Monthly Archives: February 2014

NURTURE Teachers to Be Their Best


 Popcorn with the Principals at MESPA 2014

Last week, we had the pleasure of speaking with over 100 elementary principals at the Minnesota Elementary School Principal’s Association (MESPA) Institute in Bloomington. Our session was titled “Cultivate Powerful Teaching: 7 Practical Tips to NURTURE Teachers to be Their Best!” We were honored to have those men and women choose our session.

Of course the smell of popcorn permeating out of our session quarters probably helped us lure some of them in. Yes, we were having popcorn with the principals at 11:00 a.m…a delicious start to our hour and an ‘anticipatory set’ that definitely caught their attention. We told them the reason for the popcorn about 15 minutes into our session. We’ll share with you too…in a little bit.

The theme for the 2014 MESPA Institute was Grow the MN Child. NURTURE was our acronym to accentuate this theme. If you too want to unlock the potential of your teachers and staff, you may need to make some changes in your building. Are you up for the challenge?

1. N = Nourish with effective praise.  “Turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug…words settle into your skin.” ~Sara Bareilles
We shared these words with the principals. There is truth in them no matter the age.  Praise can build or tear down. Using a word splash, principals brainstormed and shared examples of both positive and negative praise. The important component to positive praise is to “skip the but.” The but will be the only thing remembered and your praise has lost all credibility.

2. U = Unlock unexpected happiness.  “Good things come in small packages.” ~Unknown
Remember those gifts given to you by your students just because? Like the big zucchini on your desk or the bouquet of dandelions, or the brownie that looked like a finger had been poked into it a few times? Those little unexpected gifts made my day as a teacher. The principals agreed.

With the help of Todd Whitaker’s book Teaching Matters, and also ASCD’s Education Update March 2013, we shared several ways principals could unexpectedly unlock their teachers’ happiness. A few ideas that Todd gives in his book are bring donuts for the staff and faculty just because. Assist the custodians with the trashcans during a break. One of our favorites (because of our coffee addictions) is to bring a pound of flavored coffee to share with all. Creating a family tree in the hallway with the staffs’ pictures and interests is an idea from Education Update. A few unexpected happiness ideas that we added were have a staff wellness fair and have popcorn with the principal. Maybe instead of popcorn with the principal, create a new one using your name such as Popcorn with Paul, or Coffee with Connie. We jokingly said that we could do “Wine with Wendy” and “Shots with Sonya.” 🙂 The laughter was refreshing. One principal from our audience shared that he calls the students’ homes at nighttime and tries to ‘catch’ the kids reading and then visits with the student on the phone. Another principal shared that he goes out into the teacher parking lot on snowy days and brushes off the snow from a few of the teachers’ cars. How kind! That comment made us share the commercial about the man who comes out and wipes off his snowy car, admires his work for just a brief moment, then pushes the button on his keys to open the doors. The lights on the car in front of the car blink. He realizes he brushed off the wrong car. 🙂

3. R = Role model best practices.  “If we don’t model what we teach, then we are teaching something else.” ~Unknown
How often does this happen? “Do as I say and not as I do.” School leaders need to change this common practice.  February is “I love to read” month. From Best Practice in Reading, a few ideas include: Be a reader and a writer. Read/start a blog. 🙂 Have a principal’s mailbox and exchange ideas with students.  Be proactive with parents, and let them know how reading and writing are being taught and why the school has embraced its model of literacy education. Nurture growth among your staff by sending volunteer teachers to workshops, summer institutes, etc.

4. T = Thank others often. “Thank you!” ~Us 🙂  “ank U!” ~2-year old 🙂
Wendy: My 2-year old grandson is an innocent model of saying thank you. He thanks us for everything, and he is sincere about it. VJ Smith, author of Richest Man in Town, tells us about Marty, an elderly man who worked at Wal-Mart in Brookings SD and who was the epitome of saying thank you. We all want to be thanked for our efforts. Recent articles and research are telling us that students who have more gratitude in life have higher achievement. Wendy: My father, who passed away just last August, was my ‘best practices’ role model. He taught me early on to always say thank you, and I believed him because he said it to others all the time. During my dad’s last few days of life, he had to be ‘changed’ by his nurses every few hours. I would step out of the room for privacy. After they finished, I would hear my dad say thank you…every time. Focus on what your teachers are doing right and thank them often.

5.  U = Uncork Passion.  “Do whatever you do intensely.” ~Robert Henri
According to Dave Burgess in Teach Like a PIRATE, there are three types of passion: content passion, professional passion, and personal passion. We need to be honest that we can’t be passionate about everything. We need to find a passion to share and collaborate with others who have a passion that we lack. We are in this together.  The principals shared their content, professional, and personal passions with us.  Sonya: It is my personal passion—my three boys—that keeps my two other passions alive.

6.  R = Recharge with Retreats.  “The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” ~Aristotle
“Get out of here!” It doesn’t need to cost a lot, but take the staff off campus.  According to Todd Whitaker in Teaching Matters, the most important aspect of the retreat is the physical time away from school. Get teacher buy-in by asking them to help plan and take turns hosting the retreat. It could be as easy as a progressive supper with a specific topic of focus at each location, which matches teacher PLCs. Another idea would be to have an “appy-hour” where teachers can share Web 2.0 tools that work in their classrooms.  Personal retreats are also important for sanity!  Robert Smith mentions in his book, 20,000 Days and Counting, to take a personal sabbatical when we reach 20,000 days old…or young depending on your glass. 🙂  Wendy: At the time of this post, I am 19,841 days young and counting. You can guarantee in July, I will be on a personal sabbatical somewhere. Maybe I will see you there. 🙂

7.  E = Enjoy Life to Enhance Growth.  “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” ~Vince Lombardi
In Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, we consider the fixed and growth mindsets. Where are you? Do you believe a person can only be so smart? So successful? So accomplished? Or do you believe it is possible to change and grow? We asked the principals to consider these questions from Dweck’s book: Is your workplace set up to promote groupthink? Create ways to foster alternative views and constructive criticism. Are you in a fixed-mindset or a growth-mindset work place? Make it a growth mindset place…starting with yourself. How do you act toward others in your workplace? Flex your positive mindset muscles and watch your staff grow.

Stay Calm & Lead On!
Profs Wendy & Sonya


Potential Energy. It seems that everything around us has energy. In other words, everything is filled with possibilities. It has the potential to do something… to be something great. Each day is like potential energy. It is up to us to do something…to be something great. Today…turn the potential energy into kinetic energy…make and be the change that is needed.

Years of waiting for the right moment to turn the potential energy into kinetic energy have passed. Now is the time. No more waiting for perfection and the right moment. Seize the moment and begin. Who knows? Maybe that kinetic energy will turn into thermal energy, exploding ideas around us, warming hearts and changing minds. Think of the possibilities. Today.