PERCEPTION VS REALITY: Don’t always believe what you hear


The Ashland Public Schools are proud to partner with Decisions at Every Turn (DAET) Coalition in this joint blog venture. We have worked together as close community partners for more than a decade. DAET’s vision is “to create a safe and healthy Ashland by working as a community to prevent, reduce and solve the problems that can lead to youth substance use/abuse.” At a meeting in late October, we were discussing ways to promote the vision and mission of the coalition and share with the community all the things that are happening in the coalition, schools, and community. I was able to persuade Amy Turncliff, the chair, to join in this joint venture. She graciously agreed, with a little persuasion. We agreed on the topic of Perception vs Reality.


As parents, we struggle with perception vs reality. We often see one version of things when what really happens is something completely different. The illustrations above highlight this. As adults we know this, but yet we still struggle. With the explosion of social media in the last decade, people post pictures of those “perfect memories” creating the illusion (perception) that everything is perfect when the reality is that nothing is perfect. Based on “The Science of the Positive”, “The Positive” consists of the behaviors, attitudes, perceptions, traditions, language, and other factors that have a beneficial impact on health, culture, and human experience (Linkenbach, 2016). The messaging we hear and see impacts our perceptions and beliefs about “norms” or what “MOST” people are doing or experiencing.

If as adults we fall into this pitfall so do our children. We often hear them say: “Everyone is going to the Party” “Everyone failed the test.” “Everyone says the teacher is awful.” “All my friends can stay up late.” When the reality is it isn’t everyone, and the percentage is typically small. Keeping this in mind as we work and interact with students is critically important.

How can we balance how kids are feeling and perceiving things while helping them see the reality of the situation?

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Last month a report was presented to our School Committee which fully highlights this. AHS students perceive that “MOST” students in the school are using substances, when in reality, “MOST” (>50%) students choose NOT to use substances. While it is true that more students in 9th grade choose not to use substances than those in 12th grade, “MOST” AHS students feel youth substance use is “wrong”; nearly ¾ would rather not drink alcohol when hanging out with friends (72%); and 89% would support a friend if they chose not to drink alcohol. By sharing the “REALITY” with students we can reduce misperceptions and close the gap between perception and reality.

If our perceptions become our truth, how can we change that mindset?

According to the Boston University School of Public Health, “the Social Norms Theory posits that our behavior is influenced by misperceptions of how our peers think and act. Overestimations of problem behavior in our peers will cause us to increase our own problem behaviors; underestimations of problem behavior in our peers will discourage us from engaging in the problematic behavior. Accordingly, the theory states that correcting misperceptions of perceived norms will most likely result in a decrease in the problem behavior or an increase in the desired behavior.”

Based on the Positive Community Norms (PCN) framework and the Science of the Positive, Ashland Public Schools and the DAET Coalition have been working over the past three years to correct misperceptions of peer substance use at AHS. If students perceive (or misperceive) that “all” of their peers and adults in the community are using substances, they are more likely to use, too. However, in reality, most students don’t use substances and by sharing this positive reality with students, we can grow the positive and empower students to choose not to use substances. By discussing the difference between perception and reality with students, and sharing the data, we can challenge misperceptions with the goal of correcting them.



Just Do It!



Tech and Learning sponsored an inspiring workshop this weekend about Bridging the Equity Gap. Although there was a technology focus to the conference, to me, the learning and message went beyond the topic and technology.


Our first stop was to the Denver School of Science and Technology. It was evident from the visit that there was a strong sense of culture, high expectations, opportunity, and student voice throughout the campus. What was most impressive is that 100% of graduates have been accepted to a 4-year college. Their core values are clearly listed all over the school and from the 2 hours we spent there, I could see that they were a living and breathing part of the school. If you are going to be successful you need to know what you stand for and what you believe in and be able to clearly articulate it. DSST was able to do this.

What are your core values and beliefs and do people know them?

Adeel Khan, principal of the Conservatory Green High Schools said, “real learning happens through relationships.” We can take this a step further and say that a leader is only successful once they have built true relationships. We spend a lot of time focusing on how to raise scores, close gaps, and addressing issues, but how much time are we spending building relationships in our schools and districts?

