right perspective.

That’s why we shouldn’t be too quick to put today behind us.

It may our ticket to that higher plateau where our purpose and significance somehow get in clearer focus.

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 9.06.22 PMHere’s a unique Memorial Day story about Lt. General Lucian Truscott Jr. (1895-1965)

It went a long way toward bridging my annual “take the holiday for granted” gap.

It’s an amazing account of how Truscott, while speaking before a large crowd on Memorial Day 1945, actually turned his back on his audience – many of whom were VIPs and other politically well-heeled individuals

And his message became legendary.

No tweets, likes, links, or 8 second sound bites.

Yeah, I know, it almost seems impossible in 2015.

But Lt. General Truscott nailed it 70 years ago… and the way he approached future missions was never the same.

And still without videos or selfies, of course.

May your Memorial Day with family and friends give you much to carry forward, too!

There’s both “good news” and “bad news” about the speed of change – SCN Encourager

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by what’s all on your plate?

You’re not alone.

bikerWhether this is good or bad news, it’s hard to say.

On one hand, it’s nice to know there are others who also “share the pain” of today’s rapidly accelerating pace.

There’s something to be said about comfort in numbers.

On the other… yikes!

You feel bad about the reality that nearly everyone struggles at times to keep their projects (and life!) on track.

Our fatigue is understandable.

Having lots of company in the fast lane may be hectic, but it is what it is.

It’s neither good nor bad.

And here’s another fact about the speed of change.

This one’s been on my mind ever since I heard it a few days ago.

It’s also got that good news – bad news “yin yang” going on.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 10.49.03 PMAnd it get you thinking about the vitality and “comparable position” of your own school district.

It involves the annual list of top Fortune 100 companies.

Every year companies strive to get on this list.

It publicly benchmarks growth, market leadership, and robust revenues.

Historically, once a company climbed its way into the Fortune 100, it stayed on the list for an average of 75 years.

An impressive model of stability, don’tcha think?

I believe our traditional school districts also mirrored this high quality and stability over the years.

This definitely qualifies as “good news” in my book.

But the speed of change is relentless in pushing-back.

Today, companies are only on the Fortune 100 list for an average of 15 years.

Our non-stop rapid-fire changes in technology, government regulations, marketplace options, and demographics make staying on top more difficult than ever.

And once again, we mirror what’s happening in the business world outside of our walls.

We’re striving to maintain quality in the midst of limited time and resources.

While we wish we were planning and rolling out longer term decade-by-decade type journeys, more likely than not, (and just like our business-world brethren) we’re challenged by the stress associated with fulfilling short-term, speedy-kwik operational necessities.

The good news is that it’s now possible for organizations to move up the ladder of success much more quickly than ever before.

And the bad news is … well, it’s now much harder to stay on top once you’ve arrived.

That’d be just my luck.

I’d finally earn my 15 minutes of fame – but our fast-paced world would only let me enjoy it for about 90 seconds!

So, have a great weekend, friend.

Your way.








What will make your schools become the choice of choosers?

You may be surprised by this Superintendent's answer.

It’s his cornerstone.

Customer Service2As another academic year winds down, at least one superintendent is making sure students leave for summer break feeling like they already have a bond with the teacher they will have next fall.

“Sneak-Peak” or “Move Up” Day is part of a Customer Service 101 approach to running schools championed by Kelly Middleton, superintendent of Newport Independent Schools in the Cincinnati suburb of Newport, Kentucky.

During the final week of a school year, students experience a school day with their teacher for the following year. Middle school and high school students spend the day in next year’s homeroom. Graduating seniors can return to kindergarten for the day to celebrate how much they’ve learned. Teachers present their favorite lessons. The fun builds anticipation for returning to school in the fall.

“Kids are our customers and they don’t want to go the whole summer not knowing what it’s going to be like in the fall – especially if they’ll be changing schools,” Middleton said, noting that attendance on Move Up Day runs close to 100 percent.

“We do it for the kids, to help them feel comfortable,” Middleton added. “But we’re noticing that it also helps us retain students. Students are less likely to enroll in a private or cyber school over the summer if they already have a relationship with their next teacher.”

Education’s “missing link”

Customer service rooted in strong student/staff relationships is an objective that’s conspicuously absent from education reform platforms.

