#RelationshipsOverRules: Teachers Matter Too

In the last several months we tackled the topic of relationships over rules in the world of students. You can read that post here. This time around, we’re diving into the world of relationships over rules with teachers.

As a second year administrator, I (Brent) have a lot still to learn about how to best serve, support and care for teachers. In my 15 months that I’ve served in this capacity, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. Some small, some not so much. I’ve had staff in the building tell me how much they appreciate my support and encouragement while at the same time unintentionally doing a terrible job of supporting someone the next hallway over. I heard it said recently that students want a supportive, engaging, encouraging environment where they feel known and cared for. I would venture to say adults merely want the same.

As an administrator, I (Jeff) get a unique and humbling vantage point into the blood, sweat, and tears that teachers invest every day into the lives of kids. I try to make it my goal to ensure that I am not making the life of a teacher any harder. Sadly, I am certain that there are times I have probably placed an additional burden or expectation on the back of the teacher that caused stress. Our role as campus leaders is not positional, but rather to support teachers to be successful as they are on the front lines for kids and families.

The relationships we foster with our teachers are crucial, and in the absence of a relationship all they may see or hear are dos and don’ts  from us. Teachers need to hear us say “yes” more than “no.” Our commitment must be to treat our fellow educators as the professionals they are. As we reflect on our practice and the relationships we have with our teachers we must ask, is our end goal compliance or a commitment to high levels of school connectedness and learning.

When it comes to our relationships with our teachers we need to separate some fiction from the facts.

Separating Fact From Fiction

Fiction: The Administration and teachers are adversaries.

Fact: We are all on the home team. We must ensure that failure is never final and that celebrations for one is a win for all.

Tip: Teachers tend to react to the tone of the administration well known by the statement, “when the principal sneezes everyone catches a cold.” Let’s extend grace when mistakes are made and be quick to celebrate successes. Take the time to celebrate even the smallest of wins.

Fiction: Teachers only care about what happens inside their 4 walls.

Fact: Today’s teachers realize that collaboration is the best way for both student learning and their own. Our teachers seek to learn from others in their profession. Additionally, teachers are highly invested in sponsoring clubs, organizations, and caring about kids who aren’t even in their classes.

Tip: Teachers need the time to collaborate with other teachers. As the admin we need to fight to protect the time for this to happen whether during the school day or after. How? Let’s make sure we are not making the school calendar so burdensome that we are adding more stress. The goal is less, not more.

Fiction: Administrators are just waiting to catch teachers messing up.

Fact: Administrators are looking for opps to serve teachers. The goal is not to be the “gotcha” person on campus. The goal is to support teachers at all levels of expertise. Everyone and that means everyone (yes, including us), has room to grow and as admins, you are in the best seat to help support.

Tip: Be a coach more than a supervisor. It really is 90/10. Write a quick note or email to share a glow. This will build trust when you need to share a grow, cultivate a growth culture through earned trust.

Fiction: Teachers are uncomfortable dealing with parents

Fact: Teachers are on the front lines with parents. What teachers often need, especially new teachers, is a mentor or an administrator who will walk with them as they build their capacity to make those connections.

Tip: Communicating effectively with parents is the stuff they don’t teach in university-level educator programs. Many teachers got into the profession because they love kids but often need some guidance in connecting with parents. Make yourself an available resource to call early and often. Ofter to make the call with that teacher or to coach them through handling a challenging conversation.

Fiction: Teachers just want to be left alone so they can teach.

Fact: Teachers want administrators who will support them and give them the opportunities and tools for growth. The job of the administrator is to ensure that the teachers are the best that they can be for the students.

Tip: There are plenty of teachers doing amazing things for students. There are also some who are not. When they are, encourage them. When they’re not, coach them. Set up 1-minute meetings with all your teachers to do quick checks (consider reading “The New One Minute Manager” by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson).

Fiction: Administrators are out to get teachers when they visit classrooms.

Fact: On target admins will frequent classrooms to witness first-hand the amazing things our students are doing. In doing so, we can encourage teachers and offer support to move from good to great.

Tip: Solicit input from your teachers. Seek out what areas they’d like to grow in and where they need your guidance. Oftentimes, a teacher knows where they want to be better. It just takes an outside set of eyes to help them find practical ways to grow where it’s needed most.

