Who Wins? What If?

I remember the first time that my mom asked if I wanted to stay in the car while she went to grab a loaf of bread from the grocery store. I eagerly replied “yes!” excited to be exercising my new-found independence. Not long after my mom went into the store, it started. The “what ifs”. What if someone knocks on the car window, should I roll it down? What if my mom doesn’t come back out? What if someone tries to steal the car and I’m inside?

This is my first memory that included a trail of “what if questions” that constantly ran through my brain. Whenever I discussed this personality trait, many couldn’t believe the pessimism from these questions. Occasionally I agreed, but as an elementary principal, this constant running stream of questions have been a blessing.

In situations throughout the day I find myself weighing the risks and rewards. Every decision is a calculated formula that fills my mind with a variety of outcomes and best/worst case scenarios that I take to extreme in order to fully prepare for possible outcomes.

For example: A student brings a stack of Pokemon cards to school and refuses to leave them in his locker. He is distracted from his work and is beginning to distract others.

What would you do in this situation?

Some will be turned off by my next comment, please know it’s coming from a good place. I need to make sure that I win. If I win, the student gains. Every single time. In reality, we both win. What do students gain? They gain; social emotional growth, learning (instead of suspension), and often an opportunity to build trust and have a relationship with a consistent, but forgiving adult. In this situation, I immediately take what I know about the student and his trauma as well as how he has handled passed confrontation and apply it to my “What ifs”. The objective of winning is often not immediate, but more long-term and takes extreme patience and zero ego.

Have you decided what you would do? While you’re thinking…I’m share my thoughts.

I will not:

  • take the cards away (he would state “ripping out of my hands”)
  • threaten him with no recess (he cares more about the cards than recess anyways)
  • publicly state my disappointment/disdain for toys in the classroom (he would state, “making an example out of me”)

Each of these situations would result in a possible escalation of behavior, a break in trust, or is an unrelated consequence that will not lead to sustainably changed behavior.

I will consider:

  • Asking him if we could spend a few minutes looking at the cards together in the hallway (Lord, knows I could use a lesson in Pokemon!) and then store in his locker so we could play together during lunch recess.
  • Removing students who are easily distracted from his group, in order to preserve their learning opportunities.
  • After school, calling his guardians to request that “extras” be left at home so that we can continue our focus of academic and social success.

This last consideration may shock you – ignore the distraction and revisit it when circumstances have changed. If you will not be able to confiscate, store, or convince the student without a scene…let it go. I know that I will lose more instructional time by the need to win “in the moment”, then if I let it go until there is an opportunity for a completely discreet and private conversation when he is at his best emotionally and appears willing to be flexible.

To summarize this specific situation, I was able to play Pokemon at lunch, call his guardian, and eventually we agreed on a safe place in my office to store his cards. The next day – “I noticed your pants don’t have pockets today. I have a special secret container in my office that I think might work pretty well for those cards. That way they can stay safe while you’re learning.” Done.

Situations aren’t always this easy, nor to I pretend to have all the answers. What I do have is a rock solid persistence to create long-term positive relationships that won’t crumble under pressure. What if we didn’t always have to win immediately, but practiced long term gratification? What if we allowed each child to learn at their own social emotional pace? What if we were consistent, but flexible, in meeting the needs of our vastly different students? What if we didn’t take resistance as a personal threat, but as an opportunity for improvement?

In the end, when mom went into the grocery store, I always locked the doors. Unexpected and unpredictable things may happen…the only power I have, is to manage and control my reaction.

Lunchroom Duty

When a task is called a requirement, there is resistance, just for the sake of it.

I spend time daily in the cafeteria with students. It’s called lunchroom duty.

According to Merriam-Webster-
Duty: obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one’s position

When I excuse myself from a meeting or a conversation to attend to “lunchroom duty”, I often see an expression of empathy on adult faces. They are likely imagining a mob of children pushing and shoving towards food, unopened fruit cups, and endless milk spills…all at a deafening volume.

I have a secret. I’m about to let you in on it.

“Lunchroom Duty”, shouldn’t even be considered such a thing. Lunchroom Opportunity? Now that’s more like it.

It’s my time to connect on topics not related to education, or behavior. It’s my time to have conversation and enjoy students in a low stress and relationship building manner.

Here is a few conversation starters from today –

“Hey! Mrs. S! How much is 50 Yen?”

“Bet you don’t know who XXXTentacion is!”

“Do you know how to say ‘it’s okay’ in sign language?”

In those moments two things happened:

  1. My phone had a heck of a workout
  2. I now know that 50 yen is about .44 cents, XXXTentacion was a famous rapper killed in a robbery, and “okay” in sign language resembles a motion that a middle school student I once had gave me (he was less than pleased)

Lunchroom duty is an opportunity to meet students where they’re at. Lunchroom duty is an opportunity to capitalize on the unique curiosity of a child. Lunchroom duty will continue being a duty – until more adults spend time in this space where kids start the conversation and communicate with curiosity.




