Six Ways to Be a Lifelong Learner


I cringe when I hear an adults joke about not having read a book since high school. I especially cringe if the person who says that has any regular interaction with young people. It’s not so much the lack of reading that bothers me most; it’s more the pride that often accompanies the comment.

Parents, educators, youth ministers, and anyone else who works with kids should be the very model of what it means to be a lifelong learner. We should set the standard for both personal and professional growth and those around us— especially young people— should want to follow our example.

But sometimes we get busy or complacent or apathetic. We allow life to happen to us, and before we know it, we find ourselves in a rut, not growing.

To help anyone who feels stagnate or, as Alain de Botton puts it in the quote above, “not embarrassed of who they were a year ago,” here are six suggestions for personal improvement.

  • Read daily. There’s a difference in loving to read and loving to have read. Regular reading is a discipline and for many, it does not come naturally. However, loving to have read provides a feeling of personal accomplishment. I once heard Tim Sanders say that the average American businessman reads .7 professional books every five years. However, Dave Ramsey likes to say that the average millionaire reads one profession-related nonfiction book every month. If you want to be successful, then do what successful people do. Make it a habit to read daily, and like any discipline, it will become easier.
  • Seek out experts. Attend conferences and develop relationships through social media or even email. You’d be amazed how far an offer to buy lunch for someone you consider to be an expert will take you. I had that experience this past spring when I emailed Eric Sheninger, author of Digital Leadership, and asked him if he’d like to get lunch while he was in Little Rock keynoting a conference. We were able to meet the day prior to the conference, and I learned so much and developed a friendship simply by sending an email and extending an invitation.
  • Make connections. Just because something is labeled for one audience does not mean another audience can’t adapt the same principles to a different setting. Being an educator and being an entrepreneur have many similarities, so books on leadership and business are great resources to consider and their ideas have easy carry-over to the classroom.
  • Turn off the TV. According to this Neilson report, the average American watches 5 hours of TV a day. Don’t do that. If you feel you have to watch something, substitute TV shows with TED videos or YouTube videos of experts in your field.
  • Find the time. In his book Show Your Work!author/artist Austin Kleon says that when he is asked how he finds the time to get so much done, he responds by saying, “I look for it.” If you want to grow, find the time. Schedule it. Make it a priority. Turn off the TV. Listen to audiobooks or podcasts instead of listening to music. You’ll find the time you need if you look for it.
  • Invest in yourself. Career expert Dan Miller suggests budgeting 3% of your annual income for purchasing books and attending conferences. Conference registration expenses can be expensive, but budgeting a set amount each month will allow for bigger expenses.

Lifelong learning is a lifelong adventure— enjoy the ride. Remember to share your experiences with those around you— especially the young people who see you as a role model. And if you haven’t read a book since high school, let’s work on that.

If someone told you he or she hasn’t read a book since high school, what book would you suggest that person begin with? Leave your recommendation in the comments below.

A Reflection on my First Day of Observation Meetings

In my last post, I described how I plan to use mini-observations and scheduled observation meetings this year as I learn to be an instructional leader. Today was my first day of observation meetings… and I loved it!

As I was talking to my five-year-old son tonight, he commented that he would be scared if he had to visit his principal, and he wondered if the teachers at my school were scared if they had to visit me. That’s a really weird thought for me. I hope everyone at my school feels comfortable visiting with me, but my son may be right. I wish that weren’t the case.

  • I’m hoping regular meetings will ease those fears.
  • I’m hoping I develop strong relationships that will ease any fears.
  • I’m hoping that everyone in our building sees my goal– to be the best we can be every day.

