I Voted Today! What does this mean? Decision Making #engage109

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”
– Andrew Carnegie

Democracy is a value ingrained in the “DNA” of Americans. Our entire education system is based upon democratic principles, our Declaration of Independence from the British Monarchy declares our rights to be independent (men and women).  “…certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Liberty is the right most closely aligned with voting. The right to give input is a foundational right we enjoy. We apply and extend democratic principles all through the tapestry of our society.

Ten year olds “vote” for the student council (a governance model in the image of our government). Associations vote their members in for leadership positions. In the USA, we feel it is normal and just to vote for pretty much anything.

Some of you reading this will remember commercials where people voted for the better tasting soft drink on TV. Often couples will vote on which restaurant to attend. Families may vote on what colors to paint their rooms. The concept of voting, choosing, giving input is almost an assumed right as an American. The will of the majority rules so many of our institutions of government and society. The majority rule, though, is not the only rule in democratic societies. The rule of 3/5 or “super majority” as well as the rule of “plurality” (the number of votes cast for a candidate who receives more than any other but does not receive an absolute majority.)

In leadership, though, even in a democratic republic, sometimes the elected representatives vote in a different way than their constituents. This does not mean theydisregard the input, it simply means that multiple factors influence decisions.

In general, if you don’t vote can you really complain about the decisions made on your behalf? No, I don’t think so, that’s why I vote; I want to have a voice, whether it is a large voice or a small voice, whether my candidate choices win or not – at least I can say I voted! I went to the table to give my input and in some small way I contributed to our democratic way of life.

I vote for candidates who I believe will represent me, my values, my interests, and the choices I would make if I were in their shoes. I don’t expect the folks for whom I cast a ballot to always agree with me, at times, perhaps often, they will be better educated on the particular issues than I.

In the United States our government and ways of life are more Roman than Greek. That is to say we follow a republican form of government (not the political party) but it’s a representative democracy concept. We don’t employ a direct democracy where everyone gets one vote; we have a representative democracy. This means we vote for people who will represent the views of groups of people. For example, members of Congress are assigned to districts, geographic areas, representing certain numbers of people. This is why the decennial census (the population count every 10 years) is so important to political map-makers.

  • I vote in every election.
  • I vote because I can.
  • I vote because I am a free man.
  • I vote because it is my civic duty.
  • I vote because it is my responsibility as a free man to exercise this powerful right – the right to give input as to whom should represent me and my interests.
  • I vote because I hold great value in the power of representative democracy.
  • I vote because I would like to have my input considered.
  • I vote so I can share my views and values and be a responsible member of society.

One of the tenets of voting that some people overlook is that their vote is going to elect others who will represent their interests. Will those for whom I cast a ballot always vote the way I want them to? No – of course not.

Will they take my follow up input under consideration? Yes – that is the beauty of a democratic republic, the type of society in which we live. I would like everyone I vote for to become elected. But that is unlikely since there are many other voters and that is not a realistic wish. I understand this and I’m ok with this.

As a regular part of my role as the superintendent of schools, I regularly give input to our elected representatives in Washington, D.C., and in Springfield, IL. I would like them to consider my input even if they disagree with it. They may disagree in principle or they may disagree because they are better informed, or they may disagree for political reasons. They also may take my input and form, reform, or transform their beliefs!

I vote for school board members (even my own bosses!); I vote for village trustees and township trustees; I vote for friends, neighbors, colleagues, folks about whom I know a lot and at times, I vote for folks about whom I do not know a lot, but who are aligned with a political coalition I support or understand.

Many voters select based upon political party or candidate gender or candidate ethnicity. It is free choice; people can literally vote for anyone who is on the ballot (and at times they can enter a “write-in” candidate too). That is the beauty of living in a free society.

What does democracy mean in the workplace?

I consider myself to be an inclusive and collaborative leader. I seek input and views and votes from the people likely to be impacted by a decision or set of decisions. I work in an industry full of committees, viewpoints, processes, procedures, etc.

I work for an elected non-partisan school board made of seven citizens who, with me, form a governance team of 8 to manage and govern the school district. I seek input from the nearly 500 employees whom I serve and employ.

Do I always agree with every one of their votes? (no) Do I always do what the will of the majority requests? (no) The plurality (the larger number of votes when a majority is not there)? (no)

Or do I consider their input with care, concern, and respect, and make a decision based upon the combination of input, voice, votes, research, evidence, etc. YES – As a leader I truly have to balance the will of the many with the right decision – often equal or congruous with the will – but not always.

