Sunday, February 16, 2014

21st Century?

I spent some time last week with our staff talking about the age we are currently in with our students and how our students best respond to learning in school.  We consistently hear about the 21st Century student.  We hear about how long each day they are plugged in, they don't care about their learning, etc.  Last time I checked the 21st Century is pushing fourteen years old!  At the beginning of the century I was teaching at our middle school and had a landline installed in my classroom.  My cell phone was a bag phone!  Correct, we are in the 21st Century, but we are very much in a Digital Age. The Digital Age is learner focused.  Learning for most of the 21st Century hasn't reflected that model. As a school we have to be reflective of societal changes around us to help us prepare our students for the this Digital Age world.

Digital Learners (which all of our students are) want access to information quickly.  They want to be able to have some say in how they learn.  They want to explore, debate, and search.  Digital Learners want to see pictures, video, and have discussion about a topic before being fed a bunch of information.  This is an interesting walk we as a school.  All of our staff have been taught and trained the same way all of you as parents have.  Teachers control the release of information.  Everything is very deliberate and teacher centered. 

At Lincoln High School with the addition of an amazing infrastructure for technology (hardware and 1:1) we truly have all the tools we need to move forward quickly in this Digital Age.  There are many pockets throughout LHS where is it very obvious that we are in a Digital Age and we have our Digital Learners as the focus of our classrooms.  In areas where we haven’t quite reached that level our staff is working extremely hard to meet the needs of our students at their own pace.  I am proud of the fact that we have stuck to our message with staff.  “We will meet you where you are at.” is the promise we have made to all staff and they have responded in a positive manner.  Too many schools give staff tools and tell them all to do it the same way.  Those schools struggle as they make everyone uncomfortable.  In that model staff are either held back or pushed forward too quickly.  Implementation in that fashion doesn’t recognize our Digital Age or our Digital Learners which our staff are growing to understand and be.

I would like to thank Eric Sheninger for inspiring these thoughts.  His new book was an extremely thought provoking read for me as Digital Leader in a 1:1 high school.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Leaders In The Midst of Change

How do you help lead change?  I have had this on my mind often in the midst of our 1:1 implementation, college career readiness initiative and the change in our student management system.  Our staff truly couldn't have more things to manage at the moment.  I think it is important for leaders to take time to honestly reflect on how they help their staff manage change.

Taking the time to reflect on how your staff is managing change is overlooked by most leaders.  Leaders who worry about implementation and logistics and then sit back and assume the initiative is checked off the to-do list certainly set up their school up for limited success.

The most successful leaders understand the pulse of people in their building.  There are usually strong indicators for success and areas that need more intention.  @Dculberhouse mentions in a blog post  Great leaders understand the necessity of having emotional intelligence, of having the 'soft skill'... skills that include connecting, communicating, motivating, understanding, and modeling.  Skills that allow a leader to create the right tenor and tone.  Skills that create influence and put the wind in the sails of your leadership.

The soft skills of your leadership that Culberhouse mentions build your culture.  The longer I am in a position of leadership, it becomes more clear that the soft skills will truly define your leadership success or in some cases non-success.  To be successful in connecting, communication, motivating, understanding, and modeling you have to be willing to be vulnerable.  Do you always have to have the best answer?  Do you listen?  How do you react when criticized?  

These are thoughts that I reflect on very consistently right now.  Your staff have to see that you are willing to support them at every turn.  One of the best ways as principal that you can support your staff is to learn with them (or do what they do, teach).   I had two great opportunities this week to do both.  This takes time, it makes for longer hours somewhere else, but having that grounded understanding as a leader will pay huge dividends for your students.  Supported staff work hard, embrace initiatives and put students as the priority.  Non-supported staff worry about what isn't working, don't feel appreciated and those things take focus away from what is truly important.

