The Cardinal Way

Sharing and Learning at Southport Middle School

Student Success is a Team Effort!

IN THE MIDDLE OF IT - Better Than I Left It

This post is featued on Lead Up Now on March 20th:
Big image

My parents always taught me to leave things better than I found them. I can still hear these words echo in my head anytime I leave a room, my table at a restaurant, or the park where I am playing with my kids. I find myself unconsciously organizing pillows on the couch, straightening chairs at a table, or picking up someone else's trash to “leave things better than I found them.” This idea has bled into so many aspects of my life, and in these simple words, I have found a great deal of wisdom.

I often find myself asking at the end of a day as I walk out the doors of a building where I serve as a middle school principal, “Did I leave this place better than I found it this morning?” Most days, I believe the answer is “yes,” but even on the days it is not, I know I have a chance to come back tomorrow to work on making it better.

Recently, I accepted a new position in my township, and will be leaving my current position to serve as the principal at our feeder high school. In the past few weeks, I have been thinking a great deal about how to make sure I am leaving my current school better than I found it. Although I truly believe my leadership has helped my school, my staff, my students be better in my presence, I find myself asking: Did I lead in a way that will allow my school to continue its amazing work in my absence?

I love the Sheryl Sandberg quote at the beginning of this post. True leadership not only comes from making people better because of your presence, but leading in a way that makes an impact long after you are gone. Sure, there are those in education who are intelligent, who drive decision making, take the lead, push forward, and make amazing things happen. They are truly bold, brilliant people, but they are not leaders. When they leave, the brilliance leaves with them, and the school is back to where it was before they started. Leaders leave things better than they found them by making lasting impacts. Leaders build a culture where everyone has an opportunity to contribute and they find ways for each person to contribute to the overall improvement of the organization. As I reflect on the five years I have spent in my school, there are three main ideas that I hope will continue to impact change in my absence.

Leaders build an environment where risk taking is not only valued, but expected. I believe that change is inevitable, but our growth is optional. Education is changing, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. How we handle these changes is our choice. I believe it is a leader's responsibility to create an environment where taking risks and trying new things is not just important; it is the norm. Complacency is the enemy of success. We must strive to get better, or we are going to get left behind. But, this can only happen in the correct environment. If as leaders, we only value success, people will play it safe so they can be successful. But, if we place our focus on valuing the process of improvement, people will take risks to improve everyday. When a leader creates an environment of risk taking, risk taking leads to innovation, and innovators leave a school better than they found it.

Leaders help people believe they can accomplish anything if they work together. None of us are stronger than all of us -- we need each other in education. A collective strength is found in having a common purpose, built around an understanding that we are here for students. We must have the mentality that all students can and will learn, and it is our responsibility to find a way to make that happen. When we trust and believe in each other at this level, being challenged and held accountable is expected and wanted. This idea must be modeled from the leadership. It takes a great deal of vulnerability to trust at this level. If a leader does not allow themselves to be vulnerable, no one will. When a leader creates a collective purpose and belief in each other, people leave a school better than they found it.

Leaders help people get better, not just make places better. Too often as leaders, our focus goes to make places better. We simply give people what they need to solve a problem or reach an arbitrary goal. The problem is fixed, the goal is met, the improvement is made. This can work- if our focus is just on making our school better in the short term -- quick, easy, and to the point. But, this does not build lasting change. As a leader, our focus needs to be on inspiring people to solve their own problems and establish and meet their own goals. We need to focus on people, as the ones who drive improvement. I am reminded of the old proverb: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. If we feed the people we lead, things will get done, problems will get solved, and goals will be met. At the same time, we create an environment where everyone looks to us for answers. If all the answers come from us, then we place a ceiling on learning and assure our school will never be any smarter than we are. If we inspire people and teach them to fish, they will take ownership in the improvement process. Our focus cannot be on improvements and change, but rather always on the people who will bring the improvements and change. Leaders create a desire in others to be better and to leave their school better than they found it.

