My COVID-19 Diary: Goldilocks Tasks

In this time of quarantine, when we are trapped in the house with our kids, everyone is looking for another way to keep their kids occupied;  that is after they’ve completed all the school assigned art projects made with items found around the home, Flipgrids, Nearpods, watched every Slideshare, responded to the Google Forms, joined all the live streams, Google hangouts, virtual museum tours, and then blown kisses to their teachers as they drove through the neighborhood.  


I’ve got an idea. 

When I was younger, there was a toothbrush that somehow got into the drain in the bathroom sink at our house. Outside it was the kind of cold and rainy day that characterizes certain memories from one’s youth, so I wasn’t leaving the house.  My dad was at work, there were wire hangers and his tools in a closet. My mom challenged me to get that toothbrush out of the drain. It took me all day, and I cannot say if my mother actually shoved it down the pipe in the first place, but I still take pride in the accomplishment of having wrested that toothbrush from the jaws of the drain and saving my family an expensive plumber’s bill.

What kinds of obscure tasks have been sitting around your house waiting to be tackled?  Don’t choose the most odious chore that you don’t want to undertake. I cleaned the fridge yesterday, it was hard not to dwell on the fact that this task took me long enough to miss an entire Liverpool match, if only they were still playing.   In educational terms, think of what Psychologist Lev Vygotsky called the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD) to describe the sweet spot where instruction is most beneficial for each student – just beyond his or her current level of independent capability.  In layman’s terms, this is often referred to as the Goldilocks Principle, not too hard, not too soft.  Your nine-year-old is clearly not excited about cleaning that nasty area behind the toilet in your basement, a burden you’ve been putting off for months, and with good reason. The task should have a finite goal and be sufficiently challenging to take at minimum one hour and ideally an entire day, yes 24 hours!

My wife noticed that there were more than a few socks in the small gap between our washer/dryer and the glass wall that separates it from the rest of the bathroom, something that one would only notice if they were stuck in their house due to the outbreak of a pandemic of historic proportions.  We challenged Juliet, our 9-year-old daughter, to retrieve those socks. To sweeten the pot, we told her we’d give her one dollar for each one she rescued. When she asked for help, we told her she needed to do it on her own, she would receive no assistance or advice from us. She was welcome to refer to YouTube videos or search the internet (advantages I did NOT have when I worked to free the toothbrush),  but neither of us or her siblings, would assist her. Two hours later, some wire hangers, needle nose pliers, and the flashlight on her iPad, Juliet had retrieved seven socks from that three-quarter inch wide space next to the washer/dryer. She was genuinely excited. My slightly obsessive wife didn’t have to look at misplaced hosiery in the bathroom anymore, and we had seven bachelor socks to use for dusting around the house (a task that Juliet has no interest in by the way).

I’m not recommending anything Dickensian. Charles Dickens, according to history, spent his middle school years applying labels to “shoe black” in a dank workhouse.  Please don’t have your children crawling into any water mains on my advice.  Just find something that benefits you and your family and safely requires a degree of ingenuity and perseverance… and a wire hanger.   

I’m eager to hear what your kids are doing to fill their time during the quarantine.  If they’re not busy enough, consider my idea. If you can’t think of anything, there’s always the “toothbrush down the drain” — ”What?  There’s no toothbrush down there, check again 🙂 “


Juliet NOT forced into this tight spot 🙂


Posted in adolescence, Best Practice, Educational Focus, Leadership, Parenting, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, relationships, Teaching/Learning, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

My COVID-19 Diary: Principal in the Coal Mine

Governor Cuomo of New York State has repeatedly said that with respect to the impact of the Coronavirus on the nation as a whole, we here in New York are the “canary in the coal mine”. 

One of our English teachers posts the “idiom of the day” on her classroom bulletin board every day.   So, for the sake of clarity for my middle school students, here’s an explanation: According to Smithsonian Magazine, this expression relates to a mining tradition dating back to 1911 and the use of canaries in coal mines to detect carbon monoxide and other toxic gases before they hurt humans.  Miners would carry these small birds into the tunnels with them. If dangerous gases collected in the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately.

