6 Ways to Build Community with Your Staff


As school leaders, we have a lot going on. A myriad of decisions and issues coming across our plates on a daily basis keep us in a constant juggling act that takes decision fatigue to an entirely new level. So it’s no wonder that when some leaders think of putting time and energy into how to turn their school staff into a community, it can seem like an abstract and overwhelming task. It may even seem like a low priority. But if we are going to create the kind of school that helps our students and adults be the best version of themselves, the kind of school where we are ALL proud to be a part of, building a community is anything but a low priority. It is not a distraction to the work, it is an essential part of the work.


Start with and commit to a shared WHY. Simon Sinek has it right when he talks about how every great organization starts with the WHY, then moves out to the HOW and WHAT. He calls it “The Golden Circle.” If a school staff is going to be a team that creates something great and worthy of our students, we have to be clear and committed to a shared WHY. Not only does it keep us motivated throughout challenging times, having a shared WHY brings us together as a team working for a common purpose. (Check out a past post, 4 Things That Happen When You Have a Shared WHY.)

Realize that the journey along the path to greatness is made together. The path to greatness is a journey, not a destination and it is not made alone. As we travel through this challenging, bumpy but remarkable journey, we do it as a team. We can go only as quickly as our slowest team member and we experience each of the peaks and valleys as a community. When we realize and embrace this, we each gain accountability to and responsibility for our community. As a team, we get stronger and are able to achieve amazing, even seemingly impossible, things.

Recognize that we each have genius. It is one thing to say that everyone has their strengths. It is quite another to seek out and celebrate the genius that we each bring to the community. As a leader, it is our job to encourage those around us to bring their genius as a gift used to strengthen our community. A huge part of my personal why is to seek out and inspire the greatness in others. To build community among my staff, I hope to help each of our leaders realize their genius and then create opportunities for them to contribute and shine.

Communicate. And then communicate some more. It is no accident that community and communication have the same root word. To build a strong community, strong and clear communication must be maintained. In Turn The Ship Around, David Marquet discusses the importance of two-way communication that is deep and reveals the thinking behind decisions. His motto of “a little rudder far from the rocks is a lot better than a lot of rudder close to the rocks,” reveals the importance of the early and often conversations which build transparency, clarity, and trust, all qualities a community needs to thrive.

Give everyone ownership and voice. There is a loose-tight balance that leaders who build communities must maintain. While the goals and purpose need to remain tight, clear and in the forefront of each next step, the structures and methods used to move forward can remain loose. Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess in Lead Like a Pirate have a quote, “People are less likely to tear down systems they help to build.” Building a community requires every member feeling empowered and knowing that what they create and contribute is essential to the success of the school.

Be playful and have fun together! With all of the important work that we have been called to do, it is essential to create a culture that embraces having fun together. If you’re doubtful, there is even research that confirms that having high expectations for those we serve is evident through playful dialogue. (See Art and Science of Teaching / High Expectations for All.) When we share silly jokes, start community traditions that allow staff to get to know one another outside of school, watch a funny video at a morning huddle, create spontaneous staff challenges, we build a sense of community through our sense of humor that supports the high expectations we have. And that is fun wrapped up with a lot awesome.


As a school leader, I own the impact I have on our school and the achievement we realize. But I also know that I am only one person. Even though I am filled with purpose and passion around my work and our school vision, I also bring to the table my weaknesses. However, if I focus on building community among our staff, my limits are no longer what puts a ceiling on what we can accomplish and the impact we can create grows exponentially. After all, as Steven Anderson says, “Alone we are smart but together we are brilliant. We can use the collective wisdom to do great things when we are connected,” or, I would add, when we build community.