The paradox of leadership is leading with an inspired vision and per a collective plan, mission, agenda, vision, etc.

Seeking input, empowering people yet “at the end of the day” realizing that “the buck stops here” and the accountability and responsibility rests with the leader.

Not following the will of the majority is not rejecting input. Not following the will of the majority is not “not listening”. From time to time the leader must seek input, gather facts, anticipate impact and … well … lead. Sometimes leading means helping the group see a different reality than the one they think they want or the one they think is right.

Recently as part of our work, I shared committee recommendations and my administrative recommendation to the Board of Education (there were sometimes differences in the committee recommendation and my ultimate decision). These examples about which I refer are from the 2013-14 Superintendent’s Task Force for Middle Level Education. This coalition of students, parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders, and board members, a 140 member stakeholder community engagement group, made recommendations for improvement to our middle schools.

I took input from many, shared the input publicly, reviewed a number of factors, synthesized the priorities and make a recommendation. For the elective areas I took all the votes/input and I made a recommendation with some differences. The input continues to guide decision making and resource allocation. The STEM team recommendations were accepted 100%.

The challenge of a leader in a democracy is to respect input and consider the votes and then decide what is in the best interest of the many and to lead. The leader may know more and be able to see around corners the people cannot yet see. The leader often needs to have vision beyond the past experiences and limits of the group. The leader needs to lead and challenge the process and manage the change process.

Does your vote and your input guarantee that your choices will be advocated? No – just like the village trustee for whom I cast a ballot will vote his/her conscious when employees give input, or vote, if you will, they are giving input to the representatives who will ultimately decide what action to take. Your vote does guarantee that your views will be at the table and respectfully reviewed and considered!

What does a leader do when the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and the future for which he is leading requires systemic unlearning? Well … with compassion and conviction, he leads.

I’m proud I voted today.

I’m proud that the educators with whom I work continue to share voice, vote, values, viewpoints and vision.

I’m proud to share the Deerfield Public Schools District 109 new Strategic Plan later this month.

The mission, vision, guiding principles, portrait of a graduate, goals, objectives and action plans have been carefully prepared, reviewed, planned, and considered.

The Strategic Plan is created by reviewing input of more than 1700 stakeholders – those who voted in surveys have their voice represented. Those who participated in focus groups have their voice represented. Those who Engage, Inspire and Empower have their voice represented as we “rebrand” and “re form” our educational organization for the next several years.

Assessment is far more than a grade – A caring teacher’s impact on me


“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
– Benjamin Franklin


With President’s Day approaching (February 20, 2017) I thought it would be a good time to share some thoughts about how a college professor from an undergraduate course on the American Presidency from many years ago impacted my life and my professional journey. A journey that currently has some powerful meaning/relevance with our district’s move to standards based grading and reporting at the middle school. With this blog post, I’ll draw the connections!

As a former 6th and 8th grade social studies teacher (U.S. history, civics, law, world history, reading, etc.) I have a deep interest in our nation’s culture, history, values, beliefs, celebrations, etc. In addition, I hold a degree in political science, so I have been a “policy wonk” for many years, and to this day I follow the news, politics, etc. With President’s Day approaching I am reminded of the powerful impact a professor’s act of kindness and care from many years ago and from an undergraduate course on the American Presidency.

While I was a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, UIC, I had some of the best teachers in my life. The late Dr. Twiley Barker Jr., Dr. Kevin Lyles, and Dr. Andrew McFarland, to name a few. During a course on the American Presidency, POLS 229, an event took place in my life that impacted my philosophies, beliefs, and actions as a teacher and educational leader over the past 25 years. In some ways it likely shaped my philosophies and impact as a teacher and as an educational leader so many years later. Right now there is a current challenging transition from percentage grades to standards based grades at the middle school level in my district. Looking back at my personal educational history, I’m reminded of why meaningful feedback, teacher /student relationships, and the mastery of content and the flexibility of instruction supersedes any percentage grade or mark in terms of meaningful feedback and communication about learning.

In our district right now we are engaged in a transformation/change process with learning, teaching, grading, reporting and assessing. The implementation of standards based grading, reporting and assessment is ongoing in our school district; there were pretty much no problems when we made the change at the elementary school level (K-5) four years ago.