(Source: )

As a middle school principal in the New York Metro area, I guess that makes me a  “Principal in the Coal Mine”.  So I’m going to offer just a few ideas for my colleagues who may be a week or two behind us here in New York (leaving open the possibility and the most ardent HOPE,  that we can ALL avoid the dire consequences of this pandemic).


Don’t get too far out over your skis  (this can be the idiom of the day for tomorrow)  

Few historical events have been as unprecedented in modern history as the one we are experiencing now. Stay on top of what to anticipate this week, but this situation evolves very quickly.  In NYS, individual districts wrestled with the prospect of closing schools for days before the governor stepped in and made the decision for them. It’s impossible to say with certainty what will be a month from now, or even three days from now.  Don’t send emails and letters to parents about what will happen in June. Be transparent and honest in your communication but leave open the prospect that things will likely change.   

Use “One-Stop-Shopping” for communication with stakeholders 

Because of the need for frequent updates and for resources, stakeholders can be easily overwhelmed.   Teachers, students, and parents are on social media, they have Wi-Fi, you don’t need to send to them every post you see on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest about how to survive the pandemic. 

I have found it effective to create a “One-Stop-Shopping” system for communication. There’s a simple Google Doc for all our staff communication and a Smore newsletter for communication with parents.  This way, if they need to refer back to information from a previous communication, all they need to do is scroll down. Include a section with resources targeted at YOUR families.  With so much information out there, parents will appreciate the items that you’ve vetted and curated. When I update these, I send an email to the appropriate group with a few bullet points highlighting what they will see when they read them. 

Virtual Face-to-face is better than phone calls; phone calls are better than email  

In the absence of face-to-face contact, parents and students are inundated with electronic communication.  Although this is useful, the impact of a phone call or a video chat with a parent cannot be overstated. There’s a give and take and a “human” aspect of your voice and facial expressions that are sorely missed at this challenging time. Also, it’s critical to get parents’ perspectives on how well their kids are coping. Remember, under normal circumstances, you would be merely a phone call away or parents would simply stop by your office. Try to devote a good chunk of every day to making phone calls to families. Keep a spreadsheet that you share with your building level support staff,  with notes. Follow up.


Many of my colleagues, far wiser than me, have shared ideas and strategies for coping with this crisis. I apologize if I’ve been redundant.  These are just a few of the insights I’ve gleaned as a Principal in the Coal Mine.  I’d be eager to hear from you.  What strategies have you used as an educational leader to cope with these trying times? 



Posted in Best Practice, Educational Focus, Leadership, learning, Parenting, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, relationships, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My COVID-19 Diary: Friday un-Focused

Another Friday, still not particularly focused, so I’m going to share some random thoughts:

Have you noticed that everyone in your house gets hungry at the same time? If someone gets up to look in the refrigerator for leftovers, and you see this, you’ve got to get in there and start eating.  And don’t tell me if you have kids you don’t sometimes contemplate which one you would eat first if you run out of food.

Is there a reason why Good Will Hunting is always on cable, 24 hours a day? And, is there a reason why,  if I happen to see it, I have to watch it until it’s over, no matter what I was doing before I noticed it? That’s not helping anybody!  (BTW, Ben Affleck is Casey Affleck’s brother.) 

My daughter’s idea: people can leave the house and go wherever they want but they have to always be riding a bicycle. If you get closer than 6 feet you’ll probably crash, so it’s mostly safe. I told her I would inform the governor.

My new approach to the routine for working at home; it’s just like being at work, except you don’t have to wear pants. Also, I find that I need to be wearing some kind of Jericho apparel at all times because I never know when I might be called into a Livestream or a Google Meet.

My decision to join the “Home Haircut Club” back in November is not looking so strange now is it?  Come on, lots of handsome guys are Baldy’s.  Michael Jordan. Um… lots of guys. Give me a minute.  I’ll think of some more. I told you I’m not focused.