How Morning Affirmations Help You Take on the Impossible


Recently, I was watching the news story of Colin O’Brady, an American endurance athlete and adventurer, who had just accomplished an amazing feat. He walked across Antarctica solo and without aid, traversing over 900 miles across the South Pole. (Watch the news story here: Doing the Impossible) Of course, one of the first, and very natural, questions people ask is, “How did you do it?” Colin pointed to several things, including a year’s worth of planning and logistics. But two things in particular caught my attention. Colin spoke of his purpose, wanting to do something bigger than himself and inspiring others to take on the impossible in their lives along with what he called his mental mantra, several things he told himself daily.

you can do this


Knowing your why and being positive are two of the ways I reflect on in one my past posts, Let’s be UNrealistic Together. Both are necessities if you want to trade in small thinking for impactful, make it happen, move mountains and bring others along while doing it kind of visions, but being and staying positive ranks up there as one of the top priorities. We are all going to face challenges in our lives and those hurdles loom larger the bigger we dream. Then add in the fact that our brains are wired for survival mode, meaning we are biologically made to think worst-case, negative scenario, and we clearly need to develop strategies that keep our thinking positive and fuel our beliefs.

One specific example that Colin exemplifies is how to remain positive and speak belief to the liar that is our own fears. His daily mantra that he woke up telling himself kept his mental challenges at bay and helped him realize the best, most capable version of himself. He was able to accomplish a seemingly impossible goal and dream of his despite innumerable obstacles.

I am not dreaming of crossing Antarctica anytime soon, but I do dream of impacting those in my school and beyond in ways that help them achieve things that seem impossible. The challenges any public educator faces are large and even on the best of days it seems we have been given a mountain to move. One of the routines I’ve developed is using a set of personal statements with which I begin each day. My morning affirmations (click here to see them), as introduced to me by Danny Bauer, are a set of assertions that are specific in nature, support and clarify my why, and help empower my inner thoughts to fuel my belief and tear down my fears. Sometimes I tweak them, but for the most part they are a constant set of deep-down beliefs that I know I need reminding of daily. And as corny as it sounds, I say them out loud. Every day. I figure my dreams of what I want to accomplish in this life are impossible enough that they deserve all the positive energy I can throw their way.


We all tell ourselves a story. This story is made up of internal dialogue that, if we’re not careful and intentional, can speak a lie so scary that we’ll be sure not to ever accomplish anything worth doing. When you start telling yourself things like “You can do this,” you start realizing all you actually can do. And you are certainly capable of achieving greatness you never thought possible.

What story are you telling yourself? What affirmations could you develop that would empower you to take on the impossible?

Giving Yourself an A


How many ways to do we create a world of constrained measurement rather than infinite possibility? In The Art of Possibility, authors Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander share twelve practices they have learned throughout their lives that will transform how you approach situations big and small in order to produce ripples of possibility that spread from within.


Within the practice of “Giving an A” , the Zanders describe how the tradition of giving grades has bled over from classrooms trying to measure accomplishments against standards to one that has a limiting hold over our consciousness. This tradition of comparison supports a world full of constraints and conformity, one where we impose our judgment on others’ ability and value. By contrast, when you decide to give the A, as you can to anyone in your life (the cashier at the grocery, your spouse, your coworker, your boss), you are able to line up efforts through a common purpose and vision of belief.

giving an A (1)

One of the most powerful thoughts within this practice is how transformative it can be to give yourself an A. After reading Ben Zander’s story about having his graduate students write him letters describing how they had received their A, I decided to do a version of this activity with our team.

During a beginning-of-the-year faculty meeting, I shared,

“YOU can give an A to yourself. This practice will transform your thinking by allowing you to take risks, chase greatness and fight off the forces of mediocrity that come along with fear and limitations.

Your task is to write yourself a letter dated May 29, 2019. This letter should begin with, ‘Dear (Your name here), I got my A because….’

In this letter, you will describe, using as many details as you can, the story of what will have happened to you by May 29, 2019. Tell the story about how you’ve earned this extraordinary grade.

