Fit in as THE Leader

Going into middle school, I knew I had to have a certain look to fit in.  Baja jackets or hyper-color T-shirts, yep, had to have them.  Guess Jeans and Doc Marten boots, you know it. I mean I was walking into a middle school in which all THREE district grade schools converged into one melting pot of adolescent anxiety.  I knew that if I didn’t have the look, I wasn’t going to fit in.


You know you had one….

We laugh now at the mid-90’s garb we blew our allowances on, but the truth is….fitting in is important.  Fearless leaders who flip schools from dysfunctional to pillars of schloarly excellence don’t dare or care to FIT IN, do they?  Well, in my mind, they better if they want to understand and meet the needs of their students and staff.

The concept of fitting in naturally evokes visions of weakness.  Fitting in, though, is not about being a follower or caving to the consensus.  Rather fitting in as a school leader is about surveying the terrain of needs, transparently sharing how you’re going to fulfill those needs, and, lastly and most importantly, walking the talk by showing up and meeting those needs.

I’m in my first year as principal of Union Valley Elementary School in Hutchinson, KS.  I’m five weeks deep into the job and I’m loving every minute of it.  I’m loving my role as Union Valley principal because I’ve taken the time to “fit in.”  I’ve taken the time to survey staff and student needs and thoughtfully created a concrete plan to meet those needs.  I’m working hard to walk my talk and fit in as THE leader.  Playing on the metaphor shared earlier, these have been my Guess Jeans and Hyper-Color T-shirts to fitting in as our school leader:

  • Visibility–Upon getting the job as Union Valley principal, I informally visited with a number of staff about what they would like to “see” out of me as the school leader.  They regularly and strongly told me that they would like to see……me.  Message heard.  I’ve worked hard to be visible in the classroom (45 documented learning walks in the first eight days of school), in the lunchroom, and in the parking lot during dismissal.  Being visible has helped me make connections with all members of our learning community–teachers, parents, cooks, custodians, etc.  It also has helped me realize what a STRONG school we have and where I fit in as the leader. 
  • Communication–Our WONDERFUL secretaries shared with me that “communication,” in their eyes, is paramount to effectively leading a school.  Again, message heard.  Morning Announcements, a daily 10-minute whole school assembly, helps me connect with and communicate to our staff and students on a daily basis.  Morning Announcements has helped us become one big, happy, well-informed family.   I’ve also worked to harness the power of digital communication through recording quick videos to connect with both staff and parents.  Prior to the start of school, I created and sent five minute videos to both staff and parents.  These videos helped viewers better know me as a person and understand my leadership style.  They also proactively informed viewers of important upcoming activities, beginning and end of day procedures, and shared important info regarding new district initativies–bond updates, new math series, and standard-based report cards.
  • Fun, Energy, and Soft Skills–The UV staff and students were hungry for fun, energy, and “soft leadership” and I’ve worked hard to deliver all three.  Sometimes these efforts are big.  For example, we loaded up on the “energy bus” as a whole staff our first day of PD and went out to coffee at a local cafe.  However, more importantly, these efforts are small and continuous.  We’ve made “greeting others” a school-wide goal.  Never will a staff member or student walk down the hall by himself/herself and not be greeted with a hug or high-five or at minimum a pleasant “good morning.”  These small initiatives have helped me “fit in” in a big way.

In summary, “fitting in” has been essential to our successful start at Union Valley this school year.  My job isn’t to be the iconic leader who puts the school on his back.  My job is to effectively read current strengths and current needs and work to develop both.  If you’re new to a school this year, no matter what the role you have, think about what you can do to “fit in.” You and your school will be better off for it.

Why can't these make a come back???

Why can’t these make a come back???

Here are a couple of videos I’ve used to communicate with parents and staff.  I’m a video-creating novice.  I used Touchcast to create and share both.  If you’re new to creating videos, I highly recommend TC. If I can use it, you can.

Parent Communication via Video

Staff Communication via Video


#ThankfulThursday: What are You Thankful for Heading into a New Year?

The upcoming school year brings us feelings of great excitement.  I know educators around the nation are voraciously gobbling up professional reading, connecting with peers and gleaning ideas through Twitter and Pinterest, and many are already in their classrooms or offices planning for learning experiences that will engage kids at unprecedented levels.

