My First Day of School

I sat in my blue plastic chair behind my desk. If you’re a teacher, you know the one I’m speaking of. It’s just an adult-sized chair you find in a classroom, and it signified I lacked the experience to either buy my own chair or steal one from an empty class before the start of school. It was the beginning of the third period, and my students were working on some crossword or word search ditto as they sat in rows. The classroom was sterile as I had put little on the walls. You could hear their pencils scribbling across their paper and periodic whispering.

It was the first day of school for these junior high students. It was also my first day of school as I had missed the opportunity to open a class during my student teaching. My day probably began like most students. I dressed up in my back-to-school clothes. For me, these were brown slacks and a creme colored dress shirt. I even wore a tie. However, I think I spent 15 minutes trying to get my tie to be the correct length. I anxiously stood at the door of our apartment as my wife took my picture. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea I would be writing about this day almost 30 years later.

I shifted in my seat and continued to read my students “All About Me” note cards. This was one of those strategies they taught you in the teachers’ school so you can get to know your kids. It was also the same school that promoted, “Don’t smile until November.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting to know my students as much as I was evaluating their writing. Their penmanship was awful. I could hardly read their writing due to the misspelled words and slang. I still didn’t know their names yet, but Royce was badgering Ashley about something, foreshadowing a pattern for the year. “You better deal with this now and show who’s in control,” I thought. I looked up from the cards and placed both hands on the desk. Pushing my chair back as I stood, the scraping sound of metal feet on the newly waxed tile floors stopped the talking, and all students eyes met mine.

I barked, “Hey! Stop talking and finish your work!” The room fell silent, and the eyes of the students quickly fell away to their ditto. I had that sense of power surge through me and thought I had things under control. The first two periods had gone well, and I was not going to let this group get the best of me. I looked down and my desk before I sat down. That’s when I saw it. I could feel that rush of blood leaving my head. It was the third period. My mind screamed, “All morning? How could my zipper be down all morning and I not notice it until now!” I quickly sat down and ever so carefully put my hands in my lap. My left hand grabbed the cloth, and my right hand quickly jerked the zipper up. My mind was racing in my embarrassment. “Did they see? Does anyone know?”

I have no other memories of my first day. The embarrassment overshadowed all else. I told no one until several years ago. I can only wonder what memories my students had of their first day with me. I have no doubt it was unmemorable as well. I look back on this incident with mixed emotions. I laugh at the insecurity and terror I felt. I am also ashamed of my immaturity, as I was focussed on me and not my students. I had no support staff to guide me. No PLN or framework for supporting behavior. It was old school rows, discipline, dittos, quizzes on Friday, and detention for talking back. It was the way it was, but I am still not proud of how I started my career. I also look back at the beginning of my career and wonder who was more nervous that first day.

Today, I see the first day of school through a very different lens. As my colleague John Martinez shares, we smile because it can change everything. We try to make students and parents smile on the first day and every day. I am proud our teachers collaborate around building relationships and implementing Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) at our school. You will not see many classrooms (if any) in traditional rows. Nor will you find time-killer word search dittos. The first day of school is one where we welcome students and let them know we are excited by their wonder, their curiosity, and their desire to be so much more. We are excited to find help our students find their voice, to help them grow, and to help them create.

I am grateful the first day of school will be different for our students than it was for my students so many years back. I have learned so much from colleagues and my mistakes over the years. We will smile on the first day. We will engage students’ minds on the first day. We will make it a safe place to learn and connect with others on the first day. In doing so, we strive to make the opening day memorable, so students are excited to return the second day. And if we do this well, from the heart, the adults will feel the same way; eager to return. I just want to remind everyone to check themselves in the mirror before they leave home.


Building Leadership Capacity

Reflections On Our PLNs

When I was a kid, I had a big yard with an orange orchard behind our house. My friends and I would play outside all day until the street lights came on or we heard the whistle or call from one of our parents. There was an older group of boys who always tried to raid our forts or intrude upon our games, but our small band of brothers kept these marauders at bay. We learned to build sturdy forts, throw oranges at moving targets, and create secret codes. You might say this was my first personal learning network (PLN).

I throw fewer oranges today. I still associate with a group, but the structure and purposes are very different. Instead of building forts, I attempt to build leadership capacity in my staff and others. While throwing oranges at each was entertaining as a kid, the collaborative work I now do with adults is much more rewarding. I am also more intentional with my participation because my focus is to become a more effective leader and cultivate leadership in others.

