Ritualize – My #OneWord2018

The ‘One Word’ movement originated by Jon Gordan and has been a fantastic way to retool every January, sort of like a more thoughtful New Year’s resolution. As I write this post about my #OneWord2018 for others so that it will hopefully help them reflect, posts like this are major introspective moments in my leadership journey. I write to articulate where I want to be, not necessarily where I am. 

In 2016 I chose and wrote about BELIEVE with the reminder to believe in yourself, your team, and your students, even when…especially when, things get tough. Believe with your heart and stop thinking so logically, coming up with excuses.

In 2017, I chose and wrote about FOCUS and the need to do a better job of following through with the great initiatives we already had in place.  We even discussed this in our teams at school with everyone choosing their own one word for the year and posting it in their classrooms.

20170210_094931This year I’m torn (no, that’s not my word), but I keep coming back to one concept that I read about this year. If that’s what your mind is on, then that’s what your word should be!

My #OneWord2018 is RITUALIZE.

I read a book called Legacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life by James Kerr which was highly recommended by my man Hamish Brewer, the amazing Relentless Principal who loves this team being himself also from New Zealand. Hamish had his whole staff read it and I’ve also given it out to many of our teachers. Hamish is a master at creating powerful school rituals that have led to almost unbelievable increased achievement results in students. His help with this concept has totally forced me to rethink this for my leadership and my school.


Legacy is about some of the secrets to how the All Blacks New Zealand rugby team won 86% of their games and have been ranked #1 more than any of the other teams combined. James Kerr studied them to find out how and why they were so successful. Here are some of their secrets that I connected to.

You’re never to good to sweep the floors. The best players on the team after every match sweep the floors in the locker room. This is done intentionally as a ritualize to remember that you’re never too good to do the little things.

“Better people make better All Blacks.” The team put enormous emphasis on developing the character of every member of the organization, a culture of leaving “the jersey better than when you received it,” and servant leadership because ” Their emphasis on building character, culture, and servant leadership. It took the team from a solid winning record to a dynasty.

Kaizen is a Japanese word for continuous improvement and in New Zealand they have an other version called Kiwi Kaizen and this was an essential aspect of the team’s success. Kiwi Kazen means improving 100 things by 1%. This form of continuous improvement emphasizes growth through marginal gains in many areas. I think this resonates because it’s really hard to make big changes, drastic massive adjustments in your life or job, but if you can just focus on many little things, and look for these areas of improvement, growth and success is inevitable. It reminded me of our talk last year as a school team about how Tony Robbins said that if you really want to make improvements, then you need to find time to work on your goals every single day. He said, “change is inevitable, growth is not.”

Pressure is good. Embrace expectations. At our school, we have only one goal, 100%. I don’t actually believe in SMART goals. I think if you are happy with 80% or 90% passing, then you are happy with 20% or 10% failing. I’m not happy with any child failing. I love the pressure, it drives me and I know it motivates our teachers.

What is your legacy? What is it that you want to be remembered for by students, colleagues, teachers, families, even your own kids? This helps us focus on what is most important when things get tough.

Now that I’m really thinking about this, it comes down to creating rituals, or routines to build culture. With all of the distractions and noise, I need a filter to ensure that I follow up with the actions that are most important to me.

Ritualize to Actualize

In Legacy, Kerr termed it, “Ritualize to actualize.” Do you want to be in the classrooms more, but never seem to have the time? Do you want to have more highly engaging and fun moments with your staff, but you keep getting sucked into other things instead?

We all of goals that we know we should focus on but the junk of life and our job end up getting in the way instead. We need to set routines that mean something really important to ourselves and our schools. When we repeat these activities or tasks and tie them into who we want to be, focusing on our why, then we transform our routines into rituals. 

If you really want to be different, or have priorities that you want to accomplish:

  1. Put them on your calendar! If it’s not on your calendar or your daily agenda, it must not be that important to you.
  2. Find and stick to routines that are more than just tasks. Find routines that build your skills or your school’s culture. Think about the meaning behind what you already do and embrace/empower current rituals. Or you may need to scrap current routines and find more meaningful ones.
  3. Focus on the most important routines that you want to turn into rituals. Filter out the noise and other ideas that sound cool. You can’t do it all (well) so stop trying so hard.

I’ve been really stuck on this one for a while. Here are some of our rituals at Ashland, focusing on things that have helped build a positive school culture:

  • Games with Guests – Every Friday, I host two staff members to compete in fun games live on the student news show. These are hilarious and this year, students chose to make it random, having us pick names from a bucket for the next week’s contestants. Every staff member is included. DQkOqM_X0AIt0F0
  • Parking Spots – My assistant principal and I park in the back every day and give away our parking spots at meetings for staff members who show grit and belief. Even if I feel like I blew it as a principal on any given day (many, many days), at least I feel a little better as I walk in the cold to the back parking lot, knowing that at least I did that one thing.
  • Staff Parody Videos – We create many parodies and motivational videos for our students and families, but the real secret is that these are massive culture and team building moments for our team as we make them.
  • Daily Routines – I try to make sure I’m out every morning to welcome our students in to school and give some energy on the morning news show. When I can’t do it, I feel tremendously guilty and feel that my day didn’t start like it should.
  • Social Media – I post about our school and about our fantastic teachers as much for me as for them. I need the constant reminder that we have an awesome school and teachers are killing it in the classroom. As a principal, it’s too easy to get caught in the negativity trap thinking that you have to fix everything. Posting pictures and shout outs of our teachers grinding out amazing lessons keeps me grounded and in a good mental place.
  • Welcoming New Students – We stared a process over the last year or so to ensure that we welcome every single student into our school in a formal and personal way.  We involve the parents. The students receive a school t-shirt and a family selfie picture to take home. But most importantly I meet with the new students and class together so that we do our best to help new students feel immediately connected. With our large percentage of military families, this has been extremely beneficial to our students. DOm4bycXkAQ4kEY
  • Principal Read Alouds – This year, I created a ritual that I read to every class, every month based on great ideas from my #principalsinaction crew. This ensures that I spend regular quality time with my students in all of my 36 classes. I knew I wouldn’t do it unless it was scheduled on the calendar, so we work ahead to make this happen every month (thanks to Leia my awesome secretary!). I’m pushing this even farther with a new ritual making Principal’s Book Talks, kind of like book trailers, to show the students before I visit (thanks to Brad Gustafson for this awesome idea!).DSqOqY7X0AAWaJm
  • Blog Posts – I write to reflect and to share. Writing let’s me digest new concepts or consider new methods, almost like a meditation.

As school leaders, we have to make a lot of decisions. Rituals help us to think less and do more, to bond us as a team, and prioritize who we want to be as leaders, building our internal character as well as our external school culture. Ritualize is my #OneWord2018.

Wow, I went deep on this post! Boom! (hmm…maybe my #OneWord2019 ??)


Posted in #OneWord, Leadership Lessons