Balancing Act for Balanced Accountability?

If you didn’t already know, “I Love You.”

That was all it took for me to join the 100k viewers that have started a movement after Freethink posted a video about Principal, Hamish Brewer. Currently a phenomenon exists that has started to change the face of educational leadership. No longer are impactful leaders expected to wear a tie, sit in their office, and assign punitive punishment.

Principals like Hamish are taking back charge of their positions in school by servant leadership, but he isn’t the only education rock star who is unapologetic about his approach.

Jeffery Zoul and Anthony McConnell’s book entitled The Principled Principal, discusses the People Principle, and the importance of leading with a human element that allows empathy, intent listening, vulnerability, and FUN!

“The school leader embodies a school’s culture. It’s leader’s words and actions represent a school’s priorities and concerns. We get a sense of culture when we witness a school leader.”  – Hacking Leadership, by Joe Sanfelippo and Tony Sinanis

In this shift to primary culture builder, where does the balance exist with examining data, teacher evaluation, and state identified school designations?

This is a current reflection of my thoughts after Illinois just released designations for each public school across the state. With this in mind it’s my goal to continue to publish my process, reflections, and new learning as our school digs into the Illinois Balanced Measures of Accountability in relationship to the Every Student Succeeds Act.





Lawn Mower Principal?

Recently I read this article “Lawn Mower Parents Are the New Helicopter Parents…“, it left me nodding my head and patting myself on the back for ignoring the 6 emails that my middle school son sent me about forgetting his school issued i.d. at home…on library day.

A few days later as I was getting ready for school, my husband asked why I was making 4 PB&J sandwiches. He knew that no one in the Stumpenhorst household has ever been a fan of the combination. I replied very matter of factly that I was making extras because the shipment at school had been delayed a few days. A few students count on that sandwich as part of their daily routine.


You all can probably see the vast difference in my response to these two incidences, it honestly didn’t hit me until a few days later.  I was a lawn mower principal, trying to mow over my students obstacles before it reached them.

Some of you will stop reading here and judge my ability to lead a school. Some may even decide that I am part of the problem. Others may hear me out…

After much internal conflict – I realized the variables. In any comparison, it’s important to notice the differences.

  1. ACES (adverse childhood experiences)
  2. lack of coping strategies
  3. underdeveloped trust in adults

I feel confident in sharing that half of my student population have these obstacles to overcome, and my personal kiddos have none. That isn’t a brag, it’s an observation and reality.

I’ve always told my son and daughter – “fairness is based on need”.

If I can help a student’s day start a little smoother and allow them the opportunity to learn, sans lunch-choice-meltdown, I will do it every time. Will I always be there to mow over the trivial problems? Nope. Usually it’s my teachers who fix things, I just happened to be there in the moment this one time.

Pro-problem solvers. We wear the badge with pride!

We Are Family

Today something incredible happened…but I didn’t even realize it at the time.

IMG_0478At 7:30am, 15 minutes PRIOR to our advertised supervision time – a student brought me a piece of stapled up paper. It said “famle” and was in the shape of a house…missing one side of the roof.

“I made this for you Mrs. S.”

I thanked the student and pinned it up. Then I asked him to leave my office so I could record the daily announcements.

At lunch time the student came back…

“Did you put the picture in yet?”

Wait what?

He went on to explain that his intent was a homemade pictureframe. He couldn’t put the whole roof on because I needed a slot for the photo. Then he suggested that I put in a photo of my teachers.

“You always say that Washington School is a ‘FAMLE” (family), and this is our house. I made our house.” – pointing to the structure.

Wow. Delayed impact.

This student went home and glued, stapled, and jerry-rigged this one piece of paper to create a masterpiece. I’ll never forget it.

It made one of my teachers cry. It gave me a reality check.

Recording my daily announcements are not that important. The most important job I have is to listen, ask, and learn.


Let Them Lose.

I remember the first time my daughter lost a game. It was Chutes and Ladders. She landed on a snake on the last row and threw herself on the ground in hysterics. Not okay.

When my opponent loses their fifth game of Uno and we are on game number six – you won’t find me hiding a wild card. I’ll play that card every time. It’s a teachable moment – we all need to learn how to gracefully lose, especially kids.

In my house and at school I end every game with a handshake and a “good job” no matter what. There is a lot of good natured smack talk and playful razzing, but in the end I want kids to know that games are about the act of..not the result of.

This week a few third graders challenged me to a race. I promised them on Friday. The rest of the week they told me about their fastest shoes, that “one time at football practice”, and then asked their friends to come and watch our race.

Today was Friday. They lost. I made sure they knew that no Washington School student has ever beaten me in a race. (If they do, I may have to hang up my hat) We shook hands and hugged at the end, congratulating each other. One student even showed a look of determination when he said to me “I’ve still got two more years.”.

Bring it on champ. I’ll be pushing 40 then…and I’ll still beat you. But after I beat you I’ll give you the biggest hug ever, because I’ll miss nothing more than racing you on the playground once you move on to the middle school.


I’m Freaking Out!

It is close to the start of the school year, for some it has already begun. Yesterday families came in to Washington School for back to school conferences.

Parents feel nervous.

Students feel anxious.

Do you know what teachers feel?

I was with teachers all day today, and I want to quote some things I heard while having conversation, traveling the halls, or reading email.

“I started having the back to school dreams last night, you know, when you forget something and you disappoint someone?”

“How can I make __________ feel more comfortable?”

“I just am so impressed with his mom, she really cares and it shows.”

” Can you believe that they just stepped up like that? Incredible.”

Above all they come to me. My teachers will come in, shut the door, and push their class list forward on my desk. They want to know everything. Tell me what excites him. Tell me what makes her laugh. Why does he worry. What do you know about her…

TheIMG_8710.PNG conversation is not gossip related. This conversation is related to mistakes. Mistakes that could be made when individuals are newly introduced. Mistakes that could have reoccurring effects on a relationship. Mistakes that could impact a school year if not prepared for.

“I don’t know, what I don’t know! And I’m freaking out!”

A version of this phrase has been heard around Washington School for years. Back to School is stressful for adults and kids alike. Changing teachers, changing schools, and sometimes moving districts can be incredibly taxing for families. Teachers know this. They anticipate it. They hyper-focus on it!

At the end of the day, communicate. Voice your fears, your failures, and your disappointments. Teachers will rise to this occasion and work so hard to make the year one to positively remember for their students and your child.

One hug. One joke. One smile at a time.

Taking it to 11

Lately I was introduced to a phrase when I heard someone say in excitement”You’re taking it all the way to 11!” It was meant to display the extreme and beyond expectation actions that a person was taking.
Being a connected educator allows me the opportunity to see others “taking it to 11”. Here are a few edu-rockstars that I have witnessed bringing their A-game recently…
Mandy Ellis,  author of Lead with Literacy, knocked my socks off with a growth chart that I quickly duplicated…because it’s freaking amazing! Not to mention she always has such a creative genius when it comes to leading her school.
Jessica Gomez welcomed her staff back to school with an amazing room transformation, while they kick off their “Wild Card” school year. Check out her IG page!
Carter Langston (Phonics Man) is bringing it for his young readers! If you have a building of K-2…check out his facebook page for memorable/fun/rapport building phonemic awareness chants.
Melissa Kartsimas for always weeding through the best IG ideas and reposting…with credit to those who create! Check out her stories for constant inspiration, no matter if you are a teacher or an admin! Not to mention…her blog is full of amazing ideas!
Amber Teaman & Melinda Miller, moderators of the “Principal’s Staff Appreciation & Motivation Group on Facebook. This group is the most amazing minefield of ways to celebrate your staff. If you are like me, it can also become the biggest rabbit hole known to Principals! I have pages and pages of screenshots from this incredible group that I’m hoping to incorporate someday!
Celebrity Shout Out –
Rachel Hollis, author of “Girl Wash Your Face“, has changed the way women across the world are living their best life by giving us a constant dose of real. Check out her IG account for links to her podcast, vlog, playlists, and so much more!
While reading “The Power of Moments“, I have also been inspired to take my position of Elementary School Principal – all the way to 11. Here are a few examples…

Miles of Memories

“Today is the day Mom. My Coach said it, ‘Tomorrow we separate the men from the boys’. I’m going to try my best to be a man…have any tips? Even though I know you’re a girl.”

I talk about it often, but maybe you don’t know. My kids ride with me to school everyday. They sit in the car for 35minutes on the way and usually a little longer on the way home. It was a hard decision for my husband and I, four years ago. It wasn’t just hard for us, but our parents had to choke it down with a spoon full of molasses…which is not nearly as sweet at maple syrup. They each live within 5 minutes of the school district in which we live and are very passionately involved and in love with their grandkids.

It’s hard enough to be a working mom. But to be a working mom in a school district that has a totally separate calendar, events, and activities make it nearly impossible. We did this for one year – and I chose work over my family so many times that my conformation Pastor would’ve written me a letter of guilt (that’s a story for a different day).

First, the not-so-great….IMG_2195.JPG
Today 7/26/2018
7:30am I drove to work my summer hours at school – 30miles
3:30pm I drove home – 30miles
4:00pm I drove back to school with my son for jr. tackle practice – again…30miles
7:15pm Finally we drove home – 30miles
– and this wasn’t even on a Chloe Dance Day…seriously you don’t want to hear about that, it will just stress you out

I sat down and talked to my Superintendent before I open enrolled my kids. I wanted to make sure he knew that this was not going to effect my performance. I’ll never forget what he told me – “Enjoy your time in the car with them. It is precious and goes far to quickly. When they are stuck in that seatbelt is when the best conversations happen.”

He is 100% correct. Now, four years later, I can say with confidence that we are living our best life. Goodness it sucks sometimes…but show me a life that is perfect, and I’ll tell you all about how manipulative social media can be.

You know what else I did today?
– I had 60miles of uninterrupted time to talk to my son about his fears, excitement, happiness, interests, and so much more.
– I had 60miles to listen to my newest favorite book “Girl, Wash Your Face”, by Rachel Hollis (I’m convinced she’s in my head!)
– and on Chloe Dance Days – we have two 20minute commutes to create the most epic carpool karaoke memories

In the last few years I’ve had others ask me about our commute. Occasionally I feel super sorry for myself and dramatize the miles. When a #momsasprincipals reaches out and asks me if she should do it, I say with complete confidence…YES. We will never be perfect at work or at being a mom – but this is our best shot.

In case you’re wondering –

The advice I gave my son? It’s same advice that my Dad gave me that I wrote about here. “You can work hard now, or regret it later. You’ll never say ‘Good thing I only did 1/2 ass today’…trust me.”

I added the last part…but I’m pretty sure my Dad would agree.


Motivated. I can’t even describe the work this guy puts in. It’s incomparable to anything I’ve ever done.

This morning I text him…












Okay, I know I had a typo. Forgive my speedy typing skills. And for those of you who are going back to re-read to find it – I love you most!


We sat down tonight…for the first time for a few days, in the same space.
“So, are you done blogging?”

Whoa…stop the bus. Where did that come from?! He noticed I have been slow. Sleeping in longer, spending more time being a “homemaker”, and living status quo. It benefits him for me to be this way. Today I put away his laundry (two FULL baskets) and he thanked me – but then put me on a tilt-a-whirl, because he wants me to be the best “me” I can be.

Find a partner. One that doesn’t just have their own agenda but doesn’t give two s*%$# what the house looks like and will just put the laundry in the machine himself if needed.

Two blog posts, a School Improvement Plan, and a Back to School Institute Schedule later…

I could spend days gloating about my marital luck – but at the end of the day, what I care about is that YOU have someone in your corner, someone who is your cheerleader or sometimes your a$@ kicker. If you need either – I’m here.

IG – @principalinboots
Twitter – @principalboots










Self Proclaimed

Chaos Coordinator, this is largely a self-proclaimed title.

Before now it is has been something that I’ve actually held pride in…the ability to roll with it, decide or act on the fly, and an Olympian style jump into the most exciting thing in the moment.

In reality, I probably don’t give the planning side of me enough credit…it’s there, I promise you. However I realize that I haven’t done the best job in the last few years of balancing out my crazy procrastinating enthusiastic side with my organized methodical and intentional self.

My crazy has led to this and this and this. However there are a few things that have resulted from my laser-like focus, here and here. This piece is a proclamation to create a healthy dose of both in the upcoming school year. I tend to lean more towards crazy…but am so ready to bring my A-game for my school this year.

Now…don’t get too disheartened – Lord knows I’m still super spontaneous and at any moment may send a message asking you to drop your plans for the afternoon. But trust me when I say that those times will be well thought out and only to produce the most amazing result.

Kids Focused. Staff Centered.

Get ready 2018-19 school year. Washington School is about to own you.


Must Have Apps for FUN!

Get ready friends! Per usual, I’m coming at you from a mom & principal perspective! The apps I’m going to share with you today are MUST HAVES if you want to laugh, smile, and share a special moment with kids – you’re own or at school! Of course, each comes with a brief description and how I use it at home or in at school.

Heads up


I use this app at home AND school! It records a video of the kids while they do their best to describe the noun to me, using words, motions, etc. It is a great way to spend time connecting with kids during indoor recess or when my own kiddos are needing some Mom time!


What Would You Choose?

246x0w.jpgThis app is a spin off of “Would you Rather”. I started reading the questions over the microphone during lunch one day as a way to salvage my hearing. Now students at school BEG me to read more. This was an accidental way to teach SEL skills! First they have to be super quiet – I refuse to repeat myself 🙂 Next, I have them think of their answer with their eyes closed briefly. Finally they turn and talk to their neighbor who tries to use persuasion, just before they raise their hand and vote proudly.


The way I use this app is not as a communication tool – but as a barrier dissolver! Sit next to a student, ask them if they want to see something really funny, then bust out snapchat filter photos of you. Invite them to try it together! The “remember when” moments this app creates will allow you to build a positive rapport with all students.