#wmnleadedu Challenge

This weekend, a wonderful group to which I belong (#wmnleadedu) on Voxer and Twitter asked that each of us locate a favorite article or quote on leadership and tag it on Twitter.  I came across an article that Sir Ken Robinson  (http://http://sirkenrobinson.com/) shared and was totally inspired by it.

I am a big fan of doing anything and everything to help kids. This has led me to out of the box thinking and applications throughout my career.  I once worked with a physical education teacher who implemented math in his classroom.  He would implement simple yet effective things like having kids count their jumping jacks by fives, reinforcing multiplication during warm-ups. I worked with a History teacher who dressed in American Revolution period clothing when it was time to teach that unit or stand on the desk when delivering other important messages.  I worked with a spanish teacher who had students sing Holiday carols in spanish.

More recently, we have teachers who have taken innovation to a whole new level by requesting students create the perfect assignment, or create something that will assist the hearing impaired or those who have lost their vision. We have teachers pushing students’ creativity to the limits. There are hundreds, even thousands of examples.

In this article, you’ll see the magic that has occurred in Bradford. This school was under-performing until the music coordinator and head teacher decided to make learning fun again. Their strategies, are outlined here:

Music in Schools Article from The Guardian

They not only improved school culture, they improved scores in content areas as well.  Did you know that arts students are 55% more likely to attend a post-secondary school than those who were not involved in the arts?

We cannot ignore these statistics any longer.  Integration of the arts matters and it goes seamlessly with technology integration, design thinking, innovation, social emotional learning, and trauma informed schools.

Everything I am today can be attributed to my involvement and love for the arts. For more information or to dialogue about this further, I’d love to hear from you at kwood4971@gmail.com. Let’s start a movement of happy, engaged students in schools with a propensity to learn and grow like never before!

~Karen Wood



Let me tell you about the most amazing, life-changing book I have read recently.  This book is written with the intent of supporting female leaders everywhere, however if you are a courageous man, you, too can make a difference.

Lean In was written by Sheryl Sandberg who is the COO of Facebook. I was impressed by both her credentials and candor.  The book is referenced and annotated throughout, citing important data and research on this topic. I was so pleased to see that the ideas, thoughts, and feelings I have had as a female leader were legitimate. These were not just “how I felt” but backed by data. Amazing…

Her Ted Talk is about fifteen minutes in length and worth every minute.


Here are three of the items I have taken away from Lean In:

Sit at the Table

Sandberg talks about the necessity for women to sit at the table.  When I was a brand new vice principal, my Principal was holding a cabinet meeting, comprised of teachers and administrators. She intentionally did not sit, waiting to see who would sit where. Teachers scurried for seats. I noticed there were only a few seats left so I sat at the table.  Knowing no teachers, I did not sit near anyone I knew as this was my first meeting. Then I realized I had chosen the “head” of the table!  You know the seat…the one where the LEADER sits. I was mortified but it was too late to get up and move.  Just then, my Principal began the meeting. The first thing she did was commend me for “sitting at the head of the table.” Long before Sandberg’s book was published, I had the opportunity to work for a woman I consider my mentor. She “administratively raised me” and realized, more than two decades ago, how important it was for women to sit at the table.

Make your Partner a True Partner 

This portion of Sandberg’s advice is important and relevant for both men and women who work or choose to stay home and raise children. The most compelling proof for me is shared in both the Ted talk and the book.  To think that a home where chores, work, and child-rearing are shared equally have half the divorce rate is astounding! This reminded me of a recent article I read…


I find this research essential in building strong relationships, both at home and at work. There will be a follow-up blog on this topic, I can assure you.

Don’t Leave Before you Leave

Sandberg discusses why it’s important for women to keep their feet firmly planted on the gas pedal before leaving for childbirth.  She has found that many women decide that their career will have to be derailed to have children long before it is time to make that decision. I am taking this advice in a different way considering my current position. My contract will expire on June 30, 2018. You can bet that my foot will be firmly planted on that gas pedal until June 30.  I will not “leave before I leave”.

