October is National Principal Month

We received a letter from Irma Zardoya, president & CEO of New York City Leadership Academy, celebrating principals like you.  Here is an excerpt:

Being a principal takes courage, commitment, and a clear understanding of the systems and structures that need to be developed to support student learning and tackle inequitable practices head-on..... I am thrilled to use this month to share the stories of principals doing exceptional work, who put their students first and commit tireless energy and resources to supporting their staff in making every day about doing their best for students. 

 … Please take a few minutes to watch our short film, Power of Leaderswhich features a dozen students talking about the impact their principals have had on their lives and takes us into their schools to see their work in action (I. Zardoya, personal communication, October 4, 2017).

How would your students describe you?  Take a few moments to think about the impact you are leaving with your students, staff, and community.  Celebrate that impact!

How long can you go without checking your Smartphone?

Try this experiment on a day when you aren’t working.  Some of you are lucky enough to have a fall break.  If you don’t have a break, try this over the weekend.  How long can you go without your Smartphone?  How many times do you check your phone in a day?  Do you sleep with your Smartphone? 

We live in a world of instant connectivity but that ability to reach out at any time comes at a cost.  If you don’t set the limits, you can be constantly working.  You may feel like you are getting things done, but long hours decrease engagement and productivity. 

Consider ways to confront your nonstop connectivity.  Have a place to charge your phone that is not going to distract you.   Get an alarm clock that is not your phone.  Challenge your leadership team to only send messages from 6:30 AM – 6:30 PM.  

Teams who have confronted their constant connectivity have “become more efficient and effective” and were more satisfied with their work.  This also helped teams recruit and retain employees (Perlow, 2012). 

Try to disconnect.  It’s not just good for you; it’s good for your school.  

For more information, check out Sleeping with your Smartphone:  How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work.

Make Development Personal

When Amazon knows exactly what products you want, one-size-fits-all learning doesn’t work anymore.  Grovo suggests a ways to make employee development more personalized:

1)      Create Career Pathways:  Work with employees to plot out a long-term vision for how their career arc fits within your school or district.  The coach, AP, Principal, District leader may not allow for enough choices.  How can you expand the impact of “lead” or “master teachers” without having them completely leave the classroom?  Be creative with compensation in order to compensate your most effective educators for their increased impact.

2)      Make learning accessible:  You don’t want learning to be an “event.”  You want it to seamlessly blend in with employees’ work and day.

3)      Give learners agency:  Redundant training kills morale—and quickly.  Set up a system where employees can learn new things without having to suffer through concepts they already understand or practice.  Use some of your effective educators to lead session and be able to differentiate by needs.  

Learn more details in “Light a Fire:  7 Strategies for Developing Employees.”  

How do you lead with humor?

Did you know that principals who are perceived as having a positive style of humor or an affiliative style of humor, one that demonstrates that a leader is not taking one’s self so seriously, were more likely to be viewed as transformational leaders?  However, principals perceived with an aggressive or self-defeating style of humor were not perceived positively as leaders (Mascolo, 2014). 

In creating a climate where people laugh and enjoy their work, incorporate positive humor and opportunities to laugh into your day, especially if it can connect people to your greater mission.   If you tend to have a more aggressive or self-deprecating style of humor, make strides to save that type of humor for home.  If you need a model as a guide, think about a flight on Southwest Airlines.  Their flight attendants work to include positive humor and affiliative humor to make travel more enjoyable as well as to build trust and community for the flight (Klein, 2012).  This comes naturally to some, but if it doesn’t come naturally to you, think about ways to incorporate humor and get your staff to have one good laugh at your next meeting.

Let’s use our TXTS 4 Leaders community of more than 500 educational leaders to spread some laughter.  Do you have a favorite joke or video/image link that you use with your staff?  Scroll down to add it to the comments section.

Klein, G. D. (2012). Creating cultures that lead to success: Lincoln Electric, Southwest Airlines, and SAS Institute. Organizational Dynamics, 41, 32-43.

Mascolo, L. B. (2014). Leading Through Laughter: Humor and Perceived Effectiveness of P-12 Principals. Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia.

