Principal Impact

A Reflective Journey with Principal Hackett



This summer I had the opportunity to attend the First Institute at Kasson-Mantorville High School. The Institute was phenomenal with national keynote and breakout speakers including Myron Dueck, Rick Wormeli, Garth Larson, Tom Hierck, Ken Williams, Todd Whitaker, and others. I can’t say enough about the information I received over those 2 days in Kasson. As great as the experience was, I learned just as much from the trip because I was able to travel with my friend and fellow principal, Eric Olson @EEC_Principal. The four hour round trip to Kasson and back were filled with conversation and unstructured professional development. It made me realize we don’t have enough time to learn from each other and our experiences. That is precisely why being present in social media and reflecting with posts/blogs is so important. Educators have so much to learn from each other that connecting and reflecting should be required for all of us.

My biggest take away from my time spent at the conference – covering everything from standards based learning to RtI to school culture – revolves around Who We Need To Be for kids. Eric and I have very different personalities. He is an outgoing, high energy guy around the clock. I tend to be more reserved and introverted in most situations. As we were sharing stories and learning from each other, I understood that both of us change day to day and minute to minute to be Who We Need To Be for kids. As we were packing up on the final day, this note to the cleaning service caught my eye and I took a quick picture. This random act of kindness to people he never met really made me think about the positive impact we can have on our kids. I’m sure this note was both highly unexpected and more than appreciated by the hotel cleaning service. It took very little effort and a huge heart. Eric takes the same approach with the students and families in his building, and we should all aspire to do the same. Those little things make a huge difference and it’s truly Who We Need To Be for our students and families.

Sometimes Who We Need To Be for kids takes us out of our comfort zone. For me, being silly and outgoing doesn’t come natural. But our kids need that at times to feel safe, have fun, and ultimately learn. Sometimes our students need a calming presence. That may not be Eric’s natural state (the guy seriously has more energy than anyone I know (and I work with 1st grade boys)), but he is that person when he needs to be for kids and families and staff. In Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk titled Every Kid Needs A Championshe says, “The tough ones show up for a reason. It’s the connection, it’s the relationships. And the key is, while you won’t like them all, they can never ever know it. So teachers become great actors and actresses…Every child deserves a champion.” My challenge to everyone working with kids, including myself, is to be that champion for all kids they come in contact with. It’s often not easy and sometimes takes acting to accomplish, but it’s what our kids deserve. Those connections and relationships we form with our students will be the determining factor in how much they are able/willing to learn from us. Do the little things, take risks, be a champion, learn with your students, expect greatness, and care…It’s worth it!



Tear Down Walls

This summer our building is undergoing some extensive updating and remodeling. Windows, carpet, tile, furniture, and walls are being replaced throughout much of the building. The picture above is a recent view of my office, so I’m working out of the other elementary school in Monticello for the summer. However, I’m able to keep up on all the changes and progress during weekly construction meetings. As the demolition crews were working in each part of the building, I couldn’t help but think about the students who have walked the halls of Little Mountain, and the students we will welcome back in September to walk our halls again. As we literally tear down walls at Little Mountain, it reminds me that we need to do the same with many of our students to help them learn.

A recent article in Newsweek explores how fear-based childhoods disrupt neurodevelopment. According to the article, “one in every four students currently sitting in American classrooms have experienced a traumatic event.” Perhaps I’m becoming more sensitive to the issue the longer I work in education, but the need to provide emotional support to our students has never been greater. At Little Mountain, we are extremely fortunate to be supported with 2 full time social workers who provide our students with the social emotional skills and development needed to be successful. In truth, we could have 4 full time social workers and fill their caseloads with students who would benefit from social skills, grief support, family change groups, etc. And this is exactly why our teachers can no longer stand up in front of the classroom and ‘just teach’ anymore. Relationships are the backbone of the education system, and the key to helping students succeed academically.

My goal for the upcoming school year is to tear down walls our students have developed from physical, social, and mental harm. Each student that walks into Little Mountain deserves the opportunity to feel safe, learn, and have fun. In my first 4 years as the lead learner of Little Mountain, this has seemed like a daunting task at times. Reading, reflecting, and reaching out has made me realize we can create a culture where this is possible for all students. Kids Deserve It! from Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney has completely changed my mindset for the better. Mentorship and guidance from Renegade Leadership‘s Brad Gustafson challenges me to improve each day. Encouragement and blogs from my #mnlead colleagues like @PrincipalFrench, @bretdom, and @millardamy2 are the support the keeps me motivated to change lives. My challenge to all of our teachers this year is to tear down walls. The results will last a lifetime!

Every Kid, Every Day!


The Journey Continues…

This is officially my first voyage into the blogging world. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and the amazing posts of my Twitter PLN friends has inspired me to take this step. Posting my thoughts, reflections, ideas, struggles, and stumbles out into the blogverse is intimidating, but I also believe strongly that this process will be a tool to help me continuously improve. Reflection in any form on our daily practices, decisions, and actions, regardless of your role within education, is a necessity to both learn and improve. I’m extremely thankful to my PLN friends (some of who I’ve never met) for encouraging me through their words and strength as educational leaders. Amy Millard, Brad Gustafson, Mark French, Adam Welcome, Todd Nesloney, George Couros, Lindsey Bohler, and so many others routinely inspire me to grow personally and professionally from their writing and posts.

Who knew selecting a title for your blog site would be so difficult? With so many educators with their own sites, I was sent back to the drawing board for a new idea several times. I ultimately chose LEARNING FROM THE HALLS because I truly feel that’s where real learning begins. At Little Mountain Elementary in Monticello, Minnesota where I’m proud to be the principal, we stress being present in the morning and greeting our students to start their day. Every morning I watch our students stop by to see their previous years’ teachers because the students know the teachers be waiting for them in the hallway with encouraging words and a hug before enjoying the same greeting from their current teachers. We have students from every background you can think of walking through our halls. It’s these interactions, regardless of what kind of home life our students are coming from, that prepare our students to be successful. Anyone walking through Little Mountain Elementary before school, during passing time, or during dismissal can quickly see how much we love and care for every one of our students.

LEARNING FROM THE HALLS works both ways. It’s in the hallways – or the cafeteria/playground – that I learn those things that matter most. I can learn about pedagogy, academics, formative assessments, management, and many other areas of instruction from being in the classroom. And don’t get me wrong, everything that happens during instruction is critically important to what we do. However, I learn about who our students are, where they come from, why they struggle, why they love school, who their friends are, and what motivates them in those areas within school outside of the classroom. Those connections our staff make outside our classrooms with our students is the lifeblood of everything else that happens within our classrooms. In today’s educational world, there is nothing more important than forming those positive connections with each student in our care. They need us to be that person for them! Being visible and LEARNING FROM THE HALLS helps me to improve as a principal each and every day.

Every Kid, Every Day!

  • Gabe
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