Successful leaders take care of their staff, are out front working with staff, teach, make being positive the only attitude choice and don't waver in their commitment to staff and students.  Change is difficult.  Being concerned for others and being a servant leader is not.  Be reflective in the midst of change.  Choose the path that will make your school great for your students.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Most teachers don't like to recognized in front of a group, in fact most teachers would prefer specific, meaningful feedback from someone who matters to them; principal, colleague, or student. Last week during our back to school inservice activities we had the opportunity to recognize two teachers from our district in a more public manner during our opening district meeting.

Our Thief River Falls Education Foundation gives out a recognition to two staff members each year in our district called the Peter Hess Memorial Award. The Hess Family graciously donates five hundred dollars per year to each staff member to use as they so choose. The money isn't the important piece of the recognition. It is the words from students, staff and parents that truly make the impact.

They show great care for students and colleagues. VJ Smith presented at our opening workshop and said the word care might be the most important quality one can possess because care includes the word love. Care takes on many forms in a great teacher. They care about their students as individuals first. Great teachers get to know their students on a personal level. @szutz Mr. H's commitment to his students is unmatched. He makes each of his students feel important and does everything he can to help.

@szutz He showed me that building great relationships with students is the key for success.

@szutz Mr H will forever go down in the books as one of my favorite teachers. The ability to be educator both in and out of the classroom is a quality I think is hard to come by. Many kudos to Mr. H for being able to put up with the ignorance of many high schoolers by using a compassionate hand instead of just writing kids off. @szutz He showed me that building great relationships with students is the key for success. Now that is power. A high school student with that type of reflection. That is impact.

Great teachers show a passion for learning, students, and their subject area. @szutz Not only did H help prepare me for the rigors of college but his passion for teaching helps motivate me to work for a career I love. Passion is a word used often in leadership these days. What does true passion look like? I think that last Tweet says it all.

Teachers at the top of their profession, show great leadership. How do they do that? @szutz H is undoubtedly a great leader within the school. It's not about what he says, but it is what he does #leadsbyexample. I love that last Tweet. It is not about what he says but what he does!

Those Tweets are great examples of the opportunity we have everyday as educators. Easy to have that focus now at the beginning of the year. Keep that focus all year. Work to stay energized. The great ones do.

Appreciate the staff who go the extra mile. Find a way as a leader to continue to help them find new levels. It is so easy to leave them alone and focus on those who don't care as much, who seem to lack passion and show no desire to lead. Those folks need plenty of guidance, but so do the great ones.

Recognition doesn't have to be public. As a leader, be PRESENT in classrooms, understand the pulse of your buildings and find ways to say thank you and recognize the wonderful things your staff members do. That same advice goes for teachers in the classroom.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What our staff deserves........

Everyone thinks it’s all about talent.But talent isn’t enough. It’s about infusing talent with heart, practice, focus, spirit & passion - Jon Gordon.
New Staff

Our new staff deserves leadership who will take the time to get to know them.
Our new staff deserves leadership who will take the time to support them at every turn.
Our new staff deserves mentors who will take the time to help them with the logistical items that may cause stress and are essential for running their classroom smoothly and efficiently.
Our new staff deserves department teammates who will take time to share ideas without pressure to implement, allowing them time to reflect on how it may work best in their classroom.

Our Maintenance Staff
Our maintenance staff deserves an amazing THANK YOU for the great pride they show in their work.  Our maintenance staff deserves our staff taking a deep breath as we move forward in the completion of construction project.  There will be a number of little things that will need to be completed as school starts. (We are too blessed to be stressed!).
Our maintenance staff deserves a huge pat on the back for showing tremendous organization and planning in putting our school back together.  This isn't easy while working around and with about 100 construction workers a day.

Our LHS Staff
Our LHS Staff deserves leadership that will push their thinking and challenge their beliefs.
Our LHS Staff deserves leadership that will have a presence in their classrooms.
Our LHS Staff deserves colleagues who value true collaboration.
Our LHS Staff deserves leadership who will truly listen to concerns and new ideas.
Our LHS Staff deserves a school culture that supports change efforts with time and resources for implementation.
Our LHS Staff deserves leadership who values learning and works everyday to learn, read, and reflect.

Our Paraprofessionals
Our Paraprofessionals deserve the respect of everyone for their work with some of the most challenging students in our school.
Our Paraprofessionals deserve our appreciation for always changing their schedules and work assignments as student needs evolve and change.
Our Paraprofessionals deserve a smile back for seemingly always having one on their faces each day.

Our Secretaries
Our Secretaries deserve the respect that our own lack of planning doesn't turn constitute an emergency for them.
Our Secretaries deserve staff being respectful of their work environment.  What other area of a school seems to be hands on for all staff?
Our Secretaries deserve a thank you for having hundreds of interruptions and still getting everything done!

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Our high school is in partnership with the University of Minnesota in implementing a program called RAMP UP To Readiness. It is a college/career initiative that is intentional and researched based. It is a school-wide guidance program designed to increase the number and diversity of students who graduate from high school with the knowledge, skills, and habits necessary for success in a high-quality college program or any post-secondary training.

Our LINC time with RAMP UP To Readiness as the backbone will meet once a week for 45 minutes. Advisors will have anywhere from 11-13 students. What a great opportunity to INVEST in students. We have a tremendous culture at LHS. I feel LINC will only deepen the relationships that are at the heart of our school.

RAMP Up includes five pillars of readiness as indicated on the graphic. Although those are wonderful pillars, I feel our students will grow the most in the consistent (weekly) interaction with peers/advisors when working through this program. We will use the RAMP UP To Readiness program in our weekly LINC time, but our staff has developed a number of leadership lessons that will be presented to our students during this time as well. My favorite quote, "Culture eats strategy for lunch.", applies here as well. We can give students all the academic skills, help them understand how to access college, and how to help pay for it. If our students don't understand how to be persistent, how to help others, listen, question, take risks, and understand that it is ok that they don't know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their life, this program will be a waste of time.

Most college/career readiness programs are a haphazard approach. There is a college day here, a financial aide meeting there, or staff even dressing in college wear, but this program is different. It is intentional, consistent, embedded in grades 9-12 and has been used in pilot schools in MN. I am hoping our students, families and staff find similar success as the pilot schools.

We spent most of our 'Common Prep' time last year preparing for this implementation. This won't be something that will be handed to staff when they walk in the door. I feel that is why our staff has embraced this change so well. We have been intentional about our implementation and are providing time and resource to learn. We will visit at a later time about some of the challenges and successes of this program.

Friday, July 26, 2013


I have spent a great deal of time reading lately and the word that keeps coming to my mind (maybe it will be my ONE WORD), is OPPORTUNITY.  I am reading Jon Acuff's book start.  Not quite finished yet, but obviously that main theme is to get started...The book is much deeper than that, but when I think of starting, I think of OPPORTUNITY.

Lincoln High School will be making history this fall when we move into our completely refurbished building.  This high school is truly set up for 21st century learners.  To the right is a picture of our commons.  It is set up for wireless, plenty of outlets, multiple types of seating, etc.  The best part will be seeing our students collaborating and communicating.  How will this space impact our community?  Students?  Culture?  Not sure, but what an OPPORTUNITY!  I have vision of what I would like to see happening in that space, but the best part is seeing how others are creative in using the space for other things than lunch or hanging out.  Again, a great opportunity for learning.

Not only will our building be completely ready for our 21st Century students, but we will be implementing a fully integrated 1:1 program in the fall.  All of our students will be receiving a MacBook Air laptop (Yes, this community loves our schools and students!).  Think about that for a second......650 kids connected everyday.  What does this look like?  OPPORTUNITY!  I have spent most of the morning getting ready for our laptop deployment in the middle of August.  I honestly have a hard time keeping my concentration.  My mind wanders to all of the things our students will have the OPPORTUNITY to do.

