Five Trust-Destroyers to Avoid

Five Trust-Destroyers to Avoid

A colleague and I were talking about the importance of trust during a phone conversation the other day. After we ended our call, I continued thinking about the role of trust in education.

If trust exists in all of our relationships at school–with parents, with students, among staff–we get to focus on doing good work for students and communicating the good work we do.

If trust doesn’t exist in all of our relationships, we end up spending an inordinate amount of time explaining, defending, and questioning each other. That takes away from the time we have to focus on doing good work for our students.

When someone I don’t trust asks me to do something or tells me something, my mind starts racing with questions…

“Okay, that’s what she said but what did she really mean?”

“What is he trying to get me to do?”

“There’s got to be more to the story, I wonder what it is?”

“Is she trying to tell me something?”

“What’s the hidden agenda here?”

Even when I am asked to do a super reasonable thing that makes complete sense, if I am asked by someone I don’t trust, these questions run through my head.

On the flip side, if I am asked do something that is completely out of my comfort zone by someone I trust, I often will do it without question.

I knew trust was important before that conversation with my colleague, but I never thought about it in terms of efficiency and emotional health. Trust is not just important, trust is the platform we must have to do our best work for students.

Merriam-Webster defines trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” If we want others to feel like they can rely on our character, ability, strength, or truth, we will want to avoid these five trust-destroyers:

  1. Being a salesperson. Think of the last salesperson you met at a furniture store or a car dealership. Do you jump for joy as they approach you, thinking that they have your best interests in mind? Effective leaders are not salespeople. They do not concern themselves with getting “buy in” from their staff because they are too busy working side-by-side when making decisions. These leaders are focused on developing mutual understanding of the why before they get to the what and how.
  2. Having hidden motives. When I first became the principal of Quincy Elementary, I distinctly remember teachers searching for my hidden motives. When I would share an article, individuals would wonder if it was aimed at them. I hadn’t built trust with the staff yet, so of course they wondered if I meant what I said. It takes time to establish enough trust for others to believe that you mean exactly what you say. And leaders must mean exactly what they say, all the time.
  3. Being passive aggressive. Oh man, can you even imagine a leader using passive aggressive tactics? Indirect insults, sarcasm, and giving the cold shoulder are a few of the behaviors that passive aggressive people use to send a message without direct confrontation. There is no trust when this happens. It seems obvious to say that leaders should avoid this at all costs and that passive aggressive people should not be leaders. If you think you might have a passive aggressive leader, this article may help.
  4. Making general statements to groups of people that are really only aimed at a few individuals. It makes it like a guessing game, called, “Who is our leader talking to this time?” One of the main problems with this game is that often the best and brightest mistakenly think it is aimed at them. These people are always self-evaluating and trying to get better, and they are dying for feedback. So, they take this feedback and run with it, even though it isn’t intended for them. And, they probably are feeling awful about themselves because of it.
  5. The sandwich method. Full disclosure, I used to do this when I first became a principal. I would give a staff member a compliment, then talk about the area for improvement, then give another compliment. I noticed a really bad trend in my conversations with staff:  they were always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even when I was just giving them a compliment, they were waiting for the area for improvement to follow. This strategy makes compliments meaningless and risks being unclear about the area for improvement.

To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved. -George McDonald

Let’s grow together as trustworthy leaders.

What questions go through your head when someone you don’t trust asks you to do something or gives you feedback?

What other trust-destroyers do you work hard to avoid?



The Path to Serendipity

The Path to Serendipity

I bolted upright from my dream, gulping for air. The tears began to flow and soon I was sobbing.

In my dream, my mom was alive still, but very sick. I had a moment alone with my dad and I asked him, “Does mom have to die?”

“Yes,” he responded.

It’s been almost six years since my mom passed away, and that ache of that loss still rocks me to my core. It can still be so raw and gut-wrenching. And it is such a blessing.

I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am thankful for a mom I loved so much and who loved me and my siblings with everything she had. I wrap myself around the pain that losing that deep love brings. Because it reminds me of the gift she was. It reminds me of the gifts she gave me. I was blessed by her love and I am blessed by the pain that losing that love brings.

I am so excited to publish The Path to Serendipity this spring, and am honored when people ask me what the book is all about. This is what the Path to Serendipity is all about.

It is about finding serendipity in our deep losses, in the things that challenge us, the things that bring us great joy. It is about stumbling upon the treasures that each of these experiences brings.

The origin of the word serendipity comes from a fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip who set out to impress their father by living as common people. They saw the hardships the common people faced, but they also saw that embedded in the challenges are lessons and joys–things you cannot enjoy without first experiencing the hardship. Serendipity is embracing that we can stumble across beautiful things in every experience we have, if we open our hearts and our eyes to them.

The Path to Serendipity is focusing on the lessons that each experience holds, fostering positive and strong relationships with the people around us, and understanding that in this crazy world there is ALWAYS something within our control–ourselves.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, it is a dream-I-never-dared-to-dream come true. I cannot wait to share The Path to Serendipity with you this spring!

Here is some early praise for The Path to Serendipity:

It is really something special – I love it!  I want to give copies to all of my friends. It is smart, genuine, clever, funny, and it touches my heart.

-Shelley Burgess, co-author of Lead Like a Pirate

In her book, The Path to Serendipity, Allyson Apsey provides a road map for educators to find joy, compassion, and new perspectives at school and in their personal lives. Her transparency and openness allow the reader to peer into her heart and share her joys and her sorrows with lessons learned through her journey as an educator. If you’re seeking new ways to help students and searching for inspiration for the heart, this book is for you!
-Jonathon Wennstrom, Elementary Principal

A riveting journey through life, stopping along the way to embrace life’s challenges, gaining strength and hope through lessons learned.  Encountering ups and downs along the way, finding courage to overcome and conquer…finding the joys in life, through the Path to Serendipity.

-Cheryl Kraker, my friend

The Path to Serendipity touched my heart from the opening words. Allyson magically takes us on a journey through her life experiences, and I felt that I was there every step of the way. This book allows us to experience joy at many levels and gives us hope and encouragement. Allyson’s passion for education and others shines brightly in this beautiful book.

-Jodie Pierpoint, Elementary Special Education Teacher

3 Simple Steps to Give Students What They Need

3 Simple Steps to Give Students What They Need

Last week I wrote a post called “What if we give her the attention she seeks?” and several people reached out to ask what we are specifically doing to make school the need-satisfying place this little girl needs it to be.

Beth entered our school this year and upon finding out about her previous difficulties in school with disrupting, refusing to work, and aggression, we knew we had a golden opportunity to change the trajectory of her school career and maybe even her life. Beth’s arrival came at the perfect time because our entire district was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Stephanie Grant talk about becoming trauma-informed educators. We didn’t have to hear all the details about Beth’s life to understand that she has experienced trauma that no little girl, much less an adult, knows how to handle.

We decided that we would make the school office a place where Beth can get her needs met. Well, actually, in most schools students end up in the office as they are working hard to get their needs met. Usually though, it is only after causing a problem in the classroom that the student is sent to the office for the one-on-one attention that he/she so desperately needs. The difference for Beth would be that she didn’t have to act out to get the attention she seeks. We built it into her schedule and gave her the opportunity to come down to the office whenever she feels like she needs something.

Beth has a teacher with a huge heart, lots of patience, and decades of teaching experience. Her teacher was willing to put aside “how things are usually done” and make a plan to help Beth get what she needs.

Our two wonderful office ladies also have many years of experience and expertise and were willing to take on a different role for Beth, to have patience with her, and to think outside the box to help her get what she needs. As her principal, I delight in walking into the office to see our secretaries laughing with Beth when she visits.

We give her what she needs within the functions of her school day so she doesn’t have to become dysfunctional to get what she needs.

Here is what we are specifically doing. It’s not rocket science, it’s mostly stolen from other really smart people, but it works. Really well.


check in.check out

Beth comes to the office three times a day to check-in/check-out, for a total of about eight minutes a day.

First, Beth comes to the office as soon as she has put her coat and bag away. We ask her five simple questions and it can take as little as 2-3 minutes.


To help her identify her feelings, we use a poster like this.

I typically ask Beth the questions, sometimes helping her make goals based upon the behavior I am seeing from her and based upon input from her classroom teacher. If I am not in the office, one of our secretaries will help her or even other teachers ask her the questions. Sometimes Beth writes the answers and sometimes we do.

She comes back for a quick check-in as she transitions from lunch to recess. At this time, we ask her the “What would you like me to ask you the next time I see you?” question. She answers and then off she goes to recess. This check-in takes about one minute.

Last, Beth checks in with us right before she goes home. We quickly go over the goals she set for herself in the morning and she lets us know if she met those goals. Sometimes Beth makes a checklist of things she wants to accomplish that day, like raising her hand instead of blurting out and treating others the way she wants to be treated. At the end of the day, she decides whether she met those goals or not. This check-out takes about 3-4 minutes.

Water and Small Snacks

We have a little bottle of water in our office refrigerator labeled “Beth” and she can come get it whenever she needs it. She is always careful to return it so it will be ready for her the next time. Sometimes she comes to get it because she is thirsty or because she has a sore throat. Sometimes she comes to get it because she needs a break from the classroom. Sometimes she comes to get it because she needs some attention from me or the office staff.

We also have small healthy snacks available for Beth anytime she needs something to eat. She may have forgotten her snack or not ate enough for breakfast or lunch. She knows there is always something for her in the office. Dr. Stephanie Grant suggests  keeping carrot sticks in the office for students who are hungry. No one has ever binged on carrot sticks, right?


Whenever Beth comes to the office, we give her what she says she needs. She might need a band-aid for an invisible paper cut. She might need ice for a perceived bump on her knee. Or, she might just need to sit in the office for a few minutes and read her book.

I was talking with a teacher who has attended several additional professional learning opportunities about becoming a trauma-informed educator, and I asked her what her biggest take-away has been from all she has learned. I will never forget her two-word response.

“Believe them.”

We believe Beth.

This one brings tears to my eyes. The power of believing in her, believing that she needs something when she asks, letting her know that she doesn’t need to do anything other than just ask and we will help her. The power of that one little thing is overwhelming.

There are occasions when Beth needs redirection or struggles, but she does not come to the office after acting out in class. We have developed a different system to help her get what she needs then. We want to be careful to not slide down a slippery slope to find out that, all of a sudden, Beth only comes to the office when she is in “trouble”. That would completely defeat the purpose of the plan.

Everyone who encounters Beth on a daily basis agrees…the joy she fills us with far outweighs any supports we provide her.

Yes, it is really this simple:

All of our ideas are stolen. Please feel free to steal any of these three easy steps to help a Beth in your life. But, don’t forget the most important idea of all.

One of the biggest gifts you can give a child is to believe them.

What if we give her the attention she seeks?

What if we give her the attention she seeks?

My girl.

She is in third grade.

Was not allowed back to her old school.

Too many days of suspension in first and second grade.

Her dad has cancer and she knows he doesn’t have long to live.

They don’t have much, but they have each other.

Just the two of them,

For now.

The weight of the world is on her shoulders.

It could crush her,

But it doesn’t.

She enters school most days with a smile from ear to ear.

How does she do that?

To keep her spirits high throughout the day,

She needs so much love and attention.

She will do anything for it.

Even hurt others.

What if we give her the attention she seeks,

Without having to misbehave to get it?

What if every time she comes to the office,

We have a bottle of water at the ready

For her.

Or snacks to tame her hunger?

What if we Band-Aide her imaginary wounds?

Ask how she is feeling?

Listen to her.

Make her feel special and heard.

What would happen then?

Would she thrive in her classroom?

Would she feel a pride in herself that she never even imagined?

Yes to that, and so much more.

She would see a future

That is bright

And limitless.

It takes just minutes a day

And an open heart

And no preconceived notions

To change someone’s life.

My girl?

She’s worth it, every minute.

Image source HERE

Want to learn more about how we helped my girl? Message me.

I vow to take the road less traveled this year.

I vow to take the road less traveled this year.

I will celebrate the success of others as if it is my own success. There is enough success to go around. Let’s think of success as an unending bowl of mashed potatoes. Everyone can get a healthy serving and there is still enough for heaping plates of seconds. Or thirds. Success is a bottomless bowl of mashed potatoes. Dive in everyone.

I will be fearless in the pursuit of doing what is right. Okay, actually, I likely won’t always be fearless in this pursuit, but I vow to fake it. I will not let that fear stop me from doing what is right. I will not fear what others may think of me as I do what they might not dare to do.

I will share joy every chance I get. Even on Monday mornings–especially on Monday mornings. Even when someone else is crabby–especially when someone else is crabby. I won’t let rainy days or others’ glares dim my light. I will have big joy and gratitude all the days of 2018.

This year, instead of creating a resolution or a “One Word”, I am creating a playlist. Many songs will be transferred over from my 2017 playlist. My theme song right now is Lauren Alaina’s “Road Less Traveled“. Here are my favorite lines:

History gets made when you’re acting a fool

So don’t hold it back and just run it

Show what you got and just own it

No, they can’t tear you apart

Let’s OWN 2018!

Two roads diverged in a wood and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost

Make a “New Year’s Playlist” instead of a New Year’s Resolution

Make a “New Year’s Playlist” instead of a New Year’s Resolution

I love the fresh start the new year brings. I usually make New Year’s resolutions or chose “one word” for the year to guide all of my thoughts and actions. Yet, I always fall down while chasing my goal. Literally and figuratively.

For example.

One day, when I was a super cool 19-year-old bank teller on my lunch break, I was walking by the big windows of a packed Subway restaurant. I had a little strut in my step (picture John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever) and I swung my hair back as I passed all those admiring eyes. Then, just as I was in the middle of the huge bank of floor-to-ceiling windows, I slipped on some ice and fell flat on my face. I remember laying there for a moment, contemplating never getting up.

But I did. I got up, I brushed the snow off my pants, and continued my walk in a much more sheepish manner.

Here are a few truths:

First, I was not super cool. The diners in that Subway restaurant were not staring at me through the window with dropped jaws as lettuce fell out of their mouths, in disbelief at the amazingness walking by.

Second, likely nobody was even looking because their world does not revolve around me. Everyone is in their own head thinking about their own stuff. It is safe to assume that people are never thinking about you, because 99% of the time you will be right.

Third, if someone was watching, wouldn’t it have been so much more delightful if I bopped back up and continued my walk in the same John Travolta manner? Life is too short to let a little fall slow you down. Everyone falls, some just a little more frequently.

Applying these ideas to goals for the new year can be helpful–we are not so cool that everyone is watching us, they don’t even really care about us because they are usually thinking about themselves, and we will fall, but we can use that as a catalyst to pursue our goals with even more fervor.

This year, I am trying something different. My New Year’s resolution will not be a goal. It will not be “one word”. If those strategies work for you, go for it. I admire people who can set goals for the new year and even remember them come March.

Instead, my New Year’s resolution will be a playlist of songs that reflect the values I will focus on this year–my “Person I want to be in 2018” playlist. Songs to be played when I am getting ready in the morning, when I am doing mundane jobs like the dishes, when I am exercising. I will make videos to these songs. I will play them on my JammyPack at school for staff and students. They will be etched into the fabric of my every day, helping to point me in the direction I want to go.

Without even knowing it, I already did this in 2017. You see, this is not a playlist I will create in a frenzy over Christmas break. This is a playlist that grows and changes over the course of the year. It could start with one song and be slowly developed by adding others. Some songs are suggested by friends who know me well. Some songs are old, some are new. But they all have one thing in common–they inspire me to move toward becoming the person I want to be.

Everyday I want to be worthy of the trust that Quincy staff members put in me. I want to be deserving of the hundreds of hugs I get from students every week. I want to be the mom that my sons deserve. And, I want to be the best partner I can be to my husband. What that takes changes on a daily basis, based on what others need me to be. I want to be strong, optimistic, creative, and focused on relationships so I can be what they need me to be everyday. Except the days I fall. Those days, I will jump back up and be even better than before.

