Arm With Happiness~ Leveraging School Happiness Agency

According to the Fall 2017 Student Gallup Poll, 34% of all students feel stuck and 20% feel discouraged relative to Hope (the ideas and energy students have for the future.) That is over 50% of all students feeling less than good about their future - I am not digging those odds!  If we are looking for a true measure to indicate the health of our schools, I think we found it. Yet, nationwide we are divided, fighting over everything we can, modeling anything but healthy, happy living. There is an intense debate on how to de-arm our children, remove their access to guns in the interest of protection;  what children collectively need are strategies, arming them as they face our imperfect world that inevitably presents them with adversity, they need tools that arm them with happiness resilience.  

Let’s dig in deeper into happiness.  “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. As parents and educators, if pressed, our deep down desire is that our children will grow-up to be healthy and happy. From a baby’s first smiles and giggles, to when we recognize an activity, career change or promotion, or loving person that makes us feel truly fulfilled and happy- the ability to BE happy greatly shapes how we live our lives. Happiness is literally in our genetic makeup, it is hard wired into us all and is relatively an easy lesson to grow as we develop. Happiness is a hallmark of successful people and thriving companies. Happiness resilience allows for people to overcome adversity and failure.

Happiness can be developed, cultivated and learned the same as reading and writing. In fact, like other skills, it needs to be developed with intentional practice. As educators  we must recognize that the ability to be happy is not fixed. We are not born with a set threshold, or ability to demonstrate happiness. Yet recent violent incidents across the country, the extreme rise in rates of childhood depression, bullying, and suicide as well as the results of the 2017 Student Gallup Poll, makes me wonder what messages we are sending our children about the importance of happiness and how we are cultivating happiness in our schools.

Do schools have the capacity to “arm” students with the ability to choose happiness, to be happy, to be healthy? I KNOW we do and I certainly don’t plan on waiting for more tragedies as indicators to establish an urgency for happiness training, positive well being, call it whatever you want - a complete overhaul, reset to the core purpose and intent of our nation's schools… as Nike says- Just DO IT. At educate4hope we have come to call this School Happiness Agency.

School Happiness Agency

School Happiness Agency (SHA) is the ability to create, influence, encourage and assume responsibility for the actions that will enhance the experience of joy, overall well-being, connectedness, sense that one’s life is good, and meaningfulness. This sense of agency is essential in the development of the school community’s social-emotional capacity to take control, increase motivation and respond to the environment in a healthy, meaningful, happy manner. Our ability to take action is not in the form of control- it is in the creation of the purposeful structures and intentional opportunities that build the culture, skills and tools in creating a mindset where happiness is the ultimate goal for all.

Schools have an ongoing and active role in establishing, as well as continuing to cultivate the level of School Happiness Agency for each community.  SHA can manifest itself in physical environment, value of relationships, meaningful reflections, outcomes and goals, equity and fairness, diversity in activities, opportunities for service and voice.

How can we focus on happiness?

Here are some research linked ways to increase school happiness and arm your staff and students with tools toward being and feeling happier:

In the Classroom

Writing Prompts and scenarios focused on what is right in a particular situation instead of identifying conflicts

Incorporate Mindfulness activities to start a class period or even as a separate strategy

Opportunities for student voice to shape activities and choices: Personalized learning plans for students, student-generated digital citizenship projects

Expectations for Intentional Happiness Journaling/Reflection for Staff and Students to build happiness resilience


Identify, Callout & Celebrate Sportsmanship and Wins: If you give certificates or trophies for Best Athlete, Champions and the like, consider celebrating at the same level students that portray characteristics of Good Sportsmanship, Love of the Game

Create opportunities for staff, students and communities to eat meals together as often as possible: Culinary Foods students cooking meals for the elderly/ shut-ins to eat breakfast and break bread with students. Creating common opportunities for staff and students to share lunch

Model It

Start Meetings with “Focus on What is Right in Our World” and have everyone contribute something that is right or working. Make this a practice before meetings, classes, assemblies

Set and stick to routine of spreading happiness - Identify 3 Staff and 3 Students to shout out during the daily announcements for how they added value to your school happiness culture

A few summers ago, reading Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage, was a pivotal moment for me as an educational leader. Instantly, I knew I must do and be better for all of my children. The research rich ideology that building a culture of happiness can perpetuate nothing but positive results was overwhelming, yet natural. The more I looked, the more research I found that supported the positive effects of a happiness framework. Research more than suggests that reducing anxiety and depression, developing positive self perceptions, setting constructive goals, building skills to manage emotions and cope with adversity and even academic performance can all be affected positively with a focus on happiness. How can we afford to not lead with happiness in our schools?


Join educate4hope in our pursuit for all schools across the country to implement the tenants of School Happiness Agency!  We want to hear from you, please share your stories and practices of how you build happiness resilience in your school community.

#ed4happyschools  TwitterChat Friday March 30th @ 5:30AM EST  (grab your coffee, tea or favorite early AM beverage and join us!)

Reflections of a Missing "Bit"

Reflections of a Missing "Bit"

Adjusting our tie, or combing a rogue hair that we see out of place while we look in the mirror is an innate reflexive behavior. Reflection enables improvement.  View this week's VLOG and hear how installing an air desk lead to reflections in leadership and classroom practice.

The Pope As Building Principal?

by: Sherry and Kristina Macbury We were tickled to read a recent article written by William Vanderbloemen on the 5 Leadership Lessons From Pope Francis.


What can you learn and reflect on from Pope Francis' Transformational Leadership Style as an educational leader?

  1. Be Accessible

The Pope emulates this as evidenced by his actions taken on his first day – he switched up tradition and invited people to bless HIM as opposed to the long practice of blessing the people. Later, he made the choice to ride in a bus as opposed to a bulletproof limousine – he can even been seen riding around touring the U.S. in a Fiat.


And we see this being applicable to your schools and building leadership in two main ways: Customer service and Engaging ALL of your constituents.


Nothing replaces good customer service in a school than when your community can see that you can take care of the "little" things like answering and returning calls and emails, personalizing experiences for staff and students, and handling a busy main office with smiles and knowledge, it gives them the confidence that you can "handle" the big things like respecting and inspiring staff and students and for families, the education of their loved ones in a safe and inclusive environment.


How are you emulating being accessible to your “customers” in the principalship?


  1. Don't Ignore Social Media

Did you know the Pope has 7.3 million English account followers on Twitter?


Social media is a great way to leverage relationships and engage our families and communicate. Remember the most important information families want to hear about is their children, not about what you are doing for their school.


The main take away from this message is to exercise humility and inclusiveness via social media, just as the Pope does with his tweets.


  1. Flatten Your Organization

One of the first orders of business for the Pope after evaluating his organizational structure was to change his own title. He changed it from “Supreme Pontiff” to the “Bishop of Rome”. Again, he switched up tradition and rearranged his team, to be less hierarchical in nature.


Does your leadership team and building know your vision? Do they know their roles as it relates to the implementation of your school plan? Have you designed your leadership team and responsibilities in a way that allows you to remain the visionary and chief monitor of your vision – and ultimately built upon SUSTAINABILITY? If not, you need to consider stepping back and taking the time to make sure efforts are all going toward common goals and are vision and mission aligned. Otherwise, you likely will not reach your goals for your school and most importantly, your students.


  1. Take Risks

This one, for us at educate4hope, really resonated. You see, Pope Francis, has taken some BIG risks early met with controversy but, without sacrificing his faith in the Catholic Doctrine. From reaching out to atheists and agnostics, to embracing and engaging women who have had abortions, the Pope’s leadership in the area of taking risks is grounded in inclusiveness. How many people might say, before Pope Francis, that they have felt shut out?


So, as an educational leader – what risks do you or have you taken to be inclusive of ALL staff, students and community?


  1. Value Input From Subordinates

Pope Francis has impacted his reach and influence by valuing all people. What does that look like in his world? Well, he switched up tradition again as he washed the feet of prisoners, women and Muslims as opposed to the tradition of only priests. He also transformed the Synod of Bishops into a decision-making body as opposed to a ceremonial body.


As you know, every human being in your building is value added. It is your job to embrace, engage and leverage everyone's worth and authentically value it. Many may say we have lost our way as educational leaders in valuing input from our constituents. Don’t fall victim to this practice!



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How implementing an Alternative Dispute Resolutions process in your School can save relationships, money and improve the education of special needs students

How implementing an Alternative Dispute Resolutions process in your School can save relationships, money and improve the education of special needs students

by: Darin Knicely

For too many school administrators, the Special Education program in their school, is a thorn that they just cannot seem to shake.  In my administrative roles, I have worked feverously to change the perception of professional's views on the ability of students with special needs to increase the opportunities available.  When I entered administration, I was naïve to the fact to which my impact as a special education leader was influenced by central office administrators, state policies, and our district's litigation stance. While I will not be able to capture the full spectrum of special education litigation issues, I will make the case that you need to have an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process at your school. Let me explain to you what I mean by ADR and why you should institute this practice in your school.

Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADRs) are not unique to special education, but rarely used.  It is a process that various entities use to avoid hefty legal bills for issues that could be resolved without legal action. And don’t we all want that?  While I wish I could say that school law is for the lawyers, that just is not the case nor is it realistic.  As a teacher and administrator, I was consistently involved in due process complaints, settlement agreements, and legal proceedings.  This was partially because my career work focused on troubled schools which usually housed troubled special education departments with lack-luster processes and delivery.  The reality will be, as a leader, you will at some point be faced with legal action taken by a family who believes their student should be serviced differently.  On the simplest level, ADR is a policy that gives parents and advocates an avenue to bring concerns forward to be addressed at the school level, resulting in a more efficient and effective manner than the legal process.  Every parent that you can engage in the ADR process saves your organization money that can then continue to be allocated to student success.  And, in my experience, you will find that trust and relationships with your special needs parents will increase.

Getting back to money, would you be surprised to know that Federal funding for Special Education is an $11.5 billion investment? That is an increase from $7.5 billion in 2002. That increase and the funding allocation takes into account the several factors that create barriers in the education of students with disabilities. Every dollar that is appropriated from the Federal budget was designed to level the playing field for students with disabilities.  However, when the process of identifying and servicing goes awry it forces the special education instructional program to be placed at a financial and litigious disadvantage. For example, Minnesota's Department of Education reported that Special Education litigation tallied $466,532 in FY2014.  However, the report cited reflects only 19 of the 328 schools districts in Minnesota, raising further questions of the true cost of defending the special education process.  Taking into account the small sample size,  the dollar figure only calculates expenses for legal representation.  The settlement agreements that follow a litigation process listing compensatory services is not tracked because those expenses fall back into the overall special education budget.  The trouble with not tracking or accounting for compensatory services is that they are being pulled from the general special education budget. Most agreements asking for compensatory service usually seek restitution above what would be an expected cost to educate the student in question thus taxing a budget further than reasonably funded.  Now, let’s put this into terms that affects your building: 19 Minnesota school divisions spent the equivalent of 10 teacher salaries in defending a process that is well documented and should be outlaid with clear steps in procedure.  How can I make the assertion that those dollars wouldn't come out of federal special education funding? Because Federal Special Education dollars are earmarked for specific strategies that ensure the opportunity for education to students with disabilities, not the associated legal fees.  The most common account drawn  for litigation is the per pupil allocation school districts receive.  The expense to the general school budget places general education and at-risk students at a greater disadvantage due to inefficiencies in the special education process.

I hope at this point you have made the connection that each misstep made in the special education process costs you financially and costs your students opportunities. In my experience there are three typical trends found for litigating:

1) The school/district has not complied with IDEA in identification of a student with a disability and their level of need

2) The school and parent/guardian are in disagreement of what constitutes appropriate services or identification

3) The school failed to implement the IEP

However, Procedural safeguards give the parent/guardian of a student with a disability the right to seek a due process complaint if they believe any of these items have taken place. A due process complaint begins a process that may differ slightly per state, but generally follow the path found in this graphic.

Each has a specific process for resolution and if an ADR process was in place, you could save kids, relationships and use funding in a prudent manner.

This process is sound and every parent/guardian has the right to this process.  The financial concerns rise as each step through this process costs legal fees in the form of legal representation.  What I am suggesting here is to have a policy that is a step prior to a due process complaint.

This is where you may say, "Wait! I am an accessible school leader, families know they can reach out to me anytime for support." I am an accessible leader too but that did not stop parents who felt unheard by a staff member in some of my experiences from jumping over me to a legal advocate, particularly in places where an ADR process was non-existent.  Instituting an ADR process at the school level is an effort to say WE, not just me, are here to make a great learning environment for your child and we do not need a legal team to direct that passion.

With every initiative, success is achieved in the planning, communication, implementation, and monitoring, not the intention.

So, let’s get to ADR, what EXACTLY it is and the best practices associated with implementation.

First, PLAN:

Adopt and communicate a policy: Here is a school district's communication posted on the district website.

To understand the different paths of ADR visit this slide show

How do I communicate the policy? Frequently and in as many mediums as possible.  Staff presentations, Student/Parent handbook, Special Education procedure manual and the school website.

What needs to be understood by your staff:

Who takes the request for ADR? Everyone! Every staff member needs to understand that parents can bring issues and we want them to, especially early in their concern.

What documentation is needed? A log of ADRs, your responses and agreed (signed) resolutions are critical to success.

Follow through in implementation:

Who serves on the review of the ADR? You need your parent champion in special education to be involved.  Someone who understands how to listen more than they talk and can process the steps needed to be taken to resolve the concern.  If your special education department is in dire dysfunction you may want to create a stand-alone position that functions as the reviewer.  The cost savings will be far greater than the cost of the position.

Will ADR solve all of my special education department problems? No, sorry to be honest, but no.  Effective special education departments have clear policies and procedures that are implemented with fidelity.  Even greater is the sound implementation of a response to intervention framework that constantly collects, analyzes and acts on data to serve struggling students.  Add in strong instruction and a high expectation environment will put you in a great position to not need ADR on a frequent basis.

In summary, common sense is not always common practice.  Start with your purpose, you want to educate your students and parents want you to educate their children.  Common ground exists for this collaboration to be successful.  Understand that the parent/guardian has the right to trump you and take legal action. Your job is to show families that they do not need to and do not want to involve outside folks because no one cares more about their child's education than you and your staff.  Now that you are equipped with a process that can save children, relationships and appropriately….let’s get it done!


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How to stay focused on what is important, when you’re waist high in sand!


  At first, the image of being surrounded by sand might be appealing. Personally, being on any beach with loved ones is one of my favorite places to be, but that is not the imagery I am going for in this post. Additionally, in the era of high stakes testing, and the burden of ultimate accountability for a school’s success or failure resting squarely on the shoulders of the building leadership - not “sweating the small stuff” is a message that can be hard to swallow. Nonetheless, if you are an urban educator you do not want to feel like you live in a sauna (no matter how difficult it is to stay out of the sand some days, weeks or longer). So, let this serve as a reminder about staying focused on what is truly important, what is going to maximize the capacity and the number of blocks you can fit in your proverbial bowl, jar or bucket. Let me also state, there are many days I find it difficult to get “off the beach.”


Regardless of where we were in our school improvement process, I found it important to take my staff through a personal and professional goal setting activity at the beginning of every school year called everything from “Filling our Bucket” and “What’s in our Jar” to “Not Living in the Sand.” In essence this activity served to frame, present, and remind my staff of my core values and to specifically state our instructional priorities - setting the tone for the upcoming school year. As we approach the common educator fatigue months that late Fall/Winter brings (especially exasperated with daylight savings when you leave in the dark and come home in the dark), it serves as a great activity to regain traction and focus (or finally take control of the focus).


You can find many different interpretations and presentations of this demonstration of priorities, most of which are about time management. The following is how I adapted it to fit my leadership style. I would dramatically start with an empty glass bowl of some sort - a round fish bowl, a glass vase, or a mason jar and I would ask my staff to identify 3-5 of the most important components of their personal life, critical to their life’s fulfillment and happiness (i.e., Family, Health, Faith). I would then take 3-5 blocks to represent these critical components and fill the glass bowl to capacity. I would then say to my staff, “These blocks represent those 3- 5 priorities in your life and if all else were missing from your life, and only these blocks remained, your life would still be meaningful and fulfilled.” I would verbally share my “blocks” with my staff: Family, Health, Service/Value-Added, Integrity.