Use Mistakes to Model for Staff

Your staff looks to you to embody the spirit and culture of your campus.  That is a lot of pressure; none of us are perfect.  As the head learner on campus we have an opportunity to create a culture that is feedback-rich.  Your teachers and students probably get quite a bit of feedback that they are expected to act upon.  Are you soliciting and acting upon feedback from them at each teacher or parent meeting?  Do you conduct 360s?  Have you made it explicit that you have leadership goals for which you want to gather feedback and grow?  If you make a mistake, have you modeled for your staff how you acknowledged the misstep, learned from it, said you would act differently, and followed through with that action?  

Creating a feedback-rich culture can improve performance.  A feedback-rich culture can also increase the perception that employees are more effective and fulfilled at work and that their colleagues care about them.   These are qualities that increase retention.  

This week, consider how you can model a feedback-rich culture.  

Conditions of Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership means more than shared leadership. Too frequently, discussions of distributed leadership end prematurely with an acknowledgment that multiple individuals take responsibility for leadership: that there is a leader plus other leaders at work in the school.

Though essential, this "leader-plus aspect" is not sufficient to capture the complexity of the practice of leadership. From a distributed perspective, it is the collective interactions among leaders, followers, and their situation that is paramount. (James P. Spillane, Distributed Leadership, 2012)

The following conditions facilitate shared/distributed leadership. 
•    Clear and shared mission/vision
•    Structures to facilitate planning and discussion
•    Relational Trust
•    A culture that supports collaboration

Think about what each condition looks like and sounds like within your school.


Evaluation is all about supporting educators’ growth through feedback and coaching.

How do you message and promote the evaluation process on your campus?  Consider what your words and actions convey to teachers when you talk about, schedule, and participate in evaluations.  Most of us appreciate feedback that can help us grow as long as we believe the person giving the feedback is fair, knows what he or she is talking about, and wants what is best for us as a person. 

How can you make it clear that you work to be fair, knowledgeable, and supportive of the person you are evaluating? 

This week, make a point to demonstrate each of these traits as you schedule, observe, and conference with your teachers.

How does your staff make each student, parent, & employee feel important, welcome, & comfortable?

You spend a lot of energy working with teachers to make everyone feel welcome at the beginning of the year.  However, it is often your front office staff or bus drivers who are the first point of contact for your stakeholders. Have you worked with the classified staff on how you want people to feel after their first point of contact?  Do they have welcoming routines for in person and phone interactions?  Do they know their part in the school vision and goals? 

In Fisher and Frey’s How to Create a Culture of Achievement’s Chapter “Welcome,” they write about creating routines for welcoming families, new students, and visitors.  What are your welcoming routines?  How do you want people to feel on your campus?  What behaviors do you want to model?  

Fisher and Frey include some key questions on page 37 to help you determine your welcoming principles and routines:  
•    How far into a school can a student or parent get before they are greeted?
•    How many adults can a student walk by before the student is recognized?  
•    Does the level of frustration of an angry parent or a scared student increase or dissipate with each step they take into your school? 

Some of you have been in session for a few weeks now.  Check to see how welcoming your school is to various stakeholders by monitoring with a small group over the course of the month.   

Learn How to Tend the Fire

How can schools address rather than perpetuate inequity in our communities?  What can I do in my school to make a difference? 

In May’s 2017 Educational Leadership article “Tending the Fire” Elizabeth City and Danique Dolly share how Dolly reacted as the leader of his Baltimore school when his staff and students were impacted by the death of Freddie Gray, Jr.   Dolly worked to keep the emotional flame of inequity under control without putting it out. 

It may be easier to work with students than staff on this issue, which is why we are focusing on building the capacity of your staff to talk about inequity and race.  You already have the skills you need to begin.  How would you normally start building your staff’s capacity?  You would analyze their current state and determine if you have people who can support or lead the initiative within your own staff.  You might provide training for those who need more support.

City and Dolly write:

School leaders need to create learning environments where all learners can bring their full selves to school.  In our experience, that means making it possible for people to talk about the range of identities they hold, including racial identity…..

 You might have your colleagues identify their level of comfort and skill in discussing—and having students discuss—equity or race issues, having them reflect on questions like,

  • How comfortable am I discussing topics related to (in)equity with students? 
  • What steps can I take to improve my comfort level?
  • What skills can I bring to facilitating dialogue around this hot topic? 
  • What skills must I acquire to get better—and what steps can I take to acquire them 1 (2007)

It is a start that will help your staff grow in their capacity to have students discuss issues of race and injustice that can lead to authentic learning and action.  Check out the article for more suggestions for tending the fire including 1) speaking up at a personal level about the issues, 2) forming relationships across lines of difference, and 3) allowing for authentic learning with students around issues of equity for which they are passionate. 

1 Resources to build comfort and skill include Courageous Conversation about Race by Glenn E. Singleton, What Does it Mean to Be White? By Robin DiAngelo, and the Social Justice Training Institute (www.sjti.org)

To whom are your new teachers turning for support? Are they your marigolds?

How do you support your teacher leaders to mentor newbies?

Jennifer Gonzalez wrote a blog post for new teachers called, “Find Your Marigold:  The One Essential Rule for New Teachers” using the metaphors of marigolds and walnut trees. Marigolds are companion plants that help surrounding plants thrive and she tells new teachers to surround themselves with positive models.  

Your new teachers are probably going through some sort of induction and mentoring process to help them master the competencies needed to be effective in your school and district.  Yet, sometimes new staff members have “unofficial” mentors. 

Have you guided both your official and unofficial mentors in some of the ways to help new staff members develop their competencies?  Are your mentors skilled in the competencies?  When we aren’t trained as coaches, we often revert to advice-giving.  New teachers are grateful for advice, but we also want to help mentors support new teachers to develop competencies to be the best version of themselves rather than clones of us. Have you had personal conversations with teacher leaders and mentors and do you have incentives to encourage your marigolds to accept and stay in mentoring positions?

Read the full blog post or make it available to your new teachers.


5 Strategies for Engagement

As you and your teachers welcome families, learn the 5 strategies for engagement so you don’t blow it!

We know about the academic benefits of having strong family engagement in schools.  Those of us at Title I schools even have funding and activities that require family engagement, but it is rare that leaders are ever taught how to effectively engage families.  

Karen Mapp, senior lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education, speaks to what works when interacting with families.  Research shows that effective partnerships are relationship-based, interactive, collaborative, developmental (meaning that we are focused on building the capacity of families to support growth), and linked to learning.  

Do your Open House or Meet-the-Teacher nights hit all of these criteria?  Do parents get “talked to” about rules, dress code, and goals or do parents and teachers get to know each other? Do parents get to talk to the teacher about their knowledge of their children that might help the teachers?  Do parents get to practice or learn a new skill that can help their children learn?  Is the experience likely to help parents feel welcomed as partners who gained a reason to come back and work with the school and teacher?  This year, make your first interaction with parents one that will bring them back as partners so that you can work as a team toward school growth.  

For more, watch Karen Mapp’s 8 minute “Bold Ideas about Linking Family Engagement to Learning” video:


Is your school better because you lead it?

Welcome back to TXTS 4 Leaders, brief school leadership tips sent each week.  We hope you share our sense of renewal and optimism for the upcoming school year. 

This May’s Educational Leadership issue was focused on supporting school leaders. Baruti Kafele’s article, “Is your school better because you lead it?” prompts leaders to reflect on this question and consider if your staff would answer similarly.  What evidence do you have?  

He provides examples about how reflecting on these questions can help you identify your leadership identity, your purpose for walking into work each day, and your vision for leadership.

This clarity of focus about how you support your staff and students to grow and be in a better positions to succeed because of your leadership will help you decide how to develop your own skills.  

Check out the article and consider this question daily:  How will you improve so that at the end of the year, you know exactly how your school is better because of your leadership?

We are grateful for…

You!  Thank you for…

1)      Your work with students, parents, teachers, coaches, and leaders in our schools and communities. 

2)     Getting up every day to invest in our schools and students, even when it can be so very hard.

3)     Being part of TXTS 4 Leaders.  You have earned a well-deserved break. 

We are going on a summer hiatus, but if you miss us, may we suggest:

  • Practicing gratitude by thinking of three things you are grateful for at the end of each day.  They can be little or big, but focusing on what you are grateful for increases happiness and changes your perception so that you start to see the world more positively. 
  • Reading our archive for the amazing TXTS for Leaders that you missed during the busy weeks. 
  • Sharing TXTS for Leaders with a colleague so they can sign-up for weekly school leadership tips that will start back up in July. 

