Channeling my Inner Betazoid

I suspect there are lots that folks don’t know about me. We all have bits of unimportant, somewhat trivial tidbits about ourselves that might surprise people. For example, did you know that I am a Star Trek fan? I don’t think I would qualify as a full blown Trekee since I’ve never attended a convention, I don’t own a uniform, I don’t have Star Trek ringtone, nor do I have any pieces of memorabilia in my office, but I was pretty big fan of the show growing up. The original version with Captain Kirk was before my time, I had to play catch up on that one, but beginning with Star Trek The Next Generation and into Deep Space Nine and Voyager I was dialed in, but I digress.


On Star Trek the Next Generation there was a character, Deanna Troi, who was an Empath which meant she could sense how others were feeling. I seem to recall this skill came in pretty handy when they were dealing with hostile enemies who were attempting some sort of ruse that would lead the crew into danger. Convenient, right?

While my interactions aren’t generally of the interstellar variety, often I find myself in a situation where I do my best to channel my inner Deanna Troi. I have zero chance of actually reading the minds of the people I deal with on a daily basis, but I have found that leaning heavily on empathy serves me well. When I divorce myself from my personal point of view and assume the perspective of the person I’m speaking to I have found that it is nearly always productive.

I think this exercise takes Habit #5 Seek First to Understand then to be Understood one step further. When we practice true empathy we are trying to not just understand what the other person has to say, we are literally trying to assume the thoughts, feelings, and sometimes wishes, of that other person. Being empathetic means going beyond simply discerning the message and waiting your turn to talk; it forces you to ask yourself the question what would I do if I felt this way?

My friend and colleague Sandra Menxuerio recently shared an article on twitter ( that discusses four different definitions of empathy, the third definition is about the way you can imagine the world, or situation, from someone else’s point of view. This is the type of empathy I try to practice each day. When a teacher comes to me frustrated, a child comes to me upset, or a parent has a concern, I do my best to not just listen, but to assume their perspective. The article goes on to describe how empathy is not just part of what we say, but part of what we do and how we act.

Do you know what happens when we stop using empathy? Have you ever seen video footage of two rams smashing their heads together in an effort to establish their social dominance? Well, that’s pretty much the equivalent of a conversation between two people who have no interest in budging, no interest in trying to understand a situation beyond their personal perspective. Spoiler alert: these types of conversation don’t end productively, and at an elementary school they do nothing to further the growth of our students.

So, until we travel far into deep space and make contact with our Betazoid friends, I will continue to hone my personal empathic abilities, do my best to seek first to understand, and remain #conditproud.

Make it so!






If you’ve been watching the twittersphere you may have noticed the trend over the last few years for folks to participate in the my one word movement.  The idea is to eschew a list of new year’s resolutions in favor of a single word, a single focus that you will center on during the upcoming year.  I kicked around the idea of participating last year, I even picked out a word and everything, but by the time I was ready to act on it enough time had gone by that I figured I had waited too long and kept the idea to myself.  This year, with a little inspiration from a principal down the street @m_squaredBHS I’m going to give mine a share.


Unfeigned. The idea of being genuine and sincere is important to me.  I have the good fortune of being in a position where I get to work with all different types of people, of all different ages, that carry very different lenses on how they believe the world around them should work; I want my interactions with them to be real.  This isn’t the same as simply being direct, but it does mean that the idea of ‘sugarcoating’ an important idea is one that I want to work to avoid.  

I am sometimes guilty of taking the scenic way around a topic, this year I want to focus on making that trip shorter.  Difficult conversations, or discussions when there is obvious disagreement, shouldn’t undermine my ability share my concerns in a way that is honest and heartfelt.  The thought of someone walking away from an interaction with me and disagreeing I can live with, the thought of that person believing I was being insincere I cannot.

There is a deep connection between being genuine and Habit 3 putting first things first; when we focus on what matters most and we make that the focal point of conversation then our sincerity shows through.  When I think of the worst type of conversations I think about a person who is dismissive, I think about a person whose main goal is to prove themselves correct and/or to end the conversation as quickly as possible.  Discussions tend to go sideways when there is an obvious lack of investment.

Is this whole #oneword bit going to be a game changer for me?  Not sure.  You can count on me to let you know, sincerely.



Hammers and Nails

The conversations around social and emotional learning have been a focus both at the district level and on our campus this year, specifically the ways in which we help struggling learners.  In fact, our district created a brand new arm of support services specifically around this concept and to support schools as we work with struggling students.  After a conversation we had as a staff, a teacher passed along a book that she had used the year previously that changed her mindset and practices she used in class to support her kids.  It wasn’t long into the book that I came across this quote from Abraham Maslow.