Yes, we have some folks who are not extremely excited about the move to 1:1.  I have had different folks, ask if that is upsetting.  My response? "NO."  Fear is a motivating factor in change either positively or negatively.  My role as principal is to meet those folks where they are at and help them grow at a pace that is comfortable to them.  This will take patience, care, motivation, and possibly some prodding.  We have the culture that will support this great endeavor and I am proud of the fact that our staff is ready to dive in and is trusting of the fact that we will support this move with time and resources.  Yes, what an OPPORTUNITY for our staff.  The slide below illustrates the shift we will make at Lincoln High School.  These are our 21st Century students, they are Millennials and proud.

With the professional learning options available today to educators, it is amazing to me more educators don't understand the power they have at their fingertips.  My staff will be encouraged, nudged, and helped to START!  That is my goal.  If they START, OPPORTUNITIES for our students will be abundant.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Teach Like a Pirate

I just finished the book, 'Teach Like a Pirate' by Dave Burgess.  All I can say is that everything I have read and heard about his book is absolutely true.  As a Principal it has given me many great insights on how I can encourage and support my staff even though it is written by a teacher for teachers.

Dave Burgess illustrates so many great points, but I want to focus on a few that hit me the most.

#1 - Passion - Basically, Burgess says, "BRING IT!"  Everyday, at every moment you can, if you aren't extremely passionate about a certain part of your job, that is ok, but bring enthusiasm.  Passion get's thrown around a lot, people talk about, wish they had, but don't understand what true passion is.  True passion is making your work your life's work.  Not your life, but your life's work.  You are continuously looking to improve, digging for new ideas and working your tail off at your craft.  True passion is sustained.  Some people can do the things mentioned above for a short period of time, but having true passion for your work keeps you on track.  Are you committed to being "on" every block of the day?

#2 - Mediocrity Doesn't Motivate - This might be on of my favorite phrases of all time!  Think about your best experiences with a teacher or coach.  I guarantee they weren't mediocre.  Burgess states, "There's no energy, no juice, no fuel to ignite action."  I will pass this thought on to my staff.

#3 - The World's Greatest GPS...Your Brain - HAVE A VISION!!!!  Have a vision for what your perfect classroom should look like.  We are moving towards a 1:1 environment this fall.  As a principal I have a vision on what I want that to look like at Lincoln High School.  Teachers should have vision on what they want it to look like in their classroom.  We have to be willing to fail, to swim in the deep end with our students, and JUST GO FOR IT!  We don't have to have every answer.  Don't let fear guide your decisions as an educator.  Students are the most forgiving humans on the planet when you show trust in them to hang yourself out a bit and allow them to do the same.  If you crash and burn on a a lesson..........WHO CARES!  What a great example to show our students.

After you put in all of the extra time and effort, how much more will you see in your paycheck?  ZERO!  If you are passionate about your position and students.  You won't care for a second.  Greatness takes an extreme amount of dedication, effort, failures, purpose, and passion.  It is not for everyone.  Jon Gordon in his book, 'The Seed' talks about planting your seed where you are.  My greatest hope for this fall is that each of my staff will plant their seed in their work as an educator and mediocrity won't be an issue.  It is my work to help them succeed.

One quick thought.....look at the picture.  That is my six year old in church last Sunday.  No matching shoes?  Improvise and go with it!  Great lesson for everyone!

I will end with something I received in the mail this week.  A graduating senior from this year's senior class sent me a card in the mail thanking me for many different things.  I was really appreciative and it filled my bucket!  Although, those thoughts were powerful, the words from this student that really struck me personally and professionally were, "Thank you Mr. Zutz for everything, I don't think you truly realize the impact you have on students."  That statement about floored me.  I am not saying that to bring any attention to anything I do, but to illustrate the fact, that most of us have no clue on how we impact students.  How are you going to impact students this fall?  Summer is great for rejuvenation, but I hope many of you are thinking about that impact as you are renewing.