My deepest gratitude to Sheryl Sandberg for not only being a role model for women everywhere but for writing a “user’s guide” so that women can collaborate, reflect, and own their future.  This book has inspired me to establish a newly formed Women in Leadership group in my county.  More to come…

Barnabas Health Partnership is Rewarding and Motivational


In my last post, I wrote about an ongoing partnership between the Barnegat Schools and Barnabas Health, Community Medical Center.  For more than two years we have enjoyed a unique partnership at a limited cost to the district.

It all started about three years ago when I was reading an article in Forbes magazine.  It indicated that in the next ten years there would be job growth in certain industries.  As you may have guessed, the first area of projected growth was technology.  The second area of growth was in the medical sciences.  I was curious about the med-sci piece so I began to gather some data.

We knew that there was a nearby high school who had a similar program so we decided to take a visit.  Check out this link to see the academy programs offered in Neptune: https://www.neptuneschools.org/Page/1764 

It was impressive to see what high school students were being exposed to. They had a lab set up in a classroom with very high tech equipment as well as the ability to work with some very credentialed medical professionals.

I wanted the same for our students in Barnegat.  I began making phone calls to as many medical facilities as I could in our area.  I received many “no” calls to my questions. Most times I couldn’t get in touch with people at the executive level who make important decisions.  In addition, businesses were not necessarily seeing the return on investment for them.

Eventually I received a call from the Vice President of Prevention for Barnabas Health, Community Medical Center.  She was actually calling regarding prevention.  They were looking to work with a school district who was in need of supportive services for prevention and wellness.  If you had the opportunity to read my last blog, you know that we were certainly in need of support in that area.  While we were on the phone, in our very first conversation, I pitched my idea. My colleague thought is was worth bringing to the hospital board and even agreed to set up the meeting.

The time came for my team to present our idea to the hospital CEO, several Vice Presidents of different departments and even a head of surgery!  I was nervous.  What I thought was going to be a conversation ended with brainstorming.  Both sides could see benefits and we were ready to start planning.

The program has been in effect for two years now and although we have made some changes, the benefits are tremendous for our students. Approximately once a month a cohort of high school students, selected through a criteria based process, travel to the hospital.  The cost of the bus is funded by the school district. Our students participate in hands-on experiences led by medical professionals.  Topics are planned and arranged collaboratively between a Med-Sci Collaborative advisor (who receives a stipend for his/her time and work) and hospital officials.  Students have been exposed to everything from perioperative services, to x-ray technicians, to central sterilization. The volunteers from the hospital provide a brief lecture-style lesson, followed by a hands-on experience. They even provide dinner for our students.  The only cost to the district is transporting students (about once per month) and an annual stipend for a teacher to coordinate the program with the hospital.

In the first year of the program, our students volunteered time at the hospital. The Vice President of the hospital has presented graduation certificates of completion and has done so both at the hospital but also at our Board of Education meeting in the spring. Students are now being accepted to colleges with a unique learning experience on their applications. Through this experience, some students have decided what field of medicine they would like to study or whether or not they are going to pursue medicine or another field all together.

In November, our students had the opportunity to meet David Diehl   https://twitter.com/davediehl66?lang=en of the New York Giants who shared motivational words about grit, progress, and determination. Students reflected on his story about resilience and were inspired by his dedication and fortitude.


I am excited about the success of this program and am grateful for the opportunities this partnership has provided to our students. Hands-on learning can be exciting and rewarding. Deciding on a career path or being exposed to something you might love when in high school is truly a gift in itself.

~Karen Wood

Celebration for the Prevention and Wellness Coalition of Barnegat



I am proud and excited to share recent accolades for the Barnegat Schools and community where I serve as Superintendent.

About a year and a half ago, we were met with serious challenges. The local municipal alliance folded.  The township, for years had provided a municipal alliance which assisted in funding a variety of school programs. They helped offset the cost of Project Graduation which is a drug and alcohol free celebration for graduating seniors.  The municipal alliance also helped offset the cost of mentor-mentee programs such as school breakfasts and incentives. The mentor-mentee program is instrumental in partnering students with staff members who may need additional supports. Most times these supports are not necessarily academic in nature and the time together gives students an opportunity to connect with someone at school, ultimately motivating them to be more excited about attending school and getting invested in school culture.