Kelly E. Middleton

Kelly E. Middleton

Yet, Middleton claims it’s “the missing link” in improving student achievement.

“If schools monitored customer service as closely as they do student attendance, public education would be on the right path,” Middleton said.

He lays out his theory in the book “Who Cares? Improving Public Schools Through Relationships and Customer Service,” which he wrote with colleague Elizabeth Petitt when both were administrators at Mason County Schools in Kentucky.

The pair has also written “Simply the Best: 29 Things Students Say the Best Teachers Do Around Relationships.” They are collaborating on a third book which shows how 20 popular customer service concepts from business can also be applied to schools.

“Students don’t want to disappoint teachers who they know care for them,” Middleton said. “It’s the relationship that motivates the learning.”

The significance extends beyond student achievement.

If one drills down, Middleton says it’s caring relationships that improve school climate, reduce discipline referrals, and influence whether a school district will gain and retain students.

In other words, whether the system will survive.

“Public schools have competition,” said Middleton, who says he feels rivalry for students even though Kentucky law doesn’t allow charter schools. “Competition is personal. It could mean your job and your retirement plan are on the line.”

Educator superpower: Home visits

Move Up Day is only one relationship-building, customer service initiative that Middleton promotes.

elementary school teacher and student high fiveHe also believes that teachers should pay a visit to each of their homeroom students at their home before classes begin in the fall.

Sometimes elementary teachers have students draw a picture of their family and a map to their house on the Sneak-Peak Day. Teachers bring the drawings with them when they visit.

“Parents are more likely to come to school for parent/teacher conferences if they already know the teacher because the teacher has been in their home,” Middleton said. “Home visits greatly reduce the time it takes teachers to know their students. We also think it creates a relationship where a lot of behavior issues get handled without a referral to the office.”

If teachers oppose the plan, it’s usually on grounds that they could enter an unsafe situation during a home visit, Middleton noted.

He believes it’s the opposite.

“The more teachers do home visits, the safer schools are,” Middleton said. “Caring about the kids is the key.”

Because Newport is a community that sees a lot of turnover, Middleton also intends to start a mentoring program in which families with school-aged children would receive a personal contact from the school district within two weeks of moving in.

Be responsive

Failing to respond to inquiries and concerns in a timely fashion is a customer service time bomb that will erupt in frustration that  damages reputations and erodes trust, Middleton said.

That’s why he requires teachers to return calls and email messages within 48 hours. He requires school administrators to respond within 24 hours.

If an apology is in order, his rule of thumb is to give it as soon as possible. The longer its takes, the less likely it will be believed, he said. The more sincere the apology, the more likely you’ll recover from the situation.

More Middleton tips for providing good customer service: 

  • Treat students with the same respect you’d give an adult.
  • Focus on the big picture, which is students, not the adults who work at the school.
  • Nothing (not even standardized test scores) ultimately contributes more to student achievement — and school success — than relationships between students, their families, and staff.

Middleton’s ideas gave me a lot to think about.

I, like many of you, never knew what teacher I would have until registration a couple of days before a new school year began. I’d wander through the school hallways with my mom, reading class lists posted on the window of a locked and darkened classroom until I spotted my name.

No teacher ever came to my home. No teacher ever called my house or mailed a personal note, sad to say. It was almost Thanksgiving when the getting-to-know-you phase finally ended.

Not very good customer service, now that I think about it.

But I never considered myself a “customer,” either.

The difference between then and now is that today there are educational options in many communities. Some may even be publicly funded.

Attention to customer service will help your school become the choice of choosers.

Next Thursday we’ll delve into Middleton’s insights of what the best teachers do to set themselves apart, according to students.

It’s astounding how “it” always gets down to one thing – SCN Encourager


Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 10.15.42 PMEven the wisdom of the ancients can’t get around this fact.

I tried.

Despite the protestations of the only three school communicators in the Midwest who majored in philosophy back in college, I devoted the two previous Encouragers to remind us (okay, maybe just me…) about what Socrates, Plato, and Sophocles had to say.

Socrates stressed the value of questioning.

Plato stressed the truth that our emotions greatly impact our learning.

Sophocles stressed the value of taking action.

And who am I to argue with this?

