Monday, September 17, 2012

Walking in Our Light - Incremental Change

I have been reflecting on the work that we have been doing during the last several weeks. I am continually impressed teachers' ability to step back from the current reality and pose thoughtful questions, reflect on our work, and collaborate.

Often in our professional work, we have to take small bites. As educators think about new ides, the sparkle in their eyes is sometimes followed by a moment of feeling overwhelmed. When thinking about the big picture and multi-year goals, just know that we won't arrive tomorrow, and that's ok.

Apollo 17 Lunar Rover Drive
The other day I heard a fact that it's 238,857 miles to the moon. I thought, "That's about how many miles are on the truck. I could have driven to the moon! Cool!" What a trip that would be. Think of all the stops to refuel, stretch our legs, etc. that we would have to do on a trip like that! We are on a journey together, and have to travel one mile at a time.

I pair the idea of incremental change with this thought, "We walk in the light we have at the time." When my children were small, I made my share of mistakes. I was voicing my regrets to someone at church one weekend. "If I only knew... I would have done things differently." He looked at me and smiled and said, "Kelly, we walk in the light we have at the time. You're light is just different now." That has given me comfort. As educators, we need to keep that idea close to us as we work together. Every one of us has the best interest of our students at heart, and that is ALL that matters.


Our responsibility as educators is to continually search for better light, while embracing change as an incremental process.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

We just celebrated Habit 6: Synergize - Together is better! at our recent assemblies.  We are now working on the 7th Habit: Sharpen the Saw - Balance feels best.

At Libertyville, I asked the students how many of them knew the story about the Tortoise and the Hare. They shared what they knew with their neighbor, and then two volunteers shared with the school. I asked the students to think about
  • What happened to the rabbit?
  • Why didn't the rabbit win?
  • What did the rabbit do when he wasn't running?
Later in the assembly, I asked students to think about shows that they had watched on TV, or family members who they had watched sharpening a knife, like a chef. We thought about why a chef would want a sharp knife, instead of a dull one. Students talked about cutting vegetables and filleting fish, and how a dull knife tears and smashes instead of cuts. I asked students whether they thought a dull knife or a sharp knife would be easier for an adult to use. I also explained that it is easier to hurt oneself with a dull knife, because a person has to press harder, and is more likely for the knife to slip.

This led to me telling the story I had learned about "Sharpening the Ax." Here is a similar version:

Once upon a time there were two men who entered a contest chopping wood at a county fair.  The first man was in good physical shape and very muscular.  The second man was in good shape but smaller in statute and wiry.  They would chop wood all day and at the end of the day compare to see who had chopped the most wood.  The first man laughed to himself that there was no way this wiry little man would beat him and so they began the contest.  Every 45 minutes the second smaller man would take a break and seems to just wonder off somewhere.  The first man laughed again to himself and said "Yep there's no way this wiry little man is going to beat me."  This happens several times during the day.  At the end of the day the two men compare their piles of chopped wood and unbelievably enough the wiry little man has chopped twice as much wood as the more physically fit man.  He says "I don't understand.  First I'm twice your size and twice your strength!  On top of that every 45 minutes you rolled off and took a break or a nap or something.  You must have cheated!"  The smaller man says "I don't cheat.  It was easy to beat you because every 45 minutes when you thought I was taking a break, I was out back sharpening my ax." 

Students talked with their neighbors afterward about why taking a break worked for the man chopping wood, but not for the hare. Ask your kids to find out their answers!

Positive Behavior Supports and Intervention (PBIS)

Positive Behavior Supports and Interventions (PBIS) is a framework to help schools develop a system of positive and proactive school-wide behavior expectations. The goals of PBIS are to
  • promote a positive learning environment
  • create a positive culture
  • teach and reinforce appropriate behaviors, and
  • prevent problem behaviors.
The elementary buildings have leadership teams consisting of teachers, associates, counselors and administrators. Those teams merge together for district-wide planning and conversations, so that there is consistency in developing PBIS from building to building.

The elementary PBIS approach mirrors the Fairfield Middle School's PBIS system, which started 3 years ago in response to their School in Need of Assistance (SINA) action plan. The middle school uses the acronym "Trojan PRIDE" to define expectations for behavior in various locations in the school. The three Fairfield elementary schools implemented "Trojan Traits" - respect, responsible, safe - in the hallway as our starting point. Staff directly taught students how to "do" respect, responsible, and safe in the hallway. Students watched a video, created by Mr. and Mrs. Strickler, and practiced Trojan Trait hallway behavior with their teachers. Our leader tickets, still drawn each Friday, have been used to target and recognize the correct behavior in the hallway.