Does your Calendar keep giving you alerts about events that aren’t happening because of COVID-19?  Absent these circumstances, our school was going to have a Family Bowling Night on Tuesday. Right now,  the thought of 150 people sharing shoes and bowling balls is the most horrifying image I could possibly conjure (it’s replaced the previous most horrifying image which was the clown from that Stephen King book. At least, for the most part,  he was observing social distancing norms).

I could go on but I know you need to wash your hands. 

Stay well, miss you, love you, please don’t touch me.


Posted in adolescence, Leadership, Parenting, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, relationships, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

My COVID-19 Diary: Adversity reveals character?

James Lane Allen famously stated. “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” 

This aphorism, for most people, brings to mind extraordinary actions during a crisis by remarkable individuals. We think of Winston Churchill, Harriet Tubman, Neil Armstrong… Louis Armstrong.  

This expression cuts both ways however. Much as we hate to admit it, this quarantine is highlighting some of our most annoying character traits.  What are you doing to drive your quarantine friends and family a little bit kooky during this challenging time? Here’s some of mine*:

I save used paper towels and also grocery store rubber bands. See previous post.  This one’s coming in a little bit handy because sometimes paper towels are at a premium at Costco.  And about Costco, I find it difficult to walk out of there without buying a pair of khaki shorts. I don’t need another pair but there’s so many.  And then I complain to my wife that I’m wearing the same shorts as every other guy, “That’s because you buy all your shorts at Costco, Don!” (#DadMove)

I sleep with a bite guard. That’s got to be annoying. But it works. I used to grind my teeth and wake up many times during the night. Now I sleep through the night but I have the most vivid, and boring dreams:  I have to sign the timesheets, the timesheets haven’t been signed and Ben (the boss) calls to remind me to sign the timesheets, I ask, “Are they late, am I in a lot of trouble because I didn’t sign the timesheets?”   Ben says, “Nah, take your time. Whenever you get to it.” Everything is so real and vivid (like the display TV’s, in Costco [hmmmm]). This goes on and on until it’s time for me to wake up. I should be signing those timesheets,  nobody seems to care if I do, but they keep reminding me anyway. In one dream, I forgot my speech for graduation and when I got to the podium and admitted this, the parents said don’t worry about it, we’ll reschedule the ceremony for next week. I don’t know why this bite guard makes me have these dreams but it’s kind of nice.

I use voice to text. Constantly. My family can never tell if I am using it to send a text, an email, writing a memo,  a letter, a blog post, or complaining to them about the parking lot at school.  

I have peculiar fascinations with obscure topics: the Dutch settlement of New York State, anything having to do with bicycles, aioli, broccoli rabe, Rob Delaney, Sufi poets, magic.  Any whiff of conversation concerning these matters and my ears perk up. I will work diligently to not so subtly bring every conversation around to one of these issues.

If I see an actor on TV or in a movie, I feel compelled to supply arcane knowledge of that actor’s IMDb.  My specialty is “people the actor is related to”:  “his aunt was Rosemary Clooney; his dad was Hoss in Bonanza; that’s John Carradine’s son” (he had so many sons).  If I can’t summon from memory the “other thing that person was in”… I am impossible to live with until I can find it on Google, which can often take all afternoon.  (Related to this, I am intolerable during Jeopardy. Yes, I always shout out the answer in the form of a question. But, as my wife retorts when my daughter notes, “Daddy is smart”; “No Juliet, he’s just been on the Earth so much longer than we have.”) 

I’m indifferent to dogs.  I don’t dislike them. I’m just not as into dogs as everyone else is.  We have a dog, Luna. She’s ok.  

This reflection has been beneficial to me. I have no intention of changing any of this, I’m sure that I can’t.  I’m certainly not giving up the bite guard, I’d have to sign the timesheets. Perhaps if my family reads it, it’ll make them feel better that I’ve acknowledged my “annoyingness”.  It’s something, right?  

How about you… what are you doing to make this quarantine more difficult for those around you?  I REALLY need to know! 


* As you may imagine, I had help from my wife and kids with this post. They had an even longer list but I know you’re busy. 


Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Parenting, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My COVID-19 Diary: Grandpa, why don’t you shake hands

I did not grow up during the Depression. 

My parents, also, did not grow up during the Depression.

But, my grandparents were teenagers during the Depression.

They say it can take two generations for the impact of huge societal turbulence  to wash off the people who are heirs to these events.   

Here are some interesting things that my grandparents did as a result of growing up in a time of great scarcity:

My grandmother saved the string that you get on a cake box from the bakery. You know, the really thin red and white striped string. I never once in my life saw that string get used but she had it.  She also re-used tissues.  They were hidden in her sleeve (you never sneezed in front of Nanny). 

My grandfather re-used teabags. He would use the same teabag to make 3 cups of tea.

They turned off every light in their apartment unless it was being put to direct and essential use.  Lights weren’t left on “just in case we might go back in the bedroom”. My grandparents’ house always seemed dark to me. They didn’t give away electricity for free back then.

Consequently, my parents picked up some of these customs.  My mother always saved the plastic bags that bread came in. I never saw these get used until, one winter after heavy snow,  I was going sleigh riding with my friends.  My mom showed me how to put on a sock, put the bag over the sock, then cover that with another sock. It worked great to keep my feet warm and dry. I asked my mom where she learned that trick, she said it was something her parents did during the Depression.  

Growing up this way, I’ve inherited some of these same quirks. I can’t bring myself to throw away the rubber bands that they put around asparagus and broccoli at the grocery store when you buy them. Also, I reuse paper towels that I used to wipe off the kitchen counter (this one drives my kids crazy!).

The things we do to survive a crisis get into our cultural DNA and we pass those survival skills down to our children as they watch us behave.  What lasting effects will the precautions we are taking in light of COVID-19 have on my impressionable, young adolescent middle school students?  Will their grandchildren wonder why they never shake hands with anyone, why they leave four seats between them when they go to a movie, will they be better about saving money to prepare for unforeseeable economic catastrophes like the one we’re experiencing now, will they stay connected to their families and friends regularly using whatever passes for Google Hangout or Zoom in the future (probably Google Hangout and Zoom).  Some of these impacts are positive, some are negative. We cannot predict the future but I certainly hope some of the adjustments we’ve made do not last long after this crisis is over… 

… because I desperately need a hug.




Posted in adolescence, Leadership, Parenting, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, relationships, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My COVID-19 Diary: Who’s in your PLN?

On Saturday afternoon I had a meeting, via Google Hangout, with middle school principals from across the United States. Don’t search your social media for a meeting you may have missed; this was an informal get together with my professional/personal learning network (#PLN) about, well, you know…

… all of this. 

For nearly 10 years, I’ve been part of a group of middle school principals who engage in regular, ongoing conversation about the work we do via Voxer, a walkie-talkie-like phone app that allows asynchronous messaging 24/7. The way it works, when you have the opportunity, you check-in and listen to what your colleagues have contributed and offer your own perspectives.  Usually, one of the members of the group poses a question or describes a challenge they are dealing with in their setting. The other school leaders offer up solutions or reflect on occasions when they have had to deal with the same challenge.  Sometimes we just log in and offer up what our day was like, both at work and at home. Our group includes principals from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Alaska, Virginia, Massachusetts, New York, Kentucky, and Long Island. Rural, urban and suburban; low-socioeconomic to high; the members of the group represent quite a broad cross-section of the country’s schools. 


Leading in the Middle The Impatient Optimists

Some members of the Voxer group: Middle-Level Leaders

Over the years we have dialogued about a variety of particularly weighty issues that affect middle schools: school relationships, standardized tests, vaping, racism, student mental health, student self harm, supervision of instruction, and countless other topics.  And now, the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic. In the 45 minute conversation we had on Saturday afternoon I gleaned more answers and ideas from this group of passionate and experienced middle school principals than I have from all the reading I have done since this crisis began. More important perhaps than the tangible ideas that came out of this conversation is the support and friendship that we provide each other. The benefits of knowing that a group of people who share the exact same struggles as me,  cares about me and will be there for me when I need them, cannot be described.  


