Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Exploring Big Ideas to Maximize Schoolwide Potential with Natalie Miller

by Mary Howard


On August 25, 2016 #G2Great continued our five-part leadership series, Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize Schoolwide Potential. This week guest host Natalie Miller, principal of Cornelius Hedges Elementary in Kalispell, MT, deepened our “celebration of administrators who model by their actions what is possible when they make the shift to lead learner.”

Over the past four weeks, I have thought about this celebration of possible through the eyes of four remarkable administrators: Seth Berg, Matt Renwick, Tony Sinanis and Natalie Miller. As I reflect on their collective impact, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for their vision of administrators as lead learner. Yet my joy is hampered by the stark realization that their vision for what is possible is not the norm in every school. That concern drew my attention back to a quote we tweeted during our chat:

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This quote replayed in my mind as Natalie breathed new meaning into those words, elevating my desire for lead learner magic in every school. Administrators who inspire teachers “to yearn for the vast and endless sea” help us to envision leadership from the heart. With this in mind, I posed a singular guiding question to move us closer to that celebration of possible: WHAT IF?


And so as I look back on Natalie’s chat from a mindset of leadership from the heart, her words inspired me to ponder seven goals that I am hopeful can spark other schools to embrace a lead learner role through a lens of WHAT IF?

No 1

WHAT IF every administrator created a “positively contagious school culture?”

The word “relationship” has come up repeatedly in our series, and Natalie’s words champion this message as well. If we have any hope of creating schools where leadership from the heart is a reality, a positively contagious school culture must be our focus. Cornelius Hedges Elementary modeled these words when Natalie’s teachers enthusiastically surrounded her during the chat in joyful celebration of their lead learner. This mutual respect does not happen by chance but when lead learners are committed to intentionally nurture relationships that promote this positively contagious culture.

No 2

WHAT IF every administrator made decisions that “keep the focus on students?”

A positively contagious culture grounded in meaningful relationships allows us to shift our focus so that we can keep our eyes on the real prize –students. Our lead learners join forces with their staff to work toward a common vision that keeps students at the center of every effort. This is achieved through relevant professional learning experiences motivated by educators’ desire to know their students well for it is this knowledge that keeps students at the center on a day-to-day and teacher-to-teacher basis.

No 3

WHAT IF every administrator viewed “shared leadership as the foundation for success?

Once we have acknowledged student success as our ultimate goal, we can open the door to shared leadership in this spirit. This is not about compliance or doling out boxed programs and the STUFF that reflects lack of faith in knowledgeable teachers. Lead learners embrace a shared role that holds professional responsibility in high regard. Lead learners encourage their teachers to use understandings of literacy and children to guide decision-making as resources become flexible tools that honor responsive teaching. Lead learners bravely relinquish reigns of control so that they can make room for informed instructional choices.

No 4

WHAT IF every administrator welcomed conversations to “lead students to their highest levels of learning?”

When respectful communication and collaboration in a positive learning environment where students are the priority defines a school, it is evident the moment you walk through the front door. One of the hallmarks of successful schools where lead learners are at the helm is the deep belief in conversations that will engage teachers in generating questions fueled by their curiosity about students and steadfast commitment to lead them to the highest levels of learning. These high expectations are afforded every child because educators refuse to allow preconceptions spurred by labels and irrelevant or trivial data to blur their view.

No 5

WHAT IF every administrator celebrated their role as the school’s “Chief Storyteller?”

Schools that keep students at the center are proud of their collective efforts and willing to share their success stories with anyone who will listen. Lead learners not only pave the way for these celebrations, but encourage teachers and even students to become fellow storytellers. Social media offers a rich platform to instill a sense of pride in our work as we share with educators far and wide. In doing so, we commemorate our hard work driven by an unwavering passion to make each day the best possible learning day for the students who inspire that hard work and move us to share our collective story.

No 6

WHAT IF every administrator created an environment “for teachers to reflect on student learning?”

Research has long supported reflection as a powerful impetus to change. Effective teachers do not view the teaching experience as the end goal but as a way to closely examine their practices for the purpose of elevating those practices in the future. Lead learners encourage this professional introspection and offer time for teachers to share those reflections and use this shared discourse as a springboard to new thinking. Collegial collaborations allow teachers to analyze practices as they verbalize their thinking with others to take a renewed look at those practices from multiple perspectives.

No 7

WHAT IF every administrator demonstrates respect for all so “you can feel our smiles before you enter?”

