April ’17 Reading Update

In April I read 4 books, making my 2017 total 16 so far. I had a busy month with lots of travel and events, so I didn’t reach much at all.

  • Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel – This was a very intriguing YA book. Maise, a high school junior who is an avid runner, goes out for her usual morning run that changes her life. Lightening strikes, creating a fire that burned most of her face and the left side of her body. Very soon into her recovery, she and her parents are given the opportunity for her to have a face transplant (a very rare surgery) that will impact the rest of her life. She has the surgery, and then struggles to figure out who Maise 2.0 is now. This was a great story about physical appearances, our obsession with our looks, teen angst, therapy, honesty, and relationships. I really enjoyed it!
  • Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monnigner – I read this book almost every year, in April, in memory of my mother. This is a beautiful novel about love, nature, crows, Thoreau, and the reality of an incurable disease. With each reading, I fall in love with the love story of Mary and Cobb. I cry for them, and I cry because I still my mom all the time (6 years later).


  • Bionic by Suzanne Weyn – Interestingly, this YA book is very similar to Faceless, which I read at the beginning of this month. In this story, Mira, a teen athlete, is in a horrible car accident that leads to many surgeries and extremely advanced technology that brings her prosthetics and muscle ability far surpassing her former self. This was a unique story about recovery and strength, with a little teen drama for fun too!
  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah – I listened to this book read by the author, a comedian. Having just visited South Africa last summer, I really enjoyed hearing Trevor’s stories from growing up in South Africa. I had no idea what to expect from this story, so I was surprised to learn so much about his touching relationship with his mother, his tough childhood, and very little about his current career. I loved his accent and liked the book!
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Saying No To a Challenge

My word of 2017 is challenge. While I may not think about it every day, it does creep into my subconscious and reality fairly regularly.

This month I faced a number of small challenges that had me reflecting on my word (amongst many other things!). I was surprised when I had this thought:

Just because a challenge presents itself, doesn’t mean you need to take it.

This thought is not rocket science and it may not have surprised anyone else, but it was an important thought for me during a particular challenge. This idea gave me permission to say no.


Saying no can often be a challenge. So while saying no alleviated my stress about not accepting a challenge before me, I was still mid-challenge as I made that decision. I guess challenges are really all around us every day. Part of the decision-making is when to say yes and when to say no. And for me, once I’ve said no, I want to be at peace with my decision and not have any lingering guilt or “What if…” thoughts.

These are my thoughts at the moment. I’m sure another challenge will present itself soon and I will be reflecting on that!


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March ’17 Reading Update

This month I read 5 books, bringing my 2017 total to 12.

  • The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison – I liked this mystery, though the ending came quickly and without enough detail for me. I really enjoy when an author chooses to tell a story through flashbacks and flashforwards, and when the chapters are from the perspective of different characters. In this book, every chapter was told by the wife or the husband, alternating. While I didn’t like the weak, fake character of Jodi, I really didn’t like how Todd, her philandering husband, treated her or any other woman.
  • All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda – This mystery really bothered me as I read it! The story was told backwards and I felt like I hadn’t paid enough attention in the beginning. However, the reality is that the narrator, Nicolette, only learned and revealed pieces of the truth slowly as she told the story, backwards. It was a very interesting plot choice, and I was desperate to get to the end to understand the entire story of how both Corinne and Annaleise disappeared.
  • Without Annette by Jane B. Mason – I started this YA book after having dinner with a friend who reads MANY YA books! It was an interesting story about two girls who leave their hometown to attend a private boarding school together, hoping it will positively impact their personal relationship and their lives. The school isn’t exactly what they thought it would be, and Annette gets caught up in being popular while Josie watches her fade away. I liked the authentic characters (Josie, Penn, Roxanne) mixed with the stereotypical high school cliques.
  • The Search for Baby Ruby by Susan Shreve – This was a pre-YA kind of book – a mystery for young readers. It was a cute, simple read for me while on spring break. Jess, the youngest sibling, is forced to stay behind to babysit her niece, Ruby, during her sister’s rehearsal dinner. Ruby is kidnapped and Jess is on a mission to find her and save the family from more drama. Whenever I read a mystery where kids are the main characters/ sleuths, I find myself rolling my eyes a lot! This was no different.
  • Best Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss – As you can guess, I have a large pile of YA books in my house that I decided to start plowing through while I had some time off! This was a really cute, sweet story, with a very serious lesson about teen suicide. The main character Francis, meets Jessica, and then learns that she is a ghost. Francis ends up befriending two other loner teens, Andi and Rolland, who can also see Jessica. As their friendship develops, they all work to help Jessica figure out how she died, why she is stuck as a ghost, and what her purpose is in their lives. There is no sex or drinking or swearing in this book. It’s a very sweet tale about friendship that also addresses self esteem, bullying, gender stereoytypes, weight issues, and teen suicide. I highly recommend this book to any educators who work with young teens, or to teens themselves, or to parents of teens.
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Quotes That Resonate, Volume 6

When I read, I often pause to make note of certain quotes that really resonate with me. Over time, I like to look back at the quotes and reflect on why they stood out to me. Here the quotes that recently resonated with me.