So What?

The single greatest resource on our campus in the pursuit of ensuring that kid’s get the best is not the building, curriculum, or our programs. Simply put…It’s our teachers. We must remember that people don’t leave positions, they leave people. Our commitment should always be to bring out the best in our people. This will put (and keep) our campuses in the position where great teachers are fighting to get in, rather than running to get out.

In the end, yes…rules and guidelines need to be in place and adhered to. However, if we’re not up for the task of laying the relational foundation with our teachers and building positive equity, then the rules don’t mean a thing.


-Jeff and Brent

Collaborative piece co-written with Brent Clarkson. Cross-posted here


Not the Only Way: Authentic vs. Compliant Learning

“Authentic learning is not discovered in a textbook, but rather at the crossroads of contemporary societal issues and student passion.”- Aaron Duff

When I (Joshua) tell people that I am a middle school administrator, I usually get the same responses.

“God bless you!”

“I could never do that!”

Which eventually leads to,

“Have schools and students changed much?”

Often, after hearing this line of questioning, I wonder how it would be to be a middle school student now.  As a middle school student, I viewed my school as an irrelevant and inapplicable entity due to the extremely monotonous exercises, which lacked an explanation of real-world application. Each class was a carbon copy of the other and the classrooms, teachers, and students participated in similar traditional patterns and rituals. Students were observers of a dictated, fact-based instruction, which relied heavily on the use of teacher lectures, packets, and textbooks. The lessons were linear with a determined outcome. The experience proved compliance was the greatest quality for a student to possess for success.

My view of school was extremely jaded until I took a class on Shakespeare. I really don’t know the reasons why I took the course since, at that time, my reading material consisted of sports magazines and comic books. My teacher, Mr. Wasmund, had an amazing way of reading the material with passion, explaining the meaning behind the language used in the text, relating the stories to current events and creating a desire to read more. It was very apparent that Mr. Wasmund was motivated by the love for the material, the relationships built with his students and the grit shown by his students on a daily basis. The learning environment was about sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, debating confrontational topics, and performing the Shakespearean plays. For the first time, I wasn’t worried about my grade in a class. The growth of knowledge was natural. After experiencing a new way of teaching, hope began to grow in the knowledge that learning could be fun and voluntary.

Aaron Duff’s quote depicts the direct relationship of authentic learning through societal events and beliefs with student convictions, passions, and interest. If teachers can consistently establish the relevant purpose of each lesson, students will create connections between their skills, personal talents, and current issues.  The classroom is no longer a setting only to gain information. Instead, the learning environment is an opportunity to relate to real-world problems, partnered with purposeful roles, current data sources and expanded audiences for immediate feedback.

I (Jeff) have had the opportunity to spend the majority of my education career working with middle school students as a teacher and an administrator. Middle schoolers have no fear in sharing their honest opinion for good or bad about a class or teacher, call it – no filter. They never seem to mind pulling back the curtain and letting you know the teachers and content that they connect with the most. Middle school is a time when students are motivated by self-interest and as educators, rather than seeing that as a deficit, we have a tremendous opportunity to tap into the power of that potential to engage learning. Students in these middle years are passionate, curious, increasingly reflective, and are starting to question the world as they develop their own identity. This is a good thing. As Josh shared, relationships are the gateway to unlocking learning for kids today, now more than ever. Kids don’t learn from teachers they don’t like. Period. Once teachers foster the relationship, they have the power to move students towards authenticity. Let me share a few additional ways we begin to move students on the path towards engagement.

3 Ways To Encourage Authentic Engagement for Our Kids Starting Now…

Discover Rather than Cover

Often in education, we have covered a lot of material in the name of learning, throwing out curricular spitballs hoping something will stick. Great curriculum only becomes meaningful for students when the instruction engages them in the process. Using essential questions (Understanding By Design) is critical to keeping students grounded in the process of their own learning. Many educators may say they feel limited by the standards they must teach. I would suggest that we are only as limited as we are making for kids. It becomes a question of “how” you are going to teach a concept or skill that is most relevant.