Place yourself in the future, looking back, while reporting all of the insights you’ve acquired, milestones attained, obstacles you’ve overcome. This letter, this visualization of your success, should not include any past tense. No ‘I hope’, ‘I plan to’, or ‘I will’s allowed. Write this letter as if those accomplishments have already happened.

Feel free to mention goals you have for yourself, whether professional or personal. More interesting, however, is the attitude you have on May 29th, the sense of awesome pride you carry now that you’ve fought off the force of mediocrity and WON! Describe this person you’ve become. And then fall passionately in love with that person.”

It has now been a couple of months since I’ve filed away the stack of Giving Yourself an A letters. This positive, belief-filled bundle of visualizations of success will wait in my office drawer until next May. Has this activity helped us individually? As a team? Do we now have the courage to take more risks while seeing the statue of ourselves within the roughness of the uncut stone? It sure seems like we are able to be more vulnerable with each other. And there have been a fair share of opportunities for us to remind one another, “Be brave and believe in yourself. Remember, you have your A.”


I am excited to not only open up my own letter this May, but I can only imagine the emotions that will come along with our entire team realizing all we will have accomplished and all we will have become by then. After all, we are all on this journey of possibility together and a journey is nothing if not a set of experiences that change us and move us forward on our path to greatness.

How freeing would it be for yourself and others if you could begin the practice of giving an A? What possibility would you radiate if you could scrape away the comparisons and judgment to reveal value and belief?

4 Things That Happen When You Have a Shared WHY


What can you expect when you lead your team towards a shared vision? A whole lot of awesomeness, for sure.

In his Ted Talk, Simon Sinek talks about the importance of organizations starting with the WHY and in my last post, I discuss the significance for us as educators. While it is imperative for us individually to be anchored in and clarify our purpose, having a collective, shared WHY creates exponential, and sometimes even unexpected, benefits.


People Come & Go

As your team develops and clarifies a shared vision, some people will begin to realize that they don’t feel the same passion and purpose that is represented by this shared why. It may not happen initially, when the team is starting their collective journey, but if this shared purpose is authentic and nurtured, it becomes a strong force that makes it easy for those who don’t share that deep-to-the-core purpose to realize that their path may be different. This can mean a completely different career and life goal or different can be another team or organization to join. And not only is that okay, it is a good thing when people become clear about their personal journey.

While some people are realizing their path is veering another way, there will be others who see that their path merging. These people start knocking down the doors to join and they communicate their shared passion and purpose from the moment they step through the door. These new team members, because their path merges and aligns, accelerate the entire team along their path in a way that is motivating and rejuvenating for all.

Others Take Note

As a shared WHY is nurtured and clarified, people outside of your organization will notice. It is hard to ignore a group of people who have endless passion and energy and are communicating the same inspiring message. When the journey is powered by a real and deep belief, that story is positive, loud and that story gets heard.

Challenges Become Easier

As obstacles presents themselves, bumps and hurdles along the journey collectively become easier to handle. Have a touch decision that has to be made? A common filter for decisions both big and small is powerful for both for the decision-maker and those affected by the decision. Is energy low or are your people lacking passion? Having team members who are moving along the same path and believe in the journey means an entire community of support that provides endless fuel. Not only do challenges become easier, they truly become opportunities that aid in the journey.

You Become Way Less Important

With a culture built around a shared WHY, everyone is clear on not only the larger, more long-term vision, but they also become empowered to determine and create next steps. It may be an unexpected emergency drill that happens when you aren’t in the building and, surprisingly, things go off without a hitch. Or maybe it’s when you’re interviewing new teaching candidates and the entire interview committee is collectively making the same determination while giving aligned and specific feedback. Or maybe a team member sees an opportunity, shares their plan, gets others involved, and all of a sudden an organic, teacher-led event that will impact hundreds of students is happening without you so much as sending a calendar invite. Fewer and fewer stamps of approval are needed and all of sudden, not only are small, procedural things occurring without you, the leader, but powerful progress is being fueled by others.