But still I wonder, how come it’s always so difficult to discern –
WHEN is the best time to question?
WHEN is the best time to trust instinct? (AKA “your gut”)
WHEN is the best time to act?

Oh yeah, TIMING’s definitely the tricky part.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 10.20.42 PMConsider the story of Blockbuster Video.

We all know how it eventually crashed and burned.

We all know how Netflix (now valued at more than $30 billion) disrupted the marketplace and in short order became the major revenue generator in dvd and video streaming rentals.

Maybe what isn’t so well known, though, is that the decision-makers at Blockbuster had the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million early in the game and turned it down.

Maybe Blockbuster Video just couldn’t figure out the best TIME to question, run with instinct, and act.

No doubt, it’s hard.

Major disruptions – including those we’re going through in education – make our lives challenging.

But Blockbuster Video isn’t the model for us to follow.

It had three chances to buy Netflix for a song … but still couldn’t nail down the right time to make the right move.

Then pow!

Game over.

(Sounds like something I’d do!)







What is this Pinterest thing?

It's Tech Tip Tuesday!

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 7.42.24 PMIf you hop around on websites these days, you’re likely to find a “Pin it” button around images as well as entire articles/webpages.

But, what it this Pinterest thing and how do you even go about “pinning” something?

It’s rather simple, really. Imagine a bulletin board overflowing with great ideas, recipes, or even products. Now, rather than having that cluttered bulletin board, Pinterest allows you to create multiple ‘boards’ with ‘pins’ that represent links with a cover image.

Not only does taking it digital mean that you can have multiple boards, but it also makes it so that your office space (or your kitchen) is no longer cluttered with the latest things you want to try.

If you’re not new to Pinterest, you probably know about the ‘rabbit hole’ effect that is Pinterest. Minutes turn into hours and a bazillion great ideas that you must pin now.

And while you might think Pinterest is only good for remodeling/redecorating, new recipes, or the latest clothing trends, think again. Pinterest is starting to overflow with educational ideas, too.

So where does this leave you as a school communicator?

Well, consider the following ideas:SCN TWEETABLES-2

Stay tuned as next week I walk you through how to set up your school’s own Pinterest account and get pinning!

A Monday morning inspirational classic (2500 years old) – SCN Encourager

“Classic” as in Classical Athenian Culture, that is




My highbrow “twofer” last Friday featuring Socrates and Plato was a hit.

No one was more surprised than me.

Apparently, a number of you knew Socrates was the grand master of inquiry learning (asking questions) and Plato was one of the first to recognize the critical role that emotion plays in the learning process.

Who’d a thunk it?

So, in trying to play catch-up with the high achievers in our tribe, I looked up Sophocles, who was an admired man in Greek society in 480 BC, about 20 years before Socrates arrived on the scene.

What’s cool about Sophocles is that – as school communicators – we’re working today in much the same way he did 2500 years ago.

Under the pressure of deadlines!

Sure, Socrates asked questions.

And Plato deserves credit for linking of “our feelings” to learning.

But it was Sophocles who actually modeled keeping multiple projects on track!

He was one of the premier playwrights of the classical age… cranking out Antigone and Oedipus the King, just to name a few.

Sophocles even penned this observation; that some moderns now say is one of the top 100 inspirational quotes of all time.

“Heaven ne’er helps the men who will not act.”

This is a good maxim to start our week.

Questioning is fine.

Feeling is fine.

Taking action is better.

And it’s too bad Sophocles didn’t have my Cindy looking over his shoulder back in Athens.

She definitely would’ve reminded him that Heaven accords similar treatment to women as well.




How ’bout brushing up on your Plato this weekend? – SCN Encourager

Do you care about student behavior and academic achievement?

Are you annoyed by these questions?

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 8.21.28 PMDon’t be.

You’d make Socrates proud.

Remember, he was the one who got the ball rolling on the whole “inquiry” thing about 2400 years ago.

I kinda forgot all about this.

When I saw that the following awesome article began with a reference to Plato, I went question crazy.

I thought it’d be clever to toss scads of questions your way.

But then it dawned on me that the Socratic method (using questions to stimulate critical thinking) had little to do with Plato… it all originated with Socrates.

Plato actually came along later as one of Socrates most-prized students.

Sorry about the blunder.

Obviously, I shouldn’t have started this Encourager with question after question.

Dumb, huh?

I’m sure if Socrates and Plato had been printed on baseball-type trading cards when I was growing up, I wouldn’t be in the jam I’m in now. (Especially if they played for the Tigers!)

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 8.02.59 PMBut here’s another question for you.

What role do you think our emotions play in learning?

Plato believed all learning has an emotional basis.

In one way or another, educators have embraced this notion (or not) through the centuries.

And this article will give you a speedy-kwik, yet interesting chronicle of the evolution of emotional intelligence and its implications for learning.

I was surprised to see topics like bullying, attitudes, and communication included.

But I didn’t question it.

Plato would’ve wanted it that way.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –




Nurturing relationships with staff and community

This Superintendent uses his red tennis shoes and a well-crafted blog

It’s Thursday, so why aren’t you wearing red tennis shoes?

Northview Superintendent Mike Paskewicz smiles whenever he hears that question when he’s out and about his north Grand Rapids, Mich., community.

It’s amusing that he’s finally become a fashion plate in his 40th year as a public educator.

But the real reason the question tickles Paskewicz is that it proves people are reading his blog. He adds three to five new entries each week on the district’s website. The posts are also emailed to 450 staff members, elective officials in Kent County, and Paskewicz’s list of 500 local opinion leaders. And, he publishes links to his posts on the district’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 8.46.08 PMThe most popular posts that feature North Oakview Elementary student Travis VanSetters — the original red tennis shoes aficionado, whom Paskewicz calls “my life coach” — have been seen by upward of 2,500 readers.

That’s a pretty long reach for a guy who hasn’t fancied himself as much of a writer since being handed back his first college essay with a “C” grade and the comment “too wordy.”

“Now that I’ve been blogging for three years, it seems like a normal part of my work,” said Paskewicz, who retires in June. “I started doing it because I was upset and wanted to call out some of our elected officials. But it’s evolved into something I really enjoy.

“And I never could have anticipated the positive effect the blog would have on our school culture.”

Blogging adopted slowing in education circles

As most school communicators know, the word blog is a truncation of the expression weblog. Blogging is the process of a writer publishing commentary in installments on the World Wide Web.

Blogging became popular in the late 1990s with the advent of web publishing tools that allow writers to post entries to the Web without having to write in computer code.

Educators usually embrace any platform for sharing ideas, but many are skeptical of blogging.

Most educators have huge workloads and are hesitant to commit to writing at least one new post per week. Some don’t sense enough internal support to freely post their opinions and observations. Federal student privacy laws also work to paralyze the pen, or at least bridle it.

Mike Paskewicz and Wildcat

Mike Paskewicz isn’t afraid to be casual in his blog, or with Wildcat, Northview’s mascot.

In some communities, superintendents are revered like deities. Stakeholders in such places wouldn’t take kindly to a  superintendent’s musings that seemed too mundane or conversational.

“Not once has someone said ‘You’re being too familiar in the blog,’ ” Paskewicz said. “Maybe I don’t take this position as seriously as others do. The only thing I take very seriously is what we do for kids.”

Birth of a blog

Paskewicz said his motivatation to start blogging grew from disgust that elected officials routinely referred to public education as “broken.” When contacted privately, legislators would backpedal, saying they were referring only to metro Detroit schools.

But the slams, usually predicated on standardized test scores, persisted.

So, Paskewicz decided legislators needed evidence that public schools are working. He resolved to provide them with a new piece of evidence every day.

He put out a call to teachers, parents and community members to email him examples of public schools being a force for good.

The next morning, when he logged into his email, he found 55 vignettes that showed how public schools are working.

Examples — all previously overlooked — continue to stuff Paskewicz’s emailbox.

“I’ve got mail about everything from a sophomore saving a friend’s life by administering CPR to spilled milk in the lunchroom,” Paskewicz said. “So many stories weren’t getting told.”

Woohoo! Thoughtful 18 minute TED Talks are in equally thoughtful written form – SCN Encourager

Get smart and impress your friends in 1/3 the time!

Now you can just scan those “ideas worth spreading.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 8.29.44 PMReading.

Sometimes I wonder about its future.

I really do.