The consistent implementation across the elementary buildings has had many benefits.
  • Teachers who travel from building to building (such as art, music, and PE teachers) know that students have the same expectations and language for discussing behavior in each building. They don't have to learn different systems for different buildings.
  • Students who change buildings from year to year enter a familiar system.
  • Teachers develop a common language and approach which supports them in problem-solving and planning for behavior interventions.
Many thanks to our leadership team as they work together to develop the elementary PBIS system. We are so excited about the positive student response to the Trojan Traits!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cookie Visits School

Cookie the puppy visited Washington Elementary on Friday with Mr. Schloss. One of our students in enjoying petting her. Cookie is a 3 month old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She lives at the Schloss home with our Mastiff, Ashley, 2 cats, and 2 teenagers.

For more information about Special Kids, Dogs, and Schools, visit
There is also a lot of information about Therapy Dogs who serve as Reading Tutors. The Therapy Dog International group has a program called "Tail Waggin' Tutors."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Motivation for Learning

Thanks to Mr. Welch for sharing this great video, which set the stage for working with our elementary-wide "LEAD Team" on positive behavior systems, and prior to attending the state-wide Competency-Based Education conference.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happiness by Dr. Alan Zimmerman

"Happiness doesn't depend on the actual number of blessings we manage to scratch from life, only our attitude towards them."
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Dr. Alan Zimmerman's Personal Commentary:

Standing in front of a 1000 people, about to deliver the keynote at the annual meeting of a professional association, I asked the audience, "How many of you think it is possible to have a good day ... every day ... all day long?" Only a few people raised their hands.

They seemed to lack one of the most important, most empowering insights a person can ever have, and that is...

1. YOU have the power to determine if you're going to have a good day.

After all, YOU are the only one who determines how you are going to feel today or any other day. YOU ... and only YOU ... have that kind of power.

Little 5-year old Mary taught that to Dr. James C. Brown once and for all. As Dr. Brown told his story in Canfield and Hansen's book, "Chicken Soup for the Soul," Mary had recently lost her father, mother and home. Now she was being hospitalized with a brain tumor and had just suffered a stroke that left half of her body paralyzed.

As Dr. Brown was about to perform an emergency MRI on Mary, he and the technologists explained that she would have to lie perfectly still and not talk. But two minutes into the process, they noticed on the video monitor that her mouth was moving. They heard a muted voice over the intercom. They stopped the exam and gently reminded Mary not to talk. She was smiling and promised not to talk.

They reset the MRI machine and stated over. Once again they saw her facial movements and heard her faint voice. Everyone was becoming impatient as they saw their busy schedule backing up for the rest of the day.

They went back into the room and slid Mary out of the machine. She looked up at them with her crooked smile, not the least bit upset. One technologist, however, in a somewhat gruff voice, said, "Mary, you were talking again, and that causes blurry pictures."

Mary's smile remained as she replied, "I wasn't talking. I was singing. You said no talking." Dr. Brown and his team looked at each other, feeling a bit silly.

Someone asked, "What were you singing?"

"Jesus Loves Me" came Mary's tiny voice. "I always sing 'Jesus Love Me' when I'm happy."

Everyone in the room was speechless. Happy? With all she had gone through, how could this little girl be happy? A few of the team members had to leave the room for a moment to regain their composure and wipe away their tears.

As Dr. Brown later said, "Whenever I'm feeling stressed, overwhelmed, dissatisfied or unhappy with some part of my life, I remember Mary, and I am both humbled and inspired." Her example made him realize ... that no matter what is happening in his life ... he has the power to determine whether or not it's going to be a good day.

And so do you. YOU have that same kind of power because...

2. YOUR attitude is always YOUR choice.

You see ... your job, your boss, your company, your spouse, your kids, or your friend didn't give you a bad attitude, and they can't give you a good altitude. It's a choice you made.

Of course my audience of 1000 business people were initially skeptical. They wondered how a person could possibly have a good attitude when the economy was bad, their futures were uncertain, their work schedules were crazy, and their personal lives were out of balance. In fact, I'm sure many of them were thinking, "There's no way I can have a good attitude in the midst of all this chaos. I can't help the way I feel."

