How Pat Summitt Changed My Life…


I never played basketball.  I am only 5’2′”.

I don’t watch professional sports and really never have. I root for all of the athletic programs and student athletes in the Barnegat School District where I am the Superintendent.  As a spectator, I am most proud of my own children.  During their sporting events, I am the screaming, excited, passionate, worried, on-the-edge-of-her-seat, proud mom.

I am not much of an athlete.  A few years ago I completed the Jersey Girl Triathlon, the Tough Mudder, the Color Run, and a bunch of 5K’s.  Exercise is essential for a healthy mind and body, yet lately, time is not on my side.

When I started my teaching career, I had the wonderful opportunity to be a High School Marching Band Director.  I know…crazy, right?  I was young and inexperienced but so incredibly passionate about music, teaching music, performing, listening, and working hard to provide rewarding musical experiences for my students.

(Don’t worry, this whole blog is not about music.  Hang in there…)

If you ask any Marching Band Director, musicianship (in all it’s beauty) is nearly impossible when the band’s instrumentation is spread over ten yards or more of a football field.  There are color guard flags and rifles impacting sound (and vision). Student musicians are trying desperately to hit their marks for the drill they have been working on since band camp.  It is still ninety degrees in late September. The band is wearing polyester uniforms. They are trying to keep in step with each other, watch and listen to the drum major, and their view is partially obstructed by a hat with a giant feather on it!   It’s kind of like trying to swim a 200 meter freestyle race with a blindfold on, one arm tied behind your head, and a five pound weight tied only around one ankle.

This, my friends, is what Marching Band is all about.

When I was a Band Director, there was another band director nearby.  Her name was Karen also.  Just like all the head football coaches knew each other, so did we.  The other Karen was amazing.  Her band placed in the top three bands for local, county, and state competitions year after year.  They were accomplished musicians.  Her students had mastered the “wall of sound.”  If you have never been to a marching band competition or a drum corps show, you have already stopped reading this blog.  The “wall of sound” blows your mind every time.  It is that moment in the show when the sound coming from that band in front of you simply lifts you out of your chair.  You can feel the music notes dappled across your face.  Your hair blows back and you can’t breathe.  This happens because it is LOUD but also because it is a moment of sheer beauty.  A moment of outstanding intonation…full, beautiful music.

The other Karen’s band also mastered amazing Latin rhythms, how to perform with character, when to play to the crowd, how to be amazing showman, and how to choose music that really showed off their talents.

The other Karen beat me every time.

So, I did what any coach would do.  I tried to emulate her.  She became my mentor and friend and she introduced me to Pat Summitt.  I never met the late, great coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers. But the other Karen told me to read, “Reach for the Summitt“.  It was the first book I read that motivated me, captured my attention, inspired me, and provided “coaching” strategies that I could apply to my work as a Marching Band Director.

The band’s performance improved.  I had an amazing mentor and friend in the other Karen.  But reading Coach Summitt’s book did something astounding for me.  It made me hungry to be led, a desire to be inspired, and drove me to improve my “coaching”. It gave me the courage to try and keep trying. Summitt’s book encouraged me to look within for strength, reach to others for support, and persevere even when I wanted to quit.

I believed in the things that Pat Summitt believed in and I still do today.  We are a team. Character Matters. Work together toward a common goal to achieve the best outcomes. MAKE CONNECTIONS WITH YOUR TEAM.

Pat Summitt said, “What I see are not the numbers.  I see their faces.”

As a teacher, I had the opportunity to see the faces of many, many students. Today I have the honor of seeing my former students as successful adults.  I see the current students in my district as amazing students with unyielding potential.

Pat Summitt was a hero to me and many others. As a woman, I was floored by her strength and her successes.

images summitt

In her memory, I will commit to what she believed in and reaffirm my beliefs in her teachings. Do everything with character and integrity. Your team is your family. Make connections.

Thanks, Coach.


Brave or Stupid?

Sometimes, in the quest for feedback we take action that can brave or stupid depending on the outcome.

Last week I created an anonymous survey that went to the entire staff.  It only had a few questions and allowed for complete anonynimity (except whether employees were administrators, teachers, secretaries, custodians, drivers, etc).  The survey also allowed for completely open ended responses.

I asked staff to provide feedback that I might grow from.  Areas for suggestions were in communication with staff and community, specific areas of strength, weakness, and areas in need of improvement.

Why would a Superintendent ask these questions of her staff?  The Superintendent evaluation is conducted by the Board of Education so what could this information possibly be used for?

There were two reasons I chose to ask the staff to provide feedback.

