Connected Principals Posts

Earlier this school year, I had a long conversation with a student who had been abandoned. He was fourteen years old. His biological mother was not in his life. A guardian had adopted him, but when she had difficulty with him, she had convinced his biological father to take him back. Now the dad was […]

Read More One Caring Adult Can Make a Difference

Today’s podcast episode is the first in a series responding to listener and reader questions. One assistant principal wrote me to ask, “How can I have a bigger leadership role as an assistant?” This week I wanted to share the response with Principal Matters listeners. If you have other questions you’d like responses to about […]

Read More PMP:029 How Can I Have a Bigger Leadership Role as an Assistant?



In a previous post, I discussed some possible distinctions between excellence and success, and why schools should aim for excellence. When success is defined only by the end results, it doesn’t honor the process and how not all aspects of our “success” are within our control.

I think about the Olympic athletes who will compete in Rio in just a couple of weeks. Not all of them will be successful as competitors there. In fact, someone is going to finish last in every single event.

But clearly, these are excellent athletes. At least I can’t imagine any of these elite athletes not demonstrating courage, heart, determination, hard work, and discipline. One would expect every Olympic athlete must exhibit these qualities just to make it to the games. These are qualities that embody excellence.

But in spite of their excellence, not all of these athletes will experience the same level of success. The same is true of teaching and schools. Sometimes, we do our best work in situations that may not appear to result in outward success.

Below are a few quotes that capture the spirit of excellence I am seeking to describe. For students, educators, and schools, a new school year is filled with possibilities. However, we can’t always control our level of success. But we can control our level of excellence.

“Excellence in education is when we do everything we can to make sure they become everything they can.” 

–Carol Ann Tomlinson

“Excellence is not an accomplishment. It is a spirit, a never-ending process.” 

– Lawrence M. Miller

“Strive for excellence, not perfection.” 

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” 

– Aristotle



“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by how far they have traveled from the point where they started.’ 

– Henry Ward Beecher

“Excellence is to do an common thing in an uncommon way.” 

– Booker T. Washington

“Strive not to be a success but rather to be of value.” 

– Albert Einstein

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” 

– Colin Powell



“The secret of living a life of excellence is merely a matter of thinking thoughts of excellence. Really, it’s a matter of programming our minds with the kind of information that will set us free.”

– Charles R. Swindoll

“Mediocrity always attacks excellence.”

– Michael Beckwith

Question: How will you demonstrate excellence as an educator? How will inspire your students to strive for excellence? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More Top Quotes on Excellence for Educators



In a previous post, I discussed some possible distinctions between excellence and success, and why schools should aim for excellence. When success is defined only by the end results, it doesn’t honor the process and how not all aspects of our “success” are within our control.

I think about the Olympic athletes who will compete in Rio in just a couple of weeks. Not all of them will be successful as competitors there. In fact, someone is going to finish last in every single event.

But clearly, these are excellent athletes. At least I can’t imagine any of these elite athletes not demonstrating courage, heart, determination, hard work, and discipline. One would expect every Olympic athlete must exhibit these qualities just to make it to the games. These are qualities that embody excellence.

But in spite of their excellence, not all of these athletes will experience the same level of success. The same is true of teaching and schools. Sometimes, we do our best work in situations that may not appear to result in outward success.

Below are a few quotes that capture the spirit of excellence I am seeking to describe. For students, educators, and schools, a new school year is filled with possibilities. However, we can’t always control our level of success. But we can control our level of excellence.

“Excellence in education is when we do everything we can to make sure they become everything they can.” 

–Carol Ann Tomlinson

“Excellence is not an accomplishment. It is a spirit, a never-ending process.” 

– Lawrence M. Miller

“Strive for excellence, not perfection.” 

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” 

– Aristotle



“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by how far they have traveled from the point where they started.’ 

– Henry Ward Beecher

“Excellence is to do an common thing in an uncommon way.” 

– Booker T. Washington

“Strive not to be a success but rather to be of value.” 

– Albert Einstein

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” 

– Colin Powell



“The secret of living a life of excellence is merely a matter of thinking thoughts of excellence. Really, it’s a matter of programming our minds with the kind of information that will set us free.”

