Monday, December 18, 2017

The Power of Networking - (Are We As Principals Taking Advantage?)


Between the hustle and bustle of the school year, principal of the year networking opportunities, and a commitment to the LHSAA as an executive committee member, the end of 2017 has been nothing short of a world wind for me. Because of this, it has been a while since I have taken the time to put my thoughts to paper. But in this blog, I want to share with you the part of the schedule that has been the most fun for me and that has been the opportunity to network with other great principals.


Coming from the coaching world, it has always been common practice that coaches steal ideas any place they can find them. As a coach, I have attended hundreds of lectures at clinics and have spent many an evening sitting around a table in the lobby of some hotel just talking "ball." As I have transitioned into the world of administration, however, it has been an adjustment and in the back of my mind I am constantly posing the question to myself "Why don't administrators talk "ball" or in this case "school" with each other on a regular basis?" We have great leaders in this state that have helped to raise the standard of education, so why is it that we just don't get together and exchange ideas?
With this in mind, I have made it my personal pledge that during my term as the 2018 Louisiana Principal of the Year to go and meet and steal ideas from as many principals and schools as possible.  What follows is my journey thus far, and a glimpse into some of the great schools and leaders I have met with as well as the other leaders that I have had the opportunity to meet and share ideas.


My first opportunity to network with other principals came as a presenter and attendee at the Louisiana Association of Principals conference. It was the first time that I was able to just give my ideas to others on things that work for me as a principal. It truly didn't matter if  the information was pertinent to all. It has always been my contention that if one person can take one thing away that makes them a better leader for kids, then it was all worth it. While presenting was fun, the best part of the conference were the times that we just sat around and took the information from Jill Jackson and shared with colleagues how this pertained to our own schools.

From there my professional conferences journey continued as a member of POY finalist who helped to facilitate the ED Camp at La. Tech University. The opportunity to meet with principals with 0-3 years experience just verified to  the importance of principals helping principals. As a matter of
fact, this ED Camp networking set-up has now become a personal goal of mine to host at next year's teacher leader conference. Hopefully we can strum up enough interest to make this a yearly networking opportunity for not only new principals but for all educational leaders in place and for those aspiring educational leaders attending the teacher leader conference. Stay tuned for details

THE REAL FUN STUFF...... (My School Visits and Visits to My School)

While the conferences were fun, the most exciting part of my journey thus far has been my opportunities to talk shop and visit with schools and the opportunity that I have had to host leadership teams at North Vermilion High School.
Among the school visits in which I was able to share and steal ideas have been Westlake High School, West Feliciana High School, Grand Lake High School and Vinton High School. From each of these schools, the opportunity to sit and talk about intervention, CLEP test, ACT Prep, course scheduling and school community service projects are opportunities that we will never find in any of the prep courses for administrators.

While these visits were fun, they were not nearly as exciting as the schools that I have been able to stop in and talk but also visit campuses and see great teaching, leadership and overall school spirit. Among those stops were Ruston High School, Arcadia High School, Crawford Elementary, Jonesboro Hodge High School, Simsboro High School, Caroline Dorman Middle School and Brusly High School. Anytime an event takes me some place, a school visit becomes part of that plan. You just never know what you will pick up when you make a school visit. From school policies, scheduling alternatives, freshmen academy ideas to just plain old school spirit school visits are an awesome experience. Obviously we can't always be gone, but you would be surprised how many schools you can visit in one area with a little planning. And don't be afraid to take a team on these networking visits. And by the way, you never know when you will receive an email out of the blue that says I am in town and I am coming by.



The one thing that I leave you with in this blog today is to go out and share your ideas, steal ideas from others and don't be afraid to network. We have been given so much information and the state of education has changed so much for all of us in the past years that sometimes we just need to take a step back and figure out how do we pull all of this off. My advice to you, don't try and do it alone, use any and every resource you can find. The best idea may come from your colleague next door, in your parish or somewhere in the state. Go find them.


While I will be posting the 2017 POY in pictures later next week, I want to take this time to say thanks to all that I have had the opportunity to meet and I want to wish all a well-deserved holiday break. 2017 has been a year to remember for me professionally and I hope that we all can network and make 2018 and even greater year for all of us in this great profession.

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's Your Time (Blog #4)

 As we know, October is National Principal's Month. For many of us, we recognize and celebrate the work that we do in a very small way. We are all in the business for the kids, well at least I hope so, so we never truly take time to recognize the hard work that we do on a daily basis. With that in mind, I am asking for you to do something really special to celebrate National Principal's Month and that is to help spread the word as the search for my successor begins.