If we do not create a network using the tools that technology makes available, then our PLN will be confined only to those individuals who we interact with face-to-face.  Make no mistake, I know some people whose faces are really incredible, but there are people out there, beyond our geographical scope, who can accelerate our learning and provide support in ways not otherwise possible.  There’s a fantastic Facebook group called Teaching during COVID-19. The educators in this group are sharing amazing resources, ideas and support for each other during this crazy time.  This is a great way for educators to, if they have not already done so, create a professional learning network (PLN) that will hopefully continue past this current crisis. 

Nobody can do this important work alone. We all need a network of support. Now that you’re confined to your home, who is in your #PLN?  This is an excellent time to expand your network and grow your connections to become the best educator and person you can be. Our kids deserve it!78825731_830040564121003_7645357402551746560_n


Posted in Random Thoughts, relationships, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My COVID-19 Diary: Were you ready for this?

I don’t know that anybody could say, “We were ready for this”, but when it comes to remote learning, to the extent that it could be possible, the staff in my school and my district was ready for this.

In New York, we have been following incremental versions of “shelter in place” for over two weeks. When it was becoming apparent that this was a prospect given the emerging reality of the COVID-19 outbreak, our superintendent started to lay plans for the staff to provide for remote learning. The directive to do so came from the New York State Education Department, but we began working on our plan weeks ahead of this.  At our school, it did not take a great deal of preparation for our staff to tool up for online learning. For the past five years we have used a learning management system (LMS), Canvas, and every teacher, every day, posts assignments including links or attachments to any materials necessary for students to complete the assignments. Many teachers integrate Canvas with Google classroom and a robust system for online student learning was already in place when we closed school.  

Nevertheless, this situation has demanded a high level of tech-savvy, adaptation,  and innovation. Over time, our staff, through various means, has built their capacity to leverage technology to improve student learning and develop a dynamic learning community.    We have implemented monthly Brunch and Learns for staff to share ideas and new approaches to learning. At the district level, under the leadership of our assistant superintendent, a broad range of tech-focused professional development led by our own staff is accessed by teachers.  We have embraced the EdCamp model of participant-driven professional learning. Our teachers have attended EdCamp Long Island and other regional EdCamp’s to share their own innovative approaches and learn from their colleagues. At the building level, many of our staff meetings have been organized as EdCamp-style faculty meetings at which staff facilitate critical conversations regarding student learning. We’ve also Implemented 20% Time / Genius Hour Professional Development for staff to pursue their own learning as part of our professional development program for innovative, tech-driven pedagogy. Using the Pineapple Chart, teachers invite colleagues to visit their classes as they implement new approaches to student learning.  As a result of all of this, when we implemented remote learning, our incredible teachers had already built the capacity to meet this challenge.

This is not to discount the incredible learning curve we’ve experienced as students adjust to this mode of learning. It’s extremely challenging to differentiate for students in an online space.   Two weeks in, students are still finding it challenging to adapt to a routine, learning at home without a teacher present. Parents struggle to monitor and direct their kids’ in this new and unfamiliar “digital-school”.  Staff also have had to rise to the challenge of working from home, providing online learning for students, while they balance the demands of their own families. Put simply, it’s a lot.

We are certainly not the only ones doing this kind of work. Anyone who is connected to other educators through Twitter, Facebook, and other powerful networks has witnessed the awesome work being done by colleagues in this country and indeed across the globe. I appreciate the opportunity to applaud my amazing teachers for all that they’ve done to give us a huge head start and I encourage all of us to see our present reality as part of a dynamic approach to learning that can continue even when we go back to a face-to-face environment (please tell me this will be soon!) 