Naturally, I don’t have any facts or figures to back up my worries, but given the ever-increasing popularity of video and all things visual today, isn’t it only logical that people will start reading less and less?

Once in awhile, though, I’ll run across something online that gives me hope for the cause of reading.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 8.41.45 PMTake those thought-provoking, 16 to 19 minute TED Talks – you know, those videos which feature presentations by individual experts and influencers about a wide variety of topics.

Those videos are not what gives me hope.

It’s the text adaptations of the TED talks that do!

They’re awesome.

You can scan the “written form” of an actual TED talk in about 1/3 the running time of a video.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 8.05.51 PMSee what I mean by checking out this excellent article about stress.

Its title is “How to be Good at Stress.”

Scan. Scan. Scan.
Zip. Zip. Zip.

Ah… learning the way it was meant to be.

While I appreciated the new insights about stress, I’m not convinced stress is something I want to devote a lot of time getting good at.

Especially since being “good at stress” seems to be directly linked to your prior experiences with it.

But this article based on its TED talk not only rekindled my hope for the future of reading, it also inspired several ideas for a few “how to be good at [blank]” articles of my own.

Based on extensive experience, I could author the following articles for TED with great integrity:

“How to be Good at Apologies.”
“How to be Good at Bad Investments.”
“How to be Good at Selective Listening.”
“How to be Good at Covering School Events that Happened Yesterday.”

It’d be interesting to see if they could live up to TED’s “ideas worth spreading” criteria.





Time-Saving Tricks & Hacks

It's Tech Tip Tuesday

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 8.03.51 PMIt’s May.

Which probably means that you’re busier than ever. The end of the school year seems to bring with it a ton of events, awards to be printed, and field trips to be planned and taken.

I find that I am on my computer more frequently, too, to make sure all of those things get done. So today, in hopes of saving you a bit of time, I wanted to share with you my favorite and most useful computer and phone tips and tricks… or hacks if you will.

Let’s start with keyboard shortcuts.

From Alice Keeler's Photo Credit: http://www.alicekeeler.com/teachertech/2013/09/05/keyboard-shortcuts/

From Alice Keeler’s Website // Photo Credit 

If you don’t already use these, please let me introduce you to a major time-saver.

Whether you’re working on a Mac or a PC, there are loads of keyboard shortcuts to help you out!

Once I teach these to my students, they are amazed at how much faster they can work without trying to highlight and stop and click every few seconds.

While this picture just shows you the options for a PC, simply swap the control key for the   “Command” key on a Mac and you’re in business.

There are plenty more shortcuts, too. These tend to be ones I use the most frequently.

Check out a few others on our SCN Pinterest board – “Tech Tips/Hacks

Another of my favorite time-savers is using the microphone feature on my iPhone.


A few weeks ago my dad and I were driving to school together (we both work in Boyne City and live in Petoskey) as I watched him painfully trying to text out of the corner of my eye. His ginormous fingers just aren’t made for a tiny iPhone keyboard screen. Our conversation went something like this…

Me: “Dad you know you can use the microphone icon to record your voice and it will text it for you, right?”

Dad: “No, you’ll have to show me sometime.”

Me: “Dad, just press the microphone icon next to the space bar and try it.”

Dad: (speaks into phone and is amazed at speech turned into text) “You just saved me years of my life.”

Me: “Consider that payback for when I didn’t sleep as a baby.”

Now, depending on your iPhone’s operating system (iOS), you may even have two options here. The first is that you can actually send a voice recording via text message. To do that, simply click on the microphone near the text box (Option 1 in the graphic) and start speaking.

The other option is to use Siri to record what you’ve said and turn your speech to text. I do this one more often than the first option (see Option 2 in the graphic). You’ll want to check that your text is correct – for example Boyne and boring sometimes get switched. One of the great things, though, is that the text that confused Siri will be underlined in blue to give you other close options to what you said. Plus, the more you use it, the better it gets at recognizing what you’re saying!

There’s a few more iPhone tricks on our Pinterest board, too!

What are your favorite time-saving tech tricks and tips? Share them on Twitter using the hashtag #SCNtechtip so we can all gain a few extra minutes!

Stay tuned for next week as I share a little bit about setting up a Pinterest account for your school and give you a few ideas on how to use it!

Feel free to share your comments on our U Say It! Forum