Dennis Schug: Learning, Leadership, and Lists

Enjoy this great post by our guest author, middle school principal, Dennis Schug!  Dennis shares some wisdom to make us all more effective at what we do!

Ask any educator to share a memory of working with a student, a family, or a colleague, and you’ll likely be inspired. These become learning and leadership milestones, cornerstones to how we define ourselves as educators, and marks of our legacy and the reputation of our profession.

But when was the last time you made time to notice when you evolved as a professional learner?

For me, becoming a Connected Educator has been a personal-professional tipping point. But it wasn’t Twitter, Edcamps, or experimenting with instructional technology that has had the greatest impact. It’s been my renewed approach why I lead, how I learn best, and what I can do to maximize my impact as a school leader.

One such practical meeting place, quite simply, lies in my use of lists.

Who among us, hasn’t (or doesn’t) use lists? To-do lists. Grocery lists. “Honeydew” lists.

Lists have withstood the test of time, in getting us on-track, and keeping us on-track with personal and professional productivity. And lists are precisely where we can keep learning forward.

Here’s how.

“To-Learn” lists

We should all be keeping a list of “professional to-do’s”. You likely have developed this on your own, with your school or district team, and as part of any external professional organizations to which you belong. When you attend a traditional professional development workshop, an Edcamp, or a national conference, you will encounter new ideas, new concepts, and others, willing to share their success, so it becomes your success. Here’s one way to avoid what’s commonly known as “drinking from the fire hose”:

TOMORROW: What is one new practice, tool, or protocol that I will try in my classroom/school/district?
THIS WEEK: What is one learning conversation I will initiate with a professional colleague?
THIS MONTH: What is one resource I will share with someone in a different professional position than the one I hold?
THIS YEAR: What is one project or initiative I will explore, for gradual future implementation with my colleagues?

Use your tool of choice and organize and maintain this list in the way that works best for your learning style. Revisit it and monitor it often. Keep it updated. And invite others to help you stay accountable to what you’ve set out to do.

Twitter lists

As someone who has been using Twitter as a professional learning tool for the last four years, it just isn’t humanly possible to keep up with all the learning, the people, and the resources that are available 24/7/365. To remain productive, purposeful, and focused, consider establishing and using Twitter lists that will support your goals. For example, I keep Twitter lists to curate resources for my weekly Monday Memo for Faculty. I refer often to a list of personal-professional mentors who I can count on for modeling, support, and feedback. And I use lists to keep up with what my friends with whom I collaborate on all things educational leadership. And for fun and in an attempt to be part of something else larger than myself, I maintain a Twitter list of over 2,000 NY Connected Educators. While each of these can be used for professional enrichment, using lists in this way accomplishes something else vitally important in our field and in our schools, they make the world a smaller place. They help us to realize, we’re all more alike than different. And they encourage learning in and across communities.

To-Be-Read lists

This idea of lists is not a new one. In fact, this very idea was re-framed for me at my first Edcamp by one of my leading personal-professional mentors who has since become a dear friend. The session I had attended was about…a book, The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande. To this day, I continue to recommend this title, since it offers such low-input, high-output strategy work for being more efficient and effective, in work and in life.

As an avid reader of content both in and out of the education field, I keep a running list of books, authors, and series that I refer to often and update regularly. A To-Be-Read list can keep us in touch with what our students are excited to be reading, it can fuel us professionally, and it can allow us to cross-pollinate our ideas, our dialogue, and our perspective. But maybe most importantly, to-be-read lists remind us that in order to be high-impact leaders, we must first commit to being readers and learners.

Ready to evolve? What’s on your professional learning list?

Follow Dennis on Twitter @schug_dennis

We encourage our readers to check out Dennis’s blog!

Laura’s August Letter to Teachers

Dear Teachers,

The weeks leading up to the opening of school are my favorite.  I’d spend hours in my classroom adding new books and magazines to the library. I’d stack readers’ notebooks on shelves and place students’ writing folders in plastic crates. I’d meet new teachers and chat with friends.

Each year, before students arrived, I’d reflect on the past year and challenge myself to make changes that supported students.  During the first two weeks of school, when I spent time getting to know students and establishing workshop routines, I would share my reflections with them. I wanted them to weigh in on these changes, suggest ways to improve them and offer new ideas.

One year I told eighth-grade students that I wanted to set up a quiet place where students could read and work undisturbed; a corner space for collaboration; a table for student-to-student conferences. When I shared my ideas, they liked them, but they suggested something I hadn’t thought of—an idea that showed me the importance of collecting feedback from students. They encouraged me to keep the quiet place, but to be open to changing the setup of the room based on what they were doing.  With their help, I shifted from a static classroom to one that changed based on what students were doing.

As you start the school year, I invite you to consider whether your classroom reflects how students learn. You might think about shifts in room arrangement, the kinds of feedback you offer students, and they, in turn, offer you. In addition, consider inviting students to create guidelines for independent and group work. Shifts are challenging, but with the support of your principal and students, you can initiate changes that positively impact students’ learning.  I encourage you to embrace change and develop a student-centered approach to learning.

Wishing you an exciting and productive school year!



Leadership- Hey, It Was Ok For Me

For any organization to become successful, employees must let go of thinking that is detrimental to themselves and new employees.  In education, this can be the assumption that if an experience worked for you for many years, it must be good. I call this “the it was okay for me mentality,” and it needs to stop.  Kids deserve much better.  


What follows is a list of poor advice shared with me by teachers and administrators during my career.  All of these are bad. Do not believe them when they come your way. And I guarantee that some will definitely come your way.


Don’t Smile Until Christmas:  This is a ridiculous statement that lives in schools and is often communicated by veteran staff.  Would any adult want to come to work and be scowled at for half a year? Of course not.  A smile is universal; it works anywhere on our planet.  All students and adults should be greeted every day with a smile.


I Taught It, They Didn’t Learn It:  This is an excuse that should never occur in a school.  It is the job of an educator to help students learn.  If an assessment shows students did not learn, then take the professional route and find a new way to help students understand.   


Start the Year Hard:  This is sometimes used to scare students about the year ahead, and to allow the teacher to assume a very dominant, controlling position in the class.  This is also silly! Who wants to start a course with failure?  Adults and students always do better when we build on success. Lift others up instead of tearing them down!


We All Have a Bad Class:  This is an unfair comment that lumps students together in a negative way.  Successful educators never lump students together and pass group judgment.  Often, the students who give you the hardest time need you the most.


Plan Out Each Day of the Year:  Once I was told that I should have each day planned for the entire year before the year started.  This makes zero sense.  Good planning is based on the needs of students, and each day and throughout the year they will be different.


Our Demographics Give Us Bad Scores:  This is an excuse and worse yet, a racist comment.  Great educators believe all students can learn, they do not accept the color of skin, where they live, of their families lack of money as reasons to be less than nurturing and supportive.  


I am sure you have heard some or all of these.  They may seem funny but they hurt students and have for a long time.  My list could be from the present or from 100 years ago, it is time for these beliefs and slogans to stop.  Collectively, we want to be seen as professionals. When you hear these sayings, remember each one erodes the professionalism of our field and does not support students’ growth and learning.  

Read the options that follow carefully, before choosing. You can remain silent when you hear such comments, but this choice is a slippery slope for handling situations you do not agree with. You can agree and then do the opposite. However, consider the importance of being true to yourself.  This choice will not help such a goal.  The option that I favor and have adopted is to ask the person to not say these words anymore. Make sure you explain why, so the person understands your reasoning.  This may be the most challenging way to respond, but I assure you it will make you feel better about yourself, your professionalism, and your commitment to students.

Check out our new professional development site Robb Communications

Learn more from my book The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook