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.

Like this post? 

Sign up for TXTS 4 Leaders by texting “Leader” to 602-359-6637

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.

Unplug for Brain Health

You are coming off a break where we hope you were able to unplug.  As you get back into the “busy-ness” of work, plan some time in your day where you unplug from technology.  Our brains have not evolved as quickly as our technology; constant external distractions cause smart people to underperform, become persistently rushed, and unable to problem-solve or stay with a task through completion.  Every text, tweet, update, newsletter, email, and passing conversation is competing for attention.  Want to be more productive, more creative, and have more energy for important thinking?

The best solution is to designate times for activities, even digital ones like email and social networking.  So go ahead and spend 20 minutes on Facebook.  Schedule it into your day but remember to schedule time to unplug.  Take 30 minutes for a walk outside or to listen to music or cook.  That time “unplugged” is when most of us are able to reflect and tackle the big issues of the day.

Knowing that we are competing for attention in your brain, we are making these texts shorter, more concise nuggets of goodness that help you be an amazing leader in 2017.  Happy New Year.

The Extra Degree

At 211 degrees, water is hot.

At 212 degrees, it boils.

And with boiling water comes steam.

And steam can power a locomotive.

Raising the temperature of water by one extra degree means the difference between something that is simply very hot and something that generates enough force to power a machine.  That one extra degree.

Thank you for consistently making the extra effort!  Your persistence and commitment can and will have a profound effect on the lives of your students and teachers you serve.

(For more, check out 212° the extra degree by Sam Parker & Mac Anderson.  It’s a great little book to use with your leadership team or as a thank you for your staff who go the extra mile or could use a little inspiration to make an extra effort.)

Shifting Perspective

For a long time school leaders were conducting classroom walkthroughs armed with a checklist.  We went in looking for, what felt like, a myriad of discrete pieces of evidence that would indicate effective instruction was happening. Is the objective posted?  What student engagement techniques are being utilized? What’s the cognitive level of the questions? Is the classroom environment literacy-rich?  We would leave the classroom with many bits of data but not entirely equipped with the information to determine how the strategies we observed actually contributed to student learning.

In contrast during formative classroom walk-throughs, principals focus on understanding the lesson from the student’s perspective.  Principals ask themselves, “If I were a student in this classroom, what would I be learning?” Conversations with students are critical in a formative classroom walk-through.  Asking students what they are trying to learn today and how will they know when they have learned it is a powerful indicator as to whether or not students know the learning target and understand how to demonstrate that learning.  By paying attention to what students do and say, the observer is more likely to understand how the teaching is impacting the student learning.

Rather than focusing on what the teacher did or did not do, when principals look for and learn about what the students are doing, saying, making and writing teachers begin to develop a trust and appreciation for the classroom walkthroughs.  Feedback that focuses on how the instruction supported the learning process “promotes a cohesive theory of action for effective teaching and meaningful student learning” (Moss & Brookhart, 2015).

Consider:

How would shifting the perspective from what the teacher is teaching to what the student is learning change the conclusions that are drawn regarding the effectiveness of a lesson?

Thinking about the walkthrough protocol currently used in your building, are the educators performing walkthroughs and those being observed able to explain how the items on the walkthrough protocol promote a cohesive theory of action for effective teaching and meaningful student learning?

How is the information collected from classroom walkthroughs used in your school? Who uses the information most frequently and why?

For more great information check out the book “Formative Classroom Walkthroughs: How Principals and Teachers Collaborate to Raise Student Achievement” by Connie M. Moss & Susan M. Brookhart.

Action Steps, Choose Them Wisely

We learn best when we can focus on one thing at a time.  How do you select the right action step for teachers when giving feedback?  Consider Julie Jackson’s criteria from Leverage Leadership (Bambrick-Santoyo, 2012):

Is the action step directly connected to student learning?

Does the action step address a root cause (rather than a symptom) affecting student learning?

Is the action-step high leverage?

Let’s look at an example of this related to classroom management.  A teacher may need to increase awareness of when students are off-task and implement the least-invasive intervention necessary.  This is a high-leverage root cause that impacts student learning.  Yet, teachers struggling with this may not know how to do this.  Look at the bite-sized steps from page 73:

Deliberately scan the room for compliance:  choose three or four “hot spots” (places where students often get off task) to scan.

Circulate with purpose by moving to different locations on the perimeter of the room.

Give an instruction, narrate the positive, then redirect student who is not complying.

Redirect from least to most invasive:

Use proximity.

Use a nonverbal.

Maintain eye contact.

Say student’s name quickly.

Give a small consequence.

Each of these steps is small and direct yet may take deliberate thought, planning, practice, and continued feedback to master.

Consider having your instructional team bring samples of feedback and action steps to your next leadership team meeting.  How might you work as a team to ensure your feedback to teachers is bite-sized and actionable?

Speaking of feedback, please take a quick survey to let us know how we’re doing.