But I helped them realize they were living a lie. They may not have known HOW to get and keep a good attitude, but they could indeed have one.

As Judith Knowlton later said, "I discovered I always have choices, and sometimes it's only a choice of attitudes."

And no one made the point more profoundly than Dr. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi death camps in World War II. In his book, "Man's Search For Meaning," he writes, "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked throughout the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

So please, please, PLEASE, don't ever cop out and say someone else or something else made you feel bad, sad, or mad. No! YOUR attitude is YOUR choice. And the good news is ... no matter how good or bad your life or work happen to be, YOU get to choose YOUR attitude about all of that.

All you have to do is remember...

3. YOU always have two different ways of looking at the same situation.

You can look at positively or negatively. It's your choice.

When I was speaking at DigiKey, one of my audience members Todd Doyle gave me the perfect example. He told me that he wanted to teach his children a lesson ... that you don't always get everything you want in life ... and that a part of growing up is learning how to deal with disappointments.

So when he hung the Christmas stockings, Todd put a variety of small gifts in the stocking of each of his children, but he put some lumps of coal in his own stocking. Before he had a chance to teach his lesson, his little 4-year old son patted him on the shoulder and said, "That's okay, Dad. We can use the sock to dust the TV and the charcoal to make a snowman."

Once again, you always have two different ways of looking at the same situation. You can look at it positively or negatively.

That lesson really hit home for Jerry Smith when he was working as a builder in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was the 1980's, and some major forest fires were ripping through the area.

As he was eating his breakfast at a local restaurant, he noticed a teenage boy and girl come in with their parents, all looking as if the end of the world had arrived. The mother began to tell anyone who would listen how a forest ranger roused her family from their campsite in the middle of the night. He told them, "You're in a fire danger zone. Get in your car and leave immediately. There's no time to gather your belongings. Just get in your car and head east toward the highway."

As the mother lamented, "We had planned and saved for this camping trip for years. It is just terrible. Our vacation is ruined."

A short time later another family came into the restaurant: a mom, dad, two boys, and a girl. All of them were smiling, laughing, and in good spirits. They sat near Smith, and the mother began sharing her story. "We were amazed at the way the ranger took control of a difficult and dangerous situation. We scrambled to get dressed and in our hurry, I was barefoot; my daughter was wearing my husband's boots, and the boys were in their socks. What an exciting adventure! This is a great vacation and one we will remember forever."

Interesting, isn't it? The same situation but two families seeing it totally differently.

Your attitude is one of the most powerful or most debilitating factors in your life and your work. By remembering these 3 simple tips, you can be certain that your attitude is working for you instead of against you.


Select three difficult situations in your life this week. And then spend a couple of minutes figuring out how you can look at those situations more positively.

Make every day your payoff day!

Dr. Alan Zimmerman
Tel: 800-621-7881


I encourage you to reprint my "Tuesday Tips" in your own e-mail, online newsletters, or conventionally-printed publications. It's free and legal ... IF PROPER CREDIT is given.

All you have to do is include the following notation along with the reprint of my material:

©2011 Reprinted with permission from Dr. Alan Zimmerman, a full-time professional speaker who specializes in attitude, motivation, and leadership programs that pay off. For more information on his programs ... or to receive your own free subscription to the 'Tuesday Tip' ... go to or call 800-621-7881.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Out of the Mouths... of 18 Year-Olds

My 18 year-old son watched the 7 Habits Video with me today. I was a little surprised by his reaction.

"Man, do you know what you are doing for these kids? I wish someone had taught me the 7 Habits. Think of how long it too for me to learn those things? Some adults don't have those things figured out. Do you know that you are teaching them to be the leaders of the future?"

Whoa! Slow down! I jokingly said, "Wow, too bad your mom didn't teach you some of those things. Think of how much easier your life would have been up to this point!"

He laughed and said, "Yeah, but this is straightforward. You don't have to learn everything the hard way."

Then he paused, knowing that the video featured several kindergarten students, he added, "Just think if you got the 1st grade teacher to do this too! That would be so awesome! And then, if they did it every year..." 

I interrupted, "It is for everyone. It's not just kindergarten."

He smiled, "They are going to be set for life!"