Category Archives: Principal

PMPEncore046: 5 Ways to Respond to Resistance

One of my favorite college education professors would often start class with a provoking question.

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As we would grapple with how to answer or support our positions, he would stand there with his large hands lifted in the air, his voice booming, “Disequilibrium is the beginning of education!”

It took me a while to figure out that he was teaching us by example. He was trying to help a room full of future teachers see that the greatest learning opportunities in life first start with challenges that “shake” our normal way of thinking about problem solving. Only by challenging us to think would we ever really learn. And it is often the challenges or resistance you face that help you gain strength for the tasks ahead. Continue reading

PMP:125 Leaving A Legacy – What Will Others Say About You?

Recently, the United States mourned the passing of Arizona Senator John McCain.

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Before his death, Senator McCain was asked by a reporter what words he hoped to see on his tombstone. He replied, “I’ve been a small bit of American history, so I think if there’s something on my tombstone, it’ll be ‘He served his country,’ and hopefully you add one word, ‘honorably.’” (Source:

How do you judge endings? In his book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel Pink explains research by behavior scientists that study how people evaluate the moral behavior of others. Continue reading

PMP:124 Six Tips for Investing in Future Leaders

When I was a Language Arts teacher, I would walk my students through a series of practices on identifying their surroundings and writing down the details.

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You could try it right now. Take a moment and pause to consider the following:

What are you seeing? Look up, down, around, and behind you. Are you seeing the glare of sunlight from a nearby window? Or maybe it’s the stained surface of a tabletop. Could it be a yellow painted wall holding a framed photo?

What are hearing? Stop and simply listen. Maybe you hear the buzz of a heating or air system from nearby vents. Or do you recognize the distant hum of passing traffic?

What do you smell? Are you surrounded by the scent of brewed coffee or mix of aromas coming from a busy kitchen? Or maybe you smell the mustiness of old books.

What are you touching? Your body is full of nerves. Can you feel the fabric of the shirt you’re wearing resting on your shoulders? Or how about the press of your shoes against your toes? Are you holding the smooth ridges of a pen in hand?

What are you tasting? Maybe it’s the sweetness of gum or the caramel flavorings of your favorite soda? Or it could be the aftertaste of your most recent snack.

What are sensing emotionally? Are you anxious, excited, worried? Do you have a sense of confidence or angst for the day ahead? Or maybe you’re tired from a short night of sleep, or hungry for your next meal?

It is easy to step into your day with a list of to-do’s and fail to see what is right around you or even what is happening inside your own brain. Sometimes it takes real effort to pause and reflect on your surroundings. But being mindful is important, not just in writing, but in leadership. Continue reading

PMP:122 Packing Parachutes – Why Your Money Management Matters

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine who ran track in high school.

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When he was at his fastest, he could run a mile in 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Even though he was naturally fast, he learned to increase his speed through a strong practice his coach required: wearing a parachute during practice.

I was thinking about what it would feel like to run in a parachute. The weight and pull against your shoulders and legs would be almost unbearable. But imagine how fast you would run once the resistance was removed!

Sometimes I think managing finances is like wearing a parachute. If you are running with a lot of financial stress, for instance, you may feel the pull and weight of trying to move ahead with life. If you’ve found a level of financial security, however, you may see money as a parachute that is helping you land safely when needed. For most people, money seems to act both ways. Continue reading

PMP:121 The Power of Play – 7 Tips for Education Leaders

When I spotted the mud puddle, I thought it would be fun to jump it.

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The dirt road that ran along the edge of the field by our West Tennessee farmhouse was often traveled by trucks or tractors. And the ruts in the sandy, red dirt would fill with rain and create long stretches of rust-colored puddles. I was barefoot and seven years old. My brothers and sister were with me.

“Watch this,” I said. And I ran and jumped.

My feet landed in the thick mud and streaks of red clay splattered across my legs and shorts. They laughed. And soon, one by one, each of them tried it too.

“I think you could paint with this mud,” my sister said.

“Oh, yeah? I bet it would look good painted on you!”

And the mud battle began. Fists full of Tennessee red clay were thrown and splattered.