Having a shared WHY, a community built around a clear and powerful purpose is what I call our school’s path to greatness. It is never going to be a destination, we never “get there,” but we move towards it and along our path. What are some benefits, however unexpected, you’ve seen when a vision is owned and amplified by everyone? What would you add to this list?

Let’s Be UNrealistic Together


I recently had the opportunity to keynote at the Central KY #KYGoDigital Regional event. Over 500 remarkable educators gathered to learn how to CREATE. CONNECT. SHARE. innovative ways to use digital tools in their roles. I had a blast with my tribe mates there and the message I shared (along with this slideshow) was one about how we, as educators, can and need to be UNrealistic together.

Admission – I am a nerd. This manifests itself in many situations, but one way is that I geek out over quotes. Quotes have a way of inspiring and resonating in a poetic kind of way and I just love them. I’ll share several quotes in this post, but one in particular, the quote that hangs on my office door, encompasses much of what educators should be about.


As educators, we have to be dealers of hope, igniters of dreams, fuelers of inspiration. We have to be the fountains of BELIEF. If those who we serve, students, colleagues, teachers, can’t come to us and know that we have visions for them that others find impossible, then we’ve failed before we’ve even begun.

Let me put it to you a different way. Have you ever been excited about an idea and, after sharing it with someone, they respond with “Let’s be real…” and continue to give you all of the reasons what you’ve shared won’t work? I have. And it is deflating and the opposite of what I feel like I need to create something amazing.

Maybe you are still thinking that using words like “unrealistic” and “impossible” are taking it just a bit too far. That these are idealistic words we can throw out in philosophical discussions but don’t have any true meat behind them. I have over 20 years of experiences with students ranging from preschool to seniors in high school telling me otherwise. These interactions and journeys with thousands of kids have shown me that kids have a sixth sense. They know, almost immediately, if we adults have those impossible dreams for them, if we are the ones ready to be UNrealistic for them.

And let me ask you this. What is the other option? If we can’t be all in on being UNrealistic, are we hinging all of our energy and efforts on being REALISTIC?


Because being realistic leads to mediocrity. And mediocrity doesn’t motivate. Anyone.


How do you believe in the impossible? How can you create your future to make it happen? Here are 4 ways we can be UNrealistic together.

Know your WHY.

The vast majority of companies, schools, and people get it wrong from the start. If you focus on the WHAT (the results) and the HOW (the processes) rather than your WHY (the cause or purpose in the work), the work and people doing the work lose sight of the core value and aligning belief. Simon Sinek talks about The Golden Circle in this TED talk.Know Your Why (1)

You need to reflect on your personal WHY and then, as a team, clarify your shared WHY. After all, purpose is an incredible alarm clock and our jobs, which can seem like a mountain to be moved on the best of days, need an endless reserve of motivation. Knowing and reinforcing your WHY provides this. People don’t get burned out because of the WHAT and the HOW, they get burned out because they either don’t know of have forgotten the WHY. 

Build your TRIBE.

To be UNrealistic, you can’t go it alone. Start building your community, finding those that share your WHY. Seek out the greatness in others, and realize that, while alone we have lots to offer, together we are brilliant.

Say no to silos! Get connected through tools like Twitter and Voxer, step out of your classroom or office. Start sharing and collaborating through Google apps. Finding and building your tribe will have incredible impact on you and your purpose.Tell your story through blogging, learn from others, create content and put it out there. The power behind a tribe includes support and exponential impact.



We can’t expect to create the impossible without a positive mindset. This is not a Pollyanna positive where everything is rainbows and unicorns. This is the kind of positive leadership that rolls its sleeves up, gets messy, puts real issues on the table, has difficult conversations, is solutions-focused. The kind of positive that says “YES, we CAN do this and we WILL do this. Because this is our WHY.”