How can you do a better job building relationships in your schools?


Wisdom Amouzou said, “Chromebooking the hell out of schools does not create digital equity.” A lot of what we do in education is “throw products” at students. But if we are going to see true systemic change, “the system must change to truly serve all.” Just because a district has the resources to purchase materials and programs, that does not mean that we will close gaps and see progress. The approach to sustainable change and progress must be from within and part of your core values and beliefs in order for it to be effective.

What can we do as leaders to make sure that change and progress becomes a part of the fabric of our schools?


Kristy Sailors is the Director of Technology for the Houston Public Schools. She serves over 200,000 students in her school community. In talking to Kristy and other leaders from across the nation it was apparent that it does not matter the size of your school district or your budget, the issues are the same everywhere. Many people use this as a crutch or an excuse as to why students are not succeeding, but that is too easy of an excuse.

What are you going to do to minimize those issues in your community?


Sean Wybrant asked us these three questions. He is the Colorado Teacher of the Year who believes in student agency and voice. Empowering students is so important to their success. What was evident about listening to Sean speak is that he has high standards and expectations of his students and they are able to meet them. Sean’s classroom can serve as an exemplar that it is possible to give students a voice while still maintaining rigor and high expectations.

How can we increase student agency in our districts and schools?


All of us know the importance and power of our PLN. This weekend served as another strong example of this. Jen O’Neill introduced me to Brad Hubbard, Tom Todd, and Johnnie Thomas. Three educators with different backgrounds from different parts of the country. We joined up with Eric Conti and Pat Larkin for an engaging conversation about education and students after one of the sessions ended. All of us walked away from that conversation with a different and new outlook on education and the challenges and obstacles we each face to better our school communities and an appreciation for what needs to be done to make that happen. More importantly, I walked away with stronger and better PLN and 6 people that I can reach out to for help and support.

How do you use your PLN to better yourself and community?

As we are looking to impact change and build a better experience for our students remember to just do it!


What is your Passion? Find it, Spread it, and Share it!


During July, I spend time reflecting on the previous school year, recharging, and preparing for the upcoming year. How did I do? What could I have done differently? Did I make a difference? What impact did I have? Is my District better? Are all questions that I ponder. During this month I also attend the MASS and MSAA conferences. Both of these always cause me to reflect, recharge, and leave with great ideas for the upcoming school year; while also helping me to answer many of those questions.

One theme that I kept seeing and thinking about during this past month was PASSION. Passion is easy to find, especially over the summer, but how can we maintain that high level of energy and passion throughout the school year, that is the question? As I look back at the past few weeks, several educational rockstars come to mind that bring a high level of passion to their daily work.


Beth Houf, author of Lead Like a Pirate was the keynote speaker at the MSAA Conference. She is all about passion. Pirate is an acronym that stands for Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation, Enthusiasm. She spoke about how we must be passionate and enthusiastic about kids and our jobs, if we are not then how can we expect the same from teachers and students? 

Remember the passion to love what you do.


Rockstar Aaron Polansky just published a children’s book called Dolphins in Trees. This book is Dr. Seuss meets Tony Robbins, Dolphins in Trees is a story about kindness, belief, love, choices, and the potential in all of us to make a difference in the world of others. Mindful and Dizzy teach us that it’s our decisions, not our conditions, that determine our destiny. Dolphins in Trees is a must-read in the genre of social-emotional learning with incredible jumping off points for meaningful discussion with readers of all ages.” More importantly, it speaks to Aaron’s passion as an educator, teacher, and father. As I think about Aaron and this book I am reminded of his passion to be kind to all people. Through my conversations over the years, we both agree on the importance of being kind to everyone in our schools and districts. As we start the school year,

Remember the passion to be kind to everyone.


Brian McCann is a dynamic presenter. I have been lucky to not only see him present but also co-present with him on several occasions. Brian’s passion is making certain that all kids feel welcomed and cared for in his school. He has done this numerous ways, but he is very fond of his Thursday message to students. On this day, he greets kids with a positive message and takes pictures with them. Kids feel welcomed in his school.

Remember the passion of making every student and teacher feel welcomed on a daily basis.


