Professional Development is as easy as 1, 2, 3

Professional Development is as easy as 1, 2, 3

How do we grow as professionals in the ever changing world of the 21st Century? How do we make learning relevant for adults and children? If you are asking yourself these questions, the answers could be as easy as 1, 2, 3. Step 1 – Identify The Problem

Problems are not necessarily bad or good but should be seen as opportunities. One easy way to identify a problem to explore is to get your key stakeholders together and ask them 3 things your organization is doing well and three things they are struggling with. Chances are, no matter how many people you involve, there will be 4 to 5 themes. After you reveal your themes, then you can narrow your focus.

Step 2 – Explore Solutions

After you have identified your problem, it is time to begin working on possible solutions. We suggest that you ask your key stakeholders what they think the organization will need. This will require you to brainstorm creative approaches to address the problem. After you have brainstormed areas to address the problem, it will be important to create an action plan focused on how long the professional development will take as well as resources to support.

Step 3 – Relevance, relevance, relevance

In order for the professional development to be effective it needs to be relevant. We suggest that you tailor the professional development to meet the individual needs of the participants. For the most part, people want to know why this would be beneficial. Every professional development needs to address the why (want to know more about this, please check out Simon Sinek TED Talk). If you can not provide the relevance, ask the participants to identify their own why and tailor the learning to suit their needs.

These 3 steps will get you started. Check back with us as we help you take your learning to next level.

Education Synergy is committed to assisting school districts and nonprofits with resources and innovative practices to establish a brand, increase enrollment, and succeed in the 21st century.


Changing a School’s Culture, From the Ground Up

Changing a School’s Culture, From the Ground Up

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Change is tough, or so the saying goes. But think about change from a different perspective: a child’s. Remember when you learned to ride a skateboard or bike? Or how proud you were the first time words flew off the page into your memory? For children, change can be exhilarating.

My question to you is: How can we educators initiate change in our own schools that lets us experience joy in the process of learning and evolving?

Shore Up Your School Culture

What is your school culture like? Resist the temptation to answer right away. Instead, take a walk around your room or building with a smart phone or camera. Photograph the posted signs, materials on lockers, doodles on notebooks, and whiteboard graffiti. Or capture a series of social-media bites from your school’s Twitter or Instagram feed.

Why should you do this? Because it’s exactly what we don’t notice that shapes our school culture. People are bombarded with hundreds of messages each day that influence their self-identity, either telling them they matter or that they are an afterthought. What messages is your school sending to students, support staff, and teachers?

The Importance of Language

Collect 20 to 30 images and lay them out like you were going to display them on a bulletin board. I like to use Picasa’s collage feature, but Linoit and Padlet allow you to organize and annotate your thoughts with additional sticky notes. Write down your impressions as you scan the photos. Are there messages of acceptance or division? Are the messages in your building focused on following strict rules or building relationships? We all expect the best effort from our students, but we need to think about whether we phrase that in neutral, negative, or positive language.

Here’s an example. One computer lab I visited had this sign: “Thank you in advance for taking good care of the equipment in this room. Others will benefit as well as you.” But I’ve seen other lab rooms with signs saying: “Students who damage equipment will be charged with vandalism.” It’s obvious which sign creates a more positive culture.

Identify Stakeholders

Share your photo collage with others (including a cross-section of students) and discuss what it means. How can teachers, staff, and students work together to create more positive messaging in your building? Organize groups to walk through the building and identify signs with negative language. Then brainstorm ways to address the issue: perhaps encourage student council members to write a letter to teachers and staff, or create a school-wide positive messaging contest.

Next, think about who isn’t plugged into your school’s culture. Lasting change requires a “we” that doesn’t exclude stakeholders. Whose voice goes unheard in your school? Consider parents, students, faculty, staff, and community members. Who tells these groups that their ideas matter?