One way to move students to personal engagement is through competition and gamification. For example, this past week I walked into a 6th-grade social studies classroom to witness latitude and longitude demonstrated in a friendly game of Battleship. This teacher could have used a worksheet and students would have been compliant, but instead, she met kids where they were at! They went home with a story and an experience that they will remember and ground their learning to apply to future situations.

Cross Curricular Connections

The learning becomes more authentic when it doesn’t “stand alone” for students. Our kids can easily compartmentalize content if we do not create connections or applications across broad subject areas. For example, I can remember a student saying, “ why are we talking about science in our history class? The greater question should be, “why are we not?” Our students are grounded in deeper learning when we create transference of an idea or skill across multiple contexts. Our goal should be for students to see concepts that move freely in and outside of one content area to the next. If you are not already doing this, consider how your team could move towards this alignment at least 1-2 times this school year. This could be a skill you want to strengthen such as writing across the curriculum or conceptual collaboration that all content areas can explore.

Learning Beyond the Threshold

We don’t have to struggle to create connections for our students. On any given day you can engage students by creating real-world connections through novelty and current events. We do not need to be afraid to integrate everything from fidgets to pop culture to societal struggles in our conversations with kids. They are looking to help us make sense of their world. We don’t have to act like the standards are separate and apart from kid’s experiences, because they are not. For example, are you using writing prompts that pull in current events or grappling with ethical questions that stir healthy discourse between your students?  In Denis Sheeran’s book, Instant Relevance, he further expands the practical ways to engage learners and I would encourage you to check it out!

Ultimately, students are hungry, eager, and deserve to move beyond “compliant” at worst and “comfortable” at best to embrace learning as their own. We have a captive audience every day in our schools for upwards of 8 or more hours, don’t waste a single minute. This year, let’s set a goal that we will not bore students with one more piece of seat work that is about ensuring we are keeping kids busy. Our learners need to connect their passions with meaningful experiences that translate into authentic engagement! Embrace the challenge and commit to never going back to just “ok.”

-Jeff and Josh

*this is also cross posted as a featured blog at leadupnow.com

Joshua Stamper is currently the Assistant Principal at Renner Middle School in Plano, TX. For further reading by Joshua, check out his posts at joshstamper.blogspot.com or on Twitter @Joshua__Stamper

Relationships Over Rules


I (Brent) am a former student pastor turned public educator. Upon leaving vocational ministry, I moved into a position as a teacher and coach in southeast Texas. I taught science at the seventh and eighth grade levels for seven years and loved it. However fun my science classes were to teach, science was never my passion. My passion is in helping students learn from their choices (good and bad) and grow from one day to the next. During my time that I was in the classroom, I told my students on a regular basis, “My goal is for you to be a better person on the last day you walk out of my class than on the first day that you walked in. If you learn some science along the way, that’s awesome too!” Obviously, I wanted them to learn science and I wanted to do a great job of teaching it to them. After all, that’s what I was getting paid to do and I want to be great at my job. That doesn’t mean that science was my main goal for my students.

Like Brent, I (Jeff) spent 11 years as a student pastor before I transitioned into public education. I knew the call into the classroom was about relationships and helping kids to be better today than they were yesterday. Having taught both elementary and middle school students you come to find out that meeting the basic needs of students is universal. I can remember my first year teaching 4th grade, I had a parent of one young man indicate to me that it was the first year in his young school career that he had not been sent to the office. During that year we had several one on one conversations, where being 6’ 4’’ I would crouch down to eye level, and remind him what he could do. I always shared that  I expected more because he was capable. The power of high expectations seemed to resonate equally somewhere deep inside this little guy’s mind and heart. We developed a strong relationship by the time the school year finished. Though I was teaching english language arts we were all learning what it meant to live out the art of doing life together – what it means to become better with the help of another.


As administrators, the main focus has not changed for either of us. At all. We want our students across the campus to be better people on the last day they walk out than on the first day they walked in. How in the world can that be accomplished in the role of an Assistant Principal? Don’t we just stick them in detention or suspend them from school all the time?

Behavioral struggles are something that we all deal with in our professions as educators. Do not get us wrong, mistakes will be made and there are processes in school by which we must follow. However, there has also been much damage done in the name of “enforcing the rules” which had there been a relationship pre-established would have potentially turned out very differently.