John Clements and Mary Anne Moran are passionate about not standing for the status quo. They want to challenge teachers to think differently and not do things the way they have always been done. They encourage risk taking and are not afraid to model that themselves.

Remember the passion of not being complacent and always challenging yourselves and staff.


I am fortunate to work with a great superintendent. Jim Adams is passionate about always doing what is right for students, regardless of what people may say. Last year we changed the start times in our district. Why, because it was in the best interest of our students. Any of us that have even attempted this conversation with our communities knows how difficult of topic this can be and the obstacles that we must overcome to make this happen.

Remember the passion of always doing what is right for students, regardless of the negativity and stress it may cause us as leaders.


Over the past few years, I have presented with Maureen Cohen numerous times. This year we presented at both of these conferences. Maureen doesn’t want to be good; she wants to be great. She is passionate about pushing herself outside of her comfort zone to better herself, her district, schools, teachers, and students. Not only does she talk the talk but she walks the walk.  As Coach Belichick says, “no days off!”

Remember the passion to push yourself every single day.


I am lucky to work with the best administrative team out there. James Adams, Barbara Durand, Kathy Silva, Kelley St. Coeur, Lauren Carreiro, Erin LaChapelle, Dave DiGirolamo, Mike Morro, Mike Caira, Claudia Bennett, Pete Regan, Kate Altman, and Sara Davidson are all passionate about creating a safe and supportive environment so that teachers can teach and kids can learn. This can be seen in everything they do on a daily basis. It is a part of their own and school’s core values and beliefs.

Remember the passion to create that sense of community in your districts and schools.

We still have a month before we officially start the 2018-2019 school year. And while I have listed dozens of educators who are passionate, there are many more in my PLC that I could have listed who also show their passion on a daily basis. As we all begin preparations to start the school year, take some time to ask yourself what are you passionate about? How can you maintain that passion all year? And does your staff know what you are passionate about? Good luck as you start the year!


Students Have a Lot to Say….You Just Have to Ask Them


On April 12, 2018 we got to be a part of a unique and innovative experience. Four districts (Ashland, Holliston, Mendon-Upton, and Millbury) all participated in a cross-district collaborative project. We used Zoom as our platform and had an online chat with over 40 students on the topic of student voice. Maureen Cohen and I facilitated the overall discussion while the principals helped to recruit students and lead the discussions in the breakout rooms.

The idea came about during the Inspired Learning Project. During this zooms session, a few of us began talking about how cool it would be to hold a faculty meeting using Zoom. From there, we discussed the potential of a multi-district faculty meeting. Then someone suggested that it would be even more powerful if we could have a multi-district online meeting with students, faculty, and administrators.  As a result, we settled on having students meet online from 4 different districts to discuss a topic we all cared about: student voice.


From there the idea took off. We created a powerpoint to use during our Zoom session and each district recruited students. We met a few times online to work out any kinks and to make sure the technology worked. We decided to do a brief overview of what student voice means and what it looks like so that students would be able to have some common language and understanding. Then we had students split up into breakout rooms to discuss the following questions.

Breakout #1

  • What is student voice?  
  • What does it look like in your classrooms and in your schools?  
  • What should it look like?  
  • Do you have enough opportunities for student voice?

Breakout #2

  • How do we increase student voice in schools and classrooms?  
  • What advice would give teachers/administrators?  
  • What could you do on your own as students?

We were nervous that the students would not talk and the adults would be leading the discussion. That never happened. Once the students were in the breakout rooms, they immediately engaged with one another in sharing what they thought were effective approaches in their schools, as well as areas that would like to see increased opportunities for student voice. To hear the students sharing and collaborating across schools was awesome and inspiring. Students reflected on hurdles such as, “The teachers seem to be so focused on MCAS sometimes, that it is hard to fit in student voice.” and “Sometimes decisions are happening and we find out after the fact and don’t have an opportunity for input in the decision-making.”

At the end of the hour, we asked the students if they wanted to do this again and they overwhelmingly said yes. Then as a group, we brainstormed topics for future sessions and they tossed out over a dozen ideas. Their enthusiasm was AWESOME!

What was even more amazing were the discussions that happened after the session between the students and the principals regarding what they learned from the other schools and wanted to try in their own schools.