– Charles R. Swindoll

“Mediocrity always attacks excellence.”

– Michael Beckwith

Question: How will you demonstrate excellence as an educator? How will inspire your students to strive for excellence? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Read More Top Quotes on Excellence for Educators

Innovation is more about mindset, than skill set.  This is something that I truly believe and focus on in my book, “The Innovator’s Mindset” (Which I think would also be a good part of this list as well!). In schools though, “innovation” is not only about individuals, but something that is required at all levels. … [Read more…]

Read More 11 Books To Further an #InnovatorsMindset

I challenged myself to read 10 different books in 18 days. While I didn’t quite hit my timing goal, I did manage to read the ten and reflect…as well as an added bonus book, “Kids Deserve It”. To ensure that I was able to reflect and process, I am going to share my one (er, […]

Read More 10 ways to be a stronger leader, #aprincipalreads

If you were a new teacher, administrator, or staff member in any field, and you were posed with a new challenge or problem, what would you do? From my experience, people in newer positions are more likely to try to figure out a solution, or show a willingness to learn something new, as they are … [Read more…]

Read More The Beautiful Discomfort of “New”

One day I was visiting my family medical doctor, when a nurse asked me to follow her to another room. She asked if I would unbutton my shirt so that she connect me to some small leads and do an electrocardiogram. I was surprised since I thought this was just a routine physical. Perhaps she […]

Read More Are We Committing Educational Malpractice?

Good professional learning will give you lots of ideas on what you can do with your students on “Monday”. Great professional learning will make you think about how you teach every day.  It should not only provide ideas, but make you feel a little uncomfortable.  There is a fine balance and one of the greatest … [Read more…]

Read More Creating Bridges

In this encore episode of Principal Matters Podcast, I talk about the reason behind why some people find meaning in their work. Research confirms that when you understand the meaning behind your work, you actually serve with more effectiveness. Listen in for reminders on how your work matters! Sign-Up For Free Updates and Ebook When […]

Read More PMP: Encore 03 Purpose-Driven Leadership

17,000+ emails in a year. That’s not a guess, that’s how many emails I had in my inbox for one calendar year. That doesn’t include a few hundred deleted items. It also doesn’t include emails to my gmail account… 17,000+ is a total for just my work email. Excluding holidays and weekends, that’s about 85 emails […]

Read More 17,000 Emails

Grading as a Kind of Manipulation



Earlier this summer I did something I vowed never to do again. I fell for a deal with a cash-back rebate. You know, the kind where you follow a complicated set of instructions and then mail-in all the required papers and hope it pays off. If you’re lucky, you’ll get your rebate check back in the mail in a few weeks.

I’m not sure why I fell for this again. I guess I thought the deal was just too good to pass up. After the rebate, the synthetic motor oil was going to be a great buy. And I didn’t even need it right away. I had just changed the oil in the vehicle I planned to use it in.

But in spite of my best intentions, I failed to ever claim my rebate. I kept the receipt. I had the bar-code and the rebate form. I was good to go. But then I got distracted. I forgot about the rebate for awhile. And when I thought to finish the process, I couldn’t find the receipt anymore. Game over.

Now I am just a resentful consumer. I’m irritated with myself for breaking my promise to never try for these offers. And, I’m irritated with the brand for manipulating me with a rebate offer they know many customers won’t complete. They count on it. They are manipulating customers to buy knowing many consumers won’t ever complete the rebate process successfully.

But it’s so frustrating, and it’s not customer-focused. If they really wanted to give me a great deal, they’d just give me the $10 off, without all the hoops. They don’t actually want me to be successful. They want me to fail.

You’ve probably been frustrated by a rebate offer too. I think most people have. But not getting my $10 bucks is not the end of the world. But when similar tactics are used in the classroom, it undermines the foundation of learning.

The Problem With Points and Grades

In schools, the currency is not dollars and cents, it’s points. And for a student, the more points you earn the better grade you get in the class. Students start learning this at a very young age, as soon as grades matter to them and their parents.