I also know that state legislatures and the media continue to spew horribly illogical hypotheses that we are failing in public education and practitioners in the field are to blame.  These suggestions and myths are beyond a buzz kill.  This is supposed to be a positive, uplifting, energizing blog, so we will not spend much time on the unfair, unnecessary, and unjust criticism we are subject to in education.  Rather we’re going to take on the mission of challenging and crushing the critics with unyielding appreciation for all the POSITIVES in our worlds as educators.

I feel that the first and biggest step to annihilating the nonsensical noise we face in education is to simply take a step back and express what we are thankful for in our field.  As Rick DuFour asserts in his most recent book, In Praise of American Educators, we are the “greatest generation of educators.” If we are going to maintain that status, then we must recognize and appreciate who we are and the work we’ve done.


I’m not promoting or asking for an earth-shattering movement with this effort to think about and express thankfulness.  I’m just giving you a slight nudge in the direction of making gratitude your attitude as we jump into the 2015-2016 school year.  I’ll start by sharing what I’m thankful for:

1. Past mentors.  Boy, I’ve had some influential mentors in my career as an educator.  To the likes of Kevin Case, Kim Clark, and Scott Friesen…I want to thank you for your wisdom, kindness, and friendship over the years.  You have helped me better understand who I am as a leader.

2. Past and present colleagues.  I’m thankful for the amazing leadership experience I had at Inman Elementary School the last six years.  That staff pushed me as a learning leader and I know they will continue to learn, grow and meet students’ needs at unprecedented levels.  And my new crew at Union Valley….you have been so welcoming, kind, and open-minded with me as your new principal.  We have SO much to look forward to as we learn and lead together!

3. Professional Learning Networks–I’m thankful for the global network of fellow educators I connect with on the daily via Twitter and Voxer.  I learn 24/7 with you as to how I can become a better leader.  A special NOTE of APPRECIATION for the LeadUpNow crew.  Wow….I’m beyond appreciative for the positive, challenging, and growth-promoting experience we share on the daily?!?!

4. Parents–I appreciate the parents of our students beyond what I can express in a simple blog.  You entrust us every day with fulfilling your children’s civil right (stealing from @RyanBJackson1 with that term) to an education.  I respect that, cherish that and will work my tail off to make you proud.  I want the same from the educators that work with my child.

5. Kids–I wouldn’t be here in the greatest profession of all without YOU!  You are IT. Simple as that.

6. Family–We as educators can be almost too passionate and too connected to what we do.  It’s hard for us to take a break.  I appreciate my wife, daughter, and parents for the balance they bring to my life.  I love what I do, but I love them most of all.

So….please take time to reflect on all that we have thankful in our field.  Maybe you’re like me and you are thankful for that circle of people who have led you to what you are today–an extremely talented and effective educator.  Maybe you’re thankful for the new coat of paint in your classroom that the custodial crew hammered out?  Maybe you are blessed with new technology in your room?  Maybe a friend helped you move into your new office or classroom?

Secondly, take time to overtly show your appreciation.  #ThankfulThursday is a great place to do that.  Use it and mention those for whom you are thankful.  Handwritten notes and phone calls are equally if not more effective in sharing your appreciation.

You will feel better as a person and as an educator by making gratitude your attitude.

Paul Erickson, @PrincipalPaul,


Celebrate New Principals!

Celebrate New Principals!

Next Friday I have the privilege to present at the Beginning Principals Conference for new principals in my home state of Kansas.  I am beyond excited to see what talented leaders we have joining us in the field next year!  I hope that my 30-minute presentation on Technology and Leadership gives our new principals a tool or two to employ next year and beyond.  However, my much bigger hope is that they come away from the day, feeling recognized, celebrated, and empowered as leaders.  They need to know that they were chosen for their positions for a reason: our schools–staff, students, and parents–need them!

The reality of the principalship is that it is hard, really hard.  In Kansas, we have never faced more policies, pressure, and not-so-positive publicity in education, and that’s educators as a whole.  Principals, even in the good times, are challenged, criticized, and rarely recognized.  I think about my six years as a principal and I have been challenged to a physical altercation, berated with more than PG-13 vocabulary, and dodged routinely at the grocery store.  Of course, there have been a gazillion positives that have balanced out the not-so-fun moments, but we’re not people who regularly get pats on the back.  Furthermore, consider how principals have been portrayed in pop culture.    Well, 80’s, 90’s pop culture 🙂

PrincipalBBrfastPrincipal Vernon from The Breakfast Club. The classic jerk principal full of empty threats at which students feel obligated to rebel.

