Do or do not. There is no try.

Do you have staff members who need support and improvement just to meet expectations?  It is important to prioritize that improvement or ensure that you will not retain them, not just for your students, but in order to retain your very best teachers.  

“‘There is a deep misunderstanding about what teachers believe make a good school,’ says The New Teacher Project’s Tim Daly.  Principals believe that focusing on retaining top teachers and addressing low performance would negatively impact school culture, but teachers said the opposite.  Teachers were more likely to leave schools where they didn’t see the principal addressing low performance.  Either improve your low performers or do not retain them; make schools attractive places for great teachers to work.”    (Varlas, 2013) 

So how do you prioritize improvement?  Ensure that you meet weekly with the teacher to work on one bite-sized change a week.  You observe, you coach and model, you observe again to see the teacher’s improvement, and then you work on one more bite-sized chunk each week.  Document the next step and the results.  If the teacher shows improvement, it is possible to get the teacher where you want him or her with intense support, even if it’s not immediate.  If it seems like it will take too long or you don’t see improvement, it’s time to have a tough conversation.  If you work intensely with this teacher, even for a short time, you will both have a good sense of what it would take to see improvement and it will be an easier conversation to have.  

Varlas, Laura.  (2013).  Focus on Retention.  How to Keep your Best Teachers.  Educational Leadership:  (55) 3, 1-2, 3, 7. 

4 Qualities of Principals Who Get High Achievement in High-Poverty Schools

Name 4 qualities of principals who get high achievement in high-poverty schools.  Do you show these qualities? 

During eight years of studying high-achieving and rapidly improving schools with at least 73% students of color and students of poverty, it was the building leaders that were driving factors in school success.  As they studied 33 school leaders in 19 states, Karin Chenoweth and Christina Theokas found 4 qualities these leaders share: 

1. Their beliefs about student potential drive their work

2. They put instruction at the center of their managerial duties

3. They focus on building the capacity of all the adults in the building

4.  They monitor and evaluate what leads to success and what can be learned from failure

(Chenoweth & Theokas, 2013, 57-59)

Reflect on your words and behaviors from the past week.  How did you demonstrate these qualities in your actions?  Could any of your words or behaviors give others the impression that you do not possess one of these qualities?  Think about how you might be more intentional this next week in ensuring that you are modeling these 4 qualities of successful building leaders. 

Over the next months, we will dig into each of these qualities in more detail.  Stay tuned. 

Chenoweth, K. & Theokas, C.  (2013) How High-Poverty Schools are Getting it Done.  Educational Leadership:  The Principalship.  (70)7, 56-59.

Keep More Irreplaceable Teachers

During this season of thankfulness, try #4 of the “5 Ways Principals Can Keep More Irreplaceable Teachers.”

Number 4 states, "Many teachers use the winter holidays to think about what’s next. Block off time after Thanksgiving to talk to your Irreplaceables and rising-star teachers about continuing to teach at the school next year. Tell them that they are irreplaceable and how much you want them to return. Ask them about their own interests and concerns, and if they are considering other options, ask what you can do to convince them to stay."

With whom do you need to have a stay conversation? 

Click image to enlarge and download.

Click image to enlarge and download.

Strategically Plan for Increased Performance

Guest Author, Michael Labrecque, shares a few ways to strategically plan for increased performance.  

What is the most productive part of your day? This question is not as straightforward as you may think and can have tremendous implications on your school’s performance. In his keynote address at the HCInnovation@Work 2017 Conference: The “When” of Work: How the New Science of Timing Can Transform the Employee Experience, Daniel Pink discussed how timing is a science and very much in our control. Most strikingly, time of day effects can explain 20% of the variance in human performance. 

Here are a few key takeaways:

Be deliberate when scheduling team work. When do you hold your Leadership Team Meeting? If is later in the day you may want to think about moving it to the morning. Research has shown that human performance is at its peak in the morning and it is then when we are most likely to be best engaged when dealing with analytic tasks (Pink, 2017).  For example, in a study of over 1,100 prisoners up for parole it was found that when the judge ruled on the case in the morning there was a 70% chance of receiving parole while those heard in the afternoon had less than a 10% of acceptance. This is the result of what is due to decision fatigue (Tierney, 2011). Think how this could affect your team, not to mention when you should schedule surgeries… 

Do not underestimate the power of breaks. It is important to change our mindset around the concept of “break” and stop thinking of them as a deviation from work. Instead, we need to get in the practice of viewing breaks as a part of work. Research shows that performance goes up directly after a break so start scheduling them like you would do meetings and put them on your calendar (Pink, 2017). The effects can be powerful. In fact, going back to our parole example, the same study found, although the overall favorable rulings fell dramatically in the afternoon they did spike back up to 65% following a break or snack (Bryant, 2011). 

Strategically set your testing schedules. Our students are effected by the same time challenges and testing results have proven it. For example, Pink (2017) cited a study where students taking a test in the afternoon without a break was equivalent to those students attending two fewer weeks of school. On the other hand, when students took a test after a break they showed a performance level equivalent to almost four more weeks of school. And, like with the parole cases, students were much more successful taking the tests in the morning than in the afternoon. What implications does this have for student achievement on your campus?

Look forward to Pink’s upcoming book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing which is set for release in January. 

Resources:

Bryant, B. (2011, April 11). Judges are more lenient after taking a break, study finds. Retrieved November 06, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/law/2011/apr/11/judges-lenient-break

Pink, D. (2018, October 25). The "When" of Work: How the New Science of Timing Can Transform the Employee Experience. Lecture presented at HCInnovation@Work 2017 Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Tierney, J. (2011, August 17). Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? Retrieved November 06, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html

Veterans are in our thoughts. Do you lead like a military officer? You might be surprised.

How many of these “11 Things the Military Teaches You About Leadership” apply to your own leadership in schools? 

·     Always look sharp.  

·     Take good care of your people

·     Assemble diverse teams to get a range of perspectives

·     Invest in relationships for the long term

·     Be willing to listen to everyone

·     Stay calm under pressure

·     Act decisively even with limited information

·     Carefully plan the logistics

·     Lead with integrity

·     Be, know, and do everything you ask of those below you

·     Give 100% of your effort             (Griswold, 2014)

Which of these do you think most applies to educational leadership?  Which of these could educational leaders adopt to see improvement?  Which of these would you want your students to practice?   

Griswold, A. (2014, February 27).  11 Things The Military Teaches You About Leadership.  Business Insider: Strategy

Restorative Practices Rather Than Punishment-Based Approaches

Due to concerns with high suspension rates, loss of instructional time, and data showing that traditional school discipline techniques are exacerbating the dropout rate and inequity in our schools, many schools are turning to restorative practices. 

If you are making the shift to restorative practices, see if your work matches up to a school that has reduced suspensions and helped students resolve problems and learn from their mistakes.  In their article, “After Sticks, Stones, and Hurtful Words” Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Dominique Smith describe the following four principles used at their school that resulted in a successful restorative approach:

1.    Make sure you have relationships to restore.

2.    Use impromptu conversation to maintain relationships and allow student voice.

3.   Repair harm when it’s done.

4.   Develop re-entry plans.

·       Rehearse with the student

·       Identify a lifeline, an adult that can serve as a buffer

·       Schedule shore follow-ups.

·       Close the loop with adults.  (Fisher, Frey, & Smith, 2016, pp. 55-58)

Not surprisingly, these principles rely on relationships and communication, two things we know are important in many aspects of life.  If you are working on restorative practices and would like more detail about how Fisher, Frey, and Smith use these principles in action, see their full article.   

Fisher, D, Frey, N, Smith, D. (2016).  After Sticks, Stones, and Hurtful WordsEducational Leadership:  The  Principalship.  (74)3, 54-58.

Collective Responsibility Collaborating for Student Success

If you and your instructional team were all transferred to another school, how many of your teams would continue to collaborate to make sure all students are growing and meeting goals?  How many of your teacher teams or PLCs truly take collective responsibility to collaborate for student success?  

Rick DuFour and Mike Mattos provide “5 Steps to Success on the PLC Journey” below.  As you read, consider your teams’ strengths and opportunities for growth.  

1)  Embrace the premise that the fundamental purpose of the school is to ensure that all students learn at high levels and enlist the staff in examining every existing practice, program, and procedure to ensure it aligns with that purpose. 

 2)  Organize staff into meaningful collaborative teams that take collective responsibility for student learning and work interdependently to achieve shared goals for which members hold themselves mutually accountable.

 3)  Call on teams to establish a guaranteed and viable curriculum for each unit that clarifies the essential learning for all students, agree on pacing guidelines, and develop and administer common formative assessments to monitor each student’s learning at the end of each unit. 

 4)  Use the evidence of student learning to identify

  • Students who need additional time and support to become proficient.
  • Students who need enrichment and extension of their learning because they’re already highly proficient. 
  • Teachers who help students achieve at high levels so team members can examine those teachers’ practices. 
  • Teachers who struggle to help students become proficient so team members can assist in addressing the problem. 
  • Skills or concepts that none of the teachers were able to help students achieve at the intended level so the team can expand its learning beyond its members to become more effective in teaching those skills or concepts. The team can seek help from members of other teams in the building with expertise in that area, specialists from the central office, other teachers of the same content in the district, or networks of teachers throughout the United States that they interact with online.

5)  Create a coordinated intervention plan that ensures that students who struggle receive additional time and support for learning in a way that is timely, directive, diagnostic, precise, and most important, systematic.   (DuFour & Mattos, 2013, p. 37)

Based on these 5 steps, where are your teams strong?  Where are they struggling?  Consider bringing these steps to your teams, analyzing the pinch points where they get stuck, and brainstorming next steps.  Consider how you and your instructional team might inadvertently create pinch points and specifically request feedback around these concerns.  Some teams believe in the mission, and use evidence to support student learning, but never dig into the evidence to really examine teacher behaviors.  Interventions may stay at the student level rather than interventions that look at and create more effective teaching practices.  If that continues, teachers may continue with less effective practices year after year.  

How can you support your teams to continue asking, “How can we collectively do a better job of examining every practice, program, and procedure to ensure that all students learn at high levels?”    

DuFour, R., & Mattos, M. (2013). How Do Principals Really Improve Schools? Educational Leadership:  The  

Principalship.  (70)7, 34-40. 

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDPY1t8E6Cg

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?