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Who Is Helping You Get Better, or Better Yet, Be Great?

Maybe a better question is who are you allowing to help you get better? Or, what are you doing to help yourself get better?   Or, are you surrounding yourself with greatness? Or, do you worry what others will think about you if you admit you want to learn more or be better tomorrow than you are today?
I am not afraid to admit that I want to be a great principal. I am also not embarrassed to admit I have made my share of mistakes over my 20 years as a school administrator. The only shame in being wrong is not learning from what you did wrong and not acting on it to get better. Last evening I heard a gentleman share in a speech “being wrong is a good thing because it reminds us that we must have learned something which tells us that we are wrong and that helps us learn more and get better.”  In reflecting on his speech last night it reminded me back to  last spring when I was reading the book, “Teach Like a Pirate” by @burgessdave. I came across this quote by Jimmy Johnson that Dave had included in one of his chapters entitled, “The Awkward Question” – “Do you want to be safe and good, or do you want to take a chance and be great?”  What seemed awkward to me was the follow up question that Dave posed, “Do you want to be great?”
Duh, of course I do!  Don’t you?
Or do we? In our profession as educators, we strive to inspire our students to be great, to believe they can achieve whatever success they set their minds to.  But are we taking the time and doing the things we need to in order to have a chance to be great? In some ways, I feel like we have settled as though we as teachers don’t deserve to be great! Well, I am here to tell you we do and if we are going to be great and inspire our students and others to be great, then we must model the way for others to see us being great and feeling great! I challenge you to take charge of your own learning today and “be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Ghandi

As a leader, here are 4 ideas which could help you (and others) get better, or who knows, maybe even help you become great!
  1.      Reach out and connect with other educators via skype or google hangout, etc.  Last week I had a chance to spend an hour via GHO with three outstanding educators from all over the world – @rhonimcfarlane(Australia), @dcorr1 (Canada), and @teachbaltshaw (Maryland) and talk about our work in education. Talk about a wonderful PD experience! Better yet, here is the best part.  Two of the participants posted blogs sharing their learning and I have watched and received tweets from others from all over the world describing how they have personally benefited from our 1 hour GHO. Now that is powerful!
  2.      Start a staff blog to allow others to share their greatness  – inspired by @gcouros and @jasonmmarkey I took their idea and adapted it to start our own staff blog this school year, entitled, TSLG1440 – Teaching, Sharing, Learning, and Growing Every Minute of Every Day: 1440 Minutes a Day, 24/7. This blog serves as a venue for BHS staff to showcase their teaching, sharing, learning, and growing that takes place every minute of every day. Each week, I share a post by one of my staff members to showcase and highlight their talents and the great work they are doing with students in our school.  I not only share their posts weekly on twitter, but I also share their work with our staff each week in my Monday Memo to staff.  Four posts into the school year, the blog has received over 2,300 views from all over the world, including Japan, Russia, Indonesia, Canada, Australia, France, Brazil, UK, Pakistan, Germany and others.  You can view the blog at
  3.      Spend a day/week, personally meeting with every student new to your classroom/school and ask them, “What can I do to help you be successful?”  – Two weeks ago I personally took the time to meet with every new student to our school this year. What a positive experience it was not only for me, but for our office staff as well as for our teaching staff.  Listening to the responses of students who had transferred in from another school district and share with me time and time again how caring and helpful our secretaries and teachers were, how our teachers treated them like adults, and how supportive, welcoming, and inclusive our current students had been to them during their transition to Bettendorf High School; well, to say the least I was extremely proud! Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback I received from our new students, I believe that we are getting better in terms of listening to our students’ voices and creating a school climate where all students feel valued and respected and believe they can be great. To celebrate and recognize the hard work of our staff, I took time to type up verbatim the student responses and share them with our staff at our last PD day. As you can imagine, there were plenty of smiles to be seen in the room along with a feeling of validation for a job well done!
“Surprised how easy it was to feel a part of the school even though I was new.  I liked how much people welcomed me – both students and adults.” – 11th grade student

“Love it here.  Teachers are much more helpful.  I like the way they make themselves available.  Students are a lot nicer here than in my old school.” 10th grade student

“It is really big and thought it was going to be hard to meet people, but it has not been. Pretty cool.  The teachers have been great and treat me like a young adult.” – 9th grade student