Too often, especially when we have impossible dreams and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, we listen to our inner critic. This negative voice inside our head tells us that we are frauds to even think we can achieve such greatness. To be UNrealistic, we need to stop listening and start talking. Fear is a liar and we need to start telling ourselves in affirmative, specific ways, that we CAN do this. I challenge you to form positive affirmations, statements that shine a light on your strengths and your purpose, that you tell yourself daily.


You, as a positive leader, own the energy you bring into this space. And make no mistake, your thoughts have energy and that energy is contagious. Start talking belief in yourself and your purpose and you will be amazed at how you have more strength to be different and think big, starve out fear, and beat average.

Get comfortable being UNCOMFORTABLE.

Take risks, fail forward, and be vulnerable by putting yourself out there. If you aren’t working towards something right now that makes you nervous, you need to think bigger. If there isn’t something on your calendar in the very near future that gives you some butterflies, you are being realistic.


If you are still shy about going big, ask yourself, “If I do this and fail, what is the worst thing that will happen?” You will learn a great deal, be more prepared to try again, and you will inspire others to take a risk. Wow! Pretty incredible side effects of failure, right? David Geurin has shared 11 Things to Be Instead of Comfortable if you’d like some additional inspiration to support you own your growth, communicate your commitment and realize you are capable of and made for amazing things.


What do you want your legacy to be? Think hard about this because there is no middle ground here. Either you’re committed or you’re compliant. Either you are remarkable or you are ordinary. Either you CREATE the future or you defend the status quo.

I want my legacy to be one of belief. I desire to be UNrealistic. Together.


What you do today is creating your legacy. What will your legacy be?


Things I Want My Teachers to Know


I use the term “teachers” broadly. Actually, at our school, we are all “leaders.” Teachers, custodians, administrators, counselor, cafeteria staff, we all have the title “Leader” on our name tags. As the principal of all of these amazing leaders, here are some things that I hope they know.


I believe in you and expect you to believe in yourself.

Not only do I have an endless purpose and passion for the work to which we have given our life, but I believe in YOU. I work hard to get to know you on a deep enough level that, while I will support your growth areas, I want to focus way more energy on your strengths. Let’s amplify your genius and create opportunities for you that shine a bright light on your gifts.

You do the most important work and have amazing abilities to transform your students’ success and empower them as leaders and learners. I commit to believing in you and building up that same belief in yourself.

I’m never too busy for you.

Inevitably, whether it is while I’m out in the building or in my office, someone will stop me because they need something. Maybe they have an idea they want to hash out, a problem they are trying to solve, or a celebration to share. Too many times, they start out by saying, “I’m sorry. I know you’re busy, but…” I will often intervene and say, “You know this is my job, right? To listen to you, to support you, to celebrate with you. I’m never too busy for you.”

After two years, I think this starter has become more infrequent. I don’t feel the need to wear my “busy badge” and parade the fact that I have a lot on my plate. My team knows I work hard. And more than anything, I hope they know that I am here to serve them and what they need to be their best.

We are a team and, together, we can do the impossible.

We fail and succeed together. Our students and school community need a team that, when our strengths are working together, there is nothing that can stop us. Because of this, I believe and cultivate a shared leadership culture that is strengths-focused. It is US against our inspiring, ambitious goals and how much we trust and value being a real team is the strongest indicator of what we will be able to accomplish for and with our students.

Go take risks. I have your back.

I have no desire to be ordinary or mediocre and I don’t want that for you, either. Being remarkable requires taking risks and having the courage to do things differently. If we are going to move forward on our path to greatness, we will have to support one another and know that there will be times when we fail forward. We will have to be comfortable being uncomfortable because our vision requires each of us to make sacrifices in order to grow. During that growth, calm your fears by knowing I will be there to support you.

I take my responsibility seriously but not myself.

I own the energy I bring into our school and know that I have an enormous responsibility. The accountability I feel to the success of our entire school community can be overwhelming, however I choose instead to be energized by my impact. I have strengths I bring to my leadership, but when you make a list of people who are not perfect, please include me at the top. My leadership is not about me, I check my ego at the door, and bring my unique gifts humbly to those I am blessed enough to serve.