PrincipalSkinnerPrincipal Skinner from The Simpsons. The classic socially awkward, zero-life-outside-of-school principal who slinks through the day just hoping to avoid getting reprimanded by the superintendent.

PrincipalBeldingPrincipal Belding from Saved by the Bell.  The classic cheeseball principal that nobody takes seriously.

These principals are fondly remembered by us, well, at least those of us in the 30-and-up crowd.  I’ve even playfully dished out Principal Vernon’s “you mess with the bull, you get the horns every time,” to an ornery sixth grader.  I’ve also exceeded my quota of cheesy thumbs-up signs in the hall courtesy a time or two.  However, these characters do not represent who we are or what we do as principals.  Nevertheless, these are the images that come to mind when people think about principals.

So my challenge to you is to find a new principal, welcome him/her to the field, celebrate the work that got him/her here, and offer your support.  You can do this as a fellow principal, as new principals crave and need peer support.  You can do this as a teacher, as there is not a more comforting feeling for a new principal than knowing teachers have his/her back.  You can do this as a parent, as the most memorable compliments we ever receive are from the parents who entrust us with their children every day.

Pick up the phone to congratulate a new principal.

Hit him/her up on Twitter or Facebook.

Send an email NOW, as this is typically the first week principals are back at it.

Best of all, stop by his/her school, shake hands, and say, “You’re the right person for the job. We’re lucky to have ya.”

I encourage you to email me or hit me on Twitter with your story of congratulating a new principal to the field.

Thanks for reading!



To Do or Not to Do? Making and Prioritizing Beginning of the Year To-Do’s!

Beginning of the Year To-Do’s….

I’m entering my twelfth year in eduction and I take pride in (and have to laugh at) the organizational behaviors that have stuck with me over the years.  I try to be as digital as I can with EVERYTHING I do, but there’s just something comfortable about an old-fashioned to-do list.  I made one my first year as a teacher and I’m making one entering my seventh as a principal.  Mine this year, as compared to the last five, is longer than ever.  The reason for the extra length with my to-do list (four-pages long with 14 point font; see picture) might be a part of the transition to a new school.  The length may also be due to the fact that I’m always adding new ideas/processes to starting a year with staff and students.  I’m an effective adder but struggler as a subtracter.  I need to get better at prioritizing or sharing the load in the future, no doubt.

Taped together for dramatic effect

Taped together for dramatic effect

Here’s my to-do list for the start of the new year.  As of today, I have two items checked off.  One took five minutes to complete; the other took 45 minutes.  I’d like to see yours if you’re willing to share.  I’d also be interested in learning how you prioritize your beginning of the year to-do’s.

Please email or connect with me via Twitter!

Thanks for reading, sharing, learning and growing…

Paul Erickson, Principal, Union Valley Elementary, Buhler Schools, USD 313, KS, @PrincipalPaul