And so we return to the “positively contagious school culture” that initiated our journey to WHAT IF. The culture Cornelius Hedges Elementary has created “where you can feel our smiles before you enter” stayed with me long after the chat ended. This is the very spirit of leadership from the heart enriched by administrators with the courage to make the transformation to lead learner. And that my friends, is where the magic lives, not only in schools where lead learners like Seth, Matt, Tony, and Natalie reside – but in schools across the country where possible could thrive if we change our view of what is means to be a ‘leader.’


In closing, there is no doubt in my mind that leadership from the heart where lead learners inspire teachers “to yearn for the vast and endless sea” is achievable because we have seen it in action over the past four weeks of our series. And if every school administrator was committed to becoming a lead learner in a celebration of possible through WHAT IF?

Well in the words of Dr. Seuss, “Oh the places we could go!”

Special thank you to Natalie Miller and the wonderful staff of Cornelius Hedges Elementary supported by Instructional Coach Dani Burtsfield for celebrating your possible with us and to each of our incredible #G2Great chatters who inspire us with their dedicated enthusiasm week after week!


Five ways to connect with Natalie:

Twitter @nataliebmiller



School website:


Dr. Tony Sinanis Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize School Wide Potential

by Amy Brennan

Tony Intro

On August 18, 2016 #G2Great welcomed Dr. Tony Sinanis to guest host Part 3 of a 5 Part Series: Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize School Wide Potential.  Through our leadership series we are exploring the impact of administrators as lead learners.  This blog post was inspired by Tony’s leadership and provides a place for thoughts, reflection and learning.


In the midst of  preparations for the upcoming school year and the beginning of my second year as an administrator I took a moment this morning to sit back, breathe in and remind myself of my “One Little Word” for 2016…grateful.  I am grateful for those before me, who I can look to for inspiration, guidance and hope.  Dr. Tony Sinanis is a leader who inspires through his passion for learning and his passion for doing what is best for kids.  His guidance comes through in so many ways; his one to one conversations, his presentations, his blog and his books.  Dr. Tony Sinanis shows us that there is still hope in education. This hope fills me and lifts my perspective and I remain grateful for the leadership that Tony demonstrates.   I knew that I needed to write these words, and today once again Dr. Tony Sinanis has spread his positive leadership in a way to empower others to be leaders.  Check out his first tweet below to see the energy he brings!

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Connect, Inspire and Support

As I look back and reflect on Tony’s message three things come to my mind CONNECT, INSPIRE and SUPPORT


Connections are essential to the human spirit.  We desire connections and we thrive with connections because relationships are essential.  Through Tony’s leadership he shares the importance of relationships.  Tony values and nourishes relationships because he understands how these shape culture.  As a connected educator Tony values the role of social media and utilizes social media to share the story of his community.  Social media is a tool to extend and build more connections beyond the walls of your own classroom, school or district.  Face to face conversations are even more important to building relationships than ever before.  Connecting with all stakeholders and investing in relationships is the first step to building a positive school culture.

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Tony Quote Hacking leadership


We become inspired when we see someone who cares so deeply and has authentic, strong beliefs that cause us to take action or create something.  Being transparent in our beliefs, goals, as well as our own learning can inspire others.  Keeping kids at the center of their own learning, rather than “teaching” opens doors to inspire everyone in a community to take on the life of a learner.  Living as a learner inspires others and when kids are in the center how can you not be inspired?   Tony inspires educators, parents and students each and every day through his leadership.  

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Providing guidance and support are critically important when facilitating  any kind of learning.  Adults and kids need to feel safe and supported in order to take the necessary risks in order to learn. Empowering others to take risks as we learn and  lead strengthens the overall learning organization in ways that benefit students.  This creates ownership, and when we own our learning that is when we grow.  Tony shares with us the idea of supporting voice and choice for learners.

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Through his enthusiasm you can feel the energy and passion that Dr. Tony Sinanis has for students, parents and teachers.  His commitment to learning is demonstrated as he shows us what it means to truly be a lead learner.  I have been fortunate to connect with Tony on Twitter  and meet him and listen to him share his passion at Long Island Connected Educators, I have read his blog and books.  Tony’s generosity in sharing his passion and ideas is inspirational.  I return to my “One Little Word” for 2016 and I remain grateful that through our leadership series we are exploring the impact of administrators, like Tony who are lead learners leaders who show us the direction and invite us to learn and lead.  It is through this that I find inspiration, guidance and hope.  


Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize School Wide Potential Administrator Spotlight on Matt Renwick

By Jenn Hayhurst


Everyone Needs A Champion…

Sometimes a word can be a perfect fit. When I think of the word “inspire” and I think about the many talented administrators I have come to know, it’s really captures the essence of what makes them great . Dedicated administrators fulfill both definitions of the word. They do fill us with a feeling of elation to create great work in the name of students. They navigate the political tensions of running a school and do in fact, help us to breathe in and stay focused. They are brave and do whatever it takes so that we all keep students at the center of all the decision making.They are real life champions working for the greater good each day a school opens its doors.