“Leadership is not about building trust so that the hard work of improvement can happen later. It is about tackling the work in ways that build trust through learning and making progress together.” ~Viviane Robinson, Student-Centered Leadership

This is the book from which an earlier quote jumped out at me last month when I first began reading it! This particular quote resonates with me because, as a leader, I was constantly trying to balance my sense of urgency (and fast-paced work style) with the need to build relationships with my staff. I often got advice to go slow, to wait on the important work, and to focus solely on the relationships. People said that I wouldn’t be able to get anything real done in the first year or two. This was shocking and upsetting to me, as a new principal in a high-needs school. I managed to find my way by building relationships about the work as we did the work collectively.


This quote was my first #BookSnaps. A colleague shared with me the idea of sharing quotes by using SnapChat. There is now a hashtag on Twitter full of these snaps, which are great to read. The quote above stood out to me because of everything I’ve been ready about praise. In education, we often want to praise every little effort, especially for students who have traditionally struggled. What research tells us now, though, is that insincere praise, or praise for effortless tasks, can hurt the learner more than help. I’ve begun to refocus on the importance of feedback for learning, not praise for the sake of happiness.



My second #BookSnap came out of a fiction book, The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware. The quote itself reminded me of the many podcast I listen to that address wrongful convictions. It also reminded me of the upcoming documentary, Time: The Kalief Browder story, which documents the sad tale of a teen who spent most of his three years in prison, awaiting a trial, in solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is a modern form of torture for anyone, especially a teen whose brain is still developing. Browder committed suicide after his release from prison, and the torture he endured was a likely cause of the mental illness he suffered.  Our justice system needs some serious help, and this story is one of many that needs to be told.

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February ’17 Reading Update

Books I read this month:

  • 1984 by George Orwell – As you may have heard, with the recent political climate there has been an increase in sales of this book.  Since I never read this book, I thought now was a good time. I have heard of “Big Brother” and knew the basic premise of the story, but really didn’t know the specifics. I listened to the audio version of this book and was horrified by the comparisons I could make to what is going on under our current president. The idea of an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-hearing government that controlled all messages and rewrote facts as lies for a manipulative populace was scary. I don’t believe I would have understand the many levels of this story had I read it in high school. The main character, Winston, struggled to come to grips with the lies and the control the government had over his peers, and ultimately over him and his thoughts.
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – This was recommended by one of my favorite book friends, Melanie, who’s recommendations I always like. This book was over 700 pages long, so I feel like I should get credit for reading MANY books for this one! The first 100 or so pages were a little slow, as you got to know JB, Malcolm, Willem, and Jude. But once the story really got into the Jude and Willem life-long relationship, with MANY trials and tribulations, I was hooked. I haven’t read many fiction stories with multiple male main characters, so this was a refreshing change for me. I fell in love with Jude and Willem throughout their love story. I was devastated by the sad twists and turns that came towards the end. When I finished the book, I had to sit and grieve my own loss, as finishing the book was really closure on my relationship with these deep characters.  What a fascinating story!
  • Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank: How to Prevail When Others Want to See You Drown by Rebecca Coda and Rick Jetter – I’m glad I read this book, but I can’t say it was a fun, uplifting read. This is one of the first educational books I’ve read that tells the darker, political stories that happen in education. The authors share real stories from leaders who have survived nepotism, cruelty, and emotional abuse by bosses and colleagues, all while in jobs where people said they were working “for kids”. I began to learn about this world when I first became an administrator. It is a reality in some, not all, educational settings. I think this is an important read for all administrators, if for no other reason than to be armed with information. The authors gives some relevant strategies for surviving these harrowing experiences.
  • The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook – What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce Perry  and Maia Szalavitz- I’ve heard Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade speak three times in the last year and he has recommended this book each time he spoke. I finally read it this month and I wish I had read it 10+ years ago. The book follows the treatment plans these doctors created to support children after major traumas. They detail the development of the brain, why we need to meet children at their emotional, not physical age, when treating them, and the importance of understanding infant and child development. As I was reading, I kept picturing one specific student in my mind. When I was a principal, this 1st grader had recently come to live with his grandparents after his drug-addicted mother was put in jail. I don’t know the specifics of the first 5 years of his life, but I know they weren’t great. By the time I knew him, he was diagnosed with ADHD, ODD, and was resisting just about everything in his classroom and at home. I wish I had known more about the brain development addressed in this book back then. I hope that today that young man has found the support he needed to grow up and be a functional citizen.
  • The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – When I saw a review of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. I read the author’s first book last year and enjoyed the fast-paced mystery. I liked this one even better, though it was creepy to read. From the initial home burglary, to the scary drama at sea aboard a luxury mini cruise, this was an eerie story that tortured the main character, Lo. There were too many characters to keep track of, from the guests to all the crew aboard the ship, but the “bad guys” were well developed and haunting throughout.
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Making Time for Classroom Visits

The next topic in my Time Management for Leaders Series is all about making time for classroom visits. I believe that outside of ensuring the safety of students and staff, the role of instructional leader is the most important part of a school leader’s job.

As I work with new leaders, I often hear frustration and stress from them about their inability to get into classrooms as much as they would like. In addition to the importance of maintaining an organized and focused calendar, as discussed in Calendar 911, there are some things a leader can do to make their time in classrooms efficient.

  • Take your work out of the office and into classrooms- There are many leaders these days who have set up mobile desks in order to work anywhere on campus at any time.
    • If you have a lot of low-thinking tasks to complete on your computer, consider if you can do them while sitting in the back of classrooms. Your presence will be noticed, you will get work done, and you will see and hear learning in action.
    • If you have a pile of low-level discipline referrals on your desk that require you to speak to students, consider taking the referrals out to classrooms. Observe a classroom for a few minutes, then pull out the student with whom you need to speak. This gives you time to see the students in the class where they had an issue, and then speak to them without them having to miss extra time out of class.
  • Set a purpose for your classroom visits – New leaders will often find a free moment to leave their office, but when they get into classrooms, they aren’t sure what they should do. When observing classrooms, a leader needs a purpose. Are you visiting
    • In order to look for evidence of a school-wide initiative or recent professional development (such as daily objectives or a student interaction strategy)?
    • to complete a formal observation?
    • to provide the teacher with constructive feedback about teaching and learning?
    • to focus on English Learners’ participation?
    • to observe the students with the most behavior problems?
    • to observe for alignment to state standards and appropriate level of complexity?
    • to ensure teaching and learning are taking place?
    • to determine what percentage of class time students speak?
  • Create a note-taking guide that aligns with your purpose – Based on all the different reasons listed above that you might visit a classroom, what you would write down to share with the teacher would be very different. It’s important for a leader to be prepared to capture the appropriate data in order to provide evidence-based feedback. Here are some examples:
    • When looking for schoolwide implementation of a specific strategy, you goal may be to capture the total number of classrooms using the strategy, and to what degree each room was implementing. You could them summarize this data for your staff without any teachers’ names included. This could be captured on a table you create ahead of time, or in a Google Form.
    • When completing a formal observation, you typically need blank paper (or wordprocessing document) to script as much as possible.
    • When visiting for general teaching and learning observations, it is best to select something specific to observe. In order to provide evidence-based feedback to teachers, having a narrow purpose and a clear note-taking guide helps. If you walk into a room without a purpose, your feedback may become disjointed.



Time Management for Leaders Series

Calendar 911

No More Inbox Ailment


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January ’17 Reading Update

I keep track of what I read each month for my aging and fading memory and for the fun of sharing my reading pleasures with others! Last year I wrote about my reading experiences each month in an update. By the end of the year, I had forgotten what many of the books I read were about, and my experiences didn’t necessarily remind me of the plot details of the stories. Therefore, this year, I hope to capture a short summary so that I can look back and recall more about the books I’ve read.

During 2016 I read 69 books. I hope to beat that record this year. Here is what I read in January 2017:

  • Someday Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham – After listening to Lauren Graham’s memoir last month, I knew I wanted to read this fiction book she wrote back when she was still on Parenthood. In her memoir, she said that many people think this fiction story is based on her life, but she said that wasn’t completely true. As I read, I pictured a goofier, curly-haired version of her as Frannie, the young woman in NYC trying to be an actress. I liked reading about Frannie’s auditions, friends, and celebrity encounters, which were entertaining because of how ridiculous (and probably realistic) they were! It was nice to see Frannie catch a break by the end of the book, both in her acting career and her love life.
  • The Together Leader: Get Organized for Your Success – and Sanity! by Maia Heyck-Merlin – I purchased this book after hearing about the program in a district’s presentation at the Learning Forward conference in Vancouver last month. At first, I thought the book was going to be just like The Breakthrough Coach program that helps school administrators organize their time to spend more time in classrooms and still have a life outside of work. However, this book was much  more detailed and went way beyond calendar and email organization. Maia takes you through how to set small and long-term goals, how to use those goals to set priorities, then use the priorities to plan your calendar of tasks. I think this would be a great tool for new leaders and anyone needing to create a new organization system to be more efficient and productive.
  • The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes – This book was exactly what I needed to read, as my sugar addiction is very real! It’s a dry, detailed look at the history of the sugar industry in America, and a summary of various research studies conducted to prove that sugar was not harmful (during the era where fat was bad!) and the new interpretations that tell us how detrimental sugar is to our healthy in many ways. I might need to reread this every year, to continue to battle my addiction to sweets. For my own health, I’m making a concerted effort to lay off the added sugar whenever possible.
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