  4.       Take a day to call the parent(s) of your new teachers and say thank you! – inspired by ideas I took from friends and colleagues @Jeff_Zoul and @dr_sue_ayI came up with a new idea and decided to take action and follow up. I have always wanted to do something special for our new staff members beyond the typical social gathering, personal note, etc.  So, last Saturday I took the afternoon and made eleven phone calls after which I was done, was kicking myself for not doing this in past years. I cannot even begin to describe the emotion, pride and joy both the parents and I felt during our conversations.  What I thought would be a short hello, thank you, goodbye, turned into a discussion where I learned more about my new teachers in one afternoon than I had during the course of the interview process, in-service, on-boarding etc.  I have to admit I enjoyed the initial hesitation/thought I could sense in their voices (which I am sure went something like – why in the hell is my son’s/daughter’s principal calling me?), but that quickly went away as I described how fortunate our students were to have their son/daughter as their teacher.  I have to admit that I was overcome by tears as I listened to their parents get emotional over the phone upon hearing my comments on the impact their children were having on our kids and how it was directly attributed to the way in which they had raised their children. It was truly one of my greatest feelings I have felt as a principal, surpassed only by the feeling of watching a student feel a sense of accomplishment after years of struggling to feel good about themselves.
“This is the most wonderful phone call I have ever received.”

“I can’t believe I got a call from my daughter’s principal. You are so thoughtful. Thank you!”

“Our son has told us many great things about you and he is so happy to be at Bettendorf”

“I am just blown away!  God bless you!”

So ask yourself, do you want to be better? What is your plan? What are you doing to be great?  Whatever it is, take time to follow through today. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

“Remember, we don’t get to determine whether or not we are great.  That is left for others to determine. All we can control is what we do to be better tomorrow than we were today.” – Unknown
  • Dan Butler
    4 years ago

    Impressive, as always my man. I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with you. There is no question in my mind that you have pushed me to become a better principal. This is an excellent post, and number four is something that has unbelievable potential. Thank you for sharing and inspiring me to be better each and every day.

  • Todd Nesloney
    4 years ago

    Jimmy, you inspire me every day. You are such an incredible writer, and let me say those kids and staff are so lucky to have you at their school. Thanks for being a constant inspiration!

  • suzanne rogers
    4 years ago

    Oh my goodness. So many simple ideas that are easy to implement, and make a difference in so many lives!
    Thank you!

  • Tom Meyer
    4 years ago

    Jimmy…have not responded before to your posts but they are great and have an impact on my actions and learning. Thanks for your dedication to making learning of students and staff a priority. Thanks again.

  • Tom Meyer
    4 years ago

    Jimmy…I have not responded before to your posts but I find them extremely beneficial and motivational. Thanks for your work with students and staff….you make a difference and your dedication is obvious to the learning puff students and staff.

  • Cantiague_Lead
    4 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing this awesome post with us- WOW! I am so inspired by everything you have shared and I am not embarrassed to say that I want to be a great principal – in fact, I work hard each day to be the best principal around! Not because I think I am better than anyone else (I know thousands of amazing leaders who inspire me each day, including you) but because I want to be great for our kids – our kids deserve greatness! I love the idea of calling the parents of new staff members – AWESOME! Thank you for sharing that one… I learn something new every day thanks to my PLN!
    Keep posting my friend.

  • L Meade
    4 years ago

    Jim, Thank you for such an inspiring post. Just last week, I sent a card to the mom of one of my newest teachers. In it, I wrote about the spirit her son brings to our school. Imagine my surprise when she wrote me back. I am going to borrow your idea, this week, of checking in with all of my new students. Great post!

  • Bob Miller
    4 years ago


    Thanks for your thoughtful posts both here and on Twitter. As a superintendent, it reassures me that leadership matters and that there are principals like yourself, willing to take risks for the betterment of their students and their school and just “LEAD”. The beginning of your post reminds me of a quote from Maslow, “You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.” Continue to push the envelope, my friend.
    Take care,

  • barry saide
    4 years ago

    Jimmy: another homerun, my friend.

    Best — Barry

  • aisha Ways
    4 years ago

    Really great ideas, thanks for sharing this informative as well as inspirational post.

    Creative Ways

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