When it comes to student behavior we must separate what is fiction so we can get real about the facts.

Separating Fact From Fiction

Fiction: Kids are looking to break the rules for the fun of it.

Fact: Kids will test boundaries and want to see how the adults in their life will react.

Tip: Be patient and extend new grace every day. All kids deserve a fresh start daily. How we respond may have a ripple effect on that kid’s future actions.

Fiction: If you aren’t firm from the beginning kids will just run right over you.

Fact: Kids, not unlike teachers, will follow a leader, not a war lord. You have to build credibility and know your kids.

Tip: Build credibility with everyday conversations. As Aaron Hogan says in his book Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth, “Everyday interactions are the relational foundation that much of our work rests upon.” Know kids by name, their interests, passions, and fears. It is then you understand them when they may perhaps sit across a desk from you having that much harder conversation.

Fiction: Administrators are out to get kids.

Fact: Administrators want to support kids with a learning opportunity when they see them make a mistake.

Tip: Be on the lookout for the great things students are doing and make some noise when they do. Focusing only on what students are doing wrong will push them away.

Fiction: Rules are black and white and so the consequences should be as well.

Fact: When it comes to behavior and kids there is lots and lots of gray.

Tip: If we truly take time to get to know our students, we will begin to understand what types of conversations and consequences will best accomplish the goal of “heart change” (rather than temporary behavior modification).

Fiction: Parents are harder to deal with than the kids.

Fact: As with the kids, relationships matter. We must remember that no one will advocate for their child like that parent. It is their job.

Tip: Put as much focus on relationships with the parents as with the students. They are one of the most integral parts in a child’s education, especially when it comes to behavioral support. Students need a team.

Fiction: Kids hate rules.

Fact: Kids thrive when reasonable rules are in place. Much like an unregulated game of football, daily life would feel pretty chaotic without boundaries.

Tip: Put firm boundaries in place and follow through with them. Ensure that ample time is spent building relationships, especially with your more challenging students.

We are not advocating that rules should not exist or not be followed for the sake of building healthy, positive, authentic relationships with our student population. We simply believe wholeheartedly that the relational piece has to play a major role in the disciplinary process. If it doesn’t, you’ll never reach the heart of any kid and the result is merely temporary behavior modification. We can do better.

Crafting Courageous Conversations: 5 Maxims for Everyday Leaders

As educators, we are in the people business. Yes, we deal with curriculum and instruction daily but the currency of our profession is founded in relationships. We are also in the continuous improvement process daily and that include coaching others and having those conversations that many may feel inclined to shy away from. We can all remember that first difficult phone call or conversation with a parent. It wasn’t easy, but we survived. But, what happens when the “issue” is with a colleague?

By and large, educators are pleasers, and we don’t seek out confrontations. College may have prepared us with the theoretical constructs on many educational issues, but somewhere along the way we all missed the class on giving and receiving constructive feedback.  Yet, real understanding in how to approach, prepare for, and execute courageous conversations with others is crucial for the success of any leader.  In educational leadership roles with several decades of experience we have found “5 Maxims for Courageous Conversations”. If you are a leader you can’t avoid them.

Maxim #1: A Courageous Conversation is about crafting constructive communication, not collisions.

This first maxim is based on a presumption of wanting to see others and yourself get better, it’s all about continuous improvement.  Courageous conversations are often not welcomed, but they have the power to transform a relationship. Rather than seeing an impending collision, find the benefit in dealing with an issue head on and up front. Yes, it may be uncomfortable to discuss a problem with another person, but when it comes to the “why”, we need to have the conversation considering that the positive outcomes will outweigh the negative ones.  When sitting down with another person, be certain that your own personal intentions are grounded in finding common ground, keeping your sight set on solutions and creating a shared dialogue. ~Jeff

Bottom Line: Courageous conversations avoid creating winners or losers. You will both gain relational credibility with one another.

Maxim #2: A Courageous Conversation is one in which leader takes his/her work personally and leads with heart.

Advice to leaders entering difficult conversations is typically filled with maxims like “don’t take this personally” or to relax and “not take yourself so seriously.”  In the book Fierce Conversations, Scott asserts that these suggestions are misguided.  She, instead, urges leaders to take themselves and their work personally and seriously.  Leading courageously is “seriously personal” business.   When leaders take their work seriously personal, they come out from the behind the conversation, that is the safety of pleasantries and the futile efforts to placate others, and make it real.   