In order to change school culture, we first have to understand the perspective of all stakeholders. Gathering data from parents, community members, or students may be as simple as setting up a table periodically at a game, science fair, or play. Staff it with teachers or student council members and provide a short survey on a few laptops or paper. Talk with people who take the time to provide feedback. This could be repeated at a variety of venues, including senior citizen centers, chamber of commerce meetings, or food banks. Even if you aren’t available for an event, provide the survey or an online link to outside groups. Then follow through by exploring the data with a professional learning community, students, or attendees at a board meeting. Is it clear to stakeholders how they can use their voice to initiate change at your school?

Unless we understand our school culture—and begin to take steps to change it—we may choose the wrong drivers for system reform. The change we desire might not be possible until we invest in all voices.

Rename Challenges as Opportunities

Fear is a natural response when change is foisted upon us unexpectedly or without adequate buy-in. (That never happens in schools, right?)

It’s not easy to contend with fear. But we can do it, individually and collectively. We can choose to rename challenges as opportunities, and acknowledge harsh realities while creating plans to mitigate them.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you have a student with a handheld device who appears disengaged from the task at hand. What do you do? The most obvious choices are to take the device away or have a conversation. The first choice is easier, but it won’t build a relationship or good will. The second choice requires you to calmly discuss the matter with the student.

This can be transformational. A student often falls through the cracks when the only attention he or she gets is a stern reprimand for wrongdoing, rather than negotiating towards a mutual solution. One solution could be to use proximity as a reminder to the student when he or she is distracted, or have students voluntarily stack their devices on tables so they are out of reach but still visible. Perhaps you could establish a three minute stretch-or-text break in your room after a period of hard work. But before any change can be implemented, a conversation has to happen.

Find Others Interested in Change

Wait, you might be thinking. I can’t change a culture by myself. And you’re right. Change requires a critical mass of determined individuals. But you’re not alone, either. There are other like-minded people who want to change education. Social media is one useful tool for helping you get there. (Check out the Teach Like a Pirate #tlap Twitter chat on Monday nights from 7 to 8 p.m. ET to get your imagination moving). You can also check out online communities like the CTQ Collaboratory, English Ning, Discovery Education, or the National Science Teachers Association. There are dozens of spaces that allow people to network, share, and learn from one another in personal learning networks that go beyond one-shot interactions.

These networks, whether down the hall or in a virtual space, allow you to share your successes (and failures) with others. Using them may require a new approach: Having the courage to ask for help. Find opportunities to talk with someone who challenges your thinking. Share something that happened in your classroom this week, whether good or bad. This builds new knowledge and relationships.

Driving Change Within Your Sphere of Influence

One thing we know we can impact is the classroom in which we teach. Cultivate that change by honoring student voice and ideas. Identifying the right change driver—a strategy based on classroom input—will establish relevance and inspire hard work from students. Here’’s a hard pill to swallow: The agreement for change must come from those who are most impacted by the change. Often, we design for content deliverables rather than people. That’s a mistake, since any change process is first and foremost about people.

Not everyone is ready for change at the same rate—but all of us are capable of some change. The educational community is currently undergoing this process as part of design thinking (think Project Lead the Way or Makerspaces). This change process is transforming many different aspects of education, from curriculum design, to teacher feedback systems, and more.

But as we plan for meaningful change, what changes the most may just be ourselves. Just like we did when we rode our first bike or unlocked the secrets of books through reading, we can pursue challenging experiences that transform us for good.



Leading to Change/ How Do You Change School Culture?


December 2006/January 2007 | Volume 64 | Number 4
Science in the Spotlight Pages 92-94

Leading to Change / How Do You Change School Culture?

Douglas Reeves

Consider the following laments that I have heard recently from school leaders: “We can’t change the grading policy—it’s part of our culture.” “Public displays of data won’t work here—the culture won’t allow it.” “The parents just don’t understand—you can’t change the culture by passing a law.” Each of these statements includes the word culture, but the meaning of the term ranges from policies and procedures to personal preferences to deeply embedded belief systems.

