Monthly Archives: January 2013

Successful Business Owners and Journeys to Teaching Success

Is teaching something you’re born with? Do some of us have an innate talent for teaching others that girds the challenges of classroom management and the stressors of state assessments, changing socioeconomics, and overall school reformation? What really separates those who can teach from those who can’t? Age old questions whose easy answers can compromise the truth behind how some educators develop into effective, masterful teachers. There are good lessons to be learned when we look outside the world of public education and explore how others have achieved success. Lessons that can provide pathways to masterful teaching.

“In high school, I was in the 10% group of students that made the top 90% possible.” So said one of the four panelists at last week’s Journeys to Success Program sponsored by the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce and held at Six Flags Great Escape Lodge & Indoor Water Park. The line got a huge laugh from the crowd, but it was a subtle reminder to me and those in the audience that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Afterall, this self-deprecating individual owns one of the most successful businesses in our region of New York, and like the other three business leaders on the panel, he succeeded through grit and hard work. As I sat listening to these inspiring men and woman introduce themselves to the audience, I realized their journeys to success are similar in so many ways to those of our master teachers and leaders. It also dawned on me that I had better start taking good notes to share the lessons/affirmations we were soon to hear from the panel with my friends and colleagues. And so here we go.

On the topic of critical keys to success, a big commonality among panel members was about people. All the panelists spoke of those special individuals who mentored and guided them through the failures and learning curves of transitions, and three of the four could name a specific person critical to their success. Another consistent theme was to trust and value your employees. One panelist told us to “Have fun with them. Invest in them.” His firm happened to be rated one of the top companies to work in, and he made sure his employees had opportunities to socialize and laugh together on whitewater trips along the Hudson River and other team-building experiences. Another panelist remarked there was a time in his career when he didn’t like his employees and was bothered by his customers.   He offered that when you have a negative mindset about your staff and customers, it’s time to “Look critically at yourself.” If there are problems with human relations, it’s most likely your own doing. If you want to see positive change, the change must begin from within yourself.

Each panelist shared the importance of relationships outside the firm, particularly with community organizations and businesses that build vital networks. Many served on several boards to help their local communities “as much as possible.” One panelist commented, “What you give to the community you get back ten fold,” and another business owner said, “If you don’t show up and participate (in the community), you can’t expect to get much at the other end.” All emphasized the importance of membership with the Chamber of Commerce, and for being friendly and on good terms with the local banks. Most importantly, the panelists emphasized making time to build relationships within the firm and community they do business in.

We know relationships matter, but so do staying current and being a self-directed learner. Putting in 80-hour work weeks, particularly at the start of their careers, was a common theme among the panelists. “Put in the hours,” “try things that take you out of your comfort areas,” and “become an expert” were pearls of wisdom regarding self-growth. When it comes to mistakes, and we all make plenty of them in our careers, it was recommended to “don’t blame the person, blame the process and fix it.” One business owner said she became a fan of podcasts and her car became her personal university as she played podcast after podcast while traveling to build her business. People do better when they know better, and so it goes with running a business.

The final theme of the program was a discussion on technology’s impact on business. LinkedIn, Facebook, and other forms of social media were an absolute necessity to build product awareness and improve communications. Other comments were to keep your webpage current, stay abreast of the latest technologies (or find individuals who can do that work for you), and learn how to manage information overload.

With a final question and answer period, our panel of successful business owners mingled for a while and then filtered out into the cold January air with other audience members. It was a wonderful way to start the day, and I returned to my office inspired by the simplicity of their journeys to success. The secrets for success are not nuclear science. It’s as easy as working hard, having a positive attitude, making time for people, surrounding yourself with good people, using technology, constantly learning and growing, and being able to laugh at yourself. Some people may be “born to teach,” but most aspiring master teachers must take the long, hard, and ultimately satisfying journey to success. Peace.

Panelist Members: Paul A. Curtis, CPA, CVA, CMAP – Partner at CMJ, LLPMark Miller – President of AMERICLEANSara Mannix – CEO of Mannix MarketingDennis Lafontaine – Owner of Martha’s Ice Cream 

Adirondack-Business Development Partnership Members: Adirondack Regional Chamber of CommerceSUNY Adirondack, SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury, Small Business Development Center at SUNY Albany


Academically Optimistic? If Not, Why Not?

As it pertains to schools, what exactly does it mean to be “academically optimistic,” and do we have a choice whether a school is academically optimistic or pessimistic? How do student socioeconomics enter into the equation, and is it true when it comes to student achievement the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? What about the rigors of school reform, Race to the Top, Common Core Learning Standards, and fragile school budgets? Why is there such variation in how teachers, administrators and school staff respond to these trying and unsettled times? Well, much can be attributed to the school environment–an environment greatly shaped by the building principal and a small cadre of teacher leaders.

Hoy, Tarter, and Hoy (2006) coined the term “Academic Optimism” to describe those schools that exude academic emphasis, efficacy, and trust within the halls, classrooms, and very fabric of their being. Such schools are vibrant vessels for learning where students are stretched academically and parents are valued for their role in student learning. If you’ve had the opportunity to visit different schools, you know from experience the contrast between “healthy” and “sick” ones. In the academically optimistic school, you’ll find teachers and students moving about with energy and purpose. When classes are in session, students are actively engaged in their learning as teachers guide on the side. In the faculty room, the banter is about events, student success, and programs. People are genuinely happy in their daily work. Academically optimistic schools are in stark contrast to pessimistic schools where there is much isolationism, finger-pointing at parents and administration, and a general sense of helplessness.

School environment factors are complicated, more so than the classroom environment, with many external elements impacting them. However, Hoy, Tarter, and Hoy (2006) suggest school leaders can create a more academically optimistic culture if they focus on academic emphasis, collective efficacy, and trust (p.441). Academic emphasis is cultivated by raising the bar and developing teachers’ sense of self-efficacy to positively impact students. Principals do this through modeling, providing targeted professional development, and celebrating student achievement. Collective efficacy is promoted by honoring Bandura’s (1997) antecedents of efficacy: mastery experiences, vicarious learning, positive feedback, and social emotional well-being. Last but not least, developing trust in parents and students is realized through frequent interactions among the various groups. Such interactions are purposefully planned to increase the comfort levels of all and to establish those important relationships desperately needed in our schools today.

A look at the history of education in this country shows we’ve been through many periods of discomfort and uncertainty, and we’ve somehow managed to get through each era of reform and emerge stronger than before. Race to the Top, Common Core Learning Standards, Next Generation Assessments,….are challenging us to rethink education in this country. We’ll manage, and it will be mostly due to the strong leadership of building principals and teacher leaders who cultivate in us all a sense of academic optimism encompassing academic rigor, collective efficacy, and trust for our students, parents, and communities. Meanwhile, let’s be sure we have the leaders capable of promoting academic optimism in schools by raising the bar on principal preparation programs and developing policies that recognize and promote teacher leadership.

Hoy, W. K., Tarter, C. J., & Hoy, W. (2006). Academic optimism in  schools: A force for student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 43, 425-446.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman. Must-See Resources for Understanding/Implementing the Common Core State Standards

This morning I downloaded Understanding the Skills in the Common Core State Standards from,a recent publication which highlights the essential skills students will leave high school with IF they are presented a rigorous, quality, Common Core aligned curriculum. In the document, the authors write, “Simply put, the CCSS are designed to cover most of the skills in greatest demand by employers, postsecondary systems and our society, including the ability of students to communicate effectively in a variety of ways, work collectively, think critically, solve routine and nonroutine problems, and analyze information and data” (Achieve, 2012, p. 3).

If you’ve been to before, you know the high quality products they release. Achieve has been serving the standards-based education field since 1996, and their efforts contributed to the American Diploma Network Project, Common Core State Standards, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), and Next Generation Science Standards. I’ve appreciated the relevance of their work and have used their products in my former work as a Race to the Top Network Team Senior Facilitator and now as a Branch Campus Dean for SUNY Plattsburgh.

Besides the Skills documentAchieve also just released Implementing  the Common Core State Standards guides for elementary and secondary school leaders. IF students are graduating with the essential skills embedded in the CCSS, it will most likely be due to quality instructional leadership by principals AND teacher leaders at the building level. Not surprisingly, the documents emphasize the urgency of effectively implementing the CCSS with particular focus on the Common Core Instructional Shifts for math and literacy. In addition, each document describes 11 schoolwide changes principals need to promote:

  1. Culture
  2. Literacy Instruction
  3. Text Complexity and Informational Text
  4. Close Reading and Text-Based Response
  5. Writing across Content Areas
  6. Mathematics Instruction
  7. Student Engagement and Collaboration
  8. Instructional Time
  9. Create-and-Learn versus Sit-and-Get
  10. Professional Learning
  11. Assessment

There are many, many quality resources out there to assist school administrators and educators in implementing school reform initiatives tied to the Common Core. However, if you are looking for resources that show the congruence of essential life skills with those of the Common Core, guides to implement the Common Core within school buildings, or other materials addressing major issues and challenges in standards-based education, then a visit to is a must.

Achieve (2012). Understanding the Skills in the Common Core State Standards.

Retrieved January 9, 2013 from


The Costs of Education Versus Ignorance

The check’s in the mail. Honestly. We sent it out yesterday, and it’s a deposit on my daughter’s next life chapter, higher education. It’s a big check, as most college tuition checks are, but those dollars are one of the smartest investments my wife and I could make for our daughter. As the bumper sticker says, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” We choose education, and we’re backed by some pretty heady statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which shows just how important an education is to earnings and employment. It seems our state leaders also see education as one solution to our ills.

Last week, Governor Cuomo’s The NEW NY Education Reform Commission released its eight recommendations for improving education in New York:

  1. Full-day pre-kindergarten for highest needs students;
  2. Streamline services and resources through “Community Schools”;
  3. Transform and extend the school day and year to expand quality learning time;
  4. Improve the teacher and principal pipeline to recruit and retain better educators;
  5. Build better bridges from high school to college and careers with Early College High Schools and Career Technical Education;
  6. Incentivize the smart and innovative use of technology to improve teaching and learning;
  7. Pursue efficiencies such as district consolidation, high school regionalization and shared services to increase student access to educational opportunities;
  8. Increase transparency and accountability of district leadership by creating a performance management system.

The Commission’s recommendations are exciting and relevant to improving education and student achievement, but I’m wondering where the money is going to come from? Many school districts in New York state are inching towards fiscal insolvency as state aid cuts and tax caps confound school budgets, making the costs of extended school days, Universal Pre-K for high needs students, and longer school years unfathomable for local tax payers. Wearing my rose-colored glasses, I’m hopeful Albany is considering revenues for the important work of improving education, but I’m also a realist in these tough economic times.

In any event, my wife and I will do our part and find the money for our daughter’s education (We’re fortunate to have the resources and values to support a college education–thanks Mom and Dad). Our daughter will contribute to her education as well, and student loans will be part of that contribution. Just like her parents, our daughter recognizes how vitally important an education is to her economic well-being. We know the price of ignorance, and it’s not something we’re willing to pay for.

2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 11 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.