Our Leadership Framework

The focus for Between the Johns centers around our efforts to be effective leaders and support the innovative use of technology. We will be using many sources, but our framework will be based on research supported by the Wallace Foundation. Harvey and Holland’s 2013 report on the school principal points to five effective practices. Number three of these five is Cultivating Leadership in Others. As John and I prepared for our podcast on this topic, we reflected on how we attempt to cultivate leadership in others. We quickly found ourselves talking about our PLNs and their influence. We agreed there was tremendous power in the PLN to build our leadership capacity and to support leadership development in others.

PLNs Are Significant

It is 2018. Therefore, PLNs can be physical and virtual. As John and I talked, we identified examples of both formats that were excellent resources for us as site leaders. Vroom (2017) calls this like-minded PLN a tribe. John and I compared our current tribes for commonality (both present and in the past), and we agreed the tribe itself was not powerful enough to cultivate leadership in others. The power came from the intentionality of our involvement. That intentional focus was critical if our PLN was to impact our leadership and influence our leadership of others.

Another benefit of current PLNs is the asynchronous role technology can play in allowing PLNs to influence greater numbers. Our present work with podcasts, blogs, and Twitter allows for the exchange of ideas at all times of day versus specific hour or location. That ability to connect with our tribes when we have time (or energy) increases our likelihood to be engaged and intentional with the exchange of ideas. This reciprocity is critical for personal growth. Sheninger (2014) calls out the obligation of “connectedness” because leaders typically focus on self-development. The virtual nature of today’s PLNs facilitates that involvement, reciprocity of ideas, and increases the likelihood the participant experiences leadership growth. The participant can bring back those ideas to facilitate the growth of leaders back in the workplace.

Cultivating leadership in others is critical to any principal, teacher-leader, coach, or district office leader. While there is never enough time in the day, it is an obligation to continue to learn and grow in our field. We create the conditions for success at our work sites, and PLNs are a powerful way to learn, share, influence, and bring back ideas to grow leadership in others.

  • Do you have a tribe (PLN)? If so, is it physical, virtual, or both?
  • How intentional are you about your learning, the learning of others within your tribe, or expanding the influence with others outside your tribe?

The Significance Of Shout-Outs

Finally, John recently shared with me his insight from a podcast, Teaching Tales with Brent Coley (2018). Brent’s guest was Angela Maiers, and she spoke about the incredible value of noticing others. As we talked about this, we both agreed that noticing others was important to our topic of cultivating leadership in others. Regardless of how busy we become in our roles, we must take time to notice others; especially those that have helped cultivate leadership in us.

  • How do/can you let others (especially those in your PLN) know they matter?


We asked some of our PLN partners to give a shout-out and recognize either individuals or their PLN. Here are a few that came in.

“Hello, I’m Michael Jephcott, a Technology Integration Specialist for the Bassett Unified School District in La Puente, California.  I have been helping our district lead the way in developing and deploying computer science and computational thinking at the elementary level.  Without the encouragement and support from my Twitter #PLN most of this work would not have been possible. So thank you, @annkozma723 @bribriggs @TechTomBUSD @MsGeekyTeach @judyblakeney @chonito928 @jcorippo @MsHaughs @cogswell_ben @codeorg and @drezac”

“I’m Cindy Bak, proud principal at Valencia Park Elementary School in the Fullerton School District. I’m helping to cultivate leadership and build capacity in my leadership teams to take ownership in the decision-making processes of the school. Together, we will reflect on our identity as an innovative, forward-thinking, Apple Distinguished School school and together, identify our next steps in moving our school forward to provide the most engaging, relevant, and rigorous learning environment for all students so that they may discover and explore their passions, find purpose and act with purpose, and unleash their full and unique potential. I want to thank the Fullerton SD Ed Leadership Team, Fullerton SD Tech TOSA team, Cotsen Principal Tech Network, and all of my fellow principal friends for being a thought partner along this journey in my first year as principal. Your encouragement has been a source of support during challenging moments and your critical feedback has been a catalyst to spur on deeper reflection and professional growth.”


Harvey, J., & Holland, H. (2013). The school principal as leader: Guiding schools to better teaching and learning. The Wallace Foundation.

Vroom, C. (2017). Professional learning networks: Harness the power of professional growth. Principal Leadership; Reston, 17(7), 52–54.

Sheninger, E. (2014). Connectedness: The New Standard. Principal Leadership; Reston, 14(7), 46–52.

Coley, B. (2018). Angela Maiers & Noticing the Value in Others.