Cultural change, although challenging and time-consuming, is not only possible but necessary—especially in organizations in which stakeholders use the word “culture” as a rhetorical talisman to block leadership initiatives, stifle innovation, and maintain the status quo. In the last decade, the education standards movement has taught us that policy change without cultural change is an exercise in futility and frustration.

How do you change the culture of schools? When it comes to lasting cultural change, four essentials are consistent across many leadership contexts.

First, define what you will not change. Identify specific values, traditions, and relationships that you will preserve. Rather than make every change a battle that exhausts political capital and diminishes trust, effective leaders place change in the context of stability. They take care not to convey the message, “Everything you have been doing in the past was ineffective, and your experience and professional judgment are irrelevant.” A more thoughtful message is, “I am only going to ask you to engage in changes that will have meaning and value for you and every stakeholder we serve.” For example, many schools have cherished traditions of excellence in athletics, music, or art—traditions that can be threatened when the leader says that academic achievement must be the top priority. Effective change leaders identify and build on traditions rather than compete with them. The trophy case bursting with evidence of athletic championships can share space with exceptional student artwork, outstanding science projects, and superb essays.

Second, recognize the importance of actions. Speeches and announcements are not enough. To lead challenging reform efforts, you must be willing to make personal changes in decision-making policies (Who has the authority to decide what?); personal time allocation (Which meeting invitations do you accept and which do you decline?); and collegial relationships (Do you make time to listen to the personal stories of your colleagues?).

The greatest impediment to meaningful cultural change is the gap between what leaders say they value and what they actually do. Staff members are not seduced by a leader’s claim of “collaborative culture” when every meeting is a series of lectures, announcements, and warnings. Claims about a “culture of high expectations” are undermined when school policies encourage good grades for poor student work. The “culture of respect” is undermined by every imperious, demanding, or angry e-mail and voice mail coming from the principal. Leaders speak most clearly with their actions. When staff members hear the call for transformation from a leader whose personal actions remain unchanged, their hope turns to cynicism.

Third, use the right change tools for your school or district. Christensen, Marx, and Stevenson (2006) differentiate culture tools, such as rituals and traditions; power tools, such as threats and coercion; management tools, such as training, procedures, and measurement systems; and leadership tools, such as role modeling and vision. Leaders must choose the appropriate change tools on the basis of a combination of factors, including the extent to which staff members agree on what they want and how to get there. Leaders who approach reform determined to apply a particular change method are making the mistake of the person holding a hammer who therefore sees only nails.

Fourth, be willing to do the “scut work.” In Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, Tracy Kidder (2004) describes a renowned infectious disease specialist and leader in international health care. Farmer has revolutionized the beliefs and practices of stakeholders ranging from the poorest rural villagers in Haiti to the faculty of Harvard Medical School to policymakers at the United Nations. Combining his extensive field experience with sophisticated research and medical analyses, Farmer has upended traditional notions of health care. What does Farmer cite as one of his secrets? The willingness to do “unglamorous scut work.”

Although education leaders must make speeches and attend board meetings, leaders aspiring to change school cultures will take the risk, as Superintendent Stan Scheer of Murrieta Valley Unified School District in California has done, of taking a turn as a substitute teacher or spending time with bus drivers at 5:00 on a frosty morning. When the school leader puts down the briefcase and picks up a stack of trays in the cafeteria or a pile of writing portfolios for personal review, then everyone knows that the leader takes every job in the school seriously. If you believe that every job has value and there is no such thing as unimportant work in schools, then demonstrate that belief through your actions.

Meaningful school improvement begins with cultural change—and cultural change begins with the school leader.


Christensen, C., Marx, M., & Stevenson, H. H. (2006, October). The tools of cooperation and change. Harvard Business Review, 84(10), 72–80.

Kidder, T. (2004). Mountains beyond mountains: The quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a man who would cure the world. New York: Random House.