Posted in Best Practice, edcamp, Educational Focus, Inside the Middle School, Leadership, learning, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My COVID Diary: Friday un-Focused

I have a friend / principal colleague who every Friday posts bulletins for her staff entitled: “Friday Focus”. Well, it’s Friday, but I’m anything but focused, so I thought I might just post some random thoughts: 

On the Peloton, the coach sometimes stops riding and just sits there encouraging you to give it your all, “Hey, you might not be able to see me, but I can see you!  If I’m going to sweat and raise my heartbeat 10 times its normal rhythm (is this even safe?), the least you could do is continue riding.” I know sometimes my high school PE teachers took a knee by my period 8 class, but they had already demonstrated the chest pass to five different classes by that time.  C’mon guys, keep pedaling.  

I can’t believe how fast the day goes when you work from home. Eight Google Hangouts, five memos, seven long phone conversations, 78 returned emails, a bike ride to the grocery store, an Andrew Cuomo press conference, dinner and it’s time for bed. And I’ve never been so exhausted in my life.   Repeat again tomorrow.

When Chad and I do the Pledge of Allegiance every day in the morning announcements, I hold up a small American flag. Do the kids have an American flag in their house to pledge? I wonder if Costco is running out of small American flags, along with toilet paper.  

I’ve seen mysePolar_Bear_-_Alaska_(cropped)lf on video too many times over the past week. Gosh, I touch my face a lot.  Maybe it’s safe for me to do that because I never leave the house and when I do it’s only for a very brief amount of time for an essential task like going to the grocery store and when I return home I wash my hands like a heart surgeon. But still, it’s like that exercise where they tell you not to think about white bears, and all you can think about is white bears. Don!! Stop touching your face.

In the absence of live sports, one of the best sports to watch in repeats is boxing.  I can’t remember who won. They have so many rematches; how could you know which is the one that Frazier won and which fight Ali won.  

Walking on the boardwalk at Long Beach with my family the other day. Saw a group of almost 25 people near the ocean, everyone seated in beach chairs in a circle, about 6 feet away from each other:

Juliet: What are they doing?

Danielle: I don’t know, I’m not sure they should be sitting together like that.

Me: I think it’s an AA meeting.

Danielle: I don’t think so.

Woman in the circle: Hi I am _____, I’m an alcoholic.

Everyone in the circle: Hi _____.

Me: God bless. Juliet, don’t stare. Let’s walk.  🙂

90267596_10157938301307976_8025673397948121088_n (2)

Nicholas’s grad pic arrived in the mail.  Handsome! That’s never gonna fit in my wallet.

Stay well, everybody.  Miss you. Have a weekend… wash your hands… please don’t touch me.

Posted in Educational Focus, Leadership, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Teaching/Learning, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My COVID-19 Diary: The “soft launch”

We are presently in the midst of the most innovative period in the history of education since the invention of the overhead projector (ah, those were heady days!).  To meet the needs of student learning in this unusual environment, the great mass of skilled and passionate educators in this country are harnessing digital tools in unfamiliar and original ways.  But sudden change is always accompanied by a certain level of trepidation. Whenever we try something new, the fear of failure always looms. I’m going to suggest something that has worked for me whenever, as a school leader,  I’ve tried new things, the “soft launch”.

When a restaurant opens, before they put up signs and advertise their Grand Opening, they often do what’s called a soft launch.  They open for business, start serving food, get the waiters used to the way the chef works in the kitchen, get a sense of which dishes people prefer, experiment with the drink menu, work out all the kinks.  The soft launch allows the restaurant to figure things out before they put their reputation on the line.

If you’ve ever been to a restaurant in this phase of development, it’s rather exciting actually. You’re trying new things, there’s a casual atmosphere of experimentation, sometimes the food is cheaper.  We once happened by accident to wander into a restaurant during its soft launch and because they didn’t have a liquor license yet, they were doing BYOB. We didn’t know, so we hadn’t brought anything with us.  The owner ran across the street and bought us a bottle of wine to have with dinner.

People are much more understanding and forgiving of imperfection during the soft launch. They recognize the passion and commitment of the people behind the restaurant, they sincerely want it to succeed. We went back to that restaurant several months later, although the food was fantastic, it was never as much fun as that first time we went.  The waiter was genuinely enthusiastic and committed to this new venture on that first visit, so what if he brought us the wrong dessert.  

I’ve used the soft launch when trying new things as a school leader.

An example:

I had some ideas about running digital student forums during this school closure, but I was unsure about some of the new features of Google Hangouts.   Specifically, I wasn’t sure how to Livestream and how to record while in a Hangout. I went onto our learning management system, Canvas, and posted an announcement, “Anybody have time for a 20 minute Google Hangout, just want to check in.”   In just 10 minutes I had 25 students in a conversation. We had fun talking about the quarantine. Kids shared how they’re getting along with remote learning. One kid even played the violin. It wasn’t smooth, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot of fun. And now I know how to live stream and record a Google Hangout.  I’ll use what I learned to do a digital PTA meeting next week and schoolwide forums for students.  

Often, on the first night a restaurant opens for their soft launch, they invite only family and friends. You can do the same thing with your innovation project. Our incredible public relations director, Denise,  was planning our first digital school board meeting. She invited the administrative cabinet to be the audience for a panel of central office leaders while they worked out the process. We had fun seeing them play with their backgrounds, adjust the volume, fix their hair, and joke around while we used the chat function.  Denise worked through 3 or 4 glitches that she wouldn’t have anticipated if we hadn’t done this soft launch before the actual public meeting. 

Harry Houdini once escaped from a straitjacket and chains while suspended by a wire 60 feet over Times Square.   Do you think this was the first time he ever wriggled out of a straitjacket while hanging upside down?  No way, he did it hundreds of times in the basement of his tenement before announcing to the public that he would do it at the most crowded spot in New York City. You can do the same thing.  For educators, these times call for our best efforts. Embrace innovation, but consider the soft launch. You’ll crush the anxiety associated with change, have fun, and learn from your mistakes.  Let me know how it goes.



Posted in Best Practice, Educational Focus, Leadership, learning, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

My COVID-19 Diary: Is there cheese?

How are you doing with your routine as you work from home?

The other day I paused and found myself doing all of the following things at the same time:

Checking emails

Slicing vegetables for dinner

Responding to an email

Checking Facebook

Cutting an apple for my daughter

Checking Twitter

Making a cup of coffee

Moving laundry from the washing machine into the dryer

Watching Andrew Cuomo on TV yelling about ventilators 

Writing a memo to staff

Writing a blog post, this post actually

I have discovered that I am doing everything and nothing at the same time.

For years I’ve read articles about protocols to follow when one works at home. Sure, I read these articles,  but I never thought it would happen. I’m a middle school principal, what am I gonna do, have all those kids come to my house? I never once thought I might be working at home. But that’s what I’m doing now.  I have to admit, if I had envisioned myself doing this, I probably would have imagined myself liking it more than I do. 

I wonder if it’s denial. 

I keep thinking that our superintendent (Hank, great leader!) is going to call me and say,  “All right Don, we’re back in business. Come on in. Email the lunch menu. The buses are rolling.” This uncertainty has stood in the way of my giving in to the new routine (see, I’m not even willing to put in writing the phrase “new normal“).  Well, the first step in recovery is acceptance. Even if Hank calls us in tomorrow, I need to make the most of today.  

Here’s one trick that’s working for me:  “Twenty minute sprints”.  

Set the timer on your watch, or on your microwave, or,  say out loud, “Alexa, set a timer for 20 minutes.”   Work on the same task for 20 minutes. When the time is up, one of three things have happened: 

  1. You’re done. Start a new task, Reset the timer.  
  2. You’re not done.  Reset the timer. Continue working.
  3. You lost your focus, for 17 minutes you looked at Twitter and checked your fridge for cheese.  Scold yourself and reset the timer. Try again (you’re still a good person) [or go out and get more cheese, then reset the timer].  


I didn’t invent this strategy, but I’m having success with it.  I envy people who are able to create daily schedules and stick to them. But everyone has to find their own routine. What works for you might not work for me.  Don’t do everything and nothing at the same time. Find your process. 

What’s your best “work from home” routine?  Please share.

Posted in Best Practice, Leadership, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Uncategorized | 2 Comments