We need honest and genuine conversations.

To be the best we can be, we will need to trust one another enough to have the difficult conversations. This includes two-way feedback, both constructive and affirmative. It also involves talking honestly around the dilemmas we face in education. What we do is complicated and messy. And that’s ok. Let’s agree to put the good, the bad and the ugly on the table and when we get up from the table, know that we’ll be better off because of the thoughts we’ve shared.

I will never apologize for working to create a culture of excellence.

We will do whatever it takes because our work is too important, our impact too great to do otherwise. I respect you and your work too much to lower my expectations and certainly our students deserve our highest level of belief. I am motivated by our shared WHY and honored that we are creating this culture together.

You are special.

There is one you. I value your uniqueness and all of those special gifts you bring to our school. I also love you. As a human. I care about your family, your interests, all of those quirky things that make you you. I am thankful our paths have crossed because you inspire me to be the best leader I can be.


I hope and am fairly certain that those with whom I work daily already know these things. One thing, however, I’ve learned as a leader is that I can never over communicate something of such importance. Better that I be transparent and build trust than assume and miss an opportunity.

Leaders, does your team know those things you would hope you convey? Would these be on your list? What else would you add?

5 Ways to Develop a Leader:Leader Culture


Why is a leader:leader culture better than a leader:follower culture? For so many reasons, but ultimately, it is boiled down into one idea.


Our work is too important. After all, we touch lives forever. We make lasting impacts that have enormous ripple effects. I am but one person. Together, however, we can do the impossible.



We have spent the last two years at our school developing and nurturing a leader:leader culture where every single staff member is a leader. Below are five ways that have been game changers for us on that journey.

Cast your vision of a shared leadership culture.

Communicate your vision immediately and often. Great leaders deliver an inspiring and clear vision from day one. Make sure your team knows what your passions are and how those passions connect to your vision. When I came on board my new school, I didn’t even wait until our first staff meeting. I made a video and sent it out to so that they could get a sneak peek at who I am and what I’m about. I knew I’d need to spend most of my first year learning the school, our team, and developing a shared vision with them, but I needed them inspired and learning about my core values from the beginning.

I let them know from that day on, that my vision was for them to be leaders. While being leaders within their classroom and our school was important and necessary to our greatness, I also spoke of my vision of their leadership in the larger education world. What I also communicated within my vision was that we would build a school community together where everyone had a voice and each member had a seat at the table. I continued to communicate this part of my vision while connecting it to different situations and decisions in order to clarify it.

Use empowering language.

This one is so easy yet often overlooked. If I expect our teachers to be leaders, I need to use that word. When I send an email, I may start if off by saying “Hello fabulous Taylor Mill Leaders!” If I’m tweeting a celebration, I refer to them as leaders. At the start of school last year, all staff members were welcomed with new name tags and business cards. The title on each? “Leader.” If I am important enough to network and connect with others using my business cards, then so are our teachers, secretaries, cafeteria staff and custodians. They all have name tags and business cards that say they are leaders.



Make their leadership development a priority.

Using words can certainly change a story, but there also needs to be action to support the talk. I make sure that not only am I developing each of them within their roles, but I also focus on growing them as leaders. This may sound complicated and you may be wondering how you have time to fit anything else on you or your teachers’ plates, but my suggestion is to make it natural. I do simple things like sharing my learning with them. When I read a leadership article that strikes a chord with me, I may share it in our weekly staff newsletter. If I listen to a podcast that I know would be a good fit for one of my leaders, I share it with them. Often, I use our morning huddles to feed them with leadership insights and inspirations.

Shatter the information silos and create opportunity.

A lack of information is never a good thing in any situation and certainly not when you’re trying to build a shared leadership culture. Information leads to ownership and understanding and, in turn, both of those lead to empowerment. We are extremely transparent with information and use digital tools to communicate and collaborate. Within our digital infrastructure, all of our staff have the same level of access that I and our admin team have. I regularly discuss with them the reasoning behind decisions, but better yet, we involve them in the decisions. If the situation requires that I can’t share information, I share that. Ultimately, as the quote from Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess says, when you involve your people in authentic ways, progress is faster and the changes are sustainable.


The other piece to this step is to seek out opportunities for your team members and connect them to positions and projects where their greatness can shine. This requires strong relationships and knowing your team members on a level that takes time and focus. But when you point out a staff member’s genius, make them and others aware of it, and then allow them to plug into work that takes advantage of those strengths, a bright light will shine for all.

Get over yourself.

This may sound harsh, but I know in order for us to move forward on our path to greatness, I must take my responsibility seriously but never myself. I try my best to make sure our team members feel supported and we have clarity around our vision and next steps, but once that has occurred, I get out of their way. I must check my ego at the door and remind myself that none of this work, our school, being what our kids need and deserve, is ever about me.


How could you amplify your school, and ultimately, you students’ success by building those on your team as leaders? What else would you add to this list?


How to Summer Selfie Like a Genius


Last Spring, our entire school was deep in the work of recreating our school brand, having just completed our new vision and mission and a newly designed school logo and mascot. We were also becoming increasingly connected as a community of learners within our team and beyond our school walls. One of the ideas that arose from our School Branding Task Group, a voluntary group of Taylor Mill Leaders who are passionate about clarifying and strengthening who we are and what makes us unique, was a school Twitter hashtag. After tossing around a couple of ideas and doing some quick searches for existing hashtags, we quickly decided on #TMGenius.

#TMGenius was something we were all excited about (we call all of our students Taylor Mill geniuses… more on that in an upcoming post) and so the next task at hand was to get others inspired and connected to it. That’s when I saw a post from Matthew Arend, a principal from TX in my PLN, on my Twitter feed.


It was closing day of school last Spring and our Branding Task Group was gathering for a quick planning meeting. I tossed the idea out to them, wanting to gauge whether they thought others would be interested in it. “A Summer Selfie Challenge?” I asked. I explained the idea and asked some follow-up questions. Will others be too tired over the summer to want engage on Twitter? Will they think it is cheesy? (Although they know me by now and probably expect that.) Will we have fun with this? Will this help us connect, build our brand and our community? I was met with an enthusiastic, “Yes, let’s do this!”

Thankfully, Matthew had been generous enough to share all of his resources, so I did what any great educator, with permission, would do. I copied. I personalized the directions and the board and sent it out to our entire team. And then nervously waited to see what would happen.

What we all witnessed last summer, and more importantly, felt a part of, was each of us going through our summer days, celebrating, rejuvenating, and sharing with one another all of those fun, special moments. We got to know one another better, our families and friends became surprisingly and passionately involved. We engaged in friendly competition. And, oh yes, we built our school brand. This challenge really was the tipping point in how #TMGenius has become a very integral part of our school brand, what makes us who we are and how we communicate and connect with others. Go ahead, do a quick search for #TMGenius on Twitter. You’ll see the awesomeness that is shared daily in our school community. Pretty nifty, right?

So this summer, today actually, we kick off our second annual #TMGenius #SummerSelfieChallenge. I’ll be sending out the directions to our team and will tweet the official board from our school Twitter account. And then we’ll watch the connections, celebrations, and #TMGenius fun abound!


As I tell our team, being a Taylor Mill Leader (we call all staff members Leaders) is not who you are when you step foot inside the school door. It is just who you are. We are building our school culture every day, even in the summer.

How can you amplify your school culture during the summer months? How can you take advantage of technology and inject some fun to inspire and connect your team? Most importantly, what are you waiting for? Join in the fun!


How to Summer Book Study Like a Genius


Last school year, we went through the intense and important process of developing our school vision or, what we refer to as, our shared WHY.