When leaders step out from behind the conversation and passionately cement their spirit at the forefront, people recognize it and respond.  Because it happens so seldom, people are touched and influenced by leaders who courageously show their true selves.  They are willing to get behind a leader who is passionate and authentic.  They are willing to take his/her words and transform them into action. ~Paul

Bottom Line: Courageous conversations are ones in which the leader takes the work seriously personal, showing his/her true self and influencing others to take action.

Maxim #3: A Courageous Conversation is grounded in clearly defined and communicated core beliefs.

Many times, leaders find themselves in a position of regret wishing they would have communicated expectations or actions earlier in a process.  Then, they find themselves in a position needing to “back-track” to the intended purpose or intention.  In his book Focus, Mike Schmoker shares the importance of being “explicitly clear” in communicating the expectations up front and throughout a process.  When the leader explains his/her core beliefs, it makes it easier for others to anticipate direction and intent of leadership decisions. ~Neil

Bottom Line: Courageous conversations about beliefs up front avoid uncertainty or misconceptions among the team.

Maxim #4: A Courageous conversation is listening for understanding, not listening to reply.

We have all been there, having that conversation with someone and feeling like they are looking past you wondering if they are even listening. Your body language, where your eyes go,  and tone in the conversation is a key indicator of if you are listening. Having a courageous conversation is about allowing both sides to give input. In order for this to happen effectively, you must resist the urge to respond to every comment or explain yourself. Every time you redirect the conversation back to you, you put the focus, well, back on you. -Jeff

Bottom Line: A courageous conversation is about active listening.

Maxim #5 – A crucial conversation is essential if we want to bring about lasting change to our school culture and school community.

In School Leadership That Works, Robert Marzano describes the difference between first and second-order change: first order is incremental, and in many cases, it can be easy and manageable.  It’s something like changes to playground supervision schedules or school dress code policies.

Second-order change requires more than just talking about a problem…it requires action…and it can be emotional.  This is why crucial conversations are so vital…they bring to the surface the uncomfortable and the difficult, and they ask us to address them in a way that will impact our school’s culture.  This is the type of change that people fight against because it is going to go against the adage of “that’s the way we have always done it.”  Bringing this level of change can be paradigm-shifting, but it can also lead to the most resistance and reticence from nay-sayers.  Thus, it requires us to reflect on whether or not this is “the hill we are willing to die on.”  If it is, this crucial conversation must be undertaken if it is going to positively impact kids and their learning. ~ Todd

Bottom line:  A Courageous Conversation is one that brings about second-order change.

Bringing It All Together

Courageous conversations are powerful opportunities to influence lasting change in a person. You should end the conversation asking if there is anything additional that they may need for support or to move forward. Your goal is to set that person up for success. When engaging in this work we need to be mindful to check our motives, remembering our goal should never be to take something from the other person but to add value.  Peter Drucker reminds, “Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people”, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

This piece was a collaborative effort on the part of the co-leaders within LeadUpNow & #LeadUpChat – Jeff Veal, Dr. Neil Gupta, Paul Erickson, and Dr. Todd Schmidt. Though we serve as administrators in four different states our commitment is the same. Together, we are committed to changing the tone of education and building capacity in the everyday leader whether in the classroom or conference room. 

Leadership That Moves Beyond Me to We

Beyond Me to We

Have you ever heard someone say, “one day when I’m the leader” or “when I can make the decisions things will be different.” They believe that the ability to influence decisions happens across a desk or podium. Many abdicate their influence by getting stuck believing that they can only truly influence other through a position. Your leadership doesn’t begin when you get THE position. If you believe you will become a great leader once you get that instructional coach position, department chair, administrative job, or central office gig, you are missing the point. We grow the capacity of our leadership and influence by the choices we make today, not tomorrow. You become a great leader because of your relationship with people, not the position in relation to others. Your leadership role isn’t about your job, it is about how you position yourself in the lives of people, your investment in them, not your actual position. Our capacity as leaders is best expressed when we understand that our position can support our effectiveness, but our effectiveness is never dependent on our position. We move others when we see that as our primary role, not to build our name but others. Allow me to share a few ways that our leadership can move others…