So today we began the meeting process, and I met with five teachers for 30+ minutes each. (Five conferences in one day to discuss goals, growth, and teaching! I can’t remember having five of those conversations with a principal during my first 10 years of teaching!) In my opinion, the meetings couldn’t have gone better. Our meetings followed this structure:

  • Teachers shared positive things from the year so far.
  • Teachers shared any concerns or needs they have.
  • We discussed the mini-observation process and showed my observation documentation system and how it works.
  • We discussed the observation notes I’ve already gathered through mini-observations.
  • We reviewed the three school-wide instructional goals for the year (writing effective objectives, student engagement, and appropriate and effective student technology use).
  • We identified 3-5 individual PD goals I can help each teacher reach. Essentially, these are some of the key things I’ll look for during a mini-observation in addition to the school-wide goals.
  • Finally, we went over the teacher evaluation rubric. Teachers assessed themselves with the rubric prior to coming to the meeting. We will re-evaluate in December and in May.

This won’t be a typical observation meeting, but it was a great first one. I feel like we got a lot accomplished and we’re heading in the right direction. In our second observation meeting, we’ll be able to have deeper discussions about effective lesson planning and analyzing assessments.

I have seven observation meetings scheduled for Thursday. I can’t wait!

But I will admit that I was pretty tired by the end of the day; however, this is the work.

How I’m Learning to be an Intentional Instructional Leader

My perception of classroom observations changed drastically when I read Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation by Kim Marshall. I then read Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo based on a recommendation from my friend Justin Baeder, director of the Principal Center.

I combined the key ideas I gathered from both books and developed an ambitious mini-observation & teacher meeting schedule that begins this week. Since I am the principal at a private school in Arkansas, we are not required to follow the state’s TESS guidelines. While I understand that many administrators reading this post are mandated to follow certain observation guidelines, perhaps by sharing my experiences and my processes, a few things may be applicable and beneficial.

In the traditional full observation system, classrooms are typically observed 2-4 times a year. When broken down by class periods (6 class periods x 178 days), that turns out to be 2 observations out of a possible 1,068 lessons (.002%). I will never believe that system provides an accurate picture of a classroom.Full Observations


Instead of relying on full observations, my emphasis this year will be on mini-observations which Marshall discusses in-depth in his book. A mini-observation is as follows:

  • 10-15 minute observation
  • unannounced
  • frequent (at least once every two weeks)
  • timely feedback provided

When broken down by class periods, that turns out to be around 18 observations out of 1,068 lessons (1.7%).

Mini-observationsMarshall recommends meeting with teachers informally within 24-48 hours of each observation. He suggests meeting in the hallways, in the copier rooms, at lunch, even in the parking lot– anywhere you can have a short conversation about the observation. After that, he suggests the administrator follow-up with an email documenting the observation and conversation.

While this system makes sense, I tried it last year and it was too tough for me. I would get distracted, and days would be go by before I had the opportunity to follow-up. Because I wasn’t timely with my feedback, the conversations rarely happened and I didn’t see the results I wanted.

So this year I’m going to try a different approach– one outlined in Leverage Leadership. I’m still sticking with mini-observations because I believe they provide a more accurate picture of a classroom. However, the follow-up conversations are scheduled in the form of 30-minute bi-weekly teacher meetings during each teacher’s planning period. Take a look below to see an example weekly schedule of my observations (in green) and meetings (in yellow).

Sample Weekly Schedule

Is it ambitious? Absolutely.

Am I crazy for trying this? Probably.

Is it doable? Yes, if I believe it works– and I do. Marshall convinced me when he wrote this:

Talking to teachers about the teaching and learning that’s going on in their classrooms is the heart and soul of instructional leadership. There’s nothing more productive and satisfying than being in classrooms and talking to colleagues about teaching and learning. This is the work!

(from Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation)

Today I was able to observe 7 classrooms and I had so much fun! I can’t remember a day last year that I was able to observe 7 classrooms.

Tomorrow we start our bi-weekly meetings. We’ll begin a process where we get to dedicate 30 minutes every other week to talk about student learning, to plan lessons together, to talk about classroom observations, and to help each other grow.

I’m so excited about this!

Today I began to feel like an instructional leader.

Tomorrow I’ll begin to be one.