When the funding was gone, we were faced with serious challenges.  Not only did the district need to determine how to fund certain programs, we had a population of families who needed supports that were no longer there.  Seeing a need, I reached out to Barnabas Health. They have been our partner for two years and have helped fund many programs in our school district. I inquired what could be done to help offset the increased costs and if there were programs available.  As luck would have it, if the district were interested in taking the lead on forming a local committee, we could apply for the drug free communities grant this spring.

I began researching what was necessary and brought the required twelve sectors together.  Shortly after forming the Prevention and Wellness Coalition of Barnegat, we were recognized as a “Town of Excellence” for making significant strides in prevention both in our community and schools.  For the full article, click here:  https://thesandpaper.villagesoup.com/p/barnabas-institute-honors-barnegat-for-excellence/1711462

It was gratifying to have our efforts recognized but better yet are the opportunities receiving the drug free communities grant may provide for us.  As we continue in our journey of prevention, it is exciting to know that small steps along the way, like forming a committee of dedicated, like-minded people, and being recognized for our efforts make the challenges worthwhile.  I know as I go to my next meeting, I will go proudly and excitedly as we prepare for grant submission with hope for what it will mean to our students and families.

Stay tuned for the results of our submission and remember that you can accomplish anything if you plan, remain intentional and commit to goals one step at a time.

~Karen Wood



Bit by bit…

The other day I was giving my daughter a saxophone lesson.  I began my career as a music teacher and I cherish every chance she and I have to play music together. Not only does it bring me closer to my daughter, it also brings me right back to what I love the most – teaching!  Working with her reconnects me to the strategies necessary to teach content for comprehension.

As we worked through the first few measures of music, my daughter began to get frustrated by the complexity of the musical patterns. I asked her to play only five or six notes, breaking the musical phrase into a short snippet of the entire passage. I chose the notes purposefully.  They were a succession of notes that were repeated many other times in the composition. They were also the most challenging rhythmic pattern in the piece.  I knew that if I could get her to play that passage, she would be successful.

She struggled through the five or six notes. I knew she would. I complimented her on the successes she had, then asked what she noticed about the notes. Katie identified both the rhythmic pattern and that the notes moved step wise “like on a staircase,” she said. After reviewing the fingering for the note succession, she tried it again and was successful. I asked her to play it again. I complimented Katie excitedly and asked her to play it again and again. Each time, she was successful, I was exuberant. Each time she struggled, I asked her why she thought she made a mistake. Sometimes she remarked that she misread notes or that she wasn’t sure of the fingering.

Eventually, we worked through the entire piece but did so quickly after the first identification of the challenging passage and the repeated, purposeful learning done there.  The next day when I came home from work, she had her saxophone and was practicing the piece of music.  To my great joy, Katie played through the piece over and over again, smoothly and confidently. I knew she struggled through certain parts but to hear her play it, you’d never know. I was so proud.

This “bit by bit” or “chunking” of learning reminded me that to reach out goals, it must be done so with purpose and intentional actions. Already three weeks into the new year and I am pleased to reflect on this time. My goals this year are quite large and I realized to obtain them, I could only get there “bit by bit” so I am employing the same teaching strategy used with students (and my daughter, Katie) to my own desired outcomes. I have broken each goal down into smaller, incremental “wins”.

Breaking goals down has accomplished two things for me.  It has given me a great sense of accomplishment because I am making small gains each day. Even writing this blog is a purposeful, planned activity to meet a goal. The other positive outcome from operating in this manner is the ability to remain on track. So far, my goals don’t seem as daunting as they might have been if I just put something momentous on my “to do” list without breaking it down into achievable pieces.

I hope that this post reminds you that you can accomplish anything if you plan, remain intentional, and commit to goals one step at a time. Teaching and learning has always been a source of happiness for me. I am pleased that those little moments still remind me how precious and exciting learning can be.

~Karen Wood


Last year I chose one word as I began 2017. This year I have decided to follow Chris Brogan and chose three words.  Brogan said,


“Make the words such that they influence your choice of actions, encourage you to decide in favor of your goals, and guide you towards lasting results that you want to experience throughout the year.”


Last year my one word was hopeful.  I have no regrets over that word and hopeful is wonderful for some but as I reflect on 2017, I realized that I would have to do more than be hopeful during 2018 because, quite honestly, sometimes hope just isn’t enough.


Even though I was hopeful, last year could have been the worst year of my professional life. As 2018 begins, there must be change. What better way than to begin anew with #my3words…

The first word for me is WELLNESS. This is extremely important to me.  I’ve practiced yoga, meditated, journaled, reflected, and prayed. But in 2018 the wellness I’m referring to is overall wellness in regards not only to my mindset but also in regards to my health, diet, and fitness goals.
Stress from last year added weight to my frame and wrinkles to my face. While there may not be a magic eraser for wrinkles, I can most certainly take control of wellness. This means putting myself first, which is no easy feat for me.  In fact, just writing it terrifies me because I have responsibilities.  I’m a caregiver to my children at home and my students and staff at school.  How can I put myself first?
It means I will sleep more, eat healthy foods that feed my body with nutrients to build strong, lean muscle, exercise to keep my heart and mind fit, and practice other wellness necessities such as meditation to maintain a positive mindset. Through reflection I came to the difficult realization, that if I did not put myself first, I would be useless to others who depend on me.
My second word is LEAN. Although my first word related to fitness and overall health and wellness goals, this one is so that I LEAN in to challenges (although getting “lean” in weight would be a great outcome as well!) My intention this year is to lean in to challenges, to lean in to learning opportunities, to lean in to risk-taking, to lean in to using intentions to steer my future, and to lean in to growth. In 2017 I didn’t lean in to what I was facing.  I observed the obstacle and quite frankly, sometimes ignored it, went in another direction, or put forth negative energy. I now realize that was wrong and ultimately had damaging effects on my career and my mindset.
@jenniferhogan chose this word as her third word. As soon as I read Jennifer’s three words, I knew I wanted this one too. In 2018, I will be relentless in:
1. the pursuit of personal and professional growth
2. the pursuit of wellness, health, fitness, weight loss, and a desire to feel healthy again
3. dedicating my thoughts toward positive energy and setting intentions
4. inspiring others
5. being grateful.
6. goal setting and achieving my goals by purposefully planning and doing things one step at a time
6. reflecting and readjusting when necessary
7. loving and caring for my children so they continue to flourish and make me proud
8. my commitment to myself
About seven years ago, I decided I wanted to participate in a Tough Mudder race. I was an average gym-goer and not fast or fitter than anyone else.  I remember telling someone that I was going to do that race.  Their response was a laugh and, “Are you crazy? You can’t do that.” Not only did I accomplish the Tough Mudder but it was one of the best experiences in my life. I learned an awful lot about what I could do when I set my mind to it and a lot about teamwork. Mostly, I learned that if someone tells me I can’t, it makes me more motivated to do the “I can.”
Writing this post is like that in a way. Today, by memorializing my goals and intentions for 2018, I can begin to hold myself accountable and be the best “me” I can be. I hope you are setting out to be the best “you” too.
~Karen Wood

Reflections of 2017

Is it possible another year has gone by?  As a member of the #compelledtribe reflection is something we try to do at the end of each year.  As a human being, reflection is necessary for growth. As an educator reflection is necessary to assess where we are on our path and where the compass of our journey will point us toward the future.


2017 was a successful school year for me. Here are two newsletters from the Barnegat School District where I currently serve as Superintendent.  I don’t usually share what has happened in Barnegat but I’m very proud of the district’s accomplishments.


The first newsletter (above) celebrates the opening of our school year with highlights that include amazing improvements in our PARCC (Partnership of Assessment and Readiness for the Common Core) scores. These amazing results are as follows:

In reviewing PARCC data, here are some impressive results regarding the growth in Barnegat:

From 2015-2017 in Language Arts Literacy, grades 3-11: 5 of 9 grade levels reflected increases in “meeting expectations and exceeding expectations”. This resulted in a 55% increase of all students across grades 3-11 in Language Arts Literacy.