I read a blog about a teacher who invited student feedback from her classes.  It was remarkable and inspiring.  She asked students about content, projects, collaborating with classmates, assessments, and rapport with the teacher.  The student responses were amazing!  The teacher gained perspective, received valuable information, and grew through the process.  Who doesn’t seek growth so I thought, “Why not me?”

I wondered if I could do it…on a district level.

I also hoped to inspire the teachers in my district to do the same.  How can I expect them to ask for feedback from their students if I am afraid to ask it from them?

The second reason is what drives me every day.  It is the goal to improve my leadership so I may inspire teachers and educate students.  It is to persevere through challenging situations and find success from failure.  It is to strive for what is best in education even when it feels like the world is against me.

I am not sure what those survey results will reveal but I will read each comment, reflect, and apply the suggestions from a staff of educators I respect and honor. Brave or stupid?  Time will tell but I look forward with anticipation to becoming a better “me”.

What it Means to Appreciate Teachers

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and tomorrow is the final day to pay homage to our nation’s greatest gift – those who teach selflessly and tirelessly, with diligence and commitment to our students!

Each week I send a Monday Morning Message to the teachers in our district.  I have been doing this for almost a year and it has been a gratifying experience.  My “MMM” are not general reminders of items that are due or upcoming trainings.  They are words of praise and support.  I often share educational articles, blogs from colleagues, YouTube videos, stories, pictures, and even song lyrics I find inspiring!  Throughout this process we have all learned more about each other.  I always receive responses from the staff on my Monday Morning Messages.  The conversations I have had via email with teachers over the last year that I would not normally see on a daily basis have been exceptional!  All due to a brief message!  Two wonderful experiences occurred over the last week or so that I would like to share.

Recently, I was welcoming a newly approved staff member to the district during one of my walk through visits.  She took the time to say, “Thanks for all you do.”  I did not realize but she pointed out that in almost every one of my Monday Morning Messages, I tell the teachers, “Thanks for all you do.”  To hear her say it was humbling and wonderful.  I hope it has the same effect on the teachers in my district when I say it to them.

The second situation did not start out as wonderful at all.  Yesterday, in the middle of Teacher Appreciation Week, we were notified by the Barnegat Police Department that we were to go into “shelter in place” status.  This meant that all school’s doors were to be locked and no one entered or exited.  For the remainder of the day yesterday, we had to count on each other to remain positive and calm while police sirens echoed through neighborhoods, which is not a common sound in our sleepy little shore community. Teachers inspired students, reassured parents, and assisted administrators during a very frightening time for many people.

We remained in contact with each other through email and messaging systems.  As I poured through dozens of emails over a day in a half, some amazing themes began to emerge.  Parents were complimenting teachers!  They were recognizing our staff for their dedication and patience, their positivity and loyalty!  Teachers were complimenting each other as well as administration for maintaining communication and a sense of calm throughout the situation.

I have often felt the phrase, “It takes a village” is so appropriate for education.  I have never felt I could accomplish anything in our district if it were not for the educators that I am lucky enough to call my colleagues.  I am grateful that I can go into any building in our district, greet teachers by name and receive hugs from warm, caring people who have dedicated their lives to teaching children!  What could be better?

I hope that as we close Teacher Appreciation Week, your village is a fabulous as mine.  There are always challenging days in education, but knowing there is an entire team of dedicated teachers standing with me through challenges like we faced yesterday inspires me to dig deeper, read more, and strive to be the leader they deserve.  Thanks for all you do! 

Teaching to the Last Bell

Yes, the warmer weather is upon us.  Many students are exposed to spring-time weather and begin to think of lazy summer days where they are not buried in homework and standardized testing but perhaps buried in sand! Teachers, too, begin to think of ways to end the school year.  Many of us start to make excuses about what we can realistically cover or complete before May or June arrives.

In New Jersey, we do not end the school year until mid to late June.  Maybe it is time to address #lastbell, #MayMatters, and #Jazzed4June all at the same time.  How can we steer away from, “We only have thirty days left.  I can’t possibly cover…” or “Is this year over yet?”  Remember that if we as educators are tired, so are our students.  Consider also that school may be the safest place for school children.  The summer break may not hold promise of vacations at the beach, sleepovers, camps, or other exciting, fun activities with family and friends.

As we begin the countdown, maybe we should begin to count UP.  Count UP to what we CAN do in the precious time we have left.  I am sharing some strategies that might be useful to you as you approach the end of the school year.  Here is one of my favorites.  It comes to you courtesy of Allyson Apsey, a school administrator from Michigan and fellow Compelled Tribe member.  Think of utilizing these strategies as the year winds down.  I think they are important in September, January, or June.  Try CRAFT in your classroom.  You can find more on Twitter @AllysonApsey.

  • Choice: small or big
  • Relationships: so everyone feels like they belong
  • Ask, don’t tell: they know so much more than we think they know
  • Fun: everyday! Student-prompted and teacher-prompted
  • Turn it around: when you find yourself in a power struggle, back it up

Think of how this might look in May or June.  Does it look different than in September?  You may have to dig deeper as an educator and be more patient, but allowing student choice and really listening to them matters.

Have you tried a mystery Skype?  How about a scavenger hunt using Twitter to assist students in transitioning from one grade to another?  Have you considered asking students to write a reflective writing piece regarding their expectations or apprehensions of moving up a grade or to a new school?  Perhaps writing is not the way some students express themselves and they are given choice in how to respond.  Will a song work?  What about an iMovie?  Remember that we are only limited by what we limit ourselves.

Here is a short excerpt from author, Dave Burgess.

How Will You End Your Year?

Consider his example or one you create with your grade level team, school, or district colleagues to end the year strong.

Although the examples I shared lack curricular content delivery, I am confident that every skilled educator can engage students AND address content.  Teaching to the last bell can be joyous and memorable!


Professional Growth

My oh my, how the year has progressed!  The year is not over yet (see blog on #lastbell) but it is time to start reflecting, assessing, and re-calibrating our focus to get ready for next year.  As I was doing the aforementioned activities, some interesting thoughts emerged.

We set goals as a district and as an administrative team in the early fall of 2015.  My goals did not sit on a shelf.  They were living, breathing, actionable tasks that had meaning…up until about January.  Then Twitter, Voxer, and the #compelledtribe came along, all as a result of attending the NJ TECHSPO conference.  I can literally identify WHEN things changed for me.

This is powerful as an educator.  When I look back and read the goals that I established for myself, I can track progress for the beginning of the year.  But now, as I look back, they seem to be written by a completely different person.  As I reflect on them with a critical lense, the first thoughts that comes to my mind are, “Really?  That’s it?”  Then, “Where is the evidence? Where is the authenticity?  Where is the innovation?”

In just a few shorts months I have learned so much and grown in ways I could not have imagined.  For a busy administrator, I find myself reading articles and sharing them with my staff on a regular basis.  I have engaged with teachers and administrators on a more personal level than ever before.  I have implemented daily leadership actions in my office as a result of Twitter chats (#CelebrateMonday, #cowbellTuesday, #YouMatterWednesday, #HighFiveThursday, #FunFriday).  The best part is that my staff is starting to implement daily leadership actions of their own!

I listen and respond to questions of the day on Voxer from Compelled Tribe members and Women in Leadership groups. Their words of inspiration, ideas, and suggestions fuel my energetic passion for improvement in our schools.  I actively participated in my first EdCamp and plan on using this model in my district.  I am currently creating a book study on Twitter for the administrative team then will attempt one in the fall for the entire staff. I will also be implementing Twitter challenges and have begun reinforcing how important it is to teach to the last bell.  As a result of a fascination with maker education, we visited local schools and are ready to implement programs for the 2016-2017 school year and beyond.

I have demonstrated growth in the areas of:

  • implementing innovative practices in my district
  • using social media to connect educators
  • inspiring my staff
  • providing educational resources in the areas of maker education, leadership, literacy, utilizing podcasts in the ELA classroom, assessment of instructional practices, and multicultural awareness
  • motivating teachers and administrators to improve communication (by modeling it), and to follow through on all district/school initiatives
  • improved writing skills
  • collaboration with educators from across the country and around the world

None of these items were outlined in my goals that I set in the early fall of 2015.  They just happened…

All of the above-mentioned items were areas of growth that I sought on my own and thoroughly enjoyed.

Other than the NJ TechSpo Conference, NONE of the professional growth activities above cost the district Board of Education a dime.

I could not be more grateful for the opportunities provided for me as Superintendent of Schools in Barnegat, NJ.  I work with an amazing staff and collaborative administrative team in a supportive community.  Professional Growth is what you make it.  Make yours meaningful, fun, and fabulous!

Reasons to Smile on a #CelebrateMonday

Did you ever have one of those days?  Or maybe one of those mornings?  I did.  Today.  Monday – of all days!

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, had no time for coffee, felt frustrated that my children (who are usually helpful) did not assist with morning chores and focussed on things that did not matter to me.  They wanted to watch television on an already jam-packed, behind the eightball morning!  We had no time for breakfast (don’t worry – they ate at school), rushed out of the house, returned to the house because we forgot my daughter’s costume for her show at school, and arrived at morning band for my son in the nick of time! Whew!  During this rapid Monday morning madness, I was short-tempered and worried about every little thing that needed to occur.  I was not my joyful self, was short-tempered, and in a bad mood.