Every opportunity that gives you an opportunity to connect with someone you should take it. If as leaders we are inaccessible or set ourselves up that make us unrelatable then we greatly diminish our ability to be effective in other’s lives. This doesn’t mean I will be everyone’s friend, but I certainly shouldn’t attempt to make myself unlikable. There are those who would say, “I don’t need to be liked but respected.” Reality – people won’t respect you if they don’t like you. People won’t follow you if they don’t like you. People won’t stay at your school if they don’t like you. Let us not confuse fear with respect. If I stake my leadership based on what others are doing or not doing, results driven rather than relationships, it communicates a culture that values performance over people. In that type of system, people will never be able to perform enough.

Bottom line: Am I giving a compelling reason for people to stay connected and committed to our mission, school, district?


If all you do is the minimum to satisfy your job description that minimum is exactly is what you will get. Consider ways to add value to your school or organization. Lately, we have been in a series with #Leadupchat about moving from me to we, what is your critical contribution that adds value to the “We?” Take responsibility for the critical area in your position or on your team and lead with excellence. Make it a point to get better every day at what you do, guess what? You will. Why? Because it becomes a focused area of relentless pursuit.

Bottom line: How does what I do contribute to what we do as a school? Does this move the dial?


Building capacity in others doesn’t mean giving your people more tasks or work. Just like students can smell out an extension activity that is nothing more than busy work to keep them busy, we must be careful not to do that with our current or emerging leaders. Leaders understand that momentum will be maximized when one delegates authority, give decision-making permission to those around us. Let us  not confuse tasks with authority. To truly build capacity are you allowing others around you to actually make decisions. A team can never win on the shoulders of the coach, decisions and implementing those ideas have to be made on the field or court. Our ability to build capacity fundamentally starts with believing the best about others and trusting them to do their jobs. Trust your people, allow them to make big decisions with you. As a leader, you should be able to focus on fewer decisions because you are empowering others to make decisions. If you feel exhausted having to make all the decisions it may be time to reevaluate your effectiveness in building capacity in others.

Bottom Line: Do I delegate tasks or do I delegate authority?

Don’t wait to become a great leader tomorrow, start today. As Simon Sinek says, we should be the leaders we wish we had.” Commit to be a leader with high standards, who believes that your greatness is defined less by your name but through others. Why? We need you now more than ever!

10 Defining Characteristics of a #LeadUpTeach Teacher

10 LeadUp Teacher Characteristics Blog Header (1)

A LeadUp Teacher undoubtedly possesses many characteristics! Innovative, inspiring, and empowering just to name a few. What would you add to these 10 Defining Characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher?

Continually Curious

A LeadUp Teacher is adept at asking questions. What is…, how does it work, is there another way, what about this, why… and so on. This teacher asks these questions of both others and themselves on a regular basis. Never content with answers that take on a, “This is how it has always been done.” flavor. -ing the Status QuoThe LeadUp Teacher knows that questioning the status quo is their responsibility and others actually expect them to push the envelope with their questions. 

Adds Value to Others

LeadUp Teachers recognize how to relate to colleagues in all positions, and they devote quality time to listening with understanding to their needs and concerns. They are cognizant of what others value and are continually learning about those they work with in order to lead effectively. When we identify the strengths of those around us, we can uplift and encourage our team members to step forward. As we add value to individuals, areas of growth further develop and begin to strengthen due to trusting relationships, support, and encouragement. LeadUp Teachers are aware of the impact they have when they intentionally add value to colleagues.

Empowers & Celebrates Strengths

When teachers feel celebrated they recognize that their strengths contribute to the greater good and are motivated to make more of an impact. LeadUp Teachers understand that it’s not solely the principal’s role to celebrate the accomplishments of others, but grasp that as a collaborative team we share this responsibility. Model Risk Taking The LeadUp Teacher empowers colleagues by modeling risk taking, sharing, and being transparent about both successes and failures. By being willing to take the fall and share about experiences, colleagues feel a sense of security which in turn promotes them to take risks as well. Leadup teachers verbalize their belief in their colleagues and act as a support system that provides genuine encouragement.