This is the first year of the middle school implementation of the standards based system, the transition is challenging in part because there is confusion and inconsistency as well as the fact that it is change and that in and of itself causes challenges.

One of the cornerstones of transitioning to standards based learning, grading, etc. is the mindset shift and the concept shift. For example, with the concept shift of instructional change, the zero goes away. The concept of NO MORE ZERO grades and the concept of mastery (or do-over) becomes the focus. Grades/reporting/assessment results are NOT used for “responsibility” or “reward” or “preparation for the next level in education”, instead grades/reporting/assessment results are used to communicate what is learned, what needs to be learned and what is next to be learned. With this blog post, I’m reflecting on the congruity of an impactful event in my life during an undergraduate course, and the realization that this impactful event has impacted my beliefs whether I consciously knew about it or not. This is an “aha” moment for me – this is partially why I so strongly believe the growing pains and transition are worth the time, effort, energy, and extra work involved in the middle school standards based grading situation.

Change is hard (I’ve written a lot about the change process) – Unlearning is hard (I have also written about this concept).

My college professor Dr. Andrew McFarland gave me a chance in the “real world” -when I was in college. Because he knew me, he knew what kind of student I was – he knew my passion for political science he treated me like I was more than a percentage or a score. Dr. McFarland also taught so that students would learn. He had high standards for each and every student and he held himself to high standards too.

So what is this all about? What is this big event that caused me an “aha” moment? Dr. McFarland called me one night while I was eating dinner with my parents; it was 5:30pm – I don’t know how I remember this fact, but I do. This event took place in 1988 or 1999 and I still vividly remember our call!

He called me that night because earlier that day when I took the final exam, I inadvertently forgot to answer one or two additional questions. If Dr. McFarland graded or assessed based on the “old” system I would have received an F. Dr. McFarland, though, was using standards based learning and instruction (whether he or I knew it or not). He called me on the phone and asked me to respond to the final exam question prompts – for 30 maybe 60 minutes. Because he cared about learning – not about percentages or “harsh” lessons, I was able to demonstrate mastery and competency of the American Presidency course (in which I did earn an A, not only because of what I learned, but more importantly, because my professor cared about discovering what his students knew).

He assessed my knowledge acquisition in an alternative learning setting because my teacher was more concerned about assessing my learning and mastery than he was about issuing a grade or a percentage. Had this caring professor used traditional methods I would have failed the exam. In my opinion and in my experiences, standards based grading, reporting, learning, and assessment actually prepares people for real life by holding them accountable to learn. Thank you Dr. McFarland!

You see, opponents to mastery grading, or standards based grading & reporting systems think the “old” 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50 percentage system somehow makes sense (it does not) and somehow prepares people for “the real world” (it does not) or prepares them for high school/college.

Well it doesn’t do any of that; but it’s hard for people to unlearn what they know and what they think they know.

It’s hard for people to accept new research studies and effects when those new studies and effects are different than what they experienced.

Our district will transition and in partnership with parents, teachers, administrators, and students, we will do what is best for students. I’m grateful to a wonderful college professor who made a lasting impact on me. A teacher’s impact is lasting and forever; let’s use grades, reporting, and assessment to build strong learned people. Let’s use modern instructional strategies to maximize the impact and effect. Let’s help people unlearn practices that make no sense other than to have been used in their past school experiences. Preparing students for the future world requires teaching them content that is meaningful in learning environments that are powerfully purposeful and full of clear, regular, meaningful feedback and opportunities to learn and demonstrate learning.

5 Minutes in 5th Grade – Podcast of Student Voice – #Engage109

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Many years ago when I taught 8th grade students U.S. history and reading at Blackhawk Middle School in Bensenville, Illinois, the team of teachers with whom I worked grappled with the home/school communication conundrum. We did not have ready access to email or blackhawkmiddleschoolwebsites back then, and we did not always have the most compelling “packets” and paper reminders going home.

So we set up a weekly communication for the parents called “Behind the Nothing”. This was a letter which was a letter written by each student each week for their parents to see and learn what the students learned that week.

You see for most of our students, back then, when their parents would ask, “What did you learn today at school?”, the student would almost always reply, “nothing”. So we decided to create a communication from the student voice and from the student perspectives as a new way to inform their parents what they were learning! Well . . . a lot has happened in education, communication, and technology since 1993 when I first started teaching! Of course students were learning then and they are learning now!