Then something amazing happened.  Well…a few amazing things happened.  We pulled up to morning band and as I was rushing to get my kids into school my daughter said to me, “Mom. Don’t worry.  Your day will get better.  Don’t forget to breathe.”  I stopped short for a beat.  My daughter is eight…and is wise beyond her years sometimes.  I walked my children into school, calmer now.  I gave them hugs and kisses and apologized for my rushed, anxious, frustrated behavior.

When I returned to the car, I took a minute to breathe.  I also took time to be present, to reflect, and be mindful. What an amazing sensation!  To let go of tension and to re-focus my energy in a positive way.  Then a few more mini-celebrations occurred…

I had two short errands to run before work. At 7:30 a.m. I pulled into Wal-Mart for a few items we needed at home.  I was greeted with, “good morning”, had an amazingly pleasant and engaging conversation with the cashier, and exited the store with “have a nice day”.  When I stopped for a cup of coffee at Wawa a stranger held the door open for me, another struck up a pleasant conversation about the weather, and still another (complete stranger) complimented me on how nice I looked!  I thought for a moment that I might be having a weird out of body experience.

What I realized was much better than being on another planet or being someone else.  When I took time to be mindful, present, reduce my anxiety, re-focus my energy in a POSITIVE way and to #CelebrateMonday, EVERYTHING changed.  Is it possible that somehow I was able to invite positive energy?  That had I remained on the path I began that my day would have been dramatically different? YES! I believe that we invite positive when we exude positive!

I am so grateful that my day changed because each day we are called to lead, it is a lofty responsibility.  We are responsible to inspire, motivate, and educate.  None of these responsibilities should be taken lightly.  For all of you who wake up on the wrong side of the bed, remember that life is about choice.  I choose happy!

Learning for the Love of Learning

Yes.  I said it.  Learning for the love of learning.  Can it happen?  Is it possible?  How can we (as educators) motivate students to LOVE learning?

This topic intrigues me.  In investigating “learning”, I conducted a self-assessment, but not in my current learning style.  I am thinking and assessing from when I was a student.  I know how I learn now.  I know why I learn now.  How and why did I learn in college or even in High School?  Considering I graduated High School twenty-seven years ago, this is a difficult exercise, however I challenge you to do some reflective thinking.

In fact, do one better than me.  Ask your students these questions and see what their responses are.  I wonder what they would say.

Ask yourself the following questions as if you were a K-12 student, not as an adult.  I did. Here are my questions and answers.

Q.  “Do I love to learn?”                            A. Sometimes. When I’m not tired, or working, or                                                                             doing homework, or involved in after school                                                                                       activities, or helping around the house.

Q.  “What do I love to learn about?”       A. Things that interest me. Music, art, writing, etc.

Q. “Who do I like to learn from?”            A. Hmmmm (this is where it gets interesting…)

  1. Someone who is excited to teach me.
  2. Someone who is funny.
  3. Someone who makes learning interesting.
  4. Someone who makes the tough concepts easier to understand.
  5. Someone who is patient.
  6. Someone who cares about me.
  7. Someone I admire.
  8. Someone I try to emulate.
  9. Someone I trust.
  10. Someone who inspires me to do my best.

I wonder if my recollections are accurate or if they are too inspired by what I know about student engagement and rapport (which I feel are absolutely necessary between teacher and student).  So I tried to think of specific teachers and the connection I had with them – why I LOVED their classes.

I had teachers who were passionate.  Some who were so passionate they ignited a spark inside me for a topic I thought I had little or no interest in.  I had teachers who were so hilarious they could have been stand-up comics.  Those teachers would do anything to make a lesson memorable and it worked.  I know because I can recall facts that the teacher shared in a hysterical manner.  I had teachers who never gave up on me.  Even when I took high level courses that were incredibly challenging (at both High School and collegiate levels), I had teachers or professors who made learning interesting, never gave up on me, offered extra help, and were incredibly patient.

I had teachers who I wanted to grow up and be like.  I do not mean that I wanted to be a teacher.  Ironically, I did not play “teacher” as a child.  I wanted to be like them because of other things like the way they treated students, their integrity, their passion, and their dedication.

I do recall that I wanted to play like one of my music teachers.  When you are inspired by a gifted musician, who plays with amazing technical precision as well as a warm sound that conveys every expression imaginable, there is simply nothing like it.  I wanted to emulate that sound.  I admired him.  I trusted him.  I practiced for hours and hours because he inspired me.

As we live in a world filled with data, Common Core, student growth objectives, growth percentiles, and lots of other measureable pieces of information.  How can we measure the inspiration a teacher provides to a student? How can we measure learning for the love of learning?

In my opinion, if a student gets up, gets to school, and gets inspired, we can thank dedicated, committed, engaging, passionate, funny, patient, loving teachers.