The First 90 Days: A Reflection and Lessons Learned

The First 90 Days: A Reflection and Lessons Learned

By Dr. Spike Cook


My main man… Corell

About 90 days ago, I embarked on a new venture as the Principal of Lakeside Middle School. I used the book, “First 90 Days” as a guide to help me transition into the school and my new role. Throughout the process I am gaining knowledge on so much: learning, teaching, leading, and the most important part… people!

“Where have you been?” 

In my last post (First 13 Days) I was able to capture the initial transition, which was April 2, 2016 and, now today is June 26, 2016. It is not as if I lost internet connection or my blog expired, but there was no way I could get back to here until now! For me blogging is an ebb and flow, blogging every day for a year or taking time off balances it all out. Honestly, there was a little blogger guilt that I wasn’t able to get back here, but I believe it was due more to the sheer volume of change and transition I was experiencing. I did get a few messages from friends asking if I was OK, I was more than OK, I was focused on the task at hand.

Lakeside Running Man Challenge – What Teachers do When the Students Leave

Reflection on the first 90…

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” ~ Drucker


Students on a field trip having fun!

As I reflect on my first 90 days at Lakeside I am amazed at the energy of the building. In a school with over 120 staff members caring for about 1200 kids a mountain of variables is expected. My first goal was to individually interview every staff member. I was able to get through 75% of the staff for one on one interviews, asking them two questions: what is going well and what needs to be improved on? One of the constant themes in these conversations were how much they like each other and the school. Every single person I interviewed had a similar response and it was genuine. As the new person on the block it was remarkable to continually hear such positive statements. I just wish they would tell each other more often how more much they like each other 🙂


During the first 90 days I was able to scratch the surface on the climate and culture of the building. Throughout the transition period, I paid particular attention to the symbols, beliefs (mission/vision) and the language. Often listening to what was being said and comparing it to what was being done. For the most part, there is a match on the espoused theories and theories in use. Most people are passionate about their craft, no matter what role they play, which leads to a lot of conversations centered on “how do we get better?”



Autism Awareness Month.

So what needed to be improved? In the beginning I was hearing a lot of comments such as “staff morale, communication, and admin turnover.” All of these factors are not attributed to a particular person, and honestly some morale issues are a result of local, state and national perceptions of our profession. But then, there became a shift in the initial interviews, changes were already beginning. I am not quite sure when the shift in the conversations happened. I do know that people were no longer mentioning staff morale or communication. So maybe it was the Lighting Round, Teacher Appreciation Week, staff meetings, becoming a regular on the morning announcements or everyone began to tell their co-workers how much they liked each other.


In my opinion, the administrative team played a huge part in the shift. Everyone from Vice Principals, Supervisors, Guidance Counselors, and the Child Study Team stepped up in ways that teachers and students needed. All of the support personnel (secretaries, security, maintenance, cafeteria) played an incredible role in the transformation too. I began to hear parents, students and other staff remark on how everyone appeared to be working collaboratively. Honestly, they have always been collaborative and positive but maybe it was just a difference of getting the story out there.

What do the kids think? 

Lunch with the Principal

Lunch with the Principal

Granted the Principal’s main responsibility is the staff, but it is extremely important to connect with students. I was fortunate that I knew a small percentage of the kids at the school because they went to the elementary school where I was Principal for the past 5 years. When I first started I made it a point to talk with kids I didn’t know. I asked kids the same questions “What do you like about this school? What do you want to change?” I also visited classrooms to get a chance to see what the learning look liked.


I scheduled a “Lunch with the Principal” day. I asked each teacher to select one or two students that were model students to have lunch with me. I gave the kids awards and read the comments their teachers made about them in the Google form. At the end of the lunch period, I asked them what they liked about the school and what they wanted changed. In addition, I attended as many extra curricular activities (dances, sports, music etc) as possible to see the kids in a different setting.

Lessons learned…

image2 (4)

You have to be willing to be dunked!

I learned so many lessons over the first 90 days. As I stated before, I had to focus on the transition to the new school. Requiring me to let things go of things such as Social Media, writing, podcasting, etc… because I needed to be mindful of my time and mental state. Days were busy and at times exhausting, so I had very little gas left in the tank to write a post, or sign up for a conference. Temporary sacrifices for long term progress.


Laughter is the best medicine. Hopefully the staff can see that I don’t take myself very seriously. I laugh at myself and the unusual events that happen in the school. My goal is to make people want to have fun at work. I firmly believe that this will translate into happier kids. Let’s face it, middle school kids can be disenchanted, or appear to have a chip on their shoulders, but they like to laugh just like we do.


I want to work at a school where are no mistakes, no boxes, and everyone is encouraged to take risks. I feel it is important to create a culture of learning. In order to do that you have to think outside of the box, learn from mistakes, and take the opportunity to try new things. I made a lot of mistakes over the first 90 days. Many days I drove home without the radio or podcasts playing and reflected about my mistakes, or learning experiences. Often times I would walk out of the school wondering if I made any difference. Reflection really helps and I began to find people to help me decompress. These people are the true gems!


6 suggestions for transitioning into a new position

  1. Focus on what is important – People. Learn names, positions, family and whatever else you can.
  2. Do not try to change things too fast. It should take you a complete year to fully understand the organization. Proceed with caution and remember only fools rush in!
  3. Actions speak louder than words. Want people to be visible? Be visible. Want people to be positive? Be positive.
  4. Find and use your Principal voice (See Corwin Connect article here). What can you do to amplify the awesomeness of the school?
  5. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Be prepared to discuss everything and allow opportunities for open dialogue.
  6. Interview everyone. Interview kids, parents, staff about the school. Look for themes on what is working and what needs to be improved.


So, what’s next? 

I know this will be a long journey. I often think of these two quotes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and “We are planting forests, not gardens.” This is just the beginning. Stay tuned for more!



First 13 Days out of 90

In preparation for my new position as the Principal of Lakeside Middle School, I re-read The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. Even though I had read the book before and was a Principal for the past 5 years, I wanted to ensure I wasn’t under estimating this transition.

The President gets 100 days to prove himself; you get 90 ~Michael Watkins




In the book, Watkins emphasizes a period of planning prior to the transition. This time spent planning is invaluable as you must develop a transition plan. For my transition, I researched as much as I could about the school. Fortunately, I already worked in the district, but I had no idea about the most important aspect of the school: the culture. It didn’t matter how much data I could collect on the website, I knew I had to develop a transition plan to understand the culture. This is why I set out to interview every person who works in the building. Obviously, this can not happen over night but over the first 13 days I was able to meet with 27% of the staff.

In addition to the individual meetings, I hosted 6 group meetings. In each of these meetings I asked the same questions:

  • What are three things going well at Lakeside?
  • What are three things we need to improve?

The meetings and informal data collection have helped me tremendously to understand, as Watkins suggests, “The norms and patterns of behavior.” These meetings require me to listen, listen and listen. There have been times when people want to know what I stand for or to discuss my vision for the school. When I articulate my vision, I say the following:

  • I want to create a culture of learning
  • I want to promote the awesome things going on in the school for the world to see
  • I want to increase student achievement, decrease discipline, and increase student attendance

At my first staff meeting as the new Principal, I reported out on my first 13 days. Part of promoting a culture of learning is modeling transparency. Here is the presentation I shared with the staff. It includes the highs and lows of the first 13 days as well as outline the next 18 days until the next staff meeting:

Change can be tough. I will not underestimate the impact of change on the staff. In my last position, I had a teacher tell me that it took her 2 years to trust me. I never realized that but knowing it puts things in perspective. It is crucial to prove yourself every day. Never take people for granted!

I know that I will spend the majority of the rest of the school year learning about the culture and climate of the building. Of course there will be some decisions that will need to be made, observations to complete, and a whole host of end of the year activities. For me, I am building relationships (which is paramount) with people who I will be working with for a long time. I committed to building a strong foundation!

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