In today’s blog post I’m sharing 5 minutes in 5th grade, a five minute podcast withwhatdidyoulearn students telling the listener what they learned at a recent outdoor education experience. Today’s teacher is equipped with far more tools for communication than the teacher of 1993. Using the application AudioBoom, I recorded the student’s voices on my iPhone. Click the link below to spend 5 minutes in 5th grade!

Special thank you to Dr. Dave Sherman, Ms. Megan Chin, Ms. Keidan, Ms. Kramer, and Mr. Templer and their awesome South Park School 5th grade students!


Reflections from a Book Study – Khan Academy – #Engage109

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
– Randy Pausch


bookstudyThere are many ways to lead professional learning for staff. Often there is a meeting of the whole staff, a team meeting, a department meeting, an in-service, a conference, online learning, etc. From time to time in our district we engage in book study experiences to learn together, share common experiences, engage and interact with one another, and participate on their own time.

Recently at Kipling School the principal Anthony McConnell invited me and some other central office administrators to participate in a book study with his staff for Sal Khan’s oneworldschoolhousebook The One World Schoolhouse. This is a professional learning activity in which members of team can engage at any time and at any place is an activity that inherently differentiated. I was happy to be invited and I was happy to contribute.

Every few days another staff member writes a post from one part of the book and several other staff members write comments about the postings. It’s really powerful learning to see, read, think about, and begin to understand the multiple perspectives emerging from the shared experiences of reading this book from an EduRock Star! Khan Academy programming is in use in our schools, in other schools where I have served, and quite frankly, all over the world. Khan’s experiences, origins, purposes, and mission motivates educators and educational leaders at all levels in all settings.

This is a link to the blog with the current post listed first; and then all other posts follow. My section was on an early part of the book: No Frills Videos, Focusing on the Content – cornerstones of Khan’s experiences, background, and methods. I’m sharing excerpts of this post below:

Khan started out tutoring his cousin and using basic technology for the purpose of assisting his efforts at tutoring. He did not set out to become a phenomenon, though he did! Khan aimed to bring back fun to learning. The chalkboard (represented virtually by the black background on which he draws) symbolizes perhaps a simpler time when school was fun. My hope is that school is fun everywhere and every day! My hope is that Khan’s influence in bringing fun and joy back to school permeates the walls of our district and districts all over.

Khan’s videos started out as “no-frills” in part because he was simply tutoring a few people and in part because he is a self-Khanphotodescribed austere person (page 27). What flows throughout the book (and not to get too far ahead of my part here …) is a research and evidence base. Khan’s work and the successes he and the Academy enjoy are actually grounded in research, evidence, study, and affirmation. Though he appears to start out whimsically, he shares small nuggets of evidence and research as the base for his decisions. For example, in this chapter, he spends a few pages identifying why the length of his videos rests around 10 minutes.

I encourage readers to check out the public book study (everything on the internet is public of course) as well as consider my endorsement of Khan’s book as a worthy read!

For more on my experiences with the Khan Academy, and our district’s future focus and commitment to innovation and change, please see earlier posts from this blog:

Online Learning Tool-The Khan Academy from 9/3/2013,

More on the Future of Education – What is School For? from 11/2/2015

The overall purposes of all of these blogs, study groups, books, videos, opportunities and learning is to improve educational opportunities for children and teaching opportunities for staff!


Let’s continue to push the envelopes of change and create new and better realities where we unlock restrictions on learning and we unleash the power of synergy in our classrooms, board rooms, and communities!


Through learning opportunities like this blogging book study, we get to learn with and from one another while gaining new perspectives on current trends. It’s a great experience and I applaud the leadership and staff at the school for letting me tag along on their journey!

Communication is Essential – Leadership in #ENGAGE109

“In union there is strength.”
– Aesop

I’m proud to share via the blog a recent Journal article I co-wrote with Dr. Brian Bullis and Dr. John Fillipi, principals at Charles J. Caruso Middle School and Alan B. Shepard Middle School, respectively, in Deerfield Public Schools District 109.

We have focused on organizational culture as a core foundation of our leadership and service.

Please click the image below to link to the article (also linked here)

Our article starts on Page 44
Our article starts on Page 44


We seek input on a regular basis through various modes of collection, including, but not limited to: