BrandEd comes to WPED – We’re talking Student Voice!


Gwen and I had the honor and pleasure of having Joe San Felippo and Tony Sinanis join us to discuss Amplifying Student Voice. We discussed not only the importance of developing student voice, but how to use that valuable information by putting it into action. Both guests share their own experiences where student voice has not only influenced but changed their schools and districts for the better.

Dr. Tony Sinanis is the principal of Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho, NY. Cantiague was named a 2012 National Blue Ribbon School and Tony received the 2014 New York State Elementary Principal of the Year Award and the national 2013 Bammy Award for Elementary School Principal of the Year. Joe Sanfelippo, PhD is the Superintendent of the Fall Creek School District. Prior to taking on his current role, he was an Elementary Principal in two rural school districts. #GoCrickets!

For more Tony and Joe, check out their BrandEd homepage at Bam Radio where you can listen to their variety of programs:
You can also buy their books – Principal Professional Development: Leading Learning in the Digital Age and The Power of Branding: Telling Your School’s Story on Amazon.Com.

Quick link to the program Amplifying Student Voice:


How We Dumped the Culture of Compliance and Encourage Real Learning


“In a true culture of learning, titles go away.”

This is not just a politically correct phrase. It isn’t even limited to a school environment. The #COLchat team (Michele, Rod and Adam) share what the culture of learning is, isn’t and how they have worked to achieve it in Swartz Creek.


They used the “R” word. Talked about compliance. Shared their learning.

Within minutes of first joining a #COLchat conversation, you can tell, this trio, truly believes in those 3 words…culture of learning. They walk the walk and lead by example. For that very reason, it is an honor to have them join us on #ParentED for How We Dumped the Culture of Compliance and Encourage Real Learning.

After pouring through thousands of archived tweets, the #COLchat team has put together the 12 components for building a culture of learning. #COLchat to Action, will be released, September 1!

WPED – Encouraging a Passion for Life-Long Reading with JoEllen McCarthy


We had the pleasure of speaking with JoEllen McCarthy (@JoEllenMcCarthy) about encouraging a passion for reading on our latest WPED program. Aside from the plethora of information that JoEllen has at her fingertips, she has a magical way of delivering it with enthusiasm and fun! If you haven’t had the opportunity to see her present, do yourself a favor and mark your calendar for any upcoming events. Her website with dates, blog posts, and many links to the resources she shares can be found here:


Check out our latest program where we discuss encouraging a passion for reading for all students. We talk about the importance of a learning community that incorporates teachers, students, and parents. Also discussed is the transition from elementary to middle school and the needs students have as they grow. Resources are shared throughout the discussion – making this a fun-packed, information rich program!





Creating a Warm and Friendly School Environment

Unable to sleep or eat. Chewing at the fingernails. Hyperactive. Silent. Emotional. Just a few symptoms a student may have leading up to the first day at a new school, or even classroom. Let’s face it, that first day can be scary…and not just for the student, but the parents too.

But, as school leaders (be it admin, teachers, or parents), it is our job to ensure that once they step foot into our schools (and hopefully before because our reputation precedes us), that anxiety dissipates.  Our schools should not ever feel scary or intimidating for any student, family…or staff member. To create a thriving learning environments, we need to create safe learning environments. Carrie Jackson and her Timberview MS team have done just that. She shared with us HERE on our ParentED program a few ways they not only create a warm and welcoming environment, but also what they have recently begun to do to create, build and strengthen relationships in AND between grade levels.

To continue learning from Carrie and her team…you can follow them on Twitter at @Jackson_Carrie, @TimberviewMS and their hashtag #TMSHawkchat.


Lessons Learned


Considering I have 4 blog posts written but not posted over the last month…I think I am going to just start posting without editing (content). So apologies it isn’t pretty, but if I start to edit…it will join the others of “to be posted…someday’s.”

One of my favorite things to watch is a group of kids, of all ages and skill levels, who don’t know each other prior, form a pick up ball game. Having 3 children, and spending lots of time at the baseball fields, I’m am blessed to have seen a few. The kids form teams, set ground rules and have a great time playing…with little thought or stress. It isn’t perfect. They may have differences in opinion, but they’re resolved and the game goes on. They don’t lose sight of why they’re there. AND…although they aren’t there to formally “get” anything out of it, they leave having learned so many valuable life-long skills that cannot be taught from a textbook…nor can they be measured or assessed.

I have immense respect for all the volunteer coaches out there. Coaching takes lots of energy, can be time consuming to do it well, and you go into it knowing you will most likely upset people for one reason or another. I have been on both sides (parent-spectator and coach) and have lived the struggles from both perspectives. Tonight an issue came up at my son’s baseball game where adults got in the way of the game (if just for a minute). I fully understand why the adults were upset tonight, but in the end it didn’t change anything. In the heat of the moment, we may believe we are standing up for our kids and/or team. We need to do a better job of taking time to stop and think about what we are choosing to argue. What (and who) really wins at the end of this? I’m going to bet our kids lose every time, in more ways than one.

As adults, we have so much to learn from kids. Below, in complete middle-of-the-night-thoughts random order, are a few things I have taken from watching these kids:

  • Recognize individuals for their unique strengths and weaknesses – but don’t hold it against them.
  • Keep “the why” at the center
  • Welcome any and all who are interested in joining in…no prior connections needed
  • Cheer everybody on…even those on the opposing team
  • Laugh, laugh and laugh some more
  • Take with you a lifetime of memories and new friends
  • Communication is crucial…you have to talk to and hear one another
  • Jump in and get to know others…you never know what may grow from it

Choose Not To Be Color Blind

Henri Martin - Vallee du Vert en Aval

This week I went home to visit family. It is a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains and filled with lots of people who look like me and many who even have the same religious beliefs. In my 12 years of school there, I can probably count on one hand the number of people I knew that were “different” from me.

While there, I got into a conversation with someone that led to them saying they were “color blind”. In a way, the statement didn’t surprise me. I didn’t know this person really, but in my years spent in the valley, people were always polite, gracious and respectful to all. AND — looking back, I’d say pretending to be blind to any differences. We weren’t to point out differences. We didn’t discuss them. We were to act as if we were all equals and the same.

Well, I am all for the equal piece. We are all humans with the same basic needs. We all should have the same rights and opportunities…regardless of the color of our skin, language we speak, clothes we wear, or size of our bank accounts. But, we are not all the same, nor do I believe we should pretend we are. I am not saying we need to treat individuals differently because they aren’t like us – but acknowledge, understand and respect the differences.

In ignoring differences (of any sorts), I feel we are expecting everyone to conform to the same beliefs or ways, risking sending a message that different equates to a bad thing or that discussing differences guarantees confrontation. In the case of the community I grew up in, I don’t believe it was intentional (and sure that is the same for others too). But what do we gain from this?

Today, I am raising my children in an environment unlike the one I grew up in. First, teaching them that different is not bad, and sometimes it can be quite awesome (while fully understanding that being “like” someone else is comforting at times). We don’t need to highlight differences all the time, but we also should never be ashamed of them.

Second, I don’t ever want my children to be “color blind” (or blind to anything). I want them to see people for who they are. See life and perspectives like, and unlike, their own; be it foods, beliefs, ways of life, struggles one faces, or things that make one happy. Get to know others and understand why they say and/or do what they do. Respect other’s choices and make a decision to associate with them because of who they are as individuals.

My why? I hope it opens their eyes and allows for them to better connect with the world outside of their bubble, making them much more empathetic human beings. Just a few weeks ago, my littlest guy told his brother who had just complained about a bathroom that, “at least there was a toilet,” because his friend came from a country where the toilet was just a hole in the ground. I don’t want my kids to settle for a less sanitary bathroom because they know that – but I think it helps put things in perspective.

So, I hope fewer people are color blind (or blind to any differences). I hope that we see the colors. Recognize that each individual has different needs. Celebrate and encourage people to share their unique perspectives, talents and strengths for others to learn from them. Just as the collection of many dots of unique color create beautiful mountain scene in the above painting; it is the collection of many unique individuals that make our communities and organizations resource and knowledge rich.

Above painting by Henri Martin

Thoughts and a Thank You


In recent weeks I’ve heard a parent say to me that they chose not to attend an educational conference because they feared they wouldn’t have been welcomed. I’ve heard of parents who have not engaged teachers in conversation because they felt they wouldn’t be heard. I know this isn’t one-sided. There are plenty of educators out there that make similar comments about parents…and ones that I have met that seem to have little respect for what a parent can contribute. But we do ourselves, children and schools a great disservice to make blanket statements and/or assume all are the same. I’m not minimizing the perceptions. They are valid and I know that individuals exist on both sides fitting those roles. But you will never know of the great individuals out there if you don’t give them a chance. (And I’ve found there are far more great ones than not – especially at Edcamps!)

In the last 12 months, I have met in person (and virtually) so many wonderful educators from all over. They’ve welcomed me into their conversations, respected my contributions, and always willing to share their knowledge and/or advice whenever needed. I am not an educator by profession. I’ve never studied to be one. I am a parent. A parent who just like all the other parents out there, want nothing less than the best for my children and all the other children out there. I know that we cannot accomplish that by pointing fingers or blaming others, and we cannot do it alone. So please don’t shy away from a phenomenal opportunity to learn with and from others, or from a conversation because you fear what an individual from “the other side” might say or how they might act. There always needs to be someone to take that first step, open that door or extend that hand. Why not be that one? Model for others what it means and looks like to put personal differences and agendas aside and choose to do what is best for kids. Choose to not only point out where improvements can be made, but also be willing to make those improvements happen, AND celebrate the successes.

As we go into 2015, I look forward to continuing to meet more great individuals out there doing amazing things for kids and schools. I hope to see more parents participating in the conversations about education (be it in a school, on a chat or in a setting such as Edcamp). Less of a line between the two sides, and definitely fewer remarks like those at the beginning of this post.

Thank you to the many educators that I have been so honored to chat with, meet in real life, work alongside, and present with this last year. You all are nothing less than amazing! Thank you to the parents (and those filling that role) who have chosen to be part of the conversations and learning. You all are an inspiration to others.

Have a wonderful holiday season (what remains of it) and a safe and happy new year!

Parent Involvement or Parent Engagement?

This conversation comes up over and over. Are parents involved or engaged in their child’s education? But does that label matter?

blog pic

Looking at these pictures can you tell which parent is engaged vs involved? Neither can I. Why? Because a word doesn’t (and shouldn’t) define them. Actions do; and unless we looked at what these individuals do at school AND home with their children…we cannot tell. So as a parent, how do I define involvement and engagement? First, neither is defined by how much or how little one is physically present at school, the events and/or activities.

Parent Involvement: In my opinion, it’s participation that has a start and finish time. For example, signing off that a child has read 20 minutes, attending a classroom activity, volunteering at a concession stand for a few hours. It is participation that doesn’t require digging deep to have background knowledge in order to participate. I can honestly say, I have no issues with parents that are at this level. I get that some people do not have the time, or energy to exert, to do anything more than that…and I know that their child is happy to have any little time they are able to contribute.

Parent Engagement: This is that next step. I see engagement as requiring one to ask more questions, provide additional learning opportunities outside of school. These parents are finding resources, engaging in conversations and/or reading how they can better, advocate for, and support their child’s education. They are part of the decision-making conversations that impact the student, school and/or district.

So now that I have defined them, what does this label accomplish? It isn’t a motivator to change behaviors, nor does it provide opportunities for engagement. Engagement is a product of actions. One is not an engaged parent, nor an educator opening the doors for engagement by simply using a label. So I’m not saying a difference doesn’t exist, but I don’t think the label is worth spending more time on then the actions you’re doing to make it possible. The label isn’t going to provide a child with a superior education. What we do will.

So I say, take the time you are spending putting a label on the parent, and use it to plan how to move involvement to engagement. Educators, what are you doing to set the stage for parents to be engaged? Parents, what are you doing to take responsibility for, and partnering to help educate and advocate for your child? It is these actions that will make a difference.

What Makes a Parent Leader?


The more I hear parents say that they didn’t think they could do or have a say in  x, y or z because they are just parents, the more I realize the importance for someone to be there to say, yes you can.

Serving as a parent leader isn’t just about planning meetings and recruiting. When I first took my position I didn’t want to ever be referred to as the president of our group. I preferred to simply inspire and contribute, in the same way I always had, alongside all the other parents. I believe it does not matter how wonderful of an idea you have, if those around you don’t support or practice it, it is nothing more than an idea (and ideas alone don’t make you a leader). I don’t know that I will ever come to feel comfortable with the titles…but I have come to see that that role for one, is not a role only one person fills. There can be many. Although a HUGE part, it is more than someone who is willing to just work beside others. It is also (in no particular order, other than how the thoughts passed through my head)…

Someone who is willing to step out from the crowd, at times, to push the group to be better or achieve more, based on community needs. Someone who chooses to expect more and not just the status quo.

Someone who understands the importance of building relationships with not only the families in their community – but also the school principal, staff and beyond. A positive relationship is what helps you work together as a team. I’m not saying a parent group can’t achieve a lot on their own – but in the last year of going through times of not having that strong, positive relationship with our building (not me alone – but our parent community), I saw firsthand the impact it has on what we can achieve. We cannot do it alone. The parent group and school achieve more by working together.

It requires you to not only set an example of how to build partnerships – but also share (and share often) why those partnerships are so important. These partnerships go beyond your building. They are with the others in your district and community. I don’t think they prevent building level achievement – but I do think they can amplify them.

It is someone who remembers to see things from an outsider’s perspective or view point. To be realistic at times, but also wear the rose colored glasses often.

For those using social media, it is setting the example of how to use it, and having no fear in asking and reminding others to follow suit. Personally, I take that beyond our building because social media has no boundaries or walls.

It is someone who can have those difficult conversations. Every single one of these things on this list will require a conversation that you would much rather ignore or run from (and that would be the easiest option). But the easiest option is almost never the best.

To love learning. This might be a deal breaker for me. You cannot lead if you do not love to learn. Leading requires constant learning both from your experiences and how to address and work with the  new challenges, and/or individuals, that come with each new day.

Passion. This (at least for me and those I know) is a volunteer position. There is no paycheck…no money to serve as a motivator.

Someone who has the ability to say no. This one I often fail miserably on – but have become far better in the last year. There’s no way to do everything, everyone asks…no matter how much you want to. I have begun to pick my battles and say yes to those things I have the most passion for.

And finally, someone who has a strong support system. People that you can depend on, to support you emotionally, serve as a resource and also not be afraid to tell you no or when you’re wrong. Last night (as I have said many times), I would not have taken on this role without having a support system…and there is no way I would have been able to continue without them. From those who are literally my physical neighbors, to those that are a tweet, DM, message or vox away…they are my strength and oxygen.

So now I realize this is a crazy long list of qualities, and I thought about editing them for the most important ones (in my opinion) – but I can’t choose (and this post has now been sitting on my screen for a week). These though, they all just seem to be uber important to me. I don’t believe one is strong in all of these, all of the time; but possesses these qualities more often than not. Your thoughts? Would you take any off? What would you add?

Brighten Someone’s Day



This past week I took my kids to a well known fast food chain. Not something I do often, but I was tired and so were the kids…not sure any of us would have held up long enough to sit in a restaurant. From the minute we walked in, we were greeted by a smile and warm welcome by this employee. After placing our order we waited…and waited, for our food. Two mins became almost fifteen. I can tell you, after a long day of being out, there was a reason why I gave in to fast food…it because we would get our food fast. Each passing minute, I feared we were closer to one of my children melting down. They were like little ticking timebombs. Every few mins this sweet girl would check on our food and us. When it was finally ready, she apologized and offered us a free dessert.

Whether she knew it or not, this girl working behind the counter controlled this conversation. Although normally all smiles, today I was tired and done. This lovely girl could have followed my lead, taken our order and simply blamed the delay and my dissatisfaction on someone else. But she didn’t, she set the tone and steered the conversation and experience in a positive direction, starting with her smile, and although I passed on the dessert offer, her genuine concern during our wait was much appreciated. In the end it was not what I got, but the experience I had. She not only prevented me from becoming upset over the longer wait, but she had improved my mood overall. For that I thank her.

When dealing with others, I think we need to remember that it isn’t only what we do for them, but how we do it. We have the power to change someone’s mindset, brighten their day…starting with something as simple as a smile. How we greet others, from our body language to the words that come out of our mouths, can set the tone for the conversation going forward. Empathy and patience, can do as much for the conversation as our actions.


“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile,

but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh


A space for thinking, reflecting and sharing about education -- and the odd other thing...

Ingvi Hrannar

Icelandic educator, iPad 1:1 classroom, speaker & entrepreneur.

Penn-Finn Learnings 2013

Sharing our inquiries - March 23-30


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