Reflective Practitioner

Deliberate reflection turns experiences into an opportunity for growth. LeadUp teachers understand that they need to look back to move forward. They reflect by uncovering both their successes and failures in order to retool their practice. Reflection that is transparent promotes the growth of both individuals and teams as teachers share what they learned, and how they will proceed forward in the future. Leadup Teachers embrace a growth mindset and the idea that every opportunity around us, provides an opportunity to learn.

Habitual Learner 

The LeadUp Teacher doesn’t depend on others to grow or challenge them. They view professional development as a lifestyle, not an event and are always on the lookout for opportunities to learn more, do more, and be more because they know their continual growth is a critical factor to their students’ growth over time. Life Long LearnerBeing a lifelong learner is never cliché for the LeadUp Teacher, but rather is their unyielding mindset, the pervasive culture in their classroom, and encompasses a passion not quenched by compliance based professional development. George Couros explained, “To truly integrate new learning, it is critical to carve out time for exploration, collaboration, and reflection to allow educators to apply what they are learning.” This is what a LeadUp Teacher does in all areas of their life.

Ignites Innovative Practices & Embraces Shifts 

The LeadUp Teacher often serves as a catalysts for innovation as they see a variety of possibilities on how to craft diverse and unique learning opportunities that richly benefit students, and their school community. As connected educators who embrace learning from fellow educators in a variety of positions, the LeadUp Teacher is able to gain a unique perspective on shifts taking place in schools globally. LeadUp Teachers are fearless in the pursuit of what’s best for students and their school community. -ing the Status Quo (1) With a tendency to be visionary, the LeadUp Teacher identifies how they are a key player in fostering systemic change through cultivating shifts that impact school culture, instructional strategy, and ultimately student learning.

Demonstrates Courage & Voice 

Cultivating change and being a risk taker in education requires boldness. The LeadUp Teacher exhibits courage, finesse, and demonstrates a solid voice when it comes to advocating for improved practices and authentic learning opportunities for students. Before making decisions, a LeadUp Teacher always considers the impact on the whole child. When educators collaborate with an all hands on deck approach, they empower one another to demonstrate courage and share their voice.

Positive Outlook & Impact 

The LeadUp Teacher approaches life and their work with a positive outlook. They throw kindness around like confetti and their impact is one of positivity. They believe and expect the best in others, approaching challenges with positive suppositions. They reframe obstacles as opportunities to innovate rather than seeing setbacks as overwhelming defeat. Or as LaVonna Roth explained it in her Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E. presentation at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference, They know “adversities are opportunities in disguise.”

Passionate, Committed, & Purposefully Driven 

“Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights your way.” -Unknown

LeadUp Teachers are “fearless in the pursuit of what sets their soul on fire” -Jennifer Lee. They exude passion for their priorities which always center on PEOPLE first! They commit to inspiring everyone in their sphere of influence, first and foremost their students, colleagues, and families. They see what they do as  both significant and life altering. Their passion to LeadUp is not accidental or random, but a calling that drives an unwavering, unending commitment to excellence!

100% Student Focused

Doing what’s best for students is the only way a Lead Up Teacher knows how to work. Their purpose is to make the world a better place one student at a time, one day at a time. Students are at the center of their purpose, passion, decisions, and classroom. They put the needs of their students ahead of their own comfort zones, expectations, and even plans. Students are the focus of the classroom and student learning takes center stage, priority #1.

10 LeadUp Teacher Characteristics (4)
Each day we’re provided a new opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students and within our school community. Embracing the characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher has the potential to inspire passion to ignite within others, which empowers them to put forth their best. In this movement, how will you be an influencer who embraces the characteristics of a Leadup Teacher and sparks the spirit within others?

Leading Up, Elisabeth & Heidi


Loving Recklessly: Hope Within Reach

Loving Recklessly

This post was co-written with Todd Nesloney. You can find his blog here.

The Way It May Seem

It seems these days that you can’t turn on the tv, radio, or surf the web without bearing witness to another atrocity that has happened around the world.  Sometimes those events are far away and easy to disconnect from, yet sometimes they happen right in our backyard.

As more and more of these painful events have taken place, something began to happen in both of our own hearts and minds.  While talking on Voxer one afternoon, we realized how heavy recent events had been weighing on our hearts.  But even more so, the thought of love kept coming to mind.  Loving unconditionally appears reckless to a watching world.

The Way It Really Is

As men of faith, we both know the power that exists in loving unconditionally.  We’ve both seen our own lives changed when we ourselves felt the unconditional love and forgiveness of Christ.  But even more so, we’re reminded of our charge to love others. No matter how hard it may seem.

Loving without limits can be difficult to wrap our minds around. We become conditioned to see people as transactions rather than relationships. Our exchanges with others can be reduced to position or to the role that they serve in our lives rather than the most basic connection: the value of them as a person. When we fail to see the humanity and the needs of others we in a sense lose our own humanity and our way.

Our Belief About Others

What we believe about others will in turn determine our behaviors towards them. Others around us are not looking for a piece, a part, or only half of who we can be when it comes to believing the best about others. They’re looking to see that we want to bring out the best one hundred percent of the time, loving without limits, filled with the desire to see that all people are given opportunities to surpass expectations. No one likes a half-hearted commitment, so our commitment to love people must be 100%.

At the same time, deep-seated in all of us is what we believe about ourselves.  And that too affects how we interact with others.  Many times we see ourselves as unlovable, easily abandoned, or not worthy. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “we are what we believe we are.”  Because of that belief about ourselves, we don’t give others all of ourselves.  We give them pieces of who we are.  We believe that if we give too much they’ll hurt us or use it against us.

Loving without limits is allowing our arms to be wide open to embrace a radical commitment to live beyond ourselves. We must always ask, ‘what does love require of me?’

A radical commitment to…


One thing that this world can never have enough of is compassion. Compassion doesn’t come from a place of weak mindedness. It actually comes from a place of incredible strength. When you stop to help the least of these you are sharing your strength.  Being compassionate allows you to be vulnerable, a trait we need more of in our culture, not less.

We tend to overcomplicate what compassion looks like, reserving those moments for someone in times of loss or severe trial. However, what if we displayed this as servant leaders daily. Imagine if we taught this in our classrooms. We must model through our own words and actions for others what this looks like. Being generous with authentic words of praise and affirmation to those around us affirms others in ways they often will not ever communicate. For example, we have witnessed how students or teachers will hold onto that simple post it note we wrote. Why? Because you went beyond yourself and took the time to recognize their value.


Forgiveness.  Probably the most difficult of all.  So often in society today we’re taught an eye for an eye.  When someone hurts you, you’re supposed to hurt them back.  Make them feel your pain.

If there’s anything we’ve learned it’s the freeing power of forgiveness.  Because often what you find is that when you forgive someone it frees you more than it does that other person.

We don’t need to hold onto hurt.  To hold onto hate.  When we chose not to forgive we’re only making the issue worse.  One of our favorite quotes is that “hurting people, hurt others.”

Forgiveness isn’t easy.  And honestly, we don’t believe it really comes naturally.  But it’s something that is so necessary.  We have to be the one to step up and say, I forgive you. And to remember that when you forgive it’s not an acknowledgment that what the other person did was ok.  It’s a realization that what they did to you will have no hold over you.  That you’re in control of how you feel and what you believe about yourself.


Hope is not based on wishful thinking but in the power of that which is not yet becoming reality through intentional belief and action. Hope is the power to drive out fear. When we give into fear we allow anxiety and allow the darkness to cast a shadow in place of light.

All we need is just the slightest sliver of hope.  Belief that things can and will get better.  Darkness cannot hide where there is light.  Together, we can be the light in a world that often feels so overrun by darkness.

So What?

As we both came together to write this post, we wanted it to be a beacon of light. A reminder that as people we can do so much good in this world.  And though it may seem that things are dark or that darkness is prevailing, we can still be the light.

Our hope is to strike the match, that leads to a flame, the ends in a full-on raging fire.  To push forward with unconditional love.  To show compassion in every situation. To forgive quickly, even when we don’t think we can.  And most of all to hold onto hope.

Just as Margaret Mead says, “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world.  When indeed, it’s the only one that ever has.”

#Loverecklessly -Todd and Jeff