InspireOn August 11, 2016 #G2Great welcomed Matt Renwick to guest host Part 2 of a five Part Series: Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize School Wide Potential. Matt Renwick is a champion, who inspires us all.   

Great Teachers, Growth, Learning…

Matt’s top three instructional building blocks to promote positive school environment are a belief in: great teachers, growth, and celebrating learning for all students. Clarity is essential so when we all understand what our building blocks for school culture are, we can all work together to make them a reality. We are part of something bigger than ourselves, because we are all champions for the same cause:

Empower, Success, Collaboration…

Creating a school environment that promotes empowered relationships is purposeful and disciplined work for a school leader. Knowing when it’s right to step into a leadership role and and when to step out of a leadership role honors collaborative work.  It shifts personal responsibility for our professional learning and each other when we embrace the thinking that we are all leaders. We are a championship team who are all working to win students’ success:

Conversation, Consensus, Team…

We merge leadership and instructional decision-making when we merge our beliefs. Our work is to encourage meaningful conversations, to find consensus, and to create a responsive team. Every championship team has a great coach, great leaders are part of the team so they seek out experts who will coach them achieve victory. Leaders listen:  

Time, Facilitate, Building-Wide…

Our best work for students comes to life when administrators think like champions. They inspire a collaborative spirit as if we were stepping into the area for a playoff game. They come to work to play hard and try new roles designed to coordinate our efforts. We are all leaders, we are all learners and this makes our schools great:

Welcoming, Being Present, Making Experiences …

We can’t stand on the sidelines. We must get out there and make connections of all kinds. By connecting our schools and communities we affect changes. Leaving a positive footprint begins when we all step into our leadership roles and leave tracks for others to follow:  

Assess, Focus, Choice …

Be a champion for a school culture that values professional learning – one that deeply identifies itself with success. Assessing and planning for this are essential parts that drive intentional decision making that accommodates teacher choice for professional learning.  This is how we grow teacher leaders.  When everyone immerses themselves in this process we embed learning throughout:   

Professionalism, Say Yes, Success …

Having a personal vision statement allows us to envision the school our educators and students deserve. Being a champion means saying “yes” to the work ahead and finding support that brings success:  

We are all champions! We can choose to be a source of inspiration that keeps the lights on in schoolhouses across our nation. If you are an administrator, like Matt Renwick, you can lead like a learner. If you are a teacher, you can be a collaborative colleague keeping students first. We can all be brave and know when to ask for help, holding tight to the belief that we are smarter together. If you are a parent, be involved and support your local schools. This is the work of a lifetime and we need everyone to be part of the team.

Thank you for inspiring us Matt. You’ve brought out our inner champions:

Opening Quote

Seth Berg: Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize Schoolwide Potential

by Mary Howard


On 8/4/16, #G2Great embarked on a new journey with a five-part leadership series. Exploring Seven Big Ideas to Maximize Schoolwide Potential is a virtual “celebration of administrators who model by their actions what is possible when we create a shared role of lead learner.

And celebrate possible we did when Seth Berg, principal of Meadow Brook Elementary in Rochester Hills, MI, launched us on a joyful exploration. I met Seth early in my entry into Twitter when I happened on his remarkable blog and I’ve been professionally smitten ever since. Seth lives and breathes the harmonious merger of administration and instruction in the name of children and his first tweet was a testament to his commitment for this shared role:

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 10.08.58 PMSo as we begin our series, I’d like to reflect on Seth’s inspirational tweets that highlight our Seven BIG IDEAS. Notice that these ideas are not viewed in isolation but through a lens of deep beliefs interwoven into a beautiful patchwork of change:



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It doesn’t take long after entering a school building to get a strong sense that a schoolwide culture has been thoughtfully nurtured within a collective spirit of commitment. Seth emphasizes that our core values, those things we hold dear supported by research, are at the center of this culture. Yes these are challenging times, but if we adhere to the tenets of what matters most in our schools and as we work toward a culture based on a common ground of excellence, that culture is palpable the moment you enter the front door. It is evident that these schools view time as a precious commodity as demonstrated by each minute spent in the most valuable and purposeful ways as positive energy literally emanates from every intentional choice in the service of learning.



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This schoolwide culture where core values are celebrated is rises from respectful relationships that nurture positive interactions. These relationships do not happen by chance or because teachers are expected to become compliant disseminators of top down mandates. Rather, it is an outcome of shared leaderships where each voice is viewed as key decision-maker within a positive environment where educators work together to bring a common vision for what that school can be to life. When this happens, the celebration of possible is always in view as shared ownership reflects collective input. Mutual respect then leads to even more productive efforts as this thoughtfully intentional work has a direct impact on students.