Pretty good, right?  Let’s look at this from two different perspectives:

  1. If we only have one tool, no matter how creatively we try to use it, it likely won’t be completely effective.  While I’m sure you could show me the several ways you can use a hammer the reality is it makes a painfully inadequate wrench.  If you’ve ever tried to take a bolt out with a hammer you have likely ended with a hot mess and bolt that is no longer useful. Perhaps it’s human nature to avoid real change; we sometimes try to stretch our current practices beyond their limits as opposed to engaging in new learning.
  2. When folks only have one tool, they discount the idea of using anything else.  If all you’ve ever used is a hammer, and the hammer has always worked, why would you even entertain picking up an allen wrench?  If the hammer doesn’t work, then there must be something wrong with bolt that has a hexagonal socket, right?  Wrong.  Just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it is always the right tool for the future.

So this is what I’m left wondering: why is it so hard for some folks to figure out there are times to set aside the hammer?  Maybe it’s pride, the hammer was always the right tool in the past and for that axiom to hold true it must always be the right tool in the future.  Perhaps it has something to do with fear, some adults can’t manage the idea that after so many years of knowing what to do they might find themselves in a place that requires new learning.

I do want to add this, and it may infuriate those of you who have been nodding emphatically while reading this so far: let’s be careful that we don’t let the pendulum swing too far and decide that there is no such thing as a nail anymore.  A hammer might not always be the right tool, but sometimes it will be exactly what we need, let’s not lose sight of that fact.

It seems like there are no easy answers when it comes to working with humans, especially those ages 4-11, but we will continue to do the best we can, fill our toolboxes with all the right tools, and remain #conditproud.



As you ma have heard, I had the opportunity to participate in the #shadowastudent experience with the other principals form the Bellaire High School feeder pattern on October 26. For just one day I became a 3rd grader and from 7:30am to 3:20pm I lived the same experience as the rest of our students.   I didn’t go into the day with any preconceived notions or any special agenda, and here are a few big ideas I came out with.

  1. A rolling stone gathers no moss. I was sitting, standing, kneeling, on the carpet, at the small group table, on the floor with classmates, walking the room, and working with a teacher outside the class. If movement is the key to learning then I had it in spades! I didn’t check the number of steps that I took, but I suspect it would have been significant.   At the end of the day I had a sense of satisfaction; what I believed to be true on my campus was largely confirmed and the idea of flexible learning spaces and movement was one of them. When we designed our new building this is what he had in mind and it was gratifying to experience it in action.
  2. It was real. Third graders don’t have poker faces, and if there was some sort of dog and pony show going on because I was in class that day they would have been the first ones to ‘tell’. What I experienced was exactly what they usually experience and the smooth transitions and unspoken understanding of expectations clearly indicated that this was just another day in 3rd If I had heard someone say something like ‘why are we doing this’ or ‘we’ve never done this before’ I would have know something was up, this was never the case.
  3. What’s next? At the groundbreaking for our new school 2 years ago our trustee, Mike Lunceford, mentioned that our school had been living 21st century teaching and learning for a while and we were finally going to get a building that matched that. I found myself reflecting on this idea as I finished my day. The teaching and learning that I saw, during my day as a student, was a better version because of the physical space that we now have.   The pedagogy was sound, but I keep wondering ‘what’s next’? Perhaps it is a latent fear of stagnation that I have, but with out new building come new possibilities, so instead of settling for a space where our current best practices can live, I’m wondering how we can push our practices forward for our students. At the end of the day, I believe this was my biggest takeaway, not a solution, but rather a new challenge to consider.

As a quick aside, having the experience concurrently with the other 11 principals in the feeder pattern allowed some interesting conversation and reflection the following week. I’m not sure where this little experiment will go, but I’m grateful for the opportunity.

For a little entertainment value check out my pictures from the day on my twitter feed @texasbuckeye.



We all get it wrong

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the pressure we put on ourselves to be right.  I’m not sure how we arrived at this point but it seems to me that the fear of being wrong is more motivating than the satisfaction of getting something correct, and I don’t think that’s healthy.  We need to spend more time getting comfortable with the idea that our answers won’t always be spot-on; the better we get at that, the more we are going to grow as people and as learners.

I recently watched a TED talk by Kathryn Schulz, a self proclaimed Wrongologist who encourages us to embrace the fact that we will always get it wrong, at least to some extent.  What I thought was the most impactful part of her talk was when she explained an association that is cemented, often at an early age, and it is this: getting something wrong means there is something wrong with us.  As adults, we know that’s not true, but it’s tough to derail that train of thought once it has left the station and sadly that will likely happen at a young age.  

I’m not sure how we flip that mindset altogether and get our young people thinking differently about being wrong, but there are a few ideas I would like our Condit cats to embrace before they leave us for middle school.  

