Sunday, December 28, 2014

Onward to 2015

Albert Einstein once stated, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Self reflection is one of the most simple and basic habits for one to complete, yet it is also one of the most daunting and challenging traits to honestly do. Educational leaders face a daily influx of mandates, reforms and initiatives from state and federal governments on top of their other strenuous job responsibilities.  In a society that is constantly demanding student data, test score increases, and teacher observation perfection, it could be very easy for one to not to reflect as they are overwhelmed.  Yet, self reflection is so vital to a leader's vision, professional, and personal life.

As leaders, it is imperative to take time each day to look at what was achieved, what was not, and what could you improve on.  It doesn't matter if you are an educational leader or a coach in the NFL, you must reflect if you intend to become a stronger, successful leader that your team will follow.

Many leaders claim to reflect for their betterment, yet the true question to ask is, how can one become a stronger leader if they do not have higher goals and aspirations, or simply think that they are fine the way they are with a fixed mindset? All to often arrogance, ego and time are the enemies of reflection, which usually wins over.  

As I mentioned before, leaders must be willing to make a choice of either being brave or comfortable, as they can not be both.  Are you willing to make a difference, or are you simply willing to accept life as it is and not move forward? 

Self reflection allows a leader the opportunity to create new solutions for all that occurred.  It provides a sense of hope and positivity that one can overcome obstacles for higher quality results regardless of the situation.  Reflection can take place through various avenues, such as, talking face to face, blogging, professional learning networks on social media or voxer, emailing, chats in educational courses, or simply writing out items in a daily journal.  Reflection if used properly can be a powerful tool that can unlock many great ideas for one to embrace a life that he and/or she envisioned when they were younger.

Jon Gordon, recently stated "9 of 10 people will fail with their resolutions. 1/2 will fail by end of January. Pick #oneword instead and let it inspire you all year." 

As I look onward to 2015, I have several words that will be my focus:

Balance: Being the best husband, father, and lead learner possible. This will continue to be my biggest challenge as I hold myself to such high expectations in each category. 

Serving: Continue to assist my staff, students, parents, and the stakeholders of the school community to improve on a daily basis. My ultimate goal is to create an extraordinary learning environment that strives on culture, technology, and safety. 

Network: Continue to interact with my amazing PLN and making new connections along the way. This past year, I was able to connect with so many dedicated, passionate educators from across the country who helped me to grow as a lead learner and most importantly, a better person. I'm looking forward to attending the Executive Summit at FETC, NJASA Techspo, EdCampSoJersey, EdCampLdr, NJPAECET2, ISTE and other opportunities that present themselves throughout the year. 

Vision: Continue to look towards the future, as the jobs of tomorrow are still not there. Create Makerspaces, promote risk taking, revamping curriculum, setting up partnerships with outside resources, and creating student tech squads. I want our students ready to solve current and future problems of everyday society. 

Positive: The power of positivity is a dynamic ingredient that can greatly influence one's reflection. Without positivity and hope, one's reflection may not provide the ideas that one needs to grow or be more successful.

What word or words will you select? Share your word(s) for 2015 and inspire others to move onward! 

Here are just some of the events of 2014: 

Ms. America Visit
Duct Tape the Principal

Top 40 Under 40 in Atlantic City Weekly
EdCampUSA with Arne Duncan
Presented at EdCampUSA in DC with Dr. Joe Mazza
Assisted in organizing and presented at EdCampLdr at UPENN


NCMS Entry Way Today- 3 years ago this wall was blank!

Won The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest- $20,000 of tech for our students!

Henry and I with new spirit wear! #NCSPRIDE

Always charging for our BYOD program

Donated News desk from Fox 29 News

My Daily Inspirations 

Best Friends
Henry already a "connected" student at the age of 2.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Flipped Mindset

When I decided it was time to flip my faculty meeting, I didn't mean to videotape myself delivering administrivia upside down.   

However, that faux pas, that willingness to take a risk and embrace change as the principal of the Northfield Community Middle School, might have been the best mistake I ever made. Because, it showed my staff I was open to new ideas, valued their time, and would ask of them only what I was willing to do.

I've never forgotten what it was like to be a teacher because I still am one. My pupils are just adults, but they need to be lifelong learners because this is what we want our students to be. As a connected educator, I love to share and acquire ideas to better my staff, students, and school, even if my connection is shown upside down on someone's monitor. This allows me to grow teacher-leaders who are empowered by my trust, and pass that on to the students. I don't need to micro-manage. If I did, what was I thinking when I hired the staff members in the first place?

At two recent conferences, I had an opportunity to connect with teachers in districts throughout NJ and PA. I heard from a number of disheartened teachers who feel they are asked to differentiate instruction, infuse technology, and more. Yet, when they come to a faculty meeting or receive pullout training, their administrators teach to the middle of the group. Most of the training is done in lecture format. Some of it even makes the teachers feel talked down to. It makes me wonder, what would a fellow administrator say if they observed a teacher teaching to the middle, lecturing for an hour, or talking down to a student. I don't think they'd get a four on the Danielson rubric.

Why not take a risk to flip the faculty meeting, tape yourself on video, and allow staff to see it firsthand instead of telling them what to do.  Have your teachers share their strengths that you have observed in their classrooms to your other teachers.  Ask teachers to bring one positive and one need of improvement about the current school culture to a one-on-one meeting where all is open to discuss.  Lastly, take a step outside your comfort zone and challenge each teacher to take a risk with a new lesson/project idea. Promise them that you are not out to get them, that you'll actually make sure to include it as a positive in the summative evaluation, and that working together as a team can only enhance the school for the better.  

Did I mention that to enhance the school culture and climate I was ducted taped to the wall by my students who maintained A's and B's while remaining discipline free over several months?  The result was A LOT of tape as 95% of the student body participated in this wacky fun day. Who knows what this year's challenge will be as I asked my students and staff to think of some ideas.  Maybe pies to the face on National Pi day?

Perhaps if we allow our staff to grow, then student growth would increase as well.  It's no secret that some of the best schools in the country model and demonstrate this daily.  Over the past several years my PLN, family, staff, students and co-workers have all inspired me to reflect daily and truly analyze who I was as an administrator and who I want to become as an administrator.  By flipping your own mindset away from what you had always seen to what we can envision, should be motivation enough each day to improve onescraft for the betterment of staff and students. 

A big thank you to the following for making a difference in my leadership style!

Joe Mazza - @Joe_Mazza
Jeff Zoul - @Jeff_Zoul
Jimmy Casas - @Casas_Jimmy
Todd Whitaker - @ToddWhitaker
Patrick Larkin - @patrickmlarkin
Barry Saide - @Barrykid1
Aleng Phommathep - @Alengman
Michael Curran - @mgcjusa
Spike Cook - @Drspikecook
Kevin Jarrett - @KJarrett
Thomas Murray - @Thomascmurray
Tony Sinanis - @TonySinanis
Joe Sanfelippo -@Joesanfelippofc
Jay Eitnor - @Isupereit
Tom Whitby - @Tomwhitby
Stephen Santilli - @Spsantilli
Jennifer Scheffer - @Jlscheffer
Scott Rocco -  @Scottrrocco
Brad Currie - @Bradmcurrie
Ben Gilpin - @benjamingilpin


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What Does Your School Do For Veterans Day?

Ronald Reagan once stated, "We remember those who were called upon to give all a person can give, and we remember those who were prepared to make that sacrifice if it were demanded of them in the line of duty, though it never was. Most of all, we remember the devotion and gallantry with which all of them ennobled their nation as they became champions of a noble cause.”  

Thank you to all the brave men and women who dedicated their lives to allow us to live in this great country of ours! I am also especially grateful for having two wonderful grandfathers who both served during World War 2.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet up with my wife's aunt and uncle at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum in Rio Grande, New Jersey. During our time there, my two year old son who is fascinated with airplanes, ran to every plane or helicopter that he could get his hands on and even sit in. 

As we all laughed and smiled watching my son have the time of his life, my wife's uncle who is a retired military police officer and local police officer in NJ asked me a question that I could not answer with more pride then I did. "What does your school do for Veterans Day?" 