From there, I would add into the glass bowl marbles that would fill in the space between the large blocks, until the bowl was full of blocks and marbles; and then, finally adding in sand that would fill in the space between the marbles and blocks. With the addition of each new item, I would ask my team to consider the things in life that were important to them but not essential to life’s fulfillment. I provided examples like: work, school, and participating in sports, traveling or a hobby of some sort. These priorities were represented by the marbles in our “bowls” and then the things that were of convenience to them or materialistic (the small stuff) well…that was represented by the sand in our bowl. I then acknowledged to my staff, “If we were to fill our bowls with marbles or sand first, we would have no room for our big blocks, our priorities, the things that really mattered.” I’d like to think that I always speak from the heart, and I told my staff I cared about their Big Blocks as well and they needed to make sure their “Big Blocks” always came first, and to let me help them make sure that they made that a reality by providing support and modeling it.


Next, we talked about our school wide priorities for the year, our school’s Big Blocks. What was it that we were going to fill our school jar with that if we did not get any other material in our students’ glass bowls, they would be instructionally, socially and emotionally fulfilled? Then we continued with the process of identifying our marbles (the priorities, skills and achievements we would like for our students to leave with, but at the end of the day came secondary to our blocks). Then, there was our sand representing the minutia, all the things that if we put in our student’s bowls first, we would never fit in our school-wide priorities. I found this was a mighty powerful way to keep my staff motivated and on point, and a great way to keep us laser focused on our priorities throughout the school year. It also allowed great opportunities to say, “no more sand,” “not living at the beach today,” “not sweating the sand today,” “focused on my blocks,” or “are you thinking about your blocks?” These phrases often came out of my mouth when adults would attempt to engage me in discussions, requests or complaints about the need or desire to impose misaligned consequences on students or make decisions based on adult convenience over student’s needs or best interests.



Some years I would display our bowl all year long in a common place like our Main Office where staff signed in each morning to serve as constant reminder of the need to focus on and take care of our Big Blocks. I would also bring the bowl back out during our School Improvement Plan/ Action Plan monitoring sessions, a constant reminder why we set the priorities. I would like to add that there is one additional item for the traditional Prioritization Jar activity where you add a glass of water to the seemingly full bowl…my staff would often joke that should be the final component to our bowl - to demonstrate there is always room for a drink after work. Point well taken - be sure to celebrate growth and accomplishment and take some time for team building. Make sure that celebration of growth and accomplishments is minimally a marble in your glass bowl (or you can bet your message will fade by winter). Not everyone’s personal glass bowl will be the same, but everyone’s school blocks need to be identical. Take care of your blocks and stay out of the sand! May your daily acts be focused and aligned with your personal and school-wide priorities.



What is Educate4Hope

Educate4hope was founded by our fundamental desire and beliefs that effective leadership coaching is the singular most effective strategy that positively influences and supports efforts of building and sustaining a legacy of academic achievement and positive school culture. The reality is, in many of our nation's school districts, eaders are not supported and professionally developed in a manner that leverages skills sets nor is it done in a collaborative, trusting fashion. Whether it is a capacity, skill set, political, or resource issue - it just doesn't happen in some systems. As a result, our systems, schools and students continue to be impacted by losing potentially GREAT people and leaders. We understand Urban Educators better than anyone and consequently, empathize with the sense of urgency in quickly realizing positive, sustainable outcomes and the challenges of working in very complex environments. Fortunately, we have learned from our challenges and been blessed with awesome experiences and professional development and we want to GIVE BACK. Thus, we have a very purposeful and intentional approach to our work and are committed to the following:

Mistakes are not welcomed here!


Today in edutopiaDr. Richard Curwin speaks to the lack of inherent worth we as educators place on mistakes and most importantly the process of remedying mistakes. In his article It’s a Mistake Not to Use Mistakes as Part of the Learning Process, he reflects on how he has learned more from his own mistakes than successes. I whole heartedly agree as personally, not only have I learned more from my own failures (when I have had to pick up the pieces and identify specifically what, when or where I went wrong) but, from others and their behaviors or practices.  As an administrator and coach, I have learned so much from observing poor practices (please do not misunderstand, I see awesome practices as well, often).  Most importantly, I take these learnings, internalize them and share with we can all benefit! We are preparing our students for jobs that have yet to be created, and for careers yet to be imagined. Carol Dweck has long identified the "growth mindset" as one that allows our children to rely on effort and grit, not natural talent for success. Understanding that working hard through the process of learning is more valuable than having the right answers will take us much farther. Our students need to have the confidence to take risks, learn from their mistakes, and not fear failure. The only way to create that mindset is to encourage risks, and a mentality that to fail is the first attempt in learning.