From 2015-2017 in Mathematics (including Algebra I & II and Geometry), grades 3-11: 7 of 9 grade levels demonstrated increases in “meeting expectations and exceeding expectations”. This resulted in a 67% increase of all students across grades 3-11 in Mathematics.

Lastly, in Mathematics grades 3-11 Barnegat students had higher gains than the state average in 7 of 9 grade levels. We were higher than the state by 27%.

In addition, the newsletter highlights the amazing successes of our athletic teams, dance team, and marching band as well as Strategic planning efforts and other district successes.

In December there were even more highlights to share:


The December newsletter celebrates the success of individual students and a wonderful highlight of one of our very own Barnegat High School teachers in a segment on Classroom Close-Up New Jersey called, “Reach before you Teach”.  In addition, please read the news on our commitment to the local VFW with essay contest winners and the wonderful visibility of our newly formed Navy Jr ROTC. The ROTC program was a desire of the Board of Education that hired me in 2011.  It took many years of applications to the Department of Defense. Finally we were granted a charter and Barnegat pride is now even stronger and more visible than ever before.

Lastly, I have formed the Coalition for Wellness and Prevention in Barnegat.  This group of volunteers, which crosses all sectors has come together so that we can do what we can to prevent students and families from falling victim to drug and alcohol use in our community.  We will be applying for a Drug Free Communities grant this spring that should further our efforts for our community and families.

What I have learned in 2017 is that I am incredibly proud of what I have done.  When my contract ends in June, I can leave Barnegat with my head held high on all that the district has accomplished under my leadership.  I hope that I have also left an imprint of putting students first, embracing student and staff growth, and honoring the character and integrity of education. I think the Barnegat teachers know that the mantra, “Every Student Matters Every Day” is something I have not only preached but also put every once of my effort behind this year.

On a personal note, my daughter’s cheerleading team (Lacey AYC – American Youth Cheer) came in third in the nation in their class! The experience my daughter and her teammates had was extraordinary. Watching a team grow and improve with supportive coaches and parents was extremely rewarding. My son is a competitive gymnast and competed for the first time in December as a Level 5 USAG (United States American Gymnastics) men’s competitor. He scored a 9.4 on floor and is looking forward to competitions this season at West Point Military Academy and Temple University.  Seeing him mature and focus through this intense sport with caring, committed coaches has been a truly wonderful experience. He also performed his first vocal solo at Christmas-time and I couldn’t be more proud.


My most proud achievements of 2017 are a result of my dedication and the dedication of teachers and coaches to children.  They are my children, Gavin and Katie and the children of my district. I am blessed to be rewarded by the experiences and achievements of the most important people in this world – the young ladies and men who signify the future of our nation.

~ Karen Wood

The Classroom Environment – Respectful Interactions

We use the Danielson rubric in my district.  One of the most important facets of the rubric is classroom environment.

Let’s take a look at what great teachers do….

Effective teachers organize their classrooms so that all students can learn. They maximize instructional time and foster respectful interactions with and among students, ensuring that students find the classroom a safe place to take intellectual risks.

We know that all students learn differently and have different needs but it is so important to consider their emotional needs as well as their learning needs. At the beginning of the school year I have seen many teachers create a safe place for students. This has been done by providing surveys for students and/or parents to complete.  I have also observed teachers seeking student input from the very first day. This is a wonderful way to engage students and establish rapport.

  1. Ask students how they learn.
  2. Ask students where they like to sit, if they like to work alone, collaboratively, in small groups or in large groups.
  3. Establish non-verbal cues so that students can share important information with the teacher without other students knowing.  This can be done using a sticky note or raising one finger instead of an entire hand.
  4. Have students help identify locations in the classroom that they feel safest in. This could be on a rug, by a window, or near the door.  Seeking student input is essential.
  5. Have students create a code of conduct at the beginning of the school year but be creative. The phrase “code of conduct” does not necessarily have the best connotation. Try Class Agreements, Respectful Rules, The Students Say…, Code of Character or any number of other agreed upon respectful interactions that should be utilized on a daily basis.
  6. Create a Wish Board or a Parking Lot. The Parking Lot can be a bulletin board where students can leave questions about class, instruction, or classroom rules or behaviors.  The Wish Board can be where students state, “I wish…” and they should complete that with an idea on how to positively impact the classroom like, “I wish we could fill buckets more often” or “I wish we had more classroom helpers because I like helping my classmates.”