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It is not unusual to see a negative trickle down effect in districts where leadership is seen through a lens of iron fisted directives. This same trickle down effect, however, becomes a positive force when shared leadership flows from a district to building level so administrators are empowered to do this work with support from all sides. Seth’s message of collaboration from a broader culture of leadership can have a significant impact on the collective energy across an entire district. The freedom that comes with this trust affords principals opportunities to promote and support change that is responsive to the unique needs of their individual buildings as schools set their sights on this staff, these students and this community. In other words, the leadership-instruction merger is not a recipe that is merely doled out to schools within the district to dutifully implement, but a collective willingness to address the most pressing needs of the individual school at that moment in time.



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As an educator, I can’t think of anything I would want more than to be in an environment where everyone is present, visible, connected, engaged and above all enthusiastic. When we acknowledge that we are all working toward a common goal focused squarely on meeting the needs of students, great things can happen. Those critical qualities Seth referred to then become the fuel that has the potential to drive all we do. In order to merge leadership and instruction, we must be on the same page, coordinating our efforts through collaboration and an unwavering collective commitment to elevate the craft of teaching so that we can enrich the learning lives of the students we are fortunate to have in our care. Schools that place a high value on being present, visible, connected, engaged and enthusiastic view students as the impetus for every decision on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis.



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Schools do not exist on a lonely island in the middle of nowhere. Rather, they exist within a larger community of support where we can maximize our potential within and beyond the four walls of our buildings. This two-way perspective will require us to be cognizant of the needs of our community and willing to initiate invitations to celebrate side by side with us in any way we can. We do this through events at a building level or through social media as we share our efforts with others. When we are proud of what is happening in our schools we want to open our doors to enthusiastically share our successes. If we find that we are unwilling to share our efforts and open our doors, then we may need to take a long hard look at what we are doing and make the changes that will alter our perception of our school and reawaken pride in all that we do because we know our choices matter.



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Those of us who are committed to professional learning respect both our personal and professional efforts as a never-ending process. Our lead learner administrators work to promote a mindset of professional curiosity that enables every member of the staff to reflect on and respond to personal and schoolwide queries about the learning process so that we can meet the learning needs of every child we are blessed to have in front of us. This curiosity inspires us to embrace discovery as we seek to understand this wonderful work we do so that we can do it in the most effective ways. Seth’s reminder to tap everyone and celebrate both the individual and collective progress we make along the way is essential for promoting a growth mindset designed to benefit teachers and in turn the recipients of our every effort – kids.



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Seth’s final message brought us full circle back to celebrating possible. His commitment to his school is so inspiring but it is his obvious belief in his own role as learner that left a lingering impact in my head and heart days after our chat. That sense of joy was then multiplied by a second tweet that elevated my appreciation for Seth as lead learner even more.

Seth Berg

Seth’s belief in the immense beauty of learning together and embracing these moments is what long-term impact is all about. To illustrate the message that left me smiling for days after our #G2Great chat, Seth shared a blog post that reflected his ponderings when his eyes happened on a weed that had gone unnoticed on his lawn:

“Beauty does seem to be in the eye of the beholder, and I believe that beauty does exist everywhere and in everything. So, it’s up to the beholder to live in such a way that beauty becomes apparent to others. What happens when educators lead in ways that expose beauty to those they serve?   What happens when educators lead in ways that encourage students to appreciate the unique and amazing beauty within themselves?  Take one more moment, look again, behold this weed, this nuisance, this lawn pest.

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So as I look back on our celebration of possible through Seth’s eyes I am once again drawn to his eloquent words that move me to close with a question: When we know that schools like Meadow Brook Elementary with lead learners like Seth exist, why isn’t every school and every administrator celebrating the possible our teachers and students deserve? It occurs to me that anything less cheats teachers and children of the best we have to offer. Our students are an intricate thread that ties each of us together in a glorious joyful merger, and this powerful union of administration and instruction can take schools to new heights.

Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” We obviously know better because we have have seen possible at work in schools like Meadow Brook. Shouldn’t possible then be a professional and personal imperative for schools everywhere? It certainly seems like a question worth asking…

I, along with my #G2Great co-moderators Jenn Hayhurst and Amy Brennan, am so grateful to see a glimpse of lead learning in action at Meadow Brook Elementary. Thank you, Seth, for launching an inspiring journey celebrating possible through your eyes!

Please join #G2Great on 8/11/16 with guest host Matt Renwick, principal of Mineral Point Elementary in Mineral Point, WI.