What do your students think you do during the summer?

Your summer calendar is likely full of trainings, planning sessions, hiring, and hopefully a little vacation.  Add time to your calendar to recharge and build up your whole self. 

In The Power of a Teacher Adam Saenz’s describes 5 areas of well-being: occupational, emotional, spiritual, financial, and physical wellbeing.  If these are spokes of a wheel and even one is out of balance, we can’t drive ourselves, let alone others to their potential without experiencing a breakdown. 

This summer, work to bring these 5 areas of well-being into balance for yourself.  Then when school resumes, challenge your staff to do the same and to help each other stay balanced throughout the school year. 

As you are hiring, are you planning for individualized support for new employees? 

Your hiring process is designed to find the best fit for your open positions, but we don’t always find the perfect candidate. 

As you hire, consider what information you can gather to support the less-than-ideal-candidate who your team still decides to hire.  At the end of the interview process, match up the new-hire’s areas of growth with a staff member who has strengths in this area.  With reference checks, do you ask what support would most positively impact this employee’s quality?  If a new hire is coming from out of town, do you have someone on staff who would enjoy sharing thoughts about neighborhoods, places to live, and restaurants?  With Individualized Support Plans for new hires, your less-than-ideal candidate may grow into high quality members of your team. 

What does next year’s master schedule say about your school’s values?

As you plan for next year, look at your schedule as a tool to serve students equitably. 

  • Do the students with the greatest needs get served by your best teachers?
  • Are the students who have had less-than-proficient teachers this year scheduled to be with highly effective teachers next year?
  • Do transportation needs or cafeteria staffing create hurdles that impact learning or planning time?
  • Can parents give input on the qualities they want their child’s teacher to possess? 
  • Are the grade levels with specials/planning time connected to lunch or the morning/afternoon bell the same teams who need the most support in collaborative planning? 
  • Are there patterns to consider from students who come from feeder schools or who feed into another school?  Are there hurdles to accessing algebra or honors classes? 
  • Do any single classes like band, weight training, or honors math mean that a cohort of students travel together throughout the day?
  • Do all students have access to intervention and enrichment time? 

As a team, take an outside perspective and study your master schedule.  Based on the schedule and how students are assigned, see if there is a mismatch with your core values and work to bring your schedule in line with your vision.    

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. Do you speak the same love language as your staff?

Most staff say they receive no praise or recognition at work.  With Teacher Appreciation Week, your staff is most likely receiving some sort of recognition.  However, there is usually a disconnect between employers’ and employees’ perceptions of showing appreciation with staff.  This can be because we usually communicate our appreciation using the language we speak, rather than using a variety of languages that show appreciation.  Dr. Paul White applied the theories from Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, to the workplace in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.   

Consider whether you have shown your appreciation for individual staff members in the following ways over the course of the year:  

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service  
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Quality Time
  • Appropriate Physical Touch

Showing appreciation is not a one-size-fits-all approach.   One staff member may value time alone with the boss and others might dread this.  Think about how individual staff members show their appreciation to others as a clue for what type of language they speak.  People who feel appreciated at work have greater employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention. Are there love languages that you need to start speaking? 

Tracking Feedback

From the feedback you gave teachers last week, how do you know what feedback was the most effective?  
Most of us document our observations or walkthroughs in some way. Consider a slight shift in thinking. If you and your coaches track the feedback you give and the evidence of change based on that feedback rather than simply what you observe, how might that change your practice? Consider a simple template that includes the following:

  • Teacher Name
  • Running Total: the number of times you provide feedback this year
  • Format: How do you give the feedback? In-person planned, in-person hallway talks, email, note left, etc.
  • Latest feedback: a bullet or two of the key thing(s) that should improve by the next visit
  • Evidence of change: what you observe based on the most recent feedback provided. This could be left blank if there is no evidence of change.  

Would you be able to see which teachers get the most and least feedback? 

Could you analyze the precision of your feedback? 

Would you see which teachers respond to which types of feedback? 

How might seeing patterns in your feedback support your growth in giving effective feedback? 

How would this support the speed at which your teachers improve?