It is always exciting to see the wonderful ways children blossom when they are in a safe learning environment.  This works for all ages. Try this with middle and high school students as well. Don’t you produce better work when you are feeling comfortable, safe, and listened to? Creating safe spaces is essential for both children and adult learners.

~ Karen Wood

The Classroom Environment – Respecting the Dignity of All

In my district we use the Danielson framework for teacher evaluations. This rubric provides an approach to teaching and learning that facilitates student growth while embracing diverse student needs at the same time.

Let’s take a look at what great teachers do…

Students and teachers work in ways that demonstrate their belief that hard work will result in higher levels of learning. Student behavior is consistently appropriate, and the teacher’s handling of infractions is subtle, preventive, and respectful of students’ dignity.

How does one accomplish this balance?  It has been my privilege to observe strong classroom management practices throughout my career. Here are some strategies used that are respectful of students unique learning and behavioral needs.

  1. Use different symbols for different needs.  If a child holds up one finger it is for bathroom use.  If they hold up two fingers it is because they need a tissue.  If they hold up three fingers, they need a pencil.  If they hold up four fingers they need the nurse and if they hold up all five fingers they need the teachers assistance or wish to contribute.  This can be modified or changed based on the needs of the class.  Asking for student input is always important.
  2. When a student needs a pencil have a can of pre-sharpened pencils ready.  As the teacher is teaching, take the sharpened pencil and hand it to the child who needs it, at the same time taking their unsharpened one.  This simple strategy allows a constant flow of educational content without disruption. The teacher remains in control of content delivery or managing student groups while the child’s needs are being met (getting a sharpened pencil.)
  3. Use non-verbal cues back to students.  Teachers don’t necessarily have to say “no” when it’s not the right time for a bathroom break.  Teachers can use any cue that the class and teacher have devised for this communication.
  4. Use “brain breaks” or anchoring activities to keep the class focussed.  Simple things like clapping a pattern which students repeat or saying, “class class class” to which the students respond, “yes yes yes” gains instant attention from students.  I was in a classroom last week where when a certain music was played, the entire class knew to freeze with their hands folded.  They knew that this was a call to attention, that the teacher had something important to share.
  5. For students who struggle, work with the child, his/her parents, and/or a counselor to create a behavior contract.  When the child and teacher both sign the commitment to each other and the class, it solidifies expectations for both and decreases off task behavior in the class.  Don’t forget that incentives matter.  Keeping a growth mindset, or the belief that things can and will improve is important to children and families whose children struggle.

There are many ways to foster a respectful learning environment. Do what is necessary to strike the right balance with the students in your class.  As an adult learner you probably don’t enjoy being “called out” in a negative way for a work related product. Honor students and keep your interactions with them positive. These strategies improve educational outcomes for students and staff.

~ Karen Wood

The Classroom Environment-Seating

In my district, we use the Danielson rubric for effective teaching.  One of the most important facets of the rubric, is the classroom environment.

Let’s take a look at how great teachers maximize classroom environment.

Effective teachers organize their classrooms so that all students can learn.  This can be everything from how chairs and desks are arranged to what types of furniture are being used.  I love seeing classes with flexible seating or other options for students.

Last year we had a classroom with a blow-up swimming pool in it.  This was a favorite place for students to lounge and read or write. Students often sat in the “pool” for discussion groups as well. One of the other exciting seating options was the use of “pub height” tables and stools or chairs made from exercise balls.  Keep in mind that students need flexibility and options.  So do teachers.  Not every student learns the same way and some prefer to be lounged out comfortably rather than sitting erect at an uncomfortable desk.

Giving students choice is a sure fire way to liven up your classroom and maximize student engagement. Don’t forget to use a funding source like Go Fund Me to raise money for those comfy chairs that don’t seem to fit into your school budget.

Remember that flexibility and options work for ALL learners.  Wouldn’t you be happier if you had a choice while learning?

~Karen Wood