Better Schools TIP 1: Remember to smile, breathe, and have fun

The work is serious, but you don’t have to take yourself so seriously. That is the idea behind Rule #6.

What kind of energy do you want to bring to your school whether it is virtual, hybrid, or traditional? 

You set the tone as the leader and you get to decide how you show up. 

Each year is a challenge, but this year can be one of the best ever. It really can. 

How might you approach this year if you told yourself this year, “I’m going to make this school year the best year yet”?

If you approach the work that way, you might just be surprised at what you accomplish.

Perspective and mindset is everything.

Earl Nightingale said it best, “We become what we think about.” 

Make sure you’re thinking about the right stuff. While you’re at it, don’t forget to smile, breathe, and have fun.

TIP 2: Imagine “What if …”

These two words are magic and are the foundation of innovative thinking.

Innovation is exactly what we need to build better schools. 

Take 5 minutes to read this post on “What if?” questions. After that, spend the next 25 minutes with a Google Doc, journal, or whiteboard and write as many “What If?” questions you can. 

Set a timer. When it goes off, stop. 

90% of your ideas might be terrible, but the 10% that work will help you on a journey building better schools (even in a pandemic).

10 Ways to Build Better Schools

TIP 3: Hand over control

In The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire challenges the reader to stop using a “banking model” of education where the teacher is the expert who pours her knowledge into her students’ minds.

Elevate your students’ status. See their expertise and what they bring to the table. Co-create and lesson design with them. 

I love it when teachers collaborate via PLCs and push colleagues to build better lessons. 

What if we gave the students a seat at that table? If you want to build a better school ask the kids how to do it. 

I’m sure they have some ideas if we’re courageous enough to listen.



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TIP 4: What is really important?

When COVID-19 hit, I found it very interesting that standardized tests were the first thing cut by states when we went into 100% virtual school setting. 

Why did that happen? 

The optimist in me thinks that politicians were being generous knowing that the quality of education would be limited as schools transitioned. 

The realist in me knows it’s because the tests don’t really matter and are a poor measure of school success.

The spring of 2020 was a test. Congratulations, you passed. 

It wasn’t perfect, but you did it.

What did you learn? What surprised you? 

What did you do with that permission to experiment, what do you want to keep from that experience that made school better?

TIP 5: Less is more

For years I encouraged my staff to teach less content and go deeper. 

My mentor constantly encourages me to do the same. He says, “Do you want to be a mile wide and an inch deep or an inch wide and a mile deep?”

Quality vs Quantity. Your choice.

Rick DuFour used to call this the “Need to know” vs the “Nice to know” standards. Everything isn’t important. If we are clear on what truly matters and embrace a “less is more” mentality, we will create better schools. 

And collectively everyone will be less stressed: teachers, students, and parents.

For some of us, the pandemic was permission to slow down. For others, it was overwhelming and unsustainable.

If you haven’t unlocked the gift of “less is more” yet, it is still there waiting for you.



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TIP 6: Protect those who leap

Each year there are teachers ready to leap, but tradition, unions, and social norms pull them back to average.

As a leader, it is your job to clear the way for these teachers. Make it easy for them to sprint. Protect them. Do not let others pull them down or slow down what they want to accomplish for kids.

Consider how you can champion the educators who choose to stretch.

It’s even better if they fail and learn something from the experience they can apply to a future lesson. 

It’s up to you to tell the stories that you want to resonate within your community. Curate and highlight the stories that show teachers innovating within your school.

TIP 7: 21st Century skills

Critical thinking. Communication. Collaboration. Creativity.

Build your school using these skills as the foundation.

10 Ways to Build Better Schools

TIP 8: Embrace the suck

In the mastermind, we were talking about how we process challenging circumstances, hard work, and tough conversations.

A simple shift in how we perceive difficult situations can be helpful. Thinking of them as opportunities for growth is key. 

According to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the opposite of fragility is not resilience. It is knowing that you will grow from uncertainty and challenge. It is the gains we make going through tough times that make us antifragile.



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TIP 9: Make an iPhone

What was your first reaction when you saw the iPhone?

“It doesn’t appeal to business customers.” 

-Steve Ballmer

Steve Jobs was able to see what Ballmer could not. Jobs saw where we were headed with technology and what would be more useful for the end-user.

If you are fed up with traditional model of school, make an iPhone. 

Do something so drastically different that other school leaders would think you were out of your mind.

I can tell you the quickest way to avoid building better schools — keep doing the same thing.

Here are 5 quick iPhone ideas for school:

  1. 4 day weeks — compact what can be done in 5 days into 4 and enjoy your life with your new day off.
  2. No actual building — the world is our school.
  3. Teacher credentials unnecessary — this is an obstacle to getting the best talent in front of kids
  4. Teach real history — imagine if we critically thought about the good, bad, and ugly of our country? An informed, critical thinking public builds a better world.
  5. Students set curriculum and handle discipline — adults act as guides to facilitate their vision.
  6. You take the list from here …

TIP 10: Answer this question

At the end of each podcast, I ask my guest, “How would you build your dream school if your budget isn’t a limitation … your only limitation is your imagination?”

This is a thought experiment. 

Of course, there are always constraints in life, but what I hope to do with this question is push my guest to consider what is possible when the constraints are removed.

Then, what is the kernel of truth you can take from that response and add it to your organization? 

How would you answer this question to build a better school? 

I challenge you to take 15-30 minutes today to ponder that question. If you accept, please send me your answer (, I’d love to see what you come up with.



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BONUS: Build a better you

You can’t build better schools without building a better you. Recently in the mastermind, we discussed the importance of self-care.

Leaders are notoriously poor at this. Especially leaders in education. The role of a school principal is to serve her community first. As a teacher, we loved our kids and now as a principal, we love the entire student body and the entire staff. This is good, but if we are always pouring out we can be left depleted.

You have to prioritize taking care of yourself.

You know the drill on an airplane. They tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting anyone else. 

That’s because you are of no help to anyone if you’re not breathing.

Here is how principals in our leadership community mentioned they would take care of themselves in the coming week:

  • work out
  • gratitude
  • limit email
  • me time
  • no phone for 1st hour after waking up
  • shifting my thinking to Sunday the first day instead of last day
  • walk the dog 🦮

What would you add to this list? What would work for you?

Further reading to LEVEL UP …

What makes a great principal. This post shares 10 uncommon traits the best-of-the-best principals use regularly.

3 Ways to boost your self-awareness. 90% of top-performers also have highly developed emotional intelligence. This post shares some ideas on how to develop your self-awareness.

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