"I can honestly say with much pride that our school's Veterans Day program is the best in the state of New Jersey. We are the only school in the state of New Jersey to be selected by the Veterans Day National Committee and the Department of Veterans Affairs as a Veterans Day Regional Site. Our students interview a veteran from their family or one from town, write about them, speak in front of the entire student and staff population with the veteran by his or her side, make large poster board displays that go to local buisnesses, play Taps, have the students in choir sing and the band even plays for them. We had over 20 veterans attend, one flew in from San Diego to surprise his nephew and we even had a great grandfather who was 100 years old.   

The entire student body in the audience sat for two hours waving small American flags and homemade banners for each veteran present, with no misbehavior. They demonstrated respect, honor and dignaty throughly the entire assembly.  How could I not be more proud?

We also collected food, supplies and old cell phones, batteries and chargers that were sent oversees to active troops.  

There is also the "Post Crashers" initiative, which is students, parents, staff and community stakeholders who give up a few Saturdays to help restore the local Veterans Hall. These individuals embraced this service learning project that requires them to paint walls, ceilings, replace light fixtures, rip up and replace flooring as well as landscape a yard that hasn't been touched in years. Yes, they do this voluntary out of the goodness of their hearts and not for grades!  They even made up their own theme song and dances as well.  

Once this hall is finished, I can only imagine what they will do next.  How they do not have their own HGTV or DIY network show amazes me. To see students from 5th, 6th,7th and 8th grade working so hard for veterans who served our great country is tear jerking."

After my reply, I asked my wife's uncle, who now works in a school district in another region of the state the same question that he presented to me.  He stated he was so upset that the building doesn't really do anything and that he went out of his way to place a Veterans Day bulletin board in the front of the building for all to see. His response left me upset, shocked, and wondering how many other schools who are open on Veterans Day partake in any events.  I know in my heart that he will continue to work hard at trying to make a change for the better within his new school and help everyone see as to why it is so important to honor our veterans.

As I made the long drive back home I could only wonder, "What does your school do for Veterans Day?"

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Not the Problem You Have, It's How You Handle It

The question that I present to everyone is how many people can honestly say that this quote represents your current leader, management, coach, and/or principal?  "An upbeat manager that goes through the day with a positive outlook ends up running a team or organization filled with upbeat people" (Welch 2005).  
John F. Kennedy once stated that "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." It is imperative that all leaders continue the path of being life long learners to help better their schools, students, teachers, parents, and all stakeholders as they move forward each day.  Successful leaders, coaches, and management have a trait in common that is vital to success, which is trust.  If one cannot instill trust to his or her environment then true change cannot occur.  Often in society today, many managers tend to "give in" or "ignore" slacking employees and transfer their responsibilities to others who do the job correctly for them.  In a sense if your allow it, you promote it.  This struggle to actually rise up and hold individuals accountable is a frustration that could be found in just about any work environment.  True leaders are the ones who can motivate, inspire, and promote trust by maintaining expectations, communication, building relationships all while treating everyone equally while holding them each accountable.  
Before I became the Lead Learner (Principal) of my own building, I worked as a teacher, soccer coach, and assistant principal within one school district.  During my 9 years in the district, I had 5 new principals, who each were all drastically different in leadership styles.  As a life long learner, I took it upon myself to analyze and learn from each of them to improve my own craft.  Yet, as I learned numerous "do's and don'ts" from them, the one underlining topic that coming back to me was trust.  My father who was a third generation water well driller who ran his company would regularly tell me to remember that people come before programs and the it's not the problem that you have, it's how you handle it.  The frustration that I developed under several of my bosses was that they would fail to build trust, fail to build relationships as they only wanted results, and they would base decisions off of emotions that would often lead to larger issues.
We must embrace critical remarks, and suggestions to continually try to improve who we are as people and leaders.  Too often in my experience many leaders are against change and refuse to listen to suggestions as they let "power" take over their mindset.  As a Lead Learner in my own building, we installed many changes that were based on teacher and student suggestions.  I view leadership as a privilege and an honor to have the ability to make a positive difference in someones life.  It is a goal of this Lead Learner to create an environment that risk taking and autonomy is present. Being a true leader is being a servant leader who will put his or her employees, and students first.  In school settings we control the daily education of all stakeholders, and you must ask yourself, "is this the day that students will be talking about 20 years from now?"
Lastly, as a leader, bravery is a choice.  In being brave, one must realize that it will be uncomfortable. You can only be courageous and/or brave or you can be comfortable, yet you cannot be both.  
The question I leave you all with is: are you willing to be status quo in being comfortable in your position, or are you brave enough to try to make a difference?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Who Did You Inspire Today?