The first is this: getting something wrong doesn’t mean you will always get everything wrong. A mistake doesn’t guarantee anything, the way you feel about it and the way you react to it will dictate how things go in the future.

The second reality I would like our kids to embrace is that being right doesn’t mean that everyone else is wrong.  Our current presidential election has me thinking about this aspect quite a bit; it saddens me that election rhetoric has led so many people to think of the world in binary terms.  School, and the world, is a complex place and if we spend our time marginalizing those who don’t see the world exactly as we see it then we begin to close our minds to possibilities.

Finally, get used to being wrong.  You are going to say the wrong thing, get a bad grade, have a mark on your chart, and put your foot in your mouth…maybe all on the same day!  This is going to seem contrary to many people reading this, but it is a gift to have our kindergarteners struggle and deal with getting things wrong.  The uncomfortable truth is that 5 year olds will often deal with being wrong much better than 25 year olds, and the sad reality is that we are doing it to ourselves.  The more we make wrong a bad word, the worse we make it when it eventually happens.

So what do we do about all this?  I figure we embrace our experiences, celebrate our missteps, chart a new path forward, and help our kids to know that even after that bad grade and after that mark on the conduct chart that the sun will rise, the earth will continue to rotate and life will go on.  The sooner they learn that, and the more regularly they embrace that, the better off we will all be.



Becoming a Marigold

A teacher recently passed along an article entitled Find Your Marigold, and while the post focuses two types of teachers that a first year educator will likely run into, I find that that premise holds true when we talk about our school community.

I was surprised to learn, through the article, that marigolds are a nearly ideal companion plant; place them next to others and their partner will thrive. While I’m no gardener, the theory sounds plausible. As a professional educator I can attest it is absolutely true. As in most walks of life, there are going to be some people that will build you up, make you feel like you belong, and inspire you to greatness. These gems are what the writer calls marigolds. Find them in your life, cultivate your relationship, and eventually aspire to grow to be a marigold yourself. Simple.

Sadly, there are other folks that will do the opposite. Apparently, planting next to a walnut tree has the contradictory effect; walnut trees essentially poison anything that grows around it. If you are looking to grow you should avoid these folks at all costs. These people focus on the negative and seemly look forward to the failure of others.

I think this analogy extends beyond teachers, so here comes the big question: are you a marigold or a walnut tree? Take a few minutes to reflect on the following questions.

Do you instinctively fear the new, or do you look forward to new possibilities?  Are you quick to look for shortcomings, or do you regularly search for the common ground?  Do you find sharing your gripes more satisfying than seeking the perspectives of others?

In many ways this connects solidly to Habit 1: Be Proactive. Perhaps this is nothing more than choose your own weather, but I suspect there is more to it. Being proactive is about private victories, taking care of yourself even though it may reflect on others. Becoming a marigold is about shaping the life of others; it is a very public way of creating a culture for those around you. Choose your weather to create a positive personal change, become a marigold and help create a positive vibe in others.

Unlike trees and plants, we all have a choice. In reality, a walnut tree can’t grow into anything other than a walnut tree, but each one of us is in control of ourselves and can have a significant impact on those around us. My advice: be a marigold, be awesome, and watch as your companions are better off for your decision.

#conditproud Dan

Embracing the new

I would ordinarily start an August post with the time honored traditional Welcome Back, but that doesn’t seem to fit this year. While we are certainly gathering mostly the same people to the same general spot in our community I think we can all agree there is so much we are unfamiliar with.

The opening of our new building has been a unique experience; I wish I would have placed a camera on my shoulder during our Snow Cone Social as children and parents alike took in the learning commons for the first time. I’ve never seen looks of such joy and downright giddiness in my nearly 20 years in education. We all knew that we were going to have a very special building on our hands as we open our new campus, but I don’t think we realized how happy it was going to make us. We are 7 days into the new school year and the positive vibe shows no sign of weakening 🙂

I recently stumbled across a quote that reads every day brings new choices. I like this. We champion the 7 Habits of student leadership on our campus and I want all of our learners to understand that each day brings new opportunities to find the right path.

I found this quote to be germane to the decisions that we have made, and continue to make, as we grow into our new building. We make plans that we think will work, and then we adjust to the new realities of those decisions. We put systems in place that make sense on paper, and then we rework those systems to ensure ease and safety. We place the furniture in the places that we think will work, but make sure to put wheels on everything just in case!

I am going to extend this quote and say that not only does every day bring new choices, but every new situation. I appreciate everyone being flexible as we sort out our new routines and I have been impressed by everyone’s positive attitude as we tweak the systems we have in place. I can’t thank you enough for rolling with it.

This is going to be a very special school year and I look forward to experiencing all the new, together.