So I Am Having a Bad Hair Day?

So I Am Having a Bad Hair Day?

I tried out quite a few different types of jobs after high school as I figured what I didn’t want to be when I grew up. Before I discovered that I am a teacher, I tried my hand at being a bank teller. I had fun at that job because of the people I worked with, but I found it to be monotonous. Fortunately, I don’t have to ever worry about monotony as an elementary principal.

During my stint as a teller, there was one particular day when I decided to spice it up and do my hair a little differently. I got ready for my long 8-hours at the bank and headed into work. I knew my regular customers–the bristly ones, the kind ones, the funny ones, and so on. Shortly after the day began, one of those bristly customers came in.

This guy asked me to cash a check, and to make a long story short, bank policies would not allow me to cash it. He got frustrated with me after his attempts to persuade me to violate the policies failed. In his frustration, he said something that would make any insecure young lady cringe.

He told me that my hair looked horrible. Well…I’m not sure he said that exact word, it might have been a more colorful description, but this is a G-rated blog.

Ouch! I wanted to curl up in my little teller booth and disappear.

If only I knew then what I know now.

What that guy was telling me had NOTHING to do with my hair style. But, what was he saying to me when he made that comment about my hair?

I think he was saying, “I feel powerless right now. I need this money and I don’t think there is anything I can do to get it. I am going to try to regain some balance and power by insulting this young sensitive bank teller. Maybe I will feel better if I can make her cry.”

I find myself telling this story over and over as I work with adults and children alike to understand behavior. One component of understanding behavior is knowing that all we can ever get or give each other is information.

When someone insults me or says something mean in a half-joking way, typically it is saying more about how they feel about themselves than anything about me. I am not perfect and have many attributes worthy of insult, but people who feel good about themselves do not insult others. They may say things we don’t want to hear, but they try to do so in a helpful rather than hurtful way.

This truth applies to me too. Although I do a decent job of not saying or doing things to hurt others, sometimes I have a mean thought. Like I said, I am far from perfect. When I really look within, the thought is born from a place of jealousy, intimidation, or feelings of inadequacy. So, that mean thought is much more about how I feel about myself than it is about the other person.

Knowing that all we are ever giving each other is information helps me be a better person and hold myself accountable for my thoughts and actions. It also helps me depersonalize others’ hurtful behavior. Yes, an insult–even when framed as a “joke”–does cause me pain, especially initially. However, I can think through and rationalize the situation so the pain is not debilitating…so I don’t retaliate or act upon my I can understand what that person is really telling me…and it is usually a lot about how they feel about themselves.

I dream of having a magic wand, one where I could just gently touch the shoulder of a hurting child to help him or her understand this. If children knew that bullies are saying that they feel bad about themselves, the bullies would have a very hard time getting the power they are after by preying on the weak.

This realization would help many adults too, especially when we we can make our lives look pretty perfect on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Guess what? No one is perfect, everyone has struggles, and we may never know the deep pain that lies within those we envy.

Let’s all look at the “information” others provide to us with a different lens to understand what is really being said. At the same time, look within when callous thoughts or actions begin bubbling to your surface–what would your behavior say about how you feel about yourself?



  • Dr. William Glasser, the late and great, taught this concept through his work in both Choice Theory and Reality Therapy.
  • My two co-workers at the bank who rushed out during their lunch break to buy me a “Having a Bad Hair Day?” card that fateful day.

Breaking News…8-year-old Calls Snow Day

Breaking News…8-year-old Calls Snow Day

The winter storm caused heavy snow that fell by the inches, and the roads were getting treacherous. Most people were hunkered down at home for the night, maybe under a cozy blanket, staying safe and snug. Many students and school staff were performing rituals in hopes of a snow day—PJs on backwards, flushing ice cubes down toilets, or even placing white crayons carefully in freezers.

There are a few who jumped into their vehicles to brave the snowy roads to determine whether they were safe for busses. Usually that happens in the morning, but with this storm it happened in the evening in preparation for the next day. In my district, the superintendent and transportation director work together with other area superintendents to decide whether school is on or off.

Last night, after that collaboration, my superintendent called our community relations manager to let her know the decision. Rather than telling her the determination, he asked her to ask her 8-year-old son if he thought there should be a snow day the next day. She asked her son and with just a little hesitation as he thought it over, he answered with a confident yes.

Later that night, the community relations manager overheard her 8-year-old proudly telling his brother that he couldn’t wait to tell his friends at school that he was the one to call the snow day.

A simple little question, a moment of generosity and thoughtfulness, made all the difference to a child.

It was 8:00pm and I am sure the superintendent was tired and ready to relax for a few minutes after a long day of work. The decision for the snow day had already been made. Yet, he took a moment to make a little boy’s day…week…or maybe create a memory that this little boy will never forget.

This story reminds me of the importance of slowing down and keeping children at the forefront of all we do, even when we are crunched for time, even when we are tired. Superintendents are very important people, yet this superintendent behaves as if the children are the important people. I am guessing that he hardly remembers that question from last night because empowering students and making sure they are the center of his attention is just a part of who he is.

What will you do today to make sure that students know they are the most important thing to you?

…And Then I Was

…And Then I Was

A feedback story, as a student:

“You are a good writer. Would you consider tutoring students in writing at the Tutoring Center?”

Then, I was. A good writer, even a teacher of writing.

That was all it took.

I was a junior at Grand Valley State University. It is the only time I remember a teacher identifying a strength in such a specific way.

I was 20 years old.

A feedback story, as a young teacher:

In my first couple years of teaching, there were times when teacher leaders or administrators would recognize a strength they saw in me. 

In those instances, I was driven to capitalize on that strength for the benefit of my students. I would read books, talk to others to get new ideas, take risks, and work hard to grow even stronger in that area.

When I was criticized by an administrator, I felt defeated, weak, and unsure I was in the right profession.

So what?

Through my experiences as a student and a young teacher, and now a leader, I learned that strengths-based feedback is the most powerful feedback. It has the greatest potential to affect continuous improvement, and isn’t that the goal in the first place?

Giving students and colleagues feedback about strengths empowers them. When we are strong, we feel like can accomplish anything. We experience joy through or work.

On the other hand, giving others criticism and making judgements helps them feel weak and defeated. When we are weak, it doesn’t feel like we can do anything. Everything feels overwhelming and we drag our feet to work.

Given these realities, how do we uplift the strength of others while promoting continuous improvement in our classrooms and schools? Does this mean we shy away from addressing concerns and growing in areas that need to be strengthened? Absolutely not. Our students and our staff deserve better than that.

How do we implement strengths-based feedback AND honest conversations about areas that need to improve? As a school leader, I believe the answers lies in learning together, asking the right questions of each other, and being an avid learner myself.

A different model of teacher observation

This year, my staff was open to a different model of classroom observations. Instead observing their classrooms and providing feedback just a couple times per year, they were open to shorter, monthly observations with feedback meetings within 24 hours after the observation. The goals are to identify strengths, and then to figure out a way to move forward together with a next step. The next step evolves out of the feedback conversation.

These same concepts can be applied to the classroom–students benefit from timely feedback that identifies strengths and next steps just as much as educators do. We want the same things for our students as we want for ourselves…to feel empowered, to believe that they can accomplish anything, and to find joy in the work they do at school.

The story of the new observation model we are implementing is certainly to be continued. The real testament of the effectiveness will come at the end of the school year, when we reflect and provide feedback on whether the new model added value to teaching and student learning.

I can tell you without a doubt that I have grown so much as an instructional leader based upon the new model. I know so much more about the teaching and learning in the classrooms at our school. I have always been in classrooms and out and about in the school a lot (see my post about my standing desk), but this year my focus and purpose has shifted to more frequently watching teaching and student cognitive engagement. Our feedback conversations open the door to learning together, and having those conversations monthly not only fuels our relationships but helps us get to know each other as educators and to share ideas.

Forward motion together

I observe teachers and have follow up conversations to add value to student learning, to highlight and uplift teacher strengths, and to learn together as educational professionals. The strengths-based feedback model empowers students and staff rather than weakens them; it does not invite fear into the environment, rather it invites collaboration and risk-taking.

What successes have you had with strengths-based feedback, and what challenges has it brought?

Let’s learn together on Twitter…@allysonapsey

The new model of observation and feedback was inspired by what I learned with Debbie McFalone during a Leverage Leadership training series. Leverage Leadership is written by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo.

Call Me What You Want…I Am a Principal

Call Me What You Want…I Am a Principal

I am an elementary school principal.

Call me a leader, a lead learner, boss lady, shorty…call me what you want.

I am a principal and I am proud of it.

The other day I participated in a Twitter chat and one of the questions asked me what I love about being a leader. I had a very hard time answering that question. My first instinct was, “EVERYTHING”! However, that is not exactly true. It is hard to pinpoint one thing though. Here is an incomplete list of five things I love about being a leader:

  1. I love forward motion. I love working hard for the benefit of students. I love the possibility of inspiring someone to see themselves in a way they never have…to see themselves as stronger than they thought they were…as doing the best they can at the time but, with new information, wanting to do better next time.
  2. I love smiles and hugs and laughter. I love supporting students and adults through the ups and downs of life. I love being really dorky and cheesy and everyone being okay with that, even appreciating it.
  3. I love listening and collaborating, and the fact that together we are stronger than we are as individuals–that energy that comes from an idea sparking another idea, and another idea, until the end result is something mind-blowingly amazing.
  4. I love teaching. There is nothing better than that “ah-ha” look in the eye of a student, colleague or parent. I have learned that I don’t have to talk to teach. I can be a role-model, a listener, and ask questions to teach.
  5. I love learning, and I LOVE that I get to watch learning happening all day long. I love walking into a classroom and thinking, “Yes, yes, YES!” when I see deep, engaging, empowering learning happening.

This list is alive and it will grow and change as I continuously improve, but that chat question the other night left me hanging. I wanted to spend some more time thinking through what I love about being a leader…a principal…head dork, whatever you want to call me. A teacher even called me “Glinda the Good Witch” yesterday. I am a principal. I wouldn’t want to be anything else.

Principals and teachers out there, what do you love about being a leader?

Let’s collaborate on Twitter: @allysonapsey

Why I Look So Creepy in this Picture

Why I Look So Creepy in this Picture

“Mom, why do you look so creepy in this picture?” said my 9-year-old son.

“Well, when I was young you couldn’t see the pictures before you had them developed,” I replied.

“What does ‘developed’ mean?” he asked.

What a great reminder of how times have changed. I feel old saying that, but it is so true. I am not old though, because rather than lament the changing times, I embrace them and try to understand what it means for our children.

My 9-year-old-son never lived in a world without remote controls, cell phones and YouTube, much less having to wait for a photo to be developed before viewing it.

Let me state this clearly again, I am NOT old. However, I did learn how to type on a typewriter, I remember the excitement when we got a long cord for our cable box so it could reach the couch, and we had rotary phones in our house when I was a kid.

Now our children have can watch practically anything they want at any time on YouTube, their parents have remote start on their cars, they can see a photo as it is being taken. They live in a world of immediate gratification. Wait, actually, WE also live in a world of immediate gratification. What does this mean for our future? What does this mean for schools?

I had a similar conversation with my 9-year-old a few weeks earlier when he asked me if we had YouTube when I was younger. I told him that we didn’t even have the internet (don’t forget, I am NOT old). He said, “Wait, you couldn’t even google things?” The idea of not having information at our fingertips is not something he can even comprehend.

When I walk into classrooms and see desks in rows or groups and hear conversations similar to the ones we had when I was a child, part of me feels nostalgic and happy that not everything has changed. I love that they are learning things that they would not be exposed to in the world outside of school. That we open their minds to history, nature, classic works of literature and playing with each other IRL (‘in real life’ for those of us who remember 8-tracks).

There is another part of me, one that wonders how we can do more to make sure that the learning we are providing students is relevant in today’s world of immediate gratification. I think about how I learn best, and it is truly through being connected that my mind is opened to new ideas and ways of thinking. Those connections happen in person, in reading books and through social media. The fact that I can learn what others are doing across the nation, across the world, makes being connected on social media so powerful.

Skyping with authors, connecting with other classes on Twitter, having students write blogs so their writing has real authentic audiences are just some of the things we are exploring to get our students connected. We know we need to continue moving in this direction–not only for the benefit of student academic achievement, but to also make sure we keep students excited about school and engaged by making learning meet them where they are.

How are you embracing what our students need in the 21st century? How are you getting your students connected?

Let’s collaborate on Twitter: @allysonapsey


Students Sharing Passions: Snow Day Edition

Students Sharing Passions: Snow Day Edition

Do your students cheer or moan when they hear the words, “Snow day!” in the morning?

Michigan tends to have quite a few snow days, so many schools decided to try to engage learners even on snow days through “Snow Day Challenges”. We jumped on the bandwagon last year. Today we had our second snow day of the year…check out our second snow day challenge QuincyElementarySnowDayChallenge2.

This time, we decided to encourage students to share their passions anyway they want to, they could write about them, draw a picture, make a movie, etc. I was inspired by ideas in The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, and our staff jumped on board because they love to celebrate the unique people our students are.

As I was working from home during this snow day, the responses to the challenge began to trickle in. First, I received this email from a quiet fifth-grade student. I was blown away by her passion for dogs who are homeless or living in shelters and the sacrifices she wants to make to help them. Notice how her fifth-grade teacher has inspired her by sharing his passions with his students!

Next I received this stop-motion animation from a creative third-grader. It is so fun to see her express her love for her American Girl dolls and what she is learning in technology class.

I even received a challenge response from one of our incredible paraprofessionals. The students will love seeing her passion and how she spent her snow day! If you love snow and dogs, you won’t want to miss this.

I know the resGracie snow day challengeponses will keep coming in, and there is no way I can write about all of them here. We will be sure to share them all so our students and their families can learn about each other. I have to share just one more–dear Gracie is a second-grader who loves art and school. She drew this picture of Quincy Elementary on her snow day. How cool is it that she is thinking about what a special place her school is even on her day off!

Ironically, this morning I came across this blog post from The Tempered Radical by Bill Ferriter. It challenges us to learn from these amazing things students did OUTSIDE of the classroom and figure out ways to bring it into the classroom. I wrote about how I felt about education as a student in this blog post, and unfortunately, many students still feel this way, especially as they move into upper elementary and secondary school. Tapping into their passions has the potential to change this for our students.

What is next? How can we incorporate student passions into the learning that happens every day in our schools? How can we create an environment where students shout with despair instead of joy when they find out there is a snow day?

Jarett is featured in the top image, showcasing his passion for drawing and cars.

Feel free to collaborate with me on Twitter: @allysonapsey