And we chased one another until my oldest brother said, “You know, in ancient times, people would bathe in mud as a way to treat their skin.”

He slowly began smearing it on his arms, his neck, his face, his legs. We followed suit. And before long, we were covered from head to toes in the red earth. Continue reading

PMP:Encore06 – Essential Questions for a New School Year (& Predicting the Weather)

How are you anticipating the start of a new school year?

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This week I wanted to share some thoughts from a previous post as reminders for your new school year:

Predicting Your School Climate

Sometimes my left elbow aches. I have a scar there from when I broke it falling from a horse almost twenty years ago. When it starts hurting, I can usually be certain the weather will turn stormy. My aching elbow reminds me of another story. When I was a boy, I often helped on my Granddad’s family farm. His brother was my Uncle Jimmy. One day Uncle Jimmy and I were driving in his pick-up truck. The windows were down, and I was hanging my arm out of it and playing in the breeze as we rumbled down the gravel roadway. Continue reading

PMP:Bonus03 – Answers to Listener Questions + Thoughts from the Road

I’ve been on the road (and in planes) a lot the summer, and I have been thinking about issues and ideas I’ve been wanting to share with Principal Matters readers and listeners.

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This week I was on a long road trip when I was pondering some questions a listener had emailed my way. After stopping to gas up my car, I decided to plug my mic into my laptop and hit record. The result is this 30-minute episode of issues that have been on mind.

No notes or accompanying blog post. Just straight talk.

Here’s an outline of this week’s podcast episode: Continue reading

PMP:119 Your Friendships – Learning to Climb Together

When I was in college, I had my first experience in mountain climbing.

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I was traveling in Guatemala for a summer missions outreach when one morning, we woke up before dawn and rode a bus to the base of an active volcano. About twenty of us had decided to begin our climb in the dark so that we could summit the mountain at sunrise.

The night before, our team leader had talked to us about the climb. He explained how difficult the terrain would be as well as the altitude changes. He encouraged us to find team members whom we could stay with on the hike. He cautioned us that climbing was just as much emotional as it was physical, and that we must be committed to finishing as the last 100 meters of the climb would be the hardest.

This past week, I was talking to my wife about friendships. She had just been reading the book, Friendships Don’t Just Happen!: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girl Friends by Shantel Nelson. In the book, the author refers to a study released on friendship in 2008 by professors from four universities called the Social Support and the Perception of Geographical Slant in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Participants in their studies were asked to estimate the incline of a hill in front of them. Continue reading

PMP:118 Growing Leaders Takeaways – Crucial Conversations About Students

The other morning, I woke up early in a hotel room in Atlanta, Georgia.

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For a moment, I couldn’t remember where I was. Then it dawned on me that I was presenting that morning at a Growing Leaders Principal Roundtable event hosted by Dr. Tim Elmore. I dressed, grabbed my laptop bag and headed downstairs for a hot bowl of oatmeal and a cup coffee before walking the short-distance to the conference event center.

As I sat my bag down near a table up front, I was excited. Not only do I enjoy presenting to other school leaders but also, I was going to hear from some dynamic speakers and presenters as well as interact with principals during discussion times about their best practices.

My own kids tell me I geek-out about principal leadership, and this event was giving me permission to do just that. After playing some fun, interactive introduction games, the lessons began. Continue reading

PMP:117 Your Time – Are you Making the Most of Each Moment?

Balance is a popular word among life coaches and leadership authors. As important as it is to remember to invest in the meaningful areas of your life, too many people place unrealistic expectations upon themselves.

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Living a life of meaning does not mean being perfect. This is misperception is not only unrealistic, it is also unhealthy. Life is messy. Sometimes you face unexpected challenges in your health, relationships, or finances. When you look at your own condition, not matter how exhilarating or depressing, the first response is to give yourself the kind of grace you would want to extend to someone you love. We all face ups and downs.

But sometimes we need reminders to refocus on what matters. It’s a delicate but important tension to be aware of both truths:

1. You need to invest in what matter to keep growing.
2. You need to be patient with yourself (and others) along the journey. Continue reading