One year ago as I took the picture on the left with my Superintendent and School Board members as the Vermilion Parish Principal of the Year. I, like many of you, was unfortunately thinking this is nice but do I really have to do the paperwork for the next round. We have all heard naysayers before us saying things like: it's too much work, they already have a winner picked, and it's really not a big deal. Well my friends I am here to tell you today that not only is the whole process worth it, it was one of the best self -reflective practices I have ever done.  My fellow colleagues, on October 10th, the Department is launching this year's Teacher and Principal process and in nine months 48 new teachers and principals will be celebrated at a gala now affectionately called the Oscars of Education in Louisiana. And from that group of 48, two educators will be named the 2019 State Teacher and Principal of the Year. Why can't it be you? I can guarantee you that when this picture was taken last October, being named 2018 Louisiana Principal of the Year in no way crossed my mind. 


I encourage all administrators that get the opportunity to represent your school district to submerse yourself in self-reflection and find out what truly makes you the great leader you are. In thinking back for answers in a couple of first round essay questions, you may just rekindle the spark of why you chose education in the first place.  

If you are fortunate enough to be named a semi-finalist you get the opportunity to meet great people from Dream Teachers, and get to network with great leaders from across the state at Teacher Leader Summit in New Orleans. One simple Skype interview and a couple more questions is all that the second round entails. It's a process that is well worth it. Again I encourage you to step up and tell your district that the Principal of the Year program is one not to be taken lightly and is well worth the effort to be part of the process.


I am just a simple minded former football coach who is so passionate about student success that it drives me daily. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that the underlying principle of "lead hard, but love harder" would ever open the doors of opportunity that I have had thus far and will continue to grow as the year goes on. I was told by the folks in charge to "be a trailblazer."  I hope to do so and I want to make sure that my successor has the path paved for them to do even greater things with the Principal of the Year title.  On October 10th,  the Department begins the search for the 2019 State Principal of the Year. Again I ask, "Why can't it be you?"


In closing, I want to challenge my "class"  of 18 finalist and semi-finalist, as well as those of you who came before us, to please leave a comment here explaining what the state-level process meant to you and to leave a comment on what the process meant to them and why others should also seek this opportunity. To all principals in the state, I urge you to please join in the state-wide dialogue here, too, telling us what you love about being a principal. October is National Principal's Month. Please do something really special to celebrate and thanks for adding a comment about it here.
Let the process begin....

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Leadership Journey.....

A look back....

One thing that I have learned when I started the Principal of the Year process last October is that we never really take enough time to appreciate the people, places, and things that have influenced us into the person we are today. As I filled out applications and did interviews along the way, I found myself constantly asking myself why certain things had become important to me as a leader. With that in mind I set out with a plan to try and reflect back on a couple of areas that have been influential in my personal journey of leadership. With that in mind, here is a quick snippet of my leadership journey....

Campus Ministry

Where it all began: 

My High School
Have you ever thought about the first time you were put into a position where you played a leadership role. For me it took me back to my high school days at St. Thomas More High School in Lafayette. Two organizations helped  to mold me into the servant leader that I hope to portray daily as a principal. As a member of the campus ministry team, I remember being asked to organize and lead the annual "Hire A Kid" project in which the senior class put in a full days work and the money earned from employers was collected and donated to a number of charities that our school worked with. In addition as a campus ministry team member, I remember being the co-coordinator of an 8th grade retreat for one of our feeder schools. Learning to plan, organize, delegate and eventually reach younger students was something that I truly enjoyed and was one of the reasons that I eventually settled on education as a career choice. In addition, as the vice-president of the Key Club, I learned what true service was as we worked with the local Kiwanis club on a number of projects to help serve our community. Being involved in activities that had a service component to them has definitely influenced me and is a big factor as to why all of my organizations on my campus must have a community service component attached in order to exist. 

Reach for the Summit: The Definite Dozen System for Succeeding at Whatever You DoProfessional Growth...

Leading with the Heart: Coach K's Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and LifeAfter looking back on where it began , I continued to reflect on some of the more educational and inspirational books that also played a role in who I have become. Of the hundreds of books on leadership I have read,  I felt like four books. kept coming back to mind. University of Tennessee women's basketball coaching legend wrote a book "Reach for the Summit" that talked about work ethic and discipline that today' is still a book that I look back on as a great influence in who I became as a leader. Duke basketball coach Mike Kryzewski wrote a book titled "Leading with the Heart" that taught me more about team building and caring for kids than any other book. As soon as I completed this book, I was fortunate enough to read Tony Dungy's "Quiet Strength" and this book put all of my thoughts and beliefs in perspective and began what I feel was my true leadership journey. Never did I coach, teach, or lead the same after this book. The final book that I look back and realize had an effect on my leadership journey is sort of an unusual read and that is the Biography of Governor Edwin Edwards. Agree or disagree with the beliefs and tactics he used, this book was such an exercise in how one man became such a powerful leader that it still amazes me how the art of dealing with people could carry this man to one of the most influential political careers in modern time. A strange collection, but it is my selection. Take time and think back about what four books you would choose.

