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? 

Training Future Leaders

Are you intentionally training your school’s future leaders to take over for you?

At some point, you will not be in this role.  You will move on.  At every opportunity, are you sharing your knowledge with those who have the potential and desire to be an instructional leader?  

Are you providing smaller leadership experiences with support and feedback so that you aren’t just delegating, but adequately preparing others to do what you are currently doing?  

What about your irreplaceable staff members?  These are the people who, if they quit, might lead you to consider changing jobs.  It is important to explicitly, purposefully share expertise and systems for doing things with those who have the potential to also become irreplaceable.  

Imagine feeling like you could walk away and things would continue to function.  Work toward that end.  Even if you stay, you’ll have more support and a network of talent.

If you have a couple of potential leaders in mind, see if the Aspiring Principals Program is something you would like them to pursue.  The application deadline has been extended to Monday, April 17th

Turn to the Teachers

Your best-head hunters are right on your campus.  Smart teachers who love students and love learning tend to know other smart teachers who love students and love learning.    

Who are your most effective teachers?  Why do they stay at your school?  To what do they attribute their success?  Based on their answers you should be able to craft your school’s branding model for recruitment.  Ask them to recruit friends who want to work in a place that supports the success of effective educators.  If they aren’t willing to ask their friends to come, ask them what would need to change in order for them to recommend the school to their friends.  See if you can create a climate where only the best educators want to work in your school.

Questions to Lend Focus

If you keep going to meetings that are full of ideas that never go anywhere, you have the power to make the meeting more productive, even when you aren’t leading the meeting.  Simply ask a naive question or provide a polite relevancy challenge.  “Help us understand how your comment connects to this topic.”  If items continue to recur with no decisions, you might offer “What might be the best next step to make this happen?”  You may want to suggest a “parking lot” to list off-topic ideas on a chart to hold the ideas for a more appropriate time. 

Use your time together productively to encourage one topic at a time to produce results and make meetings more productive.

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Data Driven Instructional Decisions - Inviting Teachers into the Discussion

According to Paul Bambrick-Santoya, author of Leverage Leadership, data analysis meetings between leaders and teachers are the highest-leverage time a leader can spend.  During which time it is critical that teachers analyze their own assessment data. But even for school leaders who have learned to analyze data closely, supporting teachers to do the same can be challenging.

So, what needs to happen before a leader can ask the sort of targeted questions that lead to data-driven instructional decisions?

Know your teachers.  The type of support and questions will depend on the self-reflection and analysis capacity of the teachers.

Analyze the teacher’s results before the meeting to ensure you have a good idea of the root cause and how teachers might address the problems.

If needed, get help with content expertise.

Informed by your own analysis of the student data, arrive to the meeting with a few specific strategies that will be effective. Keep those in your “back pocket” and lead by asking questions like…

 -  What did the students need to be able to do to get that question right?  How was this more that what they are able to do with you in class?

 -  What’s so interesting is that they did really well on question number ____ but struggled with question number ___ on the same standard.  Why do you think that is?

 -  Let’s look at question number ____.  What do you think that the students are doing wrong here?

After analysis meetings like these, teachers have a more developed capacity to analyze their students’ output and a clearer understanding of what steps to take to improve student learning.

Scheduling Tactic

How do you BLOCK out your time so you can TACKLE what’s most important to ensure your teachers GO THE DISTANCE? Ah…sports analogies.

Locking in your weekly schedule will allow you to defend your time from distractions.  Schedule time with teachers for weekly one-on-ones.  This is protected time for face to face meetings that teachers will come to expect and they will begin to anticipate to receive feedback on their instruction.  Pick a standing half-hour window when the teacher is available.  Then, strategically block out time for your walkthroughs just before your weekly teacher meetings so that the observation is fresh in your mind and you’re delivering timely feedback.

Blocking and tackling are as fundamental to instructional leadership as they are too football.  Employ these scheduling tactics to ensure you and your teachers reach your goals.

Successful Change

How do you ensure that a change process on your campus is successful?  For example, say you want to introduce STEM initiatives on your campus.  First, know your culture and create strategies that work for your current culture.  Do most teachers value “I do, We do, You do” gradual release models of teaching rather than inquiry? Do you have a strong union who wants a voice or a few teachers who will try something if it’s for the kids or if you ask personally?  Do you have a culture of teachers who work collaboratively or work on their own?  

You may have heard the quote attributed to Peter Drucker, “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.”  Create or tweak strategies and structures that play into your current culture while providing opportunities to shift the culture by highlighting where you want to go.  Have some key players work to teach a lesson as a gradual release while some teach it as inquiry and investigate the differences.  Use scientific method to study STEM.  What are structures or systems that can also act as symbols for the culture you want to create?  Build, highlight, retain, and make decisions based on the people and systems that embody the culture and vision you want to create.

Monitoring Instructional Effectiveness

There are several approaches that leadership teams take to monitor instructional effectiveness and to ensure alignment of what is being taught in classrooms to the written and tested curriculum.  Conducting focused classroom walkthroughs and analyzing interim assessment data are high-leverage activities, particularly when they include feedback and follow up.  What about lesson planning?  What information about the effectiveness the instruction or the progress of your students can be gleaned from checking teachers’ lesson plans?

Collecting and reviewing lesson plans has been a time-honored tradition among school administrators.  But is it the best strategy for improving teaching and learning?  And, for busy principals, is it the best use of your time?

Some may have strong rational for collecting lesson plans every week and a system for providing timely feedback.  But to monitor critical areas that will provide you with the information needed to track alignment and effectiveness, consider sitting in on grade level or content team meetings or collecting PLC minutes.  In doing so, leaders can monitor academic priorities and assess alignment of instruction and curriculum while promoting data analysis, lesson planning, and collaboration.