As the Lead Learner of an outstanding middle school, I am privileged to witness greatness each day by my staff and students. It is an environment where our students inspire us to constantly redefine our craft and become better educators.

Today, I am proud to say that I am blogging with the very group of students that inspired me to begin my own blog. Where else could I work that motivates me each minute of the day to make a better "home" for them?  
As their Lead Learner, I can only hope that I leave a positive impression on them in regards to being a digital role model. At our school we constantly preach the importance of digital citizenship and today I have an opportunity to truly show them. As I sit here, I am so impressed seeing the autonomy, passion, and drive that these students have while publishing their own blogs. There is nothing more amazing than watching students' "light bulbs" go off as they type about their topics.  I was pulled from one student to another to witness them composing their post.  Their energy and enthusiasm were highly contagious to all who entered the room. This was the true definition of a Quadrant D lesson as our great students demonstrated their own blog application which was rigorous, relevant, and relationship building.

Their topics ranged from the following:

Cooking Recipes
Shopping for clothing
Air Craft and weather
Visiting New York City
My Dog

These can all be seen in the near future at

As I went from student to student, I was constantly asked why I chose the title, "Who Inspired You Today?"  When I told them that they inspired me to write a blog posting and that I could only hope to inspire others to take a risk and try something  new in their educational journey they were completely surprised.

The reactions I received were priceless: "Wow, Mr. Robbins that's awesome!; We really inspired you?; Thanks for caring and inspiring us."

There is no better profession then being their Lead Learner!

Who did you inspire today?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Deep Breath and Move Forward

First blog post EVER! Thank you to my PLN, my staff, students and my family for constantly inspiring me to be the best Lead Learner that I can be.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend, present and keynote a TED talk at the #NJPAECET2 conference held in the Rariton Valley Community College.   It was a cross between a traditional PD workshop and an Edcamp unconference, where only 150 educators were invited to attend.

What an amazing two days of professional development, collaboration and networking it was.  

To be honest with you when my PLN (Professional Learning Network) friend, Barry Saide (@barrykid1) first invited me into the core organizational team I had no clue what this event was.  As time progressed, the project evolved into an outstanding event that celebrated educators.  The scheduling of presenters did not look like an easy task, but when your working with Liz Calderwood (@Liz1544), Kate Baker (@KtBkr4), and Jeff Bradbury (@Teachercast) it was a breeze.  Trust me, they are great people who you need to follow.

The week before the conference I was very excited and honored to present sessions on Digital Citizenship: Are we proper role models; and Flipped Faculty Meetings. Yet, little did I know I would also be one of three keynote speakers during the dinner hour of the conference.

You see, the weekend before the conference, Barry and I were direct messaging each other on Twitter about various topics, which eventually morphed into how I believed everything happened for a reason.  I proceeded to share many events in my life that I had only shared with less than a handful of people, to Barry, a friend I meet up with at a few Edcamps and many times on Twitter.

The following morning while at work, I received an email from Barry asking if I would be willing to share my story as a keynote speaker for a TED talk at #NJPAECET2.  After several emails and DM's back and forth, he convinced me to take a step forward and share my story.  

I have spoken in front of many crowds, teachers, parents, and students in my lifetime, but never had I shared my story.  The story of how I had it all in athletics and had no desire for education until I lost it all.  I shared that as a Connected Lead Learner in my building, I constantly provide students and staff with something I never had in my life, which was passion and motivation for education. I try to provide a culture that promotes students to care about their work and that they mean something.

As I stood up in front of the room, I just took a deep breath and moved forward in telling my story.  When I was done, I was shocked to see many people in the audience giving me a "Standing O".  This past week, I have received many tweets and blog postings stating how inspired they were by my speech.

I am sincerely grateful for the kind words and I am glad that I was able to inspire many educators to share their passions in education to their schools upon their return.  Yet, it is my motivation and educational philosophy that each student and staff member sees true greatness in themselves and that having an education is a powerful key to future success.

So as you greet your students and colleagues each day, ask yourselves if you are truly giving them your best and do they know you care?