  • Master Schedule
  • Specials—Work Collaboratively with these teachers.
  • Work in blocks for Math and ELA
  • Lunch—Indicate times AS WELL AS coverage.
  • Email/Share Google Doc as “DRAFT” to everyone in case changes will still need to be made
  • Add library and art later
  • Aide/Title Support Schedule
  • Collaborate with teachers on this.
  • Staff Development
  • District agenda and days
  • Building agenda and days
  • Welcome/Team-Building-45 minutes
  • Nuts and Bolts-60 minutes—Maximum
  • Learning—Rest of day….in groups, as a whole….what is most important we learn about heading into next year?
  • Class Rosters
  • Add new kids
  • Determine when to share with teachers
  • Determine when to share with parents
  • Committees
  • Update teams with new staff.
  • Get to know teams—what they do, how often they meet?
  • Handbooks
  • Emergency/Crisis Plan—update with new staff; other, Email to staff so they can update packets
  • Staff Handbook—Update
  • Student/Parent/Teacher Handbook–Update
  • Letter to Staff—Email
  • Welcome note
  • Class rosters (if complete)
  • Staff Development Agendas
  • Committee Rosters
  • Request for Classroom Management Plan…incentive
  • Pictures of summer activities; use these in fun first day activity
  • PTO and Site Council sign up sheets in workroom…incentive—First 3 to sign up win a Coke and Smile pass—I’ll cover your class for one hour of your choosing!
  • Meet with Site Council Rep and PTO President
  • Talk with both about goals, your duties, agendas for next year
  • Spoonful of BHAG, building wide themes, other important activities/changes for this next school year
  • Talk fundraisers—What, when, where? Your role?
  • Update School Weekly Calendar for first TWO months
  • Include—GEI Meetings, Bring Your Parent to School Week, Peer Observation Days
  • Share Social Media Ideas–Branding
  • Everybody create a Twitter—follow Paul, UV, and another staff member
  • #313teach—a place to store and share best practices
  • #bexceptional—a place to promote great things in the district
  • @UV313—Group Tweet, syncs with FB. Here’s how. Here’s why.
  • Safety
  • By the last week of August or first week of September practice the following…
  • FIRE,–Where do classes go? Who triggers alarm?
  • TORNADO—Where do classes go? Who triggers alarm? How do you take care of lost students?
  • LOCKDOWN—Where do students go? Who announces? How? How are doors outside of classrooms taken care of?
  • EVACUATION—Where? Why? Who announces?
  • Give staff a heads-up as to when these drills will be given. Review ALL PROCEDURES with the group.
  • Parent Night—Night before first day of school
  • Process? Timeframe?
  • Publicity?
  • Incentives? Drawing? Family meal at local restaurant?
  • First Day Letter to Parents—Highlight a few special activities on the day.  Use Facebook post and Power Announcement to share
  • First Day Activities–Superhero Theme!
  • Make a plan for how students and parents will be welcomed back the first day
  • What will we do in the gym for our first morning announcement? How do we want to greet them?
  • Wear thematic attire?
  • Last year reflection presentation? Slideshow with music?
  • First Day Traditions
  • Root beer floats in conference room after first day with kids—Line out some helpers for this.
  • GEI
  • Start planning for the first one in September…Look for past students from May notes
  • Start reviewing students’ files

Learning to Lead…even in July!

***Warning: This is my first blog EVER.  Inspiration to try out blogging came from Aaron Hogan (@aaron_hogan), Dr. Ryan B. Jackson (@RyanBJackson1) and Jeff Veal (@heffrey).  I’ve been digging on their blogs this summer, so I’ve decided to make the jump from reader to writer.  Thus, if this blog stinks, please blame them.  If it’s a worthwhile use of five minutes, please thank and recognize me.  Just kidding.  The guy that wholeheartedly believes in PLC and PLN would never say that.  Thanks for reading!***

Leadership Learning Goal: Help Our School Build a Brand for Teaching and Learning

Summer is a great time to relax with family and friends and recharge for the upcoming school year.  This year I’ve  indulged in my fair share of relaxing with family and friends.  While I’m still going to work in plenty of summer fun (#1 on the fun list is making it back to Kaufman Stadium to watch the Royals…how fun is this team right now?!?!), it’s time to start making bonafide progress on my list of professional learning goals.

First on my list has been to read solid and stimulating material.  You know the kind that is backed by sound research and reputable publishers and also makes you routinely say, “WOW! I’ve got to start doing this in my school.”  Recently, I’ve chosen solid and stimulating material that relates to my professional learning goal of helping my new school (Union Valley Elementary, Hutchinson KS, USD 313) build and promote a brand for teaching and learning.  The bonafide BEST resource I found in my learning quest to build my school’s brand is The Power of Branding by Dr. Tony Sinanis (@TonySinanis) and Joe Sanfelippo (@Joesanfelippofc).

After reading this thoughtful and cogent book, “branding your school,” for me, has shattered its reputation as a jazzy catch-phrase you routinely see on Twitter or hear at conferences.  Now I view “branding” as vision-buidling/mission-instilling in its best form.  I’ve never discounted the importance of building a common vision of teaching and learning among staff, I’ve just never been very good at it in my six years as a principal.  Moving into a new school with new staff hungry for collaborative, change-oriented leadership, I need to be good at it!  I guess I’ve never been very good at because previously read material on the subject matter has been lengthy and too process-oriented.

While Sinanis and Sanfelippo rarely-if-ever use the lingo “vision or mission,” they help you create, share, and instill both!  Branding your school via reflective dialogue and then promoting it using social media will help you cement “what your school is all about” into the hearts of your staff and then transmit it to a global audience on an immediate and routine basis!

So if developing a shared vision/mission with your staff is something you’re doing for the first time or something you’ve always struggled with it, flip your mindset about it with The Power of Branding.

Consider my mindset officially flipped….