Professional Organizations...The key to lifelong learning

During the POY process, I realized that one of the most important things that has helped me as a leader is to stay true to myself and make sure that I continued to be a lifelong learner. The best way to do so is to stay involved in professional organizations. Very early in my career I realized that I loved to hear what others had to say and was always looking for one thing from any speaker I have listened to. For me organizations like the Louisiana Association of Student Councils, and  the Louisiana High School Athletic Association have given me opportunities to listen and share ideas with many leaders. Additionally, ASCD, NASSP and he Louisiana Association of Principals have been very instrumental in my past growth and will continue to help me in future endeavors.

Calling all leaders....

For me this opportunity to look back was a very fun time and I hope that some of you comment on some of your leadership books, organizations or first time leadership opportunities. Please pass on the blog to your colleagues and let's get the principal profession talking.

Coming Soon

It's only the end of September and I am completing my second month as the State Principal of the Year, but do you know that the process to select my successor begins in just a few short weeks. Please look for my next blog and help me encourage districts across the state and principals across the state to truly look for the best and help raise the bar for the Louisiana Principal of the Year. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Keeping up with the Jones'.... make that the Joni's (Aug 30, 2017, Blog #2)

August 15, 2017.  It was my first time back to Baton Rouge since being named Louisiana State Principal of the Year. So as I prepared to enter the Claiborne Building, which is the home of the Department of Education, I wasn't really sure what was in store for the day.
It didn't take long before I realized that today would be about "Keeping up with the Jones'... make that the Joni's".
You see an agenda planned by Joni Lacy, who is the coordinator of the POY and TOY programs for the department, and Joni Smith, 2017 State Teacher of the Year, could be better known as a lot of stuff in a little bit of time. Think of it as Red Bull and Five Hour Energy ready to present. Add to that mix the dynamic 2018 TOY Kim Eckert and let me tell you I was in for an adventurous day. And as wound up as I am most of the time, I knew this day would be really fun and interesting.

Presented by Joni Smith

Before the Joni presentations began, our first stop was BESE meeting. Kim and I learned quick that time schedules and BESE meetings are not something that we should get used to. But as I reflected on why we were behind it excited me to see the true passion that people have about public education. What was an initial meeting about 8g funding turned into 40 minutes of passionate pleas from teachers, supervisors, and members of lobbying groups as to the importance of necessary funding from 8g to keep their programs going. The thought of sitting at the table at some points in the year giving my passionate opinion on education issues was something in the back of my mind.  
The meeting proceeded with a well deserved thank you for the superb work of Joni Smith being recognized, before she introduced Kim and I. A few photos, handshakes and introductions to people from BESE and the governor's office and we were on our way. 

ORIENTATION BEGINS.....                                 

 Although we were an hour behind before we really got started, the first and most impressionable thing to me was the comment from both Joni's was that we need you to be a trailblazer. I quickly learned that I was the first Principal of the Year that had been invited to the orientation. Basically after two great years of Kelly Stomps and Joni Smith, the teacher of the year program was now at a different level. Joni handed Kim a nice pretty binder with everything nice and neat in a Joni Smith kind of way. But the binder for the Principal of the Year doesn't exist. You will be the trailblazer that helps to create a working binder for those that follow you. Really, me. You have that much confidence in me. That is the thought that kept running through my mind. After clearing my head, I said to myself "you better start paying attention".

With all due respect to the awesome ladies at the LDOE who have well deserved names and titles, all I remembered was this. Pick three things you want to do with your opportunity as the POY. We are going to take these three things to Annie and Hannah and they will help you to narrow in on those thoughts. After speaking to both of these awesome people, my mind was going from three ideas to about 10.  So if that wasn't enough for one day, a meeting with LAP executive director Debra Schum was next on the agenda and a 30 minute briefing was done in about 10 minutes. Thankfully we have been in touch since then, because my head was spinning. Then an opportunity to meet with Sydni, the press secretary, made me realize that social media would become my friend and I only know the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the avenues out there. It's a work in progress, but I feel like I get better each day. The best advice I got from Annie and Sydni, consistency in naming social media sites. And thankfully they came up with better ideas then the POTY idea I came up with. POTY pronounced with a long O, had quickly became a new version of potty and my faculty was running with it. So thanks ladies for setting me straight.


If I am being honest, I met so many people and discussed so many ideas that it took me some alone time back in my office to process and come up with a plan to make this yearlong journey turn into a fulfilling and purposeful time for me. But I kept going back to the comment that the two Joni's repeated on multiple occasions, you will be the trailblazer and create this role for those who will follow you. I hope I don't let them down, but with the support and confidence of Joni and Joni we will definitely give it the effort that the position deserves. 