I hope my leadership has left better risk-takers, better innovators, better colleagues, and most importantly better people. If I truly led, my work has not only left my school better than I found it, but has inspired others to continue this betterment every day.

I challenge you to ask yourself at the end of each day: What did I do today to leave my school better than I found it?

Then, ask the tougher question: If I were not to return, would that impact last in my absence?

Keep learning; keep growing; keep sharing!


  • Congratulations to Iana Allen, Lori Farnworth, Kristen Jordan, and Michelle Swan, who recently had Donor's Choose grants funded. Stop by, I am sure they would love to tell you about their grants!
  • Thank you to Tanya Johnson, Anne Manning, Georgina Mayorga, Michelle Swan, and Melinda Weiss for teaching during the upcoming intersession.
  • The Southport Drama Club under the direction of Amy Vaught put on an amazing performance of "And Then They Came For Me" this weekend! Excellent work by cast and crew! If you did not get a chance to see it, you missed out!
Big image


Week 29 Grateful Friday Challenge:

Leave for spring break with positivity in the air: Tell each class today something you appreciate about them and then tell 10 different staff members and 10 different students throughout the day why they are a special part of SMS!


This will Inspire you to EMPTY THE BUCKET!


Each day we share a story of learning taking place at Southport Middle on our 180 Days of Learning Blog. Below are this week's stories of learning.

Ashley Koontz

Happy Pi Day! Today, students in Mrs. Koontz’s 8th grade math classes revisited the significance of Pi (π). Students measured parts of circles: circumference and diameter. They noticed the pattern between the ratio of the circumference and the diameter. Mrs. Koontz’s led the students through the timeline of discovering Pi and the discovery of place values. “The history of finding Pi about finding patterns and noticing relationships. A lot of what we do everyday.” While enjoying an oatmeal pie cookie the students were given five minutes to try and memorize as much of Pi as they could 3.141592653…

Jessica Keck

Mrs. Keck's Language Arts students are working on word parts. Students took words and broke them down into prefixes, suffixes, and base words. Students identified the meanings of different prefixes and suffixes and then used these meanings to determine a definition of the larger word. The students then were asked to use the words in a sentence to show their understanding of its meaning.

Brooke Nelson

It is Science March Madness in Ms. Nelson’s 8th grade Science classroom. Students were assigned a scientist yesterday and spent class time researching this scientist. Today, students and their scientist were placed into a bracket. Students had seven minutes each round to hold a head-to-head debate. They then would declare a winner and the winning scientist would move on to the next round. By the end of class, students had determined a winning scientist!

Amy Vaught and 8th Grade Language Arts

Over the past two days, 8th grade Language Arts students took a "field trip" to the SMS auditorium to watch the spring play, And Then They Came For Me. The play is based on a Holocaust survivor’s story. The play aligns with the current 8th grade reading of the Diaries of Anne Frank, provided a way for all 8th graders to see a theatrical production, and showcased the hard work and efforts of director Mrs. Vaught and the Drama Club. The Drama Club cast and crew did a masterful job at presenting a very serious matter.

Paula Swengel

Mrs. Swengel's 7th grade Language Arts students students are working on a media study and are analyzing the ways media use words and images to attract attention to sell products and ideas. Students discussed products they use, and analyzed commercials and print ads for methods of persuasion and underlying values and messages. Students are now in the process of creating their own ads to sell a product by deciding on a target audience, determining where the ad will be placed, setting pricing and creating slogans.

7th Grade Social Studies

Our 7th graders gained a new respect and appreciation of Chinese Culture through hands-on activities today. Each were able to dance through the IMC during the Dragon Dance, manipulate tangrams to create pictures and they mastered the use of chopsticks to separate colored beads. What a great way for Mrs. Robinson, Mr. Tygrett and Mrs. Jordan to spend the day with their students just before spring break!


Big image