Kelley St. Coeur from Ashland said the students were so excited to just have the opportunity to talk. They all felt they had the opportunity to have their voices heard but wanted more opportunities and to see their teachers involved in the conversation. One student talked about the fact that he is a quiet student, but the Zoom format really helped to make him feel comfortable talking. They couldn’t stop talking to each other and were so appreciative of the opportunity.

Nicole Bottomley from Holliston found that they loved the “Courageous Conversations” that Ashland is having and are really interested in exploring the idea for HHS. They loved connecting with other students and felt empowered by the experience and the ideas.

John Clements principal of Nipmuc Regional High School, shared the excitement of students in knowing that teachers are looking for ways to help them become leaders of their own learning. He added, “After the cross-district conversation, students repeatedly told me how excited they were to know that teachers are interested in creating opportunities for them to take the lead. They can see that teachers are rethinking past practices and finding ways to promote agency and choice in the curriculum. The conversation validated the efforts of educators in each of the four schools who are reimagining their work by allowing students to pursue their passions.”

Tara Bennett from Millbury said how the opportunity for students to connect with surrounding schools is really neat and that the students hope this connection will continue to grow and be provided in the new school year.

Abraham Maslow wrote, “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or step back into safety.” For all of us involved in this project, we decided to take a step forward into growth. As educators and students we all took a risk by trying something different, using Zoom as a platform, having an unscripted meeting, and being pushed a little out of our comfort zones. The results were incredible.


Hitting the Mark and Being Spot On


This week I attended my first ever ASCD Conference in Boston. It was a National Conference in my own backyard, I had to go. The highlight of the conference for me was listening to General Colin Powell speak on Monday. The title of his talk was “Diplomacy: Persuasion, Trust, and Values.” The room was packed and we all knew it would be good, but were hoping for greatness! When he was introduced and walked to the stage, he looked at the crowd and said: “Hello Boston!” He did so with such a command and presence that a colleague looked at me and said, “This is going to be great.” And he was right! 


His 90-minute presentation was engaging, inspiring, and empowering. What follows are some excerpts from his presentation that resonated with me:

-You need to trust others by giving them the authority to act.

I have always believed in hiring good people and trusting them to do the job they were hired to do. I have found that when people are empowered to do their jobs, take risks, and do what they feel is right for their school and students, great things happen. This all starts with trust and not micromanaging staff.

-I don’t want to be the best, I want to do MY best.

This quote hit me. People many times strive to be the best, but is that even attainable? I will never dunk a basketball regardless of how hard I work and how much I try. All I can do is my best! As leaders we want teachers and students to do the best that THEY can do. This is powerful and has been a cause for reflection for me.

-Every soldier wants to be part of a unit that they can brag about. It’s the same with schools.

Soldiers take great pride in the work that they do and they want to be a part of a unit that they can brag about. General Powell gave some examples of this. And he is right, it is the same for schools. Twitter has become a great resource for this. We are all telling our stories on Twitter on a daily basis. We are bragging about the great things happening in schools. People want to be a part of something great and we should be doing more celebrating of our schools not less!

-There are no unimportant people in an organization. You must value every single person.

It does take a village to raise a child and the same is true in our schools. Think about what happens every morning before a student steps into a classroom and sees a teacher. Our superintendent meets bus drivers to start the year and he tells them that they are the first face many students see to start off their school day. A smile and a hello are important. It makes such a difference. Many schools have a before school breakfast program. Many kids see cafeteria workers as the first person to start the day. Our kids that walk to school are greeted by a crossing guard. The list goes on and on, each and every one of these people is critical to an organization and the success of students.

-You can’t be insecure and be a good leader. You have to be secure, but you can’t be secure without people telling you the truth.

What separates the great leaders from the good ones is the ability to hire people who challenge and push you. Too many people hire “yes men” and always told what they want to hear. The best people I have ever worked with and the best schools I have been a part of had leaders who were not afraid to be challenged and told the truth.

-You can’t inspire with dollars or promotions; people are inspired by people.

I thought about this statement and about the great educators I have been fortunate to work with over the last 20 years. I often did my best and worked my hardest not for a promotion but because I did not want to let them down. I felt their energy on a topic or a mission and that inspired me to work harder and be the best that I could be.