Don't think I left out my partner in crime, Kim. But I know it was as much a world wind for her as it was for me. Our times and discussions were right in line with each other. We even decided to create websites based on something Kim used in her classroom. She also taught me how to do this blogging stuff. Just remember she is an English teacher and I am a science and math guy. Her grammar and creative writing skills are at a much higher level than mine. 
But I think I can learn a lot if I follow her lead. Together we hope to take our roles and do them justice. I hope you stay along for the ride.


As I wrap us this blog and begin preparing for the next, I ask all educational leaders to take a reflective look back on how you got to the position you are in today. Are the things that made you a leader then, the things you are doing as a leader now.  Be looking for blog #3, "The People, Places, and Things that influenced me into the leader I am today."

Monday, August 21, 2017

Oh what a night..... (Vol 1. August 21, 2017)

Please bare with me as I take a leap into a new adventure, writing a blog.  As I contemplated a first topic, many ideas came to mind. But when it was all said and done I felt like I needed to go back to the reason for my blogging adventure, the Cecil J. Picard Educator's Excellence Gala  where I was named the 2018 Louisiana Principal of  the Year.

The day was Friday, July 28, 2018. It started as a typical Friday as I   headed to Baton Rouge from Lafayette hoping the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge would be clear sailing and I would not be late for gala practice. Thankfully, the drive went smoothly and soon we all gathered in the atrium of the Crowne Plaza.
It was an awesome opportunity for us to meet up with a new network of friends that we recently spent time with at the teacher leader summit and during the two day finalist process at the department of education in June.

A quick run through of the production and then an opportunity to meet with LDOE press secretary concluded our practice activities and we were off to prepare for the evening events.

Before I conclude with exciting conclusion to my evening, I want to reflect back to the almost nine month process of being selected a finalist for the State Principal of the Year. I get asked the question of how were you chosen. Many times I wonder the same thing but as I look back at the process and I realize that I was genuine and praised the efforts of my students, teachers, and community stakeholders and that was enough to put me over the top.  It started by being named the Vermilion Parish High School Principal of the Year back in October. This led to an application packet that included essay questions, data results from your school and reference letters that were due in early January.
In April, I received an email that I was one of 24 semifinalist and immediately the email and conference call brigade from the awesome Joni Lacy, program manager, began. A couple more essay questions and a Skype interview were all part of the next step in the process. Again, I talked about the wonderful teachers, students and community I get to work for everyday. I really thought this was the end of the road in my journey as the list of administrators on the semifinal's list was full of great leaders.
But as fate would have it, I watched the remarkable Joni Smith, without sound, read off the list of principal of the year finalist, and not being certain I told my co-workers in the office that day that I think her lips said from Vermilion Parish, Thomas Byler. That later was confirmed after technical difficulties and I heard Joni say what I previously thought I saw. A two-day video shoot, photo shoot (for the awesome star mug shots) , an introduction to the BESE board, and an hour-long interview in front of a distinguished panel of educators concluded the finalist process. It was fun, but we all were glad it was over and we were looking forward to celebrating on July 28 at the gala.


The evening was July 28, 2017. Surrounded by family, friends and co-workers, we all were there to just have a good time. Being on the big stage with my new network of friends was all I was expecting. Getting a chance to share this experience, the Oscars of eduation,  with my family who has always supported me and with my co-workers and central office personnel was an honor that would be enough.
A wonderful evening in which we all got to experience the wonderful spirit of our Milikan award winners was great. Things got even better with the opportunity to share in the story of John Wondergem as the Sourage Service winner. It was then time for what I thought was my three minutes of fame as I joined the other finalist on stage and I got a chance to listen to my video and the chance for me to share my philosophy of leading hard, but loving  harder. I was excited about the list of gifts and thought which one of my children would win the battle over the Cane's gift basket.

And then it was time, the elementary, middle and high school principals of the year were named. Most of my table not truly understanding the whole process congratulated me and told me I should proud to have gotten this far. What I didn't tell them was that one of the six principals who name hadn't been called would be 2018 overall winner. So as Debbie Schum and Cedric Clark, the 2017 winner, opened the envelope and said the words Thomas Byler, North Vermilion High School, my two tables erupted and I sat there thinking no way, they did not just say what I think they did.

It finally sunk in a day later as tears rolled down my face from the outpouring of congratulatory facebook post what had just happened. Of 1500 public  and charter school principals, I was chosen  to be an ambassador for education and more importantly an ambassador for kids over the next year.

This is just the beginning, but the time for my work to begin is now. I hope that you take this journey with me as I continue to Lead Hard and Love Harder.

The Power of Networking - (Are We As Principals Taking Advantage?)

IT'S BEEN A WHILE.... Between the hustle and bustle of the school year, principal of the year networking opportunities, and a commit...