Here are a few songs from my 2017 playlist. Feel free to steal them for your “Person I want to be in 2018” playlist.

Rather Be by Clean Bandit

The concept seems so simple: help everyone feel like there is no place you’d rather be than right there with them. Whether you are a principal doing a classroom observation, a teacher helping a student with a problem that seems insignificant to you, or a parent needing to put the device down so you are fully present with your own children–be right where you are. Mentally and physically.

Rise Up by Andra Day

We get broken down and tired…but we rise up each day and walk into the school with a bounce in our step and a smile on our face. Because in order to move mountains we have to believe in ourselves. Teachers need principals to believe in their power. Then, they can believe in the power of their students. Rise up, rise like the day. Every day. Even in the middle of February.

Give Love by Andy Grammer

Be a sunshine soldier and give love to all of your people. We are blessed by the breath deep inside us, and we need to give love so much more than we get love. In school, our families need love, our students need love, and we definitely need to give love to our colleagues. Focusing on giving love will bring exponentially more love into our lives than focusing on getting love.

Road Less Traveled by Lauren Alaina

You won’t make yourself a name if you follow the rules, history is made when you are acting a fool. Trust your rebel heart, and do what is right for your students always. Don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled. Dream big, take risks, fall on your face once in a while. But most of all, don’t settle for easy. Don’t settle for “the way we have always done it”. Make history.

Merry Merry Christmas to my readers. I am so blessed by you. The joy of reflecting through writing has been such a gift to me for the past couple years. My wish for you is that the year ahead is the best year of your life. Watch out 2018!

Image source HERE

What Might Make a Teacher Feel Unsafe at School?

What Might Make a Teacher Feel Unsafe at School?

Last week, when I asked a room of 110+ Michigan principals what might make a teacher feel unsafe at school, the most frequent answer was not school violence, it was not bullying, nor was it upset parents. It was not threats, or weapons, or lockdown drills. So what was it? What is the number one thing that makes teachers feel unsafe at school according to this group of caring and dedicated principals?

See for yourself.

what make T feel unsafe


These positive and creative principals who were spending three days learning together agreed that evaluations are the biggest threat to teachers feeling safe in schools.

Excuse me for a moment while I get up on a soapbox.


There are so many things that are out of our control as building principals, but evaluations are not one of them.

There are so many things we cannot use to help our teachers feel strong and positive and ready to tackle the next step in their continuous growth, but evaluations? We have so much control over how they feel to teachers.

They can empower and strengthen, or they can depower and defeat.

They can be a time to highlight skills, or they can be a time to “catch” a teacher doing something wrong.

They can be a time to ask questions and dig deeper together, or they can be a time to make assumptions.

Let’s picture asking this question of teachers about students:  “What might make your students feel unsafe at school?”

How might we react if teachers’ number one answer was assessments? We would point out that we don’t have direct control over many things that make students feel unsafe, but teachers do have control over how assessments are delivered and how they feel to students. We would say, “How dare you teachers make students feel unsafe because of assessments? Come on!”

Let’s say the same thing to ourselves–“How dare we principals make teachers feel unsafe because of evaluations? Come on!”

Let’s ask instead of tell.

Let’s point out more strengths than areas for improvement.

Let’s focus on growing alongside each other rather than a right/wrong mentality.

Let’s make sure our teachers know, more than anything, that we SEE them. We SEE their hearts. We SEE their hard work. We have their backs.

This doesn’t mean that we avoid challenging conversations or that we don’t address concerns. We just do so in a way that is respectful of the needs of the whole teacher. Teachers deserve to feel safe, engaged, challenged, supported, and healthy at school. Our students deserve teachers who feel safe, engaged, challenged, supported, and healthy at school. Let’s make sure evaluations contribute to this goal rather than create an environment of fear.

Author’s note: I used @mentimeter for the presentation and one of the features of this interactive formative assessment tool is making group word clouds. There are many other features, like multiple choice questions and short answer questions. It is an awesome tool because it is so fun (participants are assigned emoji characters) and it allows you to embed content into the presentation. I highly recommend trying it out with your students and teachers!