The points themselves are not the problem. The problem is how the points are used. Students learn to see the points as part of a transactional system, the game of school. The goal is to earn points. We have used the system to the extent that many students have forgotten how to learn just for the sake of learning. The first question students ask in many classrooms after an assignment is given is, “How many points is this worth?”

Clearly, classrooms and schools aren’t offering cash-back rebates, although I’m guessing students might say it was great if we did! But when we further a grading system that is transactional, in essence, we are using sticks and carrots to manipulate behaviors and results. It’s very similar to what companies do when they use rebates.

Just like the rebate is used to manipulate, points can be used to manipulate, too. Teachers have used the power of points for all sorts of reasons. To get students to participate, to show up on time, to choose right answers, and even to bring boxes of Kleenex.



Students are even sorted and ranked according to how well they play the game and earn points. I’m not a fan of sorting or ranking when it comes to learning. But this is especially concerning since earning points is often more about compliance and selecting right answers than showing good thinking or solving problems creatively.


In the current system, teachers even communicate the importance of an assignment by how many points it’s worth. “The test tomorrow is worth 100 points so you better study tonight.”



It’s well-intentioned manipulation. And when used on rare occasions it might be helpful. Teachers are always trying to influence student behaviors and decisions. And for good reason. We will do just about anything to motivate students to learn. But as soon as sticks and carrots become routine in the classroom, students come to expect them all the time.








Point Chasing Never Empowers Students As Learners


The problem with transactional systems is they only change behavior for a moment. They never last. In fact, they work against most some of the most valuable things we want students to gain from school. They rob empowerment. They steal intrinsic motivation. And they even undermine relationships. 



Some students get so frustrated with the points game, they just quit caring. They refuse to play along and choose not to care about how the teacher or the school ‘grades’ them. And it’s not just the kids who are ‘at-risk’ or ‘underprivileged’ who tend to reject this system. Often some of the most intelligent and creative students see through this artificial construct and pull back from learning in school.

Some of these same students have passions outside of school they pursue as self-motivated learners. They pour themselves into hobbies, interests, and causes. They will read online for hours, they will create art or practice an instrument, or they will share ideas on message boards or through social media on all types of important topics.

We do our students a disservice when we don’t empower them as learners at school too. If students leave school less excited about learning than when they entered, we have failed them.



Learning Isn’t About Transactions Between Students and Teachers


We don’t have to use transactional systems in classrooms and schools.



Some companies choose not to use rebates. They let their product or service stand on its own merits. They communicate the value of their products with a compelling message of why they are helpful and beneficial to us. And because we believe in their product, we are willing to pay full price.

Likewise, classrooms and schools offer something extremely valuable to their end-users. What could be more valuable or more helpful than learning, for the sake of learning? But we have to remind our students of the wonder and awe of learning. We have to package it in ways that are interesting and attractive. This is especially true when they have come to view learning as part of a system of compliance to ultimately earn a grade.

Cash back rebates don’t build loyalty with consumers, whether they ultimately receive the rebate or not. And a school culture driven by points and grades won’t build loyalty with students either. It won’t transform students into self-motivated learners. Only empowerment and authentic learning experiences will do that.



Question: How do you empower your students and avoid the compliance-driven classroom? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Read More Does Your Classroom Offer Cash-Back Rebates?

Grading as a Kind of Manipulation



Earlier this summer I did something I vowed never to do again. I fell for a deal with a cash-back rebate. You know, the kind where you follow a complicated set of instructions and then mail-in all the required papers and hope it pays off. If you’re lucky, you’ll get your rebate check back in the mail in a few weeks.

I’m not sure why I fell for this again. I guess I thought the deal was just too good to pass up. After the rebate, the synthetic motor oil was going to be a great buy. And I didn’t even need it right away. I had just changed the oil in the vehicle I planned to use it in.

But in spite of my best intentions, I failed to ever claim my rebate. I kept the receipt. I had the bar-code and the rebate form. I was good to go. But then I got distracted. I forgot about the rebate for awhile. And when I thought to finish the process, I couldn’t find the receipt anymore. Game over.