In doing some research on General Powell I came across this image, I think it does a great job summarizing his presentation to us at ASCD and offers some great words of wisdom leadership and education! Thank you ASCD for having him at the conference.


Think Differently

1I was fortunate earlier this month to listen to Heidi Hayes Jacobs present at a conference. She asked us “How can we prepare our learners for the future” a question all of us, regardless of our role in education ponder. She went on to point out that “Learners create and share knowledge differently than in previous generations” but yet we continue to do things in a similar fashion. If we are going to prepare students for the jobs of their future, not our past we do need to do things differently.

What is something you can do differently to help prepare students for the ever-changing world we live in?

2Another topic that resonated with me was the Program Structure Continuum and the three clusters of pedagogy. They are:

  1. Antiquated—What do we cut?
  2. Classical—-What do we keep?
  3. Contemporary—What do we create?

Although the text speaks directly towards curriculum, these three clusters can be applied across the board in all that we do in education. What is “antiquated” that we can eliminate? Just because we always did it, does not mean we always need to continue doing it. What is “classical” and we need to keep? There are parts of lessons and traditions that need to be kept because they have stood the test of time. And finally what is “contemporary” and we need to create? Regardless of what our roles are we need to always be looking for ways to improve what we do and make it current and relevant.

Think of a unit that you teach what do you need to cut, keep, and create?

3As Winter Break comes to an end shortly, we come back to school recharged and invigorated. How do we maintain that momentum to have a greater positive impact on our students? What can we do differently to impact our students?

Get Off the Treadmill and Rediscover the Joy of Learning

1As we ring in the New Year, many of us are making the resolution to get ON the treadmill and begin to exercise to lose those unwanted pounds that have built up over the previous year(s). But I am not asking people to get ON the treadmill; rather to get OFF of it.

Over the break and because of the four-day weekend mother nature gave us in Massachusetts, I had some time to think, reflect on the school year, look at initiatives, and talk to my two high school-aged children. Once the year starts, we all become consumed with making sure kids are reading at grade level, preparing students for the MCAS exam, assessing our kids, covering all standards, looking at new math programs, closing achievement gaps, moving the needle, writing curriculum, and the list goes on and on and on. All of these are critically important and needed to make certain that kids are successful. But are they everything? What do you do when you catch yourself on that treadmill and can’t get off?


I watched my two children prepare for the end of the term and semester exams. They are creating schedules, meeting with teachers, making up missed assignments, and studying; all of which are necessary and a part of being in high school. But as they said, “I can’t wait for the next two weeks to be over.” All of us in education, administrators, teachers, students, faculty, and staff get on that treadmill at the start of the year and just GO! I truly believe it is important to get off that treadmill and have students and teachers rediscover the Joy of Learning. Isn’t that why we went into teaching in the first place?


A lot has been published about student agency and having students have a voice in their learning. How powerful is that! Makerspace Labs are a great way to do this and just one example of it (there are hundreds more). Laura Fleming published her 7 Attributes of a Great Makerspace. Not only do they apply to Makerspace Labs, but also to student agency, and to what we can do to help kids rediscover the Joy of Learning. They are:

  1. Inspiring
  2. Intentional
  3. Personalized
  4. Deep
  5. Differentiated
  6. Empowering
  7. Equitable

Imagine if we created lessons and opportunities that:

  • Inspired kids and the curiosity for learning 
  • Were intentional in our methods and creativity 
  • Made the content and learning experience personalized for each student 
  • Were deep and enriching 
  • Differentiated for ALL students in the class 
  • Empowered students to feel part of the learning process 
  • Created equity for all of our students


If we could stop and get off that treadmill and do this once a month how powerful would this be for our students? And this not only extends to classroom teachers but also to administrators. Take a look at department meetings, faculty meetings, central office meetings, can we change our structure on occasion to do the same for teachers? The answer is also yes, and the benefits would be the same. What type of impact would all this have on a school’s culture and climate?

Over the next month look at one of your lessons or meetings and ask yourself what can I do differently to inspire a Joy of Learning? The results will be great.