You can see from this statement, one of our core values is inspiring passionate learners. We very clearly value life-long learning both for students and the adults in our community.

Last spring, to help support this part of our vision, we kicked off the first annual Taylor Mill Leader Summer Book Studies. I gathered a list of books teachers had requested or I was interested in reading and did a quick introduction of each at one of our morning huddles. I also established the ground rules:

  • You can sign up for as few or as many books as you’d like.
  • We will buy the book(s) for you.
  • You will participate in the book study.
  • If there is a book you’re itching to read and discuss and it’s not on the list, you can add it.

These rules are simple but important. They model the value of individualized learning and teacher choice. We all are more engaged when we are a part of the process and have an authentic voice. They put the money where our mouth is. We want to put these valuable resources, the books, in the hands of our teachers and staff members. So we pay for the books. They also value commitment over compliance. It is very clear that this was in no way mandatory. And most importantly, they require us to be a community of learners. This is where the impact really gets going.

While developing and buying into a powerful collective vision is invaluable, we also understand and discuss the importance of us being a collective community of learners. How else will we ever move forward on our path to greatness if we are not committed to continually challenging ourselves and each other? We know the importance of being life-long learners AND being a COMMUNITY of learners. There is value in one, exponential power in the latter.


There is one additional rule I included:

  • Each book study will be led by a Taylor Mill Leader (aka teacher, staff member, in other words… not me.)

This was an awesome opportunity for our staff to stretch their wings and gain leadership experience. Were they a bit uncomfortable stepping up and agreeing to lead? Without exception. After all, who wouldn’t be? This was a first for all of us. We had no idea what the response would be, what obstacles there would be to overcome, or how reading and collaborating throughout the summer months would play out in reality. Were they excited about this chance to lead? Again, without exception. They were energetic and passionate about what this would mean for their own growth and, even more noteworthy, they were driven by how they could impact others.

Leaders emerged and showed they had the commitment to being uncomfortable and courageous in order to help us all grow as passionate learners and collaborate as a community. They met as a leader team and planned the beginning steps. They discussed logistics, inspiration, and supported one another in how to kick off their book studies. Some of the smaller groups decided to meet in the traditional face-to-face fashion. The larger groups decided to hold their book studies through the free app, Voxer. Some wanted to start right away, others decided to hold off for a bit. The meeting ended with us starting our own Voxer group for book study leaders so that they were able to collaborate and game plan throughout the summer.


We had twelve different book studies going on last summer, all teacher-choice and teacher-led.

summer book studies

Staff members from various roles, teachers, secretaries, instructional assistants, counselors and administrators, were involved. And what was one of the neatest things to witness was when others outside of our school, after hearing about the book studies, started asking to be involved. We had district staff, teachers from other schools, teachers and administrators from other districts, teachers from across the country (who heard about it on Twitter), and even some authors get involved. (Shoutout to Dave Burgess for agreeing to join and being super active in our Teach Like a Pirate study!)

The positive energy around these studies was palpable. By teacher request, we created a Flipgrid to share take-aways across book studies. Each study helped create community within and around our school while helping our leaders become connected to others they may not typically collaborate and learn with. Our leaders came away with deep, reflective thinking and new ideas to incorporate into their role for the new year. There was no doubt that our students would greatly and directly benefit from these efforts.

What is happening this year? We have twelve new studies getting ready to kick off and all indicators point to amplified awesomeness! We started the list of possibilities several months ago, gave all of our staff access, and again invited sign-ups and leaders. You can view the list HERE. Some of those outside educators who joined last year have already reached out to us asking what we were leading this year and if they could join again. #YES

For educators, summer months are, of course, for enjoying those lazy, warm days of rejuvenation while losing track of the calendar. But if you are a #TMGenius Leader, summer time is also an incredible opportunity to learn, lead, and amplify like a genius.

How can you take advantage of the summer and create a community of learners and leaders in your school? How can you amplify your school culture over the summer? What book studies would you join or add?


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