Now I am just a resentful consumer. I’m irritated with myself for breaking my promise to never try for these offers. And, I’m irritated with the brand for manipulating me with a rebate offer they know many customers won’t complete. They count on it. They are manipulating customers to buy knowing many consumers won’t ever complete the rebate process successfully.

But it’s so frustrating, and it’s not customer-focused. If they really wanted to give me a great deal, they’d just give me the $10 off, without all the hoops. They don’t actually want me to be successful. They want me to fail.

You’ve probably been frustrated by a rebate offer too. I think most people have. But not getting my $10 bucks is not the end of the world. But when similar tactics are used in the classroom, it undermines the foundation of learning.

The Problem With Points and Grades

In schools, the currency is not dollars and cents, it’s points. And for a student, the more points you earn the better grade you get in the class. Students start learning this at a very young age, as soon as grades matter to them and their parents.

The points themselves are not the problem. The problem is how the points are used. Students learn to see the points as part of a transactional system, the game of school. The goal is to earn points. We have used the system to the extent that many students have forgotten how to learn just for the sake of learning. The first question students ask in many classrooms after an assignment is given is, “How many points is this worth?”

Clearly, classrooms and schools aren’t offering cash-back rebates, although I’m guessing students might say it was great if we did! But when we further a grading system that is transactional, in essence, we are using sticks and carrots to manipulate behaviors and results. It’s very similar to what companies do when they use rebates.

Just like the rebate is used to manipulate, points can be used to manipulate, too. Teachers have used the power of points for all sorts of reasons. To get students to participate, to show up on time, to choose right answers, and even to bring boxes of Kleenex.



Students are even sorted and ranked according to how well they play the game and earn points. I’m not a fan of sorting or ranking when it comes to learning. But this is especially concerning since earning points is often more about compliance and selecting right answers than showing good thinking or solving problems creatively.


In the current system, teachers even communicate the importance of an assignment by how many points it’s worth. “The test tomorrow is worth 100 points so you better study tonight.”



It’s well-intentioned manipulation. And when used on rare occasions it might be helpful. Teachers are always trying to influence student behaviors and decisions. And for good reason. We will do just about anything to motivate students to learn. But as soon as sticks and carrots become routine in the classroom, students come to expect them all the time.








Point Chasing Never Empowers Students As Learners


The problem with transactional systems is they only change behavior for a moment. They never last. In fact, they work against most some of the most valuable things we want students to gain from school. They rob empowerment. They steal intrinsic motivation. And they even undermine relationships. 



Some students get so frustrated with the points game, they just quit caring. They refuse to play along and choose not to care about how the teacher or the school ‘grades’ them. And it’s not just the kids who are ‘at-risk’ or ‘underprivileged’ who tend to reject this system. Often some of the most intelligent and creative students see through this artificial construct and pull back from learning in school.

Some of these same students have passions outside of school they pursue as self-motivated learners. They pour themselves into hobbies, interests, and causes. They will read online for hours, they will create art or practice an instrument, or they will share ideas on message boards or through social media on all types of important topics.

We do our students a disservice when we don’t empower them as learners at school too. If students leave school less excited about learning than when they entered, we have failed them.



Learning Isn’t About Transactions Between Students and Teachers


We don’t have to use transactional systems in classrooms and schools.



Some companies choose not to use rebates. They let their product or service stand on its own merits. They communicate the value of their products with a compelling message of why they are helpful and beneficial to us. And because we believe in their product, we are willing to pay full price.

Likewise, classrooms and schools offer something extremely valuable to their end-users. What could be more valuable or more helpful than learning, for the sake of learning? But we have to remind our students of the wonder and awe of learning. We have to package it in ways that are interesting and attractive. This is especially true when they have come to view learning as part of a system of compliance to ultimately earn a grade.

Cash back rebates don’t build loyalty with consumers, whether they ultimately receive the rebate or not. And a school culture driven by points and grades won’t build loyalty with students either. It won’t transform students into self-motivated learners. Only empowerment and authentic learning experiences will do that.



Question: How do you empower your students and avoid the compliance-driven classroom? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Read More Does Your Classroom Offer Cash-Back Rebates?